Phillies protect one hot pitcher, five others from Rule 5

Philadelphia Phillies short stop Nick Maton (right) is congratulated by third base coach Dusty Wathan (62) after hitting a two run home run against the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning at Spectrum Field. Mandatory Credit: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports
Philadelphia Phillies short stop Nick Maton (right) is congratulated by third base coach Dusty Wathan (62) after hitting a two run home run against the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning at Spectrum Field. Mandatory Credit: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports /
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Francisco Morales was the only Philadelphia Phillies’ Rule 5 protection worth noting

The Philadelphia Phillies, accused by some of being a bit too inert so far this off-season, have actually been doing a few things worth comment. No team is truly motionless – they all get rid of players deemed unworthy, a few people who affect the field play are hired early on, and lately, teams have had to protect prospects from being snatched up in the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 10.

The Phillies may have raised only a few eyebrows at the Nov. 20 deadline for players protected by 40-man-roster status. Six players were added that day to the Phillies group.

Following a weird year for minor league players (they got to practice with teammates, or work out on their own), this year’s Rule 5 decisions were iffy at best for every MLB team. With that in mind, several days ago, I jotted down a few names of players I considered important to protect from Rule 5 and to avoid trading – shortstop Bryson Stott, and right-handed pitchers Mick Abel and Francisco Morales.

The Phillies protected one of them this year from Rule 5 – Morales. The 21-year-old was signed July 2, 2016, when he was 16, and the Phillies invested $720,000 in him then. He has played three years, and of course, “sat out” 2020.

He is seen by most in the know as a serious contender for spot on the Phillies roster soon although he has only reached the A-level at this point. The right-hander was 6-foot-4, about 185 pounds, and had a 93-mph fastball when he was 16, four years ago. Everybody says his stuff is “electric,” and he has grown two inches since then.

Morales was one of the youngest players in ’19 in the South Atlantic League, both starting and relieving that season for Lakewood. While there, he managed to drop his WHIP from short-season Williamsport the previous year – 1.544 – to 1.324. That season he featured a “firmer” fastball than when he signed and “a plus slider” while working on a change-up.

One hopes that he gained strength in his “idle” COVID summer.

Morales may be that fairly rare creature in the Phillies history of prospect signings – a guy who actually contributes significantly. Perhaps he will make fans forget the team lost Sixto Sanchez to get J.T. Realmuto, who may sign elsewhere this winter.

The other players the Phillies protected were shortstop Nick Maton, and left-handed pitchers Kyle Dohy, Damon Jones, and Bailey Falter. The Phillies have been weak in the left-handed hurler department for a couple of years.

The other protected player was outfielder Simon Muzziotti.

Protecting Maton says at least the Phils believe he has value beyond a Rule 5 return for him. At most, it suggests the Phillies may be setting up a competition for the team’s “shortstop of the future” with 2019 first-round pick Bryson Stott.

Maton had reached the double-A level by ‘19, when he hit .210 after posting better numbers at lower levels. He also hit .333 in the Arizona League that fall in limited at-bats. Stott, who is a bigger player, is still working at the A-level, where he has better offensive numbers.

None of the three pitchers have particularly inspiring numbers, and Falter labored five years to reach the double-A level by ’19.

At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Muzziotti has some highlight videos of him chasing down fly balls on the internet. His left-handed swing seems a bit long for a guy his size.

However, what can be definitively said about guys who basically just practiced in 2020? And who’s driving these decisions for the Phillies? Presumably, that’s interim GM Ned Rice – with some input from manager Joe Girardi about needs, as well as others? Philadelphia has to be so careful from here on out.

Theoretically, they’re building a team around Bryce Harper that will last for a decade. Their only inspiring Rule 5-protected player this fall, however, seems to be Francisco Morales.