Here's a Thought: Carlos Torres, Heath Phillips, and Wasted Careers

Nathaniel StoltzSenior Analyst IJuly 15, 2009

BRADENTON, FL - MARCH 23:  Pitcher Heath Phillips #79 of the New York Yankees throws in relief against the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 23, 2008 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The Chicago White Sox currently have a pitching prospect named Carlos Torres.

White Sox fans, I'd forgive you if you've never heard of him. Non-White Sox fans, I'd be shocked if you have.

Carlos Torres was ranked the White Sox's 25th best prospect coming into the year by Baseball America

Torres is 26, and he's a member of the rotation of the White Sox's Triple-A affiliate, the Charlotte Knights. He didn't reach Triple-A until a few months shy of his 26th birthday, which is part of the reason why scouts aren't thrilled with him.

But anyone watching him now has to be aware of one thing:  He's pitching remarkably.

Pick your metric: Wins (8), ERA (2.20), FIP (2.89), or individual peripherals (8.82 K/9, 3.49 BB/9, .28 HR/9).  Torres is a Triple-A ace.  He leads the International League in ERA and is second in strikeouts.

Scouting-wise, Torres throws a good low-90's cutter and a decent changeup, and he'll occasionally mix in a slider. He locates all his pitches well, keeps the ball down, and gets a lot of grounders.

Now, stranger things have happened than someone like Carlos Torres becoming a front-of-the-rotation guy, but odds are he won't be.

It does, however, seem very likely that he will be able to perform at a No. 3 or No. 4 starter level. You simply can't dominate like this in a hitter's park in Triple-A without being a big league-caliber pitcher.

So, Chicago, please give Carlos Torres a shot.

Or else.

One might think that it's no big deal if the White Sox give Torres a chance, because soon, he'll be a minor league free agent. At that point, he can just sign with a team that noticed his good performance and needs pitching. They'd plug him right into the rotation and Torres would live happily ever after.

Or not.

Logical as that may seem, it doesn't really work.

Consider the career of Heath Phillips.

Heath Phillips, like Torres, was drafted by the White Sox in the middle rounds. Like Torres, Phillips took several years to reach Triple-A; though, as a high school draftee, he was a bit younger when he got there.

Phillips is a command lefty with upper-80s heat, a good cutter, a big, slow curveball, and a changeup—the classic "crafty lefty" or "Jamie Moyer with a bit more velocity" skill set.

Phillips' first full year in Triple-A was 2006, and, like Torres, he met with a lot of success, going 13-5 with a 2.96 ERA. His FIP was a bit higher (3.74), but given the offensive environment, it was certainly reasonable to conclude that Phillips, like Torres, would make a nice addition to the middle or back of the starting rotation.

For whatever reason (a combination of Phillips' lack of velocity and the White Sox's pitching depth is my best guess), the White Sox disagreed. They kept Phillips in Triple-A for all of 2007, except for a brief midseason call-up where he was put in an unfamiliar bullpen role.

Now, imagine being Heath Phillips.

You've put several years of work in to become a major league pitcher. You reached the highest minor league level and dominated the competition in your first extended try.

And what do you get for all that?

A ticket back to Charlotte.

So, what happened to Heath Phillips?  Well, for one thing, he was listed at 6'3", 205 pounds before the 2006 season.

Take a look at the picture for this article, taken of Phillips with the Yankees in spring training of 2008.

Does that look 205 to you?

Three years later, Heath Phillips is listed at 6'3", 280.

Unless there's some medical issue I'm unaware of what caused it, Heath Phillips ate his way to a 75-pound gain in two years.

And it wasn't just the weight—C.C. Sabathia and David Wells were great pitchers, and even Rich Garces had his moments.

But no, Phillips' pitching declined as well.

In 2007, he went 13-7 but his ERA climbed to 4.30, and his FIP rose to 4.70. All three of his peripheral stats declined.

Phillips appeared to have simply been discouraged by staying down in the minors when his 2006 season showed he clearly didn't belong there.

Since then, Phillips has passed through the Yankees, Rays, and Royals organizations, and currently sports a 6.10 ERA for Triple-A Omaha (although a .372 BABIP hurts him).

He'll most likely never see the majors again.

Is it, in many ways, Phillips' own fault that he gained weight and lost pitching effectiveness?

Of course it is. But he felt a ton of undeserved pressure as a result of the White Sox.

Now, I'm not really picking on the White Sox. If they had five starters better than Heath Phillips in 2007, than they did. Fine.

But let me ask fans of the other 29 teams, particularly some of the more pitching-starved ones: Let's say I told you before 2007 that there was a guy who just went 13-5, 2.96 ERA in his first full year in Triple-A. He could be acquired by your team for very little.

Wouldn't you have said, "Yeah, get him! He can fit in the No. 3 slot!"

There's the short window of opportunity when guys do well in Triple-A, and then when they're kept down unjustly, many have dramatic performance drop-offs. Few have such dramatic physical changes as Heath Phillips, but there's a laundry list of guys who have had this happen to them.

Back to Torres, and the present day.

Again, if the White Sox think that they have five better starters than him, fine. For the record, I think Torres is better than Clayton Richard, but that's just me.

What I do know for sure is that Torres is much better than, say, Bruce Chen of the Royals.

He's better than the veteran retread crap on bad teams.

He'd make for a better rotation stopgap than someone like Pedro Martinez or Paul Byrd, with the added benefit that he's under team control for six years rather than one.

Therefore, a team like the Royals should send some D-level prospect to Chicago for Torres and fill a hole in their rotation with someone who can actually, you know...PITCH.

It works out so well. A bad team gets a quality starter for nothing, and that starter is saved from going the way of Heath Phillips.

So please, White Sox, call up Torres and save the guy's career. He deserves it.

And if the White Sox don't take my advice, then other teams who need pitching would be stupid not to trade for a guy who can help solidify a rotation.

Let's hope Torres, currently listed at 6'2" and 195 pounds, doesn't weigh 270 in two years. It really doesn't look good in those baggy minor league uniforms.


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