Fifth starter to be duel between newcomers

Velasquez, Oberholtzer to compete for final spot in rotation

Fifth starter to be duel between newcomers

PHILADELPHIA -- It finally feels like a new beginning.

Phillies pitchers and catchers hold their first workout Thursday at Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla., and for the first time in a long time there will be no speculation or predictions about when Phillies veterans will be traded. Jimmy Rollins is more than a year removed from Philadelphia. Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Ben Revere and Jake Diekman got traded last summer. Cliff Lee's contract expired. Only Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz remain from the 2008 World Series championship team, and they are in the final year of their contracts.

This spring truly will be about the future: young players trying to establish themselves and prospects trying to live up to the hype and make their big league debuts before the end of the season. The Phillies have seven prospects in MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list. Six of them will be in spring camp.

Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | Complete info

But Spring Training will be more than young players getting the opportunity to play. The Phillies have jobs up for grabs, too.

Perhaps the most interesting battle will be for the team's No. 5 starter.

Prospects | Newcomers | Bounceback candidates

The Phillies could use a good one. Eight pitchers no longer with the Phillies posted a combined 5.21 ERA in 97 starts last season. Holdovers David Buchanan (6.99 ERA in 15 starts), Severino Gonzalez (7.92 ERA in seven starts) and Alec Asher (9.31 ERA in seven starts) also struggled. Those 11 pitchers had a combined 5.70 ERA in 126 starts (77.8 percent of their games).

Remove Hamels from the equation, and 10 Phillies pitchers posted a combined 6.19 ERA in 106 starts (65.4 percent of their games).

That's right: a 6.19 ERA.

The Phillies believe they will have better starting pitching in 2016. They believe veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton have more upside than recently departed veterans Aaron Harang (4.86 ERA in 29 starts) and Jerome Williams (5.80 ERA in 33 appearances). They believe Aaron Nola (3.59 ERA in 13 starts) and Jerad Eickhoff (2.65 ERA in eight starts) can improve upon their rookie seasons.

Nola's five strikeouts

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has said Hellickson, Morton, Nola and Eickhoff are heavy favorites for the first four jobs.

So who's got No. 5?

Right-hander Vincent Velasquez is the favorite. He was the key piece in the Ken Giles trade in December. The Phillies would love to see him assert himself in Spring Training and win the job outright. But if Velasquez is not ready, left-hander Brett Oberholtzer would be next in line. He has a 3.94 ERA in 45 appearances (42 starts) over the past three seasons with Houston. He is out of options, which means he should find a spot on the pitching staff somewhere.

Velasquez's first MLB win

Left-hander Adam Morgan had a 4.48 ERA in 15 starts last season. He could push Velasquez and Oberholtzer.

Top prospects Jake Thompson, Mark Appel and Zach Eflin will be in camp, but each is expected to open the season in Triple-A. Buchanan, Asher and Gonzalez also will be in camp, but they would really have to outpitch Velasquez, Oberholtzer and Morgan to win a job.

Top Prospects: Appel, PHI

"I hope they all do pitch well," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "It puts us in the position where we have to make tough decisions about who's in the rotation, who's in the bullpen and who's in Triple-A. But that's baseball. That was part of the goal, to bring in players -- young, veteran, groundball types, fly ball types, strike-throwing types, etc. -- a good mix that will allow us to create a competition that will build out a rotation, a bullpen and five guys in Triple-A who will provide depth for us."

Having a competent starter in the No. 5 spot could help tremendously. Consider for a moment that Hamels (3.64 ERA in 20 starts), Morgan, Nola and Eickhoff made a combined 56 starts last season. The Phillies went 28-28 in those games, despite scoring the fourth-fewest runs in baseball.

"I think we should be competitive every night," Klentak said. "If you can pitch, you have a chance to win every night. And I think we've improved our pitching."

Pitchers and catchers first workout
Feb. 18.

First full-squad workout
Feb. 23.

First Spring Training game
Blue Jays at Phillies, March 1 at 1:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day
Phillies at Reds, April 4 at 4:10 p.m.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.