The Philadelphia Phillies have promoted right-handed pitcher Ben Lively to the major league roster. Right now he will provide extra depth for the bullpen, although he’s spent his minor league career as a starter and should get a shot at that role eventually. Let’s take a look at what he offers.
Lively was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the fourth round in 2013 from the University of Central Florida. He was dominant his junior year (2.04 ERA, 101/28 K/BB in 106 innings) and remained dominant in the low minors, not being challenged until he reached Double-A in the second half of 2014. He was traded to the Phillies for Marlon Byrd in December ‘14, then had a mediocre Double-A campaign in ‘15.
He was much more effective in ‘16, posting a combined 2.69 ERA in 171 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with a 139/42 K/BB. Lively ranked 11th on my 2017 pre-season Philadelphia Phillies Top 20 prospects list with the following commentary:
11) Ben Lively, RHP, Grade B-: Age 24, fourth round pick by Reds in 2013 from Central Florida, acquired in trade for Marlon Byrd; impressive season in ’16 rebounding from shaky ’15, posted 18-5 record with 2.69 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A with 139/42 K/BB in 171 innings, just 118 hits; very sharp down the stretch with 40/7 K/BB and 1.55 ERA in last seven starts; throws 90-94 fastball with average slider, curve, and change-up but very deceptive, possible fourth starter soon. ETA 2017.
Usually when you write something nice about a player, partisans of his team are happy. Such was not the case here: I received several messages from Phillies fans, some brutal, criticizing my ranking of Lively and writing him off as a Quadruple-A guy who would never get major league hitters out.
I was not offended by this; it goes with the territory. That said, I have been pro-Lively since he was in college and he hasn’t done anything to make me change that opinion.
It is true he doesn’t have the fastest fastball in the universe, topping out at 94 on his best days and usually working at 88-92, but the fastball “acts” faster than the radar gun implies. Baseball America has a comment about this in their Prospect Handbook, noting that mechanical adjustments have boosted the movement on his fastball. Lively’s secondary pitches aren’t plus, but he has three of them, throws strikes, is durable, and is adept at the art of making hitters look stupid, which ultimately is what pitching is all about.
I could be wrong, of course, but Lively checks off all the “under-rated prospect who can exceed expectations” boxes. Keep a close watch on him.