Phillies Minor League Preview
Minor League Full-Season leagues open today, with not too many surprises on the rosters. I’d like to tell you about a couple of those, note a couple other items of interest, and pick some deeper sleeper and breakout guys to watch out for as the season gets going, since one of my sleepers and one of my breakouts from my Top 30 are injured, (breakout Kelly Dugan and sleeper Samuel Hiciano), and one isn’t starting the year where I’d hoped, (sleeper Malquin Canelo). So that’s looking pretty bad already.
This will be my first year since 2011 not reporting on the daily grind of minor league action at PhuturePhillies.com. I’m going to try to keep up with who’s hot and who’s not and keep you all posted every couple of weeks. I’ll likely have something for you on July 2 signings, which by some accounts looks to be a huge day for The Phils, plus pre-draft write-ups of likely Phils choices in the first round or maybe a mock first round of the draft and some guys to eye for round two. Also I will likely make up some new nicknames for some of these guys since “Rhineland Rocket” somehow didn’t stick on Aaron Altherr. I did my part. I BLAME ALL OF YOU.
Lehigh Valley (AAA)
Not many surprises here, but it’s nice to see Tommy Joseph back at AAA to start the year as the everyday catcher. He’s had so much time off the last two years, with concussions and wrist issues, that to assume he’ll do anything like what he did his last full season in the minors would be a bit naïve. In the past, he’s displayed the tools at the plate to do some damage, and if he’s not too rusty behind the dish, and can stay healthy all year long, he very well may make himself back into a nice prospect. Don’t be surprised to see him in Philly with the first catcher injury, as he’s got a 40-man spot and could use the experience with the big club. Also curious to see which Maikel Franco we get out of the gate. Hopefully it’s second half of 2014 Maikel Franco. A strong April and May could push the club to a decision on the future of Cody Asche or Ryan Howard sometime after the Super-2 deadline, which is usually around late May. I won’t expect Franco in the bigs before then, and he’ll certainly be delayed further if he’s not hitting.
In the rotation, I seem to be the low man on Severino Gonzalez, even when acknowledging that his arsenal was limited by the org in 2014 so he could work on his lesser offerings. Some seem to think he still has a real chance to start in the majors. I just don’t know. In the pen, I’m really rooting for Seth Rosin, mostly because of his wild, multi-organizational and multi-continental Rule 5 ride that encroached on the early parts of his 2014. Feels like that has to sap your momentum going into the year.
Sleeper – Colton Murray (I guess)
Breakout Candidate – Joely Rodriguez (I guess)
Reading – (AA)
Baseballtown’s got pitching out the ass, as they say. Out the entire ass. In addition to the five prospects in their starting rotation, Aaron Nola, Jesse Biddle, Zach Eflin, Tom Windle and Ben Lively, they have three interesting pieces in the bullpen. Elvis Araujo and Nefi Ogando, who are both on the 40-man roster and both figure to be settling in to late inning roles in Reading, and Ethan Stewart, who put up excellent numbers as a reliever at Clearwater in 2014. BA had Stewart on the back end of their Top 30 a couple years back, but that was as a candidate to start, and before his time in that role proved him not quite up to the task. The stuff is there to make a decent reliever out of him, he just needs his control to hold.
As for the position guys, you’ll see a dearth of interesting names on the infield until JP Crawford returns from injury and is promoted from Clearwater – he may or may not spend significant time there when he’s healthy – but the outfield should be fun, with Roman Quinn patrolling center, and Altherr, Brian Pointer and Cameron Perkins taking the corners most nights. Altherr repeating AA is a bit of a surprise, though he wasn’t excellent in 2014 or anything. But even after a dreadful turn at AAA in 2014, Perkins’ trip back to AA is very much out of the blue for me. Not that it seems unwarranted, but I’m just not sure why they didn’t bring him back to AA last summer when he was clearly over matched. I guess the outfield was a little crowded, but still.
Sleeper – Pointer
Breakout Candidates – Eflin, Quinn
Clearwater – (Hi-A)
Some positional disappointments here, with Zach Green pushed off the hot corner in favor of Mitch Walding, and Andrew Pullin relegated to left field in favor of Jesmuel Valentin (late last night we heard from PP’s @JimPeyton19 that Valentin is off of the Clearwater roster – no word yet where he’s headed). I hope the club isn’t done with either guy in their more valuable positions. Pullin was seemingly having some struggles to make the transition from the outfield, where he played in high school, and Valentin is a fine prospect. Green at first was fine last year when he was coming off a hip injury, but his bat won’t play up there in the long run like it would if he were even a manageable third base option. I’m sure the club has more incite (err…insight) on this than we do, (they always do), but I hope it’s merely a numbers game at third now, with the org not wanting to move the overslot investment they made in Walding off the position yet.
On the mound, it’s no surprise with all the depth at AA that Miguel Nunez and Colin Kleven are back. Whichever man is performing better when a AA spot opens up probably makes the jump. I look forward to more Cody Forsythe out of the pen, as he could move up as well this year with a good performance. And the mild surprise here is Edubray Ramos skipping Low-A to begin at Clearwater. Aggressive for a guy who started last year in Venezuela. Watch out, though – as I read it, he’s subject to the Rule 5 Draft every year, as he’s signed two pro contracts in his career. He was released when the Cards shuttered their Venezuelan Academy and signed by the Phils a couple years later. Maybe that’s part of the urgency here – they need to see what they have in the 22-year-old righthander before someone else decides to stash him in a bullpen for a year and continue to develop him in the minors thereafter.
Sleeper – Miguel Nunez
Lakewood – (Low-A)
I was very surprised to see Carlos Tocci three-peating the level, after a better 2014, (he added nearly 50 points to his wOBA and added 11 extra base hits over 2013), but with Aaron Brown in Clearwater, Tocci would have fewer opportunities in center than you’d like to get a potential plus outfielder, and clearly the bat still needs work. I’ve said it before and I will say it again – if you see Carlos Tocci in Lakewood this summer, buy him a sandwich and make sure he eats the whole thing. Also ribs will work. But no fish unless it’s deep-fried or you add one of those comically-large-casual-seafood-joint baked potatoes. Be sure to add sour cream and butter. And bacon bits. And cheese. Also throw some chili on there. Gross. Just eat it, Carlos.
I’m interested to see how Elniery Garcia performs after a very solid GCL and just a taste of the New York Penn League at Williamsport last year. Also of note, Tyler Viza returns to Lakewood to try to pitch out of the nightmare that was foisted upon him as a 19-year-old in full-season ball in 2014. Viza showed he could handle the workload, which is nothing to sneeze at. And also he didn’t viciously beat the team mascot despite a 3-17 record. Kudos to him.