2017 Lehigh Valley IronPigs Season Preview

Even though their major league team is much improved. The future of the Phillies rests in their minor leagues. Not every prospect will come up to help the major league team, some will be traded, and some will stumble along the way. Today we kick off Crashburn’s preview of the minor league system with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The goal is to give a quick overview of the team and the top prospects, but also a deeper dive into all 25 player on the roster.

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs might be the best team in the minor leagues. They probably won’t have the most top 100 prospects or the highest ranked prospects, but what they do have is more prospects than positions to play them. There are 11 players that made my top 35 prospects in the Phillies system, and they will be joined by a former Top 100 prospect in Jake Thompson, and eventually another young starter in Zach Eflin. It should make for an exciting year in Allentown.

The Quick Pitch:

The IronPigs are loaded with prospects. The only positions without a legitimate major league prospect will be third base and designated hitter. The rotation is full of young arms that will likely be up with the big league club this season. It isn’t just quantity, as the team has J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro who stand out even on a star studded team. On top of the future potential of the players involved, these prospects bring plenty of excitement, whether it is Quinn’s speed, Crawford’s glove, or the power of Hoskins, Alfaro, and Cozens in the middle of the lineup.

Top Hitting Prospect: J.P. Crawford

Despite his offensive struggles in 2016, Crawford easily remains the top prospect in the Phillies system. He is a great defender whose instincts make hard plays look easy. At the plate, his approach and plate discipline might be the best in the minors. The problem over the last year has been his swing. Crawford has been flying open, looking to drive the ball for power, which has resulted in infield fly balls and weak grounders. Although Crawford has the strength to drive the ball, he might just have to settle for more doubles than home runs for now. If Crawford can find his swing early, his stay in Allentown may be short.

Top Pitching Prospect: Nick Pivetta

Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin aren’t technically prospects anymore, not to mention that Eflin will be starting the year on the DL, which leaves Pivetta as the best of a solid group. At his best, Pivetta features a heavy fastball that will sit 92-96 and an above average to plus curveball. He also throws a changeup and slider that need work, which will be the focus of his future development. If Pivetta can master a changeup while continuing to throw strikes, he could be a solid major league starter. If the pitches don’t come along, he could move to the bullpen and be an impactful arm for the Phillies in short order.

Breakout Potential: Mark Leiter Jr

It is hard to have breakout prospects on a team of known players, but there is one relatively unknown player on the roster in Mark Leiter Jr. Every year the Phillies promote a relief prospect seemingly out of nowhere, because there are never enough pitchers ever. Leiter is not a good prospect by any means, and as a righty without knock out stuff, his chance of being anything great are low. What he does do is throw strikes with a large assortment of pitches. The end result is a poor man’s Jeanmar Gomez who can pitch in any role in the bullpen. If the Phillies find themselves desperate for an arm, I could see Leiter getting the call as a player they don’t mind exposing to waivers.

The Roster:

Placement on my Phillies Top 50 prospect rankings indicated in parentheses next to each player.

Lineup:

C Jorge Alfaro (2)
1B Rhys Hoskins (12)
2B Jesmuel Valentin (33)
SS J.P. Crawford (1)
3B Hector Gomez
LF Nick Williams (4)
CF Roman Quinn (7)
RF Dylan Cozens (13)
DH Cameron Perkins

The IronPigs lineup will be their strength all year. Jorge Alfaro will be behind the plate most days. His defense improved last year, though he still is not entirely smooth when receiving. At the plate he has raw power that rivals Cozens and Hoskins, but he has focused more recently on going the other way and not just pulling the ball. He is an aggressive hitter, who could still work on drawing a walk when the pitcher is avoiding the zone. Rhys Hoskins is not as toolsy as some of his teammates, but he has a better feel at the plate than most, allowing him to tap into his plus power. Hoskins probably won’t put up streaks like Cozens, but he will be a steady middle of the order contributor. Jesmuel Valentin is fresh off a strong showing in major league camp and will be Crawford’s double play partner. Valentin has poor power, but he works counts and will draw walks against pitchers who won’t challenge him in the zone. In the field, he is a good defender at second base, but the Phillies may decide they want him to get reps at other positions. Third base is going to be a veteran of sorts, but Gomez had the best spring of any veteran.

The IronPigs outfield will be full of top prospects. Nick Williams has rebounded at the plate after a disastrous August. Matt Stairs has helped him get under control and tap into his natural skills. Williams has plus to plus plus raw power, but his real strength is quick strong wrists that allow him to catch up to any pitch and spray it across the outfield. Roman Quinn is special when healthy, but has struggled to stay on the field because of a variety of injuries. He has below average to average power, especially from the left side, and elite level speed. Quinn is one of the fastest players in baseball, and it translates to gaudy stolen base totals and extra bases on balls not hit directly at a fielder. In the field his speed allows him to cover much of the outfield, and his plus arm is a weapon in center field. Dylan Cozens is all about power, and the change in park shouldn’t affect him too much when it comes to home runs. The real key will be whether he can lay off of offspeed pitches and not be a negative vs left handed pitchers. He is a fringe average runner who makes the most of his speed, and a below average fielder who makes up for a lack of range with a plus arm. Cameron Perkins is a bit older, but the Phillies like his ability to make contact with occasional power. He has played some center field, but he is best suited for an outfield corner. He is similar in many ways to Tyler Goeddel, where his ceiling is as a 4th outfielder.

Rotation:

Zach Eflin should be joining the IronPigs at some point soon, but for now he is in Clearwater working his strength up. Jake Thompson is no longer a prospect, but at just 23 years old, he is not a finished product either. Last year he lost consistent feel for his slider, and he was unable to put away batters. Throughout the year, he was control over command and left many pitches in hittable places. Bob McClure simplified his delivery in the majors, and if Thompson can repeat his new mechanics, he should be at least a ground ball heavy back end starter. Ben Lively throws a bunch of average pitches for strikes and had great success in 2016 when he was able to locate those pitches. He does not have a ton to work on, so his year will be more about whether a spot opens up for him. Fewer eyes will be on Mark Appel than a year ago, but the 2013 #1 overall pick is fully healthy for the first time in many years. The key to success for Appel is consistency. He will show 3 above average to plus pitches — just rarely in the same at bat, let alone game. Appel has also struggled to his command his pitches, particularly from the stretch. The Phillies believe in his stuff enough to give him another shot in the rotation, but he could be a candidate to move to the bullpen at some point. Continuing on the theme of future relievers, right hander Ricardo Pinto will at least start the year in AAA. The short right hander features a fastball that will sit 91-95 and touch 96-97 as well as plus changeup. His problem has been the lack of breaking ball, coupled with poor fastball command. If Pinto can’t finally solve his breaking ball problem, the Phillies could move him to the bullpen, where he should be able to just air the ball out in mid 90s.

Bench:

The IronPigs are going to run out the same lineup most nights, so there won’t be much substitution. Logan Moore is a good defender, but he has never really hit, and he will be a solid partner to Jorge Alfaro. Taylor Featherston can stand at a lot of positions, and he can hit at the AAA level. Pedro Florimon can field better than Featherston, but he can’t really hit.

Bullpen:

The IronPigs’ bullpen is not awe inspiring. Instead it represents a mad dash to be the player ready if the Phillies experience an injury. Luis Garcia is the only reliever on the 40 man roster, but he is capable of making himself unattractive to call up. The real battle here will be between Milner, Perez, Ramos, and Venditte. The Phillies are rolling with Adam Morgan as a major league left handed reliever and no lefties coming up in the minors. Venditte and Ramos both have MLB experience and meh stuff. Milner has meh stuff, but comes from a funky angle and is the youngest of the group. Perez has been out of affiliated ball for awhile, but he pitched well in Venezuela this winter. No one here profiles as a long term bullpen answer, but they should be pretty good at getting wins for the IronPigs this year.

After time of publishing Colton Murray and Dalier Hinojosa were added to the IronPigs’ disabled list. Murray had a good spring before getting injured in his last appearance. He has solid enough stuff to have success in the majors with solid command, he has not been able to consistently achieve that. Hinojosa has been injury plagued since a short stint as the Phillies’ closer and at this point it is hard to know what to expect from him.

Season Expectations:

The IronPigs are going to be really good in 2017. At some point they are going to lose some of their top players to the majors, but their replacements should be pretty good, with players like Scott Kingery and Andrew Pullin waiting in AA. Every day, the IronPigs are going to run out a very good starting pitcher, and their lineup is full of very talented prospects. From a major league perspective, the IronPigs’ season is all about growth. In an ideal world, players like Quinn, Williams, and Crawford mash the ball early and reach the majors quickly, and players like Hoskins and Cozens prove that their Reading numbers are based on talent and not circumstance. The IronPigs are going to be sending a lot players down the Northeast Extension this year, but the trip north to seem them early will be worth it.

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5 comments

  1. Steve

    April 04, 2017 08:42 AM

    I really hope JPC pans out. I know hes young, and our perspective has been skewed by the instant success of guys like Seager, Correa, and Lindor. Its concerning when he is graded as the best bat on LHV and then we read that his swing has been the biggest problem over the last year. At this point, if he turns into a great fielding light hitting MLB SS it will feel like a disapointment. Probably unfair, but still……

  2. Scott B

    April 04, 2017 09:17 AM

    No Colton Murray in the pen?

    • Matt Winkelman

      April 04, 2017 09:31 AM

      At the time of writing, Colton Murray and Dalier Hinojosa were assigned to Extended Spring Training, this morning both were added to the IronPigs disabled list

  3. Andy from BL

    April 04, 2017 07:59 PM

    That’s a ridiculously good team for AAA.

  4. Erich

    April 06, 2017 11:08 AM

    Taylor Featherston was released, apparently.

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