2017 Reading Fightins 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 continue Crashburn’s preview of the minor league system with the Reading Fightin Phils. 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.
It is premature to call Reading the worst roster in the Phillies’ system, but it is definitely the one lacking the most in star prospects. What it does have is a young group of players with breakout potential, especially up the middle defensively and starting on the mound. So while you may not recognize all of the names immediately, you should pay attention, because there are some players here worth knowing.
With many of its top prospects moving up to AAA this year, Reading will field its weakest team in a while. The roster lacks star power, but it makes up for it with intrigue. The lineup is full of a mix of very young prospects and older prospects trying to recapture some shine lost in recent years. Reading’s rotation features 2016 breakout prospects Drew Anderson, Tyler Viza, Shane Watson, and Elniery Garcia, once he returns from injury. It is hard to know who will break out in Reading this year, but the raw talent indicates that someone may be due.
Top Hitting Prospect: Scott Kingery
After years of having upper echelon prospects, Reading must feel a bit down, with Kingery topping the prospect list this season. Kingery is a perfectly fine prospect, even if he lacks the pure impact of some of his fellow top prospects. He is coming off a blistering appearance in major league camp, where he put on a show on offense and defense. At the plate, Kingery has a solid swing that is going to produce line drive contact. This had initially translated to poor home run power, but he has gotten a bit bigger and stronger this offseason, which has allowed him to hit some out of the park. Once on the bases, Kingery’s plus plus speed makes him a stolen base threat. Possibly the biggest area of improvement for Kingery has been his defense. Kingery converted from center to second in his junior year of college (2015) and has taken to the keystone quickly. He has been able to turn his speed into great range and highlight worthy plays. He doesn’t profile as a star, but he could be a solid regular for the Phillies long term.
Top Pitching Prospect: Drew Anderson
With Elniery Garcia on the disabled list to start, Drew Anderson becomes the easy top pitching prospect for Reading (though Anderson compared to Garcia is a good discussion for a later date). 2016 was the first healthy season for Anderson since 2013, and he hit the ground running in his return from Tommy John surgery. During his recovery, he bulked up his lower half, and it showed, as he started touching 97 by the end of the year, up from 94 pre-injury. His curveball has turned into a bat missing pitch. Anderson has always been a strike thrower, but he will need improve on his command, as he was shaky at times post injury. If last season was all about getting healthy, this season will be about growing into being a starting pitcher. Anderson still doesn’t have a workable changeup, and his injuries have prevented him from logging a meaningful workload. However, there is reason that the Phillies are excited about him. His increased velocity coupled with a good feel for pitching gives him a great foundation to work from.
Breakout: Malquin Canelo
Canelo was a hot prospect after the 2015 season. He was a 21 year old shortstop coming off a great season in Lakewood and a non-disaster in Clearwater. The problem was that his 2016 in hi-A was a repeat of all of his weaknesses and few of strengths. Canelo at his best uses his strong wrists and good bat speed to make up for a lack of raw strength, hitting for a good amount of contact for a good average and plenty of doubles. In 2016 he became overaggressive, and his strikeouts ballooned while his power decreased. However, the underlying skills still remain. He also still has the potential to be great defensively at shortstop, but he has not always made the easy plays, instead excelling only at the difficult. Even if his offense does not rebound back to the level he was in Lakewood, he can still be a useful player off the bench for a major league team. Reading’s park could help unlock some of Canelo’s power, but the real key for Canelo will be becoming a fielder at the level of his defensive tools. That might not be enough to surpass J.P. Crawford, but it could make him attractive as a trade piece this summer or next winter.
Placement on my Phillies Top 50 prospect rankings indicated in parentheses next to each player.
The hallmark of Reading lineups has been big time power, and the 2017 lineup is not that. Chace Numata is a late bloomer, and at 24 he is a bit old to be a serious prospect. He is, however, a high contact, solid defensive catcher who works counts and gets on base. Numata nearly won the FSL batting title last year, while only posting a .085 isolated power. He might see some power increase due to Reading, but he is going to be a guy who lines singles around the ballpark. Kyle Martin is going to be Reading’s main power source and is coming off a year in which he hit 19 home runs in a league known for suppressing home runs. Martin strikes out at a decent, but unconcerning rate for a power hitter, and he draws walks fairly well. What he doesn’t do is hit LHPs. Last year in 123 ABs he hit .179/.245/.358 off same side pitching, as opposed to his robust .277/.353/.462 line off of righties. Mitch Walding put himself back on the map last year after a good stint in Clearwater. He still plays good defense and draws a lot of walks. The problem is that he strikes out at a ton for a player with limited power at a power position. The Phillies have experimented with him playing LF and 1B to see if he can give himself enough positional flexibility to be a bench player. Andrew Pullin should probably be in AAA after hitting .346/.393/.559 in 46 AA games last year, but we have already gone over how stacked that outfield is. Pullin always could hit, and he has given himself a chance to be an everyday regular by tapping into his power by pulling everything. Like most 23 year olds, he needs to get better at laying off the offspeed stuff and drawing walks when they are available. Carlos Tocci finally makes the upper minors and is still somehow only 21 years old. The light hitting centerfielder backed up a .284/.331/.362 line in the Florida State League by hitting .323/.403/.392 this winter in Venezuela. He is a bit slower than he used to be, but he can flat out hit, and he can go get everything in center field. For the millionth season in a row, he just has to get stronger so that he is hitting doubles and home runs instead of singles. A two way player in college, Aaron Brown has never really found his way as a hitter in pro ball. He has plus raw power, but he was not able to tap into it last season, and he is never going to be a high contact hitter. Brown can play center in a pinch, but his best fit is right field, where he has a strong arm. Jiandido Tromp made it through Lakewood last year in his 4th try, before having a solid, BABIP depressed second half in Clearwater. Tromp has power, having hit 20 home runs last year, and he can run a bit. He is not great fielder, having moved from second to center, and now to left. He finally cut his strikeout rate last year, while drawing some walks, but he will need to prove that the improvement is a trend, not a fluke.
- Drew Anderson (26)
- Tom Eshelman (27)
- Brandon Leibrandt
- Tyler Viza (42)
- Shane Watson
- Elniery Garcia (22) (DL)
The Reading rotation is low on big velocity, but what they do have is a bunch of youth and a bevy of breakout prospects from the 2016 season. Eshelman will make his return trip to Reading after having a mixed debut there of good underlying numbers, but bad contact rates. Eshelman features average stuff across the board, though his velocity has increased since his college days, as well as good command. If he can live on the corners of the zone, he could be a back end starter. Brandon Leibrandt missed the whole 2016 season to injury. The tall lefty features a good changeup, but his hi-80s velocity limits his upside. Tyler Viza had a breakout 2016 season after his fastball velocity ticked up in Clearwater. He still needs to improve his average secondary pitches, but at 22 years old he still has time to build on a strong season. Shane Watson has been the darling of Phillies camp, and it is good to see the 2012 first round pick return to prospectdom. His fastball is sitting 91-95 touching up to 96, which is above where he was as an amatuer. He still will show feel for a good breaking ball, but he needs to find a good changeup to remain in the rotation. For now it looks like he will start even if there is a move to the bullpen in his future. The 22 year old Elniery Garcia had a breakout in Clearwater last year, which highlighted by a velocity increase that had him touching 97 in his appearance in the Eastern League playoffs. Garcia also sharpened his curveball, which now looks like an above average to plus pitch, as well as improved his average changeup. This winter he re-added a slider to to his arsenal to give hitters a different look. An injury setback has him in Spring Training for a bit longer, but he should be back soon.
The Reading bench is a solid group of role players. Angelo Mora looked like he had the chance to carve out a role as a utility player, but he struggled and saw himself passed by a group of prospects. He can play second, third, and the outfield, but his bat is not going to work at any of them. Flores was taken in the AAA portion of the Rule 5 draft and is an all-glove, no-hit shortstop, who should provide defense wherever they play him. Harold Martinez has never lived up to being a second round pick but has turned into a solid org player whose right handed bat could platoon with either Martin or Walding. Fisher is a solid org catcher who had a hot 8 game trip to Reading last year, but he is mostly a placeholder who can move up and down the org as needed.
- Matt Hockenberry
- Miguel Nunez
- Yacksel Rios
- Alexis Rivero
- Mario Sanchez
- Jesen Therrien
- Tom Windle
- Victor Arano (31) (DL)
- John Richy (DL)
Unlike the IronPigs’ bullpen, reading is full of hard throwing arms that need to figure some things out. Matt Hockenberry only throws around 90, but he gets hitters out with location and looping curveball. Miguel Nunez is a hulking righty (6’6” and giant) who can bring his fastball up to 97 and has a curveball and splitter. His problem has been locating any of his pitches in AA. Yacksel Rios is much of the same, though with a longer track record of wildness. Alexis Rivero will sit 93-95 with a good slider. Last year in AA was his first time having problems with walks, but at just 22 years old he he can find the control that allowed him to dominate the FSL. Jesen Therrien is a bit older at 24, but he looked good this spring, missing bats in his MLB camp cameo. He throws a low 90s fastball, good changeup, and a slider. Tom Windle has imploded since moving to the bullpen and has been unable to locate any of his pitches. Last year he still flashed a mid 90s fastball and plus slider from the left side. Victor Arano will start the year on the DL with a bicep injury. A move to the bullpen last year saw his velocity increase to the mid 90s, and his breaking ball tightened up to a true slider. He can locate both of his pitches in the zone, and the combination of location and stuff gives him a high upside.
Reading’s main help this year is going to come from the disabled list as players like Elniery Garcia and Victor Arano return to everyday work. They also shouldn’t lose too many players as the season goes on, with only hitters like Andrew Pullin and Scott Kingery in position to receive quick promotions. The core of this team should remain relatively intact as the young players, especially the rotation, and will continue to improve as the season progresses.