2017 Lakewood BlueClaws 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 Lakewood BlueClaws. 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.
Outside of Lehigh Valley, the most interesting team in the Phillies system will be in Lakewood, New Jersey. The team has impact talent at the top, complemented by a group of young high upside players that could join the Phillies upper echelon prospects by the end of the year. The BlueClaws may not be as dominating as the IronPigs, but they should be plenty of fun.
Any discussion of the BlueClaws starts with their pair of 18 year old top prospects. Mickey Moniak was the #1 pick in the draft and has the chance to be a 5 tool center fielder. Sixto Sanchez is only 18 and is already touching 98 this spring. He needs to improve his offspeed pitches, but he is already electric on the mound. Those two will be surrounded by a young rotation that includes fellow top 10 prospect Adonis Medina and a group of hitters highlighted by the Venezuelan double play combination of Arquimedez Gamboa and Daniel Brito. With much of Lehigh Valley slated to graduate this year, Lakewood represents the future core of the Phillies farm system.
Top Hitting Prospect: Mickey Moniak
Since the draft last June, there has been plenty of debate about whether Moniak was actually the best player available, but what hasn’t been up for debate is that he is a supremely talented baseball player. Moniak’s hit tool has drawn raves across the industry, with some putting a plus plus grade on it. He is a smooth center fielder with a good arm. He is at least a plus runner who will be a stolen base threat at his peak. The only real question for Moniak is his future power output. He bulked up a bit this offseason, but he doesn’t have a huge frame to grow into plus power down the road. The positive is that we have seen that hitters with a good feel for hard contact can grow into power over time. So he may not be a 30 home run hitter, but 20 home runs a year is not completely out of reach. If he can do that, he can be a superstar level player for the Phillies.
Top Pitching Prospect: Sixto Sanchez
Sixto Sanchez was the Phillies biggest breakout prospect in 2016. A converted shortstop, he improved from sitting 91-95 with solid control at the beginning of the year to sitting 95-98, touching 99 in the GCL playoffs. Velocity comes easily for Sanchez, who also features hard sinking life on his fastball and excellent command. His curveball is still a bit loopy, and he is still learning feel for his changeup, but both profiles as plus pitches long term. The Phillies have said they plan to limit Sanchez’s innings to about 120-130 this year, but still have him pitch the entire season. If he continues to build off of his 2016 season, he might be ending his 2017 season in Clearwater.
Breakout Potential: Daniel Brito and Arquimedez Gamboa
In the summer of 2014, The Phillies gave over $600,000 bonuses to three Latin American shortstops. One of them, Jonathan Arauz, was sent to the Astros in the Ken Giles-Vincent Velasquez trade. The other two will be Lakewood’s double play combination. Daniel Brito is the more solid of the two, with a simple left handed swing that generates plenty of contact. Brito is still very skinny, but he has more power than his size suggests, and while he won’t be a slugger, he could hit 10+ home runs a year at his peak. In most organizations, Brito would still be a shortstop, but given his average arm strength, the Phillies moved him to second base early, allowing him to play alongside some of the organizations better defenders. This means that Brito has the chance to be an impact defender at second. Where as Brito is fundamentally sound, Arquimedez Gamboa is projectable, flashy, and athletic. Gamboa is still learning how to hit, but he has bat speed from both sides of the plate and the foundation to grow into some power. He is still over aggressive and prone to strikeouts. He also has plus speed on the bases. Gamboa’s glove is where he has a chance to be special. He still needs to work on making the easy plays, but he has great range and a plus arm, and he is capable of making jaw dropping plays in the field. Gamboa still has a long way to go, but his combination of offensive and defensive upside makes him very interesting.
Placement on my Phillies Top 50 prospect rankings indicated in parentheses next to each player.
Edgar Cabral hasn’t played much since since he signed, but he has flashed some power. He struggled in 2016, backing up Deivi Grullon in Lakewood. Darick Hall is a massive left handed first baseman with plus or better raw power. He had little trouble against left handed pitching in Williamsport, but in a small sample size. He ended last year on fire and carried it into Spring Training. He has the potential to put up a Rhys Hoskins-esque breakout in Lakewood this year. Lucas Williams struggled in Williamsport last year, hitting only .217 in 51 games. He doesn’t have prototypical power for a third baseman, but he is a fast runner and great defender at the hot corner. Cord Sandberg starts 2017 demoted from Clearwater after a horrible season. Sandberg’s tools have regressed since he was drafted He has some power potential, but he has yet to be able to unlock it, and at 22 in low-A, he is running out of time. David Martinelli was the Phillies 6th round pick in 2016 and has an all round skillset in the outfield. He can play a solid center field, but will move to a corner in deference to Moniak. None of his tools standout, but he has the potential to be at least fringe average to average across the board. The big key for Martinelli will be getting his strikeouts back under control. The Phillies took Wojciechowski in the 15th round last year, but he didn’t sign due to an elbow injury. He is a large right handed first baseman who hit .442/.506/.973 in Division III last year as a senior. It is hard to know what he is capable of, given the low level of competition he faced in college, but he has enough power to be interesting.
Sixto Sanchez (6)
JoJo Romero (30)
Adonis Medina (9)
Bailey Falter (29)
JoJo Romero was drafted in the 4th round last year out of junior college. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and he backs that up with a good changeup. He is still working on improving his slider, and while his command was better in the pros last year, he has a history of command problems. Adonis Medina struggled with strikeouts last year in Williamsport, but that underrated how good his stuff was. Medina’s fastball has heavy sink and will sit 91-95, routinely touching up to 96. He has feel for a changeup and curveball, with the changeup having long term plus potential if he can learn to locate it. Last year he started working in a slider, and he has taken quickly to it, and it already profiles as a plus or better pitch. Medina has a good feel for pitching, but he needs to work on command of his pitches. He has the chance to be impact starter if he can build on the slider and grow his command. Ranger Suarez is a command and control lefty who sits in the low 90s and can locate all of his pitches for strikes. He wore down as the year went on in 2016, so holding up over a full season will be big for him. Nick Fanti is coming off of a WBC appearance for Team Italy and is making the jump from the GCL to full season ball. Fanti is a projectable lefty with a fastball in the high 80s and a loopy curveball that he can throw for strikes. He will need fill out, but he has enough control to survive until then. Bailey Falter is another projectable left handed starter who sits in the high 80s-low 90s, and reached up to 94 last season. He has advanced feel for a changeup and curveball, and he can throw both for strikes. If he can add enough velocity to sit 91-94, he has a chance to be a pretty good starter.
Lartigue was the Phillies 7th round pick a year ago and is an offense oriented catcher with the tools to be average defensively. Danny Zardon can play a bunch of positions on the diamond and is a fine org utility man. Carlos Duran is likely to start in the outfield as much as Sandberg and Martinelli, but he is a solid center fielder who can handle right and left. Duran has a projectable frame and the tools to be a 4th outfielder, but he has been unable to put it all together.
Mauricio Llovera (44)
Harold Arauz was a starter for the BlueClaws last year, but with a fastball that rarely broke 90, it makes sense to see if he can be more impactful in the bullpen. Bettencourt was very effective in college, but an injury slowed down his pro debut. He is a small righty with a solid fastball and good curveball. Ismael Cabrera can get the ball up to 95, but he has yet to make his way up from Lakewood. Hennigan is a big lefty with a low 90s fastball. Hibbs is a massive 6’7” right hander who saw an uptick in velocity in relief, and now sits in the low 90s with sink. Mauricio Llovera was very good for the GCL Phillies and probably would be a starter if the Phillies weren’t packed with them. He is a stocky righty who sat 92-95, touching 97 as a starter. His delivery is high effort, so the bullpen may be where he ends up. Zach Morris is a big lefty who is now 24 in Low-A. Felix Paulino came on strong to end the year in the Williamsport rotation. He is another short, right handed pitcher who can sit low 90s and touch up to 95 with his fastball. His lack of complete arsenal, coupled with past command problems, means the bullpen is probably where he ends up, but it would not be surprising to see him get a rotation shot if Lakewood suffers an injury.
Lakewood is always the team that experiences the most transition over the course of the season, and the 2017 version likely will continue that tradition. There are prospects in Extended Spring Training like Kevin Gowdy, Cole Stobbe, Juan Luis, Jesus Alastre, and Jhailyn Ortiz who would be upgrades to the roster. This year’s draft is loaded with college starting pitching, and if the Phillies go that route, that player could start with the BlueClaws. Beyond external additions, the relative youth of the BlueClaws’ top players should lead to some natural growth as they improve over the course of the season. The current team is very exciting, but there is a chance that Lakewood ends the year with a formidable roster.