Better than anyone, Baseball America has been providing comprehensive coverage of all levels of America’s Pastime for over three decades. Whether you’re a subscriber to their website, magazine or purchase the annual Prospect Handbook (which you can find here) you’re going to get well written, informative, dynamic content. I visit their site on a daily basis and encourage you to do the same. The July 2 coverage is second to none, they do outstanding reporting (like Aaron Fitt has on the Phillies/Ben Wetzler story) and generate content with excellence in all forms of media. I’ve been purchasing the Prospect Handbook since my senior year of high school (when Phil Hughes was on the cover) and have been a subscriber ever since I left the IronPigs and could no longer steal the new mag issues from the Coca-Cola Park press box. This year the BA writer covering the Phillies list is Josh Norris, formerly of The Trentonian. Our conversation follows. Continue reading…
And so we begin a new season’s worth of conversations with the internet’s best prospect writers. We’ll examine those writers’ lists and talk with them about the Phillies system. Our first participant this year is Chris Crawford, he of ESPN’s MLB Draft coverage and MLBDraftInsider.com. Chris does really terrific work and his readership is deservedly growing at an exponential rate. He’s currently mowing through farm systems as he pumps out reports with his Top 14 in ’14 series. The Phillies list is here. It’s free and it includes meaty reports on all fourteen guys he ranks as well as present/future tool grades. If you like his work (you will) and you’re interested in the upcoming draft (you should be) then I’d encourage you to buy Crawford’s excellent Draftbook. It’s just $1.99 and for that you’ll get 150 amateur scouting reports in a neat and clean PDF whhich will be emailed to you within an hour or two of purchase. You’ll also get an updated version of the book closer to draft day. It’s a terrific resource, one I used to build my preliminary amateur schedule for this spring, and it can be ordered here. Let’s get to my chat with Chris. Continue reading…
This will be the final installment of our series of conversations with some of the prospecting industry’s most prominent scribes. It is a discussion I had with MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo over lunch last week. Mayo has the unenviable task (ok, maybe I’m a little envious since he gets to talk about prospects for a living and all) of spearheading coverage of both minor league prospects and the draft for MLB.com all on his own. It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer volume of work Mayo does over at MLBPipleline.com. He’s a Penn grad, so none of us should be surprised. At this point in my process it didn’t make sense to ask Jonathan about guys we’ve already beaten into the ground here, like Ruf, Brown, Biddle and Morgan (ok, so maybe he brings up Morgan on his own). Instead I asked Jonathan about guys he had ranked in atypical places (Ethan Martin at #2, Sebastian Valle at #8). I didn’t often bring these guys up in previous conversations because I’ve known I was going to ask Jonathan about them the whole time. Aren’t you impressed?
I’m starting on my own top 10, 12, 15….I don’t know how many I’m going to do just yet. Anyway, I’m starting to write up my list this week so you can expect that relatively soon. I’m also continuing chip away at a piece that’s been in the works since the Phillies acquired Delmon Young. I haven’t received an optimal amount of cooperation from people inside the game to this point, but the article is coming along and it’s very strange. Here’s my chat with Jonathan Mayo:
Keith Law and I have interacted with each other a total of three times. Once was during my first trip to the Arizona Fall League in 2010. Nervous and paranoid, I held a door open for him as we entered Scottsdale Stadium via the front office, where scouts can pass through before a game to see batting practice and infield work. I wasn’t nervous that Keith Law was behind me as much as I was nervous about being caught in a place where I had absolutely no business being. It’s amazing what you can get away with at a ballpark when you wear a face of feigned confidence, tuck in an ugly polo shirt and carry one of those very adult looking, over-the-shoulder bags.
Not long after that, Keith and I got into a spirited, but short, “Audrey Hepburn vs. Grace Kelly” debate on Twitter. We chose to argue with words instead of just sending pictures back and forth to one another so we both lost that one as far as I’m concerned. Our most recent encounter is our discussion concerning the Phillies farm system which you’ll find below.
I don’t need to tell you about Keith’s experience or credentials. His voice’s rationality is only exceeded by its influence on modern baseball discourse. Make a list of who you associate with baseball statistics and a separate list of who you associate with prospects and scouting. Keith’s name will be the first you see on both lists. He broke Rob Parker. I encourage all of you to head over and grab an ESPN Insider link account now, even if it’s for Keith’s work alone. We emailed back and forth about the Phillies system for almost two weeks and exchanged about forty total correspondences.
My baseball “career”, if that’s what you want to call it, started in what was a brand new Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, PA. The drive to work was 8 minutes from home. I interned, which means, “I did everything nobody else wanted to do.” Like vacuum. Little did I know that somewhere in one of the ballpark’s concession stands lurked someone as hungry as those to whom he was serving Pork Nachos. Someone who, like me, was deriving utility from work by looking over his shoulder every few minutes to see the field and getting lost for a moment before remembering to make sure the kids on the bouncy castle in left field weren’t wearing shoes.
That person is Hudson Belinsky, whose credentials are impressive before you consider his age and then, once you learn he’s not even old to toss back a Yuengling, make you feel like you’re…I don’t know….only reaching Double-A by 26. Most impressively, Hudson has already been offered internships with teams and has written things for Baseball Prospectus. Most relevantly, he’s composed a top 30 list for Lindy’s Phillies Annual, a project being spearheaded by Liz Roscher.
I’ve contacted Liz about plugging the book, which just went to press. Where to buy it, what’s all in it…that sort of stuff. She’s insanely busy right now and still needs to get some of that information herself, from Lindy’s. I’ll update this post when that information becomes available to me, but for now, I need to publish this talk I had with Hudson.
My conversation with him lasted nearly two hours and we covered, literally, the entire system. I omitted some things to a) make this piece more readable and b) so we didn’t usurp value from the Annual.
Nobody covers baseball below the Major League level more comprehensively than Baseball America. They have monopolized a niche few baseball fans find themselves obsessed enough to occupy. Even the most passionate seamheads, the ones who keep up with the prospects and minor leagues, often couldn’t care less about what was going on in the ACC over the weekend or who made the U18 national teams. It takes a special kind of goober to get excited about stuff like this, or spend an hour combing through lists like this for fun (Eric’s note: go look at #52 on the 1995 top 100. He was called “Bob”?) I am that goober.
If that’s too deep for you, you should be interested in the Prospect Handbook, an annual purchase I’ve made since my senior year in high school and something that I carry with me 75% of the time from March to November. Ask my fiancé.
I got in touch with Jim Callis about the Phillies list and he granted me permission to call him on the phone during working hours, a true honor. Callis is Baseball America’s prodigal son. He began work at BA straight out of college, left for STATS for a few years, then came back and is now BA’s Executive Editor. It’s good to be Jim Callis and it was even better to talk to him, if only for about a half an hour, while my homemade chocolate ice cream was turning in the background.
Eric: Jim? It’s Eric Longenhagen.
Jim: Hey, Eric, how’s it going.
Eric: Great, man. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Jim: Happy to help out.
Eric: I wanna talk about this list
(Baseball America’s Phillies Top 10:
1. Jesse Biddle
2. Roman Quinn
3. Tommy Joseph
4. Jon Pettibone
5. Adam Morgan
6. Ethan Martin
7. Cody Asche
8. Maikel Franco
9. Darin Ruf
10. Carls Tocci)
and your relationship with the list. I know you’ve done interviews where BA’s lists are scrutinized or a player’s scouting report is questioned and you’re sort of forced to stand by a list that is not necessarily yours since you assign teams’ systems to each of your writers. Can you talk about what that’s like?
Jim: Sure. When the guys do the lists and finish them they get sent to me for editing. I try not to tinker with them too much because our guys have their own opinions and work hard to acquire the information they put in to the list.
Eric: Looking at Matt’s list for the Phillies, is there anything you’d do differently if you had carte blanche to alter the list?
Jim: Yeah, I think mine would be a tad different.
Eric: Let’s talk about Roman Quinn. I’m in the beginning of this process and already he seems like a polarizing guy. You guys had him all the way up at #2. What are your thoughts on Quinn and do you think he’ll develop physically and add the strength he’ll need to hit at the big league level?
Jim: I don’t think adding strength is a big deal for him because it’s not part of his game. This is a guy who’s going to do use his legs and put balls in play and make all sorts of things happen on the bases. He’s never, ever going to hit fifteen or twenty home runs. Even without that, I think there’s a useful player there. (Eric’s note: I really need to see Quinn. All of these different opinions bug me. Want to decide for myself)
Eric: What about the defense? You think he stays at shortstop?
Jim: I’m not too worried about him staying at short because even if it doesn’t work out, the fallback option is center field and that’s still so valuable. He played a lot of center field in high school.
Eric: Ahead of him you have Biddle. I want to know why you have Biddle at number one even though it seems you gave him the same projection as Adam Morgan and even John Pettibone. They’re all listed as #3 starters. What separates Biddle from those guys for you?
Jim: I think Biddle has better stuff than the other guys. He’s left handed, which matters. I know Morgan is, too, but then when you factor in age, the fact that Biddle is doing this sort of stuff and almost two years younger than Morgan…that’s a factor. And Biddle’s very safe for someone that young.
Eric: Speaking of Adam Morgan, I love him. From what I saw last year this guy looks like he has a chance to be a really nice mid-rotation starter. I’ve considered putting a list like this together and have thought about sticking him way up on my list. What do you think about his growth last year?
Jim: You know…it would be defensible to stick him at number one on this list. (Eric’s note: mostly unsolicited, this is the second time I’ve heard this exact phrase uttered by men who are way better at this than I am)
Eric: How do you guys go about compiling your lists? Is it your standard, “our writers see guys and have opinions that are supplemented by scouting contacts?”
Jim: Yeah. It’s an ongoing, year round process and even longer than that, really. We have a history of covering these kids back from when they were amateurs and that stuff lingers in our minds. We cover these guys all season and our thoughts about them build. We get stuff from teams about their own players and then go around sourcing all over. (Eric’s note: Interesting. It seems BA’s process draws info from a longer time period where as others seem to make a higher volume of calls when the time comes to make a list. BA might talk to a scout in June, write down what he says and use it months later when the time comes to make the list. Good? Bad? Needs more thought)
(Jim and I talk about college and high school baseball in the northeast for a little bit)
Eric: Oh, where would Trevor May be on this list if he were still in the organization?
Jim: That’s a good question. Let me pull up the list from before we he was traded and see
(Jim types some stuff into his computer)
Jim: Here it is. Matt had him at #6, between Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin. I am not a Trevor May fan and probably would have dropped him a bit once I got hold of the list.
Eric: Give me some names you think are going to bust out this year.
Jim: Dylan Cozens, who we sort of under estimated and Austin Wright (Eric’s note: That’s a new name.)
(thanking and good byes)
Before we wrap up, one thing I love about BA’s lists are the prospect superlatives they add on. They talk about things like, who in the system is the best defensive outfielder, who has the best curveball…that sort of stuff. I’ve included those along with my comments on each selection:
Best Hitter for Average: Cody Asche (Eric’s note: Steve Susdorf isn’t really a prospect, otherwise I’d stick him here)
Best Power Hitter: Darin Ruf (…….I guess. Who else would I go with? Larry Greene?)
Best Strikezone Discipline: Darin Ruf (I don’t care about walks, I care about production)
Fastest Baserunner: Roman Quinn (Quinn is the fastest man in all of baseball not named Billy Hamilton)
Best Athlete: Roman Quinn (The system is loaded with so many athletes. Aaron Altherr might be the fit here)
Best Fastball: Kenny Giles (Pure reliever, up to 98mph)
Best Curveball: Jesse Biddle (a potential legit 60 hook)
Best Slider: Adam Morgan (Yeah)
Best Changeup: Jon Pettibone (I’d have gone Morgan again)
Best Control: John Pettibone (No doubt)
Best Defensive Catcher: Sebastian Valle (Valle’s pop times aren’t spectacular but he’s one hell of a receiver)
Best defensive infielder: Cesar Hernandez (The fact that a second baseman takes this spot is really pretty sad)
Best infield arm: Maikel Franco (an easy one, some outside the Phils organization wanna see him catch and throw from behind the plate)
Best defensive OF: Tyson Gillies (a 70 runner, plays a legit CF)
Best outfield arm: Kyrell Hudson (an interesting name who I know little about)
Here’s a link to my other conversation(s) and our series primer: Aqui
Leading off our tour of Phillies Prospect coverage is Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus. Jason became the head of BP’s scouting staff when Kevin Goldstein was absconded away by Jeff Lunhow and his Hugh Grant eyes to join the Houston Astros. Jason is a skilled evaluator with an insatiable appetite for baseball. He enjoys a squeeze of citrus in his water. I can sit here and tell you how good Jason is at his job, how wonderfully realistic his assessments of talent are and how Jason’s content separates itself from the rest of the prospecting world because he’s simply the best and most unique pure writer of words we have. But perhaps the most ringing endorsement I can give Jason’s work is this: Whenever someone approaches me about how they can get into scouting and what they need to look for when evaluating talent, I refer them to Jason’s chapters in Baseball Prospectus’ 2012 book, Extra Innings. I can’t do better than those chapters so I won’t try.
I know an overwhelming number of our readers here probably already have subscriptions to BP. If you don’t, you need to head on over there and snatch one up. Even if you’re not sabermetrically inclined, the prospect coverage alone is already worth the small fee and is going to evolve into the most comprehensive public scouting database on Earth when the 2013 season starts. More on that in a bit. For now, enjoy my hour long talk with Jason which I transcribed to the best of my ability. Keep an eye out for my notes and links throughout.
Eric (via text)- I’ll call you in 15 minutes if that’s okay
Jason (via text)- I’m waiting in line for coffee, should be home in 15 minutes. Perfect.
15 minutes, 37 seconds later
(Jason and I engage in 20 seconds of small talk neither of us is particularly comfortable with)
Eric- Alright, let’s get into this. Why don’t you start by telling everyone about your new job and how it’s going?
Jason- It’s good. Different. Kevin’s (Goldstein) level of success gave me all sorts of freedom when he was still around. Our prospect coverage complimented one another and his presence gave me all sorts of freedom to write things like….faux fiction. Now there’s more structure to what I’m doing. I knew the direction I wanted to take things right away. I wanted to bring in more eyes and run things like an actual scouting department. (Eric’s note: He has. Several writers/evaluators across the country have joined BP to cover the minors this season. I’m curious to know what the output’s format will be for all this scouting data but it will certainly be exhaustive and ground breaking)
Eric- What does the Top 10 process entail?
Jason- I make a preliminary sketch of the top guys in the system and then make a list of guys I know within the industry who have coverage of that team. I make calls and work that information into the list. Then I’ll ask for contributions from the BP team about the top ten and ask for suggestions on players we think will get to the majors this year, or who might have a breakout season. I want as many sources as possible.
Eric- I want your thoughts on the Phillies philosophy on acquiring amateur talent. I know in the past you’ve said you really like what they do, but since then your writing has indicated a change in your stance on the pure, raw tool athletes the Phillies lust for every June.
Jason- My views have….refined on the Phillies tool heavy approach. It’s not that I’m no longer a fan of toolsy freak guys, I’m just no longer a fan of guys who don’t know how the hell to play baseball. I’ve given up on teaching the freak athlete how to play baseball because those guys just don’t develop. You have to see feel and instincts. If those things are lacking, the kid won’t bear fruit. I’m all for big tools as long as they show an aptitude for playing baseball as well.
Eric- One thing I find fascinating is an entire farm system’s worth of talent has been exported over the last half decade or so (since the Blanton trade) and nobody has made the Phillies regret trading them yet. Do you have thoughts on a cause to this or is this just some random stroke of luck?
Jason- Let me start by saying that no teams want kids they trade to fail. You draft and develop a relationship with these kids. You don’t send him away and hope he burns out or gets hurt. Sure, teams want to “win” these trades, whatever that means, but not at the expense of someone’s job or career. I think that gets lost on blogs. To answer your question, one reason things may have worked out like this is because teams are supposed to know their system better than anyone else. Only teams that see a prospect come to work every day can claim that his makeup is a known commodity. Makeup (Eric’s note: the definition of makeup throughout baseball is not uniform. Some will tell you lack of faith in a god is a sign of poor makeup, others couldn’t care less what you do at home as long as you strive to get better at baseball. Jason skews toward the latter) is an underrated part of this whole process and when you have a handle on that and other teams don’t, you have the upper hand. That’s not to say all prospects are traded because they have poor makeup. This thing with the Phillies is probably mostly luck, but the internal evaluation process is something to consider as well.
Eric- The one guy who was considered untouchable throughout that whole exile was Domonic Brown. This was a guy who (I proceed to crush on Domonic Brown) and no longer looks like that player. I’d like to know why.
Jason- I would also like to know why. People need to realize that the jump from Triple-A to the Major Leagues is insane. The level of competition is far and above what you see in Triple-A. You’re suddenly playing against much better players in bigger stadiums in front of many more people. Then, once you succeed at the major league level, your competition is going to adjust. Then you have to adjust. And then they’ll make more adjustments. This cycle continues for the rest of your career and some guys just can’t do that. This isn’t something you can simulate in the minor leagues. I don’t know why Brown hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations yet but that might be part of it. Others believe he still has a chance to be special. He is still quite young and I know teams were trying to get him thrown in to deals this winter in an effort to buy low.
Eric- I know in today’s online world we like to place the blame on something or someone, so is it fair to say that Brown hasn’t gotten to where we thought he would because of some combination of everything people have pointed to? All the stuff you mentioned, injuries, mishandling, luck, swing changes…?
Eric- Ok, let’s get into your list itself
(Eric’s note: Baseball Prospectus’ Top 10 Phillies Prospects
1. Jesse Biddle
2. Maikel Franco
3. Adam Morgan
4. Roman Quinn
5. Tommy Joseph
6. Ethan Martin
7. Cody Asche
8. John Pettibone
9. Carlos Tocci
10. Shane Watson)
and talk about Jesse Biddle, who’ll likely be the number one guy on everyone’s list this year. Give me your assessment of Biddle and touch on the strange fluctuations in velocity he tends to suffer from. Is that an incedental side effect of his development from a once a week high school pitcher in the short scheduled Northeast to a full time ballplayer? Or is that something we should be concerned about long term?
Jason- Biddle certainly isn’t your ideal type of #1 prospect and he does have a lot of warts on him already. As far as the velo concerns go, I think saying it’s due to growing pains is a convenient excuse. I’m not sure it’s okay to think that after Biddle has been in pro ball this long. His delivery is clean, but whatever relationship he has with the ball, his explosiveness and intensity, is lost at times. Once he completely grows into his body, maybe it’ll stick. If he can pitch at 90-93mph or maybe a little lower if he can learn to manipulate the ball and add movement, I think it’ll work at the Major League level. He’s got a mid-rotation ceiling. Not sexy.
Eric- Talk me through why Maikel Franco is so high on your list.
Jason- He has crazy bat speed. His hands are explosive. The reports I got on him were better than he looked when I saw him. For instance, I don’t think he sticks at third base. He’s too thick and slow in the lower half to confidently project at third. Maybe right field is an option since you’d hate to waste the arm at first. People outside the Phillies organization would like to see him move behind the plate. That’s a difficult move for anyone to make at this stage in the game, especially when you also want this guy to be a high end hitter. There’s just not enough time to work on all that stuff. Franco plays too fast at times. He needs to slow down. He loves to swing, the approach needs some serious work.
Eric- Do you think coaches can deploy developmental tools to help him improve his approach or is that just something some players have and others do not?
Jason- I think a coach can aid development with the approach but can’t assist with pitch recognition, which I think is an inherent thing that seriously influences the quality of one’s approach.
Eric- You’ve got Adam Morgan next on your list. I’m quite taken by him. Do you think he sustains the success he found last season?
Jason- Something concerns me about Morgan and slider pitchers in general. (Eric’s note: I am of the mind that Morgan’s best secondary pitch is his changeup, not his slider. I am in the minority on this) Bad sliders are home run pitches. If Morgan’s fastball isn’t working for him, if he’s not locating it or it doesn’t quite have the juice it needs, he becomes over reliant on his slider. His changeup comes and goes.
Eric- I actually like the changeup better. Wouldn’t hesitate putting a 6 on it in each of the times I saw him. I’ve kicked around the idea of doing a list myself and am not sure how high I’m going to stick Morgan. Could go as high as #2.
Jason- Well then let me ask you this. Based on what we both think about Biddle and the pitcher he is and the pitcher he might become and what you’ve just told me you think about Morgan, why couldn’t you go and put Morgan at #1?
Eric- Well, (redacted because I don’t want to give away my rankings) and….I know I shouldn’t care about this but I do…I don’t want people to think I did it just to be different. I know I should just evaluate the player, have an objective opinion about him and that’s it, but I know if I see something fishy on someone else’s list, I tend to wonder if they did what they did primarily for attention. I don’t want that to happen.
Jason- Sure, but you could justify it. There’s enough evidence and room for subjectivity for you to stick Morgan at #1 in a bad system and totally justify it. Now, if someone put Roman Quinn at the top of their list, then THAT would be someone I’d point at and say, “this person wants attention.”
Eric- Good, I’m glad you brought him up because we need to talk about him and an overarching issue the public seems to have with overvaluing speed. Do you think we see speed, that tangible, sexy tool, and forget about more important aspects of a player’s profile? Especially in a system like this where plus-plus tools are in short supply, do we see an 80 tool and fall in love even though the rest of the player isn’t all that good?
Jason- Speed clouds judgment. Having a catalytic tool like speed causes people to think you’re going to do the things you’re doing now all the way up through the major leagues. The ways he gets on base, the way he gets extra base hits….those sorts of opportunities don’t come around very often in the Majors. Sure, he’ll put pressure on infielders, but what MLB infielder is used to fielding a ball cleanly and throwing out fast guys at first base? How often do big league outfielders misplay a ball so badly that even the fastest of runners can stretch a double? It doesn’t happen. This is the fastest player in baseball not named Billy Hamilton and I don’t think it’s going to matter. I was one of the few that didn’t buy into Dee Gordon. Sure he’s a total burner and he’s good enough to play shortstop, but you have to hit. You have to have the strength to hit and control a baseball bat. Quinn is going to have to develop that strength and that’s a really hard thing to do.
Eric- What about the defense, do you think he sticks at short?
Jason- If they’re in A-ball and you’re questioning the defense already, they’re probably going to have to move. His hands and actions need serious improvement if he wants to stay at short.
Eric- Let’s discuss guys that are a long ways away. Gabriel Lino (Eric’s notes: acquired for Jim Thome this past season). Any chance the bat develops enough for him to be a backup? I know the tools are loud.
Jason- Yeah…it’s not gonna work. Lino is big and strong. The build is strong. He has impressive catch and throw skills and the raw pop is awesome, but you only see it at 5 o’clock. He needs to hit. I just don’t think he’s going to.
Eric- Andrew Pullin, go.
Jason- Ah yes, when I started making calls Pullin’s name started popping up. He’s sort of a weird guy. The bat is interesting but his entire status as a prospect totally depends on whether he can successfully convert to second base. There’s not enough bat for a corner outfield spot. Watch for the defense, it’s key.
Eric- I guess we sorta need to talk about Darin Ruf. When he had that August and interest in him really exploded, it seemed questions were directed at everyone but you. I want your thoughts on Ruf.
Jason- I understand the excitement. We’ve seen it before when a guy who’s just an org guy or a four-A guy has a stretch where he just goes apeshit. People assume that because this guy is doing this at Double-A that he’s close enough to the majors that it’ll translate and he’s just going to keep mashing. You can’t Ruf has a ton of raw strength, just bull, country, lift balls out all over the place strength….but it’s just not gonna happen at the big league level. We had some discussion amongst the scouting staff at BP about putting him in the back half of our top 10 because some think he’s a platoon bat. There’s value in a platoon bat and some argued that value and, more importantly, the certainty of that value compared to the high risk involved with the young players we ended up with at #9 and #10 meant we should include Ruf. I’ve dealt with l angry comments because we didn’t.
Eric- Let’s do some rapid fire, one sentence evals. Dylan Cozens.
Jason- Got some love. Was a candidate to be in our “on the Rise” section.
Eric- Jake Diekman?
Jason- Got some love there, too. If he can command that plus-plus velocity then he can pitch in more than just a specialist role. Righties do pick it up early though because the arm slot is so low.
Eric- Larry Greene?
Jason- I’m not a fan of the bat speed. I’ve had some say he has slider bat speed. He’s a first -base-only guy.
Eric- Kelly Dugan
Jason- No love
I then thanked Jason for spending over an hour on the phone with me, we talked for five more minutes and then I went to play darts with my future brother-in-law. Up next in our prospect conversations series: Baseball America’s Jim Callis.
I joined SNY.tv‘s Ted Berg (@OGTedBerg) to preview the upcoming Phillies-Mets series. We talk about the Phillies’ shrinking playoff hopes, Roy Halladay‘s struggles, Cliff Lee‘s resurgence, Tyler Cloyd‘s future, and Cole Hamels‘ side job as a model.
Your starting pitching match-ups for the series (Updated!):
We were sad to see David Hale leave his Phillies beat at The News Journal as he moved on to cover college football for ESPN (@DavidHaleESPN). No one referenced The Simpsons quite like he did. However, we are also happy to welcome in a new guy into the fold, and that is Chris Branch (@ChrisBranchTNJ). Chris introduced himself on July 3 here if you’d like to learn a bit about him. I caught up with him via email over the All-Star break to get his views on a few issues pertinent to the Phillies.
. . .
1. You’re jumping right into a disastrously bad season for the Phillies. Have any of your perceptions of the team as an outsider changed now that you’ve been in the clubhouse?
They haven’t changed much. Before I got here, I knew the Phillies were having a bad season, but I didn’t know how bad. I will say my first few days I was impressed with how upbeat they tried to stay as the losses kept piling up, but any optimism vanished as they left for the All-Star break.
2. What is the general atmosphere in the clubhouse? We learned that Jonathan Papelbon had a mild tantrum after blowing Thursday night’s [July 5] save in Queens. Is this a regular occurrence?
Like I said, it was kind of upbeat before they really started sucking. There seemed to be a main troupe of guys laughing and joking before games (Victorino, Papelbon, Lee), but smiles were nowhere to be found after last Sunday’s loss. I haven’t seen any tantrums of any kind yet, but seeing Victorino that depressed before Sunday’s game was just as weird.
3. How are the younger players treated in the clubhouse, particularly the relievers who have been a big reason behind the Phillies’ troubles?
Honestly, the relievers kind of stay mum when the media’s in the clubhouse. I’ve seen Papelbon razz them a bit, but they’re normally all business when we’re around.
4. After Brian McCann‘s grand slam in the eighth inning on Friday [July 5], fans immediately filed out of the stadium in seething anger. What is your perception of the atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park as it relates to the fans?
Frustration. It’s pretty palpable that people are sick of the losing, especially in that fashion. To have Kyle Kendrick, who’s struggled most of the season, pitch seven shutout innings only to have Antonio Bastardo give up the McCann boomstick like that has to be brutal for fans to watch. You could feel any electricity built up over the course of the game evaporate the second the ball hit the brick wall in center field.
5. What do you expect the Phillies to do with Cole Hamels, who may become a free agent after the season?
I have a feeling they’re going to re-sign him before the deadline. But, if the team keeps losing, you have to think Ruben will listen to some trade calls at the deadline rather than get caught up in a Pujols-esque situation. There’s no way the front office lets the status quo remain for the rest of the season, though.
. . .
The 1-3 Florida Marlins are in town for the 1-2 Phillies’ home opener. Anibal Sanchez will oppose Cole Hamels, a match-up of two very talented starting pitchers. Both teams are coming off of disappointing openings to the season: the Phillies have pitched well but scored few runs; the Marlins have been hit-or-miss, falling victim to Kyle Lohse and Johnny Cueto but victimizing Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo.
Series at a Glance
- April 9: Anibal Sanchez (3.25 xFIP in 2011) @ Cole Hamels (3.02)
- April 11: Josh Johnson (3.32) @ Roy Halladay (2.71)
- April 12: Mark Buehrle (4.14) @ Joe Blanton (3.24 in 38 innings)
- Jose Reyes, SS (.386 wOBA in 2011)
- Emilio Bonifacio, CF (.341)
- Hanley Ramirez, 3B (.317)
- Gaby Sanchez, 1B (.342)
- Austin Kearns, LF (.262)
- Chris Coghlan, RF (.286)
- Omar Infante, 2B (.305)
- John Buck, C (.301)
- Anibal Sanchez, SP
- Juan Pierre, LF (.293)
- Placido Polanco, 3B (.304)
- Jimmy Rollins, SS (.329)
- Hunter Pence, RF (.405)
- Shane Victorino, CF (.372)
- John Mayberry, Jr., 1B (.369)
- Carlos Ruiz, C (.332)
- Freddy Galvis, 2B (N/A)
- Cole Hamels, SP
Dave Gershman (@Dave_Gershman), of ESPN’s Marlins Daily, and I swapped some questions to preview the series on our respective blogs, so make sure to stop over there to check out what I had to say about the Phillies. His answers about the Marlins are below.
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1. So you’ve seen the first regular season action in the new ballpark, albeit just one game. What are your initial thoughts? Do you think it will play as an extreme pitcher’s park as many are predicting?
Although I think it’s too early to tell whether or not the ballpark will favor pitchers rather than hitters, there are some initial problems concerning me that could easily be found within the confines of the park prior to the seasons start. The home run sculpture in center field is a basic issue that I have with the park. It’s almost directly in the batters eye, which too is bright green. There is just a lot of noise going on in center field which I think should be dimmed out if possible. Back to the question though, I do think the park will become a pitcher’s best friend. The dimensions are huge, and last time we saw dimensions as such for a brand new park was Citi Field.
2. Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t hit a home run yet. What’s wrong with him?
Absolutely nothing. The season is only four days old and we all know what Stanton is capable of.
3. Which hitter has most impressed you through four games? Which pitcher?
I’ll go with Omar Infante and Josh Johnson. It’s still early, but Infante’s big home run on Saturday night helped the Marlins win their first game of the season. Additionally, he almost hit for the cycle that night. Josh Johnson being healthy and pitching a decent game on Opening Night earns him my “most valuable pitcher through four games” award. If Johnson can stay healthy and simply be Josh Johnson, the Marlins post-season chances are much greater.
4. Which hitter has least impressed you through four games? Which pitcher?
Mike Stanton and Carlos Zambrano. The fact that Stanton hasn’t yet gone deep isn’t the problem for me. The issue that I have with Stanton is that a lot of the fastballs he’s been given have been rolled over to third base or elsewhere to the left side of the infield. Last season, all of those would be fly balls. Zambrano’s performance yesterday sells it. After a lousy first few innings, the right-hander easily penetrated the Marlins’ chances of winning the ballgame.
5. Anibal Sanchez increased his K/9 from 7.4 and 7.2 in 2009-10 to 9.3 last year, while also continuing to improve his control. What contributed to this change?
Like Ricky Nolasco, Sanchez threw his fastball more and got more whiffs outside the zone. His contact rate lowered because of that and, because of that, probably had him gain more confidence in his arsenal. In doing so, Sanchez has easily become one of the more feared starters in the NL East and has a chance to continue providing as a solid number two for the Fish for years to come.
6. Have the first few games of the season changed the way you feel about the NL East?
Not particularly. I’ll make my judgements in a couple of weeks once things settle down a bit. That said, I did expect the Braves to play better and the Mets the opposite. Cliff Lee failed to lead the Phillies to victory in his first start, but again, these things happen in the first few games of the season. If I made judgements after the first weekend of the season I would have given up on the Red Sox after the first week of last season.
7. How do you see this series playing out? Who wins?
Especially with the way these two teams played this weekend, it could go either way. That said, I think the Phillies will turn the bats on and, additionally, shut the Marlins down. The Fightin’s will win the series 2-1.
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Use this thread throughout the day to talk about the Phillies and the game.