Phillies Prospect Conversation: Jim Callis (Baseball America)

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.

Jim: Hello?

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

Phillies Prospect Conversation: Jason Parks (Baseball Prospectus)

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

(phone ringing)

Jason- Hello?

(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…?

Jason-……..maybe.

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.

Talking Phillies-Mets with SNY.tv’s Ted Berg

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.

Ted’s embarrassing photos of Cole Hamels archive.

Your starting pitching match-ups for the series (Updated!):

Talking Phillies with Chris Branch

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.

. . .

Thanks to Chris for taking the time to share his perspective as an insider. Make sure you follow him on Twitter (@ChrisBranchTNJ) and check out his work on Philled In for The News Journal.

Marlins Series Preview with Dave Gershman

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

Lineups

Marlins

Phillies

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.

. . .

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.

. . .

Many thanks to Dave for sharing his insight on the Fish. Follow him on Twitter and stop by Marlins Daily for his thoughts throughout the series.

Use this thread throughout the day to talk about the Phillies and the game.

Q&A with former Phillies Minor Leaguer Eric Pettis

Eric Pettis was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2010 draft and spent two seasons in the organization, going from Williamsport in 2010 to Lakewood and Clearwater in 2011. Unfortunately, he was recently released, so he is hoping to latch onto a new team to continue his career. In the meantime, he will be publicizing his book, “Just A Minor Perspective: Through the Eyes of a Minor League Rookie“. Pettis provides a first-person account of the good and the bad that a Minor Leaguer goes through, a perspective surprisingly missing, even in the age of blogs and social media.

The minor leagues are largely misunderstood, more well known for the players who have skipped through their ranks than the ones who reside in them. They’re a mysterious land of hotels, bus rides, and clubhouses. Upon being drafted out of UC Irvine by the Phillies, right-handed pitcher Eric Pettis didn’t quite know what he was getting himself into.

Just A Minor Perspective allows readers to jump into Eric’s mind and experience the journey along with him. The narrative resembles stream-of-consciousness as he describes the good, the bad, and the ugly of the minor leagues as it hits him square in the face for the first time.

Eric gives an honest, pointed, and often humorous account of what he feels when he’s feeling it. Just A Minor Perspective is a gripping story of one man’s attempt to find his place in a new world; a scramble to conquer the first rung of the professional baseball ladder.

Pettis was kind enough to take a few questions for us. Check out the questions after the jump and be sure to grab his book and follow him on Twitter (@Eric_Pettis).

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Phillies Q&A with Lee, Howard, Thome, Papelbon

Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Jim Thome, and Jonathan Papelbon took questions at the 2012 On Deck with the Phillies Reception, a Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce event. Watch the video below to see what they had to say.

Papelbon isn’t the most well-liked guy in baseball, but he seems very affable and funny at this event. Thome is as lovable as always, Lee couldn’t care less that he’s at this event, and Howard seems rather optimistic about his future given his injury. Overall, it was a very interesting Q&A session that should only make you thirst even more for Opening Day.

Talking Belt and Brown with Wendy Thurm

There is an odd parallel between two prospects one wouldn’t have thought would be paired together: Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants and the Phillies’ Domonic Brown. Both were very highly-regarded prospects, but have had trouble finding full-time work at the Major League level, and not for a lack of skill. I caught up with Wendy Thurm, a Giants fan and fantastic baseball writer, to investigate some of the similarities between the two players. Wendy is a contributing writer at FanGraphs and Baseball Nation. She founded HangingSliders.com, a baseball blog with analysis, commentary, poetry and humor. You can follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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1. Tell us a little bit about Brandon Belt the prospect. What was his ceiling expected to be, and where did he find himself in prospect rankings?

The Giants selected Belt in the fifth round of the 2009 amateur draft out of the University of Texas (Austin). A natural first baseman, Belt dominated the minor leagues in 2010, his first season of professional baseball. He hit .352/.455/.620 in 136 games from A+ to AAA. Baseball America ranked Belt 23rd on its Top 100 prospects list for 2011. He also was the Giants’ top prospect heading into the 2011 season.

2. What factors have contributed to his inability to obtain a job as a MLB regular?

The Giants added Belt as a non-roster invitee to their 2011 spring-training camp, with no expectation he’d make the big-league club. Then Belt batted .306 with five doubles and three home runs in 25 games, and outfielder Cody Ross sustained a calf injury, opening a roster spot.

In his first seventeen games, Belt supplanted veteran Aubrey Huff at first base, forcing Huff to play out of position in the outfield, with often disastrous consequences for the Giants. And while Huff struggled at the plate, Belt was worse, hitting only .192/.300/.269. With Cody Ross ready to return from the disabled list, the Giants optioned Belt to Triple-A on April 21. Again, Belt dominated AAA pitching.

When Buster Posey suffered a season-ending injury in late May, Belt returned to San Francisco. That visit, too, was short-lived, after Cardinals pitcher Trever Miller hit Belt on the wrist with fastball in early June, resulting in a hairline fracture. With his wrist healed, Belt returned to action, but at Triple-A. Again, he dominated. Again, the Giants recalled Belt, but only to take the spot of an injured player. Again, he struggled, was optioned, and then recalled. He ended the season with an unremarkable 225/.306/.412 line.

The Giants stuck with Huff at first base for most of 2011, in large part owing to his two-year, $20 million contract. The team also trusted Huff would eventually get his offense going. He didn’t, ending the season with a .246/.306/.370.

3. How would you have handled the situation differently, in terms of personnel?

Like many prospects who dominate at Triple-A, Belt struggled initially at the big-league level. What he needed most was regular playing time. What he got was a lot of skepticism from manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean. I wouldn’t have given Huff nearly as much time to get his game going. I wouldn’t have given outfielders Andres Torres and Aaron Rowand nearly as much time to get their games going. I would have found a way to play Belt, either at first base or in the outfield, nearly every day.

4. Do you think Belt’s career is redeemable, and if so, can it be done as a Giant?

Yes. Belt is still a top prospect with the potential to be a special player at the plate (and a decent one in the field). He performed well in winter ball in the Dominican League and has had a productive spring. And yet, there is still debate within the Giants’ front office about whether Belt will make the Opening Day roster. So it’s unclear to me whether he can succeed as a Giant.

I would have penciled in Belt as the everyday left fielder for 2012, leaving Brett Pill as Huff’s backup at first, and a nice lefty-righty platoon partner. Pill is a career minor- leaguer. In 53 plate appearances last September, he hit .320/.321/.560 while playing first base for a bit more than 110 innings. That would have given Belt the regular playing time both he and the Giants need, and set him up to take over first base when Huff’s contract expires after this season.

Instead, the Giants traded for Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan slotting Cabrera for left field and Pagan for center. Nate Schierholtz won the right-field job last season with outstanding defense and consistent hitting and was expected to be the everyday right fielder heading into spring training.

This spring, non-roster invitee Gregor Blanco is hitting the leather off the ball and running the bases like a gazelle. At 28, Blanco’s been playing professional baseball since 2006, but only has one full season in the majors. In 2008, Blanco played left and center field for the Braves and hit .251/.366/.309. Since then, he’s bounced around with the Braves, Nationals, and Royals seeing only 317 major-league plate appearances. His career line is .258/.358/.324.

From what’s been reported, it appears that Belt, Pill and Blanco are fighting for two roster spots. If it were my decision, based on what we know now, I would send Pill to Triple-A, make Blanco the fouth outfielder and give Belt most of the playing time at first base. Huff would see some action at first and in left field, leaving Bruce Bochy to juggle the remaining outfield playing time among Cabrera, Pagan, Schierholtz and Blanco.

5. Who do you see having the more productive career when all is said and done, Belt or Domonic Brown?

I hear about the parallels often in that both Belt and Brown are highly-regarded prospects who have not been giving the opportunities to prove themselves in the majors. I’m not as familiar with Brown, obviously, so it’s difficult to say who will have the “more productive” career, even just looking at past performance and projections. Belt has more power potential; Brown more speed. Each needs regular playing time at the big-league level in order to develop their skills fully and to play well consistently. My hope is that it happens – and happens soon – for both players.

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Thanks again to Wendy for taking the time to share her insight on Belt and the Giants. Make sure to read her stuff at FanGraphsBaseball Nation, and Hanging Sliders, as well as on Twitter @hangingsliders. Let’s hope her optimism about Belt’s future applies equally to that of Brown. The success of the Phillies in 2013 and beyond — some would even argue 2012 — has a lot to do with Brown’s ability to contribute.

Reddit Q&A with Trevor May

Last night, Phillies pitching prospect Trevor May answered a bunch of questions on Reddit. Lots of really interesting answers and a bit of a look into the life of a Minor Leaguer. Make sure to check it out and follow him on Twitter.

May spent all of the 2011 season with Clearwater, where he posted a 3.63 ERA with a 12.4 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9. Baseball America lists him as the organization’s #1 prospect.

Here are a few of my favorite Q&A’s:

Reddit: what has been your best experience with a big leaguer rehabbing with your squad?

May: Talking Pitching with Brian [Schneider]. That guy is awesome to talk to.

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Reddit: Let’s say you make the show..and you face Bryce Harper. How would you go about pitching against him?

May: In, In, Up and IN.

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Reddit: Is it ever weird to watch MLB games on TV or live, now that the chance for you to be in them is so close? How is it different from watching those games as a kid?

May: Sometimes I stop and realize how surreal it is and will be when I finally throw on that mound. You just always think its so far away, but now that its close its hard to truly realize what It will be like.

Tip of the cap to @jph89 for giving May the idea.

Looking at Miami and Atlanta’s Off-Seasons

The Phillies’ off-season so far has been a mixture of incredible anxiety and tedium. Questions asked in early November included, “Will Jimmy Rollins come back?”, “What will the Phillies do with the bullpen?”, and “What is the future of Domonic Brown?” The Phillies answered those questions slowly and rounded out the roster with the addition of veterans such as Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, and Dontrelle Willis. We have a very clear idea of what to expect with spring training on the horizon.

With the Phillies’ issues more or less settled, let’s take a look at two of their competitors in the National League East, the Miami Marlins and the Atlanta Braves. I caught up with each team’s Sweet Spot blog, Dave Gershman for the Marlins and Ben Duronio for the Braves. Gershman runs Marlins Daily and you can follow him on Twitter @Dave_Gershman. Ben writes for Capitol Avenue Club and you can follow him on Twitter @Ben_Duronio. Let’s start with the Marlins.

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Miami Marlins

1. Letter grade your team’s off-season so far. Why do you give it that grade?

The Marlins off-season on paper looks pretty solid. They filled four integral needs on their roster by adding one of the best shortstops in baseball, a solid, injury-free starter, a closer & a number four, albeit Zambrano is an atom bomb waiting to happen. That said, quality over quantity is the key and I’m not sure it’s fair to say the Marlins totally succeeded in that sense. They overpaid for Heath Bell and might’ve done so as well in the case of Buehrle, and that’s one of the few reasons I’d give them a B for winter. The addition of Jose Reyes could be huge for the Fish, and quite possibly an NL East impacting move.

2. Are there any players, free agent or otherwise, you wish your team had pursued more heavily?

If his price and yearly demands were slightly lower, I thought Edwin Jackson would have been a nice fit for the Marlins, especially if the left-field fences are as deep as expected. Jackson isn’t amazing by any means, but he’s a quality pitcher who has found success over the past few years. Also, I would have much rather had K-Rod on a 3/21 deal or something like that than Heath Bell and his 3/27. Not sure if that was ever possible (considering Rodriguez accepted arbitration, but he was on my list of players I wanted to see the Fish acquire. Speaking of that list, last but not least, I thought Grady Sizemore made some sense for the Marlins. It’s hard to see Emilio Bonifacio being anywhere near as successful this year as was last, and even a Sizemore not at 100% could eclipse that.

3. What needs still remain for your team and how do you think your team should go about addressing it?

If the Marlins still do have some money to spend, center-field and the bullpen are some obvious choices for an upgrade. The ‘pen still seems a bit thin and the aforementioned Bonifacio isn’t a starting center-fielder, in my opinion. I thought Coco Crisp would have been a decent option for the Fish, and although it’s unclear whether or not they were in on him, it’s a shame they didn’t pursue him more aggressively. The Marlins usually find success in their minor league signings, but aside from Chad Gaudin they weren’t as active in that market this year. Yesterday, the Twins inked about ten cheap former major leaguers to minor league deals who I totally would have hopped on if I were Larry Beinfest. The list featured the likes of Luis Perdomo, Jared Burton, Daryl Thompson and Jason Bulger. Not great, but those are the kind of guys the Marlins have found success in previously. See Brian Sanches, for instance.

4. What prospects should we keeping an eye on going into the 2012 season?

Ah, my favorite question regarding the Marlins. The minor leagues are my specialty. I spend most of my time watching minor league baseball during the season and was lucky enough to see some decent Marlins prospects last season. The system is rather strange, considering most of the talent is not only two or three years away, but also because it has star power and raw guys with tons of upside. There’s really no “in-the-middle” guys. That said, the prospects I’m highest on are Noah Perio, Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez and J.T. Realmuto. Not neseccarily in that order, but those are my favorite four. All have a chance to greatly impact the Marlins in some way.

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Atlanta Braves

1. Letter grade your team’s off-season so far. Why do you give it that grade?

So far I would give the Braves a B+. They have not done much, except rid themselves of Derek Lowe, Alex Gonzalez, and a few bullpen arms. The Lowe trade was fantastic and exactly what the team could have hoped for. The grade will likely be altered once Jair Jurrjens is traded, but their ability to be patient and wait for the correct transactions to make is why I have given them such a supportive grade.

2. Are there any players, free agent or otherwise, you wish your team had pursued more heavily?

I wanted them to pursue Angel Pagan a bit more than they did, and I wish the team traded for Brendan Ryan to play shortstop. I see him as an incredibly undervalued player who would be an improvement over what the team got from the position last season. With rookie Tyler Pastornicky expected to take the starting role, the team is placing a lot of faith in a prospect who does not dazzle with the glove nor the bat. The high expectancy of Ryan producing similar numbers as he has over the course of his career would have been more comforting than the risk the Braves are taking with Pastornicky being handed the job before Spring Training.

3. What needs still remain for your team and how do you think your team should go about addressing it?

It is understood that the team is looking for a starting left fielder, and the trade rumors have indicated that to be a reality. They do not necessarily need to do so, with Martin Prado the incumbent at the position. I would be fine with the Braves going with Prado in left field if they acquire a solid fourth outfielder, but it is expected that they will look to acquire a bigger bat sometime this offseason.

Other than that, the only position on the Major League roster that is available is utility infielder. Non-roster invite Drew Sutton could eventually be that player, but Wren seems intent on acquiring a legitimate backup shortstop rather than go with the uncertainty that is Sutton.

The farm system could also be improved, which is what I personally label as a “need.” Jair Jurrjens is the piece that could acquire a group of prospects that can improve the outlook of the position players in the system. Martin Prado could also be moved to accomplish this task.

4. What prospects should we keeping an eye on going into the 2012 season?

As mentioned before, Tyler Pastornicky will be starting for the Braves unless something drastic occurs before opening day. The hope is that Pastornicky plays about average defense and has an average bat for a shortstop, which is fine from that position. Other than Pastornicky, most of the interesting prospects the Braves have are on the mound.

Julio Teheran could be in the rotation full-time when Jurrjens is traded, and Randall Delgado will be the sixth starter in that event. Both should see time in the rotation for large portions of the season, and fellow top pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino will be a bullpen arm for the big club. Vizcaino has the stuff to be a dominant back-end reliever, which should give the team one of the best bullpens in the game once again.

Players to follow in the minors that will not see the majors this year include Edward Salcedo, Sean Gilmartin, Christian Bethancourt, and Zeke Spruill to name a few.

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Thanks to Dave and Ben for taking the time to talk about their teams. Make sure to visit Marlins Daily and follow @Dave_Gershman for your Marlins-related news and analysis, and Capitol Avenue Club and @Ben_Duronio for Braves intel.