Misguided Early Spring Training Analysis: 5th Outfielder Battle

Spring Training statistics are just short of utter meaninglessness. This likely isn’t news to you as a reader of Crashburn Alley. Bill Baer made it a point to provide an annual reminder of this fact on these very pages. That first link offers a particularly comprehensive reason for unreliability of Spring Training statistics. To start, the length of Spring Training is such that all sample sizes are small. Added to that are considerations such as players working on weaknesses rather than playing and competing as they would in regular season play and quality of competition.

In the first five games of 2017 Spring Training, we have seen all of that. Obviously, five games is a minuscule sample. We had reports yesterday of Clay Buchholz only working at 80 percent effort, which, presumably, would inflate the stats of hitters facing him. Phillies hitters have likely faced similar non-100 percent efforts from opposing pitchers. Early in the spring, especially, low-level minor leaguers see time in Grapefruit and Cactus League games, diluting the quality of competition even further than the spring on the whole. All that is to say that none of what follows matters much at all.

Even so, as a Phillies-centric site, it behooves us to focus on what is perhaps the only truly interesting roster battle in camp for the glorious role of fifth outfielder.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 8: The Hairy Walk of Time

Baseball is back! The college baseball season started last week and, just yesterday, players wearing Phillies uniforms played a baseball game in Clearwater, Florida. Those players mostly weren’t guys we’ll see much of in 2017, but they were Phillies. Today, marks the beginning of Grapefruit League play, so we’ll see even more Phillies.

Baseball is back!

@Phrozen_: is the IBB change a) the absolute worst idea ever or b) only the second worst idea ever after the DH?

Not to be pedantic, but we’ve had a lot worse ideas than the IBB change in the history of human civilization. Slavery, genocide, non-24-hour diners to name a few. The IBB change is small bones on a wider scale.

More to the point, I was sort of with you when this rule change was floated out as a possibility last week. I immediately thought of instances where runners advance on an IBB wild pitch or a pitcher gives up a hit when the intentional ball drifts back over the plate or a runner on third steals home on an overly nonchalant lob. Those instances will be sorely missed, to be sure. But they are so rare that we get, what, one of these events every three to five years?

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MLB Pipeline Releases Phillies Top 30 Prospects

On Tuesday, MLB released their top 30 prospects for every National League East team on MLBpipeline.com. While for many this was a chance to see what the league’s prospect gurus had to say about the Braves farm system, which is one of the best, we here at Crashburn were interested in getting our first look at their take on a Phils farm system that has seen some mixed reviews throughout the offseason.

While the general consensus is that the organization is above average, opinions have varied. Keith Law ranked the Phillies as the 14th best system, down from sixth heading into 2016, while Baseball Prospectus tabbed only three teams as having more Top 101 prospects than the Phillies.

A few factors combined to lower the esteem held toward what many in Philly think is a bright prospect-studded future. First, the organization graduated a handful of upper-level prospects last season. The last MLB Pipeline ranking in 2015 had Jake Thompson ranked third, Zach Eflin as a top-10 prospect and Alec Asher also listed at 25. All three played with the big club in 2016.

In addition, a few of the best prospects in the system didn’t take expected steps forward. Nick Williams tried to swing his way to Philadelphia with no such luck, J.P. Crawford, who many also assumed would debut with the Phillies late last season, didn’t make the adjustment to triple-A as swimmingly as hoped for a top-5 prospect in all of baseball, and Mark Appel struggled before having season-ending elbow surgery.

You lose some players to the majors, a few top guys don’t make statements that incite the greatest level of confidence, and your stock realistically will drop. So it went.

So how do they rank the current prospects? Continue reading…

Phillies Prospect Matt Imhof Retires from Baseball

In June, former Phillies second-round pick Matt Imhof was involved in a terrifying accident during training that resulted in the loss of his right eye. Though not regarded as an elite prospect for the team–he did not appear in Brad Engler’s list of the top-40 Phillies prospects in 2016–that does not diminish in any way the tragedy of what happened.

As a professional baseball player, Imhof undoubtedly set aside many other opportunities in his life to pursue his dream to play in the major leagues. He was unbelievably close to realizing that dream. He was drafted in the second round of the MLB draft, advanced to High-A ball as a 22-year old, and was considered by many publicly available prospect rankings to be among the top-30 or so prospects in a deep system. In the grand scheme, he was on the doorstep with his hand on the knob of an unlocked door that led to the fulfillment of his life-long dream. Continue reading…

John Sickels Weighs In On Phils’ Prospects

On Tuesday, John Sickels of Minorleagueball.com ranked 20 Phillies prospects. Sickels does it a little differently than most anyone you’re likely to see write up every system in the game. His lists are based on grades, from A on down, and we’ve seen before that he is not one to fall into the group think that sometimes plagues prospect reporters/scouts. His style can create a list that can feel “wrong”, but the logic behind it is up front, and as we know, prospect evaluation is terribly subjective. So, with that in mind, here are a couple places where he is JUST PLAIN WRONG. (This implies that I am right, which, if you follow me on Twitter, you know is not always a reasonable assumption). Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: Joely Rodriguez

Joely Rodriguez joined the Phillies after the 2014 season, following an inconsistent season between the rotation and the bullpen while with Pittsburgh’s double A affiliate. He performed well in the Arizona Fall League, at which point he was requested in return for long time Phillies’ bullpen stalwart Antonio Bastardo. This is apt, as both teams were exchanging similar skillsets, just at different places on the risk/team control curve.

Both Rodriguez and Bastardo are sturdy-bodied left hand pitchers, relying (at their best) on mid-90s fastballs and whiff-inducing sliders. They both rose through the minors as starting pitchers, but due to fringe-y changeups and control problems, were likely to move to the bullpen. Certainly, there are some differences. Rodriguez throws a sinker, has a harder slider, employs a lower arm slot, and focuses more on generating ground balls. Bastardo has always had a very high strikeout rate, and relies far more heavily on a 3/4 arm slot and fourseam fastball to accomplish that end.

However, as a general profile, they’re undoubtedly similar – left-handed, likely seventh-inning arms with a possible setup man peak. The trade was instead more interesting as a trade of risk, potential, and inexpensive team control for an established arm with a track record, even if it was more expensive and for a shorter period of time. The trade-off was mutually beneficial, because of both teams’ competitive windows. The Phillies were becoming more realistic about their competitive chances and entering a rebuild head-on. The Pirates finally had a competitive core with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, Neil Walker, and a breakout performance from Josh Harrison. Behind Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, Bastardo provided another late-inning option for a team expecting to compete.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Dylan Cozens

By this point, you’ve no doubt heard of Dylan Cozens, the biggest power threat in the organization and a recent addition to the Phillies prospect-laden 40-man roster. It’s not often a spoonerism so succinctly encompasses a player’s strength (quite literally) as it does for the gargantuan 22-year-old who posted a minor league-best 40 homers. Dylan Cozens spent his first full season in double-A Cylan Dozens of baseballs. Nearly three and a half dozen to be precise. At 6’5” 235 pounds, he’s a carbon copy of Carson Wentz sans pads, plus some lumber on his shoulder, and he puts every pound into his cuts from the left side. While that produces plus-plus power, it also causes problems with plate discipline, especially facing off-speed pitches.

His power played in homer-happy Reading where the jet streams are bountiful and the balls fly out like bee-bees, rocketing him up MLB.com’s Top 30 Phillies prospect list from No. 22 to No. 6 by season’s end. The home-road splits tell a similar tale.

He hit three-quarters of his homers at home, and his .744 home slugging percentage was essentially his road .766 OPS. ‘Nuff said. Continue reading…

2016 Phillies Report Card: J.P. Crawford

J.P. Crawford, in his age-21 season, made it to the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs for 87 games. Regardless of which prospect list you trust, Crawford is considered a top-3 prospect in all of baseball, as of the midseason updates, and now, the Phillies’ best prospect in years is now knocking on the door of the Big League Club. Many (including myself) would have loved to see him ply his trade against Major League pitchers, but that wasn’t realistic, given that he wasn’t on the 40-man roster and the service time manipulation that teams use to keep players cheaper longer.

If you’re not very familiar with Crawford’s profile, he has a very advanced control of the strike zone for a player his age, and he projects to have a plus hit tool, average power, above-average baserunning, plus fielding, and a plus arm. He has the potential to be a perennial All-Star, and, coming off a 2015 season in which he dominated High-A (192 wRC+ in 95 PAs) before impressing in his first taste of Double-A (121 wRC+ in 506 PAs), expectations were high.

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2016 Phillies Report Card: Jorge Alfaro

In 2016, perhaps no one in the Phils minor league system bolstered their claim to national rankings as much as Jorge Alfaro. Crawford, Williams, Thompson and Kilome, among others, all had at least some struggles, or at best maintained the outlook national evaluators will put on their game. Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins certainly put people on notice at AA, as did some low level arms, particularly Adonis Medina. Alfaro, on the other hand, grew into his already-high ceiling, with reportedly improved defense and steady offense. His minor league season on the whole, and the reports about his progress lead me to believe he is closer to becoming a star than any Phillie under 25 not named J.P. Crawford. Continue reading…

Phillies Voted to Have MLB’s Best Farm System

Update 11/3/2016: There are actually conflicting signals about whether the Phillies won the fan vote or the staff vote. While the “table of contents”-style infographic in the announcement indicates “fan”, other sources indicate “staff.” Knowing that, take some of what’s below with an additional grain of salt.

Yesterday, MiLB.com announced the winners of the 2016 MiLBY award for the Best Farm System in baseball, and the Philadelphia Phillies received top honors – in the fan vote. The prospect staff of the site instead opted to pick the New York Yankees for their variation of the award. This offers a good opportunity to discuss the merits of such an award, and the Phillies’ system’s place in Minor League baseball. These awards occur every year, from a variety of sources, and can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, a person who is purely a fan of Minor League baseball might select the winning-est farm system, because winning is the end goal to that individual. However, a Major League farm director might vote for the team who ended the season with the most Top-100 prospects in their farm system.

What can winning this award tell us about the Phillies farm system? We can start by asking what an award like this supposed to measure. Per the award’s description in 2014, the year of its inception, the Best Farm System award is meant to “honor the organization whose system made the most strides [during the season]”. That description is a little ambiguous, but at minimum the phrase “made the most strides” can reasonably be interpreted to mean “most improved.” “Improved” is, itself, a loaded term. Does “most improved” entail seeing already top prospects move to higher levels? Does it mean the team that added the most noteworthy prospects throughout the year? Is it tied to winning at the Minor League level? It is referencing the team with the most significant number of breakout prospects and draftees (prospects who initially emerge in the system) during the year?

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