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…
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.
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…
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.
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…
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?
While the closest thing to Phillies news at the Major League level is the preponderance of 2008 heroes on other teams in the playoffs, there is some news going on at the Minor League level. In Scottsdale, Arizona, seven Phillies prospects joined prospects from the 29 other teams in the Arizona Fall League on Tuesday.
On the Scottsdale Scorpions, the Phillies players join those from the Angels, Mets, Yankees, and Giants. None of Philadelphia’s highest ranked prospects are here (although Scott Kingery is probably near the team’s top 10), but it is an important opportunity for these interesting players to develop and potentially demonstrate enough progress to earn a 40-man roster spot. Below is a quick guide to the seven players representing the Phillies.
Victor Arano – RHP
A 21-year old righty, Victor Arano was an interesting piece brought over from the Dodgers in the 2014 Roberto Hernandez trade. At the time of the deal, he was generally considered one of the top 20 prospects in Los Angeles’ farm system, and was noted for his advanced physical maturity for his age, advanced feel for pitching, low 90s fastball, and above-average slider. He spent 2015 in the high-A Clearwater rotation where his strikeout rate (and results) dropped precipitously. He was still only one of the youngest players in the league, but converted to relief in 2016 after a dominant Mexican Winter League stint in the bullpen.
He’s since been called one of the best relief prospects in the farm system. The only solid velocity reports I’ve found are spoken in this video from July, where his fastball sat 94 mph (hitting 97 mph), and his slider was in the low-mid 80s. Anecdotally, his command was also very strong in that appearance. This increase in velocity is backed up by his 23.8 percent K-BB rate in high-A and double-A this season. He’s still a year away from being Rule 5 eligible, so there’s no rush make a decision here (and likely no roster space anyway), but a continuation of his dominant season in the AFL could feasibly fast-track Arano to begin next season in Lehigh Valley. He could certainly pitch Major League innings in 2017.
Last night, Jerad Eickhoff pitched his 30th game of the season, bringing his innings total to 180.1 – the current 2016 team high. That actually still hasn’t matched his previous career high of 184.1 innings pitched across three organizational levels in 2015. He’ll cross that shortly, but even with three presumed turns in the rotation remaining, he’s not going to wildly exceed any previously established mark. He hasn’t hit 200 innings yet, but with multiple 30 start seasons under his belt Eickhoff is, for all intents and purposes, an established workhorse at this point.
Similar can be said about his more veteran rotation-mate Jeremy Hellickson – although some may want to quibble about the use of the term ‘workhorse’ as opposed to ‘innings-eater’, although that’s a different discussion (personally, I think he’s performed a little better than the latter label connotes). With three more starts left, he’s on pace to roughly match his career high of 189 innings set in 2011. However, there is one pitcher, younger than both Eickhoff and Hellickson, that is on pace prove himself as something of a sturdy pitcher this season – Jake Thompson.
The day before Alec Asher‘s first Major League start of the 2016 season, Matt Breen of Philly.com noted that the right-handed pitcher was returning to the Majors with a new two-seam grip on his fastball. Developed at the request of the Phillies, the pitch propelled Asher to success in the early part of the Minor League season. He still didn’t strike out many batters, but he did produce encouraging 51 percent groundball and 4 percent walk rates over 12 starts.
The pitch is largely necessary because his previous fastball – a four-seam grip – was not only below-average in terms of speed, but also in terms of movement. Without life or velocity, it was crushed by opposing Major League hitters during his seven start debut in 2015. In Breen’s article, Pete Mackanin said the new pitch provides batters a second look, but at least in Asher’s two starts so far, it’s more of the primary look.
With the Minor League season all but concluded, I had a conversion with Matt Winkelman, the founder of Phillies’ Minor Thoughts, one of the most comprehensive public sources of information on Phillies’ prospects. He spends the rest of his time continuing that work at The Good Phight, where he also provides great prospect coverage. He can (and should) be found on Twitter @Matt_Winkelman, and today I asked him about a variety of topics, from Rule 5 Eligible pitchers to first overall pick Mickey Moniak, and even discussed the player who might be the biggest under-the-radar pitcher in the Phillies’ farm system.
With the 2016 season wrapping up, talk is sure to turn to the 40-man roster crunch ahead of the Rule 5 draft. In Matt Gelb’s interview with Joe Jordan, Elniery Garcia, Nick Pivetta, and Ben Lively were confirmed to be added in advance of the deadline. Knowing that, what other pitching prospects do you expect the team to add before the Rule 5 Draft?