The SportsTalk Shop: The Phillies Farm System: May 2013 Report

Excuse me for making an interjection amongst angry fans who are upset with the current state of the Phillies roster, but contrary to the public fandom’s opinion, “the cupboard is NOT bare” in the Phillies’ minor league system.

Philadelphia PhilliesPeople will point to the fact at the overall decline in ranking according to Baseball America — something that cannot be disputed. There are clearly less “prospects” in the Phillies minor league system than there were a few years ago .. before the days of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and even Ben Revere. General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr., using the mantra that most Phillies fans have been clamoring for DECADES to do, went for the jugular with “win now/damn the future” deals to improve the team in 2009 to the present to try to win baseball’s ultimate prize. As memory serves, nearly all of those deals (except the second Lee trade) were met with universal praise and admiration (and backhanded derogatory comments towards former GM Ed Wade, who took an opposite approach) for making the “tough deals” to try to win a World Series. The price, of course, is that in order to obtain top-of-the-line talent, which the Phils have done, they would have to give up most of their young talented players in those deals—the majority of them still have not panned out with the team they were traded to.

Now that the team is floundering (as of their 16-21 record), baseball fans in the Eastern Pennsylvania region are upset that Amaro can’t twitch his nose and make a power-hitting outfielder appear. You could argue that he over-evaluated the talent on this current big league roster and put too much faith in the bounce-back abilities of Halladay and Ryan Howard. However, to say that the organization’s minor leagues are in shambles is just not accurate. The Braves, one of the best teams at grooming minor leagues to contribute to the parent club, have done an excellent job over the last few decades of developing at least one or two home-grown players a year to help out the varsity squad. Most teams fall short of that goal. So let’s look ahead at some potential openings/holes in the current Phillies roster and analyze if the front office has provided efficient insurance down on the farm.

Second Base (Chase Utley). With his contract expiring at the end of the season, there is a huge “unknown” as for how long his oft-injured knees will hold out. But down in Triple-A, the Phillies have perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the spring so far. Cesar Hernandez (as of May 13th) is hitting .336 in 140 Abs with 10 extra base hits, a .392 OBP and is 10-11 in steal attempts. A serviceable defensive 2nd baseman and with continued improvement, it wouldn’t be outlandish to envision him replacing Utley where he has frequently been in the Phils’ lineup (the number-two slot).

First Base (Ryan Howard). With Charlie Manual’s recent tendency of sitting Ryan Howard against the majorities of southpaws, it increases the opportunity for another home-grown player, Darin Ruf, (.294, 5-HR, 21-RBIs in 125 AB-s through 5/13) to get playing time at a position that he has had success in defensively. Ruf has looked alright when I’ve seen him in action in left field with the IronPigs (he’s basically playing 5 games at left and 2 games at first so far this season). A combination of him at first base, DH (in American League parks) and left field (in a semi-platoon/rotation with Dom Brown, possibly even shifting to center for a few innings a week?) might help the team’s long-struggling offense. And although the thought of trading Howard and his mega-contract is unlikely, the Phils do have an option should they find a taker for the “Big Piece.”

Catcher (Carlos Ruiz). This might be the biggest disappointment of the season—and not just because of his slash line of .200/.256/.225 as of May 13th. The alleged brain cramp of not getting a prescription for his amphetamines certainly put the team and himself behind the 8-ball, both offensively and defensively, in a pivotal year for the veteran. Ruiz is one of a handful of core players who are eligible for free agency after this season. The Phillies clearly are not happy with his lack of judgment and it might factor in when it comes time to negotiate. Tommy Joseph wasn’t exactly tearing it up in Triple-A before going on the DL with a concussion, but scouts and team officials seem genuinely high on the young receiver acquired in the Hunter Pence trade, and more than one of the Phillies beat writers have indicated that if there’s any place the team might “gamble” on a young player for next season, they would bank on Joseph.

Third Base (Michael Young). In a prior blog entry and on our “RCN SportsTalk” show (available on VOD), we’re already debated in some detail with IronPigs media members about the potential of Triple-A infielder Cody Asche and the chances on him manning the hot corner in Philadelphia by Opening Day 2014. Although Young has been the team’s best hitter—average-wise—and poses a consistent, professional hitting approach that the team has lacked the last few seasons, Young’s age (he’ll be 38 in October) and lack of power will work against (but not preclude) him when the team considers which of the current crop of free agent players they’ll make a play for this offseason (would you prefer Young or Utley batting 3rd?). Even if Young would return (he can play other positions), Asche has continued to get positive reviews and improve his Triple-A numbers (.272 BA, 11 extra base hits in 125 ABs) as the season has unfolded.

Shortstop, Center Field and “Anywhere else.” Following the three hits in his first three at-bats against the D-backs in the final game in Arizona, home-grown Freddy Galvis had his batting average up to .293 while playing five different positions (including spring training) and, quite honestly, looked better in the field than some of the “regulars.” Whether he finds an everyday home in the near future, or becomes a valuable “super-utility” player that can spell people on days-off and/or fill-in when injuries occur, his contributions to the organization should not go unnoticed by Philadelphia sports fans. Radio analyst Larry Anderson had opined in a recent broadcast that he would feel comfortable with Galvis playing at practically every position except pitcher and catcher, and the word from people who have been around the switch-hitter have told me the young Venezuelan has the strong mental makeup and baseball IQ to handle multiple roles.

Pitchers. Jonathan Pettibone, Tyler Cloyd and Justin DeFratus have all come through the Phillies system and have already helped the team (Cloyd pitched well enough to earn a “W” in Arizona), while filling in for hurlers who were either injured or were not performing adequately. A few more may help the team this year (Joe Savery, Jake Diekman, and Mike Stutes) or a year or two from now (Adam Morgan and Jesse Biddle), and if Kyle Kendrick (another Phils’ farmhand) continues to pitch the way he has for the last five baseball months, the team could still have a quality starting rotation for the next several years.

Without the ability to go back in time, I think it’s too hypocritical to criticize most of the moves Amaro has made (the Lee to Seattle and Revere deals the exceptions). If none of these young players mentioned above pan out, then you have every right to rip the current front office for their inability to correctly evaluate young talent and for not providing due diligence in maintaining the long-term success of the franchise (something Amaro stated he was doing by acquiring Philippe Aumont and others from the Mariners—which NO ONE is happy with now). However, if the Phillies fail to make the playoffs again in 2013, at least we have some young players with some legitimate upside to watch at Citizens Bank Park in September ’13 and beyond.

What other mistakes have the Phillies front office made since 2008, and do you think the current staff is doing a good job? What are your thoughts on the Phillies’ prospects? Post a comment below or send us an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in for our live “RCN SportsTalk” show every Thursday at 6pm on RCN-TV to voice your opinions.

Behind the Mic: Does Your Shoulder Hurt…

Most guys know that men don’t really talk seriously to each other most of the time. In fact, it is a rare “guy” conversation that is not laden with put-downs and jokes about the other person. Very often, if you say something nice about yourself, the response is, “Does your shoulder hurt?” This implies that it must be physically difficult to “pat yourself on the back”.

Well, I don’t care if at the end of this blog you feel that way because I am going to pat the RCNTV team on the back. This past week, the Lafayette Sports Network was named one of five finalists for a 2013 College Sports Media Award. The announcement came from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) and the Sports Video Group (SVG). There are Major Network/Professional categories and College/University categories. LSN was nominated for “Best Live Game and Event Production”

Submissions had to be an uninterrupted 5 minute segment of a broadcast. There were a record number of entries (a 28% increase) that were viewed by the judging panel. The submissions were designated as worthy of Honorable Mention and 5 were selected as nominees for the award. Also nominated, along with LSN, were Florida State University, the University of North Carolina, and two Southland Conference telecasts.

LSN submitted the broadcast of Lafayette’s men’s basketball game vs. Bucknell. Lafayette senior guard, Tony Johnson, hit a pull-up jumper with 4.5 seconds left to give Lafayette a dramatic 63-62 victory.

Lafayettte’s men’s basketball game vs. Bucknell

You can view the segment at http://www.goleopards.com/genrel/051613aaf.html
The other nominees can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/channels/527414

RCNTV is proud of our 15 year relationship with Lafayette and executive producer, Scott Morse. We are, also, especially proud to be nominated for this prestigious award. This is, by the way, the first time Lafayette has submitted an entry.

The winners will be selected by a panel of judges and announced at a ceremony on May 29 at the SVG College Sports Summit in Atlanta, Georgia.

Enough! My shoulder hurts!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

1. No Triple Crown again this year. Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner could do no better than fourth at the Preakness. The drought is 36 years. Affirmed was the last horse to do it in 1978. He was the 11th. Will there ever be a 12Th?

2. It appears that the idea of a Superconference, the merging of the Lehigh Valley Conference and the Mountain Valley Conference, is dead for the time being. I see no reason to resurrect the idea. The LVC would gain nothing.

3. The Phillies appear to have so many weaknesses, are below .500 and, yet, as I write this, they are only 3 games out of second and 4 ½ games out of first.

Parity has sure produced the ability for mediocre teams to stay in the race.

4. Congratulations to Whitehall High School for winning their first LVC Baseball Championship. They beat an outstanding Parkland team for the title. Winning the LVC title usually is a jinx for the team as it tries to win Districts and move on to the state playoffs. Stay tuned.

5. By the way, the District XI high school baseball championships are Tuesday, May 28 and Wednesday, May 29. RCNTV will be there for the LIVE telecasts from Coca-Cola Park.

You’re invited to join us!

The SportsTalk Shop: Back To Basics

After tackling the hot and sometimes laborious issues of local league realignments, super conference invitations, and sports politics the last several weeks (and something we’ll have to address again very soon with a May 31st deadline on the horizon for the proposed MVC/LVC merger), I’d like to focus on one of the more refreshing aspects of this current high school sports spring season by discussing something that has become passé with many of today’s athletes: fundamentals.

What’s that? Some may say . . . especially those great athletes that play above the rim or score multiple touchdowns every week without much effort. It’s something that older coaches will frequently preach, and even older, now retired sports veterans will say is severely lacking among today’s sports stars. However, I think it’s refreshing to see as I make my way around different schools and sports over the last several weeks, that I have not only seen younger coaches and managers stressing fundamentals to their kids, but the athletes themselves seem very proud of themselves for their repetitive work on basic skills. It’s no surprise then that the teams that have worked hard on that aspect of their respective sport, find themselves among their league standings with just a few days remaining in the regular season.

Take Whitehall, for example.

The Zephyrs, under third-year Manager Shaun O’Boyle, have bounced back from an average season a year ago to becoming one of the top teams in the area (if not the state) at this point. The first thing they worked on was getting a good lead off of first base. The second, taking the proper route on rounding third base. After another base running drill, they worked on their defense . . . and then they worked on their defense some more. Through most of their practice on this day, they did not have batting practice, but instead, worked on the mundane things that championship teams need to have. Upon speaking with the players, they all seemed to understand the importance of those skills and the need to continue to work on them to keep their season – one of the best in Whitehall history — going.

One of their top pitchers, Elliot Mortimer, threw just 53 pitches in 7-innings, which is impressive enough. Then you hear the mind-blowing stat that all but 8 pitches were STRIKES! He said he let his defense do their job, and it resulted in the team’s 14th victory in 15 tries (against one of the better teams in the region) by a 14-1 score. Simple strategy, but effective.

The Zephs are not the only team spending more time on fundamentals, and they’re not the only squad turning their fortunes around. The Wilson softball team (under Head Coach Sara Ulrich) reached their second playoffs—ever—in school history last year, and are looking to do the same again this spring. Teams such as the Warriors, Emmaus, Parkland, and Liberty baseball, Northampton softball, Parkland lacrosse and other organizations are being led by great young coaches who know the importance of fundamentals. Nearly every team I’ve seen while doing our “RCN SportsTalk: Time Out” features on local athletes and teams have been talking about the basics for their sport, and one of the first things they work on in their practices? Defensive drills.

What are your thoughts on this current spring sports season? Do you like the way teams are playing? And do you like the “defense wins championships” mantra that I’ve heard quite frequently mentioned by coaches and players alike this spring? Post a comment below and tune in for more features on our local teams and athletes on our “SportsTalk” show, every Thursday at 6pm (and available for free on RCN’s video-on-demand).

The Final Four – Behind the Mic – April 2nd

Louisville vs Wichita State: Saturday, April 6, 6:09pm on CBS

The Cardinals of Louisville are the only team that almost everyone expected to be in the Final Four. In fact, everyone probably expects them to be in The National Championship game. They are the only #1 to survive the bracket-busting in this year of parity. They were in this position last year and lost to Kentucky, the eventual national champion. They are the best offensive team for sure. With Peyton Siva and Russ Smith on the floor and the emotional catalyst of winning for Kevin Ware (severe compound fracture vs Duke) in his home town, the Cardinals look unbeatable.

If you are inclined to root for the underdog, then Wichita State is your team. They were seeded #9. Their nickname is the Shockers; their conference, the Missouri Valley, has not been in the Final Four since 1979, when they were led by Larry Bird, and they did not even win their conference. They lost to Southern Illinois, Evansville, and Indiana State twice during the season. But, remember, they just beat #2 Ohio State. A win by the Shockers would rank as one of college basketball’s greatest upsets.

Michigan vs Syracuse: Saturday, April 6, 8:49pm on CBS

It may be hard to believe but Michigan has not been to the Final Four since 1993 (remember the Fab Five?). This Michigan team, however, has all the ingredients to win it all. Trey Burke (a player of the year candidate) runs the offense, Mitch McGary can dominate in the paint and Nik Stauskas was unconscious in the quarterfinal game hitting 6-6 from beyond the arc. They also dominated a very good Florida team. They are the final member from the Big Ten, in a year when most thought that conference would dominate the tournament. In today’s vernacular, “they represent” for their now maligned (overrated?) conference. The Big Ten domination was supposed to come from Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Indiana. They are all out. Only Michigan remains.

That leaves Syracuse. If defense wins championships, then this is your pick. The Syracuse 2-3 zone has been absolutely smothering. They held a final eight team, Marquette, to just 39 points and #1 Indiana to 50 points! When you look at the strength of this team, ironically, one talks more about the coach rather than the players. This is Jim Boeheim’s fourth trip to the semifinals, having won the national championship in 2003. He is a master game-planner and a defensive genius.

These are very interesting match-ups, to say the least.

My Picks:

Louisville definitely beats Wichita State.

Syracuse ends the Big Ten participation for this year.

Syracuse is the only team left that could beat Louisville. They will not. The Cardinals win the national Championship on Monday, April 8.

This will bring a smile to many a pool player! Finally a favorite wins when they are supposed to.


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. The Wichita State research led me to Larry Bird. Did you remember that he originally was given a scholarship by Bob Knight and Indiana in 1974? He stayed for 24 days, overwhelmed by the size of the campus and the rather rude treatment by Indiana star, Kent Benson. He returned home to French Lick, Indiana, and got a job with the street department. After a year, he enrolled at Indiana State, averaged 30.3 points per game in three seasons, and led his team to a 33-1 record in his senior year, with the only loss coming to Michigan State and Magic Johnson in the national championship game.
  2. Is it me? I really enjoy Charles Barkley, but he must feel like the luckiest guy in the world. He adds very little to the analysis of a game, butchers the English language, and doesn’t even seem all that interested. However, he has this look in his eyes and a smirk on his face that implies he knows he is putting something over on all of us, getting richer by the minute, and we will still like him. Worst of all, he is right!
  3. I went to the VIA All-Star Basketball Banquet this past week. Bill Walton was the guest speaker – no notes, great message, memorized lists, great delivery. I have attended many banquets over the years and have seen many guest speakers. He was one of the best!
  4. Baseball started this week. In most of the NL predictions, I have seen, the Giants, Cardinals, Reds, and Dodgers have been picked to make the playoffs. In the NL East, however, I have noticed a real split among prognosticators between the Nationals, the Braves, and the Phillies. No mention of the Mets! No mention of Miami. Nail biting time for Phillies fans!
  5. The AL East is even crazier! There are five teams and all either have great talent or great tradition behind them. The talent belongs to Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Baltimore; the tradition belongs to New York and Boston. Most sportswriters are picking…. Wait for it – Toronto!!