The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Prospects Update

Today here at “The Shop,” we bring you comments from the Phillies minor league prospects followed by some insights on their “ceilings” and potential arrival times in the Big Leagues.

Starting right-handed pitcher Jake Thompson and left-handed hitting outfielder Nick Williams, seems to be the odds-on favorites among the top blue-chip prospects to get the call to the major leagues.

Williams could be helped by the fact that Cody Asche won’t start the season on the Phillies roster and Aaron Altherr won’t be ready until late in the summer.  Both Asche and Altherr were penciled in as starters for the parent club before spring training began.  Because of the ‘numbers’ issue in the outfield—or, more appropriately, LACK of numbers, Williams could be one player that gets bumped up a little earlier than expected.

Plus, Williams had a torrid September last year, during the Reading Fightin’ Phillies playoff run, which the organization’s top brass saw first-hand.  A quick start by Williams might give Phillies fans what they’ve already started clamoring for—and that’s a fast promotion to the Big Leagues for some of these high-profile prospects the team received in trades over the last year.  However, it has usually been the Phillies objective to get young players as much minor-league seasoning as possible before reaching the major leagues.  Given the team is not ready to contend and there’s really no reason to start these players “free agency clocks” (the time teams have players under contract), you probably won’t see many of these players before Memorial Day.

A quick example that supports this theory if Maikel Franco, who got hot in Triple-A to start last season and was promoted while he was swinging the bat well.  Dominic Brown is probably a good example of the ill-effects of rushing a young prospect through a system too quickly.

If a team’s success starts with pitching, Philadelphia should be in good shape when you look at their Triple-A starting rotation.  Joining Thompson are Mark Appel (a former top draft pick), Zach Eflin, David Buchanan and Adam Morgan (the latter pitched well enough to make the Phillies out of spring training but was demoted in favor of power-armed Vincent Velasquez).    The Phillies have so much depth in fact, that two pitchers (Alec Asher and Severino Gonzales) who pitched for the Phils last year will start this season down in Double-A.  While not all of these hurlers may be impact players at the major league level, the team has much needed depth and find themselves in the fortunate situation in which not all of these young arms HAVE TO mature into top-level pitchers in order for the franchise to have continued success.

If a couple of these guys can contribute consistently for the Phillies, they will have a nice pitching staff for years to come.  This is a sharp contract when the team looked at having just a couple blue-chip prospects in the farm system and, when most of these guys fizzled out, the team struggled with very few reliable reinforcements available to help out.

For more insights on the Phillies top minor league prospects, check out our most recent “SportsTalk” podcast, here .

Don’t forget to share your baseball opinions by emailing us (rcnsportstalk@rcn.net) and tune in to hear us read and respond to your opinions on our Thursday “RCN SportsTalk” show live at 7pm and on our weekly podcasts.

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies 1/3 Season Report Card

OK, Ruben. You didn’t listen to me. Nor did you listen to most Phillies fans when it came to our free advice on how we could bring the team back to playoff contention…or even recapture our interest in the club.

But before the season spirals out of control even further, I’m going to offer my unsolicited critique on this year’s team to Ruben Amaro, the Phillies General Manager. Forget the mid-term grades – we need a comprehensive analysis here at the one-third mark of the regular season–before it is too late and 2014 turns into a complete waste of a baseball campaign. So today I’ll evaluate the best and worst points of the Phillies this year and have broken down the players into the following categories. Next week I’ll be back with my suggestions on where the team should go from here.

HEAD OF THE CLASS
Despite the poor record, there are several strong positives on this year’s team. Relievers Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Mario Hollands and Jake Diekman each have had a few unforgettably bad moments during this very forgettable season. Aside from that, they have been nearly as good as one could have asked. Papelbon has been lights-out as the team’s closer and looks like a shoo-in to make the All-Star team after the team spent a good chunk of time this past winter trying to unload him. Overall, Adams and Diekman have been very steady middle-to-late-inning guys, getting called in to extinguish opponents’ rallies. In addition, Diekman, along with Hollands, who most people knew nothing about at the beginning of spring training, have served as useful two-inning bridges in several Phillies’ wins in getting the team to Papelbon. Both Hollands and Diekman can be counted on as two of the few reliable young arms going forward, and Adams and Papelbon both could be used in trades if this season continues to unravel (again, more on that in next week’s blog entry).

Fans also have to be happy with what they have gotten out of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. Utley has been leading the league in doubles and, as of this past weekend, was on a pace to set a new Major League record for a season. Rollins is closing in on the Phillies’ all-time hit record and has kept his on-base percentage around or above .350 all season. While most people were not impressed with the Byrd signing in December, he has been one of the most consistent bats on an incredibly inconsistent offensive team, and has certainly added respectability with his defense in right field.

VERY SOLID
A.J. Burnett was a guy I was hoping they’d sign this off-season and, although they waited until the outset of spring training to do so, has filled in the “number 3” spot quite nicely. He hasn’t been stellar nor consistent in every start this year, but has been solid enough to balance this rotation and make the starting pitching staff one of the strengths of this year’s team.

Also, for a number-five starter, I have to give solid marks to Roberto Hernandez, a player I quite honestly wasn’t expecting much out of this season. With an ERA under 4.00 and the flexibility to come out of the bullpen in a pinch, this is a move that you actually have to give Amaro and Company credit for. I’ll also put Wil Nieves in this class and give a definite “B” for his efforts. In addition to admirably filling in behind the plate and hitting over .275 so far, his greatest attribute may be that he has adequately filled in the backup catcher’s spot, deflecting attention from another trade gone south that sent previous number-two catcher Eric Kratz and a minor league reliever to Toronto for Brad Lincoln (see below).

OK BUT WAS EXPECTING MORE OUT OF…
I have to be honest – I’m a big fan of Chooch, but was frankly expecting more out of Carlos Ruiz than one home run, 10 RBIs and a slugging percentage lower than Nieves’, his backup (through June 2nd). While his on-base percentage is leading the team, I am disappointed at a number of bad pitch selections he has made this year. With all the young arms coming out of the pen, I have to place the blame on the experienced Ruiz for not taking charge and for making some questionable calls behind the dish. I had defended the Phillies signing this 35-year old catcher to a three-year deal, largely in part due to his ability to handle pitchers behind the plate. A little better offense and a few less mistakes in pitch selection might have helped the Phillies have a better shot at being closer to .500 than they are presently.

I’ll also put Kyle Kendrick, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in this category. While they have had moderate-to-very-good success on the hill this year and each deserves a few more wins, they each have had meltdowns at inopportune times—and a team like this year’s Phillies club that needs everything to go right to contend, can’t afford to have mental lapses. I’ve seen each of these players make base running errors and/or pitiful attempts at laying down bunts which, for the money they’re making, is inexcusable.

One may put Ben Revere in a “failing” category but honestly, why would anyone expect him to be anything more than what he has shown throughout his career? He’s a slap hitter with excellent speed who will steal bases when he gets on and will provide some highlight film material with great catches in the outfield. He also has no arm, is prone to base running and route-taking mistakes and has never shown the ability to work a count or coax walks. Revere showed these traits in Minnesota and again last year in Philadelphia. This brings me to my biggest, most grating issue with the Phillies—why do you expect something from players when there’s no evidence to suggest a result different from what you’ve been getting? It’s been a reoccurring issue for three years now and, in my opinion, will continue until the team takes a more practical approach to building a team.

NEAR FAILURES
Despite the fact that Ryan Howard provided one of the top moments of the season—a walk-off home-run against Colorado last week, there are 25 million reasons why he has not lived up to his weighty contract. While his defense has improved, he came into this season as the single-most important offensive player who needed to play like he did before signing the massive contract extension. Despite his team-leading home run and RBI totals, his inability to have success off of left-handed pitching is becoming alarming. Since 2011 in now more than 250 at-bats against southpaws, he strikes out a whopping 43% of the time. Mix in Howard’s paltry .301 OBP and .434 SLG versus all pitchers and you’re left with the fact that he is just not the power-hitting force he once was. Again, if there were other players around him to pick up the slack—or if other more potent bats were acquired this past offseason, his weaknesses would not be as glaring. But since so much of this season’s potential was based on Howard’s return to being one of the most powerful bats in all of baseball—rightly or wrongly—his performance this year can only be considered slightly above failure.

One more time, for the Phillies to expect miracles from the likes of Dom Brown, Antonio Bastardo, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernadez, John Mayberry Jr. and count on these guys doing something beyond what they’ve never consistently done before are Amaro’s biggest gaffes as the GM. For the last five years, we’ve hear it said that it’s time for guys to step up, and five years later, we’re still looking for guys to do so in right field, left field, the bullpen, the bench and now, third base. Bastardo and Galvis had quality campaigns going in 2013 before drug suspensions ended their season and called into question just how natural their successes were. None of these players has stepped in to grab the opportunities presented to them and, for most of these players, one could argue no one should count on them any longer.

OY-VEY!
Jayson Nix, Shawn Camp, Luis Garcia, Jeff Manship (prior to this past weekend’s Mets series), Brad Lincoln, Phillippe Aumont…OK I’ll stop here before you get too depressed.

INCOMPLETES
While Darin Ruf, Cody Asche, Miguel Alfredo Gonzales, Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin were players looked at having key spots on the team early in spring training–and may or may not hold a larger role in the Phillies future–I don’t think you can critically analyze the performances of these players thus far because of the injuries they’ve sustained.

What areas do you think need the most improvement? What other glimmers of sunlight do you see from this disappointing season-to-date? Post your comments below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and check back here as I outline my plan on what I feel the next steps should be for the Phillies this season.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies 2014 Season Outlook (part 1)

 

The expectations are not nearly as high for this Phillies this season as they’ve been in recent springs, but ready or not, Opening Day (and the unofficial end to this miserable winter) is here!

In preparation for the new baseball season, we recapped the action from this year’s spring training down in Florida on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show, and coming up this Thursday, we’ll provide an overview of the Phillies and other teams’ major and minor league systems (our special guests will be ESPN’s Eric Longenhagen & PhillyBaseball.com ‘s Chuck Hixson).

First, here’s a sample of the insights we discussed about the Phillies, their prospects from the exhibition season and thoughts on the new season from inside the Phillies organization:

Here are a few more comments and observations from this year’s spring training season and elements to watch as the 2014 season unfolds.

1) Pray for good health. Ryne Sandberg has been much more adept at resting his older players to keep them fresh. While Charlie Manual would often speak of doing this in the preseason, he would quickly resort to playing his veteran ball players heavily which certainly wouldn’t help the established players deal with injuries as the season would unfold. Still, with an aging core, there’s no question that most of the starting players will have to stay healthy for the entire year for the team to have any shot at the playoffs.

2) The bullpen looks good. In talking with a writer who covered the team this spring, I ask which relievers really impressed him and he rattled off five or six different names. In fact, his biggest question mark was with the team’s closer, Jonathan Papelbon, and his velocity and mental approach to the season. If the young relievers can truly develop this season (Jake Diekman might be the stopper before the year is out), this will be a positive for the organization going forward regardless of the outcome of this year’s campaign.

3) The lack of bench power. For various reasons, the team lost potential bench pieces Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf, Bobby Abreu, Kevin Frandsen and Ronnie Cedeno before the final exhibition game in Clearwater. John Mayberry, Jr. will start the season (barring a waiver-wire addition) as the team’s sole source of power off the bench. Although I was impressed by Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Cesar Hernandez’s preseason, the team starts 2014 with a huge collection of singles-hitters as pinch-hitting options. Plus, there’s SERIOUS depth issues among the organization’s position players. If you lose any combination of Chase Ultey, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Cody Asche for any length of time, you’re not just talking about the season being over, you are looking at players who potentially open the season at Double-A needing to step up and play in the big leagues.

We’ll have more on the Phillies, as well as insights on other major and minor league teams on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show. And in next week’s post, we’ll hear from some of the Phillies prospects themselves and their outlook on the 2014 season. In the meantime, post a comment below or email us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com with your thoughts on spring training and predictions for the Phillies in 2014!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies Position Player 2014 Projections

 

Phillies Position Player 2014 Projections

Back in September, I gave my annual suggestions on what moves the Phillies should make for the upcoming winter trading and free agent season. With the World Series completed and offseason moves in the works, I want to give my take on the Phillies’ projected roster for position players, given the latest news, rumors and insights.

CF Jacob Ellsbury / Curtis Granderson
SS Jimmy Rollins
2b Chase Utley
1b Ryan Howard
RF Mike Morse / Nelson Cruz
C Carlos Ruiz / Dioneer Navaro
3b Cody Asche (might alternate with the catcher depending on if a right or left-handed pitcher is starting)
LF Ben Revere
Right-handed PH — Darin Ruff; Kevin Frandsen, Mark Reynolds or Chris Young
Left-handed PH — Cesar Hernandez or a Free Agent—preferably an outfielder and a ‘power bat’
Utility IF — Freddy Galvis
Backup C — Erik Kratz or Cameron Rupp

ANALYSIS:
First of all, I know you are saying: “Wait…where’s Dom Brown?” I think it’s very possible that the Phillies look to trade Brown for a quality starting pitcher (perhaps included in a package for Tampa Bay’s David Price?). The Phillies’ needs include improving their outfield defense, adding a consistent bat and improving both their bullpen and starting rotation, all at the same time. You have to trade somebody and Brown’s stock will never be higher. I saw him play for years in the minors, and he was very inconsistent, both at the plate and in the field. With the Phillies this year, he hit over .270 with 24 HRs the first half of the year, then hit under .250 with 4 HRs the second half. His defense? Spectacular one minute, botching routine plays the next. You can’t improve this team while keeping it the same, and Brown can get you the most among the trade-able players.

Ellsbury is a guy the Phillies have coveted for some time. Although he’ll be EXTREMELY expensive to acquire, he adds power and a consistent bat to your lineup and is less likely to get resigned by his former team than some of the other free agents the Phils are looking at. Granderson is a cheaper option to play center field, and he should require a shorter deal if the Phillies want to go that route. Cruz is a question mark coming off his PED suspension and his offensive numbers in pitcher-friendly parks are dramatically lower. Morse is a quality clubhouse guy and is coming off a down year—meaning he’ll be affordable and allow you to add a right-handed power bat while allowing you to still spend money elsewhere. Young could also be a right-handed addition who is not a liability defensively. Adding any two of these players improves your outfield defense in THREE spots (moving Revere to left field helps solve his “weak arm” issue that he had in center field).

I’ve heard several other media members strongly suggesting the Phillies will trade Revere instead of Brown, but consider this: what did the Phillies give up last season to acquire Revere…and is that what you really want to have back in return? Trading Brown is not a popular move, but one that must be considered for the right value in return.

The Phillies could also kick the tires on free agent outfielders Carlos Beltran (who I suggested on RCN SportsTalk two years ago when he was available) or Corey Hart, but both have injury issues and the Phillies have enough health-questions already on the roster.

I think the Phillies will try to upgrade by adding a better left-handed bat of the bench than Roger Bernadina, although he did add speed and quality defense. The Phillies were hoping that Bernadina could rebound from his sub-Mendoza batting average in September, but weren’t exactly impressed with what they saw. Because of the lack of outfield depth, I kept Cesar Hernandez off my projected Opening Day roster for now. Major League baseball ruled that he can have an extra option and therefore be sent to Triple-A for the upcoming year. The Phillies were impressed by his bat and the way he adjusted to center field. The plan is to send him to winter ball to see if he can play shortstop. If he can adjust to another new position, he might give Galvis a run for the backup infielder spot.

Ruff still needs to learn to better handle breaking pitches at the major league level and will provide insurance at both first base and the corner outfield positions. In extended playing time, Frandsen didn’t exactly have an explosive second-half at the plate. The Phillies could look to add an extra bat if they have money available, but Ryne Sandberg did talk glowingly about Frandsen’s approach at the plate on several occasions, and his double-digit pinch-hits this year were among the best in the Majors this season.

In an upcoming blog entry, we’ll take a look at the projected Phillies pitching staff. In the meantime, send us your thoughts on the Phillies lineup and position players for the 2014 season and post your opinions on what you think of my roster projections.

 

Phillies’ Prospects – The SportsTalk Shop – April 1st

“SportsTalk Shop” Looks at Philadelphia Phillies’ Prospects

I recently chatted with the Phillies’ AAA-team’s Director of Media Relations, Matt Provence, (just back from Clearwater) and asked him about some of top Phillies prospects. A number of them could play very important roles with the parent club in the very near future. In fact, with potential free agents like Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and others all in the last year of their contracts, there could be a quite a few minor leaguers starting the 2014 season with the Philadelphia Phillies. Here are Matt’s comments on some of the top prospects:

A few other items and observations I’ve obtained about the Phillies top prospects:

  • Everyone I’ve spoken with has nothing but praise for third baseman Cody Asche. I’ve pressed some of the Phils reporters for areas of weakness or gaping holes in his swing. Everyone thinks he’s the real deal and “right on track” for taking over the position in 2014 — if not late this year if everything goes well with his play in the Lehigh Valley. A big concern could be that the Phillies would be even more left-handed hitting heavy with Asche in the everyday lineup behind Utley, Howard, Ben Revere, Dom Brown and Jimmy Rollins (who hits better from the left side), but the Phillies are “hoping” to have that problem a year from now. Everyone I’ve talked to said Asche has an excellent glove that will upgrade the team defensively from current third sacker Michael Young. In addition, Asche won’t hurt you offensively, especially if he bats near the bottom of the order to begin his soon-to-start major league career. He should be fun to watch—along with the continued development of Darin Ruff and his continued learning process of playing left field at Triple-A this year.
  • B.J. Rosenberg may have been an early exit from the Phillies spring training, but don’t be surprised if he shows up on the Phils’ radar at some point – especially if Roy Halladay struggles. He’s been inserted into the IronPigs’ starting rotation and is one of the few Triple-A starters that has experience in the big leagues. His lively right-arm that scouts really like might just be the first option if the Phils don’t want to rely on the untested arms of Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, and Adam Morgan. The latter has continued to pitch well in the minor league camp—so much so that the organization has jettisoned all the veteran free agent pitchers who were brought in to provide insurance to the Phillies starting rotation.
  • Be careful of “Player of the Future” labels. This time in 2012, Cesar Hernandez and Sebastian Valle were projected to be the replacements for Utley and Carlos Ruiz, respectively, yet neither is assured of even starting at those respective positions in Triple-A. Hernandez has been seeing time at shortstop as he looks more to try to tailor his game to a “utility guy” to give himself a better shot at advancing to the Bigs. Valle may go to Double-A just to get some regular reps as he has fallen behind Tommy Joseph (who looked solid offensively and defensively in both the major league and minor league spring training sessions) on the organization’s depth chart. Joseph has also gotten a big “thumbs up” in terms of the all important role of handling the pitching staff thus far. One caveat, there’s a rumor that Valle, who’s has the reputation of a big bat, could also see time in Reading learning left field and could be a back-up plan down the road if Darin Ruff can’t cut it defensively as an outfielder and/or is traded away.
  • Tyson Gillies and JC Ramierez, both part of the Cliff Lee trade, continue to struggle to give the Phils any semblance of hope when trying to defend their acquisitions. Gillies, once hoped to be a top-of-the-order/solid defensive center fielder regular, seems to be on a path similar to Hernandez—that of a utility outfielder as he has seen time at all three outfield positions this spring, and looks to be too inconsistent at the plate to be a major league regular. Ramirez has continued to struggle with his control. Coming off a year at Triple-A in which he ended the season as an IronPig mop-up man, he finds himself once again buried in the pen behind Jake Diekman, Justin DeFratus and others.

What do you think of our Phillies prospects opinions and which players do you think will make an impact in the near future? We’ll be discussing the Phillies and more on our next “RCN SportsTalk” show (Thursdays at 6 pm). Post a comment on our blog or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your questions and comments on our next show!