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.

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!

The SportsTalk Shop – February 12th

Phils Spring Training’s “Other Things”

With Spring Training underway for the Phillies, there’s been quite a bit of talk on what are the BIG things to be concerned about: the health of Roy Halladay and Chase Utley, the recovery of Ryan Howard, the starting lineup, et al. Unfortunately, though, for die-hard fans who watch all the reports out of Clearwater daily hoping for some news on these developments, the answers (unless resoundingly negative) probably won’t be revealed until the last week of camp, at the very earliest. Therefore, here’s a few “other things” you can focus on during the pre-season that might have a large bearing on the overall success or failure of the 2013 Phillies.

1. LATE-INNING DEFENSE.
While this isn’t as sexy as who’s leading off or who’ll bat behind Howard, the Phils figure to play in a bunch of close games again this season, and improving on protecting those late inning leads will be key. Last year, the Phightins’ were 13th in the league in defense, and you could argue that they took a step back from last year’s squad in that regard. Assuming Delmon Young is healthy for Opening Day, Ruben Amaro, Jr. had said after signing Young that he felt he would be serviceable in right field. But “serviceable” may not cut it defensively, especially given the age and declining range of a number of other positions. Left field also could be a black hole of bloop-hits and singles-misplaced-into-extra-base-hits given the proven lack of defense in Laynce Nix, the unproven and unknown commodity of first baseman-turned-outfielder Darin Ruff, and the proven magical mystery ability that Dom Brown displayed frequently in chasing down balls in the gap. Ben Revere will need more than a speedy horse to cover all that extra open terrain, and while there’s always “defensive replacement options,” those might not always be available. Assuming John Mayberry, Jr. isn’t used as a pinch-hitter, he can replace one spot, but your other “best defensive option” is probably Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte, who, because of a numbers crunch in the outfield, isn’t even likely to stay on the team, barring injuries.

There’s also Michael Young’s “D,” which, undoubtedly, will be a step back from former multiple Gold Glove winner Placido Polanco, which means Freddy Galvis’ learning a new position for the second straight spring becomes another key to watch as he looks to provide late-inning insurance at third base.

2. THE YOUNG RELIEVERS.
Everyone agrees that the bullpen is much more fortified than a year ago, and I agree. But how much improved is the big question. Last year in front of Jonathan Papelbon, the Phils had the oft-injured Jose Contreras and the low-risk, high-reward Chad Qualls, who signed for just over $1 million on a one year deal. This year, the Phils have a younger and more pedigreed Mike Adams, who is also coming off an injury and may not be ready for Opening Day. In Chad Durbin, they have a former pitcher they let go, who passed through three other cities, and who signed a Qualls-like contract for just over a million dollars, later in the off-season than did Qualls. Any delay in Adams return and a hiccup by Durbin and the Phils must resort to the same options they had a year ago, in Antonio Bastardo, Mike Stutes (who’s also coming off an injury), B. J. Rosenberg and Co. as the primary setup men. Granted, these pitchers have an extra year of maturity under their belt and were starting to improve as the 2012 season waned, but their continued progress this spring could go a long way in seeing if the team has in fact improved on one of its biggest weaknesses from a year ago.

3. THE BENCH.
This time last year, the Phillies were looking at Jim Thome and Nix as your left-handed power options, off the pine and the proven bat (but no defense) of Ty Wiggington and Mayberry, Jr., who impressed everyone with a solid 2nd half of 2011, as their right-handed options. Assuming—and there’s some major questions here—that Young, Brown & Ruff are your everyday options in the corner outfield, you have Nix (coming off an injured year) and Mayberry, coming off a very lackluster performance, as your main options, which is certainly a step back. If D. Young isn’t ready to go, and either Brown or Ruff lacks the ability to show that he can play every day and gets shipped back to the minors (a succinct possibility, especially in the case of Mr. Ruff), you now have to use Mayberry and perhaps even Nix in regular roles. This is not just a cataclysmic disaster offensively, but it leaves you with … gulp, Freddy Galvis, Kevin Frandsen and/or Pete Orr as your late-inning power guys? Clearly, some of these corner outfielders HAVE to step-up to avoid the doomsday scenario listed here, but it’s something you definitely have to keep your eyes on as spring training unfolds.

What concerns you most about the Phillies, and what “plan B” players are you focusing in on? Post a comment here and email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll discuss it on our upcoming shows, live on Thursdays at 6pm on RCN-TV.