Over the past week, the Williamsport Crosscutters and GCL Phillies started their seasons. With two new affiliates playing, there are dozens more players to follow. These rosters are a mix of players probably not familiar to most fans, even ones who closely follow the minor leagues. There are a lot of recent draft picks and also some Latin American signings that frequently don’t get much attention in the media. Since both teams have already started playing, a preview seems kind of pointless, but I’ll do it anyway.
2010 Recap: In their 4th season as a Phillies affiliate, the Crosscutters had their best season which saw them miss out on the playoffs of the last day of the season. Due to their loss to rival State College and Jamestown’s come from behind win against Mahoning Valley, Jamestown won the wild card by half a game due to playing one fewer game during the season. Williamsport won with pitching last year with a staff that was 6th in the league (out of 14) in ERA, 3rd in WHIP and 3rd in strikeouts. Their rotation was led by current BlueClaws Mario Hollands and David Buchanan and were also joined by FSL All-Star Julio Rodriguez. Their bullpen was very good with Juan Sosa, Eric Pettis, Chase Johnson and Jake Borup combining for 30 saves. Offensively, Cesar Hernandez and Aaron Altherr improved their prospect stock with good seasons while high draft picks Kelly Dugan, Kyrell Hudson and Cameron Rupp disappointed.
The Crosscutters have already made one turn through the rotation, and two of their better prospects haven’t even pitched yet. Percival Garner came down with an illness just before the season started, but he’s expected to begin pitching soon. Kevin Walter, the team’s #29 prospect according to Baseball America, is on the DL, but there’s no timetable on the return. Walter was an overslot signee in the last draft, and he pitched a couple innings in the GCL last year. Leonel Bastidas got the Opening Day start for Williamsport, and that’s a bit aggressive. He turns 22 over the weekend, but this is the first time he’s pitched in the U.S. He’s joined in the rotation by fellow Venezuelan Lino Martinez, a young lefty who has U.S. experience. He posted a nice K:BB ratio in 34.2 IP with the GCL squad last year, mostly as a reliever. Three recent draft picks who are somewhat interesting projects have also made starts. Mike Nesseth missed all of 2010 with an injury, but he showed strikeout stuff at Nebraska. Cody Fick and Gregory Herbst are 2011 picks that just recently returned to pitching.
Those five are in the rotation now, but with Austin Wright and Adam Morgan drafted in the top 10 rounds, the rotation could look very different by the end of the year. Obviously those that don’t start will battle for innings in the bullpen. In addition to the 2011 draftees that I’ve already detailed, Bryan Morgado will join the bullpen when he’s off the DL. He was a high draft pick last year but battled injury and command problems in college. Statistically, Gabriel Arias is one of the more intriguing relievers. Like Bastidas, he’s new to the U.S., but in the last two years in the Dominican Summer League, he posted a total of 133 strikeouts to just 15 walks. Juary Gomez is another pitcher that had a very good season with the 2010 GCL Phillies.
Two switch hitting catchers will handle duties behind the plate for now. Francisco Diaz is a small player that probably won’t be much of a hitter although he did make some good contact in his second year with the GCL Phillies in 2010. Bob Stumpo, a local product from Wilmington and West Chester University, will spend his second year with the Crosscutters. Once Zach Wright, the team’s 6th rounder signs, he’ll likely report to Williamsport and take over as the starter.
Williamsport will be mixing and matching in the infield for much of the year. Harold Martinez, the first college position player off the board for the Phillies, should see a lot of time at 3B, but he’ll be completing for at bats with Maikel Franco, an 18 year old Dominican to keep an eye on. His 2010 season in the GCL wasn’t good at all, but to assign him to start at this level at 18 years old shows they have confidence in him. Another college 3B, Cody Asche, has been playing 2B so far, but it remains to be seen if he can stay there or if it’s just temporary. Taylor Black will join him in the middle infield, and they’ll use a combination of older players at 1B.
Some of the younger prospects to watch are in the outfield. Kelly Dugan and Kyrell Hudson will be back with the team after disappointing 2010 seasons for each of them. They’re great athletes, but those players don’t always develop baseball skills. A similar player, Aaron Altherr, joins them in Williamsport again after a disastrous start to the season in Lakewood. There are several more outfielders listed on the roster, but obviously there can’t be playing time for everyone. One of the most interesting names not already mentioned is Gauntlett Eldemire, not because of his name, but his combination of power and speed. Unfortunately, wrist injuries continue to prevent him from beginning his career.
Despite a slow start, Williamsport could be a playoff contender again in 2011. Position players that didn’t perform well last year are back for another season, and that experience should help them perform better. If the college hitters the Phillies drafted high in 2011 perform the way they expect, they should score enough runs. On the pitching side, they have some depth, but a lot of it is unproven with several key pitchers having no U.S. experience. If Garner comes back and pitches the way he’s capable of, he might be helping Lakewood in a postseason push and not Williamsport.
2010 Recap: The GCL Phillies won their second championship in three years in 2010 when they defeated the GCL Rays in the one game championship. Unlike the Crosscutters, the Phillies won with hitting in a pitching heavy league. Their team OPS was only .712, but that’s good in a league where the average was .670 and some teams were barely over .600. They were 4th in the league in runs, and their pitching wasn’t bad either. Chris Duffy, Geancarlo Mendez and Patrick Murray led the offense with each having an OPS over .800, and Duffy and Mendez finished tied for second in the league in home runs with six. The Phillies had a very good rotation led by four pitchers, all four of which saw time with Williamsport before the season ended. Lendy Castillo, a position player on the 2008 championship team, Jesse Biddle, Lisalberto Bonilla and Ervis Manzanillo were the team’s best starters.
One disclaimer to note first. These rosters, particularly the GCL team, could look very different at the end of August after all the signings. For now, I’ll look at the players on the roster and speculate on others that will likely come later. On this pitching staff, there’s a distinct international flavor. Three of the four pitchers who have started so far weren’t born in the U.S., and the staff features three Canadians, an Australian, several Latin players and even Marek Minarek, born in the Czech Republic. Minarek is just 18 years old and hasn’t yet pitched professionally. He’s one of four pitchers on the roster born in 1993, the others being Luis Morales (Venezuela), Yacksel Rios (Puerto Rico) and Jorge Serrano (no birthplace listed). They’re expected to eventually be joined by 16 year old Franklyn Vargas, who’s currently listed on the Dominican Summer League roster but has not yet pitched.
Roles will change frequently with young players as they try to limit innings for everyone, so it’s probably pointless to speculate on starters and relievers this early in the season. 12 different pitchers started games for last year’s team, and it’ll probably be a similar number last year. A couple of 2009 high school picks linger on the roster due to their careers being derailed a bit. Steven Inch was their 6th rounder in 2009 and has dealt with arm problems since, only pitched two-thirds of an inning professionally. Ryan Sasaki was taken seven rounds later, and in addition to also batting arm problems, he’s sitting out a 50 game suspension this season. Like Kevin Walter on the Williamsport roster, Jonathan Musser was a deadline overslot signing in the 2010 draft. He didn’t make a brief pro debut last year unlike Walter, so he’s with the GCL team to get some innings under his belt.
The GCL Phillies will likely have the oldest catchers in the league, all over the average age for a GCL hitter. In a lot of games, they’ll use two catchers with one substituting for another halfway through the game. John Hill and Logan Moore were both 2011 draft picks out of college, but they reported to the GCL with two catchers already on the Williamsport roster with another one coming soon. Chace Numata isn’t currently listed on the roster here, but when he’s off the DL, he’s the one with the most potential, although that’s not necessarily saying much.
The team’s big bat is Chris Duffy, returning to the team for a second year. This is surprising because the organization usually cuts college draft picks not ready for a full season assignment after their draft year, especially when they’re slated for the GCL. Alejandro Villalobos has seen every game at 2B so far, and he’s off to a decent start with five hits in the first four games. Right now, three players are rotation between 3B and SS, Trey Ford, Carlos Valenzuela and Gustavo Gonzalez. Neiro Rios, one of their bigger Latin American signings in recent years, has only played one game so far, and the infield will be impacted with high school draft picks signings by August.
Brian Pointer leads the outfield as an overslot signing from the 2010 draft. He’s another player in a long line of athletes drafted by the Phillies in recent years, and as of now, he’s the biggest position player to watch on this roster. Bernardo Solarte is just five days older than Pointer, and he’s poised to receive a lot of at bats in the outfield too. Older players like Pete Lavin (2011 college pick) and Bill Rice (2010 undrafted college player) will get time too for now, but the outfield could be impacted by future signings. Larry Greene should sign soon and start his career in the outfield, and the Phillies are hopeful they’ll be able to sign Ryan Garvey too.
The GCL Phillies have the talent to compete for another championship. It’s hard to tell how rosters will shape up since they’re more fluid at the lower levels, but they have a combination of older talent that should probably be playing at higher levels as well as some athletes that they hope can develop some baseball skills. Obviously, the sooner the Phillies can get Greene and players like Roman Quinn signed, the better the chances for this team to win again.
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