Mar 192014
Phillies pitching prospect Jesse Biddle

Phillies pitching prospect Jesse Biddle

In the final third of the list, the top three prospects are actually a really strong start to a system.  They’re almost consensus top 100 players in the industry, which is the best representation they’ve had in prospect lists since the disaster that was the Hunter Pence trade.

After that, the picture is cloudier.  For the second straight year, I’m higher than everyone else on Cesar Hernandez at number four.  There are certainly quite a few players in the organization with more upside, but they’re almost certainly far away from the majors or come with other significant risks.

Then there’s Miguel Gonzalez.  Because he was a professional in Cuba, he’s not listed on some prospect list, but I included him despite every bit of news about him for the past six months.  I probably could’ve stuck him one spot lower, but maybe he can get healthy.

10. RHP Ethan Martin, 6’2 195, 25, Triple-A (115.2 IP, 4.12 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 21.7 K%, 13.6 BB%)

Strengths: Martin made his big league debut last year and showed some of the swing and miss stuff that made him a first round pick in 2008.  His fastball could be a great pitch, touching the mid-90’s with movement.  His curveball and slider are both potential above average pitches, with his curveball being the more effective of the two.  The curveball has sharp vertical movement, while his slider is a flatter pitch that often acts more like a cutter.  He has a big and durable frame.

Weaknesses: It would be an understatement to say Martin struggles with command and control.  He’s had trouble throwing strikes his entire career, and when he does, it’s a poorly located fastball up in the zone.  With these problems, it’s exceedingly likely he ends up as a reliever.  He was extremely ineffective in the big league rotation in 2013.  His changeup is below average, and he struggles against lefties.

2014 outlook: With his shoulder injury keeping him out for most of if not all of spring training, Martin will almost certainly be starting the season in the minors.  He should work as a starter to develop his changeup, but if the Phillies need to call up someone for the bullpen at any point, he should be an option.

9. CF Carlos Tocci, R/R 6’2 160, 18, Low-A (459 PA, .209/.261/.249, 16.8 K%, 4.8 BB%)

Strengths: Tocci is a great athlete that benefits him on the bases and in the field.  For a young player, he’s a pretty smart defender in center field and should be well above average at the position.  His arm is decent.  At the plate, he’s not a hacker like many inexperienced hitters.  His walk rate wasn’t very good, but he doesn’t strike out much and knows how to get the bat on the ball.

Weaknesses: Tocci is really, really skinny and needs to add strength.  Good velocity pretty much knocks the bat out of his hands, and even if he can make contact, it’s hardly ever meaningful at present.  Even if he adds strength, his game is still raw in all other areas.  Despite his speed, he stole bases at less than a 50% clip.  He’s never going to hit for power, but he could at least hit the ball into the gaps a little in the future.

2014 outlook: This will be Tocci’s second full season as a professional, and he’ll still only be 18 years old for almost all of the season.  He’s evidently 10 pounds heavier than he was at this time last year, and that could be a big difference for his game.  He’ll be back at Lakewood, likely for the entire season where he’ll again be one of the youngest player in the South Atlantic League.

8. CF Aaron Altherr, R/R 6’5 190, 23, High-A (527 PA, .275/.337/.455, 26.6 K%, 8.5 BB%)

Strengths: Altherr had a breakout season with Clearwater in 2013, tapping into his power potential to set career highs in home runs and slugging.  He’s one of the best athletes in the system, allowing him to play a quality center field and steal bases effectively.  He has a decent arm that would play in right field if necessary.  His plate approach improved in 2013 with the highest walk rate since his pro debut in 2009.

Weaknesses: Altherr’s track record of success is still limited.  Although his average was solid, he still struck out too much and could have benefited from a high BABIP (.360).  Like plenty of other tall players, his swing is pretty long, and he can get tied up inside.  Wrist surgery in the off-season has limited him in camp so far, and he has to show he can get back to health and hit like last year.  Some would like to see him play with more energy.

2014 outlook: If Altherr can get back to full participation in spring training, he should start the season in Reading for the greatest test of his career.  He wasn’t very good in Arizona Fall League action, but he was probably affected by his wrist injury.  Upper level pitching will be able to better expose his weaknesses.

7. RHP Severino Gonzalez, 6’1 153, 21, Low-A/High-A/Double-A (103.2 IP, 2.00 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 29.3 K%, 5.4 BB%)

Strengths: Gonzalez was the best pop-up prospect in the organization in 2013, coming out of nowhere to finish his season with Reading.  He’s known more for his pitchability than his stuff.  He throws a ton of strikes, many of them being quality strikes, and mixes up his wide array of pitches well.  His fastball has improved quite a bit since signing, now hovering around 90 MPH.  His curveball is probably his best secondary pitch, and he works in a changeup and cutter.

Weaknesses: His career high in innings is 103.2, and with a small frame, he has to prove he can handle a starter’s workload.  With an average fastball, he margin for error is very small.  None of his pitches project to be plus.  Left-handed hitters had much more success against him, and he needs to improve his changeup or cutter to be more effective against him.

2014 outlook: Gonzalez should start the season back with Reading.  It’s not out of the question that he reaches the majors at some point this year if the Phillies are hit with injuries again, but it certainly wouldn’t be bad for him to just stick at one level for a while after going through three last year.

6. RHP Miguel Gonzalez, 6’3 195, 27

Strengths: At his best, Gonzalez gets swings and misses with his splitter.  He pitches with a fastball that has above average velocity and can sometimes touch the mid-90’s.  His changeup is another above average pitch.  Pitching in Cuba, he tended to throw a lot of strikes.  Theoretically, he should be fresh after not pitching much in recent years after his defection.  His mid-70’s curveball could be an average pitch.

Weaknesses: An elbow problem in his physical cost Gonzalez about $36 million.  Lingering injuries have been a challenge so far in spring training.  He was unable to pitch at all in the off-season and does not seem prepared to start this season.  While he generally throws strikes, his fastball command is very inconsistent, and that has been evident in spring training.

2014 outlook: Ever since originally signing last summer, it seems like nothing has gone right for Gonzalez.  It seems almost certain that he starts the season in the minors since he can’t get over his nagging injuries long enough to build up his workload to last as a starter.  If I had to do this list again, I’d likely have him quite a bit lower.

5. RF Kelly Dugan, L/R 6’3 195, 23, High-A/Double-A (474 PA, .291/.352/.506, 24.1 K%, 6.1 BB%)

Strengths: Dugan was mostly healthy in 2013, and he proved that his bat and power weren’t flukes despite some struggles upon reaching Reading.  He hit a career high 20 home runs between Clearwater and Reading.  Despite a long swing, he has a decent feel for contact and could hit for a decent average.  He has a strong arm and has improved his defense to be average in right field.  He gave up switch hitting, but he actually hit lefties well in 2013.

Weaknesses: Dugan’s plate approach is a bit too aggressive, and his 2.2 BB% in Double-A was abysmal.  If he can’t be more patient and wait for his pitch, his hit tool and raw power won’t play in games.  He’s not much of an athlete, and his injury history is already pretty extensive.  He’s mostly a pull hitter.

2014 outlook: Dugan will probably be back at Reading to start the season, and if he can improve on his plate approach and stay healthy, he won’t finish the year there.  He’s not an impact player, but he’s on the cusp of the majors and could add a bit of pop to a lineup that desperately needs it.

4. 2B Cesar Hernandez, S/R 5’10 175, 24, Triple-A (440 PA, .309/.375/.402, 18.4 K%, 9.3 BB%)

Strengths: Hernandez is a major league ready player with decent ability.  He’s a very good athlete that can steal bases efficiently, and that athleticism aids him at all of the up-the-middle positions.  He’s best at second base, but he can hold his own at center field and even shortstop if they were to try it.  He’s a line drive hitter with gap power, and he’s shown he can hit adequately from both sides of the plate.

Weaknesses: Hernandez doesn’t offer impact upside and has very little power.  He has to prove he can maintain the higher walk rate he showed in 2013.  His arm is just average, and it would probably be best if he’s not used at shortstop often.  He could probably show energy on the field a little more consistently.

2014 outlook: I was prepared to write that Hernandez was out of options with no clear role on the Phillies, but it appears that he has a fourth option season thanks to some of baseball’s nonsensical and complex roster and service time rules.  He should head back to Lehigh Valley and perform well.

3. SS J.P. Crawford, L/R 6’2 180, 19, Rookie/Short-season A (228 PA, .308/.405/.400, 15.4 K%, 14.0 BB%)

Strengths: Crawford is a great athlete and should be a plus defender at shortstop with good range and an above average arm.  He’s a smart player that will help him steal bases effectively and improve his footwork defensively.  He has a contact oriented swing and hit much better than expected in his pro debut.  His plate approach was also better than expected with as many walks as strikeouts in the Gulf Coast League.

Weaknesses: Crawford’s still raw and has a lot of adjustments to make.  Rookie league success obviously doesn’t always result in success at higher levels.  He’s still very skinny and needs to get stronger to be sure he can continue hitting fastballs as he climbs the ladder.  Sometimes, his swing can get lengthy, and he needs to stay quick to the ball because he’s never going to have much power.

2014 outlook: After an impressive debut that saw him reach a full-season league, Crawford should return to Lakewood to start the year.  He set a pretty high bar for himself in 2013, but he works hard to give himself a chance to continue clearing that bar.

2. LHP Jesse Biddle, 6’4 225, 22, Double-A (138.1 IP, 3.64 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 26.2 K%, 14.0 BB%)

Strengths: Biddle’s best pitch is his slow curveball that can induce swings and misses and throw off batters’ timing.  In his 2013 Futures Game appearance, the pitch averaged 70.69 MPH, and it only takes one hand to count how many active pitchers throw curveballs slower than that.  His fastball is above average in the low-90’s, and he has the big frame to hold up over the course of a long season.  He was third in the Eastern League in strikeouts, just five behind former Phillie prospect Trevor May for the league lead.

Weaknesses: Biddle’s command, especially with his fastball, is not good and hasn’t shown any improvement in his career.  His 14.0% walk rate in 2013 was the worst of his career.  His second half was poor, and ideally that can be attributed to a case of whooping cough and a foot injury.  He has to continue improving his changeup.  Batters sitting on his slow curve can hit it.

2014 outlook: Biddle will start the season in Lehigh Valley and has a good chance to make his big league debut at some point later in the year.  If he can’t throw more strikes, it’s going to limit his upside.  Not only does he need to be more efficient to last deeper in games, throwing strikes with his fastball will make his other pitches more effective.

1. 3B Maikel Franco, R/R 6’1 180, 21, High-A/Double-A (581 PA, .320/.356/.569, 12.0 K%, 5.2 BB%)

Strengths: Franco can hit.  With his strength, bat speed and swing path, he has plus or better power and could hit 25 or more home runs annually.  He’s more of a hitter with power than power hitter, a small but important distinction.  He has a great feel for contact and can make hard contact on pitches not in the zone.  He doesn’t strike out very much.  With his hand-eye coordination, he can extend at-bats despite his aggressiveness.  He has a strong arm at third base.

Weaknesses: Franco is not an athlete at all, and his range at third base will likely never be more than passable.  The Phillies probably wish he would show a little more interest in improving his defense.  Poor footwork can lead to inaccurate throws.  All of these problems could lead to a move to first base, which the Phillies are already preparing for.  Although he can hit a lot of pitches in and out of the strike zone, it would be beneficial if he was a little more patient and didn’t chase so many breaking balls.

2014 outlook: Franco should start the season with Lehigh Valley, one step away from the majors.  He could keep hitting his way through the system, but the performances of Cody Asche and Ryan Howard will play a big role in when he gets promoted.  If he can tighten up his approach just a little bit, he’s a potential All-Star.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out! Scott also regularly updates the PSC Minor League Thread with player stats, game results, and more…