Apr 152013

Phillies minor league team Lehigh Valley IronPigsMinor league baseball has been in action for a week and a half now, but it’s not too late for a preview.  Maybe it’s even better because there are plenty of box scores to check as players get acclimated to their roles, and there’s no guesswork as to who’s in the rotations or slated to play every day.  Lehigh Valley may actually be the most appealing affiliate to go see this year, a nice change from previous years where the IronPigs have mostly been quad-A players and other old players just trying to hang on.  As usual though, most of the potential impact talent is years away in the lower levels.

Triple-A Lehigh Valley

Pitching: One exception to most of the potential impact talent being in the lower levels is Adam Morgan headlining the Lehigh Valley rotation.  Some sources have him as a top 100 prospect in baseball, and he’s the kind of mid-rotation talent the Phillies will need to line up behind Cole Hamels in future seasons.  The IronPigs rotation has depth too.  They’re definitely not on the same tier that Morgan is, but Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin and Tyler Cloyd could all reasonably have major league roles very soon.  B.J. Rosenberg has been the fifth starter in the early going, and he’s clearly not as desirable to see as the rest of the rotation.

Five of the seven relievers on the roster have pitched in the majors, perhaps led by Michael Stutes trying to work his way back from shoulder surgery.  With the way Chad Durbin has pitched so far (and will likely continue to pitch), Stutes should get a shot at some point, and Justin De Fratus could benefit from his struggles too.  Jake Diekman and Joe Savery will very likely pitch for the Phillies at some point too, and it’s important that these young relievers pitch well.  The Phillies need some cheap pitchers in the bullpen to stop Ruben Amaro from tying up more and more of the payroll into relievers.

Infield: After Sebastian Valle spent time with the IronPigs after the Tommy Joseph trade so both could play every day, they swap positions and now Joseph is at triple-A.  He’s the fourth youngest player in the International League, and even though he’s just a step away from the majors, he needs to perform a lot better to actually merit a promotion.  In the field, Cody Asche and Cesar Hernandez offer ML potential.  Hernandez is off to a good start while Asche isn’t, but both should hit their way to the majors this year and give them some young infielders moving forward.  Shortstop will be occupied by fringe players like Pete Orr and Michael Martinez.

Outfield: The Phillies will continue the left field experiment with Darin Ruf in Lehigh Valley, and that means Tyson Gillies is going to have to cover a ton of ground in center.  Ruf’s introduction to triple-A has been solid so far, but Gillies has not found his stroke.  Leandro Castro will round out the outfield in right, and he’ll likely continue to offer ML potential that will be undermined by his desire to swing at every pitch thrown to him.

Double-A Reading

Pitching: Reading doesn’t have quite the rotation Lehigh Valley does, but they do have the top prospect in the organization, lefty Jesse Biddle.  Moving from high-A to double-A is considered to be the biggest jump in the minors, and the improvements he’s made in his secondary pitches and command are sure to be tested.  Austin Wright gives them a second top 30 lefty in the system, but he’s off to a miserable start, walking 11 batters in six innings.  The organization probably hopes Brody Colvin can still break out, but I think that ship has sailed.  Seth Rosin, acquired in the Hunter Pence trade, and David Buchanan round out the rotation with a couple fringy prospects.

Their bullpen isn’t as deep as Lehigh Valley’s, but there’s still some talent there.  Kyle Simon has been getting save opportunities in the early going, and he should make his ML debut pretty soon as a groundball specialist that can get strikeouts too.  Tyler Knigge and Jay Johnson may have some middle relief potential, and Juan Sosa was thought to have rule 5 draft potential during the off-season, but he’s already walked eight batters in 5.1 innings.  Righty Edgar Garcia is back in the organization after two years away.  At one point, he was the team’s number four prospect, but that was seven years ago, and he’s just a longshot at this point.

Infield: Manager Dusty Wathan will have a tough situation to manage behind the plate with both Cameron Rupp and Sebastian Valle vying for playing time.  Rupp could be getting the lion’s share of time behind the plate by the end of the year, but surprisingly in the early going, Valle actually has two walks to none for Rupp.  The infield is comprised entirely of org players, including Albert Cartwright who was once acquired for Sergio Escalona.  Shortstop Edgar Duran is the youngest of the bunch at 22 years old, not particularly young for double-A.

Outfield: The outfield does have a bit of potential, starting with Zach Collier in centerfield.  He still has a lot to prove after missing a lot of time in recent seasons with injuries and a suspension, and he has proved nothing in his first week and a half.  On the other hand, Anthony Hewitt is off to a hot start.  He’s done this before, and as soon as his .450 BABIP drops, his stats will be more in line with his career norms.  Ronnie Welty, acquired just before the season started for Julio Rodriguez, has fifth outfielder potential, but he’s 25 and has to get a move on if he’s going to fulfill it.

High-A Clearwater

Pitching: After 2012’s rotation featured Biddle, Morgan and Wright, the Threshers will have a rotation not nearly as good.  Ethan Stewart has some potential, but his stuff is only average, and he hasn’t thrown enough strikes with it so far in his career.  Perci Garner was once thought to be a potential number two starter, but after he struggled last year, he’s back in Clearwater at 24 years old.  He’s had two great starts so far, but since he’s repeating the league, that’s exactly what he should be doing.  Hoby Milner threw over 60 innings for Lakewood last year in a great pro debut, but he wasn’t even good as a starter in college, and he’s going to have to prove he’s a better pitcher now.

The bullpen doesn’t have much depth, but Kenny Giles is one of the top relief prospects in the system.  He’s starting the season on a DL with an oblique strain, but if he can come back healthy, he should advance through the system quickly.  Ryan O’Sullivan, acquired as the player to be named later in last summer’s Joe Blanton trade, has some middle relief potential.  He’s supposed to have solid stuff, but his strikeout rates certainly haven’t reflected that in his career.

Infield: Clearwater features a crowded infield, certainly headlined by third baseman Maikel Franco, off to a great start and keeping up the momentum from the second half of 2012.  He already has nine extra base hits on the season, and his continued breakout would be incredibly huge for the system.  There’s really nothing going on in the middle infield, but there’s some power potential at first base.  Harold Martinez will likely never reach that potential, and Chris Serritella is a long, long shot to be a prospect, simply because the bar is set so high for first base prospects.

Outfield: Aaron Altherr and Kyrell Hudson have finally reached high-A, and Kelly Dugan will be joining them once he’s off the DL.  Hudson is still extremely fast, and he’s still an extremely poor hitter.  Altherr, on the other hand, is off to a really good start, and his breakout potential is still there if he can keep it up.  One interesting name in the outfield mix is Cameron Perkins.  The 2012 sixth rounder was a solid defender at third base with a decent bat, but he had to move elsewhere to be sure Franco gets the bulk of the time at the hot corner.

Low-A Lakewood

Pitching: Lakewood has only won two games in the early going, and one of the reasons is a pretty uninteresting pitching staff.  There’s one notable exception to that, and that’s of course first rounder Shane Watson.  He’ll probably throw in the neighborhood of 130 innings, similar to Colvin and Biddle’s Lakewood debuts.  Other than him, right now there are just organizational arms or potential relievers.  Kevin Brady has a bit of potential after striking out 54 and walking just seven last year in his pro debut.

Steven Inch and Felix Santos have had solid starts out of the bullpen, but there aren’t really expectations for them moving forward as of now.  Aside from Watson, maybe the biggest story of this pitching staff is the names that aren’t here.  The two big ones are 2012 first rounder Mitch Gueller and 18 year old Franklyn Vargas.  Gueller should be up at some point, but it’s a little less clear with Vargas.  His advancement has been much anticipated for a few years now, but since he’s still so young, it’s not a big deal he hasn’t gotten to full-season ball yet.

Infield: The left side of Lakewood’s infield is what to watch here.  Roman Quinn, maybe the second fastest man in professional baseball, could steal at least bases somewhat easily as long as he keeps getting on base, and he’s proven to be pretty adept at doing that so far in his career.  Mitch Walding joins him on the left side at third base, and he’s off to another good start.  This happened last year at Williamsport last year, and he’s going to need the hits to keep dropping in this time around.  Art Charles, acquired for Michael Schwimer, and Willie Carmona will split first base.  I think Carmona can hit a little bit, but he hasn’t gotten off to a good start at all.

Outfield: The 17 year old Carlos Tocci leads the outfield, and he’s performed like a lot of 17 year olds probably would- poorly.  His game is mature for that age, but he still needs to add strength to make harder contact.  It’s a nice test for him, and I would expect him to head to Williamsport later this year.  Brian Pointer retains his sleeper status in the outfield, but in his second go-around with the BlueClaws, he needs to actually put the bat on the ball consistently to make use of his power and patience.  Larry Greene is not here due to conditioning problems, but he should be at some point.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out!