Aug 042011
 

Lakewood BlueclawsOn Friday, the Phillies completed their fourth high profile trade over the last three seasons. Ruben Amaro can’t help but get whichever big name is available, but this time, it wasn’t a starting pitcher. Hunter Pence was added to the outfield from Houston in yet another deal with Ed Wade. This was the third significant trade Wade has made with the Phillies since being hired by the Astros, and with an upcoming ownership change in Houston, likely his last. In the Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt trades, Wade received packages consistently of young major leaguers or older prospects with lesser ceilings with the exception of Jonathan Villar and Anthony Gose, who he immediately flipped for an older prospect with a lesser ceiling. The Pence trade was a little different.

Overall in the Lee, Halladay, Oswalt and Pence trades, the Phillies sent 13 players away, plus a player to be named later. That’s a significant loss of talent and depth in the minors even if it appears some of those players won’t pan out as expected. While most farm systems fall off a cliff when that many prospects are traded, the Phillies have remained steady in the upper half of rankings. Thanks to great amateur scouting and player development, they’re able to continue to produce talent that teams find appealing in trades, and in the unusual case, use for themselves at the major league level.

In sports, fans always ask “what’s next?” Prospects are no different. After Jason Knapp was traded to Cleveland in the Lee deal, Trevor May was identified as the next lower minors pitcher to watch. After Michael Taylor was traded to Toronto in the Halladay deal, fans really started focusing on Domonic Brown’s future. After the team traded their top hitting and pitching prospects for Pence, fans are once again asking what’s left in the system and who the next Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton are.

Top Position Players

Sebastian Valle, C high-A

Valle has gotten more mainstream attention since 2009. After posting modest numbers in the GCL in his 2008 stateside debut, the Phillies perhaps aggressively started him at Lakewood in 2009. He struggled with the BlueClaws, so when Williamsport’s season started in June, he was sent down there to regain confidence. He did just that, batting over .300 with nice power, posting a .866 OPS. His momentum at the plate continued in the Mexican Pacific League over the winter, hitting for similar statistics as one of the league’s top sluggers. He went back to Lakewood in 2010 and did okay. He was extremely inconsistent from month to month, but his overall totals fit the profile fans expect from him. He hit 16 home runs, 28 doubles with a low average and on base percentage.

2011 has been a little different for Valle. His average is up over 50 points compared to last season, and his BABIP is up nearly 100 points. His power has dropped significantly. His SLG may only be down three points, but combined with the large increase in his average, it’s clear that he’s hitting a lot more singles than previous years. It’s possible that he’s had a change in approach, but he’s striking out at a similar rate and somehow walking even less, previously believed to be impossible. It’s also possible that the heavy air in the Florida State League has taken away his power, but he’ll have to jump to Reading next year and have success for that to be proven.

Valle has the physical tools to be a successful player. He generates good bat speed and has the strength to have a lot of power potential. He has nice athleticism for a catcher, and that means he should be adequate behind the plate. With some refinement, his athleticism and good arm will continue to improve in in-game action as they have the last two seasons. That leaves us with his approach, and to say it’s aggressive would be an understatement. This season, his walk rate (unintentional walks/plate appearances) is just 3.4%. That’s just a little lower than the major league average of 8%. His career rate in full season leagues is better at 5.5% which is still well below league average.

Of the 155 major leaguers who currently have enough at bats to qualify for the batting title this season, 10 have minor league walk rates at or below Valle’s 5.5%. Carl Crawford, Carlos Lee, Placido Polanco, A.J. Pieryznski and Howie Kendrick have been All-Stars, but even the other five who have had lesser careers are the exceptions, not the norm. Can Valle be the exception too? It’s possible. Of course walks aren’t everything, just part of the picture. Valle could have the bat and power to make his plate approach work.

Domingo Santana, RF low-A

Santana signed for 330k in March 2009 as a 16 year old. He was somehow able to sign at the end of spring training and make his debut in the GCL just three months later. Playing professionally as a 16 year old is hard enough, and he posted great numbers with hardly any stateside experience. He hit .288 with a .388 OBP and a .508 SLG. He had 13 extra base hits in 37 games, and although he struck out way too much, it was a very good debut. Like Valle, the Phillies were aggressive with Santana the following season. He started the year in Lakewood as one of the youngest players in the league and struggled. He batted under .200 with less power, and his strikeout rate climbed even higher. He went back to Williamsport in June and hit a little better, but he still didn’t come close to replicating his 2009 in the GCL.

He went back to Lakewood to start this season, and he’s still one of the 10 youngest players in the league, a testament to how quickly he’s been able to move through the system. Fortunately for the Phillies, he’s shown a lot of improvement in his second go-around with the BlueClaws. He’s batting over .270, and with seven home runs and 37 extra base hits, his power is back, albeit not as evident as his season in the GCL. He got off to a rough start in April, but he bounced back in May slugging .600. His June and July were decent, and overall he’s had a solid season with a .270 average, .343 OBP and .444 SLG. While Santana still strikes out too much, one concerning aspect of his season is a dramatic decline in his walk rate which has gone down 9% from above the average to below.

Santana actually shares some similarities with Jonathan Singleton.  They both have very good raw power, and they should be able to hit for decent averages down the road.  Santana is a better athlete and natural outfielder with a great arm, while Singleton has more present production.  They both strike out a few too many times, and prior to this year, they both took their fair share of walks.  With size, athleticism (although it doesn’t reflect in his steal totals) and power, Santana is truly a toolsy player, and he’s very raw.  He doesn’t turn 19 until the end of this month, and unless he really stagnates over the next couple years, he’s always going to be much younger than the rest of his competition.

Because of his early start in pro ball, Santana is still far from reaching his potential.  He’s going to have long slumps and bad games frequently, but he’s not overmatched.  It may take until 2013 when Santana is playing right field for Reading for him to start producing consistently and putting up great statistics.  Next year, it’ll be tough for him for him to show an improvement in in-game power because he’s still only a teenager, and the FSL isn’t conducive to home run hitters.  If the Phillies stay patient and he cuts down on his strikeouts, they could have their next power hitting outfield prospect.

Sleeper

Zach Collier, OF low-A

Looking at the stats, Collier really hasn’t been impressive this year at all, and I’d be the first to admit that.  He’s in a slump that has brought down his overall numbers, and he’s not hitting for much power at all.  For much of the season, he’s been around the league average production but obviously not lately.  His April was about a bad of a month as a player can have, but instead of burying himself after another bad start, Collier came back in May and June with very good months to show he can hit at this level.

In 2008, Anthony Hewitt was taken with the Phillies‘ first pick.  He was the classic high risk, high reward player.  With a compensation pick received by the Giants signing Aaron Rowand, the Phillies took Collier with their next selection.  While he was another athletic high school hitter, in contrast to Hewitt, he was a bit more polished than his peers with a better plate approach.  In the GCL that year, that appeared to be true.  He held his own as a 17 year old with a .271 average and .347 OBP although without any power.  In 2009, he started off in Lakewood, but like Valle and Santana did, struggled and had to go back to Williamsport.  Unlike those two, Collier didn’t turn around his season with the Crosscutters.  Overall, he only batted .226 for the season with no power, and his patience was gone.

2010 was a lost cause for Collier.  Prior to the season, he had surgery to repair a hamate injury, similar to the one Domonic Brown dealt with in spring training this year.  Around midseason, an additional related injury required more surgery for Collier, and he missed the whole year.  This is an injury known to decrease power in hitters, and combined with his young age, it’s easy to see why he may not be hitting for power yet.  It can take awhile to regain power lost from hamate injuries, so the 2012 season may be a better indication of how his power is developing.  If he can get back to making good contact and holding his own over the final month of this season, he sets himself up nicely for 2012.

Collier’s power development is key to how his prospect status turns out.  He’s an above average athlete, but it’s most likely that he ends up playing a corner outfield position as he gets older.  That means he’ll need to provide a lot of value with his bat, and obviously that’s been a question mark in his minor league career so far.  In 2012, he’ll need to start hitting more doubles with Clearwater in addition to maintaining a good batting average and OBP.  He’ll be a full year removed from the injury, so if he remains healthy otherwise, he should be able to improve his performance.  Despite the unimpressive stats this year, between his injury, age, tools and pedigree as a first round pick, it’s too soon to give up on Collier.

Other sleepers in low-A and below: 3B Maikel Franco, SS Tyler Greene, OF Brian Pointer

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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…

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