With the Phillies’ emphasis on college players in last month’s draft, Williamsport should have a chance to reach the playoffs for the first time as a Phillies affiliate. Despite that, the Crosscutters are still one of the younger teams in the league.
Their offense is a mix of high college picks and younger players from the Gulf Coast League last year. Headlining that group of young players is probably catcher Deivi Grullon. He’s off to a slow start behind the plate, but in the end, he’s almost certainly the best catcher in the New York-Penn League and should control the running game with his great arm. Like he did last year in the GCL, he’s providing above average offense despite not really having any power.
Cord Sandberg highlights a pair of 2013 picks that could be rising in prospect rankings. Along with Grullon and Jan Hernandez, he’s one of 13 position players in the league younger than 20, and he’s showing off all of his tools. He’s batting over .300, showing decent power despite a tough home environment for doing so, he’s stolen a few bases efficiently, and his plate approach has been good. Hernandez has shown even more power than Sandberg, but he has to cut down on his all-or-nothing approach.
Outfielder Aaron Brown and first baseman Rhys Hoskins should contribute their college experience and power potential to the middle of the lineup. Now that he’s a full-time hitter, maybe Brown can improve his aggressive plate approach that will be his undoing at higher levels. NYPL stats aren’t a predictor of future performance, but it’s not often that a college player struggles here and then turns his career around later.
Their pitching staff is not as impressive. Former first rounder Mitch Gueller is back for a second year which is never a good sign. He’s had a lot of trouble throwing strikes, but he’s still only 20 years old. Top picks Matt Imhof and Chris Oliver will join him in the rotation, but their innings will be closely monitored after pitching entire seasons in college.
Conversely, the Phillies’ emphasis on college players cuts two ways in regards to the GCL squad. It means there’s either less talent there, or they have so many college players that some have to go to the GCL where they’ll dominate inferior competition. They’re an old team, so they may be closer to the latter.
The GCL pitching staff is also pretty underwhelming. The youngest on the staff is Venezuelan Lewis Alezones in his second year on the team. They’re bringing him along slowly, and he doesn’t turn 19 until November. Sam McWilliams, the Phillies’ first high school pick in the draft, joins him, and they’re going to have to bring him along slowly too. His stuff and control are both inconsistent. Brandon Leibrandt, an experienced starter from FSU, is also on the staff for now, but I suspect he’ll be promoted once he shows he’s completely healthy.
The offense is highlighted by two of the Phillies’ big recent signings in the international market: Jose Pujols and Luis Encarnacion. Pujols comes back for his second year after showing off his raw power by leading the team with six home runs in 2013, and also showing off his propensity for striking out. Encarnacion’s not off to a great start in his pro debut, but since he’s only 16 years old, I think it’s fair to cut him some slack.
The second youngest player on the roster is catcher Gregori Rivero, a less heralded signing from the Grullon/Pujols signing period. He’s supposed to be able to hit, but the early returns to date have been underwhelming. Also listed as a catcher is last year’s fourth rounder Jake Sweaney, but he’s only played in the outfield this year.
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