On Saturday, Peoria topped Salt River 4-3 to win the Arizona Fall League Championship. While the league only runs for a month and a half, they’re all athletes who love to compete, and that was clear watching the team celebrating in the middle of the infield after winning a game that’s entirely meaningless. The stats are also almost entirely meaningless, but it’s still baseball information to check out and talk about. While the Latin American winter leagues are just beginning, the AFL wrapped up, and here is how the Phillies’ contingent fared:
3B Cody Asche: Asche finished 2012 with 62 games at Reading, and going out to Arizona was a great opportunity to pile up some more plate appearances against generally upper-level pitching. As Peoria’s primary third baseman, he had an okay fall with a .281 average, .343 OBP and .438 SLG. More power would’ve been nice, especially from a corner infielder in a hitters’ league, but Keith Law reported early in the AFL season that his swing is a little more conducive to power than in the past. With a walk rate over 8% and strikeout rate at 18.4%, his plate approach seemed similar to the past season’s, if not a little better with a higher walk rate.
It’s difficult estimating arrival times for players because there are so many factors that go into those decisions, but Asche could see Philadelphia at some point later in 2013. Obviously, he’ll have to perform well with Reading and Lehigh Valley to show he deserves a chance. Secondly, a position will need to be open for him in the majors. Right now, there probably isn’t a realistic long term solution at the position for the Phillies, and that means a path could be available to Asche. Kevin Frandsen was a solid hitter in 2012, but 30 year old hitters usually don’t just suddenly become quality major leaguers. Kevin Youkilis is a free agent, but he’s battled injuries lately, and his skills are diminishing. If Asche hits again in 2013, he will get a chance.
OF Zach Collier: Surprisingly, Collier ended up playing better than any Phillie out in Arizona. The outfielder, who hasn’t played above high-A yet in his career, hit .371/.461/.532, and his .993 OPS was third on Peoria. He was a first round pick in 2008, and despite the injuries and suspension that added up to a lot of lost development time, I haven’t quite been able to give up on his future. Eventually, he’s going to have to hit for more power since he probably can’t play center field, but he has the size to do it. He was known for a mature plate approach in high school, and he finally showed signs of that for Peoria with more walks than strikeouts. Of course it was only 62 at bats though, so this stretch doesn’t necessarily indicate actual improvement.
However, the Phillies still had a decision to make. They added Collier to the 40 man roster this week, so he won’t be eligible to be taken in the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Those spaces are valuable, and teams never want to lose their talent. Despite the strong showing in Arizona, I think the Phillies could’ve safely left Collier off and not worried about it. He’s inexperienced, and he doesn’t really fit the profile of players usually selected. He’s a good athlete but not particularly fast. He’s a good defender but probably not a regular center fielder. He’s far from a finished product, and he would provide nothing off the bench in the majors right now.
C Tommy Joseph: Joseph was unimpressive in his first taste of AA, first with the Giants and then the Phillies. After the trade, he hit for a bit more power, but it came with more strikeouts. Arizona provided him with a chance to get more at-bats, but it was only as a part time player behind 3rd overall pick Mike Zunino. In 55 plate appearances, he hit .204/.291/.224. Of course it’s a small sample size, but his plate approach was good with a 10.9% walk rate, higher than any season of his career, and a 14.5% strikeout rate, lower than any season of his career. Only one of his 10 hits went for extra bases though, and his raw power may never show up in games if he can’t make more consistent contact.
He’s still young though, and 2013 will only be his age 21 season. He’ll probably be starting back in AA again with Sebastian Valle occupying the catcher position in AAA. It’s disappointing, but it’s okay. The organizational depth chart is out of his control, and he could use some more time at the level. Joseph’s ceiling is probably still the same, an above average starting catcher in the majors. However, if he can’t make more consistent contact, he will be a limited player.
LHP Jay Johnson: The Canadian lefty is coming off a rough season with Reading, but with the deception in his delivery, he’s going to have a chance to get lefties out in the majors. To put it mildly, he was shelled against right handed batters in Arizona. While recording 12 total outs against righties, he allowed eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks. Against lefties, he dominated. Again he recorded 12 outs, but he only allowed one run on two hits and two walks, and 10 of his outs were strikeouts. Obviously that’s not sustainable, but he has struck out nearly one out of three lefties he’s faced in his two year career.
Thanks to Pitch F/X data in Peoria’s stadium, we’re able to get a snapshot of the pitches Johnson and the other Phillies threw this fall. His fastball averaged about 91 MPH, certainly not overwhelming. However, lefties swung and missed at is one out of every three pitches. To compare his effectiveness against right handed batters, no righty whiffed on his fastball in the entire AFL season. His slider was also very effective against lefties, inducing a swing and miss over 40% of the time. Those kind of rates can’t be sustained over time (for comparison, Antonio Bastardo’s whiff rate using a slider against a lefty was 30% in 2011,) but it shows why he’s effective in getting lefties out. He could reach the majors in a lefty specialist role, but it will be up to the coaching staff to use him properly, or his career won’t last long at all.
RHP Tyler Knigge: Knigge broke out with Clearwater in 2012 after a solid 2011 with Lakewood. In 44.2 innings, he struck out over a batter an inning with a 0.83 WHIP before he was promoted to Reading. He struggled a bit there, and that carried over into his brief stint in Arizona. He allowed 10 runs on 13 hits and five walks in 12 innings while striking out 10 batters. His walk rate did decrease a bit compared to his rate at Reading, but he still wasn’t throwing as many strikes as he did in Clearwater. Now 24 years old, he’ll hope to become a middle reliever in the next couple years.
The Pitch F/X affirms the previous scouting reports on Knigge. His fastball averages just a little over 95 MPH, and it’s complemented by a slider in the lower 80’s. His slider can generate its fair share of swings and misses, and he likes using it after he gets ahead in counts. If he can locate those pitches and keep up his strikeout rate from 2012, he could be another middle relief option as the team tries to rebuild its bullpen.
RHP Colby Shreve: The Phillies had some pretty decent expectations for Shreve coming out of the College of Southern Nevada, but he never returned to form after having Tommy John surgery as an amateur. This his second straight AFL stint with Rule 5 eligibility, and although he did a little better in 2012 than he did in 2011, he still didn’t show enough to warrant a spot on the 40 man roster. He allowed five earned runs on eight hits and five walks in 10 innings with six strikeouts.
Now a reliever full time, Shreve’s fastball sits around 92 MPH, and he uses it a lot more than his other offerings. His second pitch is also a slider in the low 80’s. In his career, he’s struggled against left handed batters, and that will likely continue since he’s essentially a one pitch pitcher against lefties, heavily relying on his fastball. Against righties, he mixes up his pitches a little more, and they’re more effective as well.
RHP Kyle Simon: Simon entered the AFL as the Phillies arm with the most promise as a middle reliever that throws a lot of strikes and generates a ton of groundouts. He got hit around quite a bit in Arizona, but that’s not unusual for ground ball pitchers in a small sample of innings. While he allowed 21 hits in 12 innings, only one went for extra bases. That led to 12 earned runs allowed, and he did have eight strikeouts and three walks. He’s coming off a season splits between the Orioles and Phillies organizations, and he had much more success after moving to the bullpen with the Phillies.
A look at the Pitch F/X shows why he gets so many ground balls. Nearly 90% of his pitches were some variation of a fastball, most of which were sinkers. It sits in the low 90’s, and nearly three out of four balls put in play are on the ground. With a good defense, which the Phillies have certainly had up the middle in recent years, he could be very effective coming out of the bullpen in double play situations. Against lefties, he utilizes a changeup that was surprising effective getting swings and misses. The velocity difference isn’t very big and it has to be located, but he shouldn’t be limited to just facing righties.
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