Over the past month, Baseball America has been rolling out their top 20 prospect by minor league lists. Their top 10 and 30 lists by organization always get more attention, but in a way, the top 20 lists are more informative. When you’re comparing Jesse Biddle to Maikel Franco, you can decide one is better than the other, but maybe neither is very good. When you compare Biddle to some Twins or Red Sox prospects in the Eastern League, you can get a sense of how he’s viewed against a deeper and more talented pool of players. Across six affiliates, nine Phillies were named top 20 prospects in their respective league, including Maikel Franco in two.
CF Aaron Altherr (20th in Florida State League)
After repeating the South Atlantic League, Altherr had his best season as a professional with Clearwater in the FSL. For most of his career, he struggled making contact, but not only did he bat much better in 2013, he tapped into his power potential too, hitting 12 home runs and leading the league in doubles with 36. He still has speed too, stealing 20+ bases for the third straight year and having a better than even shot at staying in center field. He has two major areas to improve: his energy level and plate approach. BA’s report indicates there are scouts that believe his effort is lacking at times, and he has to cut down on his swings and misses. He has some chances to do that in the Arizona Fall League this off-season.
3B Cody Asche (ninth in International League)
There are years that a Triple-A top prospect list is severely lacking in talent, but 2013’s was a bit deeper than usual. The top four, Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts, Rays OF Wil Myers, Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole and Rays RHP Chris Archer, have appeared in postseason play. At ninth, Asche was actually ahead of five players that were in BA’s preseason top 100, and if he didn’t exhaust his prospect eligibility, it’s possible he would’ve been there in 2014. With a feel for contact, decent defense and athleticism and high energy, he could be an average major leaguer.
LHP Jesse Biddle (11th in Eastern League)
11th may seem a bit low, but considering his command problems and the talent in the league, it’s a fair spot. He’ll still be ranked in the top 100 but will probably be appearing behind Maikel Franco in rankings for the 2014 season. His fastball and curveball give him two good pitches, and his changeup should be adequate if he can start throwing more strikes. The Phillies are probably hoping that his second half struggles can be partially attribtued to his whooping cough and foot injury that dogged him most of the season.
RF/1B Dylan Cozens (9th in New York Penn League)
The selection of Cozens in the second round two years ago was pretty puzzling, but it seems like the Phillies may have been onto something. The NYPL is awful for hitters, but he was able to hit nine home runs in 68 games, finishing in the top five in the league in homers and slugging (.469). He was able to bat .265, but with a dead pull approach at the plate, he’ll have to make adjustments as he gets older. It’s a positive sign that his massive raw power is already resulting in actual production. Even if he has to move to first base because he’s so big, he should have the power to profile there. For a player not even ranked in BA’s top 500 going into the 2012 draft, he’s two spots ahead of Mets first rounder Garin Cecchini on this list.
SS J.P. Crawford (sixth in Gulf Coast League)
Defensively, Crawford came as advertised after the Phillies drafted him 16th overall. What places him among the elite talent in the GCL was his surprising ability at the plate. Before being promoted to Lakewood to finish the season, he led the league in batting average and on-base percentage and even showed some gap power. With as many walks as strikeouts, his plate approach was more advanced than expected too. Lately, the Phillies have been holding high school hitters back in extended spring training to start their first full seasons, but Crawford clearly does not need that that extra seasoning.
3B Maikel Franco (fourth in EL, fifth in FSL)
While a couple late season reports picked apart some of the negative aspects of Franco’s game, BA received a number of great reports, some that even placed him just behind future Twins star slugger Miguel Sano. His defense should be adequate enough to stay at third base as long as the Phillies allow it. Surrounded by names like Pittsburgh’s Gregory Polanco and the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, Franco could even be pushing top 25 territory this offseason. He could be the big right-handed bat they’ve been desperate for.
3B Zach Green (fourth in NYPL)
Green’s power is just as good as Cozens’, and he offers some other useful skills too. His 13 home runs led the league, was tied for the league lead in doubles with 20 and won the league’s home run derby. He strikes out so much it’s almost as if he’s doing it intentionally, but he walks a lot too which would indicate he’s not a completely wild hacker. If he can improve his pitch recognition as he gets older, he’ll be an even more effective hitter. He can run the bases a little and has the potential to be a good defensive third baseman. His makeup should allow him to make the most of his ability.
1B Darin Ruf (17th in IL)
Ruf is still a limited player, but this is where the league’s list drops off anyway. His minor league stats weren’t as good this year because pitchers were more careful with him, but he’s still able to hit any fastball, especially when they’re over the inner half. He had reverse splits in the majors this year, but that probably won’t last. If Ryne Sandberg feels comfortable with his job security, he could have Ruf platoon with Ryan Howard and also get some action in left field with a defensive replacement ready to go.
CF Carlos Tocci (18th in South Atlantic League)
Despite having the second lowest OPS among qualifiers in the SAL, Tocci’s prospect stock is mostly unchanged. That’s positive to hear, because it’s almost impossible to find something positive about his statistics. He didn’t walk or steal bases efficiently, or even above 50%. An opposing manager commented that he just needs to get stronger which makes sense for an 18 year old that weighs just 160 pounds. If getting stronger can correct his problems, maybe we’ll see that improvement as soon as next season. For now, it’s probably best to pretend 2013 never happened.
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