Mar 272013

Phillies minor league team Lehigh Valley IronPigsDespite a couple more trades this off-season that thinned out the minor league depth even more, the system might actually be stronger than it was at this point in 2012.  Last year’s #1 prospect, righty Trevor May, is gone, but with his very uneven season in AA, his future was in doubt anyway.  With a couple exceptions, most of the top talent is still in the lower levels, but the upper levels are pretty well stocked with complementary players that should be able to carve out a Major League niche.   Here’s how I think the top 30 stacks up heading into the 2013 season.

30. Aaron Altherr, 6’5 190 CF, low-A, 22, bats right/throws right (471 PA, .252/.319/.402, 21.7 K%, 8.1 BB%)

Strengths: Altherr remains a great athlete, playing a quality center field despite his size.  Not only is he fast, he’s a smart baserunner that owns a stolen base percentage just over 80% in his career.  He has a short stroke that can produce line drives to all fields, and with his size, he could eventually hit for average power.  In his second season at Lakewood, he cut down on his strikeouts and improved his walk rate.  Although he’s hardly played right field in his career, his arm is good enough to play there if necessary.

Weaknesses: Altherr is still very raw, an his tools haven’t translated into baseball production enough.  His .722 OPS in 2012 was a clear rebound from 2011, but it was his second season at Lakewood, and he no longer has the advantage of being younger than most at his level.  Despite his short swing, he swings and misses far too much and has to become more selective at the plate.  If he fills out a little more and loses some athleticism, he might not have the power to profile in a corner outfield spot.

2013 outlook: Altherr will move up to high-A for 2013, and he’s going to have to adjust to the new level quicker than he did when he first got to low-A.  Along with Kelly Dugan, Clearwater will have a pair of 22 year old outfielders that still have a lot to prove.

29. Leandro Castro, 5’11 175 COF, AA, 24, R/R (511 PA, .287/.316/.427, 13.7 K%, 3.3 BB%)

Strengths: Castro plays with a lot of energy in all aspects of the game.  Despite a pretty long swing with a dramatic follow-through reminiscent of Juan Uribe’s, he usually gets his bat on the ball with a career .277 average and strikeout rate around 15%.  With that swing, if he guesses correctly, he can tap into his plus raw power, and that’s especially true if he gets a fastball.  In the outfield, he has the arm to play right field and the athleticism to occasionally play center, but he shouldn’t be there often.

Weaknesses: With a hyper-aggressive plate approach, Castro is his own worst enemy at the plate and makes a lot of outs.  His career walk rate is a shade under 5%, and it was even worse in 2012 as seen above.  He doesn’t hit to right field, and it’s not too hard to get him out with offspeed pitches.  He’s athletic enough to steal a base or two, but he’s so inefficient doing so he probably shouldn’t.  Aside from his arm, he’s just an okay fielder.

2013 outlook: After having a solid season in AA, he was not added to the 40 man roster nor was he taken in the rule 5 draft, which is telling.  He’s not a future everyday player, but he has the chance to be a 4th or 5th outfielder with a little pop.  He’ll move up to AAA in 2013 to try and show that his bat is good enough to earn a trip to the majors.

28. Cameron Rupp, 6’1 240 C, 24, high-A, R/R (390 PA, .267/.345/.424, 19.7 K%, 10.3 BB%)

Strengths: Rupp got into better shape in 2012, and there’s now no doubt that he can play major league defense behind the plate.  The Phillies feel he handles his pitching staffs very well, and he’s got a strong arm that has allowed him to throw out over 33% of attempted base stealers the last two seasons.  With his strength, he hits for above average power.  He cut down on his strikeouts in 2012 and has an above average walk rate.

Weaknesses: Although he cut down on those strikeouts, Rupp will never hit for a high average.  As a catcher, he’s not an athlete at all, but he can still move well enough behind the plate.  Although his .770 OPS was well above average for the Florida State League, he was also a year older than the league average player which may have factored into his success.

2013 outlook: Rupp will move up one more level to AA and continue handling pitchers like Jesse Biddle.  Like Castro, his upside isn’t very high, but his power, arm strength and leadership should help him earn a spot in the bigs at some point.  Along with Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle, there are three catchers who should be starting across AA and AAA, creating a bit of a logjam at the position.

27. Dylan Cozens, 6’6 235 COF, 19, rookie, L/L (183 PA, .255/.341/.441, 24 K%, 11.5 BB%)

Strengths: Well, his strength.  With his size, Cozens can generate power to all fields and was an accomplished home run hitter as an amateur.  Although he only hit .255 in limited action after being drafted, he’s shown he can make adjustments to his swing to better handle pro pitching.  His arm is strong enough to play right field if his athleticism allows it.  For his size, he can run a bit, giving him a chance to stay in the outfield.

Weaknesses: Makeup questions swirled around Cozens after he was reportedly kicked off his first high school team due to an altercation with a coach.  The Phillies seem to have done their homework though, and they believe he’s a hard worker.  He’s going to have to prove he can hit for a better average, and he can start by cutting down on his strikeouts and getting the ball in play more.  If he gets bigger and has to move to 1st base, his bat will have to carry him up the ladder.

2013 outlook: With a number of other corner outfielders around this level, Cozens could stay back in extended spring training to start the year and then report to Williamsport in June.  He had a pretty nice pro debut for not being particularly heralded entering the draft, but it’ll still be a while before we know what kind of player he can be.

26. Larry Greene, 6’0 235 COF, 20, short-season, L/R (303 PA, .272/.373/.381, 25.7 K%, 13.5 BB%)

Strengths: Greene has the size and strength to have impact power.  He’s shown he’s able to be patient and wait for his pitch which will be key for tapping into that raw power in games as he gets more experienced.  He has the athleticism to stay in the outfield as long as he works hard to stay in shape.

Weaknesses: Staying in shape was difficult for Greene in his first pro season, and he needs to be more prepared to enter the 2013 season.  He’s never going to be a great athlete, but he can stay in the outfield as long as he’s in shape.  Despite his nice batting average in professional debut,  there are questions about his bat speed which could warrant swing adjustments in future seasons.  He’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts and show more in-game power.

2013 outlook: Greene will get his first taste of full-season ball with Lakewood with much to improve on.  Lakewood is a little friendlier for power hitters than Williamsport, and it’ll be up to him to show he’s not just a singles hitter.  His pro debut was disappointing, but if he’s prepared for a full professional season this time around, he can improve his stock.

25. Zach Green, 6’3 185 3B, 19, rookie, R/R (183 PA, .284/.333/.426, 23.5 K%, 4.4 BB%)

Strengths: Green adjusted quickly to professional ball after being drafted in the 3rd round last year.  Like Mitch Walding, he moved from shortstop right to third base where has the arm strength to succeed.  He has the size to add strength and power as he gets older.  He has shown flashes of a short swing with good bat speed in the past.  His work ethic, hard-nosed style and leadership will help him take advantage of his abilities.

Weaknesses: His swing can get a bit long sometimes, and he needs to be quicker to the ball more often. Green will have to work on his plate approach, both cutting down on his strikeouts and being more patient.  He’s not much of an athlete, but he’s athletic enough to play third base.  He still has to adjust to third base and cut down on his errors, but he has the skills to improve.

2013 outlook: With Walding and Cameron Perkins ticketed for Lakewood already, Green will likely be held back in extended spring training to start the year and eventually report to Williamsport.  He’ll have plenty of time to work on his defense and refine his plate approach before seeing more game action in June.

24. Kyle Simon, 6’5 223 RHRP, 22, high-A/AA (39.2 IP, 1.36 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 23.8 K%, 4.1 BB%)

Strengths: After moving to the bullpen following the trade that brought him to the organization, Simon broke out.  He’s a ground ball machine with a low-90’s sinker that induces ground balls on over 60% of balls in play against him.  He’s also thrown a lot more strikes since moving to a relief role, and his strikeout rate has picked up as a result, assisted by a lower arm slot that creates deception.

Weaknesses: No longer a starter, Simon’s upside isn’t very high.  His stuff isn’t overwhelming enough to pitch regularly in the late innings, and his secondary pitches need work, particularly his changeup.  Despite all of his success, he was not very effective against lefties which could limit his usage in the majors.

2013 outlook: Simon will probably move up to AAA to start the year, and he has a chance to make the majors at some point during the season.  He’s a middle reliever at best, but his ability to get groundouts can be a valuable skill coming out of the bullpen.  If he can’t find a second pitch, it would probably be best if he doesn’t face left handed batters.

23. Zach Collier, 6’2 185 OF, 22, high-A, L/L (319 PA, .269/.333/.399, 18.8 K%, 8.2 BB%)

Strengths: Collier resuscitated his career after his PED suspension ended in 2012.  It culminated in a good Arizona Fall League campaign where he hit .371/.461/.532, earning a spot on the 40 man roster.  He could have four average or better tools, starting with his athleticism that helps him on the bases and play a good center field.  Despite the low batting averages in his career, he has good bat speed and should be able to get the ball in play regularly.  He’s patient enough to wait for his pitch, but he should cut down on the strikeouts a little.

Weaknesses: His tools are still impressive like they were when they drafted him in the first round five years ago, but his performance eventually has to match those tools.  Between the injuries and his suspension, his career has been subject to almost constant interruptions, and that lost developmental time hurts.  He’s trying to adjust his swing to add more power, but that’ll never be a big part of his game.  His arm isn’t anything special, but it’s good enough to play in the outfield.

2013 outlook: Somehow, despite all the setbacks in his career, he’s advancing to AA.  He was young when he was drafted, so he’ll still be age appropriate for the league.  He’ll need to show that he can translate his tools into game success, and it’s possible that his AFL season was a start to doing just that.  It’s not very likely that his ceiling is that of an everyday player, but because of all the disruptions to his career, he may still have room to grow.

22. Kelly Dugan, 6’3 195 COF, 22, low-A, L/R (496 PA, .300/.387/.470, 24.6 K%, 9.7 BB%)

Strengths: Dugan was finally healthy for a change, and he had a career year.  He showed some of the power the Phillies were expecting when they drafted him, hitting 12 of his career 15 home runs.  He batted .300 on the nose and has made pretty consistent contact throughout his career.  His plate approach has been pretty patient throughout his career, but he was a bit strikeout prone despite the success in 2012.  After playing first base as an amateur, he’s shown he has the range and arm to try the outfield.

Weaknesses: Since he’s not much of an athlete, all of Dugan’s value rests with his bat.  His defense could be average but likely not much more.  He’ll have to prove that 2012 was no fluke by displaying the power he showed for a second straight year, and it’ll be in an environment not conducive to power hitting.  Staying healthy and getting on the field on a consistent basis is another important goal in 2013.

2013 outlook: With a short track record of success, I’d like to see another season like this before moving him higher on the list.  With his average athleticism and injury history, consistently playing in the outfield could be dicey.  He used to switch hit, but he only bats from the left side now where he can still do okay against lefties.  Because of his slow progress, his age will just be average at high-A in 2013.

21. Austin Wright, 6’3 220 LHSP, 23, high-A (147.2 IP, 3.47 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 20.7 K%, 9.3 BB%)

Strengths: Despite only being the third best starter on Clearwater’s staff, Wright was named Florida State League Pitcher of the Year.  That’s not to say he’s not a prospect though.  His curveball is a plus pitch, and his low 90’s fastball gives him two important building blocks toward reaching the majors.  He has the big, durable frame to be a workhorse starter and can work at the bottom of the strike zone.

Weaknesses: Wright needs to throw more strikes.  His walk rate isn’t horrible, but he can get wild at times and needs to improve his command.  His changeup could use more consistency, and if he can improve that, he’s sure to be a starter rather than late inning reliever.  Because of the inconsistent changeup, he was very hittable against righties.

2013 outlook: He fell behind fellow 2011 draftee Adam Morgan in their first full professional seasons, but Wright still had a good season.  He’ll be up to AA to start the season, and from there he’s not too far from the majors.  Like Morgan, he’s clearly better than he was as an amateur, and the scouting and development staffs deserve credit for seeing the potential.

Click here for Part 2 (20-11) or Part 3 (10-1).

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