Aug 072012
 
Phillies minor league pitching prospect Trevor May

RHP Trevor May is the Phillies top prospect.

For the first time since 2006 when they shipped out Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle among others, the Phillies were sellers at the trade deadline. They hope this season is a temporary setback and a full rebuild isn’t necessary, but they’ll have plenty of holes to fill moving forward. They think they’ve been able to free up some money for next year’s payroll, but their needs don’t exactly line up with the top players due to become free agents.

The first player to go was Shane Victorino. He was traded to the Dodgers the morning of the 31st for Josh Lindblom, Ethan Martin and a player to be named later or cash. Victorino is due to become a free agent at the end of the season, and under the new rules, the Phillies weren’t likely to get draft pick compensation for letting him sign elsewhere. Lindblom looks like he could be an effective middle reliever used against righties, and perhaps most importantly he’s not even arbitration eligible yet. Martin is a former first rounder who after going through two rough years in 2010 and 2011 is now throwing some more strikes with plus stuff.

Hours later, Hunter Pence was moving onto his third team in two years. The Giants send back Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin for the right fielder with one more year of arbitration eligibility. While at this point it should be obvious to everyone that the Phillies overpaid to get Pence in the first place, it’s still disappointing that the Phillies were unable to get either of the team’s top two prospects (outfielder Gary Brown and righty Kyle Crick) or Brandon Belt in return. Schierholtz is a solid 4th outfielder who can hit righties, play the corner outfield positions and throws well. Joseph has plus arm strength and power, but he needs to improve his plate approach and receiving skills. Rosin was starting for San Francisco’s high-A affiliate at the time of the trade, but in the end he’s most likely a reliever with a decent fastball and changeup.

Three days later, the Dodgers again worked out a trade with the Phillies, this time sending a player to be named later or cash for Joe Blanton. It’s important to point out that PTBNL isn’t a synonym for valueless player, but obviously fans shouldn’t be expecting a big return for Blanton anyway. It could be someone currently on the minor league DL, a 2011 draft pick that didn’t sign before 8/3/11, and I believe it could be a player that didn’t clear waivers.

How do the organization’s top prospects look after the additions? It’s still probably a system in the lower third of the league, but it could be argued that it’s stronger now than it was at the start of the season. One positive is that they’re collecting some usable talent in the upper levels. There aren’t many significant difference makers in AAA and AA, but filling a bench and bullpen with cheap players really helps a team, especially a top heavy roster like the Phillies’. Here are my top 13 prospects at this point in time. Please note that I have not included any 2012 draft picks or international free agent signings. I’ll add those in to the top 30 over the offseason. All ages will be that player’s age on Opening Day 2013.

1. Trevor May, 6’5 215 RHSP, AA, 23.52

May got off to a torrid start at Reading that made it appear his transition to the upper minors would go smoothly, but since then, he’s lost his command and control and has been getting hit hard regularly. It’s absolutely been a disappointing season for May, but the stuff is still there, and he’s still young. The most concerning thing about his season is a sharp increase in his home run rate, from .5 per nine innings last year to 1.5 per nine innings this year. Part of that is a fluky thing that happens in a season, part of it is moving from Clearwater to Reading, and part of it indicates his struggles, but it still has to come down.

2. Jesse Biddle, 6’4 225 LHSP, high-A, 21.44

Biddle’s season has been a mixed bag so far. He avoided the sophomore slump that hit Brody Colvin at this point in his career, and his strikeout and walk rates have both moved in the right direction. He’s second in the FSL in strikeouts, just ahead of teammate Austin Wright and way behind teammate Adam Morgan in first. His velocity is still a subject of concern though. Sometimes he’ll be up to 94, and sometimes he’ll only be in the 88-90 range. He locates the pitch well, but of course he has a much larger margin for error if he can sustain the higher velocity. His curveball and changeup are both good pitches, so his upside will be determined by the fastball.

3. Jonathan Pettibone, 6’5 200 RHSP, AA/AAA, 22.70

After a rough start to the season, Pettibone adjusted to AA nicely and is on his way to the majors. His strikeout rate is still not at a desirable level, but if it was going to really hurt him moving forward, he would’ve struggled in AA. He has three above average pitches, but since none of them are plus, his upside is limited to that of a #4 starter or perhaps #3 if everything goes well. His pitchability is impressive which is what allows him to adjust to each new level. He locates his fastball well all over the zone, and it’s not a straight pitch. His changeup allows him to be very effective against lefties, but he needs to improve his breaking ball.

4. Cesar Hernandez, 5’10 160 2B, AA/AAA, 22.86

Hernandez had a terrible 2011 with Clearwater, but the Phillies were confident enough in him to advance him to Reading for this year. In 2011, the Phillies skipped him from Williamsport to Clearwater, an incredibly difficult transition for a young player, and he struggled to adjust all season. Now he’s having a breakout year and close to reaching the majors. He makes a lot of contact with gap power, has some speed and fields his position well. He’s a switch hitter that’s been better from the right side of the plate, but he holds his own batting left handed. Hernandez won’t be an All-Star, but he could soon be a viable starter in the majors.

5. Tommy Joseph, 6’1 215 C, AA, 21.71

Joseph has the potential to be an above average starting catcher, but he still has a lot of work to do. In 2011, he was 4th among all minor league catchers in home runs, but his power hasn’t shown in games as much this year in AA. His throwing him is his second plus tool, and he’s throwing out nearly 50% of attempted basestealers this year. His fielding behind the plate is improving, and he’s known as a very good game caller. If he becomes a little more selective at the plate and doesn’t try to pull every pitch, he has All-Star potential. If not, he’ll be a maddeningly inconsistent hitter that never shows off his full power.

6. Phillippe Aumont, 6’7 255 RP, AAA, 24.23

Aumont still has closer stuff, but his control has taken a big step back this year. His 6.6 BB/9 with Lehigh Valley in 2012 is a new career high, and he wasn’t exactly known as a strike thrower in previous seasons. A back injury cost him some time early in the season, and injuries like that are always going to be a concern. If he can find a way to harness his control and throw more strikes, he could be a real weapon late in games for the Phillies. His mid 90′s fastball has heavy sink which will be helpful at Citizen’s Bank Park. He complements it with a great curveball to rack up strikeouts.

7. Adam Morgan, 6’1 195 LHSP, high-A, 23.09

Among pitching prospects, Morgan is probably have the biggest breakout season in the Phillies organization. He leads the Florida State League in strikeouts, and he’s second in all of Minor League Baseball. Despite that, his ceiling is probably close to a #4, maybe #3 pitcher. He was always inconsistent start-to-start in college, but the fact that he’s been this good indicates that he’s developed some sort of consistency. His fastball velocity has probably stayed in the 90′s rather than fluctuating, and his secondary pitches have likely improved. His 5.0 K:BB ratio is outstanding, and as long as he keeps locating his pitches, he could reach the majors soon.

8. Sebastian Valle, 6’1 205 C, AA/AAA, 22.69

AA is the level that exposes a player’s weaknesses, and that was the case with Valle. As expected, his power did show in games more thanks to moving to Reading from the Florida State League, and only four minor league catchers have more home runs than him this season. Unfortunately, his abysmal plate approach has gotten worse, and that’s going to limit him to a backup role in the future. He could probably bat .250 and hit 20 homers with regular playing time, but he’s going to make so many outs it won’t be worth it. He’s still throwing out a low percentage of runners despite a good arm, but his defense behind the plate is overall much improved.

9. Justin De Fratus, 6’4 220 RP, AAA, 25.45

This has unfortunately been mostly a lost year for De Fratus, but his set-up man upside probably still hasn’t changed. He dealt with elbow soreness all spring, and in his first rehab appearance this summer, he suffered a setback that cost him some more time. He’s back pitching now with Lehigh Valley, and he should finish the season with the big club. His mid 90′s fastball and slider are both out pitches, and it’s fair to wonder if the bullpen could have been a lot better had he not gotten hurt.

10. Carlos Tocci, 6’2 160 CF, R, 17.61

He’s one of the youngest players in professional baseball, and he’s certainly turning some heads in the GCL this year. His power has been non-existent so far, but that’s not a surprise, nor is it concerning for the rail thin outfielder. In addition to his great athleticism, he has impressive baseball savvy for a youngster and will be an efficient base stealer with plus plus speed and a very good defender in center. He’s batting well over .300 down in Florida, and he should be able to keep that up throughout his career, but it will take a while for him to develop. His plate approach has been very good for a 16 year old.

11. Ethan Martin, 6’2 195 RHP, AA, 23.82

After two straight years of pitching like someone that doesn’t belong in professional baseball, something has gotten Martin back on track this year in AA. His walk rate is slowly decreasing to manageable levels, and he could be a back-end starter or late inning reliever if his control keeps making progress. His 92-94 MPH fastball and curveball are a pair of potential plus pitches, and his improving splits against lefties could indicate that his changeup is improving. He’s taken an odd path to get here, but he’s now showing why the Dodgers made him a first round pick in 2008.

12. Roman Quinn, 5’10 170 SS, short-season A, 19.88

Like Tocci, Quinn is still very far away from making an impact, but he’s showing glimpses of his potential with Williamsport this year. Despite his small size, he’s going to develop enough gap power that he won’t just be a singles hitter. One of the most encouraging things about his season are his splits against righties. He’s new to switch hitting, but he’s holding his own from his weaker side of the plate. Of course, his game-changing speed is his greatest asset, and he’s been an efficient base stealer in the early days of his career. At some point, he could move to center field to make better use of his speed.

13. Maikel Franco, 6’1 180 3B, low-A, 20.60

Franco has had a wildly inconsistent season, not unusual for a teenager in full-season ball. At his best, he displays plus raw power needed for the hot corner and the arm and hands necessary to field his position. He’ll need to work to stay in shape and stick at third though. This year, he’s showing a pretty significant platoon split, hitting much better against lefties than righties, but his approach appears to be about the same against each arm, so he can always even that out. The big question with Franco is whether he’ll hit enough to make use of his power and stay in a starting lineup. Before a July surge, he spent most of the season batting well below .250.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out! Scott also regularly updates the PSC 2012 Minor League Thread with player stats, game results, and more…

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