Two weeks ago, the two U.S.-based short-season affiliates of the Phillies started their seasons. This seems more significant than in previous years because several of last year’s top picks hadn’t made their pro debuts until this season. In addition to this year’s draft that stocked up on high school pitching, there’s a lot to look for in Williamsport and the Gulf Coast League.
2011 was the second straight year the Crosscutters narrowly missed out on the playoffs. Guided by first year skipper Mickey Morandini, they finished with 43 wins, 4th best in the league. This was primarily due to a great pitching staff that featured prospects like Adam Morgan, Austin Wright, Lino Martinez and others. Offensively, there were a lot of disappointments. Cody Asche had a brutal pro debut, and repeat Crosscutters Kelly Dugan and Kyrell Hudson were unable to improve on their previous results.
In the early going, Williamsport has shown a good, not great pitching staff. It’s one of the youngest staffs in the league, but right now they’re pretty short on prospects. The rotation is led by Australian Josh Warner and Dominican Ulises Joaquin, making his U.S. debut after pitching last season in the Dominican Summer League. They’re both off to good starts, but Joaquin is a very small righty that relies on command and control, and a lot of those pitchers don’t make it very far. It appears that 2012 picks Jordan Guth and Hoby Milner (since promoted to Lakewood) will alternate between starting and relieving the other each turn through the rotation which suggests they’ll probably both be in the bullpen down the road. In the bullpen, Jeb Stefan has recorded the team’s only save so far, but in the early going fellow 2012 picks Geoff Broussard and Nicholas Hanson have been the team’s best relievers.
Behind the plate, the Crosscutters again don’t really impress. They have three catchers on the roster, but two of them were undrafted free agent signees and are probably only around to fill spots. Chace Numata will be the team’s primary catcher. He was a 14th round pick by the Phillies a few years ago out of a Hawaiian high school, and they moved him from shortstop to catcher because of his strong arm. Injuries have really limited the switch hitter so far in his career, and if he’s going to get on track, it’ll have to be soon. 8th rounder Josh Ludy was assigned straight to Lakewood.
The infield is deep and talented. Roman Quinn, Tyler Greene and Mitch Walding could all be playing shortstop, but Greene and Walding have moved to second base and third base respectively. Quinn has game changing speed that has been on display early, and he’ll have to prove he can hit enough to take advantage of it. Greene has a nice all-around package of tools, but his performance in Lakewood and Williamsport has left a lot to be desired. Walding has been off to a hot start, and he has the frame to get strong to hit for enough power to profile at third base down the road. Cameron Perkins and Chris Serritella are big, experienced college hitters that will provide some power.
Williamsport’s corner outfield positions offers some potential as well. First rounder Larry Greene will start his pro career out in left, and his power could be the best in the system. He hasn’t really shown it so far, but anyone who has seen him in batting practice says the ball flies off his bat. In right field is Brian Pointer who finds himself in Williamsport after going into a prolonged slump in Lakewood. He’ll be able to get his confidence back and give it a shot again next year in the South Atlantic League. Center field features a platoon of two players with Yan Olmos getting most of the at bats. In the Dominican Summer League, he showed some nice speed and on base skills.
Overall, it’s an okay team that should contend for the playoffs under new manager Andy Tracy. The pitching staff could use some depth in the rotation, but that’s probably not coming. The lineup has potential with a nice mix of power and speed across the diamond. This could be the Phillies’ last year as Williamsport’s parent club. It’s well known that State College is unhappy with the rosters Pittsburgh has sent them, and the speculation is they’d like to make an agreement to become the Phillies’ new NYPL affiliate.
Gulf Coast League Phillies
After a nice start to their season, the 2011 Phillies’ year quickly turned south as they finished 27-32. They had a solid offense with a mix of players way too old for the GCL and a couple decent prospects like Brian Pointer and Tyler Greene. Pointer was tied with Chris Duffy for the team lead in homers with six. The pitching staff had a couple nice individual performances with Ramon Oviedo and Ethan Stewart, but overall, the pitching was poor and really struggled with the big bats in the Blue Jays and Yankees lineups.
Their staff is off to a rough start as the team was the last in pro baseball to win a game this season, but it should improve as the season wears on. It’s one of the youngest in the league, and they’re deep. 2012 picks from high school like Shane Watson, Mitch Gueller and Richard Bielski are there and should be able to contribute a controlled amount of innings the rest of the season. The second youngest pitcher on the staff is Dominican lefty Franklyn Vargas, a 6’4, 205 pound pitcher with a projectable fastball and some feel for offspeed stuff. All the rain in Florida recently has limited their schedule, but so far the top pitcher on the roster has been Manaure Martinez, a small, older righty that’s had some prior success in the Venezuelan Summer League. Two younger pitchers from the 2011 draft, Yacksel Rios and and Jesen Dygestile-Therrien, will be in the mix for innings.
There are four catchers on the roster, but none of them will really stand out. NAIA superstar Chad Carman was surprisingly assigned to the GCL and has only played in one game so far. The youngest in the bunch is Australian Liam Bedford, but Willians Astudio has been getting the majority of the time. He has a solid track record at the plate in the Venezuelan Summer League, but he’s only a singles hitter.
The infield will be pretty light hitting to say the least. There’s no true first baseman, so middle infielder Carlos Valenzuela will slide over and fill the hole. Like Williamsport above them, the GCL infield is primarily shortstops that will be playing other positions. The second position player the Phillies drafted in 2012, Zach Green, just made his pro debut Wednesday as the third baseman. After being completely overmatched at Lakewood, Gustavo Gonzalez returned to the GCL. He can really field, but his bat is very questionable. Colombian Jairo Cardozo is the youngest infielder, but he hasn’t earned much playing time as of yet.
On the other hand, the outfield is very deep, and balancing out the at-bats could prove to be a challenge. Four 2012 picks including three from high schools are on the roster, as well as an athletic signing late in the 2011 draft. That’s already a crowded outfield, and the team’s top international signing, Carlos Tocci, hasn’t even played yet because of a back injury. Thanks to his college experience, if Zach Taylor continues hitting well, he could be bumped up to a higher level to make room for some of the younger players. Second rounder Dylan Cozens has shown his power so far.
Even though they got off to a horrible start, the GCL Phillies should rebound and have a solid season. They have depth on the pitching staff and lineup, and as long as these draft picks assimilate themselves in pro ball decently, that will translate into good performance. The infield defense should be one of the best in the league and really assist the young pitchers. While last year the team started off well and faded, I think the opposite will be the case this year.
Saturday, the Phillies traded “1B” Jim Thome to Baltimore. This benefits both teams. Thome was of no use to the Phillies without the ability to attempt to play the field, and Baltimore upgrades their lineup with a player that was hitting well getting regular at-bats. The Orioles sent the Phillies two of their top 30 prospects: RHP Kyle Simon and C Gabriel Lino.
Simon has been having a pretty unimpressive season for Baltimore’s high-A affiliate Frederick in the Carolina League. It’s a league where pitchers typically excel, but batters are hitting .290 against him, and he only has 49 strikeouts in 72.2 innings. His only notable pitch is a high 80′s sinker, and he does generate a lot of ground balls. Perhaps some of the hits he’s allowed would’ve been outs with a better defense. He was assigned to Reading, and that suggests to me that they might be moving him to the bullpen where his fastball will tick up to the low 90′s, and it won’t be a big deal that his secondary pitches aren’t very good.
Lino is the real prize of the trade. It’s important to remember though that he’s a lottery ticket though. He has potential for three average tools or better, but he’s very raw. Former Phillie Calvin Maduro was the Orioles scout that signed him out of Venezuela. He’s having a rough season in low-A, but the Phillies will assign him to Lakewood where he’ll take his place as the team’s second best catcher prospect. Even though he’s struggling, he’s a smart player that has the ability to make adjustments and should be able to work out of his problems. He has a strong arm and power, but it’s questionable whether or not his hit tool will develop enough to tap into his strength.
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