In 2007, the Phillies won the NL East for the first of four consecutive years. Besides Cole Hamels and a couple relievers, they really couldn’t pitch at all. They won with their offense, more specifically by hitting a ton of home runs. They were second in the league in home runs in 2007 and 2008, third in 2009, ninth in 2010, and this season they’re fighting to stay in the upper half of the league. In 2010 and especially 2011, the balance has shifted. They now win with strong starting pitching and just hope the offense can be adequate.
What happened? It’s been a mix of personnel change and core players aging. From 2007-2009, Phillies left fielders, mainly Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez, hit 101 home runs. In 2010, they got 21 home runs from left fielders, and they’re on pace for about the same this season, a clear decline in power. Right field is on pace for about 21 home runs too, and the Phillies are used to getting much more power from that position too. From 2007 to 2010, Phillies right fielders, Shane Victorino for one year and mostly Jayson Werth since, hit 107 home runs. The corner outfielders are traditionally power positions, and they’ve been lacking in both spots this season.
In their recent run of success, the Phillies have enjoyed well above average production from the middle infield, typically seen as defensive positions. In 2007, Jimmy Rollins hit 30 home runs and won NL MVP. In the three and a half years since then, Rollins has only hit 47 home runs, and his replacements while he’s been on the DL haven’t added much either. His double play partner never won an MVP, but Chase Utley put up MVP-caliber numbers while playing great defense from 2005-2009. In 2007, he hit 22 home runs in just 132 games, and he combined for 64 home runs the next two seasons. Over the past year in a half, whether it’s the injuries he’s battled or just a player that plays the game extremely hard wearing down, his power has declined. In 152 games between 2010 and 2011, Utley has just 20 home runs.
With decreasing power up and down the lineup, a team that has relied on the home run to score runs for so long has struggled in recent times. It’s important to keep in mind that offense and power are down across the league since 2010, but it’s still clear the Phillies could stand to improve the lineup to increase their chances of winning a World Series this year and extending their window to contend. Since this is supposed to focus on the minor leagues, this will be less about the present and more on the long term outlook on power hitting in the organization. Note: All home run totals and class rankings were current as of 7/4 when I originally totaled everything. Individual stats are current as of 7/6.
Lehigh Valley HR Leaders
Brandon Moss, 14 in 293 PA
Jeff Larish, 13 in 275 PA
Erik Kratz, 11 in 223 PA
Tagg Bozied, 9 in 147 PA
In terms of long term future, that’s not a promising group. Brandon Moss is the youngest on that list at 27 years old, and his greatest career accomplishment to date is being involved in the Manny Ramirez trade in 2008. He has a .688 OPS in 743 ML PA with Boston and Pittsburgh, and his slugging continuously dropped in the majors since he was first called up in 2007. That’s not acceptable for a major league corner outfielder, so at this point, his ceiling is probably an occasional player that comes off an ML bench. Larish and Kratz probably offer the same potential. Larish has 276 career ML PA’s, and Kratz had 36 last year as a 30 year old rookie.
In terms of prospects, the IronPigs roster doesn’t have much to look forward to. We’ve all seen what John Mayberry can do at this point, and he’s clearly not an everyday player. His speed, defense and occasional power can be useful off the bench, but he gets exposed if he starts too often. A slightly younger player recently promoted to AAA also has ML bench potential, and that’s Cody Overbeck. He hasn’t gotten off to a good start with the IronPigs, but he has never gotten off to good starts after promotions. He can hit fastballs and not much else, but that can still get players to the majors. His flexibility to play (and I use the term play loosely) all four corner positions gives him an edge over someone like Matt Rizzotti at AA.
Reading HR Leaders
Cody Overbeck, 18 in 267 PA (now in AAA)
Matt Rizzotti, 16 in 350 PA
Derrick Mitchell, 13 in 320 PA
Carlos Rivero, 9 in 333 PA
Reading doesn’t have any current AAAA players like Lehigh Valley does, but they do have quite a few future ones. FirstEnergy Stadium favors hitters, but none of those players really take advantage of it and all have better road splits than home splits. Rizzotti actually hit better at Reading last year than he is this season with the same amount of home runs and more doubles in 40 fewer PA. Mitchell is a year younger than Rizzotti and plays all outfield positions after starting his career as an infielder. His future isn’t as a starter, but in the last couple years he’s become a solid minor league hitter. Rivero was acquired from Cleveland in the offseason, and he’s still young enough to become a future utility infielder with a little power.
Reading’s best position player prospect is Freddy Galvis who obviously won’t provide much power. That’s despite a breakout season that’s seen Galvis hit for over 100 points higher than his career OPS and hit a career high in home runs before the EL All-Star break. He has improved strength, but his value will always be in his great glove and not at the plate. Before his injury, Harold Garcia was probably the team’s best position player prospect, but a torn ACL ended his season after just a week. He got off to a great start, but he’s more known for hitting for a high average and his speed than any power. Fans may be holding out hope for Rizzotti to have trade value, but without showing improvement at AA in his second year, he’ll be a throw in to a trade at best.
Clearwater HR Leaders
Leandro Castro, 10 in 243 PA
Darin Ruf, 6 in 332 PA
Jonathan Singleton, 6 in 302 PA
Jeremy Barnes, 5 in 227 PA
Those are extremely low totals, and the Threshers are below average in power compared to other high-A teams. They’re in the bottom 10 for high-A home runs, but part of that is due to playing in the Florida State League. Five of the teams below them in the HR leaderboard are also in the FSL, and two others in the Carolina League play in notorious pitchers parks. Despite not having played since June 16th due to an injury, Castro easily leads the team with 10 home runs. At 24 years old, Darin Ruf doesn’t have a major league future, but with 28 doubles in addition to his home runs, he can be a solid minor league hitter. Barnes didn’t begin the year with the team, but despite hitting home runs at a better rate than most Clearwater hitters, he’s mostly a singles hitter.
Jonathan Singleton is Clearwater’s best power prospect, and he’s likely the best in the entire organization. That hasn’t necessarily translated into results though. Singleton has been incredibly streaky this year, and an early season ankle injury and position switch have affected him at the plate. He has the body and swing to hit for plus power in the future, and it’ll just be a matter of him continuing to refine his approach and progressing through the system. Sebastian Valle is supposed to have power, especially from a catcher, but this year he’s hit mostly singles. He needs his power back since singles hitters with his plate approach typically don’t add much to a lineup. The organization probably hopes that Jiwan James can develop average power, but right now he’s not hitting much at all.
Lakewood HR Leaders
Jim Murphy, 17 in 338 PA
Anthony Hewitt, 9 in 286 PA
Domingo Santana, 6 in 268 PA
Five tied with 3
Jim Murphy’s total may look very impressive, and not to take away from what he’s done, but he was a regular at Lakewood two years ago and 25 year olds at this level should hit really well. He’s stuck in Lakewood due to players like Larish, Overbeck, Bozied, Rizzotti, Savery, Ruf and Singleton occupying first at higher levels. He should be in a higher level, but since he can’t play any positions besides first base, he might not get out of Lakewood until there’s a roster shakeup at higher levels. Despite only three players only having more than three home runs, Lakewood is actually in the upper half of low-A teams in home runs. Lakewood’s offense is still one of the worst in the South Atlantic League, but they have improved since the rough start.
Anthony Hewitt has the raw power, and he always has going back to high school. He’s obviously had his flaws for just as long, and that can’t be ignored. His poor plate approach and inability to contact have prevented that power from materializing in game action. It looks like it never will. Santana is another outfielder with big time power whose deficiencies may prevent that power from developing in games. In prior seasons, Santana did walk quite a bit, but this season, he’s still striking out an astronomical amount but with many fewer walks. His plate approach needs to improve for him to advance, but he’s still very young. A couple other outfielders have the potential to hit for power, but it hasn’t shown in games yet. Aaron Altherr and Zach Collier have the tools, but sometimes those guys don’t pan out.
Williamsport and GCL HR Leaders
Aaron Altherr, 2 in 75 PA (Williamsport)
Carlos Valenzuela, 2 in 49 PA (GCL)
Many tied with 1
The Phillies are certainly expecting more power from the Crosscutters since it’s a league with a lot of college players. However, it’s not uncommon for a lot of players to not hit home runs in the short season leagues. The experienced college players still need to adjust to wood bats, and the younger players in the GCL haven’t grown into their bodies yet. It’s not surprising that Altherr got off to a good start with Williamsport. He was there last season, and the Phillies were really high on him coming into the season. He’ll need to go back to Lakewood and improve there. Carlos Valenzuela is off to a great start with an OPS over .900, but judging by his track record in the Dominican Summer League, he’s playing way over his head right now.
Right now, Maikel Franco is the hot name at third base in the Phillies’ system. It’s too early to tell what kind of player he’ll become, but right now he’s mainly hitting singles, and at 6’1 and 180 pounds, he’s not guaranteed to develop power. His fellow infielders Harold Martinez and Cody Asche are supposed to develop power, but they haven’t shown it in their brief pro careers. Martinez really struggled with the new bats his junior year at Miami, and it’s no guarantee that he’ll get his power back again. His selection in the draft was criticized by some, but first round pick Larry Greene has one big tool, and that’s his power. For some reason, he has not signed yet. At the time of the draft, he was expected to be extremely signable. At this point, that’s clearly not the case, but I still expect he’ll sign with the Phillies.
Overall, the Phillies organization is in the middle of the pack for home runs. It’s an area that needs to be addressed at the major and minor league levels. On one hand, the toolsy players in the system could have the light turn on at any time and develop the power. On the other hand, it’s not a guarantee. The Phillies need to add players that have more usable, in-game power, but that’s not always easy. At their usual draft position, a lot of those players are either long off the draft board or are ticketed to play first base as a professional, and the Phillies prefer better athletes than that. They tend to do a good job identifying and developing talent, and hopefully someone can provide the pop they need soon.
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