Feb 232014
Phillies CF prospect Zach Collier

Phillies OF prospect Zach Collier

We’re now two and a half years since the Phillies acquired Hunter Pence, and the farm system has still not recovered to the level it was once at.  After missing the playoffs two straight years, and frankly not being particularly close, they need a new wave of players to come up and make an impact.

They’re spending more money in the international market to try and add to the farm’s talent level, and their top 10 pick in the upcoming draft will help.  In the short term, the Phillies are hurt by a couple things: their recent bush league dealings with the NCAA, and a number of significant injuries to key players.

One area the team has improved their depth in is power hitting.  It’s been an issue at the major league level for a while now, but maybe help is coming.  Depending on how I’m feeling that particular day, I count around seven players on my top 30 list that could be potential 20+ home run hitters.  Of course not all of them will pan out, but maybe they can hit on two or three players and rebuild the lineup.

Listed ages are for the 2014 season, and the league level and stats are from 2013.

30. 2B Andrew Pullin, L/R 6’0 190, 20, Short-season (219 PA, .261/.283/.412, 16.9 K%, 3.2 BB%)

Strengths: Pullin can hit, despite the disappointing average (which was still nearly 20 points better than league average in 2013.)  He has a good feel for contact that helps him put the ball and play and avoid strikeouts.  Despite his smaller size, he has a bit of pop in his bat with 18 extra base hits in 51 games.  After converting to second base, he has the athleticism and arm to be average at the position.

Weaknesses: Pullin clearly has to work on his plate approach; not only to eventually take walks but just wait for pitches he can make hard contact on.  Players with good hit tools can be their own worst enemy when they think they can hit every pitch but end up making a lot of weak contact.  Because he’s not adding much with his defense or speed, he’s going to have to hit a lot better to have value.

2014 outlook: At this time last year, there was a possibility that Pullin would start the season in Lakewood thanks to his advanced bat.  His average play a level lower indicated he wouldn’t have been prepared for that, but he’ll get his shot in full-season ball this year.

29. LHP Austin Wright, 6’4 235, 24, Double-A (94.1 IP, 5.92 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 17.7 K%, 13.5 BB%)

Strengths: Wright has the strong, durable frame to start if the Phillies choose to continue that route with him.  His fastball sits in the low-90’s and could maybe touch a little higher in relief.  His changeup velocity has nice separation from his fastball around 10 MPH, allowing him to have success against righties.

Weaknesses: Wright was probably a bit overrated after winning Florida State League Pitcher of the Year in 2012, but there was no indication his 2013 season would be so bad.  For most of the year, he couldn’t find the strike zone, and when he did, the pitch was poorly located and hit hard.  His high-effort delivery and tendency to lose fastball velocity during a game are more conducive to a relief role.  His breaking ball is only average.

2014 outlook: It’s impossible to predict how a pitcher can rebound coming off a season like Wright’s.  All things considered, he should probably stay in the bullpen.  Maybe an off-season to clear his head will help him get back closer to the strike zone in 2014 and pitch more effectively.

28. RHP Kyle Simon, 6’6 220, 23, Double-A (56.2 IP, 4.45 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 12.9 K%, 8.6 BB%)

Strengths: Simon’s high-80’s sinker makes him a ground ball machine.  His size and release point accentuate the effectiveness of the pitch.  His slider and changeup both have potential to be average pitches, although he doesn’t need both in the bullpen.

Weaknesses: Elbow soreness affected Simon earlier in the season, and he pitched poorly for most of the season.  According to Pitch F/X data from his two seasons in the Arizona Fall League, it may have negatively affected his velocity, and his walk rate was the highest in his career.  Because of his arm angle and mediocre changeup, he struggles against left-handed batters.

2014 outlook: Unlike last season, Simon was not awarded a non-roster invitation to big league camp, so he’s going to have to work his way back on the map.  Ideally, his poor season can be explained away by his elbow, and he’ll be ready to go, likely for Reading, in April.

27. OF Jose Pujols, R/R 6’3 175, 18, Rookie (181 PA, .188/.278/.369, 30.9 K%, 10.5 BB%)

Strengths: Pujols is sometimes compared to former Phillies prospect (and potential top 100 prospect) Domingo Santana.  Santana was a bit bigger at that age and performed well right out of the gate, but the tools are similar.  He has big-time, top of the scale power, and his six home runs were tied for the Gulf Coast League lead.  He generates that power with tremendous bat speed, and he has a lot of room to grow stronger.  His above average arm should land him in right field.

Weaknesses: Pujols has the desire to swing at every pitch, and at some point he has to stop doing that.  The raw power will never play in games unless he figures out some semblance of pitch recognition.  He’ll probably always strike out, but doing so in nearly one-third of his plate appearances isn’t particularly close to being tolerable.  He’s already pretty slow and won’t be getting faster as he gets bigger.

2014 outlook: The Phillies like challenging young players with assignments to Lakewood, but that seems to be out of the question with Pujols.  There’s nothing wrong with an 18 year old repeating the GCL if that’s where he’s assigned again.

26. CF Zach Collier, L/L 6’2 185, 23, Double-A (513 PA, .222/.310/.348, 25.1 K%, 9.2 BB%)

Strengths: Collier has the athleticism to play a good center field, and he has the arm strength to play any outfield position.  That athleticism also helps him on the bases where he could steal 20+ bases annually at a somewhat efficient rate.  He has an approach patient enough to take some walks.  He can generate decent bat speed.  He posted a .918 OPS in August to close out 2013.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, the rest of his season was horrendous, and he entered August batting below .200.  Collier has never been able to translate his athleticism and tools into in-game production and has a career OPS of just .664.  Although his eight home runs in 2013 were a career high, his power is underwhelming.  He struck out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances against left-handed pitchers.  His injury history is already pretty extensive.

2014 outlook: It feels like Collier has been around forever, but he’s still too young to throw in the towel.  If he can just hit a little bit, he should find himself on a major league bench thanks to his speed and defense.  He’ll probably be headed back to Reading.

25. C Tommy Joseph, R/R 6’1 215, 22, Triple-A (72 PA, .209/.264/.358, 20.8 K%, 5.6 BB%)

Strengths: With his strength and swing geared for it, Joseph has above average to plus power to all fields.  Behind the plate, he has the arm strength to control the running game and owns a career 35% caught stealing rate.  His leadership and game calling are good intangibles for a catcher to have.

Weaknesses: 2013 was a lost year for Joseph after suffering two concussions and dealing with the symptoms the entire season.  There was doubt that he’d ever play catcher again, but the Phillies seem to be proceeding with him behind the plate which is probably his only path to the big leagues because his bat’s not good enough to profile at first base.  He doesn’t have the hit tool to hit for a very good average, and he doesn’t help himself with an aggressive approach.  Because of his size, he has to improve blocking balls in the dirt and other aspects of catching related to agility.

2014 outlook: Joseph just staying on the field will be a positive.  If he’s going to be behind the plate every day, Reading seems like a more likely destination than Lehigh Valley with Cameron Rupp headed for the IronPigs.  Continuing to play catcher is almost certainly detrimental to his long-term health, but it’s hard to picture him lasting in the big leagues long if he’s playing first base.

24. RHP Mitch Gueller, 6’3 210, 20, Short-season (58.1 IP, 5.86 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, 12.5 K%, 9.3 BB%)

Strengths: Gueller is a big athlete with the body to withstand a full starters’ workload in the future.  He has an above average fastball in the low-90’s, and he shows flashes of an above average breaking ball.  He’s coachable and has been able to improve his changeup.  His athleticism should aid him as he tries to straighten out his delivery.

Weaknesses: Gueller’s performance as a pro has been poor.  Even though he was billed as a raw pitcher despite his present fastball velocity, he doesn’t seem to be showing much progress.  Inconsistency repeating his delivery leads to a lot of his problems throwing strikes.  He has to sharpen his breaking ball and improve his changeup to have a full arsenal of pitches.

2014 outlook: His performance wouldn’t dictate an assignment to full-season Lakewood, but I bet that’s where he’ll land.  Because of his athleticism, the light could go on at any time, and he’s still pretty young.

23. 3B Luis Encarnacion, R/R 6’2 195, 16

Strengths: Unlike many Latin American teenagers that teams sign, Encarnacion actually has a track record of hitting in live games.  His approach is advanced for a hitter so young, another edge he held over many of his competitors in the Dominican Republic.  He makes hard contact to all fields and projects to have plus power which he shouldn’t have a problem utilizing in games with his hit tool.

Weaknesses: Encarnacion is a complete non-athlete.  His chances of staying at third base are poor at best, and his arm isn’t all that good either.  If he’s limited to left field, or even just first base, the onus is on his bat to produce value because he’s not getting it in the field or on the bases.  He hasn’t taken a professional at-bat yet.

2014 outlook: Encarnacion should suit up for the GCL Phillies this year and be one of the youngest players in the league.  Because he’s so young, whether or not he performs is almost immaterial.

22. OF Dylan Cozens, L/L 6’6 235, 20, Short-season (277 PA, .265/.343/.469, 23.1 K%, 10.1 BB%)

Strengths: The New York-Penn League is one of the toughest leagues to hit for power in, but Cozens made it look easy.  He has plus-plus raw power because he’s so strong with a swing made for hitting home runs.  He’s patient enough to generally wait for his pitch, and his hit tool is a bit better than one would expect from a tall power hitter.  He’s actually a decent athlete for his size.  He has the strong arm needed for right field.

Weaknesses: Despite that surprising athleticism, it’s not a lock he stays in right field.  Cozens will likely lose speed as he ages which would necessitate a move to first base.  Although his strikeout rate is manageable, he has quite a bit of swing and miss in his game, both because of his long swing and poor pitch recognition.  His ability to make contact will be tested by tougher pitching in the coming years.

2014 outlook: Cozens will finally get a taste of full-season ball with Lakewood in 2014.  They’ve been patient with him, and he should continue to perform now that he’s spent more time focusing solely on baseball.

21. OF Cord Sandberg, L/L 6’3 215, 19, Rookie (196 PA, .207/.313/.272, 18.4 K%, 12.2 BB%)

Strengths: Sandberg flashes five average or better tools, led by his potential plus power, thanks to his strength and bat speed.  He’s a decent athlete who was committed to play quarterback at Mississippi State with an outfield arm that would be expected from a very good QB prospect.  For a player not completely focused on baseball as an amateur, his plate approach was a bit better than expected in his pro debut.

Weaknesses: Because of that inexperience, Sandberg has a lot of work to do in all areas of his game.  His pitch recognition and approach need to improve so he can make harder contact more consistently.  His raw power didn’t show up in games during his debut season.  He’s athletic, but with his size, he’s more of a right fielder than center fielder.  He could be a good defender, but he has to get better reads on the ball and take better routes.

2014 outlook: Now playing baseball full-time, the Phillies hope Sandberg can unleash his tools on the field at some point.  A number of his problem areas, like the mental aspects of defense, can be corrected with the additional experience he’ll now be gaining.  He’ll probably started the season in extended spring training and report to Williamsport in June.

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