Apr 222013

Williamsport Crosscutters logoWe’re now nearly three weeks into the minor league season, and seasons are starting to take shape.  That’s still too much of a small sample to make a big deal about things, but the rate stats are settling into realistic ranges and aren’t wildly affected by one 0 for 4 game.  Around Memorial Day, it’ll be safer to say if a player is having a good or bad season, and that’s fortunate for the Phillies’ full-season affiliates who mostly haven’t had good results so far.    Here are some things that have caught my eye so far, good or not so much.  All stats are current as of Saturday the 20th’s games.

Are they ready?  Triple-A Lehigh Valley entered the season with four of the team’s top 30 prospects in the rotation, two of which already with experience at the level before 2013.  With John Lannan’s injury, it turns out that depth, Tyler Cloyd, Jonathan Pettibone, Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin, will be tested early.  The problem is, they’re mostly not performing well.  The team ERA is nearly a full run above the league average, and a lot of that rests on the shoulders of that group, with the exception of Adam Morgan.  The other three have combined to allow 33 earned runs in 36.2 innings.  Morgan is not on the 40 man roster while the other three are, and he would not be rested enough to start Monday’s game in Lannan’s spot.  They chose to go with Pettibone, even though with nine triple-A starts, probably isn’t ready for the bigs.  Pettibone started slowly last year too (4.33 ERA in April), but he’s going to have to settle in quickly now in the majors.

Starters struggling: Those pitching struggles have been in play throughout the entire system so far.  Nine starters were in Baseball America’s top 30 list prior to this season (including Ethan Stewart at 31), and only three are below their league’s respective average ERA: the aforementioned Adam Morgan, and Jesse Biddle and Brody Colvin with double-A Reading.  Morgan and Biddle’s strikeout rates indicate they’ll likely continue their good performances, while Colvin’s struggles walking more than he strikes out will probably catch up to him.  The reverse is true for 2012 first rounder Shane Watson.  His ERA is 4.76 through three starts, but with a pretty solid strikeout rate (18.8%) and low walk rate (4.4%), that ERA should drop at some point over the next few months.

Franco’s breakout: Maikel Franco was one of the organization’s best hitters in the second half last season, and that has carried over to the opening weeks of 2013.  His .914 OPS is the highest among Baseball America’s top 30 prospects in the organization, and he’s doing it in the Florida State League, far from accommodating for batters.  He has 10 extra base hits in 16 games, and his walk rate has improved from 6.9% to 9.6%, and his strikeout rate is still a reasonable 16.4%.  His batting average is up 38 points, and that will be the question for him moving forward.  If he can make enough contact to use his raw power in games, he could be the organization’s best prospect at this time next year.

Greene’s arrival: 2011 first rounder Larry Greene finally reached full-season ball over the weekend, and his first couple games were certainly unique.  He had eight plate appearances, walked three times and struck out the other five.  It took until his third game to actually put a ball in play when he both recorded a hit and an out other than a strikeout.  After watching the Phillies go a week without walking, a player who can do it like Greene is certainly welcome, but he has to hit too.  In that third game, Greene was caught stealing.  In that same game, Roman Quinn, taken right after Greene in 2011, hit his second home run of the season, a clear reversal of roles from what’s expected.  Quinn now has three professional home runs (and a fourth in an All-Star Game) in 331 career plate appearances, compared to two in 316 for Greene who has at least 60 pounds on Quinn.

Quinn’s speed: Quinn’s speed has come as advertised for Lakewood in the early going, beating out infield singles, taking extra bases and stealing eight bases, more than all but four position players in any team’s top 30 list on Baseball America.  He’ll remain at the top of that leaderboard the entire season as long as he gets on base, something he hasn’t done much so far.  His increased power has come as a pleasant surprise, but at the expense of making good contact and having good on-base skills, it’s not a good tradeoff with his speed.  Compared to 2012, his average is down nearly 40 points, he’s striking out in nearly three out of every 10 plate appearances, and his walk rate is down from 9.1% to 5.6%.  He needs to become more selective again and just put the ball in play and use his speed.

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