Short-season leagues have kicked off in minor league baseball, and that includes two more Phillies affiliates. With new draftees plus a couple of last year’s big Latin American signings, there are plenty of names to watch in the lower levels. It’s an easy bet that most won’t ever make it, but perhaps the next Maikel Franco could emerge. It was just two years ago that a solid season with Williamsport landed Franco in my top 10 for the organization, and now he’s off to a fast start in double-A.
Despite a poor season that saw them finish with the second worst record in the league and the sixth straight year without a post-season, Williamsport agreed to renew their player development contract with the Phillies. In the early going of 2013, it looks like the results could be more of the same: an offense that’s average or a tick above and a bottom of the barrel pitching staff. With the exception of outfielder Cameron Perkins, successful players on the 2012 edition of the Crosscutters have not carried that that over into their new assignments in 2013.
Mitch Gueller headlines a rotation that features two 2013 picks, a Williamsport veteran and a second 2012 high school arm, Drew Anderson. Gueller is the only top 30 prospect on the staff right now, and there probably won’t be any other additions after the season. Anderson is a virtual unknown, and it’s best to take a wait-and-see approach with college pitchers like Shane Martin and Joe Prosinki taken in the ninth and 10th rounds respectively. Since Oregon State’s season ended over the weekend, lefty Ben Wetzler should sign and join the Crosscutters’ rotation and probably be their best starter after Gueller.
Their bullpen features a couple former Williamsport starters, Lino Martinez and Ramon Oviedo. Neither has had a smooth transition to the bullpen so far, and that goes for pretty much every reliever on the staff. Tyler Buckley, their 27th round pick, is the only pitcher on the roster that hasn’t allowed a run so far, and no one has more than two appearances. A few other 2013 college picks will be in the mix, and usually one or two of those guys turn out to be pretty good minor league relievers. One of the younger arms on the staff is Venezuelan righty Keivi Rojas. He dominated the GCL last year with 42 strikeouts and only seven walks in 32.1 innings.
The Crosscutters have two potential catching prospects behind the plate, and it will be a challenge to make sure both are getting the innings they need. Second round pick Andrew Knapp will probably get a bulk of the time as the more promising player of the pair. The second is Gabriel Lino, received in last year’s Jim Thome trade. He spent all of last season in low-A, but he’s still just 20 years old and has a lot of work to do to become a quality defender.
Lino has spent plenty of time already playing first base, both to keep him in the lineup every day and because there’s no true first baseman on the roster. One top 30 prospect on the infield is third baseman Zach Green. He’s gained a lot of strength since being drafted last year and has shown some power early on. He still has a lot of work to do in all areas of the game, but he’s certainly a player to keep an eye on. The middle infield is manned by Angelo Mora and Jairo Cardozo, two players that are longshots if they’re anything. Mora actually already has two home runs in five games for Williamsport despite not hitting any previously since signing in 2010.
There’s some promise in the outfield too with a pair of top 30 prospects: Dylan Cozens and Andrew Pullin, both taken early in the 2012 draft. Cozens’ raw power hasn’t shown up in games yet this year, and Pullin is actually making the transition to second base. One other potential interesting player is Samuel Hiciano. He’s just 19 years old and was assigned to Williamsport for his U.S. debut after spending last year in the Dominican Summer League.
The GCL Phillies finished last year with a 28-30 record. With average offensive and pitching numbers, that was probably well deserved. It was a really young roster, and many of the key players are still in short-season leagues. Carlos Tocci is still hanging in the South Atlantic League like Lakewood, but he’s really been showing his age for most of the season.
It’s hard to tell who will be in the rotation because they’ve only played two games so far, especially since they made little effort to draft high school arms in the 2013 draft. Two pitchers i do expect to start, one of which started on Opening Day, are Lewis Alezones and Franklyn Vargas. Alezones signed for a six-figure bonus last year, and at 17 years old, he’s the youngest pitcher on the staff. He throws in the high 80’s now with a changeup, but he could add velocity as he gets older. Despite being signed three years ago, Vargas won’t turn 19 until later in the season. His pro debut last year in the GCL was underwhelming, but he did strike out over a batter an inning.
The staff has a couple other Latin American arms that weren’t very good in the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer Leagues, but one younger American pitcher on the staff is Braden Shull. He was drafted pretty late out of high school in the 2011 draft, and he still only has one pro inning in his career. He’s a tall lefty with a low-90’s fastball, and he’s still only 20 years old.
The GCL Phillies are deep behind the plate too. That starts with 17 year old Deivi Grullon, a Dominican catcher that last year became one of the franchise’s bigger overseas investments ever. He’s a really good defender but has a lot of work to do offensively. The opposite is probably true for Jake Sweaney, the team’s fourth round pick out of high school. They’ll probably split time behind the plate pretty evenly with the other getting a lot of chances to DH to stay in the lineup.
Their left side of the infield has a lot of potential with two of the team’s first four picks occupying shortstop and third base: J.P. Crawford and Jan Hernandez. As of late, it seems like the Phillies have drafted a new high school third baseman every draft, and Hernandez will follow in the footsteps of Mitch Walding and Zach Green. Trey Williams should also get a shot to play third base, but he should take a back seat to Hernandez for now. A couple other Latin infielders will be making their U.S. debuts, mostly at second base.
The outfield offers some potential too with another top international signing, Jose Pujols. He has big raw power, but it’s going to take some time for that to translate to in-game power, if ever. While his calling card is his power, Cord Sandberg’s is his athleticism. The third round pick is a potential five tool player and might have the highest ceiling out of all the players they drafted earlier this month. They’re joined in the outfield by a couple athletes left over from previous drafts who are still learning to play the game like Johnathan Knight and Steven Golden. They almost certainly won’t advance very far in their careers, but the ceiling is there.