Over at www.raysprospects.com, the great staff is doing an offseason feature called Prospect A-Z. Each day, one of the writers covers a prospect for that letter. For example, Chris Archer for the letter A. Some of the letters are more difficult to cover and require a stretch, most of which are near the end of the alphabet. I decided to copy this feature, and even though the Phillies’ system isn’t as deep as the Rays’, there are still plenty of players to talk about. I won’t do one per day, rather five per week.
A- Aaron Altherr, OF, short-season, low-A
Going into the 2011 season, Altherr seemed like a prospect on the rise. Scouts raved about his tools during the instructional league, but in his first season in a full season league, he flopped. In 41 games at Lakewood, he hit just .211, and both his OBP and SLG were just .272. When the New York Penn League season started, he was sent back to Williamsport. He hit a little better, but his OPS was still nearly 100 points lower than his stint with Williamsport last year. Although he had a down season at the plate, he was great on the bases; Altherr had 37 steals in 41 attempts.
His tools are still there, and scouts were raving them again after this season’s instructs performance. This will be a career defining season for Altherr. At 21 years old, he’s essentially age appropriate for low-A, which is where he’ll return in the 2012 season. In his second season there, he has to perform better and show that his tools will translate to baseball production. At 6’5, 190, Altherr should develop some power, but he hasn’t really shown that in games yet. With Kelly Dugan and Kyrell Hudson likely joining him in Lakewood’s outfield next season, he’ll get some experience in center and also in a corner position where he could end up down the road.
B- Jesse Biddle, LHSP, low-A
The Phillies scouted every single one of Biddle’s starts in 2010 and were prepared to take the local product in the first round. After signing quickly, he immediately showed promise in the Gulf Coast League, posting an outstanding 4.57 K:BB ratio. He wasn’t very sharp in a very brief stint with Williamsport, but it was a very successful pro debut. As usual for high school pitchers selected high in the draft by the Phillies, Biddle started his first full season with Lakewood where he got off to a rough start. After a month and a half of struggling, he finally settled down and finished with an ERA under 3.00.
In 2012, he’ll be promoted to Clearwater, and he’ll work to avoid the sophomore slump suffered by our next pitcher with the Threshers. It’s a pitching friendly environment, so if he comes into camp in shape and prepared, Biddle should continue to excel. So far in his career, he’s struck out nearly one batter per inning, but he’ll need to cut down on his walks. Although he didn’t consistently show the fastball velocity he did at the end of his high school career, but with his size, he should be able to sit 92-93 consistently and touch a bit higher.
C- Brody Colvin, RHSP, high-A
C not only stands for Colvin but also Clearwater, where he might find himself again in 2012. In the previous offseason, Colvin maybe became a little too comfortable with his position as perhaps the best pitching prospect in the organization. He was out of shape in spring training, and in his first start of the season, he hurt his back and didn’t pitch well upon his return. His hit, home run, walk and strikeout rates all got worse, and his ERA increased by nearly one and a half runs. Ideally, that kind of season would be a wake up call for him to stay conditioned and ready to compete, but it certainly wasn’t what the Phillies wanted to see from a player who had prior makeup concerns.
The Phillies gave Colvin a $900,000 bonus after drafting him in the 7th round, a number they rarely approach for picks outside of the first round. When he’s on his game, he has the talent to match that bonus. His fastball can sit in the mid 90’s, and his curveball and changeup are potential above average pitches. If the Phillies can clean up some mechanical problems, he could develop into a #2 or 3 starter, but it’s going to start with him getting on track in 2012, whether he’s held back in Clearwater or aggressively pushed to Reading.
D- Justin De Fratus, RHRP, AA, AAA, MLB
De Fratus moved through the upper minors quickly this season after a brief but dominating stint the previous offseason in the Arizona Fall League. His hit and walk rates each got a little worse, but that can likely be attributed to a full season of facing tougher competition, and his potential remains the same. His strikeout rate also increased to nearly 12 per 9 innings, likely due to the improvement in his slider. His ERA increased once he was promoted from Reading to Lehigh Valley, but his WHIP and K:BB ratio actually got better.
Once Lehigh Valley’s season was over, De Fratus got a cup of coffee with the Phillies, setting him up for a chance to make the team out of spring training in 2012. His fastball and slider combo have elicited Brad Lidge comparisons from some, but neither pitch has the velocity that Lidge’s did in his prime. De Fratus will likely top out as an 8th inning pitcher, and that means he could be a key reliever when it comes to setting up new closer Jonathan Papelbon. De Fratus was a starter for the first of his career, so he may have the potential to make more than one inning appearances if necessary.
E- Ervis Manzanillo, LHSP, low-A
Manzanillo is the only player in this week’s entry that’s probably not known by most fans, and that’s fair after a quick glance at his numbers this season, that’s certainly fair. His ERA was over 5.00, and he allowed way too many baserunners. He was solid for the first half of the season, but perhaps wearing down a bit, really struggled down the stretch. He threw more than twice as many innings as he did the previous season, and that’s a lot of wear on a young arm. He’ll only be 20 years old for much of the 2012 season, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to start the year in Lakewood again.
Last week, Matt Forman of Baseball America identified Manzanillo as a lower level sleeper for the Phillies. He noted that his stuff is impressive despite the poor numbers and even said that one evaluator compared him to Antonio Bastardo early in his career. He may not reach the ceiling Bastardo did himself, but they are similar in some ways. The lefties are roughly the same size, and their repertoires are comparable. Manzanillo’s fastball sits in the low 90’s and can get up to 95, and he has a changeup and slurvy breaking ball that he needs to improve.
Next week, I’ll cover a potential future left side of the infield for the Phillies, one of their biggest draft busts in recent memory, an overslot high school pitcher who hasn’t pitched much and a centerfielder that started his pro career as a pitcher.