Top Phillies prospects include ex-Cutters
I’ll admit it, I’m biased. I’m also a glass-half-full kind of guy. Neither one is a particularly good trait to have when trying to put together a list of top prospects like the one which accompanies this column.
But I learned early in this business you have to have an inordinate amount of trust in your eyes to be a credible relayer of information. Whether it’s stats from a high school football game, or just observing how events unfold in front of your face. Therein lies my bias.
I trust my eyes. I trust my instincts. I trust my judgments. I’m not nave enough to think I know more about evaluating minor league baseball players than someone like ESPN’s Keith Law who does it for a living. While he’s watching players and creating reports during offseason tournaments, I’m in gyms all over Pennsylvania worried about watching the next Cary Kolat, not the next Mike Mussina.
Over the course of nearly five summers covering the Williamsport Crosscutters, I’ve learned a thing or two, though. I’ve learned about repeatable mechanics, pitch recognition, the difference between average runners and plus runners. And I’m still learning every day in order to help fans of the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor league system be able to get an accurate read on players they may not get a chance to see.
So I’m biased. I trust my eyes, instincts and judgments I’m not always right. Nobody in baseball is ever right all of the time. If they were, then there wouldn’t be a scenario where no No. 1 overall pick has ever made the baseball Hall of Fame – although Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. are likely to stop that streak.
As for being an optimist, it’s a wonderful quality to have in everyday life. I believe in the good of people. I believe everything will always work out for the best – while also understanding working out for the best may not be the way I wish it to work out.
In terms of baseball, it means I tend to see upside. Larry Greene Jr. hit only two home runs a year ago for the Crosscutters, but I told anybody who would listen he’s a legitimate Top 10 prospect because of his consciousness to go the other way, and his ability to work walks. The power would come, I said to anybody who would listen, and even those who wouldn’t.
I never envisioned the former first pick of the Phillies in the 2011 draft would come into spring training out of shape two years in a row, hindering his development to a level which has become a legitimate concern within the Phillies’ development staff.
Despite more than 50 errors in 132 games, I still believe Roman Quinn is the Phillies’ shortstop of the future. Go ahead, call me crazy. There’s plenty of people perusing the various minor league message boards who will be happy to do so.
But my eyes tell me he can play the position. Tough plays are routine. Routine plays are tough. It’s about repetitions, becoming a better fundamental player. Then watch the athleticism he exhibits in doses now be the norm. That’s the optimist in me.
I believe a dash of ability with an ocean of upside combined with an insatiable work ethic is enough to turn a young, raw ballplayer into a big leaguer. Will it always? No. But it should more times than not.
The Phillies’ farm system is getting better. The influx of talent over the previous two drafts has potentially pushed Philadelphia into the the low end of the top 20 farm systems in baseball. But it’s hard to get too excited at this moment. Most of the true potential impact talent is so far away from the big leagues that the Phillies are going to have to patch holes for a couple years.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Patching holes should mean players currently in AA and AAA getting an opportunity to see if they’re just serviceable big leaguers, or if there’s more talent there than what a simple eye test reveals.
It’s an incredibly interesting time for the Philadelphia Phillies. All of a sudden the fan base has had a taste of winning and wants it to be sustained. Falling back into the doldrums of 90-loss seasons the way teams of the mid 80s all the way to the early 2000s did – with one or two exceptions – is not acceptable.
The Phillies’ front office has tried to plug in holes by becoming the Yankees of the National League, spending money and highly-thought-of-prospects to fill a lineup with former All-Stars on the decline. Sooner rather than later, the front office is going to have to trust its scouting and player development departments. That time is getting very close.
This mid-season list of the Phillies’ top prospects I’ve created is interesting. It’s full of upside. It’s full of players we won’t be talking about as legitimate options for the Phillies until 2016 or 2017. And on top of it, the list includes 11 players who have come through Williamsport in their time in the Phillies’ system.
So let’s see, a list full of optimism and players who have played under the cloak of my watch? Sounds about right.
PHILLIES TOP 15 PROSPECTS
(Rank, Name, Pos., Age, Team)
1. Jesse Biddle, LHP, 21, Reading Fightin Phils (Class AA)
His appearance in the Futures Game on Sunday at Citi Field flashed all the things which make the Philadelphia-area native so exciting, and so concerning. His curveball was the best breaking ball thrown by any player in the game and even had Keith Law begging for more after he threw two to strike out Maikel Franco. But he completely lost the the strike zone to the second batter he faced, issuing a leadoff walk in the fifth inning before getting out of the inning with a double play ball. If he harnesses his control – which is the only thing keeping him from being an elite prospect – he’s a sure-fire top of the rotation pitcher.
2. Maikel Franco, 3B, 20, Reading Fightin Phils (Class AA)
A week ago, Law took a machine gun to the bubble of excitement being built around the organization’s most exciting power-hitting prospect since Pat Burrell. He gave reason after reason why Franco won’t make it, including the phrase arm-bar swing, which has become the biggest question in Franco’s game. But what we know is Franco’s bat speed is unmatched in the system, and his hand-eye coordination seems to make up for any swing deficiencies. What he lacks in foot speed, he makes up for with his first step in the field. Is he the long-term answer at third base? I think so.
3. Cody Asche, 3B, 23, Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA)
The former fourth-round pick is the best player in the system nobody seems to talk about. He’s steady Eddie, the guy who goes 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI each night, and nobody acts like it’s a big deal because it’s not. It’s what we’ve come to expect from him. He may be the most Major League-ready of any prospect on this list. The argument is whether he’s an average Major Leaguer or could play at an even higher level. Consider that Phillies’ third basemen this year currently have a .765 OPS. Phillies third baseman haven’t had combined on a .700 OPS since 2004. Asche could be the answer to consistency at the position.
4. Adam Morgan, LHP, 23, Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA)
The excitement around Morgan coming into the season was astronomical, especially as a player less than two years removed from being drafted out of Alabama. A little added velocity to his fastball made him a likely better option should the Phillies need an extra arm than the likes of Jonathan Pettibone and Tyler Cloyd. But a small tear in his rotator cuff has handcuffed his season. He recently made his first appearance in two months with the GCL Phillies. Should he be able to return to form, he’s a legitimate option for the Phillies’ 2014 rotation.
5. Carlos Tocci, CF, 17, Lakewood Blueclaws (Class A)
Minor league field coordinator Mike Compton and I had a 15-minute conversation about Tocci last month and he ended it by saying, “He’s special.” Everyone knows it. A 17-year old not only playing, but excelling in the South Atlantic League, is a great sign. His baseball instincts are even better than his talent. The lone question keeping him from being a top 2 or 3 prospect is if he’ll ever hit for power. He’s rail thin and at some point will need an offseason in Florida to add strength. And once he does, watch his numbers skyrocket. Maybe the highest-ceiling player in the system.
6. Roman Quinn, SS, 20, Lakewood Blueclaws (Class A)
The former second-round pick had minor league fans buzzing after a stellar pro debut in Williamsport last year when he exhibited his elite speed with a solid understanding and approach at the plate. He’s added slight power to his game this year, and the speed is unquestionable. But he’s taken a step back this year, albeit ever so slighty. His walk rate is the same, but his strikeout rate has risen, he’s still a work-in-progress defensively, and his batting average and on-base percentage are both down more than 40 points and he’s currently on the DL with a fractured wrist. BUT He’s still one of the top two or three most exciting players in the system.
7. Dylan Cozens, RF, 19, Williamsport Crosscutters (Short-season Class A)
Cozens wasn’t listed among Baseball America’s top 500 prospects when he was taken in the second round by the Phillies last year, but it’s easy to see what the Phillies liked. His power is prodigious and effortless. He’s an above average runner who has a want to steal bases. He’s an athletic defender capable of running down balls in Bowman Field’s expansive outfield grass. And his left arm is a lethal weapon to runners rounding third base. He’s lacking a bit of consistency in contact, but his .250 batting average on balls in play suggests he’s hit into bad luck and is due for a hot streak which could push his batting average closer to the .270-.280 range.
8. Shane Watson, RHP, 19, Lakewood Blueclaws (Class A)
The initial numbers don’t say much. A 4-6 record with a 4.75 ERA don’t really jump out to casual observers. But the peripheral numbers tell another story. Fewer hits than innings pitched and just a .230 opponents’ batting average are the positives to point to. The Phillies’ development staff has limited his use of his best pitch, a wipeout curveball, to try and make him more proficient with a low to mid-90s fastball with plenty of movement. The organization recently put him on the DL to give him a rest. Not a bad idea with a 19-year old kid with worlds of potential.
9. Tommy Joseph, C, 22, Reading Fightin Phils (Class AA)
Count me among the skeptics when Joseph was traded to the Phillies last year from San Francisco in the Hunter Pence deal. There was a lot to like from a 21-year old catching at the AA level. He had hit 22 home runs with 95 RBIs as a 19-year old in the California League, a notoriously hitter-friendly league. He took a slight step back in AA last year, hitting .257 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs. And this has been a lost season for Joseph after suffering a concussion and dealing with a shin contusion which has caused him multiple DL stints, combined with a .209 batting average in 20 games at AAA. He can regain some of his top prospect status with a solid winter ball season where he can regain some of his lost at-bats.
10. Ethan Martin, RHP, 24, Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA)
Martin is a former 15th overall pick in the draft who came to the Phillies from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino deal last year and immediately became a hope for a top-notch pitching prospect with nasty stuff. He’s having his worst season, ERA-wise, since advancing out of A-ball, but is 10-4 for the IronPigs. But he’s never been quite able to harness the electric stuff, which includes a mid-90s fastball. He walks far too many (more than five per nine innings) rendering his 8 strikeouts per nine innings relatively moot. He likely has the best stuff of anyone on the Lehigh Valley pitching staff, it’s just a matter of whether or not he can command it.
11. Andrew Pullin, 2B, 19, Williamsport Crosscutters (Short-season Class A)
If you’re looking for someone on the Cutters roster to match Dylan Cozens in a home-run hitting contest, Pullin is the pick. Don’t let his 6-foot, 190-pound frame fool you. He’s got the quickest hands on the team and can let the ball travel deeper, making his power a plus tool from foul pole to foul pole. It’s not a polished hit tool yet, he often becomes pull happy. But there’s potential for it to be a plus tool if he learns to consistently take what pitchers give him. He’s a work in progress defensively at second base, having played only six more games at second than he has in the outfield in his career. If he can become a more fluid defender, using his athleticism and becoming less robotic, he can be an average defender, making him a prized prospect.
12. Mitch Gueller, RHP, 19, Williamsport Crosscutters (Short-season Class A)
There’s a chance Gueller’s value to the system could balloon the way Shane Watson’s has in his little time with the Phillies, but there’s a lot of work for Gueller to do before it happens. He lives on his fastball, but the velocity hasn’t been the 92-93 like it was advertised as coming out of high school last year. He’s been more consistently 90-91, and a scout wondered aloud to me one day that he may just be tired. He’s got the feel for his change-up, but at times will look like he’s guiding his breaking ball instead of just throwing it. The beauty of Gueller as a prospect is his upside and he’s not needed in Philadelphia tomorrow. He’ll need time to develop, but could eventually become the best pitching prospect in the system.
13. Zach Green, 3B, 19, Williamsport Crosscutters (Short-season Class A)
If you were to line Green up with Franco, Asche and Mitch Walding and were asked to pick out the third baseman, Green would be your pick. He’s got the prototypical third baseman’s body, tall, lean and broad in the shoulders. His power matches the frame, too. His swing change to a shorter path to the ball with a quick A-to-B path still allows him to drive everything to all fields. He’s got a line drive approach with light-tower power that carries the ball out of the field. Needs work to better recognize and adjust to breaking balls, but there’s not a fastball he can’t get to. His transition to third has allowed him to showcase his arm as he still learns when to charge and when to sit back. He’s a work in progress defensively with a great base to build on.
14. Kelly Dugan, RF, 22, Reading Fightin Phils (Class AA)
I’ve long been a fan of Dugan of have been waiting for him to have the kind of breakout season that he had through the first three months in Clearwater this year. The argument can be made his success is driven by his high batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and with a career .374 mark it’s a valid question. But when does a high BABIP become a sustainable trend and not a hindrance? Dugan’s high BABIP comes from hitting the ball hard consistently, and his power is beginning to develop (10 home runs in Clearwater). The key for Dugan is he’s finally getting to play large chunks of time at once, but injury concerns still linger.
15. J.P. Crawford, SS, 18, Gulf Coast Phillies (Rookie ball)
For me, this is more of a courtesy pick than anything else. You can’t make a judgment on a player after 12 games. But it’s hard to think the first-round pick from last month’s draft could have started much better. He’s reached base in every game since being assigned to the Gulf Coast League Phillies and director of player development Joe Jordan said, “He is a very advanced, polished shortstop.” Crawford could very well be a top 10 prospect by the end of the season, especially if he somehow works his way to Williamsport, but you can’t make that judgment on a player who hasn’t even played two weeks worth of minor league games.
Mitch Rupert covers the Williamsport Crosscutters for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @Mitch_Rupert.