Phillies system hopes for healthier 2014

With a smile, Joe Jordan said Phillies minor leaguers are due for a healthy year. After last year’s rash of injuries to some of the organization’s top prospects, he truly believes it.

Jordan, the Phillies’ Director of Player Development, was confident last year was nothing more than a fluke. Speaking a week ago at the annual Williamsport Crosscutters Hot Stove Banquet, Jordan heaped praise on the Phillies’ minor league training staff and the preparation of the players for a full season of play.

“Guys are competing. They’re going to get hurt,” Jordan said. “We just had a tough year. We’re due for a healthy year.”

The tough year included three of the Phillies’ top five prospects – ranked by Baseball America – missing significant chunks of the season with injuries. No. 2 prospect and former Crosscutter Roman Quinn played just half a season when he fractured his wrist after being hit by a pitch. Then, during an offseason workout this fall, Quinn ruptured an Achilles tendon.

For a player said to have the best speed and athleticism in the system by Baseball America, the Achilles injury is frightening. Quinn was already having a rough year hitting just .238 when he was hit by a pitch on June 24, breaking a bone in his wrist. Quinn didn’t play another game the rest of the 2013 season.

Last year’s No. 3 prospect Tommy Joseph played in just 34 games over four levels last year dealing with the effects of a concussion. The 22-year old, who is considered the best catching prospect in the system, spent time playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and Jordan said Joseph is on track to be ready to go for spring training.

Former Crosscutter Cameron Perkins missed more than a month after breaking his wrist when he was hit by a pitch. Perkins was hitting .337 when he broke his wrist after double jumping from Williamsport to Clearwater. He finished the year hitting .295 for the Threshers.

And then there was the case of 2013 second-round draft pick Andrew Knapp, a switch-hitting catcher out of the University of California. Knapp caught just 21 games for the Williamsport Crosscutters last summer because of a lingering elbow injury that forced him to be the team’s long-term designated hitter for nearly 2/3 of the season.

Knapp was initially diagnosed with an elbow strain from overuse. After catching in a June 20 game against Jamestown, Knapp didn’t catch again Aug. 2. He was the catcher when Yacksel Rios, Mark Meadors and Manny Martinez combined on a no-hitter in late August.

In October, Knapp had Tommy John surgery on the ailing right elbow. Although the recovery time isn’t as long for position players as it is for pitchers, Knapp will likely miss a large chunk of the first half of the season.

“I’m very involved and familiar with what we’re doing to prepare guys and what we’re doing to treat guys if injuries happen,” Jordan said. “I think our guys are good. I think our coordinators on strength and conditioning and the rehab side are very good and very qualified. We just had a tough year.”

The biggest blows, though, may have come from the pitching prospects. Adam Morgan, rated the fifth-best prospect by Baseball America last year and on the brink of earning a spot in Philadelphia, dealt with an injury to his left shoulder for much of the year, appearing in just 16 games.

Shane Watson, a 2012 supplemental first-round pick, also dealt with shoulder problems and appeared in just 16 games. Both pitchers had surgery on their throwing shoulder in the offseason and will miss a large chunk of the 2014 season.

Former Crosscutter Kevin Brady missed the final four months of the season with an arm injury. And intriguing left-handed reliever prospect Yoel Mecias appeared in just 13 games following Tommy John surgery.

The Phillies were already thin on pitching prospects before the rash of injuries. Jordan said the surgeries for both Morgan and Watson were last resorts after trying rehab.

“It’s disappointing more than anything. It thins us out,” Jordan said. “I think we expect to have them both on the mound at some time this summer. Talking to our rehab coordinators and doctors they dealt with, I think they think it’s realistic.”

Of the players coming off injuries, Jordan was maybe the most confident in Joseph’s bounce-back from the concussion symptoms which kept him off the field for the better part of four months. Jordan said Joseph cleared a big hurdle in the Dominican when he was “dinged” in the head three or four times with foul tips and felt no symptoms of the concussion from last spring.

“I think that was a hurdled we needed him to get through, but he needed to get through it more than anything,” Jordan said. “He said I got popped about three times pretty good and I feel fine.”