Friday, September 4, 2015

Future Looks Good For Phillies

GAME RECAP: No Game Yesterday
Thankfully, a small respite from the beatings.

  • Morgan has not walked a batter in his past four starts, a total of 22 2/3 innings. He's walked a total of 14 this season.
  • The Phillies are one of two teams Kelly has not faced in his career. In 16 career games against the National League East, he is 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA.
  • In 42 career games against the Phillies, Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval is hitting .264 with four home runs and 19 RBIs.

After a spectacular August, in which he went 6-0 with a 2.68 ERA, Red Sox right-hander Joe Kelly looks to continue his dominance in Friday's series opener against the Phillies, who will counter with left-hander Adam Morgan. Relying on his high-90s fastball during the first few months of the season, Kelly's ability to mix in his offspeed pitches has been a huge contributor to his success. "It's been a point of emphasis lately that no matter what team we're facing, I have to throw the offspeed [pitch]," Kelly said. "Earlier in the year, I was throwing all fastballs, and obviously that didn't work out. It's just something we've been trying to make a point of emphasis early on in the game. Mix in some offspeed pitches and try to get the hitters off the fastball." Morgan went six innings on Saturday against the Padres, allowing two unearned runs on four hits for the win. It marked the fifth time in his last six starts that Morgan went at least six innings.


Crushing In Clearwater – There are two position players representing the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers on MLBPipeline's Top 30 Phillies Prospects: Centerfielder Carlos Tocci (22) and shortstop Malquin Canelo (23). But at a point in history when all Major League teams are focused on finding bats, there are several others who, along with catcher Willians Astudillo, have enough offensive tools to merit attention. All are intriguing parts of a team vying to end the year with the Florida State League's best record. Dylan Cozens, RF: The Phillies' second-round Draft pick in 2012 brings the kind of power expectations that are natural for a 21-year-old who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 235 pounds. To this point, even though Cozens is batting .284, he has only eight home runs in 106 games. Threshers manager Greg Legg: "The raw power is very intriguing. Outstanding raw power. He's a guy that's kind of learning to hit right now. By that, I want him to be tougher to strike out, get the guy in from third, hit and run if called upon. You compare that to last year [at Class A Lakewood] when he'd get big and try to hit a two-run homer instead of lining a single to left with two strikes. "You've got a guy who could be real special. He could be one of the guys who hits 40 for you. You just don't know. You ride it out. We're trying to teach him to hit now, and we believe the power is going to come later. And he's kind of buying into it. "It's hard. Everybody wants that instant [gratification]. So you've got a fine line. We've got him on the path we want him to hit. That park of ours up in the big leagues is built for a guy like him. Tailored for him. He could miss balls that might leave. So you have a very interesting player. I'm a fan. A big fan." Andrew Pullin, LF: With the heavy summer air and big parks, home runs can be hard to come by in the FSL. Pullin's 14 lead the league. The 21-year-old was selected three rounds after Cozens. Last year, he played second base; but this season, he has been strictly an outfielder. Legg: "Dead red. If you throw him fastballs, he's going to hurt you. He's really good at that. He's kind of a surprise to me. He has extra-base power with pull power. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark to the pull side. When they throw him fastballs, he's going to hit them. And it doesn't matter whose there is. "And he's got a good arm out there." Aaron Brown, CF: The 23-year-old was the Phils' third-round pick out of Pepperdine last year. Brown ranks second on the Threshers with 11 home runs. So far, he's attracted the most attention for spectacular catches in the outfield, but the potential to hit is there. Legg: "I see a guy who has the ability to hit 20 homers and have eight or nine triples and 20 to 30 doubles. ... He's not a burner, but he plays the game hard. He plays it as hard as anybody I've ever seen play. He's coming to play baseball. He could be one of those. "In his first full season, he's learning to hit. The insides of him are going fast. He's wanting everything to go quick. He's kind of a football player's mentality playing baseball. So he's not going to hit a homer, he's going to hit it over [Route 19 beyond Bright House Field]. Right now, we're at a real good time with Brownie. The at-bats are more professional. The strikeouts are less. The hits with two strikes are starting to come up. And his average is coming up. "I don't know his career like our scouts would, but I know he pitched and he hit. So when you're doing that, it's taking time away from one or the other. Now he's just hitting, so you might have a late bloomer." Rhys Hoskins, 1B: The 22-year-old is also in his first full professional season after being drafted in the fifth round last summer out of Cal State-Sacramento. Hoskins started this year at Lakewood and has played 63 games for the Threshers since being promoted. He has a .308 average with eight homers at Clearwater. Legg: "He's shown power the other way and to the pull side. He's been fun to watch. He's a tough out. It doesn't matter who's throwing. He he's got a chance to be an RBI guy in the middle of the lineup. "It's a grind at-bat. It's not an easy strikeout. First full year in pro ball and he's an RBI guy. And the first full year is a tough year, in my experience over the years, as you're getting into that area where you haven't been before. Closing in on 500 at-bats. I've stuck him right in the middle in the four-hole and left him there, and he's made me look smarter than I am."

Impressive Transition – The Gulf Coast League Tigers had runners on first and second in the bottom of the second when second baseman Junnell Ledezma lined a single to left. With two outs, Mario Sanjur was off on contact. But Cornelius Randolph of the GCL Phillies fielded the ball cleanly and threw him out at the plate. The world little notes nor long remembers the details of Rookie-level games in the Minor Leagues. It's the lowest rung of the professional baseball ladder this side of Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. Still, what happened on that sultry August afternoon at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., resonated all the way back to Philadelphia. Randolph was the Phillies' first-round pick, 10th overall, in June. Many believe he was the best high school bat in the country after he hit .526 with 11 doubles and seven homers in 17 games for Griffin (Ga.) High School. So it's expected that Randolph will hit. In the National League, though, he'll need a position. For the Bears, Randolph was a shortstop. The Phils immediately converted him to left, which is why his first outfield assist was so noteworthy. "It felt great," Randolph said with a grin recently at the Carpenter Complex. "When I came up and threw it, I was like, 'He's dead. I have him.'" GCL Phillies manager Roly de Armas, who has spent more than four decades in the game, has been impressed with what he's seen from a player who just turned 18 and is ranked by as the organization's No. 6 prospect. "So many good things about the kid," de Armas said. "Moving runners over, playing the game hard, stealing bases. Just the little things in the game. He has adjusted to the outfield very well. He's very comfortable, and he's just going to get better and better. "And he can swing the bat. Boy, can he hit. Lefties, righties, I don't care. He's just a good ballplayer." It's not just Randolph, either. There are a few other hitters on the roster who have opened some eyes, significant at a time when offense is down across the big leagues and all organizations are trying to add bats. First baseman Luis Encarnacion is listed at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. He's batting .271 and leads the league with 36 RBIs in his second GCL season. Encarnacion just turned 18 last month. "Offensively, he's really come on," de Armas said. "He's having a solid year. The best part is that a couple weeks ago, he slumped off a little bit and you wonder, 'Well, is he going to adjust?' He made the adjustment that was necessary and took off again." Third baseman Lucas Williams, 19, was the Phils' third-round Draft pick in June. He's batting .288 with a .400 on-base percentage. "He's another ballplayer. Just a ballplayer," de Armas said. "This guy comes ready to play every day. He's very mature for his age." Catcher Edgar Cabral was the Phillies' 11th-round Draft pick this year. He's hitting .281. "I think this kid is very impressive," de Armas said. "I think he's going to hit even more. Catching-wise, he has improved a lot -- calling the game, solid blocker, good kid." Still, most of the focus is on Randolph, who is hitting .302 with 15 doubles, 24 RBIs and a .425 on-base percentage in 53 games. From all indications, he's made a pretty seamless transition, both in the field and at the plate. "The biggest thing was getting my timing down," Randolph said. "Everybody is throwing very hard, so getting my timing down and barreling up balls. Mainly just trying to adapt to playing every day. I think I've adjusted pretty well. "I expected it to be hard. I expected the pitchers to be hitting their spots, which they are. I expected what is actually happening. I knew I wasn't going to come in here just barreling everything up, dominating. I feel like I'm doing what I thought I would do." And, yes, Randolph has been working on his defense. "Shortstop is obviously a quick motion," he said. "Outfield is a longer motion, so I'm trying to lengthen it out -- doing a little long toss. They have me on a program and I can definitely tell it's working. The ball has more carry on it. I'm throwing harder." Lumber and leather. Randolph's ticket to the big leagues is his bat. But it won't hurt if he can hold his own with the glove, either. Which is why throwing his first runner out meant so much to Randolph.

Depth Up The Middle – The people who run the Phillies' farm system faced a logjam. They had three young shortstops who normally would have been slotted into the Gulf Coast League roster. Except that, obviously, none would get enough playing time. So they came up with a creative solution. Jonathan Arauz and Arquimedes Gamboa stayed with the Rookie-level team in Clearwater. They alternate between second base and short. Daniel Brito went to the Dominican Summer League to continue his development. "We've basically done that with [Arauz and Gamboa] to get them at-bats," GCL Phillies manager Roly de Armas said. "Just flip-flopping it. It isn't going to hurt them to learn another position, but they're legit shortstops. And don't forget about Brito. It's nothing that he did. We just had to find playing time and, over here, how could we figure out the rotation with three quality shortstops?" This, of course, is a good problem for a team to have. One of the oldest and truest clich├ęs in baseball is that there's no such thing as too much pitching. Similarly, an organization can never be oversupplied at shortstop, a premium position. "We're pretty fortunate," said Joe Jordan, the Phils' director of player development. "We have more than our share, and hopefully we can keep polishing them up." At the big league level, Freddy Galvis is a plus defender who leads the team in hits. And he's still only 25 years old. Right behind him his J.P. Crawford, the Phillies' first-round pick in 2013 and's No. 1 Phils prospect. He's 20 years old and already at Double-A Reading. It's the lower classification, though, where the shortstop position really resembles planes stacked up over Philadelphia International Airport. At Class A Advanced Clearwater, Malquin Canelo is already in his fourth professional season even though he doesn't turn 21 until Saturday. He's ranked as the Phillies' 23rd-best prospect. A .216 career hitter up until this season, Canelo started the year batting .311 at Class A Lakewood. He's continued to make adjustments since his promotion with a .242 average. "The [hitting] things we're working on with him, it's there and then it goes away," Threshers manager Greg Legg said. "The offense, I think, is going to come later when he learns where he needs to get his body to let those quick hands fire. And he's strong for his size [5-foot-10, 150 pounds]. There's a lot of good there. He's so young. Sometimes I catch myself forgetting how young he is. "It's real fun to watch him play short. It's kind of unique. It's not your traditional backhand, throw over the top. It's throwing from all different angles and they're all right there. It's kind of a natural. He does things naturally. He's very creative out there. He doesn't miss too much. He's one of those guys who takes hits away." Said Jordan: "Canelo, to me, is the best defensive shortstop we have in our system. Including everyone." Then there are Arauz, Gamboa and Brito. Arauz, the Phils' 29th-ranked prospect, signed as a free agent out of Panama last season. He's hitting .254 and is an eye-catching defensive player. Not bad considering Arauz just turned 17 in August. "He's a switch-hitter whose swing works from both sides," Jordan said. "He's an exciting young player. He can really play. He's not one of these tooled-up kids. He looks like he really has a feel to play. We're excited about him." Gamboa, who is hitting .189, may have an even higher ceiling. "If he gets to his ability, he could," Jordan said. The 17-year-old Brito, meanwhile, is batting .269 -- with a .383 on-base percentage -- in the DSL. "It's a pretty good situation to have," de Armas said. "You always want to be strong up the middle. It's hard to find quality shortstops. And we've got some good ones."

Underrated League Leader – The Phillies believe they have a good number of prospects lower in their Minor League system. Their Florida State League affiliate, the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, is in the running for the league championship despite having touted youngsters like shortstop J.P. Crawford and catcher Andrew Knapp promoted early in the season. Willians Astudillo's name doesn't appear on any of the lists of most promising youngsters in the system. You will find him, however, at the very top of the list of FSL batting leaders. Astudillo is hitting .324 and is a runaway leader for the title. And that isn't the only stat that makes the 23-year-old stand out. In 374 at bats, Astudillo has struck out just 10 times. Which doesn't mean that the Venezuelan native only swings at pitches in the strike zone. He's been walked unintentionally only eight times all season. "You're talking about one of the more interesting hitters, probably, in all of the Minor Leagues," Threshers manager Greg Legg said. "He barrels up balls over and over again. He does have a lot of early contact, but he also gets a lot of two-strike hits. "He has the ability to handle the bat and hit it wherever he wants. The bat control that he has and the eye-hand coordination is off the charts. He manipulates the ball. I never played back in the Ty Cobb era, but I can only imagine those are the types of things he was able to do." Legg, who managed Astudillo at Class A Lakewood in 2014, only remembers Astudillo breaking one bat all season while batting .333. There are probably a couple reasons why Astudillo tends to be overlooked. He is short and squat, generously listed at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds. He doesn't hit for much power. Astudillo will turn 24 in October. Perhaps most significant, he doesn't have a natural position. Still, in an era where pitching is dominant at the Major League level and all teams are scrambling to find bats, Astudillo is at least a player who bears watching. Astudillo catches for the Threshers these days. He's also played first base and left field. "He can catch," Legg said. "His hands are soft. He blocks balls and he has a feel for calling games." "Everybody in baseball is looking for a guy who has a cannon for an arm and is picking everybody off and you have no chance to run. He doesn't do that. But the two years I've had him, whenever something's been needed to be addressed, if he decides he wants to do it, he's capable of doing it. So in my mind, he's capable of improving his arm strength and his times to second. He's really caught well in the second half when we needed him to." Astudillo, through teammate Jesmuel Valentin, said he sees himself as a catcher. "Because of my mindset and maturity talking to the pitchers," Astudillo said. "I know how to control the game and everything." Lack of power? Legg said Astudillo is improving. "We've tried to get him to drive more balls early in the count, and he's had more hard contact this year than last," Legg said. "It's fun to watch him hit. He just gets it done." Too old? Astudillo has hit everywhere he's been, including .361 in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2011. He said putting the bat on the ball is a God-given talent for him and that he takes pride in putting the ball in play. "I just go to home plate really confident," Astudillo said. "I don't think about much. I'm just thinking about seeing a good pitch to hit and going after it with the best swing I've got. "[Not striking out is] a really big priority for me. I put a lot of emphasis on that, because if I put the ball in play, a lot of things can happen. I'm a good contact hitter, and if you put the ball in play, I can get a lot of hits." Another attribute that numbers don't measure: Astudillo helps keep the team loose with his lively personality. "He always has a joke," Valentin said. "If there's any kind of music -- it doesn't matter if it's Mexican, hip-hop, country -- he just finds a way to sing or dance or make everybody laugh. "Having him as a teammate is really good. Every single time we're here and having a bad time or a rough time, there's no way you're going to have a bad day in the clubhouse having him around."

The Phillies have returned to their lackluster ways and regained their grip on last place in the NL East with a record of 53-81. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and bipolar performances this season, this could still end up being the worst team in franchise history… at least that is something to hope for this year! All time, the Phillies are 38-71-1 on this day.

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