Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Morandini Returns To The Majors!


Welcome Back Mickey! – Mickey Morandini has joined the Phillies to be their first-base coach. Morandini played for the Phillies from 1990-97 and 2000 and served on their Minor League player development staff the past five seasons. He managed Class A Williamsport in 2011 and Class A Lakewood in 2012-13 before coaching for Triple-A Lehigh Valley and Double-A Reading the past two seasons. Morandini will also be the team's baserunning instructor. Morandini's hire means Phillies manager Pete Mackanin's coaching staff is complete. The group includes bench coach Larry Bowa, hitting coach Steve Henderson, pitching coach Bob McClure, third-base coach Juan Samuel, bullpen coach Rick Kranitz and catching coach John McLaren. Assistant coach Jorge Velandia will return to his role as special assistant to player personnel. He joined the coaching staff in June following Ryne Sandberg's departure and Mackanin's promotion.

Rebuild Summary – A little less than a month ago, the Phillies finished their worst season since 1972, but in a way, they hope history repeats itself. The '72 Phillies hit rock bottom, but the organization had a talented farm system and talented young players already in the big leagues when it happened. They eventually formed a core that made the postseason six times from 1976-83, including winning the 1980 World Series championship. The Phillies hope they hit the floor in 2015, but they expect improvement in '16, with the idea they can compete for the postseason as early as '17. But first things first. Phillies president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak have plenty of work to do. Here is a look at what the team might look like when Spring Training opens in February: Arbitration eligible: infielders Andres Blanco and Freddy Galvis; and right-hander Jeanmar Gomez. Free agents: right-handers Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams; left-hander Cliff Lee (club option); and outfielder Jeff Francoeur. Rotation: The Phillies need some serious rotation help. Free agents Billingsley, Harang and Williams are not expected to return, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez might not pitch again for Philadelphia, considering his checkered health history. It means the Phillies will need to find at least a couple veteran starters to fill out the rotation. Do not expect the Phillies to commit to big-money contracts. It is too early for that. Instead, expect them to pursue starters like J.A. Happ or Doug Fister, potential placeholders until the team knows it truly has a core to reach the postseason. Of course, the Phillies will fill the rotation with internal pieces, too. Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff are heavy favorites to win jobs. Adam Morgan has a line on one. Matt Harrison, Alec Asher, David Buchanan and others will have the opportunity to win jobs. Bullpen: The bullpen struggled at times this season, with the exception of Jonathan Papelbon (traded in July) and Ken Giles. Gomez, Luis Garcia, Elvis Araujo and Dalier Hinojosa put together solid performances. Justin De Fratus struggled, which is why the Phillies outrighted him last month. It seems likely Philadelphia will sign at least one veteran reliever to stabilize the bullpen. But once again, do not expect them to pursue the highest-priced free agents on the market. Catcher: It would not be a surprise to see both Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp back. If so, Rupp is the likely candidate to start Opening Day as Ruiz endured the worst season of his career. Ruiz turns 37 in January, but he has value as a backup. (Not to mention he will be paid $8.5 million.) Chooch can work with the team's young pitchers as well as mentor catching prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp in Spring Training. Don't rule out the possibility that Knapp, who the Phillies named their Minor League Player of the Year, sees time with the Phillies at some point. Teams rarely use only two catchers over the course of a season, and if Knapp is playing well, he could get a shot. Alfaro is promising, but he missed much of the season with an ankle injury. He needs more seasoning in the Minors. First base: Will Ryan Howard return? He will make $35 million next season, which includes a $10 million buyout on a 2017 club option. Howard performed well against right-handed pitchers this year, but he struggled terribly against lefties. He is a platoon player at this point of his career. But if Howard and Darin Ruf return, they could form a pretty respectable duo as Ruf hit left-handers very well. Second base: Cesar Hernandez is expected to open next season at second base. The Phillies saw enough potential offensively to give him a longer look. But Hernandez is going to have to perform because there are prospects coming through the system that could force the club to make some position changes. Shortstop: Galvis will open the season as the team's shortstop, but top prospect J.P. Crawford is breathing down his neck. Crawford finished the season in Double-A Reading, but he is expected to open next season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. If Crawford continues to progress, it will be difficult to keep him in the Minors. And if Crawford is promoted at some point next season, he will be promoted to play shortstop and play every day. If that happens, Galvis could move to second base if Hernandez is not performing. Or he could fall into a super utility role. Third base: Maikel Franco has this job locked up, assuming he is healthy. He showed he can be a productive bat in the middle of the lineup, which the Phillies desperately need. Of all the positions on the roster, this is the easiest one to predict. Outfield: Odubel Herrera is expected to be the Opening Day center fielder. He earned it. But who plays the corners? Domonic Brown is gone. Aaron Altherr has earned a longer look. Cody Asche will get another look, although he really must pick up his production. The Phillies see Asche as somebody who could hit 15-20 home runs with 75-90 RBIs. He fell woefully short in RBIs this year. The Phillies could re-sign Francoeur, which makes sense. (If Francoeur is not re-signed, they are likely to pursue another veteran outfielder.) Philadelphia needs a vocal veteran to show the team's young players how to act during a long season and how to react to adversity. Top outfield prospect Nick Williams finished his season in Double-A. Like Crawford, he is expected to open the season in Triple-A. He could join the team at some point.

AFL Recap – It would be difficult to overstate how important statistical analysis has become in how decisions in baseball are now made. Every so often, however, something happens that seemingly defies what the numbers say. After going 1-for-3 in a Class A Advanced Florida State League game on June 24, Phillies catching prospect Andrew Knapp was hitting .262/.356/.369. On the surface, those rather pedestrian numbers do not scream promotion. Yet Knapp did get bumped up to Double-A. What happened next, it's unlikely anyone expected. Knapp simply went off in Reading, kicking things off with a 17-game hitting streak and never really looking back. The 2013 second-round pick hit .360/.419/.631 in 55 games, earning Phillies Minor League Player of the Year honors before heading to the Glendale Desert Dogs and the Arizona Fall League. "Honestly, I think I just got a little bit more selective," Knapp said. "Earlier in my career, I'd be swinging at a 1-1 changeup that probably wasn't a good pitch to swing at. Then once I got moved up to Double-A, I started laying off those pitches and started flipping some counts to 2-1 or 3-1 and started getting some fastballs. I think that was the biggest adjustment I made." It's something Knapp was working on in Clearwater, even if it didn't translate to better numbers until after he moved up. Knapp feels that, along with the work he put in on the defensive side of the game, is what made the organization comfortable with the promotion. "The last month there in Clearwater, I started making those adjustments," Knapp said. "I think part of it, too, was the advancement behind the plate, being able to handle the game, handle the pitching staff more. I think that's what they saw. Sometimes a change of scenery is all you need to get a little boost and a little confidence. I think that helped, too." His time in the AFL will undoubtedly aid in his development as well. While Knapp is continuing to pretty much do what he did in Double-A with the bat, he knows there is work to be done behind the plate if he wants to be an everyday catcher at the big league level. "I think defensively is one of those things I want to tighten up," Knapp said. "Tighten up the receiving, tighten up the throwing. We worked a lot behind the plate this year off the field, working on the mind game a little bit. Trying to manage a pitching staff and work from behind the plate. That's what I'm focusing on." Knapp has some defensive skills, namely arm strength that allowed him to throw out 36 percent of would-be basestealers in 2015. While the AFL is known more as a hitters' league, Knapp sees plenty of opportunities to improve his catching, from working with advanced pitchers to picking the brains of his coaching staff, including manager Bill Haselman of the Dodgers, himself a former big league backstop. "These are guys who know what they're doing on the mound," Knapp said of the pitchers on the Glendale staff. "You can get a ton of work in the bullpen. I'm working with the [coaches from the] Dodgers and the Phillies in the cages and on the side fields. You get a little more down time, less playing, but you get to work on the side, so that's good." Getting to talk with catchers is nothing new for Knapp. His father Mike caught at Cal just like his son did and spent parts of 11 seasons catching in the Minors, reaching Triple-A. He had former big league catcher Dusty Wathan as a manager in Reading and now has Haselman in Arizona. "Throughout my career, I've pretty much been surrounded by catchers," Knapp said. "You get to pick those guys' brains. They've been there before, they've done it, they've caught over 100 games in a year, they know how the body feels, and how it's mentally draining, too. It's been awesome to see how they do it and gain that little bit of experience from them as I'm going through it." Phillies hitters in the Fall League: Aaron Brown, OF - A two-way standout at Pepperdine, the Phillies took Brown as an outfielder in the third round of the 2014 Draft. Coming off his first full season as a hitter only, Brown hasn't played a ton, but the at-bats he is getting should help him make the jump to Double-A in 2016. J.P. Crawford, SS - Crawford was the highest-ranked prospect in the AFL (No. 5 overall), but went home with a left thumb injury after just six games. He should be 100 percent for Spring Training. Drew Stankiewicz, 2B/SS - The Phillies' 11th-round pick in the 2014 Draft, Stankiewicz was added to the Glendale roster to replace Crawford. He played at two levels of A ball in 2014 and saw time at both second base and shortstop. Phillies pitchers in the Fall League: Edubray Ramos, RHP - Originally signed by the Cardinals, Ramos was released by St. Louis in February 2011. He signed with Phillies in November 2012 and finally got moving more quickly in 2015, reaching Double-A -- a level he may be ready to master after pitching well in the AFL. Yacksel Rios, RHP - The 2011 draftee has spent much more time relieving than starting, but three of his first four AFL outings have been starts, something he may get the chance to do in Double-A next year. Jesen Therrien, RHP - The Montreal native is coming off a very solid year out of the bullpen in 2015, one that saw him spend most of the year in the Florida State League. His AFL innings should prep him for Double-A in 2016. Tom Windle, LHP - Windle made a successful transition to the bullpen midway through his first season with the Phillies. He's continued to adjust to the role this Fall.

The Phillies finally put an end to the season finishing in last place in the NL East with a record of 63-99. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and bipolar performances, this has ended up being one of the worst seasons in franchise history! However, at least Ryan Madson got another ring this year.

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