Thursday, March 31, 2016

Phillies Close out Grapefruit League Action With A Win

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Phillies Ground Astros 8-4

Houston ace Dallas Keuchel looks ready for Opening Day. He allowed two hits and struck out six in seven scoreless innings, but the Phillies roared back in an 8-4 victory Wednesday afternoon in a Grapefruit League game at Bright House Field. It was the final Spring Training game for both teams in Florida. Keuchel dominated the Phillies, but they scored eight runs in the eighth inning against Astros relievers Pat Neshek, Tony Sipp and James Hoyt. The inning included a lineout RBI from pinch-hitter Ryan Howard, as well as Cesar Hernandez executing a suicide squeeze to allow Will Venable to score from third to tie the game. It was the Phillies' third suicide squeeze of the spring and their fourth successful squeeze play overall. Maikel Franco's single scored a run to give the Phillies the lead and Andres Blanco hit a grand slam to seal it. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve hit a three-run home run to left field with two outs in the fifth inning against Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson to give Houston the lead. It was Altuve's second homer of the spring. Hellickson allowed four hits, three runs, one walk and struck out five in 4 2/3 innings. He finished the spring with a 3.31 ERA. "I felt great," Hellickson said about his spring. "I've just got to get better still with two outs and guys in scoring position. I've got to get those big outs when I need them." After Preston Tucker doubled and Alex Bregman replaced him as a pinch-runner, the Astros scored another run in the bottom of the ninth off a single from Jason Castro.

  • The Phillies Broadcasters Foundation announced that the deadline to apply for its 2016 Kalas Award is May 31. The Kalas Award is given to a college student(s) who has a stated desire and shown initiative towards a career in sports broadcasting. Applications are available online at
  • Former Phillies public relations boss Larry Shenk has written a book, The Fightin' Phillies: 100 Years of Philadelphia Baseball from the Whiz Kids to the Misfits. Shenk is the Phillies' unofficial historian, having spent more than 50 years with the organization.
The Phillies head north to Reading, Pa., where they play a seven-inning exhibition Thursday night at 6:05 p.m. ET against some of the Phillies' top prospects. Prospects in the lineup include J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.


Welcome Back – The Phillies re-signed Edward Mujica to a Minor League contract on Wednesday, a day after releasing the veteran relief pitcher. Mujica had activated an out clause in his original contract when the Phillies did not add him to their roster by midnight ET on Sunday. That gave the club 48 hours to make a decision, and it elected not to put the 31-year-old in its Opening Day bullpen. Mujica, who will report to Minor League camp on Thursday, allowed two runs on four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts over 8 1/3 Grapefruit League innings. The 10-year veteran spent last season with Boston and Oakland, posting a 4.75 ERA over 49 appearances. After his release, Mujica had expressed an openness to staying with the organization. "I'll have to see," he said. "[Manager Pete Mackanin] told me I'm going to have pretty good chances, if I go to Triple-A, in getting back to the big leagues."

Future On Exhibit – 2016 is about the future, so it makes sense that the Phillies are playing two of their final three exhibition games against some of their top prospects. They will play seven innings Thursday night in Reading, Pa., and Zach Eflin and Mark Appel will pitch for the prospects' team. The Phillies play the prospects again Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. Jake Thompson and Ricardo Pinto will pitch that game. In between, the Phillies will host the Orioles on Friday night. Here is the prospects roster: Pitchers (nine): Right-handers Thompson (No. 2), Appel (No. 4), Pinto (No. 10), Eflin (No. 13), Edubray Ramos (No. 29), Victor Arano, Miguel Nunez, and left-handers Joely Rodriguez and Tom Windle. Catchers (two): Jorge Alfaro (No. 6) and Andrew Knapp (No. 9). Infielders (nine): J.P. Crawford (No. 1), Scott Kingery (No. 11), Malquin Canelo (No. 12), Rhys Hoskins (No. 20), Tommy Joseph, Angelo Mora, Brock Stassi, Jesmuel Valentin and Mitch Walding. Outfielders (six): Nick Williams (No. 3), Roman Quinn (No. 7), Carlos Tocci (No. 14), Dylan Cozens (No. 23), Aaron Brown (No. 28) and Andrew Pullin.

Will This Be A Good Year? – It has been one heck of a spring for Phillies manager Pete Mackanin. He opened big league camp in February for the first time as a full-time manager after managing the Pirates in 2005, the Reds in 2007 and the Phillies in 2015 on an interim basis. He hammered home the importance of fundamentals and playing with energy. His boss, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, noticed his efforts and how his players responded to his words, too. Klentak tore up Mackain's one-year contract this month and replaced it with a two-year contract with a club option for 2018. Mackanin begins his first full season as manager Monday on Opening Day in Cincinnati. "It's already hit me," he said before Wednesday afternoon's 8-4 win over the Astros at Bright House Field. "I keep telling my wife, it's not that big of a deal. I've managed quite a few games in the big leagues. Managing is the same everywhere you go. It's getting through Spring Training, and doing the things I wanted to do and focusing on certain fundamentals, that is one thing that is the most important part of it, rather than during the season. I'm a manager, and I'm just managing." The Phillies finished their Grapefruit League schedule at 15-10-3. It does not translate into regular-season success, but Mackanin thinks he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish this spring. He thinks there are reasons to be optimistic about 2016. "I think with our rotation, and the bullpen we're going to have, excluding the closer right now, I think we're going to be in a lot more games than we were last year," Mackanin said. "I think that's going to lead to more wins. How many remains to be seen." Ten Phillies pitchers not named Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Adam Morgan posted a combined 6.19 ERA in 106 starts (65.4 percent of their games) last season. The Phillies also had a 34-37 record following the All-Star break with Maikel Franco, who could be their best hitter, missing 46 of those games. But while nobody is expecting the Phillies to contend this season, they expect to be better. They do not expect to finish with the worst record in baseball for the second consecutive season. It should be interesting to follow, because of the young players on the current roster and the prospects coming up through the system. Their Opening Day roster could look very different from their mid-August roster. "I was really happy to see all of those young guys I had heard about but hadn't seen," Mackanin said. "And they really looked like they've got a chance to be real good players. "My focus right now is on the guys we have on the Major League level. And I really don't want to discount those guys, their turn will come. But I'm hoping we're not going to have to take a chance on bringing them up early, because the guys we have at the big league level are doing so well that there's going to be no rush."

Could This Be The Year? – If one had to bet on the first prospect to join the Phillies this season, one might take outfielder Nick Williams or right-hander Jake Thompson. Williams and Thompson will open the season in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and based on their skill sets and the organization's needs, their paths to the big leagues could be the shortest. But shortstop J.P. Crawford figures to get the most attention this season, and understandably so, as he is the No. 5 prospect in baseball, according to MLBPipeline. He also has the brightest future, making him the Phillies' prospect to watch in 2016. "I think about it all the time," Crawford said about his call to the big leagues. But patience is key, perhaps for Phillies fans more than anyone. Crawford, 21, has played only 86 games at Double-A Reading. He hit .265 with 21 doubles, seven triples, five home runs, 34 RBIs and a .761 OPS in 351 at-bats last season, and he hit .150 with one RBI, three walks and three strikeouts this spring. He has room to improve, and that means he needs more time to develop in the Minor Leagues. Besides, there is no rush. The Phillies are rebuilding for the future, so 2017 and beyond are more important than 2016. The Phillies want to make sure Crawford is ready to play every day and succeed whenever he gets the call. They don't want to yo-yo him from the big leagues to the Minor Leagues, and they don't want him to split time at shortstop with Freddy Galvis. When he is up, he will be up, and he will be playing. "If it happens, it happens," Crawford said about a potential promotion. "I'm not really going to think about that. But if I do, I do. If I don't, I don't." Of course, Crawford could force the issue with his own play. He could start the season in Reading and dominate, earning a relatively quick promotion to Triple-A. And if he plays well there, perhaps he'll warrant a promotion before the end of the season. But there are plenty of "ifs" there. Could Crawford make the big leagues this year? Yes, but only if he is ready. After all, the long-term is much more important than a little short-term spike in fan excitement.
Today In Phils History - When the Phillies lost the marathon on opening day in 1998 against the Mets, they did so with a number of players making their first appearances in a Phillies uniform including Doug Glanville, Bobby Abreu, Mark Lewis, and Alex Arias. Five years later they would showcase another overhauled roster with the additions of  Jim Thome, Tyler Houston, Kevin Millwood, and David Bell. And five years after that they would field another collection of new faces in Chad Durbin, Pedro Feliz, Geoff Jenkins, and So Taguchi. Six years later, one of the stalwarts on that championship team, Jimmy Rollins, would make his 14th consecutive opening day start at shortstop setting a NL record and tying the major league record set by Cal Ripken. However, there is one surname that can overshadow the rest of the events from this day... DiMaggio. Even though it was Vince who was acquired on this day in 1945. 

The Phillies have an impressive record this spring… 15-10-3 (16-10-3 if you include the exhibition game against the University of Tampa). With the Phillies having finished the 2015 season with a spectacularly awful record of 63-99 it will be interesting to see what kind of team new President Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak put on the field. At the same time I am definitely looking forward to the games against Boston with former GM Ruben Amaro on the field. Given the departures, lingering contracts, a history of injuries, bipolar performances, and unproven talent, it should, at the very least, be an interesting season for the Phillies. Who knows, maybe they can avoid 100 losses... hopefully by more than one game!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Only A Few Spots Remain With Less Than A Week To Go!

EXHIBITION GAME RECAP: Exhibition Game Washed Away

Did Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka do enough? Yankees manager Joe Girardi challenged his starter before Tuesday afternoon's Grapefruit League game against the Phillies at Bright House Field, which was called after the fourth inning because of rain. Tanaka entered the game with a 7.36 ERA in his first four starts, and Girardi wanted to see better before he named him the Opening Day starter. Tanaka allowed seven hits, one run, one walk and struck out five in four innings, and he threw in the bullpen during the delay to extend his pitch count. Phillies left-hander Brett Oberholtzer allowed seven runs in four innings. Yankees first baseman Dustin Ackley hit a three-run homer in the first. Miguel Andujar hit a two-run homer in the fourth. Darin Ruf singled in the first to score the Phillies' only run.

Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson starts the Phillies' final Grapefruit League game on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET, facing the Houston Astros at Bright House Field. It will be the final tuneup for Hellickson before he starts on Opening Day in Cincinnati on Monday.


One Less Option – The Phillies released Edward Mujica on Tuesday to tighten their bullpen competition. Mujica signed a Minor League contract with Philadelphia in December, and he pitched well this spring. He had a 2.16 ERA in seven Grapefruit League appearances, allowing four hits, two runs, two walks and striking out seven in 8 1/3 innings. Opponents hit .154 against him. But the Phillies like their other options better. "They told me I'm free to go," Mujica said. Mujica's release leaves nine healthy relievers in camp. Right-handers David Hernandez, Dalier Hinojosa and Jeanmar Gomez and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer are locks. Rule 5 Draft pick Daniel Stumpf looks like a lock, too. The Phillies love his arm, and they must keep him on the 25-man roster or risk losing him. Non-roster invitees James Russell (3.38 ERA in six appearances), Andrew Bailey (5.14 ERA in seven) and Ernesto Frieri (6.75 ERA in six) remain in camp. Hector Neris (6.23 ERA in eight appearances) is on the 40-man roster, and he also remains. Unless the Phillies acquire somebody before Opening Day, those four are fighting for the final two bullpen jobs. Russell has the edge on one of those spots. Manager Pete Mackanin said the other day that there is a good possibility the team will carry three left-handers in the bullpen. Frieri can exercise an out clause on Thursday, but only if he has a spot on a 25-man roster elsewhere, and that is highly unlikely. Bailey has a May 1 out clause; Mackanin has been lukewarm, at best, about his past three appearances. It is not a stretch to think Frieri and Bailey could open the season in Triple-A and Neris works his way onto the team. Neris has not pitched well this spring, but he had a 3.79 ERA in 32 appearances last season. Mackanin has said that although Grapefruit League performances are important, he will consider regular-season performances, too. Mujica activated an out clause in his contract when the Phillies did not add him to the Opening Day roster by midnight ET Sunday. They then had 48 hours to make a final decision on him. The Phils called Mujica into Mackanin's office on Tuesday morning to inform him of his release. The Phillies saved $100,000 in the process. Article XX-B free agents with six or more years of Major League service time who sign Minor League contracts must be placed on the 25-man roster or released five days before the regular season. If the team does neither, choosing to instead send the player to the Minor Leagues, the team must pay him a $100,000 retention bonus. Mujica could re-sign with the Phils and open the season in Triple-A if he cannot find a big league job elsewhere. "I'll have to see," Mujica said. "Pete told me I'm going to have pretty good chances if I go to Triple-A, in getting back to the big leagues."

Venable In, Asche Out? – Will Venable has five games to prove himself and win a job on the Phillies' Opening Day roster. Venable arrived in camp on Tuesday morning after Philadelphia signed him to a Minor League contract on Monday. Venable, 33, hit .133 in 13 Cactus League games with the Indians, who released him on Sunday, but he has a chance to make the Phillies, as they have few other options in the outfield. He went 1-for-2 before the Phillies' Grapefruit League game against the Yankees was cancelled because of rain. "I have no expectations," Venable said. "I'm just in camp right now. If it means I have to go to Triple-A and prove myself there -- whatever it takes -- I know that at some point I would like to be here contributing at the big league level." Outfielders Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche will open the season on the disabled list. Altherr had surgery on his left wrist this month, which will sideline him until July at the earliest. Asche has not played a game this spring because of a strained right oblique. He aggravated the injury the other day, essentially resetting his recovery to the very beginning, and he could miss another several weeks. "It's just giving it more time to heal," Asche said. "Obviously, the time frame we had last time wasn't enough. This time we've just got to be a little more cautious." The Phillies re-assigned outfielder David Lough and infielder Ryan Jackson to Minor League camp on Tuesday, leaving Venable and non-roster invitees Cedric Hunter and Emmanuel Burriss the final three candidates for the final two bench jobs. Burriss has a good shot because he can play the infield and outfield, and at the moment, the only utility infielder is Andres Blanco. Manager Pete Mackanin has hinted that he likes the flexibility Burriss provides when it comes to maneuvering the lineup during National League games with double switches, etc. Hunter has impressed nearly everybody in camp. In fact, Mackanin said that if Hunter makes the team, he could be his leadoff hitter. The fact that he has been in camp from the beginning and earned the right to be in the conversation for a bench job will play a factor, Mackanin said. "Hunter has had the best at-bats of anybody other than [Maikel Franco] in camp, in my opinion," Mackanin said. "I'll put it that way." Venable posted a .669 OPS in 390 plate appearances last season with the Padres and Rangers. He had a .613 OPS in 448 plate appearances with San Diego in 2014 but posted a solid .796 OPS with the Padres in '13. "I'm not far off," he said. Venable also can play all three outfield positions, which makes him attractive to the Phillies. "There was mutual interest," he said. "I got released in the morning, and by the afternoon ... we had some momentum going on a possible deal." Venable knows the Philadelphia area relatively well. He played basketball and baseball at Princeton, and played a few games at The Palestra. "Not good memories at The Palestra," Venable said. "I think we blew, like, a 15-point lead in the last minute of a game one time. But great venue."

Closer Spot Still Up For Grabs – If the Phillies have a three-run lead in the ninth inning on Opening Day in Cincinnati, somebody will have to pitch to protect it. Will it be their closer? Do they even have a closer? "You'll find out," general manager Matt Klentak said on Tuesday afternoon at Bright House Field. "So will I." This is the first time in more than 15 years the Phillies have not entered the season with an established closer. In years past, it has been Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, Tom Gordon, Billy Wagner and Jose Mesa. This season it could be David Hernandez or Dalier Hinojosa or ... somebody else. "It's up in the air," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You guys see what we see. Hinojosa is still a candidate. Hernandez is a candidate. After that we might have to use a committee situation. It is what it is, and we have to try to find somebody that can do it." It has been an interesting spring in that regard. Hernandez began camp as the favorite because he signed a one-year, $3.9 million contract in the offseason, making him the only free agent the Phillies inked to a Major League deal. But Hernandez started the spring slowly because of soreness in his right elbow. He is healthy, but he has pitched in only three Grapefruit League games. Tuesday's appearance was cancelled because of rain. Hinojosa had a 0.78 ERA in 18 appearances last season. He has a 4.50 ERA in seven appearances this spring, although he allowed two hits and two runs in one inning on Monday against the Blue Jays. "That's probably the worst outing that we've all seen from him," Mackanin said. "I think he was overthrowing all of his pitches. I think he might have been auditioning for that role." Right-hander Andrew Bailey emerged as a favorite early in camp, based on four scoreless innings in four appearances, but Mackanin has not been enamored with Bailey's past three performances, and Bailey could open the season in Triple-A. "I don't have a rooting interest in this," Klentak said. "I want the best seven guys in the bullpen to get outs. Sometimes declaring who pitches the ninth allows who pitches the eighth and who pitches the seventh to kind of fall into place a little bit better. I understand the way that works. But ultimately, we're looking for the best combination of relievers to get outs toward the end of the game." Mackanin will not name a closer unless he is "100 percent sure about somebody that I want to call a closer." "I'm not going to call anybody a closer," he said. "A closer is somebody that you can count on for the ninth inning. I don't know if we probably have one. I hope we have one, but I'm not going to name one right now just to call a guy a closer. It doesn't really mean anything."

Big Piece Not So Big Anymore – Ryan Howard is struggling at the plate, going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on Tuesday. Since hitting a grand slam over the batter's eye at Bright House Field on March 18, he is 2-for-19 with one double, two walks and 11 strikeouts. That does not include a 1-for-5 effort with four strikeouts in a Minor League game on Sunday at Carpenter Complex. "Yeah, I'd like to see better at-bats," Mackanin said. Howard entered camp with the opportunity to earn more playing time, but it looks as though he and Darin Ruf will be platooning at first base. "Let's put it this way: I need to see more," Mackanin said. "More production. In his defense, [Howard is] behind everybody, [because] he was sick for a week. I'd like to think he caught up. I think he's caught up. This is performance. We have to get performance. Numbers matter."

Say Hello To The X Factor – It took Matt Klentak just a couple months to make his first bold move with the Phillies. The new general manager traded Ken Giles and Minor League infielder Jonathan Arauz to Houston for five pitchers: right-handers Vince Velasquez, Mark Appel, Thomas Eshelman and Harold Arauz and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer. The Phillies badly wanted Velasquez in the deal, and Monday they named him their No. 5 starter. "We like Velasquez's power arm," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. Velasquez is the Phillies' X factor in 2016. The Phillies see big-time potential in Velasquez because of his stuff. If he pitches as advertised this season, the Phillies' rotation could set up nicely for the future, particularly if Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff pick up where they finished as rookies last year. Going into 2017 believing in Nola, Eickhoff and Velasquez would give the Phillies more room for error with prospects like Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin and Appel. Now, nobody seems to be expecting Velasquez to make 33 starts this season. He pitched just 88 2/3 innings last season and pitched a career-high 124 2/3 innings in 2013. The Phillies want to be careful with him. They need to keep him healthy. The original four-player return for Giles included Houston outfield prospect Derek Fisher, but Appel and Arauz were late additions after sources said the Phillies had concerns about Velasquez's physical. Velasquez had Tommy John surgery on Sept. 22, 2010. "I'm healthy as an ox," Velasquez said. No issues with his shoulder? "I've never had any problems with my shoulder," he said. "Any type of soreness I've had was in the biceps or triceps. Nothing in the shoulder." That is a good thing. Because for the Phillies to speed up their rebuild, they need Velasquez to pay off. That does not mean he needs to immediately be one of the top young pitchers in the National League. But he needs to show he belongs. He needs to show there is no doubt he is part of the Phillies' future. That is why the Phillies insisted on getting him, after all.

Phillies Have An Impressive Collection – This year's Spring Training is the first time that the Phillies have been able to observe their impressive collection of top prospects, many acquired in the past year. Though the organization is trying to temper expectations, there's still a palpable excitement in camp regarding the future of the club. "This is the most talent we've had in the four years I've been here," said Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan. "We got to see all of our big prospects -- J.P. Crawford, Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Andrew Knapp, Mark Appel, Zach Eflin andJake Thompson -- together in big league camp this year, and they all represented themselves very well. There are a lot of good things happening." The aforementioned core of Phils prospects all enter 2016 with at least some upper-level experience, and many of them -- save for Appel, who came over from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade during the offseason -- have already played together after finishing last season at Double-A Reading. "A lot of those guys were together in Double-A last year, so they kind of formed that kind of cohesive, team unit," said Jordan. "It gave them all some level of comfort to be together in big league camp at the same time. "Right now, it's just about keeping them all healthy and building them up for the season, because we have a chance to put some really good [Minor League] rosters together." Camp standouts: No. 99 overall prospect Roman Quinn has proved to be a dynamic player when healthy. However, the 2015 season marked the third straight injury-shortened campaign for the 22-year-old outfielder, who was in the midst of a breakout performance (.306/.356/.435, 29 SB) when he suffered a tear in his hip flexor on June 12 while he attempted to beat out an infield single. Now fully recovered from the injury, Quinn impressed club officials with his showing this year in his first big league camp, hitting .300 with one home run, three triples and two steals. "He's really stood out," said Jordan. "He hit a home run and big two-out single with a couple RBIs and a stolen bag the other day, and he was doing that in the big league camp all spring. He had some days there where you really saw what he has a chance to do." The Phillies have also liked what they've seen so far from Alfaro,'s No. 96 overall prospect, as he's impressed club officials with his exceptional tools on both sides of the ball after missing most of the 2015 season with an ankle injury. In his first Spring Training with the Phils, the 22-year-old backstop went 5-for-17 (.294) with a pair of RBIs before he was sent to Minor League camp. "We're still getting to know him because he didn't get to play at all last year with us. His strengths are easy to see -- the power, the arm strength -- but the weaknesses and what he needs from us, that's all still evolving. He needs some work defensively, but he gives a great effort and works very hard behind the plate. He's an impressive young man," said Jordan. Breakout candidates: After a mediocre full-season debut, Dylan Cozens didn't rank among the Phillies' Top 30 prospects headed into 2015. But the former 2012 second-rounder bounced back last season against advanced competition, compiling a solid .286/.336/.426 batting line and finishing the year with a strong showing at Double-A Reading. He continued to make strides during the offseason in the Puerto Rican Winter League, and he enters 2016 ranked as the Phils' No. 23 prospect. "We have a lot of people that, industry-wise, get a little more notice, but he's going to be a name people talk about this season," said Jordan. "He had some success in Puerto Rico this offseason, and we think he's going to have a big year." The Phillies also have high hopes for No. 11 prospect Scott Kingery, the club's second-round Draft pick in 2015. After an outstanding career at the University of Arizona, highlighted by a .984 OPS last spring as a junior, Kingery made the jump directly to full-season ball after signing, hitting .250 with 11 steals in 66 games at Class A Lakewood. "He can really hit," said Jordan. "He was worn down last summer after a taxing college season, but we think is first full season is going to be very productive. He has a real chance to be an everyday player in the big leagues for us."

5 Questions For Future Phillies Outfielder – As part of's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities this month, we will be sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Phillies camp, it was No. 3 prospect Nick Williams. A second-round Draft pick of the Rangers in 2012, Williams has put up impressive offensive numbers at every Minor League stop throughout his young career, amassing a .296/.346/.489 batting line in 374 games. He took a major step forward in 2015 and was having a tremendous season at Double-A Frisco when he was sent to the Phillies as part of the Cole Hamels blockbuster. The 22-year-old outfielder capped his season with a strong showing at Double-A Reading and has continued to impress this spring in his first camp with the Phils. Where were you and what were you doing when you learned that you had been traded last summer? Williams: I was playing for Double-A Frisco, and we were going into either the seventh or eighth inning when I was pulled from the game. I didn't know that those other guys had been traded too until I got into the clubhouse. While waiting for the trade to become final, I went home for about a week and went to the beach and hung out with some friends. I was getting in the car with my girlfriend to go pack up my stuff at Frisco when I learned the trade went through, so we drove 22 hours to Reading to meet up with the team. Upon joining Reading, you collected two hits in your first game and then went 4-for-4 with two home runs the next day. Was the transition from the Rangers to the Phillies as easy as you made it seem? Williams: It was extremely easy. Jake [Thomson] told me that it would be tough, but it really wasn't. After that 22-hour drive, we spent another five hours on the bus going to Trenton because we got stuck behind a dump truck that was on fire, so I basically went a full week without hitting before that first game with Reading. You and a lot of the Phillies' other acquisitions were in big league camp together this spring. What was that experience like -- to play together with all of the other big-name prospects who, like yourself, are viewed as the future of the franchise? Williams: It was great not just being the one guy who goes in there and feels out of place. The younger guys were asking me questions and the veterans were all very welcoming -- it was just great energy overall. You can tell the team chemistry is going to be really, really good, because everyone is clicking already. You've always had an impressive knack for hitting, but last season you seemed to make big strides with your approach and plate discipline. To what do you attribute that improvement? Williams: They put me at leadoff last year at Frisco, and it allowed me to see a lot of pitches and also made me realize just how overaggressive I can be at the plate. Really focusing on the pitchers and the counts, I started to learn how to put all the pieces together and be a more complete hitter. Video question: You hit this impressive home run with Reading on August 24. First of all, how did you manage to keep this ball fair? Secondly, how on earth did you hit it out of the park? Williams: I can't explain it, really. I get asked those types of questions a lot, and I really can't explain how I hit like that. I just see the pitch and my hands want to attack it, so I let 'em go.
Today In Phils History - We bid adieu to The Bull as the Phillies sold him to the White Sox on this day in 1981.

The Phillies have an impressive record this spring… 14-10-3 (15-10-3 if you include the exhibition game against the University of Tampa). With the Phillies having finished the 2015 season with a spectacularly awful record of 63-99 it will be interesting to see what kind of team new President Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak put on the field. At the same time I am definitely looking forward to the games against Boston with former GM Ruben Amaro on the field. Given the departures, lingering contracts, a history of injuries, bipolar performances, and unproven talent, it should, at the very least, be an interesting season for the Phillies. Who knows, maybe they can avoid 100 losses... hopefully by more than one game!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Final Performances Making Roster Decisions Difficult


Pitching and a pair of homers dominated the day as Marcus Stroman and Vince Velasquez had scoreless outings for their respective teams in a game that the Blue Jays went on to win, 2-1, over the Phillies on Monday afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Center fielder Darrell Ceciliani launched a two-run home blast in the bottom of the eighth inning off Dalier Hinojosa to give the Jays the game-winning lead. Stroman made his final start before Opening Day and allowed three hits without issuing a walk over four strong innings. He also struck out three and had an abbreviated outing in an attempt to rest up for the 162-game grind of the MLB season. "I understand that it's for my best interests," Stroman said. "My body, everything, my pitches, my arm feels great, and I'm just looking forward to getting out there Sunday for Opening Day." Right-hander Jesse Chavez then entered out of the bullpen and had an equally impressive day. He struck out three and didn't allow a hit over two scoreless frames. Chavez is scheduled to begin the year as a reliever after right-hander Aaron Sanchez was announced as the Blue Jays' fifth starter earlier in the day. Velasquez was officially named to Philadelphia's rotation Monday morning, and he promptly came through with his best outing of the spring. He struck out eight and allowed two hits and three walks over six impressive innings. Kevin Pillar was the lone player in the Blue Jays lineup with hits off Velasquez, as he went 2-for-3 with a double. "It wasn't easy," Velasquez said. "I was pretty overwhelmed today. I was pretty excited. I was a little drained, to be honest. But I kept fighting and pushing through it." Philadelphia took the first lead of the game in the top of the seventh inning against Toronto lefty Randy Choate. Designated hitter Darin Ruf delivered the big blow with a home run to center field that came on a 3-2 pitch. Choate was charged with one run on two hits over one third of an inning.

Phillies left-hander Brett Oberholtzer is expected to start Tuesday's Grapefruit League game against the Yankees at Bright House Field. He will open the season in the bullpen, but he is starting because Adam Morgan got sent to the Minors.


Phillies Finalize Rotation – Vince Velasquez entered Spring Training the favorite to be the Phillies' fifth starter, and they awarded him the job on Monday, when they announced they had optioned left-hander Adam Morgan to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Velasquez and Morgan had been the finalists to be the fifth starter behind Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton and Jerad Eickhoff. "We like Velasquez's power arm," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We want to see him in the big leagues." It was not an easy call to make. Velasquez entered Monday's start against the Blue Jays in Dunedin with a 3.21 ERA in four Grapefruit League appearances (three starts). In 14 innings, he allowed 13 hits, six runs (five earned), four walks and struck out 16. Velasquez has dominant stuff, and he showed it. But Morgan is a strike-thrower who impressed. In fact, an argument can be made that he outperformed Velasquez and Eickhoff, who has pitched just twice this spring because of a fractured right thumb. Including three scoreless innings Morgan threw on Thursday in a rain-shortened game against the Braves, he had a 1.50 ERA in four starts. In 12 innings, he allowed six hits, two runs, three walks and struck out four. Morgan had been scheduled to pitch on Tuesday against the Yankees, but the Phils wanted to take their final Grapefruit League starts out of the equation. "Probably one of the toughest decisions we ever had to make," Mackanin said. Velasquez entered camp the favorite for a couple of reasons: First, he has a power arm and the best stuff of anybody in the rotation. Second, he is the prized piece of the trade that sent Ken Giles to Houston. Perhaps Velasquez's status as the top dog in the deal gave him the edge. "Possibly," Mackanin said. "When you're talking about certain players, just because a guy was a No. 1 pick, don't give him any preferential treatment. The guys who are high Draft picks, you don't want to look at them any differently than a 30th-round pick because it's not fair. Sometimes it happens, but in this case that didn't even enter into it for me. We like his stuff. He's got good stuff. And I want to see him in the big leagues." Velasquez pitched splendidly against a stacked Blue Jays lineup Monday in the Phillies' 2-1 loss, allowing two hits and three walks and striking out eight in six scoreless innings at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. He said he learned he had won the job from teammate Chris Leroux, who had just been optioned, and the MLB At Bat app, which he said sent him a push notification to his cell phone. Velasquez simply put two and two together. "Every day, you have to set goals for yourself," Velasquez said. "Coming into Spring Training, I set a high goal for myself, break off of camp [with the team]. To find out today the goal is accomplished, it doesn't stop there. I've got to set more goals for myself later on and try to achieve them. But on that note, it's pretty exciting. I can't really show much right now because I'm tired, but in the back of my mind, I'm really excited." Mackanin said Morgan was extremely disappointed with the news. He went 5-7 with a 4.48 ERA in 15 starts last season, making him one of the precious few competent starters in a rotation that ranked as one of the worst in baseball in 2015. Morgan then put up better numbers than every starter in camp. "I'm upset," Morgan said. "But there's nothing you can do about it. It's out of my control. I thought I was doing a good job." Morgan also said he asked for but did not get much of an explanation why he did not win a job. "Not really getting an answer is probably the hardest part," Morgan said. "'Keep working.' OK. Other than that, it's just the nature of the beast, I guess." No Morgan means no left-handers in the rotation. Mackanin said it will not be a problem. "We're just going to go with the best pitchers we have," Mackanin said. "You'd like to have some kind of versatility, a mix. But that being said, it's not of the utmost importance to me if we have all right-handers starting for us. It is what it is. As the season wears on, we're most likely going to see more than five starters up there." Morgan is expected to be the first option should the Phillies need a starter. The call could come because of an injury or ineffectiveness or because the Phils want to monitor the innings of some of their young pitchers. Velasquez pitched only 88 2/3 innings last year. He pitched a career-high 124 2/3 innings in 2013. It is difficult to picture Velasquez making 30-plus starts this season. "That's a good question," Mackanin said. "We're going to find out. We need to find that out as soon as possible. We're building toward the future and it's important for us to get him going and see exactly what we've got there." The Phillies plan to give prospects Jake Thompson, Mark Appel and Zach Eflin time to develop in Triple-A this season. If they come up, it figures to be later in the year. Hellickson, Nola and Morton will pitch the first series of the season in Cincinnati. Mackanin said the Phils have not decided who will pitch the first two games of a three-game series that follows in New York. Eickhoff and Velasquez will remain in Florida and pitch Saturday before joining the team.

Late Addition With A Chance – Put outfielder Will Venable into the mix to make the Phillies' Opening Day roster. The Phillies announced Monday they had agreed to a Minor League contract with Venable, who will be in camp Tuesday. "I'm anxious to see him," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. The Indians released Venable, 33, after he hit .133 (4-for-30) in 13 Cactus League games. But the Phillies like him because they are thin in the outfield due to injuries to Aaron Altherr, who is sidelined until at least July following left wrist surgery, and Cody Asche, who is expected to open the season on the disabled list because of a strained right oblique. The Phillies' projected Opening Day outfielders are Odubel Herrera, Peter Bourjos and Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel, although Venable could put Goeddel on the bench if he makes the team. The move leaves Venable, Cedric Hunter, Emmanuel Burriss and David Lough fighting for the final two bench jobs. "Out of those four, we'll probably choose two of them," Mackanin said. Venable, who suddenly becomes a favorite for one of those jobs, posted a .669 OPS in 390 plate appearances last season with the Padres and Rangers. He had a .613 OPS in 448 plate appearances with San Diego in 2014, but posted a respectable .796 OPS with the Padres in '13.

Making Moves – The Phillies solidified their rotation Monday, prior to a 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays, when they named Vince Velasquez their No. 5 starter. But they also crystallized their bullpen and bench battles. They signed outfielder Will Venable to a Minor League contract after the Indians released him. He could make the Opening Day roster. They also optioned left-hander Elvis Araujo, right-hander Luis Garciaand outfielder Darnell Sweeney to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and reassigned left-hander Bobby LaFromboise, right-hander Reinier Roibal, right-hander Chris Leroux, catcher Logan Moore and infielder Angelys Nina to Minor League camp. The moves point to Rule 5 Draft pick Daniel Stumpf making the Phils' bullpen. There are four locks to make the Phillies' bullpen: right-handers David Hernandez, Dalier Hinojosa and Jeanmar Gomez and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer. Stumpf figures to get one of the final three jobs as Philadelphia tries to stockpile arms. If he does not make the Opening Day roster, the Phils could lose him because of his Rule 5 Draft status. Simply put, it makes sense to open the season with him to give him a longer evaluation. "Stumpf has the pitches to be an effective Major League pitcher," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "Since we're building for the future, it's important that you have a 26-year-old left-hander with what I consider good stuff. You don't want to just give him back. So that's still to be decided, but we like him so far." Right-handers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey and left-hander James Russell have a chance for jobs, although plenty can happen with less than a week remaining before Opening Day. The Phils must place Mujica on the Opening Day roster by Tuesday, or he can become a free agent. The decision has not yet been made. Frieri can exercise an out clause Thursday, although he has only pitched well as of late. Russell has a June 1 out clause. Bailey has a May 1 out clause. Mackanin has been lukewarm at best about Bailey's past three appearances. Mackanin said the other day that there is a good possibility the Phillies might carry three left-handers in the bullpen, which, if true, indicates Russell has the edge with Araujo and LaFromboise sent to the Minors. Optioning pitchers like Araujo and Garcia and sending LaFromboise to Minor League camp indicates the Phils are trying to keep as many arms as possible for the 162-game season. Keep in mind, the Phillies also could find relievers outside the organization this week that could bump out Mujica, Frieri, Russell or Bailey. "That's part of the reason -- we have more depth to go to at the Minor League level," Mackanin said about Monday's moves. "But strike-throwers are important. We need guys that we can count on to pitch ahead in the count. We want to be able to trust them to throw strikes, and we feel like we've got those guys right now." Venable, Cedric Hunter, Emmanuel Burriss and David Lough are in the running for the team's final bench jobs.

Can We Start The Season Now? – Maikel Franco crushed a fly ball to deep left field on Sunday afternoon at JetBlue Park. The ball appeared to sail over the miniature Green Monster for his ninth Grapefruit League home run, but umpires instead ruled it a ground-rule double. Franco looked perfectly perplexed as he stood on second base. He wanted to add one more dinger to his Spring Training ledger. The Phillies, meanwhile, would like Franco to save some homers for when they truly count beginning April 4 on Opening Day in Cincinnati against the Reds. "Hurry up and get to April," Jeremy Hellickson said about Franco recently. "I don't think he'll stop, but hurry up and get here." Franco has had one heck of a spring following an impressive rookie season, which could mean a breakout season as not only one of the game's best third basemen, but best hitters. He batted .280 with 22 doubles, one triple, 14 home runs, 50 RBIs and an .840 OPS in 335 plate appearances. He had started to enter the conversation for National League Rookie of the Year Award honors before breaking his left wrist in August. Franco's 127 OPS+ ranked 42nd among 245 players with 300-or-more plate appearances. He ranked sixth among 30 rookies. "The sky is the limit with Maikel, man," Ryan Howard said. "His ball gets small really quick." Franco entered Monday with a .737 slugging percentage, which might mean he is in line for a huge season. "I'm just trying to be healthy this year," Franco said. "I know if I'm healthy, something good is going to happen." John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions once found a correlation between Spring Training power numbers and regular-season power numbers. At one time, he discovered 60 percent of hitters that boosted their career slugging percentage (minimum 200 career at-bats) by 200 or more points in Spring Training (minimum 40 at-bats) experienced an increase in power that season. While that formula has been far less accurate in recent seasons, it once correctly predicted big seasons for Pat Burrell and Placido Polanco in 2005, Howard in 2006, Chase Utley and Greg Dobbs in 2007, Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz in 2009, Ruiz in 2012 and Domonic Brown in 2013. Franco has a career .453 slugging percentage in 360 career at-bats in the regular season and a .737 slugging percentage in 57 at-bats this spring. That is a 284-point increase. "I don't want him to waste all of his home runs in the spring," manager Pete Mackanin said, smiling. "He looks really good at the plate, aggressive, confident. I'm sure he's going to carry it into the season. It's a good guy to have in the middle of the lineup right now."
Today In Phil History - The 'other guy' who was acquired in the Brad Lidge deal, Eric Bruntlett, was born on this day in 1978. The following year the Phillies signed Del Unser. Both players would play key roles on World Series winning teams.

The Phillies have an impressive record this spring… 14-10-3 (15-10-3 if you include the exhibition game against the University of Tampa). With the Phillies having finished the 2015 season with a spectacularly awful record of 63-99 it will be interesting to see what kind of team new President Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak put on the field. At the same time I am definitely looking forward to the games against Boston with former GM Ruben Amaro on the field. Given the departures, lingering contracts, a history of injuries, bipolar performances, and unproven talent, it should, at the very least, be an interesting season for the Phillies. Who knows, maybe they can avoid 100 losses... hopefully by more than one game!