Thursday, March 3, 2016

Phillies Show Some Heart In Tie


The spring rematch between the Phillies and the Blue Jays ended in a 4-4 tie after nine innings on Wednesday afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Philadelphia's Emmanuel Burriss led off the ninth with a double to left, and Andrew Knapp drove him home with another two-bagger to take the lead. In the bottom of the frame, however, the Blue Jays notched back-to-back two-out singles, and Dwight Smith Jr. scored the tying run on a wild pitch. Toronto had jumped out to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning with a rally that started when Josh Donaldson was hit by a pitch and Michael Saunders reached base on an error. Ryan Goins followed later in the frame with a triple off the wall in right-center field, and he scored during the next at-bat on former Phillie Domonic Brown's single. Three of Toronto's runs were scored off Phillies right-hander Vincent Velasquez, but only two of them were earned. Velasquez surrendered three hits and added three strikeouts during his two innings of work. Right-hander David Buchanan got the start for Philadelphia, and he tossed two scoreless innings while allowing one hit and striking out one. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey made his first start of the spring for Toronto and allowed one run on two hits with a strikeout. Right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who is competing for the final spot in the starting rotation, then came on in relief and also allowed one run over two innings while surrendering three hits and striking out three. "Right now, it's not at all about results. It's much more about getting your body ready for the grind of a long season," said Dickey. "Today was a big step forward in that regard. "I felt very comfortable out there, trying to fill up the strike zone as much as I can. I feel like that's the one thing I can identify during my tenure as a Blue Jay that's really significant, when I don't walk people I usually have good results." The big blow off Sanchez came on a 3-2 changeup that outfielder Aaron Altherr sent deep over the wall in left field. Other standout performances for Philadelphia included an RBI triple by outfielder Peter Bourjos and a double by outfielder David Lough.

The Phillies have a split squad Thursday. They host the Astros at Bright House Field at 1:05 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV, while they play the Yankees in Tampa at the same time. Top pitching prospects Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are scheduled to pitch against the Astros. Left-hander Adam Morgan starts against the Yankees. He is competing for the No. 5 job in the rotation. Mark Appel and Alec Asher also are scheduled to face the Yankees.


Pitchers Ready For Fast Starts – Vincent Velasquez does not believe in a slow build during Spring Training. The coveted prize of the Ken Giles trade came out firing Wednesday in a 4-4 tie with the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. His fastball sat in the 95-96 mph range throughout his two innings of work. "It's just within my nature," Velasquez said. "I'm the kid that likes to get after it. I'm competitive, no matter what it is, no matter what sport. I've always been competitive growing up. So even that little kid in the neighborhood, I've always been on top. I try to keep it that way." Velasquez allowed three hits, three runs (two earned) and struck out three. He threw a scoreless third inning before he allowed three runs in the fourth. He hit Josh Donaldson with a pitch to start the frame, then allowed a two-run triple to Ryan Goins and an RBI single to former Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown. "Right out of the gate, you've got to be consistent," Velasquez said. "I lacked that a little bit, but it's a work in progress. After last year, what I've experienced, it's been getting a little bit better." But forget about Wednesday's results for a moment. Velasquez is the favorite to be the Phillies' No. 5 starter come Opening Day. Philly loves his arm. He certainly showed that life against the Blue Jays. "I get after it," Velasquez said. "You have all offseason to prepare, so I don't see why you should baby it. I've had plenty of bullpen sessions and a lot of [live batting practice sessions]. I've been kind of the same way all the way through, so I'll face myself tomorrow until my next outing and get after it again." Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff and Charlie Morton to be the first four pitchers in his rotation. Mackanin got a look at two more No. 5 candidates Wednesday in David Buchanan and Brett Oberholtzer. Buchanan allowed one hit and struck out one in two scoreless innings. Oberholtzer, who the Phillies also acquired in the Giles deal, allowed one walk and struck out two in two scoreless innings. Oberholtzer is out of options, so he figures to make either the rotation or bullpen. Buchanan has plenty to prove this spring. He went 2-9 with a 6.99 ERA in 15 starts last season with the Phillies. He said he battled himself mentally last year, beating himself up and focusing on the wrong things. "I refused to let that happen again," Buchanan said. It is why he connected with Jim Brogan, who has been a performance specialist for Cole Hamels for years. Brogan is from Philadelphia, but he has worked near San Diego for some time. He works with people about improving their focus, concentration and gaining that mental edge, whether it is in sports, business, etc. Buchanan met Brogan at a baseball camp run by Hamels in Philadelphia in the offseason. Buchanan and Brogan have been working together a little more than a month, speaking on the phone two to three times a week. Buchanan also just finished "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. "Right now, I'm mentally solid," Buchanan said. "I'm very positive. I'm very confident in what I have to bring to the table, so I'm excited for the competition. It makes it fun. It's nice to come in here and have something to work for, having something to compete for." But Buchanan and everybody else know in the end that the results matter most. Velasquez, Oberholtzer, Buchanan, Adam Morgan and others will have to pitch well to earn consideration as Opening Day nears. "I don't know what's in his mind," Mackanin said about Buchanan. "All I care about is if he commands the ball, whether he's got his mental coach or not, I don't care. This is the last stop. You've got to do it, or you're not going to be here. So whatever it takes to stay here is all I care about."

Looking Into The Future – The top of the Phillies' lineup Wednesday could have been a peek into the future. Opening Day 2018, maybe? Who knows? Maybe even earlier. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin had Roman Quinn, J.P. Crawford and Maikel Franco hit in the top three spots in a 4-4 tie with the Blue Jays in a Grapefruit League game at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Quinn and Crawford are two of the Top 100 Prospects in baseball, according to, and Franco's rookie season in 2015 has the Phillies thinking they have a middle-of-the-lineup hitter on their hands. "It's a good-looking combo right there," Mackanin said. Quinn went 1-for-3 with a stolen base, Crawford went 0-for-3 with a walk and Franco went 1-for-3. They opened the afternoon facing Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. "Facing Dickey," Quinn said, "that was a cool experience, man. I really enjoyed it." "That's really the first time I've seen J.P. make a play," Mackanin said. "I like what I saw. Great actions, accurate arm." Crawford said when he saw the lineup, he could not help but think about the group being in the big leagues together in the future. "I think about it all the time," Crawford said. It remains to be seen if and when that will happen. Both Quinn and Crawford are expected to open the season in the Minor Leagues, either in Double-A Reading or Triple-A Lehigh Valley. From there, their play will dictate their big league arrival. But on Wednesday, they at least got to get on the field together. It was the first time Quinn said he had faced a knuckleballer, much less a former Cy Young Award winner like Dickey. Crawford said he faced a couple last season. Mackanin said he did not consider it particularly cruel to start a couple prospects against a knuckleballer. "I want to see them," Mackanin said. "I don't care who's pitching. I'd rather have those two guys facing them than our guys -- that could set you back a little bit. But I wanted to get them at-bats as early as possible in the camp because they're probably not going to go with us, and we need to get them at-bats if and when they go down."

Breaking Down The Prospects – The time had come to rebuild and restock. The glory years of 2008-2010, when the Phillies played in two World Series -- winning one -- and a National League Championship Series, seem like a very long time ago. Perhaps they held on to some core veterans from those years a bit too long, but the Phillies did finally realize it was time to hit the reset button. And they've done so in a big way, this time trading away some players at the height of their value and getting excellent value in return. In total, trades since last July's non-waiver Trade Deadline brought in 11 new members of the team's 2016 Top 30 Prospects list. Five of the new acquisitions are in the overall Top 100, completely re-making the top of the organizational list. More good news: Nearly all of these new prospects -- 10 out of 11 -- should be ready to help out in Philly in the next two seasons, so the return on investment might start coming in soon. The biggest trade, of course, came back on last July 31, when Cole Hamels (and Jake Diekman) went to the Rangers for six players, four of whom are in Top 30 (three in the top six). New general manager Matt Klentak added to the prospect coffers by dealing Ken Giles to the Astros in December and getting two Top 30 guys in addition to some other young arms. All of these changes have greatly altered the outlook of the Phillies' farm system. The trades, along with interesting talent developing in the lower levels, thanks largely to strong efforts internationally as well as the one constant -- No. 1 prospect J.P. Crawford -- are the reasons why the Phillies are ranked No. 7 on's rankings of the Top 10 farm systems in baseball. And they'll be able to add more, holding the No. 1 pick in the 2016 Draft, a year after the 2015 Draft yielded two players in the top half of the team's Top 30. Biggest jump/fall: Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2015 preseason list to the 2016 preseason list. Jump: Malquin Canelo (2015: NR | 2016: 12); Fall: Tom Windle (2015: 6 | 2016: NR). Best tools: Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Hit: Crawford (60); Power: Jorge Alfaro (60); Run: Roman Quinn (80); Arm: Alfaro (70); Defense: Crawford (65); Fastball: Jimmy Cordero (80); Curveball: Franklyn Kilome (50); Slider: Jake Thompson (60); Changeup: Ricardo Pinto (60); Control: Thomas Eshelman (70). How they were built: Draft: 8; International: 9; Trade: 11; Rule 5: 1; Free agent: 1. Breakdown by ETA: 2016: 11; 2017: 5; 2018: 10; 2019: 3; 2020: 1. Breakdown by position: C: 3; 1B: 1; 2B: 2; SS: 2; OF: 9; RHP: 12; LHP: 1.

Brown Trying To Rebound North Of The Border – Domonic Brown is in a new uniform with a new number that looks more at home on the back of a first-time Spring Training participant than somebody who made the 2013 National League All-Star team. But Brown had little choice after the Phillies cut ties with him in October. He could not land a Major League contract in the offseason, so he instead signed a Minor League contract with the Blue Jays late last month. He was in the Blue Jays' lineup batting sixth and playing right field in Wednesday's Grapefruit League game vs. the Phillies at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. "A little different," Brown said about his new surroundings, "but definitely it's been great." Brown is wearing No. 81 this spring, the result of signing so late. He hopes to eventually change that number, which would happen if he makes the Opening Day roster. He has a real shot to be the Blue Jays' fourth or fifth outfielder. But if everything had gone according to plan, Brown still would be with the Phillies, hitting in the middle of the lineup. A former top prospect, Brown appeared to be fulfilling his hype in 2013 when he hit .285 with 21 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .907 OPS in 300 plate appearances from April 27 through the All-Star break. But Brown hit .239 with 19 home runs, 104 RBIs and a .650 OPS in 803 plate appearances following the 2013 All-Star break through the end of '15. Brown's OPS in that span ranked 250th out of 336 qualified hitters in baseball and 117th out of 132 qualified outfielders. "Philly did me great," Brown said. "They did a great job. A lot of great memories. A lot of great times. It's just time for a fresh start." Brown said he has no regrets about his time in Philadelphia. "Not at all," he said. "I put everything on myself. Accountability for me has always been big. That's why I didn't have any bad times with the fans. It was all on me, you know what I mean?"

Today In Phils History - In 1911, the Phillies Bert Humphries collapsed (one of several players affected) due to a gas leak coming from a stove used to heat a dressing room at Rickwood Park in Birmingham, Alabama where the Phillies were holding spring training. 4 years later, the Phillies held their first spring training in Florida when they opened camp in St. Petersburg. Birthdays for today include Emil Gross (1858), John Kelly (1859), Bobby Locke (1934), and Bobby Munoz (1968).

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 0-1-1 record (1-1-1 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!

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