Phillies fans may not have the highest expectations heading into the 2014 MLB season. However, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing Phillies-related to get excited about!
The development of Phillies prospects at all minor league levels will be fun to watch, and offers hope for the future of the team.
If you’ve always meant to start following the minor leagues more closely, this is the perfect year – there are prospects to take note of at all levels of the system.
This article can act as either a refresher or a guide, depending on how much you’ve followed the system in the past. Below are ten of the most interesting Phillies prospect story lines entering the 2014 minor league season.
Prospects “Knocking on the Door”
I’ll get the obvious out of the way first. Jesse Biddle and Maikel Franco are the immediate main attractions of the system, heading into 2014. Adam Morgan would be in this list, but after his surgery will be sidelined until at least August.
Each has their own critics to answer. Biddle needs to prove his second-half struggles (specifically a loss of control) in 2013 were nothing more than a by-product of injury and illness.
While his strikeouts stayed stellar throughout the year (10.0 SO/9), his walk rate went from mediocre (4.29 BB/9 through May 21) to worse (5.8 BB/9) the rest of the year.
Maikel Franco, top position player in the system, needs to answer questions about holes in his swing, and needs to prove he can handle higher level pitching.
As he moved up the system last season (and into Winter ball), his contact became an issue as well, as he hits too many weak ground balls that wouldn’t fall for hits in stronger defensive levels.
He’ll need to show that he can transition his out of this world numbers from last year into production on the major league (but first, triple-A) level.
That’s not to say he hasn’t earned the top prospect pedigree. He’s batted .331/.372/.560, that’s a .932 OPS, with 38 HR and 53 doubles since July 2012.
You can’t argue with those results – let’s just hope he keeps it up.
Both will begin the season in triple-A Lehigh Valley, but with consistent performances could be in the majors by September.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez
The second-most glaring “prospect” storyline (he qualifies, because he has rookie eligibility; you’ll see him listed on most prospect lists) is Cuban question mark, 26 year old Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.
Scouting reports suggest he could end up anywhere from middle-inning reliever to number 3 starter, and looks to require little, if any, minor league development.
He has yet to throw a bullpen session for the Phillies, which is a little bit scary, so his progress in Spring Training will be a priority.
If he can show his value as a starter, he’ll easily become one of the biggest bargains of the past year.
21-year old RHP Severino Gonzalez is to me what a lot of prospect evaluators call a “cheese-ball” pick – despite low expectations of scouting reports, you can’t help but be excited about the numbers you see.
He won the Paul Owens‘ Award in 2013, given annually to the organization’s best pitcher.
He earned it, too – in 103.2 IP, he accumulated a 2.00 ERA, with 10.3 SO/9, 1.9 BB/9, and a 1.023 WHIP. He was outstanding.
The problem with him is largely his below average fastball, that in starts sits in the high 80’s.
That’s no good, and that will be exposed as he hits double-A this season, and higher levels in the future.
In all likelihood, his real future is in the bullpen, where his fastball can top out as high as 94. Combined with that impeccable control, he could end up being a valuable late inning reliever.
Seeing his adjustment to tougher competition in 2014 will be something to watch.
The Double-A Reading Outfield
The last couple seasons, there’s been a set outfield progressing together through the farm system. OF Cameron Perkins, CF Aaron Altherr, and OF Kelly Dugan all converge again in 2014 – this time at double-A Reading.
All three had the best seasons of their short careers in 2013, with Dugan particularly standing out early in the season (he was promoted mid-season to Reading, but due to high strikeout counts and a low OBP, he’ll probably be back in 2014).
Altherr, with solid defense in CF and a dual speed/power threat, is one of the more intriguing prospects to follow in 2014.
He had a .792 OPS, with 11 HR and 23 SBs, but if his frame fills out as is expected, may lose some of that defensive value and speed while adding power.
For a system without any high profile OF talent (outside of MLB-level Domonic Brown), the development of at least one of these three 23-year olds would alleviate a lot of pressure at the major league level.
As Dugan and Altherr were both added to the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 draft, they will both receive looks in February/March, but realistically neither has much of a chance to make the team out of Spring Training.
The “Those Guys are Still That Young? Really?” Prospects
OF Zach Collier, C Sebastian Valle, and RHP Brody Colvin have a fair bit in common. They’re all former Baseball America Top 10 Phillies’ Prospects (Collier in 2009, Colvin 2011-2012, and Valle 2010-2012), who have been relative disappointments given their toolset/scouting reports.
Here’s the rub, though – all three are only entering their age 23 season in 2014. They’re the same age as the above mentioned Reading outfielders.
Yes, they’ve all had at least 5 years in the system, and are long gone off of prospect rankings, but they do still have time left to right the ship.
He has long been seen as a “lottery-pick” talent, as his professional results have never lived up to his potential.
In 2013, he at least showed progress with his defense, and demonstrated both speed and some power (17 SB, 8 HR).
His averages, however, are no where near where they should be, batting .222/.310/.348 in 123 games.
Another season in Reading would probably suit him, but given the log-jam at Reading (see above), it’s unclear which of the four outfielders will end up at a different level.
Starting pitcher Colvin is a former Baseball America Top 100 prospect. At his best, he’s a starter with a mid-90’s fastball and two above-average secondary pitches.
The last couple seasons, his already shaky control fell apart, and after missing parts of April and May with a groin injury, in 2013 he pitched to a 6.40 ERA, with his 6.3 BB/9 outpacing his 4.4 SO/9.
Valle, recently out-righted off of the 40-man roster, played through a fractured finger in the beginning of 2013, on his way to a disappointing .203/.245/.359 line at Reading.
He’ll probably remain there in 2014. His bat hasn’t come around as hoped, but he has displayed power in the last two seasons.
I’m not predicting a reawakening of prospect status, but the above three are nothing if not mountains of untapped potential.
There isn’t any level of serious prospect depth in starting pitching, catching, or the outfield, so a renaissance of one of these guys would be huge.
He may not have shown a ton in 2013, but make no mistake – CF Carlos Tocci is one of the most exciting prospects in the entire system.
The Phillies signed the Tocci out of Venezuela in 2011, and the following season (at only age 16) was named the #6 prospect in the GCL by Baseball America after batting .278/.330/.299 in 97 ABs.
Still only 17 in 2013, Tocci held his own after an aggressive promotion to Low-A Lakewood, batting .209/.261/.249 over 118 games against mostly 20+ year old competition.
That doesn’t sound very impressive, but he batted over .200 with plus-plus speed and near-elite CF defense during what is tantamount to his junior year of high school. That’s pretty good.
His hit tool looks to develop as he adds muscle to his 6’2″, 160 lb. frame (as will, obviously, his power). He’s yet to hit a professional home run, but that should change during his age 18 season, which he’ll probably spend back in Lakewood.
Ken Giles regularly hits radar guns at 100 mph.
Are you listening yet?
The problem is, however, fixing those radar guns – he’s liable to actually hit them*.
He’s a flame-throwing RHP who gained a lot of notoriety pitching in the Arizona Fall League this season.
A pure reliever for almost all of his professional career, while no one doubts Giles’ career 12.2 SO/9, the issue is with his career 5.8 BB/9.
Despite his walk rate, he had a pretty good 2012, reaching 111 SOs in only 82 IP, to a 3.51 ERA. He struggled more in 2013, earning a 6.31 ERA in 25.2 IP.
Phillies management has invited him to Spring Training, so undoubtedly he’ll earn even more press after more local reporters see his 100 mph fastball in Clearwater.
After Spring Training, however, he’ll likely take the logical next step after last season and become the closer at double-A Reading.
Separating Out the 2013 Draft Class
The Phillies’ 2013 First Year Draft class received a positive reaction from most observers. Headlined by SS J.P. Crawford (the team’s first true first-round pick in years), picks focused heavily on position players in the early rounds, with a lot of the later round signees being pitchers.
Crawford thrived quickly in the rookie level Gulf Coast League, batting .345/.443/.465 in 142 ABs before a quick promotion to Low-A Lakewood to end the season. He should return there to begin 2014.
Other high picks, C Andrew Knapp, SS Jan Hernandez and OF Cord Sandberg, showed promise, but not results to the same degree as Crawford. Additionally, Knapp had off-season Tommy John Surgery and will miss the start of the season.
Several later draft picks also impressed quickly after the draft.
30th round CF Venn Biter held his own with a .735 OPS in a short sample size, 22nd round college RHP Mark Leiter Jr performed well in 45 IP across three levels, and 32nd round pick Tyler Viza really stood out with a 1.41 ERA, and a sub-1 WHIP in 32 IP (which included 6 starts).
Full Season Debuts
Outside of the aforementioned Crawford, who could be considered for this section as well (he only played the last two weeks of 2013 in Lakewood), there are a few prospects who performed well in short-season-A Williamsport, looking to transition into full season ball for the first time.
Most noteworthy are OF Dylan Cozens, and 3B Zach Green. Both 19 last season, they earned .812 and .822 OPS’s, respectively. Cozens is typically rated higher because of his plus-plus potential power, but a possible move to 1B in the coming years would limit his prospect value.
Green broke the Williamsport record with 13 HR in only 47 games last season, but also was second the New York Penn League in strikeouts, with 91.
Neither hits for high average as of now, but both have shown to be potential impact power bats in the future.
Another prospect potentially moving to full-season ball in 2014 is RHP Drew Anderson, who kept down walks AND runs en route to earning a sparkling 2.00 ERA in 15 starts this past season.
Dominican import OF Samuel Hiciano is also poised to move forward after achieving a .797 OPS in Williamsport. Both are also entering their age 20 seasons.
After suffering a debilitating concussion in 2013, C Tommy Joseph’s game didn’t recover. He missed most of the season, and team officials even discussed moving him to first base, which would have drained him of almost all prospect value.
Flash back to the preseason, Joseph impressed in Spring Training, and seemed primed to be anointed as catcher of the future.
He was the prize of the trade sending Hunter Pence to the Giants, and was one of the top organizational prospects of 2013.
Flash forward to this off-season, and it finally seems as if Joseph has fully recovered from the concussion issues of last season.
He played some winter ball in the Dominican Republic (at catcher), and was added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 deadline.
* I apologize for the absolutely tragic, horrifying nature of my joke – couldn’t resist. I probably owe Ken Giles, the Phillies organization, and anyone reading this article my sincerest apologies.
Tags: Aaron Altherr Andrew Knapp Brody Colvin Cameron Perkins Carlos Tocci Cord Sandberg Drew Anderson Jan Hernandez Jesse Biddle Jp Crawford Kelly Dugan Ken Giles Maikel Franco Mark Leiter Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez Minor League Philadelphia Phillies Samuel Hiciano Sebastian Valle Severino Gonzalez Tommy Joseph Tyler Viza Venn Biter Zach Collier