Phillies Pharm Report


One of the things that should be beginning to become apparent even to the national evaluators who have not ranked the Phillies minor league system very highly in recent years is that a turnaround has begun. The talent is getting better, measurably, observably better.

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The four affiliates whose seasons are underway have a combined 72-85 record through games of Tuesday, May 19th. While that’s not great, it’s worlds better than the 2014 cumulative performance. Winning is important. Not only is it a reflection of talent, but it also builds a base for the players that they can carry into the big leagues. An expectation to win, a taste for it, a need for it.

The Phillies have a presence in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in Florida, as well as in both the Venezuelan Summer League and the Dominican Summer League. The players at those levels are so far away developmentally that it will be rare that we focus on them here at TBOH.

We will be focusing on those four “full season” teams at AAA Lehigh Valley, AA Reading, High-A Clearwater, and A-level Lakewood, as well as the short season Low-A Williamsport club. In 2014, those five affiliates combined to finish 103 games below the .500 mark. As you can see, the talent is already showing in the Win column in 2015.

The big news over the past week has been the promotion of the system’s #3 prospect, 3rd baseman Maikel Franco, to the big league club. Franco was tearing up the AAA International League at the time of his promotion. He finished up with a .355/.384/.539 slash line, with 4 homers, 12 doubles, and 24 RBI. His defense has also been stellar at the hot corner, and it is expected that Franco is now to begin a long run as the Phillies starter at the position.

Let’s take a look around the minor leagues, at how the teams are performing, and who the top performing players are at each level of the Phillies system.

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs have been the least successful of the Phils’ affiliates thus far this season, and with Franco now promoted, the struggles are likely to become more difficult. The club stands at 15-26 following a 2-1 win on Wednesday night at Syracuse. That mark puts them in 6th and last place in the IL North Division, 8 games off the pace.

With Franco gone, the hitters of prime interest to Phillies fans are undoubtedly the rehabbing Domonic Brown, and the new position-learning Cody Asche. Brown has a .272/.313/.328 slash line with 16 RBI, and he has yet to homer in 125 AAA at-bats. Asche has 2 homers and 10 RBI in  his first 36 AB’s since being demoted to learn left field.

On the mound out in the Lehigh Valley, perhaps the most interesting development has been the sudden improvement shown by perennially disappointing Phillippe Aumont. In 9 games, including 5 starts, Aumont has a miniscule 1.38 ERA. He has allowed just 27 hits in 39 innings with a 32-16 K:BB ratio. That’s still too many walks, but especially in a starting role, Aumont has shown that he may still factor into the Phillies future plans.

Where the club’s AAA affiliate has been disappointing in the standings, the AA Reading Fightin’ Phils have been competitive. The club is now 20-18 following a 4-0 victory today. This result leaves them in 3rd place in the Eastern Division of the Eastern League, 7 games back of 1st, but just 1 1/2 games back of 2nd place.

The Fightins are led by a starting pitching rotation that features the system’s most talented arms. That 4-0 win today came courtesy of the organization’s #2 overall prospect, righthander Aaron Nola, who is now 6-2 with a 1.54 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. He has a 39-6 K:BB ratio across 52.2 innings over which he has allowed just 37 hits.

Zach Eflin is 3-3 with a 2.74 ERA,  a 1.03 WHIP, and just 35 hits allowed across 42.2 innings. Ben Lively is 3-1 with a 3.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and a 33-12 K:BB ratio, allowing just 39 hits. Local product Jesse Biddle has a 3-1 mark, with a 4.84 ERA. He has allowed 39 hits in 35.1 innings, with a 30-17 K:BB ratio. Lefty Tom Windle, acquired along with Eflin in the Jimmy Rollins trade this past winter, has struggled. He may be headed towards a future LOOGY roll in order to reach the big leagues.

The Clearwater Threshers had won 4 of their last 5 before dropping an 8-4 decision today at Brevard County. The defeat leaves them with a 19-21 record, good for 4th place in the North Division of the Florida State League. After finishing 40 games below .500 a year ago, this 2015 season marks a strong turnaround.

The greatest interest with the Threshers to this point has been the presence of the organization’s #1 prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford. He began the season on the DL, and has seen just 49 at-bats thus far. He has an excellent .367/.475/.429 slash line with 8 RBI and 9 runs scored. Crawford’s Days in Clearwater are numbered, as he should see a promotion to Reading before long.

The Threshers have gotten a strong season thus far from 21-year old outfielder Andrew Pullin, who is hitting .291 with team highs of 3 homers and 22 RBI. Catcher Willians Astudillo has also been strong, with the 23-year old backstop sporting a .307 average with 17 RBI. He is also 2nd on the club with 8 doubles.

On the mound, Brandon Liebrandt has a 4-2 record with a 2.38 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, allowing just 36 hits in 53 innings, with a 47-10 K:BB ratio. Mark Leiter Jr, son of the former big leaguer, has a 2-0 record with a Save. He has pitched in 9 games, with 3 of those as starts, and has a 1.60 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. Leiter has allowed just 22 hits in 33.2 innings, with a 38-9 K:BB ratio.

The New Jersey-based ‘A’ level club, the Lakewood BlueClaws, are yet another Phils’ minor league affiliate just under the .500 mark, sitting at 18-20 after a 6-5 win today at Delmarva. This leaves the club in 5th among 7 teams in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League, just 3 1/2 games out of 2nd place.

The BlueClaws offense has been led by a pair of big-hitting performances. 19-year old centerfielder Carlos Tocci is hitting .358 with 10 steals, 22 runs scored, and 18 RBI. 22-year old 1st baseman Rhys Hoskins is hitting .310 with a team-high 5 homers and 26 RBI.

On the mound, 21-year old righty Ricardo Pinto is 3-1 with a 3.07 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, allowing 38 hits in 44 innings with a 42-11 K:BB ratio. 23-year old closer Matt Hockenberry has 6 Saves, with a 0.56 ERA and 0.69 WHIP. In his 16 innings across 10 games he has allowed just 7 hits, and has a 14-4 K:BB ratio.

The season won’t get underway in Williamsport, PA until June 20th. The club will be managed by former big league catcher Pat Borders. The Phillies 2012 Supplemental 1st round draft pick, 21-year old pitcher Mitch Gueller, will be of particular interest to the club’s fans.

As the season develops for the Crosscutters, we’ll cover their results, as well as any players who emerge to lead the club.

The season will last right through Monday night, September 7th, with home games played out of Susquehanna Bank Park at Historic Bowman Field. It is the 2nd oldest minor league park currently operating in the United States.

The team competes in the Pinckney Division of the New York-Penn League, and has been a Phillies affiliate since the 2007 season.