Phillies Prospect Update

Mar 13, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Nick Williams (79) hits a RBI doubles during the second inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 13, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Nick Williams (79) hits a RBI doubles during the second inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Phillies have one of the top minor league systems in baseball, and a number of the top prospects are off to strong starts.

After a surprisingly strong start to the season, the Phillies are five games over .500 at 16-11. Both the starting pitchers and bullpen have been incredible to carry the ball club at this point.

But there are still 135 games left to play. If the Phillies want to sustain this level, they are going to need stronger offensive contributions and some increased pitching depth in the pen.

Let’s take a look at some of the top prospects with AA Reading and AAA Lehigh Valley who could get the call to help the Phils make things even more interesting as this season moves along.

First up is the very top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford. The 21-year old is back at Reading this year and is off to a solid start.  He is currently hitting for a .277/.417/.398 slash line with two homers, four doubles, six RBI, 17 runs, and four stolen bases.  He also has worked 20 walks to just 16 strikeouts in 22 games played.

While the numbers aren’t overly flashy, they are impressive for a player as young as Crawford in the Eastern League. He continues to show a good eye at the plate as evidenced by his strikeout to walk ratio.

Crawford is likely to get a call-up to Triple A at some point, and could even see the Majors later this season, perhaps in September, ala Maikel Franco back in 2014. But there is no need to rush his development. The sky is the limit for this youngster.

The former #1 overall MLB Amateur Draft pick while with the Houston Astros, Mark Appel is off to a strong start at AAA Lehigh Valley this season. One of the headliners of the Ken Giles trade, Appel is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA with a 17/9 K:BB ratio in 22 innings pitched to start the season.

If Appel continues to put up strong numbers in his next few starts, he may find himself at the top of the list for a big league promotion, should the need for a Phillies starter arise. After struggling with the Astros, it’s nice to see Appel off to a great start in his first few outings in the Phillies organization.

Jake Thompson, who was acquired by the Phillies from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade, is struggling to start the season at Lehigh Valley. Thompson is 1-3 with a 5.19 ERA, and has a 22/9 K:BB ratio in 26 innings pitched.

Thompson is only 22 years old at the highest level of the minors. He has plenty of time to make some adjustments and hopefully turn his season around. In his most recent start last night, Thompson went seven strong innings over which he allowed just two hits, a great sign.

Nick Williams, also acquired by the Phillies in the Hamels trade, is off to a solid start at Lehigh Valley. The 22-year old provided dramatics with a walkoff homer last night, and is batting .289 with two homers, 12 RBI, and 10 runs scored over 83 plate appearances. If he keeps this up, expect Williams to receive a call, perhaps the first position player who is a legitimate long-term prospect to get a promotion to Philly.

A third player from the Hamels deal, catcher Jorge Alfaro, was off to a scorching hot start to the season before getting sidelined by an oblique injury a couple of weeks back. Alfaro was hitting .500 with a homer, 10 RBI, and 4 doubles at AA Reading before being placed on the DL.

Oblique injuries can be very tricky, and the comeback can be especially tough for a catcher. Expect Alfaro to be out through May, but this is not a long-term situation. Hopefully he will continue to put up monster numbers after his stint on the disabled list. It would not be a surprise if he received a promotion to Lehigh Valley later this year.

The Phillies other top catching prospect, Andrew Knapp, last year’s Paul Owens Award winner as the top performing position player prospect in the system, is off to a productive start this season.

Knapp is batting .250, but has three homers, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored over 17 games at Lehigh Valley. While Knapp’s bat has never been in question, his defense needs some polishing before he gets a call to the show. There is a very real chance that the Phils could deal Carlos Ruiz later this summer, and that could be the key to a Knapp promotion.

Speedy outfielder Roman Quinn is off to an okay start at AA Reading. Quinn is batting .253 and highlighting his speed with 10 stolen bases, 15 runs scored, and three triples in 108 plate appearances. The most disappointing number in Quinn’s stat line are the 24 strikeouts. The 22-year old will need to work on his plate discipline before he is ready to move to Lehigh Valley.

Pitcher Zach Eflin, who the Phillies acquired in the Jimmy Rollins trade, is off to a strong start at Lehigh Valley. Eflin is 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in 26.1 innings to start the year. He has a fantastic 22/3 K:BB ratio and has allowed just 17 hits to this point. If he keeps it up, it won’t be long until he receives the call to the show.

Another arm faring well in the early weeks is Ben Lively, received in trade from the Cincinnati Reds in trade for Marlon Byrd. Lively has already earned Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honors at AA Reading, and was just named by Baseball America to their All-Prospect Team for the month of April. Lively has a 3-0 record with a 1.55 ERA, and a 30/6 K:BB ratio over 29 innings.

Like Bryce Harper’s hat says, the Fightins are making baseball fun again this season. It remains to be seen if they will be able to keep up this pace for the next five or six months, but we’ll have a ball watching them try. Things will be even more exciting if some of these promising youngsters receive a call to help the Phillies keep up the pace.

Next: Rounding the Bases in MLB