Saturday, July 23, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview with Reading manager Dusty Wathan

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Dusty Wathan, image- Jay Floyd


Recently I sat down with the manager of the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils. During the chat, Wathan, who is primed to walk away from this week with Reading's all-time managerial wins record, spoke about his team's power hitting duo, veteran Jake Fox, starting pitcher Nick Pivetta, the wins record and more. Read ahead for that interview.

-Last week you got to go along with six of your players to the Eastern League All-Star Game in Akron. What can you share about that?

It was a tremendous group of guys. We had a lot of fun. They represented themselves well. It was just a fun time and to have those guys on the field at one time, it’s special to be able to be the manager for that.

-Many fans are having a blast online and otherwise watching the power duo of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens slugging it out for the minor league lead in homers. There's excitement each night following them, seeing what each guy did. Is it as fun for you guys as coaches to watch what they're doing?

Well, yeah. I think, you know, when you work closely with these guys, anytime any of these players have success you take a lot of pride in it and you’re very happy for them because you see all the work that goes on behind the scenes. The fans don’t get the opportunity to see that. You know, they see the finished product, they see the game, but they don’t see these guys in cage at 1 o’clock in the afternoon and the conditioning and all the other things that go along with success.

-Jake Fox is a veteran on this club with big league experience. Players will often tell me that he's the type of guy that helps them and is great to learn from, somewhat supplementing the coaching staff. What are your thoughts on Jake?

Jake’s been tremendous. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him and then some. He’s been a leader on and off the field. He’s done everything that a guy in his situation should do and will do and that’s what we expected of him and that’s why we signed him this winter and gave him an opportunity to play. I can’t say enough about him. If he wants to, I think some day when his days as a player are done, he’s going to have a lot of opportunities to coach. 

-With another win, you'll set the Reading wins record by a manager at 351. I know you're not too fond of talking about your own accomplishments, but what are your feelings on being able to reach that mark?

I mean, if you’re somewhere long enough, you’re probably going to break a record. I’ve been here five years now, so I’ve been lucky to have a lot of good players and the organization’s, especially over the last couple years, the scouting department and the player development department, getting these guys prepared to come to this level and they’ve put up a lot of wins.

-Would you trade all of that for this team to win the EL championship this season?

Aw, yeah! Obviously, that’s the ultimate goal every year when you start is to move guys up and get them to the next level and win with the guys that started a level or two behind you and I think we’ve done a good job with that. Especially on the pitching side, we’ve had a lot of guys that are in our rotation that weren’t here at the beginning of the year and the same thing with the bullpen. We’ve got some guys mixed in on the field also, so that’s what it’s all about is winning and it’s a big part of development. Right now it’s a lot of fun.

-Nick Pivetta,one of your team's All-Stars, has been excellent, going 8-2 with a 3.04 ERA in 13 starts for this club since April. He may be a bit of a sleeper prospect with so much attention going to many other guys in this organization. What are your thoughts on Nick and what he's been able to accomplish for this team?

Nick’s come a long way since the first time I saw him last year since he got here. He’s gone through a lot of changes with his mechanics. He’s done a lot changes with his mentality with how he pitches. He’s matured a lot. He’s got a ways to go in a lot of different categories, but he’s on the right track and he’s going in the right direction, so it’s fun to see the progression he’s had since we first got him and I think he’s enjoying his time here and he needs to continue doing what he’s doing, but it’s an exciting time for him and I would say that he’s not much of a sleeper prospect. I would say he is a prospect. 

-New addition Osmel Aguila joined the club with a vacancy to fill after Roman Quinn went on the disabled list. Have you been impressed with his contributions?

He’s a guy that we just signed prior to the season out of Cuba and never played in the United States before. You know, he’s trying to get his feet wet here, with the language, the culture and all that. He’s done a nice job filling in. We needed a guy to kind of fill in at center field and luckily we had him in the organization ready to go and he finally got all his paperwork and got over here and I think it was tough for him at first, but I think he’s doing well.

-Another guy that joined this team during the season is outfielder Andrew Pullin. He's been a contributor to the already potent lineup.

Yeah, he’s a tremendous hitter. If you’re able to hit a fastball, you’re gonna be able to hit at a lot of levels and Andrew can definitely hit a fastball. He stepped right in. We put him in a pretty good spot to hit in front of some pretty good hitters, to give him an opportunity to get some fastballs and he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity.

For more from Wathan on catching prospect and EL All-Star Jorge Alfaro, click this link to read my recent feature on the Colombian backstop.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Phillies fans will love catching prospect Alfaro's warlike mentality



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Jorge Alfaro, image- Jay Floyd
For Phillies catching prospect Jorge Alfaro, his skills on the field are what have earned him consideration as one of the team's most promising prospects, but his killer instinct and aggressive style of play are what fans will come to find as the most endearing things about him.

When he went 3-for-3 in last week's Eastern League All-Star Game, the 23-year-old Colombian did so with a unique approach. While many players on the diamond that night were going through the motions or taking it easy, Alfaro tackled the exhibition contest with a different approach. He looked at that game with the same mentality that he goes about during the season.

To Alfaro, if a game is on the schedule, it's meant to be won.

"It's another game and I know it's an All-Star Game, but I didn't try to do too much, I just tried to calm down a little bit and play like it's any other game, like I have to win," Alfaro said. "I never like to lose, so I just try to win all the time and if (a 3-for-3 game) comes with that, then I'll take it."

Despite missing three weeks of action earlier this season with an oblique strain, the right-handed batter ranks 20th in the EL with 132 total bases and sits 8th in the league with a .296 batting average while he has slammed 11 home runs and driven in 48 runs in 66 games.

Behind the dish, the backstop sports a superior ability to defend against base stealers, gunning down runners at a 43% rate.

According to Alfaro's manager with Double-A Reading, former catcher Dusty Wathan, Alfaro has improved greatly in just a few months under his watch this year.
"He’s come a long way since the first time I saw him in spring training," Wathan stated. "I didn’t get to see him last year. And he’s worked very hard at what he’s doing and he’s getting better every day.
"I think he’s (near) the top of the league in hitting, he’s at the top of the league in throwing percentage, he’s received well this year. He’s gotten better at that. His balance has gotten better. Definitely, I mean he’s at a valuable position and he’s doing a good job at it."
Alfaro was, of course, one of the key prospects the Phils obtained when they sent ace pitcher Cole Hamels to Texas last summer. He was originally signed as an amateur free agent in 2010 at the age of 16.
This season, Alfaro, who sports a .767 career OPS in the minors, has helped the Fightin Phils to a 66-31 record, which is best in all of professional baseball.
At the time he was acquired by the Phillies, Alfaro was on the disabled list after undergoing ankle surgery and he later missed time in the Florida Instructional League, a month-long off-season exhibition league, with a hamstring strain.

Considering the handful of injuries he's dealt with over the past year paired with his all-out style of play, some may wonder if Alfaro should take his foot off the gas, so to speak, on the playing field. The six-foot-two 225-pounder can't fathom playing the game he loves any differently.

"I mean I never think about that. I just go out there and play hard. I never think about getting hurt," Alfaro asserted with a stern expression. "I'm never going to stop playing how I play. I just go out there and it's like a mission, you know? Like a war. I go out there and try to win all the time and I mean that's the way I play and I think I'm never going to change that."

Once Alfaro gets the chance to go to battle for the city of Philadelphia and continues those winning ways, no one there will ever want him to change.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood pitching coach Brian Sweeney talks prospects


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Brian Sweeney, image- Jay Floyd
Last week I sat down with Lakewood pitching coach Brian Sweeney to chat about his Class A BlueClaws pitching staff. He talked about the progress of his hurlers, the improvements made by rising prospect Franklyn Kilome, Alberto Tirado changing roles and levels this season and plenty more. Read ahead for that full interview...

-The starting rotation has had some good success lately. What are your thoughts on that?

We’re on a good little roll right now. Guys are doing things right, attacking the zone with clean deliveries and confidence. They’re fun to watch and I’m glad to see them succeed.



-Is there anyone on the staff you have noticed making the most progress since the season opened?

Everybody’s made improvements and that’s really exciting. At the beginning of the year we had our struggles, so really any step forward was an improvement, but these guys are really embracing the process and I see good things especially from guys in the bullpen. You know, Sutter McLoughlin has stepped up his game, Skylar Hunter (on Saturday) both pitching. Kilome is taking strides. Jose (Taveras) has had those starts, you know the one where he had 15 strike outs and the other day when he went into the 9th inning, so it’s been fantastic. The guys are very coachable and they have promising futures.


-You mentioned Kilome there. He had a rough April and has looked really solid with an exception or two. What has been the biggest difference for him, with turning things around?

Well, he’s got weapons now that he’s using. He’s got a new toy in his curve ball that he’s been able to throw for strikes and he’s got that rocket for an arm. And, you know, with a lightning bolt coming out of there we want to get the thunder. Get the legs working— we get those long arms and legs working together then some good things can happen. And with that will come the consistency. He’s had his growing pains, but he’s worked very hard at getting better.

-Skylar Hunter joined the team late after a drug suspension. Can you comment on him a bit?

You know, Skylar, having him here—he’s starting to pitch some more meaningful innings and he’s starting to learn how to build some outs with his pitches. You know, coming out of college, he didn’t really know how to pitch as a professional. The hitters get a little bit better so he has to learn when to throw his pitches in certain counts and once he started figuring that out, with a clean delivery, he’s been very successful. We’re very happy to have him here. Everybody makes mistakes and he’s learned from them.

-When there are disciplinary concerns for drugs or other legal concerns, in the coaches' opinion, would you say there's a level of disappointment that he let the team down? Are you feeling for the guy? What are the feelings toward that?

There’s a lot of emotions. You know, I feel bad for the guy and I only met him in instructional league and I got to know him as a person and to hear about a mistake that happened, I’m happy that, hopefully, he has learned from it and, you know, that he’s moving forward. And having him here-- it's a thing in the past and we’re moving forward and we’re excited to have him.

-I know some guys have moved in and out of key late inning roles in the bullpen for this BlueClaws team. Is this sharing duties by design rather than having totally defined roles?

Yeah, they’re definitely sharing a lot of duties. I think we have four guys with a save at this point and we’re comfortable putting most of the guys at the end of the bullpen at any moment. It’s good for them, at this level, to experience every situation. Come in if the starter goes down in the second inning, or close out the game, or pitch in a blow out in the middle. They’re going to have to do it all because when they get to the big leagues, most likely, they’re not going to go as the closer right away or as the set up guy. They’re going to have to learn to pitch with a big lead or small lead, so it’s important for them to learn how to pitch in all types of situations.


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Alberto Tirado, image- Jay Floyd
-Tirado began the season in your bullpen, went to Clearwater, then came back as a starter here. What can you share about his season?

He’s had a roller coaster year. It did not start very well at all. He went and made some adjustments, came back here raring to go. I use the words “embrace the process” a lot. He really has! He’s done a fantastic job with his work that we’re doing in the bullpen, mentally, in between games. I couldn’t be happier for the direction he’s going in.

-Do you pay much attention to pitchers at the lower levels at all?

I definitely check the box scores to see what’s going on. I’m not familiar with all the names. I know some of the guys that I worked with last year in the GCL. Adonis Medina’s had an incredible run in Williamsport, you know, doing a good job. I’ve got my hands full here, so I’m just basically worrying about my guys, but the Phillies’ future is promising. They’ve got a lot of good arms.

-Are there any under-the-radar guys on this team that are buzz worthy and deserving of fan interest coming their way?

Well, yeah, I think everybody. There’s a guy that’s been here all year- Zach Morris. He—there was a point where he didn’t give up a run from May 5th or something like that till the end of June. With inherited runners, he wasn’t letting anyone score and he’s just done a fantastic job and he’s probably flown under the radar for where he pitches in the game and things like that. So, there’s a lot of guys to love on this team. Good people, fun to be around and they’re baseball players and that’s what the Phillies are trying to teach them.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Viza remarkable in gem, as Reading keeps rolling

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Tyler Viza, image- Jay Floyd
TRENTON- Tyler Viza wasn't pleased with his initial frame as he kicked off the second half of the season for the team with the best record in baseball. Shaking off a two-run home run with just one out in the contest, he would shut down 23 consecutive opposing batters to help the Reading Fightin Phils notch a 4-2 win over the Trenton Thunder.

Following a lead-off single to Tyler Wade in the 1st inning and a Dustin Fowler line out, third baseman Miguel Andujar launched a change up that was left up in the strike zone deep out to left field, giving Trenton a two-run lead.

For the next 7 2/3 innings, no other member of the Thunder lineup would reach base against Viza. The next 23 Trenton batters were retired in order.

The 21-year-old Viza would go eight innings, recording seven strike outs with no walks. He threw 66 of his 93 pitches for strikes.

"He was mixing his pitches well," pitching coach Steve Schrenk stated. "I thought he pitched inside well tonight and kept their hitters off balance all night. The last couple of starts he's been doing a really nice job for us."

For Viza, who was drafted by the Phillies in the 32nd round in 2013, it was his third win in seven Double-A starts. The Arizona native credited his battery mate, promising prospect Jorge Alfaro, for assisting with executing their game plan after the difficult opening inning.

"Jorge and I were on the same page all night," Viza said. "You know, our main focus was to pitch inside and get ahead early with these guys and try to put them away with my off-speed stuff. Later in the game, they started jumping first pitch fastball, so we kind of slowed it down, started going first pitch curve ball or change up. We went back inside, since they were cheating the fastball and it all worked out in the end."

Viza joined Reading last month after enjoying considerable success in the Florida State League for Class A Advanced Clearwater. In nine starts for the Threshers, he sported a 6-2 record with a 2.54 ERA and a 10.03 K/9 mark.

Reading got their scoring started in the top of the 2nd, when designated hitter Jake Fox slugged a lead-off homer. Then KC Serna plated another run with a single and Andrew Pullin gave Reading a 3-2 lead with a run scoring ground out.

Alfaro got the Fightins an insurance run in the 9th inning with a clutch single that scored Angelo Mora.

Left-hander Hoby Milner would relieve Viza to start the 9th. After giving up a two-out single to Fowler, righty Miguel Nunez would enter the game to record the final out for his 11th save.

The victory took took Reading's record to 64-27 (.703 winning percent) on the season. They'll continue their four-game series at Trenton with a 7PM contest on Friday.

Additional quotes...

Viza on if he would take more away from the positive aspects of this outing, or if he might dwell on the mistake in the first inning: "I mean you can't be too high in this game. You can't be too low. We're definitely going to try to fix those mistakes, like I talked about, so that's definitely one thing and I'm going to have to take the positives out of this game as well and keep moving forward with them."

Viza on playing in the Eastern League: "It's a lot of fun. I mean it's baseball. I'm having fun playing the game that I love. You can't beat it. There's no job like it in the world. I'm definitely taking it one game at a time, one step at a time. I'm still pretty young and I definitely try to learn with every game I pitch."

More from Schrenk speaking about Viza: "He's always been a guy that goes out there and gives us a lot of innings and competes and that's just what he does and he throws a lot of strikes. He keeps us in games and that's what he does. He's done that his whole career."

Bonus! For fun or out of respect, the in-house Trenton Thunder score cards in the press box on Thursday had a very humorous reference to Reading's place in the standings. See the embedded tweet below...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Mujica granted release, other transactions

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Edward Mujica, image- Jay Floyd


The Phillies granted right-handed pitcher Edward Mujica his release on Thursday.

The 32-year-old Venezuelan sported a 0-3 record with a 3.69 ERA and an International League leading 23 saves in 36 outings for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. One day prior to his departure from the team, Mujica notched the save in the IL's 4-2 victory over the Pacific Coast League in Wednesday night's Triple-A All-Star Game.

In spring training with the Phillies this year, Mujica posted a 0-1 record with a 2.16 ERA in seven relief appearances. He struck out seven and walked two in 8 1/3 innings in Grapefruit League action.

Mujica was an All-Star closer for St. Louis in 2013. Having spent parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues, Mujica is a veteran that will surely find employment and very like a roster spot in the majors very soon.

Additionally, the team announced that righty pitcher Severino Gonzalez has been added to the IronPigs' roster following being optioned on the 10th. In 11 big league outings this season, the 23-year-old has a 0-1 record with a 3.38 ERA.

Elsewhere in the minors, left-hander Mario Hollands has been outrighted to Double-A Reading.

Battling back from Tommy John surgery, the 27-year-old has posted a 3.76 ERA with 25 strike outs and seven walks issues in 26 1/3 innings in 19 games at three levels of the minors since his return to action.

Also, righty starter John Richy was moved from Reading to the Class A Advanced Clearwater roster.  And lefty pitcher Adam Morgan was added to the IronPigs roster while left-hander Anthony Vasquez was assigned to Reading.

*UPDATED 1:30pm to include Morgan and Vasquez notes.*

PhoulBallz Interview with IronPigs All-Star Andrew Knapp

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Andrew Knapp, image- Jay Floyd


Phillies catching prospect Andrew Knapp launched a solo home run to help the International League All-Stars down the Pacific Coast League team in the Triple-A All-Star Game by a score of 4-2 on Wednesday in Charlotte.

In 69 games with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs this season, the switch-hitting 24-year-old sports a .264 average with seven homers and 32 RBI.

Recently, I spoke to Knapp about his All-Star nod, learning from veterans, his own progress, the Lehigh Valley staff and plenty more. Read ahead for that full interview.

-With the All-Star honor coming your way, what were your feelings on that? Do you feel a level of accomplishment?

Yeah, it's awesome. It's great to get any acknowledgement. A lot of hard work went in. I really hammered the defensive stuff this year and I've kind of been battling through the offense, you know? Not getting too down on myself early in the year and being able to put together some good at bats. So, it's a real honor.

-In the past, maybe the thing people might critique about you was your defense. Is that what you're still focusing heavily on?

I feel like I'm always trying to get better. We've been trying to make it muscle memory, where you don't have to worry about it, and you can go worry about the game plan stuff. Calling the game and the defensive alignment and all that. So, it's getting to the point where it's starting to be fun and I'm not worrying about it as much, so then I can just focus on the pitcher and getting them in the zone. You know, the receiving and the blocking has been there and the throwing has felt really good. My arm has felt really good, so it's kind of just becoming second nature.

-You spent time with the big league team in spring training. I've always heard from other players that Carlos Ruiz is a huge influence and can help younger guys a lot. Do you feel that's accurate that Chooch can be a great source to learn from?

Yeah, definitely. I talked to Chooch quite a bit in spring, just tried to pick his brain as much as I could. He just has so much experience and knowledge that just talking to him, you gain a lot of stuff that you don't even know about yet. Whether it's on the field or just off the field, scouting report type stuff. You know, looking at what pitchers want to do and stuff like that. That was awesome to get to go to spring (training) and pick his brain.

-How much does Ruiz stand out over other players in the mentor sense?

I think, you know, there aren't many veterans around, so I don't have that much experience being around a lot of big league guys. But when I am around Chooch, he just takes you in like you've been there the whole time and he doesn't "big league" you in any way. He just wants to go out and help and show you what he's learned and share that knowledge. So, it's been awesome to have him around.

-I'm almost surprised the opportunity hasn't come up this year, because it always seems like catchers can get beat up and miss some time, but if the need at the big league level for another catcher comes, would you be ready to take on that level?

Yeah, I think so. I think that's kind of what this year has been about, is just being ready for that call when it happens. I'm trying not to think about it too much. I'd rather spend my time working about being ready for when it does happen rather than worrying about if it's gonna happen or not. So, that's kind of what I've been focusing on this year is just putting my head down, putting in the work and being ready for when the call happens.

-What feedback have you gotten from the coaching staff this year? Is it anything different than previous years?

I mean, not much. It's all good stuff. I think when John Mizerock was here, we worked a lot defensively on and off the field. We worked a lot in the video room watching film and going over scouting reports and that stuff. It's kind of been nice to have control over this pitching staff and having those guys throw to me.

-When you watch film is it footage of you, or the battery mate, or the opposition...?

It'll be me behind the plate, it'll be me hitting, a lot of time it's watching the opposing pitcher and then kind of going back and looking at the game. Looking at how the game went the night before and seeing what we could do differently.

-Jake Thompson has had a lot of success lately. From your side, what has been the key for him to improve since early in the season?

I don't think Jake was pleased with his first month here, but he's been lights-out since. What's he done different is he's commanded the strike zone much better. He's filling it up, he's been throwing all four pitches for strikes instead of feeding the fastball in there and then the off-speed wasn't there. I know he's still battling with the slider. I don't think it's up to Jake's standards, but it's getting there, so you know that's awesome for him. He's been battling through the whole time. He never put his head down or anything, so it's encouraging.

-There are several guys with big league experience that have played on the IronPigs this year. Is there anyone from that group has been able to help you grow and learn?

We've had a lot of guys, especially bullpen guys, that have a lot of big league time. (Edward) Mujica has got close to nine years, I think. So, having a guy like that around, you can kind of look at them and see how they handle situations has been nice. I think when J.P. (Arencibia) was here, it was nice to have him. He was explaining a lot of stuff to me that I haven't even-- I haven't experienced that stuff, so it was good having him here. But, I think this clubhouse is really gelling. We all get along. It's pretty easy to come to the park and play, so it's been a positive for sure.

-Is there anyone on the roster here that has one of those standout, knock out pitches that leaves a heavy impression?

(Edubray) Ramos was lights out. His fastball-slider combination is why he's in the big leagues. I was surprised he lasted this long. I mean everyone in the bullpen has got their own individual stuff. I like catching Mujica because you know what you're going to get every time, but I mean Luis Garcia has got a power arm. His slider is pretty wipe-out.

-You mentioned Ramos there. Is he one of the best stories to come out of the organization this year, with his rapid progress from the low levels of the minors up to the majors in about a two year window?

It's pretty incredible. He just goes out and pitches the same every time. He just attacks hitters. He throws his slider and fastball in the zone and when you throw 95-plus, it's pretty wipe-out, so I'm pretty happy for him. I would be surprised if he ever pitches in the minors again, based on the success he's had.

-When do you feel like your estimated time of arrival to the majors could be? When could you join Edubray?

I'm hoping this year. It's not up to me, but I'm kind of-- I want to force their hand a little bit. You know? But, like I said, it doesn't have anything to do with me, I just have to be ready for when it happens.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview with RHP Prospect Skylar Hunter


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The 2016 season didn't start off the way righty pitcher Skylar Hunter had hoped it might. During spring training, it was announced that the 22-year-old had tested positive for an illegal drug and would miss the first 50 games of the season.

Last year after the Phillies drafted Hunter in the 12th round out of the Citadel, Hunter posted a 3-3 record with a 3.38 ERA in 22 relief appearances for short-season A level Williamsport. This year, since being activated, he sports a 1-1 record with a 4.80 ERA in nine outings with Class A Lakewood.

This week I spoke with Skylar about the suspension, his season to date, recent news related to police shootings and plenty more. Read ahead for that full interview.

-With the disciplinary issues that you faced, can that be a big learning experience for you?

It definitely is. You get the consequence of your actions and you get a life lesson. I feel like it made me stronger and I feel like I’m ready to go.

-When that takes place, are you faced with a feeling like you let your teammates and the organizations down?

Yeah, there’s definitely that kind of feeling. I think the worst part of it was just knowing that everyone was still playing and I was just at home, hanging out. So, that was probably- I had a lot of time to think about it and that was probably the worst part, knowing that everyone was out there, playing, winning games and I was just hanging out. So, I missed a month of spring training and then I went and got after it and I’m feeling pretty good and I’m ready to go.

-So you get sent home for a month. How did you spend that time?

You’re still working out. You’re still throwing every day. You’re still getting after it. I think I got after it a little harder that month that I was gone.

-Was there a level of surprise when the suspension news is brought to you?

Yeah, there was a level of surprise. A lot of disappointment, a lot of surprise. Like I said, I feel like it made me stronger and you learn from it. I’m ready to go now, so that’s all that matters.

-I was here for your first day joining the team last month and the team was very welcoming. What was that day like for you?

It was great. I show up and I’ve got this beautiful ballpark, I’ve never seen it before, and it’s a great place to be in. I played with almost all of these guys last year in Williamsport and they’re all great buddies of mine and they were excited for me and I was excited to see them and get going.

-How do you feel about your performance thus far? Are you all caught up to where you want to be?

I feel like started out with a little bit of bad luck, a couple earned runs here and there, there was some untimely hits for me, but I feel like I’ve hit a groove and I feel like I’m doing well right now. The past couple outings have been good and I feel like I’m going to keep it rolling.

-What feedback have you gotten from the coaching staff here?

Just compete and do what I’m doing. I’ve got good stuff and I know that. I’ve just got to compete with it and be smart. Most of it’s just how to pitch when they talk to you. It’s about how to get guys out in certain counts and things like that and they’ve been preaching that a good bit. It’s been helpful.

-Is there a standout leader among guys in the BlueClaws' bullpen?

I think we’re all pretty good with that kind of stuff. I mean, I feel like we’re all pretty good. We all do our jobs and we kind of take pride in what we do. I feel like it kind of feeds off each other and everybody does good with that.

-Getting away from the game a bit, there was big news in the country, with more police involved shootings of black men and then retaliation when several white police officers are targeted by a shooter. How do you feel about what has been taking place?

Um, yeah. I mean, I’m sad for it. It’s something that doesn’t need to happen. I saw a tweet the other day that was a Martin Luther King quote. It said, “Hate can’t drive out hate. Only love can do that”. So, I think everybody just needs to come together and fight through this together. It’s a sad time, but I feel like it’ll make the country stronger if we get through it.

-If you had an opportunity to speak to some young baseball players, children who wanted to play baseball beyond high school, whether it's college or the pros, what advice would you give them?

Yeah, I would say work hard every day because it’s really crazy how many people play this game and how many people move on. If you keep working hard and you keep learning new things every day, then you can do something special. So, I’d say keep going, keep pounding. I know you’re going to get down on yourself sometimes, but if you just keep rolling through it, you’ll be fine.
 
-Do you have any game day superstitions or good luck charms?

I like to listen to a lot of reggae music because I get a little hyped up on the mound. I get going a little bit and I feel like it kind of mellows me out a little bit and it lets me calm down and attack with a game plan rather than getting out there, getting all hyped up and chucking it.

-Does that hold true with your walk out music or is that something different?

No, that’s funny you said that. My walk out music is actually The Stroke by Billy Joel, so I guess it’s kind of upbeat and it’s kind of a rock song, but I think I’m changing it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Cozens and Pinto see action in MLB Futures Game

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Dylan Cozens, image- Jay Floyd

Outfielder Dylan Cozens and pitcher Ricardo Pinto represented the Phillies as Major League Baseball kicked off its All-Star week festivities on Sunday with the MLB All-Star Futures Game in San Diego.

The pair had minimal impact on the game that saw the World team pound the United State team by a score of 11-3.

Cozens was 0-for-1 in a single plate appearance for the US, while Pinto retired both batters he faced for the World club.

The Phils prospects would serve up a pair of defensive gems as Pinto allowed a deep fly ball to the second batter he faced that could have been a home run if not for a spectacular over-the-wall catch by Padres center field prospect Manny Margot.

In his turn at bat, Cozens would lace a drive toward the right field corner that was also caught in tremendous fashion by Cubs prospect Eloy Jimenez.

Cozens, a powerful lefty batter, has had an outstanding season with Double-A Reading, where he's been honored as an Eastern League All-Star. In 85 games, the 22-year-old has posted a .286 average with 24 home runs and 75 RBI. Cozens was the Phillies' 2nd round draft selection in 2012.

The right-handed Pinto, also 22, has a 3-3 record with a 4.58 ERA in 17 starts with Reading this season. The Venezuela native received the Paul Owens Award, given to the top pitcher and position player in the Phillies developmental ranks each year, in 2015 when he posted a 15-4 record with a 2.97 ERA in 24 combined starts with Class A Lakewood and Class A Advanced Clearwater. Pinto was signed as an amateur free agent in 2011.

In the Futures Game, Jimenez, a 19-year-old playing with Class A South Bend in the Midwest League. was also the standout for the World team on offense, notching two hits, including a home run, while driving in four runs.

This article originally appeared on Phillies Nation.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Three Threshers combine for no-hitter

On Sunday, three Threshers hurlers combined to toss a no-hitters as they downed St. Lucie 4-0 in front of a home crowd at Clearwater's Bright House Field.

Making his first start in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, righty Drew Anderson made the start, going four innings. A 44- minute lighting delay chased the 22-year-old from the game. He was relieved by righty Will Morris, who notched the win with four frames, while Victor Arano closed things out in the 9th inning. Each pitcher allowed one base runner via a walk.

Anderson, a 21st round draft selection in 2012, returned from Tommy John surgery earlier this season with Class A Lakewood, where he posted a 1-13 record with a 3.38 ERA and a 9.9 K/9 mark in seven starts prior to his promotion to Clearwater.

Morris was a 24th round pick in 2013 out of the College of Southern Nevada. The 23-year-old sports a 5-2 record with a 3.16 ERA in 17 appearances for the Threshers this season. Arano, 21, was acquired as a player to be named later from the Dodgers in the 2014 Roberto Hernandez trade.

On offense, the Threshers plated the only run they really needed on a Mitch Walding RBI double in the 4th innings. They would add a trio of runs in the 7th thanks to RBI hits by Kyle Martin and Malquin Canelo and a bases loaded walk from Drew Stankiewicz.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Exclusive: Pitching prospect Jake Thompson interview excerpts

This post originally appeared on PhillyLongDrive.com.

I recently wrote a feature on Phillies righty pitching prospect Jake Thompson, who has been dominant of late with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.


The feature, which can be read over at PhoulBallz.com, includes comments from both Thompson and his pitching coach Dave Lundquist, with both men describing the what has made the difference in helping the 22-year-old standout get on track and become a hot buzz name among the organization's promising future contributors.

Here, I've included some interview excerpts from my time chatting with Jake last week. Read ahead for those exclusive quotes.

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Jake Thompson, image- Jay Floyd
-Offering thoughts on what he does between starts to stay sharp and prepare for his next outing...
I’m not a big film guy. You know, unless there’s something specific that I’m trying to find. I don’t watch much film. I’m pretty basic. Obviously, I’ve got to get my running in every day and two to three lifts per week and then a lot of contrast and arm care, treatment stuff like that to stay fresh.

-Speaking about working with Lundquist...
Me and Lundy we work every day. We talk every day. Just making sure everything stays intact and you don’t want to concentrate on one thing too much and another slips away. We just try to keep the entire thing put together.

-I asked Thompson if there's anyone on the IronPigs' roster that he might learn from as a mentor...
I wouldn’t necessarily say a mentor, but all the veterans would have, both position player and pitchers, they’re all open. None of them are guarded or anything like that. I think (James) Russell’s a good guy to talk to. He’s got five or six years in the big leagues. He knows how to get guys out. (Edward) Mujica’s real good. Frank Herrmann is another highly intelligent pitcher, a good guy to talk to when you need something from him.

-Talking about why he doesn't feel snubbed to not be named as an International League All-Star...
For me that’s not what matters to me anyway. Just my personal growth as a pitcher. I’m extremely satisfied with where I’m at, especially just struggling out of the gate like I did and getting to a point where I’m comfortable and finally feeling good.

-Sharing insight on if there was anyone on the big league roster in spring training that he picked up a lot from...
I loved talking with (Jeremy Hellickson) and Charlie (Morton). They’ve had a lot of success and have been up there a while. Both are extremely intelligent and the cool thing for me is that they were extremely open and welcoming and would do anything for you and that’s the kind of people you need in the clubhouse.

Follow me on Twitter for loads of prospect updates and exclusives!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lehigh Valley's Thompson could be next Phils starter

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Thompson, image- Jay Floyd

ALLENTOWN, Pa- With some less than ideal efforts coming from the Phillies’ starting rotation in recent weeks, Triple-A starter Jake Thompson’s recent dominance of the International League could have him in line to fill a void at the big league level very soon.

In his latest six starts for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the 22-year-old, who was acquired as part of last summer’s trade that sent Cole Hamels to Texas, Thompson has tallied a 3-0 record with a 0.85 ERA.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing this season for the right-hander that was originally a 2nd round draft choice of Detriot in 2012. Through four April starts, Thompson was the owner of a 6.16 ERA. Recently, though, he has looked more like the dominant starter that the Phillies assigned to Double-A Reading last year when he led them into the postseason with a 5-1 record and 1.80 ERA in seven regular season starts following the trade.

Improvements for the Texas native since that troubling opening month this season have been directly tied to his physical workings on the mound.

“I finally got my mechanics overall in a place where I am consistently feeling comfortable on the mound. That’s the biggest difference,” Thompson said. “This little stretch that I’ve gotten on where I’ve been throwing well, I’ve just been able to put my body in the right position to throw.”

Of late, Thompson has been on point, locating his pitches well with sharp and refined secondary offerings. An ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes while keeping his body under control is the key for Thompson. He works daily with his pitching coach Dave Lundquist to keep things together.

“It's just him not trying to do too much,” Lundquist stated. “You know, then you kind of get to see what I saw last year in Reading, which is a confident young pitcher and we're getting to see that again.”

Between his Eastern League postseason run with Reading last year and now his 2016 campaign with Lehigh Valley, Thompson has enjoyed the opportunity to pitch in the Phillies’ regional backyard.

Thompson, who was ranked as the Phillies’ number two prospect heading into this season, finds it exciting that those in attendance at the IronPigs’ home venue, Coca-Cola Park, aren’t just there for a night out. They’re invested in the team and the players climbing toward the big leagues.

“Hopefully, they’ll be able to say 10 or 11 years from now that they’ve been watching me pitch since I was (21 years old) in the minor leagues,” Thompson said. “It’s awesome how passionate they are. Not even just for the Phillies, but the people that come out to these games, they want us to win. They’re not just here to hang out and have a beer and eat bad. They’re into the games and they want us to win here too. “

Looking forward to a time when he’ll be pitching at the top level, Thompson hopes to be able to do that with several of the players he has bonded with dating back to last year’s Reading team, many of whom (Andrew Knapp, J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams and others) are among the Phils’ top prospects. He says that chemistry is already a big factor for this core group that is expected to help the team return to the postseason hunt.

“We all know each other we all love playing with each other. I think all of us keep each other in line. It’s just-- it’s a cool feeling,” Thompson stated. “You don’t get to do that a lot in the minor leagues with all the player movement and transactions, so it’s pretty cool.”

Thompson made a pair of appearances for the Phillies during their spring Grapefruit League schedule, throwing five innings without allowing an earned run.

The sampling of the big league life during the pre-season has left the six-foot-four 235-pounder thirsty for an additional taste of the top level of the sport.

While it appears as though the Phillies, who have seen starter Aaron Nola post a 13.50 ERA over his last five starts and Adam Morgan sport a 6.55 ERA over 11 outings in a starting role, would welcome the addition of a hot arm to their starting rotation, if that opportunity doesn’t come this year for Thompson, he won’t be disappointed as long as he takes the strides he feels are necessary to move closer to that dream.

“My biggest thing is I want to finish this year feeling like I got better, like I got something out of it. So, I just got to keep working on it day by day and, hopefully, I get there.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Eflin gets first big league win with complete game

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Zach Eflin with Reading in 2015, image- Jay Floyd

Rookie right-hander Zach Eflin needed 92 pitches to finish a complete game and notch his first big league victory on Tuesday night.

The effort helped the Phillies lock down a 5-1 win over Atlanta at Citizens Bank Park.

Helped along by four double plays in his nine innings of work, the 22-year-old Eflin breezed through the night, surrendering just a single run while striking out six and walking none in nine innings of work.

The lone blemish was a solo homer run surrendered to Braves center fielder Ender Enciarte. It was the former Phillie's first home run of the season.

The Phillies put on a power display in the contest, slamming four solo homers. Peter Bourjos got the scoring started with a solo shot in the first inning, his fourth of the year. Cody Asche added his fourth of the season in the fourth inning. Freddy Galvis plated another run in that same frame with a sacrifice fly. Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph would each go deep in the 7th inning. For Franco it was his 16th home run, while for Joseph it was his 9th.

The last time a Phillie recorded his first big league win with a complete game was on this same date back in 1992 when Mike Williams did so against the Dodgers on the road.

The victory was the Phils' 7th win in their last eight contests. They wrap up their three-game series with the Braves on Wednesday afternoon at 1:05 PM.

PhoulBallz Interview: IronPigs pitching coach Dave Lundquist



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Dave Lundquist, image- Jay Floyd


Last week I chatted with the pitching coach for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs Dave Lundquist. Topics of discussion included his team's All-Star catcher Andrew Knapp, reliever Edubray Ramos, righty David Buchanan and plenty more. Read ahead for that interview.

-Feedback I've gotten on Andrew Knapp has included his skills at leading a pitching staff and being a good leader. Have you seen growth from him in this aspect of his game?

One thing here, with some older pitchers, you gotta learn each pitcher a little bit and he's doing good. He gets to evaluate the pitches from inning to inning and prioritize certain things and stay within the game plan, so a lot of that is getting better. Doing a good job there and he's getting to learn some veteran pitchers that have been around and see some different sequences, so it's good for him.

-News about Mark Appel's season ending elbow surgery is disappointing for the team I am sure. Is that something that caught the team off-guard?

When he left I really just thought it was a strain in the shoulder. The stuff that came up after that I really don't have much info on that. I really don't know a whole lot about what happened when he was down there (rehabbing), but, you know, it is what it is and we'll get a healthy guy back next year and he's a good kid and he can do some things. He can excite you.

-Starter Ben Lively had not lost a game in 2016 till this week. What has been the big difference for him this season versus what you saw with him last year?

Versus last year- a consistent angle. Driving the ball down in the zone. Able to throw quality secondary pitches in the zone and out of the zone. More confident. A little more mature this year than last year and he grew up a lot. The biggest thing is the consistent angle on the pitches. You know, the other day was just one of those days. He didn't have secondary stuff going as good as he has been and things are going to get you when you only have one pitch. It was a good learning lesson for him.

-Edubray Ramos made a quick run through the Phillies' developmental ranks in just a couple years. Is he one of the best stories out of the system this year?

Yeah, it is and when you look at how he throws the ball, when you watch him once, you understand why. He's as aggressive as any pitcher can be and he's confident with all of his pitches. He really throws four pitches for strikes with a mid-90's fastball that he can command, there's a reason why those (kind of) guys can move fast.

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David Buchanan, image- Jay Floyd
-I know you've always been confident in David Buchanan's talent. Is there a bit or urgency for him to get back to the big leagues before somewhat of a window there closes for him and what is he doing to get back there?

Well, he's doing everything he can to put himself in a position to be back there. The curve ball's been a little tighter. The sinker's getting the movement that it had been in the past. I would hope at some point he would get another opportunity.

He works hard. He's one of the hardest working guys you're going to come around and he's very committed to everything he's doing. His bullpens or games, you know, he puts in the work at a level as good as anybody. I hope he does get that shot. The stuff is getting better than it was in spring training. I would love to see him get back.

-On a similar note, what is Colton Murray focusing on to get back to the big leagues right now?

Well, consistent command. Being able to keep a slider in the zone. The power curve ball that's in and out of the zone is a tough one to throw for strikes, so consistent command and keep the slider, you know, something-- the secondary pitch that he can keep in the zone. That's kind of what he's doing. He's pretty good.

-You've got some veterans in this pitching staff. Are there any guys who stand out as being able lead and mentor some of the younger players on this IronPigs roster?

Well, in the bullpen you've got (Edward) Mujica. You know a veteran guy, an All-Star. He's helped out everybody as far as preparing themselves for games. I don't want to miss out on anybody, but you've got (Frank) Herrmann down there. We've got a lot of guys down there in the bullpen and some guys in the rotation that provide a lot of leadership for those younger guys. So, it's a good thing to have.

Friday, July 1, 2016

IronPigs Quotables: Brundage and Perkins interview excerpts

This week I chatted with Triple-A Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage along with outfielder Cameron Perkins. Brundage spoke on several topics including his All-Star closer, veteran Edward Mujica and a pair of starting pitchers. Perkins, also an International League All-Star, spoke about his efforts that earned him such a nod and more. Read ahead for those interview excerpts.


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Dave Brundage, image- Jay Floyd
Brundage:

-Speaking about Mujica's contributions to the IronPigs' club...

He's a big reason why we're closing ball games out and shutting the door and it's nice to have a veteran in that situation and when he's in there, he throws strikes and, you know, he's not overpowering, but he certainly knows how to pitch.

-I then asked Brundage if he thought anyone else on his team was deserving of an All-Star nod...

I mean, you know, Nick Williams did-- I mean, for a young guy, I personally, you know, nothing against Mujica, I like voting for younger guys. Just for the fact that I think it means more.

But I shouldn't speak for guys like Mujica because he's earned it. He leads the league in saves. But I tend to side more towards the young guys. I think there's nothing wrong with that. Everyone's got their own opinion and everything like that. I think just the younger guys might appreciate it a little bit more, you know, where the older guys have already been through it. You get Cameron (Perkins), who was here two years ago and didn't have a good showing. For him to be back and be recognized and (Andrew) Knapp, his first year here to be recognized, it's pretty cool.

-Offering thoughts on lefty starter James Russell, who tosses seven shutout innings in his most recent outing...

I think for him sometimes it's the early going. Kind of knew right from the get-go there that he was throwing strikes, he was in the bottom half of the zone, his change up was there, you could kind of see it early on. His other outings, you know, and I've seen he hasn't gone that deep into ball games. I've seen that before where he's gone four innings and five innings and stuff like that. But in other outings where you can see his misses and trying to force things, he didn't have that from get-go. I think he kind of feeds off that and it's important to him. Like a lot of guys, but at the same times some guys are able to get it.

You watch (Jake) Thompson early in the ball game, sometimes he's kind of struggling to find himself but he seems to find it the last three or four innings and seems to hit stride around the 6th and 7th innings. Russell's kind of the opposite where I can kind of see from my eyes that he had it yesterday and he kind of fed off that.

-Speaking on the keys for right-hander David Buchanan to be successful...

He's stayed within himself. I think he's not trying to be somebody he's not. It makes sense. He's understanding staying away from the big inning and understanding what he needs to do to stay away from the big inning. You know, confidence is a lot but at the same time I think he's understanding how to get himself out of that big inning and understanding how to do it within himself. Sometimes he wants to do too much and it feels like a lost cause once he gives up a big inning and things just kind of snowball on him likes it has here the past couple years. I think he's kind of understanding and finding himself a little bit, which is not to say it's not gonna happen again, but at least when you've got yourself in a situation you understand how to get yourself out. I'm not sure that he ever understood how to get himself out. 

Rather than compete, compete, compete and fight, fight, fight sometimes you need to go in reverse sometimes and pull back the reins a little bit and say, "Hey, look. That's not me. That's somebody that overthrows."


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Cam Perkins, image- Jay Floyd
Perkins:

-Sharing some feedback about what earned him a spot among the IL's top players in this year's All-Star Game...

I feel like I've been playing good defense. I feel like I've been running the bases well. I feel like I'm having one of my better years on the base paths, so any way, any little things-- it may not even be numbers wise and I think the coaches and the team and everyone knows I try to do anything I can to help the team win. You know, if it gets me and All-Star (nomination), then I'm glad to see that it's paying off.

-Talking about the fan support that he has gotten in recent seasons with Reading and Lehigh Valley...

That's why we play this game. We play for the fans. That's the biggest reason. You know, I try to do as much as I can for them. You know, I'm a big believer in trying to do our community service program and give back to the community and talk to the fans and get to know them by name. We have a lot of fans that come to all our games and just saying, "Hey, how are you doing?" every once in a while. So, I think having the fans liking me and appreciating me as a player I think that means more to me than numbers or anything like that.

-I asked Perkins what type of feedback he would offer to a young fan that might wish to follow in his footsteps and play baseball in college and at the pro level...

For off the field I would say, "Hit the books!" I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for my ability to perform in the classroom, getting my scholarship to Purdue and graduating in my high school top ten and getting all that done in school.

And on the field I would say have fun. Learn to do everything. I see kids say, when we're doing the camp out there, they'll say, "Oh, I'm a shortstop." Well, you know what...if I have kids down the road, they'll learn to play everywhere. The more you learn about this game, from catcher to pitcher and from outfield to infield, the more valuable you're going to be as a player. I'm learning to play center this year, which I've never done. I think it's only making me more-- you know, whatever can get me in the lineup! You know, maybe we don't have a center fielder that day. Put me in the lineup! Same thing, you know, I've had to play first a couple times this year in emergencies. The more you can do, the more you can help your team out. That's all I'd have to say.

-On the topic of which veterans in the IronPigs' clubhouse have stood out as being guys that are models for younger players to learn from...

I know Will Venable's not here anymore but on the outfield side, he was a great role model, a great guy, a great person to have in the clubhouse and learn a lot from. And Mujica's the same way. He's been there for so long and knows so much so anytime you can pick his brain or anything like that-- and especially, Mujica likes to keep it loose and he likes to fool around and have a lot of fun and that's also important because you don't want to get too stressed out in this game. So I think those two guys definitely stick out.

For additional quotes from Brundage and Perkins have a look at my recent IronPigs Notebook by clicking HERE.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Six Reading players honored as Double-A Eastern League All-Stars

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Dylan Cozens, image- Jay Floyd



With the unveiling of the Double-A Eastern League All-Star rosters on Thursday, it was announced that six Reading Fightin Phils players have been honored to play in the annual exhibition that is set to take place in Akron, OH on Wednesday, July 13th.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, outfielder Dylan Cozens, infielder Jesmuel Valentin, starting pitcher Nick Pivetta and reliever Hoby Milner are slated to take part in the EL All-Star Game.

Cozens, who is tied with teammate Hoskins for the minor league lead in home runs with 21, was thankful for the chance to represent Reading and the Phillies in the league's midsummer classic.

"It feels good to get recognized and to get the opportunity to play with some of the best guys in minor league baseball," Cozens said.

Overall in 77 games Cozens has a .276 average, 22 doubles and 62 RBI to go along with his remarkable home run total. The 22-year-old was the Phillies' 2nd round draft selection in 2012.

Alfaro, 23, sports a .291 average with nine homers and 42 RBI in 51 games played this year. The righty batting backstop was acquired from Texas as part of the Cole Hamels trade last year.

Hoskins sports a .291 average with 62 RBI in 74 games for Reading this season. The 23-year-old was the Phils' 5th round draft choice in 2014 out of Sacramento State.

Valentin, primarily a second baseman, has tallied a .285 average with four home runs and 36 RBI through 68 games. The 23-year-old was originally a supplementary 1st round pick of the Dodgers, before he was acquired by the Phils as part of the Roberto Hernandez trade in 2014.

Pivetta, a righty, sports a 7-4 record with a 3.31 ERA and a 8.02 K/9 mark in 16 starts this season. The 23-year-old Canadian was acquired last summer from the Nationals in the Jonathan Papelbon trade after originally being a 4th round pick in 2013.

Milner was the Phillies' 7th round draft selection in 2012. Through 24 outings, the Texas product has a 4-1 record with two saves and a 1.97 ERA.

Reading, the reigning Eastern Division champions, will also send manager Dusty Wathan, pitching coach Steve Schrenk as well as athletic trainer Aaron Scott to fill out the Eastern Division coaching staff.