Friday, October 21, 2016

Two top Phils prospects face off in Dominican League opener

Hoskins, image- Jay Floyd
Another off-season league got underway on Thursday with the Aguilas hosting the rival Gigantes, but it was the pitting of two teammates against one another that should be of interest to Phillies fans. The co-winners of this year's Phillies Paul Owens Award, an honor bestowed upon players chosen as the top developmental performers in the organization each year, Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins, faced off in the contest.

The two sluggers led their 2016 regular season club, the Reading Fightin Phils, to a division title in the Double-A Eastern League this year.

It was Cozens, who went 0-for-4 in the game, and his Aguilas that were victorious by a score of 4-2 over Hoskins (1-for-3, HBP) and his Gigantes team.

Also in that game for the Gigantes, Phillies starting pitcher Alec Asher tossed five scoreless frames for a no decision. The 25-year-old righty posted a 2-1 record along with a 2.28 ERA in five big league starts this year.

Cozens, the Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player, posted a .276 batting average with 40 home runs and 125 RBI in 134 games for Reading. The lefty batting 22-year-old right fielder was the Phillies’ 2nd round draft pick out of high school in 2012.

Hoskins, a 23-year-old righty batting first baseman, tallied a .281 batting average with 38 home runs and 116 RBI in 135 games with Reading this year. A Sacramento State product, Hoskins was the Phillies' 5th round draft selection in 2014.

Elsewhere in off-season leagues, outfield prospect Carlos Tocci is batting .326 with two doubles and five RBI in 12 games for the Tigres of the Venezuelan Winter League.

In the Arizona Fall League, third baseman Mitch Walding sports a .316 batting average with a double, a triple, an RBI and two steals in six games for Scottsdale. The lefty batting 23-year-old was a 5th round pick of the Phillies in 2011. Walding has played some first base thus far for the Scorpions.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Phils prospect Rodriguez hits for cycle in VZ League

Herlis Rodriguez, image- Jay Floyd
For those who haven't realized that off-season baseball leagues are underway, Phillies outfield prospect Herlis Rodriguez served up an news flash about the action that's already popping off, as he hit for the cycle on Saturday in Zulia's 16-3 win over La GuairĂ¡ in the Venezuelan Winter League.

As the nine-hole hitter for the Aguilas, the 22-year-old lefty batter, who spent his 2016 regular season this year with Class A Advanced Clearwater, got his night rolling with a run scoring double in the 2nd inning. In the 3rd inning, Rodriguez would single home another pair of runs.

After grounding into a double play in his next at bat, Rodriguez, who played center field and left field in the game, would slug a home run in the 6th, leaving him a triple shy of the rare feat. In his last plate appearance of the night, the native of Colon, VZ would lace a triple deep to right field that scored a pair of runs that completed the onslaught for Zulia in the rout of their rival.

It's hard to imagine a more exciting outing for an offensive player, but Rodriguez added to the cycle and his seven RBI with a steal on home. Yes, he also stole home plate in the 2nd inning.

With a record of 3-0 thus far in the VZ League, Zulia has scored double digits in each of its contest, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 39-18.

In the regular season this year, the six-foot 170-pound Rodriguez posted a slash line of .213/.282/.277 in 48 games for the Threshers. He missed much of the season with two separate stints on the disabled list.

Also in Saturday's game for Zulia, designated hitter Wilson Garcia went 3-for-6 while shortstop William Cuicas went 0-for-1. Both Garcia and Cuicas played with Class A Lakewood this season.

For La GuairĂ¡, first baseman Brock Stassi was 0-for-2 with three walks in the contest. Stassi, was the Double-A Eastern League Most Valuable Player as a member of the Reading roster last year. In 117 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year, the 27-year-old lefty batter posted a .267 average with 12 home runs and 58 RBI.

Several other Phillies prospects are in action in Venezuela, including outfielder Carlos Tocci and lefty reliever Hoby Milner.

The Arizona Fall League, which will feature Phillies hurlers Brandon Leibrandt, Miguel Nunez and Jeff Singer along with second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding and outfielder Aaron Brown, is slated to open its season this coming Tuesday, October 11th.

Additionally, the Mexican Pacific League will open its season on Sunday, October 9th, the Dominican Winter League opens next Saturday October 15th and the Puerto Rican League, also known as the Roberto Clemente League, holds its opening day on October 30th. Further abroad, the Australian Baseball League doesn't begin until November 17th.

This article originally appeared on Phillies Nation.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Mets at Phillies: Final Series of the Season Preview

Ryan Howard, image- Jay Floyd
In a series that will wrap up the fifth straight season in which the Phillies (70-89) have failed to reach the postseason, the host club will likely see a division rival clinch a playoff berth on their home turf. The Phils will host the Mets (85-74), who hold a magic number of two to lock down a National League Wild Card spot, for a three-game set beginning Friday night.

With the Mets in the driver's seat to be able to punch their own ticket toward the postseason, the Phils will counter with something remarkable of their own, when they honor former NL Most Valuable Player and three-time All-Star Ryan Howard with a pre-game presentation on Sunday. The 36-year-old is playing his last days in a Phillies uniform as the team reportedly plans a buy out of their option on the veteran for next season. The lefty slugger has been in the Phils' organization since the team made him their 5th round draft choice back in 2001.

The Mets have been victorious in five of their last seven contests including a 17-0 rout over the Phils last Sunday which locked up a series win in New York.

The Phillies' 6.20 ERA against the Mets this year is the worst of all 20 teams that have faced them.

Read ahead for details on the pitching match ups and much more from this weekend's series.

Friday, 7:05PM. Robert Gsellman (3-2, 2.45 ERA) vs. Alec Asher (2-0, 1.66 ERA). Gsellman, a 23-year-old right-hander, sports a 1-1 record with a 2.77 ERA in two career starts against the Phillies. Gsellman has a 2.51 ERA in three road starts since joining the Mets this season. The California native was a 13th round draft selection by the Mets in 2011. In two career starts against the Mets, Asher has a 7.94 ERA. Asher, a righty, was a 4th round pick of Texas in 2012 and was acquired as part of last season's Cole Hamels trade. Earlier this season, Asher served an 80-game suspension due to a positive test for performance enhancing drugs.

Saturday, 1:05PM. Bartolo Colon (14-8, 3.42 ERA) vs. Phil Klein (0-1, 8.22). With playoff implications, this game was changed from an evening game time to a nationally televised afternoon affair. In 18 career starts against the Phils, Colon has tallied a 10-5 record with a 3.42 ERA. In 17 road starts this season, Colon has an 8-5 record with a 3.73 ERA. Colon has a 3.14 ERA in eight career starts at Citizens Bank Park. Klein posted a 1.13 ERA in his last six starts for Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season. Klein was claimed off waivers from Texas in June.

Sunday, 3:05PM. Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60 ERA) vs. Jerad Eickhoff (11-4, 3.72 ERA). Syndergaard will throw just 25 pitches in this contest if the Mets have clinched a postseason berth in time for this start, according to manager Terry Collins. In four career starts against the Phils, Syndergaard has a 4-0 record with a 1.37 ERA. The righty has a 2.29 ERA in 14 road starts this season. Eickhoff has a 1-4 record with a 2.84 ERA in six career starts against the Mets. In 16 home starts this season, the 26-year-old righty has a 6-7 record with a 3.43 ERA. Curtis Granderson is 2-for-14 (.143 avg) with a home run in his career when facing Eickhoff.

In 19 career games at Citizens Bank Park, Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who was drafted by the Phillies, sports a .284 average with four homers and 11 RBI. d'Arnaud sports a .232/.292/.272 slash line in 35 road games this season.

In 155 games in his career against the Phillies, Jose Reyes has a .296 batting average with 19 home runs, 67 RBI and 60 stolen bases. Reyes is batting .290 in 30 road games this season.

Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes has a .299 average with nine home runs and 21 RBI in 22 career games against the Phils.

Phils third baseman Maikel Franco has a .219 average with three homers and 11 RBI in 18 games against the Mets. Franco has a .235 batting average in 75 home games this season.

In 50 games at home this season, Ryan Howard is batting .200 with 12 homers and 26 RBI. Howard has posted a .263/.331/.610 slash line in 42 games since the All-Star break. Howard is 6-for-40 (.150 avg) against the Mets this season.

All-Star Odubel Herrera is a .230 hitter in 33 career games against the Mets. The 24-year-old has gone 24-for-59 (.407 avg) with 15 runs scored over his last 15 games.

Mets' team ERA in September- 3.48 (7th in MLB).

Phillies' team ERA in September- 5.12 (27th in MLB).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: BlueClaws SP Tyler Gilbert

On Thursday, the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws will host the South Atlantic League Championship Series for the first time in six years. With the series tied at one game apiece, the 'Claws are slated to host the remainder of the best-of-five title round with games three, four and five (if necessary) being played on successive nights.

Prior to the championship series, I spoke with BlueClaws starting pitcher Tyler Gilbert, who posted a 7-9 record with a 3.98 ERA in 23 starts this season.

The 22-year-old left-hander chatted about his development this year, the team bonding over rap music and plenty more. Read ahead for that full interview.

-What are your thoughts on your 2016 season?

I like to say that I learned a whole lot throughout the year. In the beginning I was not doing that well and I kind of leveled out and I learned a couple things. (Pitching coach Brian) Sweeney has been working with me like the whole season. I've been learning a lot of stuff. It's just been a learning experience for me. First and foremost, I took to calling my own pitches. It's just something I wasn't used to, and coming from college and this and that, you never get taught how to call your own game, so the biggest thing I'm learning this year is just calling my own game and just trying to trust myself. I'm still learning how to do that, so...

-Is a lot of that coming from Sweeney or are you working with the battery mates on that?

Sweeney has helped me a ton. He's been seeing what I need to work on and he's been helping me a lot. I guess, just he's told me it comes with experience, and just learning how to call your own games. A lot of the pitchers in college, our coaches they call our game.

It's been a fun year. I've learned a lot and I'm trying to get better and trying to come into next year even stronger and more disciplined on the mound and just a whole lot better.

-Are there any teammates that you've picked up something from that has helped you this year?

I try and look at, let's say when Jeff Singer was here I was trying to look at his mechanics because he's Jurassically improved his velocity since last year and so he's doing some things right and I am trying to mimic his mechanics a little bit. And just here and there trying to pick up on people's mechanics, trying to see if I can utilize if for myself and have it help me. But I try to study everybody and see what's different, you know?

-You've talked about improvements you've made. And then mentioned Singer's strides. Aside from the pitch calling, would you say there are any Jurassic improvements in any part of your game?

Yes, I would definitely say so. I'm starting to learn how to use my legs. It's something that I kind of never really put a lot of effort into because I just-- I don't know, in college I didn't really put a lot of effort into it, but now I'm getting to use my legs a lot more. And that's something that's cool because I can feel myself having more power to the plate and just working into this off-season I am going to try to get my legs a lot stronger, so it just benefits me more for this upcoming spring training.

-How is the team feeling as you guys strive toward winning a championship?

The chemistry's great. The second half it's been good chemistry. We actually put together a couple songs with the Latins and the Americans. So, just little things like that is cool. The chemistry is really good right now and everybody's just in it to win it right now.

-So I imagine the song writing is for fun and bonding?

Yes. It's all for bonding and for team chemistry. Like, I'll make a beat for some people and some guys will rap and we'll mix in Latinos and it's just a cool experience. On the road, we'll do it in a hotel room and it brings the Latinos and Americans together sometimes. And we've been doing that a lot recently, so the chemistry has been really good.

-Has anything been recorded?

There is. We actually recorded two hits.

-When will, or can, the public get a sample of these?

I don't know if we're going to debut them. I don't know if the public's ready for the heat. But, we might consider debuting it soon. I am not sure. Maybe if we win the whole thing, we'll debut it. But, there's a lot of talent in those songs. I mean, I don't know, we'll see.

-Here's what we may need to do, not to jinx or get ahead of ourselves, provided there's something big won by this group, what about making the championship merchandise flame resistant, to help the fans get ready for when you guys spit that hot fire?

I agree. You couldn't have said it more perfect right there. So, we'll consider debuting it, but I just don't know if the public's ready.

-Okay. You guys keep warming things up on the field and you'll get everybody ready. We kind of bypassed it earlier, your battery mates...I always do get good feedback on Deivi Grullon being great out there and you've got other guys you have paired up with this year. Can you share some thoughts on those guys and how they can help you?

It's another part of a learning experience for me, trying to be 100-percent comfortable with each catcher that we have. And this whole year, I've been trying to get on the same page as all of them. You know, and sometimes you have better outings with certain catchers and sometimes it's the other way around. Bottom line is just trying to link up with the catcher you have that day and trying to make sure you're on the same page. Having that rhythm out there with a catcher is important, but I mean it's just a learning experience. You're never going to get who you want every time, but you've gotta just be comfortable with anyone and just learn how to have that rhythm with any catcher.

-While you were answering that question, I apologize, I am still blown away by the details you shared about the music hotness. So, I have to know, because you mentioned that you have the beat on lock, who has the lyrics on lock?

Okay, so check it out...we recorded two songs already and we have Jake Waguespack- he's a big time rapper. We got Sutter McLoughlin, he's on one of the songs, and then we got William Cuicas, we got a Latino on there, he's rapping in Spanish, so that's the whole mix. And then Grant Dyer's on there, um, I can't think off the top of my head, but there's a few other guys who are writing those good lyrics. It's just a good team bonding thing. You know, so it's fun.

-As a side note, reliever Ulises Joaquin, who is up a level, spits those hot Espanol raps all the time.

He does! And that's something that, maybe next spring training, I'm going to try to get him on a track. I've heard him in the clubhouse and it's no joke! It's some serious stuff!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Lakewood drops game 2, SAL finals tied 1-1


With a 6-1 loss in game two of the South Atlantic League Championship Series, the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws will return home tied at one game apiece for the remainder of the best-of-five title round.

Dominican born right-hander Seranthony Dominguez pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing five runs (three earned) on four hits and a walk while striking out four. The 21-year-old posted a 2.42 ERA as well as a 9.3 K/9 mark in 10 regular season starts for the BlueClaws.

Third baseman Damek Tomscha continued his hot streak (.500 average in four postseason games), going 3-for-3 with a double and a home run. The remainder of the BlueClaws lineup was 1-for-27 in the losing effort.

For the Rome offense, Carlos Castro and Austin Riley each drove in a pair. Braves hurler Touki Toussaint went eight strong innings to notch the win.

Games three and four are slated for Thursday and Friday at FirstEnergy Park with game five on Saturday, if necessary. Each game time is 7:05 PM.

Monday, September 12, 2016

BlueClaws take finals lead behind Kilome's gem

Franklyn Kilome, image- Jay Floyd
Led by standout hurler Franklyn Kilome's seven scoreless frames, the Lakewood BlueClaws downed the Rome Braves by a score of 5-0 to earn a win in the opening game of the Class A South Atlantic League Championship Series in Georgia on Monday night.

The dominant nine-strike-out effort by the 21-year-old right-hander combined with two perfect innings from this year's Phillies 8th round draft pick and righty reliever Grant Dyer marked Lakewood's second combined one-hitter this month. Alberto Tirado, Blake Quinn and Sutter McLoughlin made up the previous contingent that accomplished the feat on September 1st.

The Dominican born Kilome entered the 2016 season as the 10th ranked Phillies prospect.  

On offense, right fielder Jose Pujols recorded two hits while first baseman Wilson Garcia slammed a home run, his first of the postseason.

Monday marked the first time this year that Lakewood and Rome, which are separated by an approximately 14-hour drive, faced each other.

With the victory, the BlueClaws are within two wins of their first championship since they won back-to-back leagues titles in 2009 and 2010.

Game two of the series will take place on Tuesday evening at 7:05 PM at Rome's State Mutual Stadium. Games three, four and five (if necessary) will take place at Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park beginning on Thursday.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Reading’s season comes to an end following playoff loss to Trenton

An exciting season for the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils came to an end on Saturday night as the regular season Eastern League Eastern division champions lost their opening round playoff series against the Trenton Thunder.The Fightins, loaded with promising Phillies prospects like catcher Jorge Alfaro, outfielder Dylan Cozens and starting pitcher Ricardo Pinto, dropped the division series three games to one in a best-of-five series with a 3-2 loss at Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium in front of 4,912 fans.

Right-hander Tyler Viza allowed three runs (one earned) over six innings to take the loss.

Trenton third baseman Dante Bichette Jr. launched a solo home run while Miguel Andujar notched two hits, including a double, and drove in two runs to help pace the visitors’ offense.

Reading, which lead the EL in many offensive categories including batting average, OPS, runs scored and home runs, went 4-for-29 with runners in scoring position in their three losses in the series.

In the regular season, the Fightins posted a league-best 89-52 record, but after a remarkable 60-23 (.723 win %) start to the season, the club was a mediocre 29-29 after July 3rd to close out the year.

This piece was originally published on Phillies Nation.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Minor League Playoffs: Lakewood advances, Reading survives, Lehigh Valley swept

A trio of Phillies affiliates had postseason action on Friday night. Two of those clubs came out victorious with Lakewood winning their first round series and Reading forcing a games four in their opening round match up. However, Lehigh Valley was swept by their division rival.

Taveras, image- Jay Floyd
In the Class A South Atlantic League, the BlueClaws swept their best-of-three series with a 6-2 win on the road at Hagerstown. Right-hander Jose Taveras went seven innings, allowing two earned runs with four strike outs and no walks while giving up seven hits, to notch the win. Sutter McLoughlin would toss a scoreless ninth for the save. On offense, lead-off man Mark Laird went 4-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base while Wilson Garcia and Damek Tomscha each drove in a pair of runs.

Lakewood will face the winner of the Rome vs. Charleston Southern Division Series in a best-of-five series beginning on Monday on the road. Games three, four and five if necessary of the series will be at Lakewood on Thursday through Saturday (Sept. 15-17) with each game taking place at 7:05 PM.

Reading's offense was on point on Friday, as the Fightin Phils avoided being swept out of the Eastern League Eastern Division Series by Trenton, who won the first two games of the best-of-five round. Left-hander Elniery Garcia grabbed the win in his first Double-A start, allowing three runs (two earned) in six innings of work while striking out four and walking one. On offense, catcher Jorge Alfaro went 4-for-5, mashing two home runs and driving in three runs. In a five-run fifth inning, Alfaro, Rhys Hoskins and Harold Martinez each went deep. The two teams will play again at Reading's FirstEnergy Stadium on Saturday, at 7:05 PM. Game five, if necessary, would be played on Sunday at 6:05 PM in Reading .

In the Triple-A International League playoffs, Lehigh Valley got rocked by division rival Scranton Wilkes-Barre 11-3. Righty Phil Klein, who had a 1.98 ERA over his last 10 outings, wasn't sharp, as he was charged with 10 runs (eight earned) in 3 1/3 innings, taking the loss. Outfielder Nick Williams was injured in the contest and left the game after running full speed into a railing while chasing a foul ball in the 4th inning. Cody Asche went 0-for-9 in the series for the IronPigs while J.P. Crawford was 1-for-12.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cozens, Hoskins and Lively honored as 2016 Paul Owens Award winners

Ben Lively, image- Jay Floyd

None of the names honored as the 2016 Paul Owens Award winners were a surprise, as each of the men dominated throughout the season. It was announced on Friday that right-hander Ben Lively was named the top pitcher while Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins were co-winners on the offensive side.

Lively, who opened the season at Double-A Reading and helped lead the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs into the postseason following a promotion in May, tallied an 18-5 record along with a 2.69 ERA and a .192 batting average against in 28 combined starts at the two levels. The 24-year-old was acquired from the Reds in the 2014-2015 off-season in the trade for Marlon Byrd, who won the Paul Owens Award in 2000 and 2001.

Cozens, the Eastern League's Most Valuable Player, sported a .276 average with 40 home runs and 125 RBI in 134 games with Reading this season. The lefty batting 22-year-old right fielder was the Phillies' 2nd round draft pick out of high school in 2012.

Hoskins, a 23-year-old righty batting first baseman, posted a .281 batting average with 38 home runs and 116 RBI in 135 games for Reading this year. A Sacramento State product, Hoskins was the Phillies 5th round draft selection in 2014.

Instituted in 1986, the Paul Owens Award is named after the man who spent 48 years in the Phillies organization as a scout, farm director, general manager, manager and senior advisor. It is given to the top performers each season in the Phils' developmental ranks.

Winners of the award last year were catcher Andrew Knapp and pitcher Ricardo Pinto. Other previous winners include Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Ricky Bottalico and Cole Hamels.

Reading returns home facing elimination

Elniery Garcia, image- Jay Floyd

Trailing 0-2 in the divisional round of the Double-A Eastern League playoffs, the Reading Fightins return home to FirstEnergy Stadium and will need to win out to advance to the league championship series next week.

The Fightins will face the division rival Trenton Thunder beginning Friday night with three wins needed to not go home prematurely. At 89-52, Reading sported the best record in the league during the regular season. Trenton finished two games back in the Eastern Division, entering the playoffs as the Wild Card entrant.

Game three will see left-hander Elniery Garcia making his Double-A debut after posting a 12-4 record with a 2.68 ERA and 7.0 K/9 mark in 20 outings with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers this season.

The 21-year-old Dominican native asserted, following game two, that he doesn't feel pressure heading into a crucial situation.

"There's no pressure. I don't feel pressure," Garcia said with a calm delivery. "I feel normal. Like every game is the same."

In the outing, Garcia will pair up with a brand new battery mate, promising catching prospect Jorge Alfaro. The two have never been paired together before. Garcia doesn't foresee the lack of experience together presenting any concern. Afterall, he says, they both speak Spanish.

Garcia joined the Fightins prior to the series opener on Wednesday and he feels that he saw enough of the Thunder offense in the first two games of the division series to have a solid game plan when he faces them on Friday.

Trenton will counter with 20-year-old lefty Justus Sheffield on the mound. Sheffield was the 31st overall pick in the 2014 draft by Cleveland. He was acquired by the Yankees in July in the Andrew Miller trade. The Tennessee native made his Double-A debut against Reading last Friday, allowing one unearned run in four innings of work.

Reading's premiere offensive contributor, league Most Valuable Player Dylan Cozens (.276 avg, 40 HR, 125 RBI in the regular season), feels the Fightins are in a good position to advance. In fact, the 22-year-old lefty batting slugger expressed confidence.

"We're real comfortable at home," Cozens said. "We play well there, we've got good fan support and there's just something about being there in Reading, we seem to play better. "

At home this season, the Fightins sported a .718 winning percentage. Obviously, they'll need it to be 1.000 for three days, if their season is to continue.

Reading loses, down 0-2 in Division Series to Trenton

Ricardo Pinto, image- Jay Floyd

TRENTON, NJ-- In a game that seemed like a struggle from the moment they fell behind, the Reading Fightin Phils fell behind 0-2 in the best-of-five Double-A Eastern League division playoffs to the Trenton Thunder with a 9-4 defeat at ARM & HAMMER Park on Thursday.

Reading scored first in the contest, taking a 1-0 lead in the opening frame when Roman Quinn, who singled, stole second and moved over to third on a ground out, scored on a sacrifice fly by catcher Jorge Afaro.

In the bottom of the 3rd inning, Trenton went ahead 2-1 on a sac fly by Dustin Fowler and an RBI double by Miguel Andujar against Reading starter Ricardo Pinto.

Pinto would start the 4th inning, but would not record an out as he left the game after opening the frame surrendering a walk, a single and an RBI double. Jesen Therrien would enter the game at that point, surrendering a sac fly to former Phillies prospect Sebastian Valle that put Trenton up 4-1.

Reading got the game back within a single run in the 5th when Quinn knocked in a run on a fielders choice and Christian Marrero plated another run on a ground out.

Trenton clapped back quickly, notching two more runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning on a pair of sac flies putting the Thunder lead at 6-3.

Slugger Dylan Cozens launched a home run out of the park and into the Delaware River to lead off the 6th, trimming the deficit to 6-4.

Thunder reliever J.P. Feyereisen mowed down the meat of the Reading line up, striking out Alfaro with two runners on to end the 7th. He then struck out Cozens, drew a long fly out from first baseman Rhys Hoskins and got veteran masher Jake Fox to ground out.

Right-hander Miguel Nunez gave up three Thunder insurance runs in the 8th as he allowed five straight base runners after retiring the first two batters of the frame. Tyler Jones would toss a scoreless 9th to close it out for Trenton.

"I thought that our bats were good. I think that the bullpen struggled a little bit, but I think, you know, that's a lot of young guys coming into games that had never been in that situation before," Fightins manager Dusty Wathan stated following the game.

Wathan joked after the loss that dropping both road games of the series was all part of the team's plan.

"Well, we were planning to lose the first two and then winning the last three at home because it's way more fun to do it that way," Wathan said with a smirk.

The series continues with game three in Reading on Friday night with lefty Elniery Garcia (12-4 record, 2.68 ERA in 20 outings for Class A Advanced Clearwater) slated to make his Double-A debut for the Fightins.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: Phillies OF prospect Mark Laird

Mark Laird, image- Jay Floyd

On Wednesday, four Phillies minor league affiliates took part in postseason play with only Class A Lakewood coming out as winners. Prior to the contest that saw the BlueClaws take a 1-0 lead in the South Atlantic League division series, I chatted with Lakewood outfielder and lead-off man Mark Laird.

The 23-year-old 9th round draft selection from last year shared insight on his season, which didn't get rolling until July due to a back injury, the BlueClaws second-half title, the team's pitching staff and more. Read ahead for that full interview.

-What is your level of excitement, entering the postseason, the BlueClaws' first time in the playoffs in six years?

When I got here, it was kind of a long shot at making the playoffs and I think everyone did a good job staying positive and we really finished strong. I don't know how many games we won out of the last 30 games or so, but it seemed like we hardly ever lost. That has to do with our pitching. Our pitching has been lights out, out starters and our bullpen and then we've been getting hits when we needed them.  Even one-run games, we seemed to win and I think that made the difference.

-You've been batting lead-off for the club in recent weeks. What does it mean to you to have your manager's confidence to be at the top of the order?

It means a lot that he trusts me to get things going and be a table setter and that's kind of what I see myself as is someone that's going to battle in the count-- not afraid to get deep in the count and put balls in play and try to get on base for the heart of our order.

-What are your overall feelings on the type of season you've had?

It's really kind of a shock 'cause I didn't really expect it to go the way I wanted to after being out with an injury for half of the year, but I felt like I came back and did kind of what I wanted to. I felt like in Williamsport I did pretty well and here, I kind of transitioned that over. I had a lot of confidence and I've been keeping that confidence and staying positive, building off past performances and continuing to move forward.

-What details can you share on the injury?

I hurt my lower back in spring training. 

-Was there any procedure needed or was it all rest and rehab?

No procedures, just rehab and rest. I was getting ready to come back and had a set back, so it was a grinding process I had to be patient with, but the trainers did a good job of getting me back.

-You spoke of the pitching staff performing great and they've gotten a lot of credit. The team still can't win without scoring runs, so is there anyone in the lineup you'd say should be getting some recognition also?

I feel like it's not just one guy doing all the work. One through nine, everyone's been battling at the plate and having good plate appearances, not giving at bats away. It only takes a couple runs to get a W with the way (our pitchers) have been throwing.

This interview originally appeared on PhillyLongDrive.

BlueClaws take playoff lead behind clutch efforts

Damek Tomscha, image- Jay Floyd

LAKEWOOD, NJ-- It had been 2181 days since the Lakewood BlueClaws played in the postseason. It was worth the wait as the BlueClaws took a 1-0 lead on Wednesday night in the best-of-three South Atlantic League division series against the Hagerstown Suns (Nationals affiliate) by a score of 6-1 behind excellent relief pitching and clutch hitting.

Shortstop Emmanuel Marrero notched the first of his three hits in the 5th inning to tie the game at one run apiece. In the same frame, third baseman Damek Tomscha stroked a two-run ground rule double down the right field line to put the BlueClaws ahead 3-1.

"That's exactly what he's done all year," BlueClaws skipper Shawn Williams stated of the righty batting Tomscha. "Seems like he's always up in a big situation and that's what he does- he comes through with a big hit."

Those runs would be enough as the Lakewood bullpen was strong. It was righty reliever Grant Dyer that tossed three scoreless frame to earn the victory. He was followed on the mound with a scoreless frame from both lefty Zach Morris and righty closer Sutter McLoughlin.

"For me, it's great to watch," said Williams. "You have these guys that are staying pretty consistent and aren't really fazed by a playoff game and they showed it tonight."

Marrero, the BlueClaws' nine-hole hitter would later add another run-scoring hit in the 6th inning. First baseman Wilson Garcia and catcher Deivi Grullon also knocked in runs with singles in the 7th.

Lakewood starting pitcher Alberto Tirado, who had a 7-1 record with a 2.50 ERA in 12 regular season games since the All-Star break, pitched just four innings in the postseason opener. Allowing one run, the righty's pitch count was high as he threw 81 pitches, 48 of those for strikes.

Hagerstown will host game two (and three, if necessary) when the series resumes on Friday night at Municipal Stadium.

Playoff action elsewhere-

The Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs dropped their International League playoff opener against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre by a score of 2-0. Righty Ben Lively tossed 7 2/3 innings allowing two earned runs on five hits, two walks and eight strike outs, to take the loss. The 'Pigs notched just four hits in the losing effort.

The Double-A Reading Fightin Phils lost their playoff opener in the Eastern League with a 3-2 loss at Trenton. Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. (7IP, 5 hits allowed, 3 runs/2 earned, two walks, 10 strike outs) was tagged with the loss. Slugger Dylan Cozens collected two hits, a walk and drove in a run.

The rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies lost the deciding game of their best-of-three title series on Wednesday.  Top draft pick Mickey Moniak missed games two and three of the series with an apparent hip issue but is expected to play in the Florida Instructional League later this month.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading hitting coach Frank Cacciatore talks Cozens, Quinn, Hoskins, more

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Frank Cacciatore, image- Jay Floyd

Throughout the season, the Reading Fightin Phils' offense has been one of the biggest stories across minor league baseball. As the team's collection of strong hitters mashed for power and rocked opposing pitchers all season long in the Double-A Eastern League, the team's hitting coach, Frank Cacciatore, has gotten a good look at the best show in the sport. Over the weekend, I sat down with Cacciatore to gain some insight on the likes of the homer hitting duo Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins along with emerging players such as Scott Kingery and Andrew Pullin. He also offered feedback on talented switch-hitter Roman Quinn as well as veteran Jake Fox and plenty more.

Cacciatore played in the Detroit organization in the 1970's and has been part of the Phillies' developmental coaching staff since 2008. Read ahead for my full interview with Coach Frank.

-Outfielder Dylan Cozens has had an outstanding season, leading the league in home runs and RBI. Are you surprised at all by the output coming from him this season?

Well, not really, according to his abilities. It's nice to see that he's made some progress with pitch selection and laying off pitches, you know, he needs to lay off how they pitch him, because he's got the bulls eye on his back, so he's made some progress along those lines.

Has he done what I expect to see in the future? No. He's got some room for improvement and he's only going to get better at doing that. But, he's got tremendous abilities. He's got tremendous hand speed. He's still learning how to hit. I think he's made some progress there and that's why you've seen the success that he's had. Not only has he had the power numbers, but he's had the doubles, the RBI's and the things that you need to do to become a productive big league hitter.

-When you have a guy like that, or any batter in general, that might have issues with striking out a lot, what should he be working on to resolve that concern?

There are things that I see now and I saw at the beginning of the year that he needed to learn how to do because you understand what's on the other side of the fence, where he's going- he's going to Triple-A and eventually to the big leagues. He needs to make those adjustments because they're going to make adjustments to him. And, so, as far as that's concerned, he has made some progress there, you know. But like I said, I think he realizes it could be better as far as the number of strike outs. Yeah, he's going to strike out because he's a guy that can turn a game around in one swing of the bat and you expect that. Does he need to cut that down? Probably so, because if he puts more balls in play, how many more balls can he hit out of a ball park or hit a double with his ability and puts it up the gap and stuff like that. So therefor, there's a lot of up side and it's hard to say when you see numbers like he has a couple team records now and that kind of stuff, but he has that type of ability and he's that kind of person and not just the numbers, because, you know, if he continues to work and improve at his game like he has here, then the sky's kind of the limit. But he's still learning his craft and that's part of the development.

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Roman Quinn, image- Jay Floyd
-You've got a couple guys that missed time recently with injuries, Andrew Pullin, who joined the team in June, and Roman Quinn, who has had multiple injuries this year. Both guys have been great contributors for the team. Can you comment on those guys and their contributions this year?

You start with Andrew Pullin, he came in right from Clearwater and was productive right off the bat. He's a guy that can hit a fastball and, you know, basically, (he's) just developing a simple swing and a simple set up where we're basically talking about like how to look for pitches and how to control a strike zone and not let them spread ya and stuff like that. And Roman Quinn, we've been together now for three-odd years and, yeah, he's had kind of a bugaboo with the injuries but he's made a lot of progress across every line and he's becoming a complete ball player. And the more he can get those turns at bat and play winter ball and that kind of stuff, that can be valuable for him as far as his development. But as far as knowing himself and knowing what he has to do, you know, again room for improvement, but he's got a good sense of what he needs to do.

-I want to ask you about the third basemen on this squad. Angelo Mora's (promoted to Lehigh Valley on Tuesday) been there and elsewhere in the infield throughout the year along with Harold Martinez, who had a really good average most of the year and now Mitch Walding is with the team. Is it hard to get certain guys playing time when everyone performs?

Oh, yeah! Harold last year during the home stretch was invaluable as far as what he contributed. He's sort of like the unsung hero. The guy under the radar, you know? Everybody's looking at this guy and here comes Harold- sixth, seventh spot (in the lineup) and delivers big hits for us all the time. You know, Harold and his defense has been second to none. You know, he's been a very valuable guy to us.

Mitch Walding, kind of a younger guy. He's worked hard to get out of A ball. You know and a great athlete and finally getting his feet wet up here, so its kind of like he's getting his first taste of what it takes here. I think he's learning a lot and that's what happens at the Double-A level. The first month or so you're here, the first time, you've got to take (your results) with a grain of salt, good or bad, and learn the level. And Mitch has been here what- two weeks- and he's already delivered some big hits for us and his numbers may have gone down a little bit, but that doesn't mean anything. He's coming along and he's going to be fine.

-Second baseman Scott Kingery was an early round draft pick last year. He joined the team well into the season. What have you seen from him thus far?

I see a kind of a gritty type, blue collar guy working type ball player that's got a good feel for the game and a good feel for instruction and all that, so I expect him-- I expect everyone's projecting him to start here next year and just really have a good season, a good solid season, and maintain what he's doing right now. He's a real good student of the game. He comes to work everyday. I like his work ethic and, to me, that's real big because all the guys that are doing well and the guys in the past since I've been here in Reading that have done well usually have pretty good routines and have pretty good work ethic about how they prepare for games and the whole bit. And, to me, game prep is essential and he's got all those qualities.

Rhys Hoskins, image- Jay Floyd

-You talk about those qualities and earlier about some improvements guys are looking to make. Is there a guy on this team that has more of the complete hit tool above the others? f

Ability wise we've got several and we've mentioned almost all of them except Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro. As far as some guys who far as in game knowing about having a good feel for what they're going to do to him and what he has to do back, I think Rhys Hoskins has done a tremendous job along those lines as far as being a cerebral hitter and knowing what's going to happen to him and paying attention to pitching patterns and then making adjustments to what they're going to do and being able to take the ball to the opposite field when they're going to give that to him and then lay in the weeds and go up top when he's ahead in the count and the game's on the line. So, I think I wanted to make sure I give a little shout out to him, because he's done the physical things and the routine and the whole bit, but also he's really, really done a nice job, you know, learning how to play, how to be a hitter and like I said, the other guys-- I don't want to leave them behind-- it's not like they haven't, but I think Hoskins has done a little more along those lines than some of the others.

-When you mention the word cerebral there, one guy that always comes to mind with that word for me is Jake Fox, who is always going up there with a plan, thinking steps ahead. He's a guy that can supplement the coaches and mentor his teammates. Does he stand out to the coaches as being an extra teacher?

He's a guy that's on our team that has the experience and he's playing in the game and he has the in-game experience that's invaluable. I haven't gotten a hit in 40 years, but, and so the guys rely on that and that's good. It's good to see a guy helping out the younger guys. And, basically, he's been like an insurance policy to help those guys thicken our lineup a little bit where a pitcher doesn't have an out where he can pitch around a couple guys and get to the bottom of the lineup. He makes our lineup real thick and a pitcher's got to pitch to one of them. And, so, along those lines, he's been invaluable. He's been a nice addition as far as, like you said, giving advice. He's very forthright and really open to help guys when they ask him questions because these guys, Hoskins, J.P. (Crawford) was here, Cozens, this was their first taste-- Cozens has a little bit last year-- but it's his first big taste of Double-A baseball and here's this resource and so, yeah, they're going to go sit there and ask, "How do you think he's going to pitch me?" You know, he's aware of that stuff. So, it is a plus. It is a plus. He's been a big plus for us.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Reading puts exclamation point on regular season, playoffs next

TRENTON-- The Double-A Readin Fightin Phils (89-52) used their last turn at bat in the regular season to remind everyone why they were dominant all season long, launching three home runs in the 10th inning to lock down an 11-6 victory over the rival Trenton Thunder (87-55) on Monday at ARM & HAMMER Park.

The heart of the Fightins' batting order did what fans had become accustomed to seeing throughout 2016 from their powerhouse lineup. Outfielder Dylan Cozens, who is a virtual lock to be named the Eastern League's Most Valuable Player, increased his team home run record when he blasted his 40th long ball of the season, deep to right field off of Thunder reliever Cale Coshow.

The Cozens blast was the farthest ball I've seen hit into the water of the Delaware River in my 20-plus years of going to baseball games at the former Waterfront Park.

Continuing with ways of the "bash brothers", first baseman Rhys Hoskins launched his 38th homer of the season in the very next at bat to pad the visitors' lead. Following a Jake Fox single, third baseman Harold Martinez blasted his ninth homer of the season. A Roman Quinn RBI double, his third hit of the contest, would wrap up the scoring for the day.

"It's neat and for those guys to go back-to-back to finish a season like they've both had is a special way to do it," Reading manager Dusty Wathan stated. "Obviously, it's just the regular season and we have other things to do, but it's nice to see Dylan get to 40 and Rhys get to 38."

Reading got the scoring underway in the top of the 1st against Thunder starter Kyle Haynes. Cozens laced a run-scoring single that set the Fightins' single season total bases mark at 304, passing the previous mark set (303) set by Darin Ruf in 2012. A Hoskins RBI double and a two-run double by Martinez gave Reading a 4-0 lead.

Trenton would chip away at their deficit. Following a sac fly in the 2nd inning, a three-run homer by Dante Bichette Jr. tied the game in the 4th inning.

A Miguel Andujar home run in the 5th inning gave Trenton a 5-4 lead but Angelo Mora and Quinn plated a run each with back-to-back singles in the top of the 6th.

Reading reliever Jesen Therrien gave up a run on a single by Francisco Diaz to tie the game at 6-6.

Victor Arano took the mound for Reading in the ninth. A lead off walk followed by a double would lead to an intentional walk to set up a force out around the diamond. Billy Fleming would fly out to center field, as Quinn made a strong throw home to prevent a run from scoring. Bichette grounded out to third, where Martinez made a spectacular bare handed grab to gun out the runner at home by a hair. Arano would draw a grounder back to himself for the final out of the frame to give his team another opportunity in extra innings.

Left-hander Joey DeNato tossed a scoreless frame to close out the victory for Reading.

"It's definitely a nice thing to go into the postseason with," Quinn said of the fashion in which his club won. "I was talking to my hitting coach, Frank (Cacciatore), about how it felt like a playoff game already and just to get ready for the playoffs was great. We had a couple great plays. Arano did a great job of getting out of that and Harold made a heck of a play. A bare hand to get him out at home, but it was crucial."

Quinn, who, along with his three hits (two doubles) and two RBI, also swiped two bases was thrilled to be back in action following a stint on the disabled list with a concussion recently. The 23-year-old switch hitter was clear on his expectations for the playoffs.

"To win it," Quinn said with an intense look on his face. "Just to win the series and get to the championship and that's the goal. That's been the goal all season."

Reading returns to Trenton on Wednesday as the teams will open their best-of-five Eastern League Division Series with a 7:00 PM start time. Reading's rotation for the ELDS, according to Wathan, will be Mark Leiter Jr., Ricardo Pinto, Clearwater starter Elniery Garcia, Tyler Viza and John Richy.

Fightins Quotables: Brown, Viza talk about Reading offense and more

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Aaron Brown, image- Jay Floyd
The Double-A Reading Fightin Phils are headed to the postseason at the Eastern League's East division champions. All season long, the team has been led by its offense, that has seen the club tally a minor league best 182 home runs heading into action on Monday, the last day of the regular season. This weekend I chatted with outfielder Aaron Brown and starting pitcher Tyler Viza about Reading's offense. Brown, a 24-year-old lefty batter, also spoke about learning from those around him as well as his up and down season while Viza, a 21-year-old right-hander, offered thoughts on four levels of the Phillies' minor league system reaching the playoffs in their respective leagues, plus more.

Read ahead for those interview excerpts with both players.


-It's become quite a rivalry here with Reading and Trenton, with the two teams battling over the top spot in the division, know you'll face each other in the opening round of the playoffs beginning Wednesday night.

Its definitely exciting, knowing that we made the playoffs and we're just getting ready to go for that playoff run and competing you're just going to see some good baseball out there, playing hard and when playoff time comes, then it's game on.

-What are your feelings on your season? There are ups and downs literally, going down to Clearwater for a time after an injury. Are there levels of disappointment or is it all good because now you're back here and headed to the playoffs?

Now, it's just go time. It's time to play and win some ball games and just have some fun and compete. My season is what it is. You're going to have bad seasons, you're going to have great seasons. I've had some good seasons and this has just been a down season for me. I struggled with a wrist injury and I went down to Clearwater for a bit and rehabbed it and played really well and got myself back here and I'm ready to compete and just help this team win.

-Is there any feedback you've gotten from coaches that has inspired you to go harder or has helped you improve this year?

As far as going harder, no. They've actually encouraged me to relax at times and just take a breath.

No, they're very happy with where I'm at and how I'm progressing. And they just want me to keep going, keep working hard and just keep having fun and focusing on the things I need to focus on with my swing and knowing situations in the outfield and getting better in every aspect of the game.

-Clearwater manager Greg Legg has told me in the past that you hit the ball harder than most players he's seen in Class A ball. With people paying attention to things like exit velocity, is that part of your game that you take pride in or even think about?

I just think putting good swings on good pitches is going to help in any situation. If it comes off the bat a little harder than somebody else, that's great, but for me it's just focusing on getting the barrel on the ball and producing and doing whatever I can to help the team win. It's always great playing for Legger. He's a great manager and a great guy to be around and so, it's nice for him to notice something like that, but for me it's just focusing on every at bat and putting quality at bats together and helping the team win.

-Being part of this team this year, there's a lot of stuff that grabs attention. You've got Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens going after the team home run record and the league lead, you've got some great pitching, you've got some names like J.P. Crawford and Roman Quinn coming through here and, hopefully, you'll begin to emerge as a name in that mix, but what have been some of the standout things on this team this year, to you?

Definitely the power numbers. It's been a huge year for us. With Hoskins and Cozens going at it and having great years, it's been fun to watch. And it's also been fun learning from them and watching them play and seeing how I can model my game after that and kind of relax and trust the process and not worry about the results. I think both of them have done a great job of that this year. They have great work ethics and it's been nice to see and I know I do too. I'm just kind of waiting for my turn to put those numbers up as I know I can. But that's been the huge thing. The power display has been a lot of fun to watch and everyone's contributed to that. Our starting catcher (Jorge Alfaro) and obviously Rhys and Cozens and Fox in the DH spot, it's been a fun year, just seeing those guys step up and take control of the season and everyone's definitely had their say in the action. No one's really led in all categories. Everyone has their time and kind of pitches in at the right moments.

-You mentioned Jake Fox there and I've heard from other guys about him being like an extra coach or a mentor over the years. Can you share some thoughts specifically on Jake?

He has a lot of experience in this game and that's great when you have a lot of young guys coming up through this system. He really helps keep things loose and has his two cents and whether you want to listen to that, it's on you. But I believe, as a player, that he's a lot of help to this team and he's just a leader and he knows how to do it really well. Having him on this team, having him put up some numbers and helping us win ballgames and helping some of the younger guys develop their game as well that's a big thing for a team, if you can have a guy like that on your team. That helps a lot. That helps the coaching staff and it helps the players, so that's been a huge bonus.


-You guys come out here this weekend, clinching the division and making a statement against the team you were already going to face in the first round of the playoffs. Talk a bit about that for me...

At the beginning of the season every player at every level sets out to accomplish the ultimate goal, which is make the playoffs and obviously win the playoffs in the end. We've accomplished our first goal, clinching the division, and to do it against the team we're going to face in the first round makes it that much sweeter.

-Four levels of this Phillies minor league system are going to the postseason. How much are players aware of what success is happening at the other levels?

I think we're all aware. I think we're all pulling for each other. Most of us at every level were part of those other teams at some point, so I mean it's pretty awesome. I think we have a great group of guys at every level.

-With the starting staff here with Reading there have been ups and downs as well as changes to the group. New additions, like you, coming in with injuries or promotions changing things up a bit. Are you guys bonded well with each other, helping one another get by and develop?

100-percent! I think it's like that from day one on any team you go to. Those are the guys that you spend most of your time with. Those are the guys that set the tone for the team. As far as the ups and downs go, that's how every season goes. We'd like to limit the downs as much as we could, but it's a pretty unique situation that we have going into the postseason, where it's almost another season. Everything starts brand new. You have zeroes across the board. You don't have to do anything besides going out there, doing your job and put up zeroes.

-How much fun is it for you as a pitcher watching this team's offense behind you?

It's a lot of fun. They make a lot of noise out there. It gives us pitchers a lot of confidence out there. Even if we give up a couple runs out there, we know they have our backs and they're going to score runs. Virtually every game they're scoring runs. We don't get shutout too often. It's a lot easier for us to go out there and do our job.