Monday, September 29, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: 3rd round draft pick Aaron Brown

AaronBrownMiLB
Aaron Brown, image- MiLB.com
Prior to being selected as the Phillies' 3rd round draft pick this year, Aaron Brown was a dominant college pitcher. In 17 starts for Pepperdine in 2014, he posted a 13-1 record along with a 1.95 ERA. Brown's efforts at the plate were just as impressive, as he sported a .314 average with 13 homers, 49 RBI and a .908 OPS.

Citing his power and bat speed, the Phils see Brown's highest ceiling as an offensive player. After playing roughly two months with short-season Class A Williamsport, Brown was promoted to full season A level Lakewood to close out the season with a couple weeks remaining on the schedule. Lakewood manager Greg Legg, a baseball lifer, praised Brown's intensity and asserted that three of the hardest hits balls he saw all season were off the bat of Brown during the short time he was with the club.

In 61 games in the minors, after making his pro debut, Brown tallied a .268 average while slugging four home runs and driving in 21 runs.

Earlier this month, prior to the end of the minor league season, I spoke with Brown, who sees his own future as an outfielder, about his draft experience, how college prepared him for the pro ranks and plenty more. Read ahead for the full interview.

-What was your draft experience like this year?

It was a great experience. Just getting picked by the Phillies in the third round was pretty awesome. And then, you know, I just wanted to come out here and started learning, kind of developing as a person and as a player and so far, that's been the experience. So, it's been a lot of fun learning from the guys, playing with these guys as well and it's just been a great time so far.

-Were the Phillies among teams you expected could pick you or were they a surprise?

Yeah, they were definitely on the radar. And through my advisers, I had heard a couple things from the Phillies early on and they were always one of the teams that I knew were pretty interested in me and it turned out they called my name and it worked out pretty well.

-How did you celebrate when you got the news you were selected?

Well, for me, it was practicing at TCU before super regionals. And it was a lot of fun. I heard the news, was feeling really excited for the opportunity and just went out there and spent the rest of the day with my teammates and coaches and enjoyed that last part of the college career.

-How did playing at Pepperdine prepare you for a career in the pro ranks?

It prepared me very well. That's a great program out of southern California. The coaching staff there did a very good job of allowing me to develop as a player and, you know, just teaching me the game, the ins and outs, and I felt very prepared to come out here and compete.

-What thoughts can you share about your half season playing in Williamsport and Lakewood?

Williamsport was a great place, honestly. Just going out there and having that fan base to start, they get between 2,000 and 3,000 a game, that was a great atmosphere. I had fun there in my first couple months of pro ball, and had the opportunity to come up (to Lakewood) and play in front of 5,000 people every night is pretty sweet as well. Playing (in Lakewood) is just another step up and is part of the journey. It's been a great experience thus far.

-You mentioned your coaches in college helping you. What can you share about the coaches you've encountered with the Phillies thus far?

They've been awesome. Just very open and honest with me, allowing me to work on some things and giving me a couple tips here and there and a lot of it is the mental side of the game. Everyone here has the physical ability and the talent. But, you've got to understand the mental side of the game and that's where I've been growing the most.

-When was the first time you thought to yourself that you could possibly have a career as a professional baseball player?

Out of high school, when I was being talked to by some of the pro teams, I thought, 'Okay, this is an opportunity in front of me', so I knew that if I put my time towards it and really focused on it that I would have an opportunity. And the dream has always been to play pro ball and now, I'm here and I'm working towards it and it's been a very really experience.

-If you were asked to scout yourself, what would you say?

Very aggressive player. Loves to try to make plays. You know, just 110% all the time. Goes out, plays hard every day, loves the game, has a passion for it. That's what I would tell you.

-What players did you admire before turning pro and were they pitchers or offensive guys?

I've always been a fan of Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and just recently Mike Trout, as he's been proving what he can do at the big league level. Those are guys I admire and I try to model my game after and try to watch them and learn from them too. Those are definitely some of the guys.

I do watch Mike Trout a lot, his swing and the way he plays the outfield and I pick up things here and there and kind of make it a part of my own game. Watching him has allowed me to be a better player.

Friday, September 26, 2014

PhoulBallz Podcast Episode 71: Phillies Lefty Mario Hollands Interview

The PhoulBallz Podcast is back with episode 71. On the latest edition of the show, Tug and Jay are joined by Phillies rookie hurler Mario Hollands, who discusses his first season in the big leagues, his days in the minors, Jonathan Papelbon as a leader and plenty more. The guys also discuss the rookie campaigns of David Buchanan and Kenny Giles as well as Cole Hamels' remarkable year.

Use the media player below to stream the full episode, or simply download it by clicking HERE.

You can also check out previous episodes and subscribe on iTunes.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Instructional League is underway, roster listed within

Fall instructional league got underway over the weekend. Instructs, as it's commonly referred to, is a month-long off-season league, generally consisting of recently drafted players and foreign signees, players that missed time due to injury, or those that participated in short-season leagues, allowing those individuals to refine their skills or add innings/at bats to their season. It also serves as an opportunity for a greater number of developmental coaches to see newly signed players and those they've not been exposed to in action.

Here's the Phillies' complete roster of players listed in attendance is listed below.

PITCHERS
Victor Arano
Kyle Bogese
Ismael Cabrera
Austin Davis
Yan De La Cruz
Elniery Garcia
Scott Harris
Matt Imhof
Carlos Indriago
Tanner Kiest
Franklyn Kilome
Brandon Leibrandt
Sam McWilliams
Adonis Medina
Aaron Nola
Chris Oliver
Felix Paulino
Ricardo Pinto
Edubray Ramos
Calvin Rayburn
Nick Rodesky
Carlos Salazar
Ranger Suarez
Jose Taveras
Josh Taylor
David Whitehead
Jason Zgardowski

CATCHERS
Joel Fisher
Deivi Grullon
Andrew Knapp
Gregori Rivero
Lenin Rodriguez

INFIELDERS
Jonathan Arauz
Willians Astudillo
Daniel Brito
Derek Campbell
J.P. Crawford
Grenny Cumana
Luis Encarnacion
Arquimedes Gamboa
Jan Hernandez
Rhys Hoskins
Emmanuel Marrero
Andrew Pullin
Drew Stankiewicz
Damek Tomscha
Jesmuel Valentin

OUTFIELDERS
Jesus Alastre
Venn Biter
Aaron Brown
Carlos Duran
Bryan Martelo
Cristian Palacios
Cord Sandberg
Jake Sweaney

The Phillies also expect to have lefty Adam Morgan see some action on the mound. The Phils' 3rd round draft choice from 2011 has been out of action since last winter after undergoing shoulder surgery. The 24-year-old sports a 13-22 record with a 3.25 ERA and an 8.33 K/9 mark in 56 professional games.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

LHP Loewen is a candidate for Phils rotation next season

Adam Loewen, image- Jay Floyd
With a considerable level of anticipation that the Phillies will experience some turnover with their pitching staff leading to next season, it feels as though fans and media alike have begun to say goodbye to certain hurlers. Who replaces those arms promises to be the focus of the team's offseason.

A candidate to fill a void in the Phillies' rotation next is former big leaguer Adam Loewen, who the Phillies acquired earlier this season as a free agent.

Loewen, a left-hander, has been to the majors twice. His initial ascension to the big leagues was as a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles after he was selected as the fourth overall draft pick in 2002, two places before Zack Greinke and three spots prior to Prince Fielder.

He last pitched in the majors in 2008 as a 24-year-old. After suffering a stress fracture in his throwing elbow, having a four-and-a-half inch long titanium screw surgically inserted into the joint and dealing with lasting complications from the ailment, it became apparent, at the time, that Loewen's pitching career was finished.

The British Columbia native would spend that following off-season working on his offense and showed enough to the Toronto Blue Jays that they offered him a contract to begin a new path to the big leagues, as a position player.

As an outfielder, Loewen again reached the top level of the sport, playing in 14 games with the Blue Jays in 2011, batting .188 with a home run and four RBI. After a couple more years in the minors trying to climb the developmental ladder with in the Mets' and Blue Jays' systems, he was told his time was up as a hitter. Last winter, however, Loewen got the itch to pitch and his career was reborn once again.

"I wanted to continue at the time, but the decision was made for me," Loewen stated. "But, I'm not bitter about it anymore. I love pitching and maybe it'll work out for the better."

Back on the mound, Loewen got some exposure in front of multiple teams. The Phillies offered him a minor league contract after the 2014 campaign began.

Loewen's return to the mound was assisted by his best friend former pro backstop and current coach Cole Armstrong, who helped with bullpen sessions and long toss programs.

The six-foot-six 235-pounder also offered credit to Double-A Reading's pitching coach for helping him get his groove back.

"Dave Lundquist and I have really been on the same page this whole time. I feel like he's really helped me with my development and getting the feel back for my pitches," Loewen explained.

Lundquist asserted that he saw loads of progress in the 30-year-old's efforts during his time with the Fightins this year.

"When he first got here, the biggest thing he needed was reps off the mound, as many as we could get him. Then he slowly but surely began getting into his natural rhythm with his release point and arm speed and spin on the baseball," Lundquist stated. "He finally started getting comfortable with everything and we saw a lot of development. He put together a lot of quality starts for us".

This season, Loewen posted a 5-5 record with a 3.25 ERA along with a 6.65 K/9 mark in 19 combined starts for Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading. He wrapped up a stretch in which he tossed nine consecutive quality starts for Reading on August 9th. Loewen tallied 2.52 ERA over his final 12 starts of the season.

While the results where what Loewen says he expected of himself, the durability of his formerly troubled arm came as a surprise. He seemed to anticipate fatigue or discomfort, but those never came. In their place were added arm strength and stamina.

Loewen is equipped with a fastball that, in the low 90's, registers a bit lower on the velocity scale than it did when he was a rising prospect that held MLB All-Stars Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira and Derrek Lee hitless in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006.

His secondary pitches are also just slightly varied from his initial run as a hurler.

"My two-seamer actually tails now rather than cuts. Everything used to cut. Now, I have a four-seamer that naturally cuts and the two-seamer I can kind of put where I want to with the fastballs going both ways," Loewen said, mentioning that he also mixes in change ups, sliders and an occasional curve ball to keep the opposition guessing.

Expect the tenacious trouper to get a solid look in front of Phillies coaches and brass next preseason with a true shot at making the starting rotation. Loewen is confident that he'll be able to contribute on the mound at the top level.

"I've gone from Double-A to the big leagues before and that was my first jump to the big leagues," Loewen said, when asked if he felt like he was ready to compete at the big league level again. "I feel like I'm ready. I feel like I did when I last got on the mound when I was 24-years-old."

Ailing Watson suspended 50 games for drug violation

ShaneWatson
Shane Watson, image- Jay Floyd
On Friday, it was announced that injured Phillies pitching prospect Shane Watson would miss the opening 50 games of the 2015 season, after being served with a suspension as a result of testing positive for a banned substance.

Reports stated that the illegal substance was not a performance enhancer, but instead was a drug of abuse.

The 21-year-old right-hander, who recently announced his engagement to be married via his Twitter account, missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair an enlarged capsule last winter. Watson rehabbed this summer, but experienced a setback which was going to keep him out of action till next spring.

Watson's injured status will not impact his suspension. In fact, the required time off could force the young hurler to proceed at a much slower pace and could be good for his physical health in the long run.

Watson was chosen with the 40th overall pick by the Phillies in 2012. He sports a 4-7 record with a 4.44 ERA and a .227 batting average against in 21 professional games.

Prior to the 2014 season, Watson was ranked as the Phils' number 14 prospects by PhilliesNation.com.

Update: Watson responded to a request for comment via text message late Saturday morning.  He did not wish to comment on the circumstances surrounding his suspension, but offered the following thoughts on his rehab process, which he is conducting under the Phillies' supervision in Florida:

"Nothing but good news (regarding my throwing shoulder) right now.  I just have to remember there's no rush back and to take my time, but also push myself to the limit while giving myself enough rest."

The California native has been throwing from flat ground and is up to a distance of 75 feet, doing so every other day without discomfort.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

PhoulBallz Podcast Episode 70: Adam Loewen, Dave Lundquist & Colton Murray Interviews

It's Episode 70 and the guys are joined by pitcher Adam Loewen who participates in the inaugural edition of the new segment, "Nine Silly-ass Questions".  The episode also features exclusive interviews with Reading pitching coach Dave Lundquist and Double-A reliever Colton Murray.  Jay and Tug also chat about 2014 season highlights including Kenny Giles, Maikel Franco, Willians Astudillo and Hoby Milner while other topics include Kyle Kendrick as well as the Paul Owens Awards won by Luis Garcia and J.P. Crawford.

Use the media player below to stream the full episode, or simply download it by clicking HERE.

You can also check out previous episodes and subscribe on iTunes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading hitting coach Rob Ducey talks prospects

Rob Ducey, image- Tug Haines
Prior to the end of the minor league season on Monday, I spent some time with Double-A Reading hitting coach Rob Ducey about several of his players' progress this season.

Ducey, who played in the big leagues with the Phillies, Blue Jays, Rangers, Mariners, Expos and Angels, joined the Phillies organization as a coach this year.

The former outfielder spoke about the Phillies' collection of rising young outfielders including Aaron Altherr, Zach Collier, Kelly Dugan, Cameron Perkins and Peter Lavin. He also offered insight on talented infielder Carlos Alonso. Read ahead for that full interview.

-Aaron Altherr has an exciting year with time spent at the big league level. What are your thoughts on Altherr's season?

Well, he's obviously in the development part of his career and is trying to iron some things out mechanically, mentally, things that young players go through while they're trying to establish themselves as professional players. I see worlds of opportunity for him going forward. He's got tremendous athleticism, he's got a very good aptitude to work with and he's really good to be around.

-Zach Collier didn't have a great season, but got considerably hot in early August. He's a guy that people had high expectations for, based on being an early round draft pick. What can you share with me about Zach's progress?

Obviously, this being my first year here, I didn't have an opportunity to see him prior to this year, but he's come a long way with the understanding of what he needs to do to prepare to play the game and get ready and compete at this level and, hopefully, at a level higher.

-I've spoken with guys on the team and often times they'll cite Carlos Alonso as a guy that's an exemplary player who really works hard. It may be hard for you, as a coach, to judge or speak on a guy's ceiling, but what do you think about Alonso's future?

Carlos is a grinder. He goes out and plays the game the right way. He's a true professional on and off the field. He goes at it the right way and it wouldn't surprise me that he ends up playing in the big leagues for a long, long time because of the way he goes about it. You know, when you talk about tools, you don't really need to talk about tools with him. He's a baseball player and he knows how to play, he knows how to win, (has) tremendous influence as far as in the clubhouse and with his teammates. It's been really fun to be with him this year, because of all of that.

-I spoke with (Reading manager) Dusty Wathan a couple weeks ago about Kelly Dugan's progress this year, and despite his injuries this year and the power numbers being down for him, Dusty asserted that Kelly was a better and smarter hitter than he was last year. Clearly, you weren't around last year, but what progress have you seen from him from spring training to the time his season ended (with a late season foot injury)?

I think that he developed a bit more understanding of his swing and the angle and path of his bat coming through the hitting zone. He hit a lot of top spin balls and even balls, line drives he would hit, had over-spin and trying to correct that was- for me, the focus of working with him this year was trying to get his ball to have a truer flight and we accomplished that. He hit the ball the other way. He pulled the ball, with truer spin, so in his regard I think we had a very successful season.

-Cam Perkins performed great for you guys this year prior to moving up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where his numbers took a dip. Obviously, he deserved to make that jump, but do you think the lack of production there can be discouraging for him?

Well, I think it's discouraging for anyone, any athlete to go to another level and to feel like you have somewhat control of what's going on then all of a sudden it spirals downward. You know, Triple-A is a different beast. It's a different animal. Then you go, you know, obviously the major league level and it's that much harder. You know, guys know how to pitch. They add and subtract. They find a weakness and they exploit it. And he's got tremendous hand-eye coordination. He's got a really good frame. He's gonna hit for some power and, but he was able to put the bat on the ball while he was here and he reminded me of a young Dale Murphy and I just think that he was very, very good hitting ability.

-Lastly, are there any other players that came through this club this season that made a big impression as having a bright future?

Peter Lavin has had a really, really good year for us and he started in Clearwater. He's a guy, again, that wouldn't surprise me if he ended up on a big league roster as a fourth outfielder. He can run, hit, throw. He's a left-handed hitter. He's got a little bit of power. He goes about it the right way and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he ended up with some big league time.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Six others to join Franco as Phils roster expands

Maikel Franco, image- Jay Floyd
As was widely reported on Monday, the Phillies are slated to promote third baseman/first baseman Maikel Franco to the big leagues with the expansion of rosters in September.

The right-handed hitting Franco, who turned 22-years-old last week, pledged in an interview for Phillies Nation's television program in late June that he was about to turn on the offense and he came through on that promise. After sporting a .209 average with 22 extra base hits in 78 games through the end of June, the Dominican Republic native tallied a .324 average with 31 extra base hits in the 55 games that followed for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Also joining Franco among players moving from the IronPigs to the majors are relievers Mike Adams, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Luis Garcia, utility man Cesar Hernandez, catcher Cameron Rupp and outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr.

The righty Adams had been rehabbing an injured throwing shoulder after being sidelined in early June. The 36-year-old allowed an earned run in three innings of work over three appearances with the Pigs dating back to last Tuesday.

Gonzalez, a Cuba native, made news last year when he was signed to a three-year contract worth $12 million last year. The 27-year-old, who has been steadily clocked in the mid-90's with his fastball this year, pitched at three levels of the developmental ranks this season. In 31 games, Gonzalez posted a combined 0-4 record with seven saves and a 3.11 ERA while striking out 54 batters and walking 26 over 46 1/3 innings.

Garcia was a beast for the IronPigs this season, posting a 2-1 record with 22 saves, a 0.96 ERA and a 10.03 K/9 mark. The 27-year-old right-hander appeared in four games with the Phillies earlier this season, but allowed eight earned run in 5 2/3 innings (12.71 ERA).

Hernandez, who also spent some time in the big leagues this season, batted .225 with a .556 OPS in 52 games with the Phillies this season. Additionally, the 24-year-old switch hitter put together a .290 average with a .751 OPS in 66 minor league contests at two levels this season.

Rupp, the Phillies' third round draft pick from 2010, batted .165 with six homers and 19 RBI in 56 games for Lehigh Valley this season. The 25-year-old has posted a .211 average with eight RBI in 21 big league games.

Gwynn was with the Phillies through much of the season before being designated for assignment in July. In 20 games with Lehigh Valley, the 31-year-old batted .290 with a home run and seven RBI.

The group is expected to join the Phillies as they continue their series in Atlanta on Tuesday.

MLB rosters expand from a 25-man maximum to the entire 40-man roster on September 1st. The minor league regular season ended on Monday.

Monday, September 1, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: RHP Colton Murray

Colton Murray, image- Tug Haines
This season right-hander Colton Murray made some solid impressions, earning his way to Double-A and solidifying himself as a key piece at the back end of the club's bullpen.

A 13th round pick from 2011, Murray had spent time with the big league club in spring training each of the previous two seasons prior to this year. Following a 2013 campaign in which he tallied a 5-7 record with 11 saves and a 5.07 ERA in 47 games with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers. Those efforts were not enough to earn an invitation back to big league spring training this year. However, with the numbers he posted this season, the 24-year-old Murray is likely a lock to be among pitchers showing up early to big league camp next year.

Following 11 appearances while posting a 2.04 ERA with Clearwater this year, Murray, whose fastball is regularly clocked around 95 MPH, was promoted to Double-A Reading where he sported a 1-5 record with six saves, a 2.29 ERA and a 9.15 K/9 mark.

This weekend, I spoke with Colton about his season, his relationship with former teammate Kenny Giles and more. Read ahead for that interview.

-You've had a really nice season. What's your level of satisfaction with your 2014 campaign?

I'm really satisfied with it. I mean, I feel like I had a really good year. I feel like I had a complete turnaround of last year and I feel like I've shown the organization who I am and what I have to offer.

-You've spent some time with the big league club in spring training in previous seasons. How do you feel like that time spent there around some of the big league veterans might help you in the long run?

It was a lot of fun and it's a great experience for guys like me just to be around those guys and be able to speak to them. Being in the bullpen, you're just able to talk a lot to the guys and get inside their heads a little bit. It's great seeing (Jake) Diekman and stuff and talking to him.

-I spoke with pitching coach Dave Lundquist about you recently and he described you as possessing desirable or exemplary qualities for a reliever. When your coaches have that level of confidence in you, what does that mean to you?

It's a little bit of a confidence booster, but it's the words that are said from him to me that mean the most, not what he tells reporters or whatever. But, more so, just the advice he gives me, not just the compliments. More so, learning from what he has to say and going off all that.

-Aside from Lundy and Diekman, are there any other guys in the Phillies organization that have helped you or made solid impressions on you?

The biggest impression is the guy I talk to everyday, (Kenny) Giles. I talk to him all the time, so just hearing from him and his experiences up there is different than from anybody else that I could talk to, 'cause I've been with him since day one. He was my instructs roommate and stuff like that so, I've learned a lot from him.

-Is your repertoire anything like his, with the fastball/slider combo?

I'm fastball, curve ball, and now a slider, cutter, two-seam. Whatever. I throw a lot more pitches. He's got crazy velocity, with his slider it's a 92 mile per house freakin' curve ball half the time. I tried to teach him a change up by sending him pictures. We were in Erie and he asked me for a change up grip and I had to send him pictures of my grip. Obviously, he's not throwing a change up, up there, but you know...our repertoires aren't the same, but our attitudes on the mound- definitely.

-Kenny's a guy that gets a kick out of his high velocity. You've got some great velocity yourself. Is that something you find yourself getting pumped up for?

I'm more of a fuel by aggression guy. The more tense I am on the mound, the better I pitch. My reactions aren't going to be different than most. I like seeing the batter react to the pitch. Like, out of frustration. All that does is make me kind of smirk and I realize I have them, if they start doing stuff like that.

-Were there any pitchers you looked up to prior to turning pro that you liked a lot or wanted to emulate?

No, not really. The guys I remember throwing growing up are always the wrong guys. The guys I remember are, like, John Rocker. Just the intimidation factor that he gave out on the mound. Even before he reached the mound. obviously, his sprint. I was a big fan of the Royals and I was always sad seeing our guys go. Every player that was good went to another team, so I got frustrated.

-So, who were you into as a youngster? Beltran?

Carlos Beltran. He was my first rookie card, my first signed bat. I followed him till he left then I was pretty much done. Lima time came around, but...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Videos: Edgar Duran clears the bases, Severino Gonzalez's breaking ball

Reading shortstop Edgar Duran is among the ranks of prospects that is better known for his defense that he is for his efforts at the plate. Featuring great range and a quick throwing release, the 23-year-old Venezuelan often makes pressing plays look easy.

After flashing his leather in a contest in Trenton on Saturday night, Duran had the key hit in a 7-1 Fightins victory. In the 8th inning after top Yankees draft pick right-hander Jacob Lindgren loaded the bases while issuing three walks and was removed in favor of lefty Francisco Rondon, the righty hitting Duran slapped a bases clearing double down the left field line. He clearly can do things with the bat as well. See the video player below for footage of Duran's big hit.

In 104 games with Double-A Reading this season, the 5-foot-11 155-pounder is batting .224 with four homers and 25 RBI. He also played in 14 games with Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season.



Also captured on video is this clip, seen in the media player below, of righty pitching prospect Severino Gonzalez squaring off with righty hitting Trenton catcher Gary Sanchez. In the footage, Gonzalez's breaking ball is featured on all three pitches, resulting in a swing-and-miss on the second offering and inducing a ground ball out on the third.

Gonzalez won the Paul Owens Award last year as the top pitcher in the Phillies' developmental ranks.  This season, the 21-year-old Panama native has tallied a 9-13 record along with a 4.59 ERA and a 6.52 K/9 mark in 27 starts.  He wrapped up the regular season with a 2.53 ERA in his final five outings after skipping a start for some much needed rest.

BlueClaws Quotables: DeNato on first pro save, Viza on loss record

Sliding into a key role at the back end of the Class A Lakewood bullpen late in the season, Phillies 19th round draft pick Joe DeNato has notched his first two pro saves in recent days.

Through 22 pro games combined at short-season A level Williamsport and with Lakewood, the Indiana product has tallied a 3-1 record with a 1.78 ERA and a 9.68 K/9 mark.

I spoke with Joe this weekend about his first minor league save, being drafted by the Phillies and more.

-DeNato commented on his initial professional save against Hickory in a 3-0 win in Lakewood on Thursday...

We had the shutout going, so I just really wanted that pitchers' BP, but I mean, I just went out there, knowing that I needed to throw strikes. I kind of struggled with that with the first batter. Luckily, I didn't walk him. He ended up getting on base though, but overall I just wanted to get the job done.

-I asked DeNato if the Phillies were on his radar among teams interested in drafting him after posted a 13-1 record with a 1.82 ERA as a starter in college this year...

The Phillies weren't a surprise. There were about four teams that were contacting me leading up to the draft and the Phillies were one of them. I mean, I was happy to be drafted by them. I'm from San Diego, so honestly I never followed the Phillies that much, but obviously they're my number one team now. Yeah, it's been a good experience.

-DeNato commented on if the transition to the pro ranks was what he expected...

I mean, I didn't really know what to expect. I just tried to go with the flow, you know, just try to do what I can do and do what I'm told. You know, it has worked out so far. I'm just going to keep trying to succeed.

Selected by the Phillies in the 32nd round of the MLB amateur draft last year, Tyler Viza was an under-the-radar prospect, sporting a 1.41 ERA in 12 games last year with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies.

In his first full season of professional baseball, at age 19 this year, the six-foot-three 170-pounder has already set the single season team loss record for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, having dropped 17 of his 21 decisions this year.

I recently spoke with Tyler about his infamous record, his near future and more.

-I asked Viza if it's difficult to stay positive with a record for losses looming...

Not really. Every day's a different day I come out every day with the same mentality with the same goal in mind and that's to give my team the best chance to win as is possible and, unfortunately, this year, it didn't happen as much as I'd hoped or had expectations of. But that's the game of baseball. You win and you lose sometimes and it's just how you deal with it that makes you who you are.

-Viza shared thoughts on the type of feedback he gets from his coaches during rough times...

Sometimes they want to see how you react when things don't go your way and I think that's kind of where they wanted to see where I was. They told me that, coming into the season that I might struggle a little bit coming into this league and, um, they thought that I could handle myself and keep my composure and I thought I did so this year. I took every day one step at a time. You know. That's all you can do.

-Viza spoke of which older teammates had an impact on him this season..

When (Mark Leiter Jr.) was here, his dad and his uncle played in the big leagues and they've given him some mentoring and he was definitely someone I looked up to in a pitching role. We have great players here, great teammates. Knapp was great behind the dish this year. Lino earlier in the year. Mayorga has caught me a couple times, same with Astudillo. You know, I'm really looking forward to coming back next year with a vengeance and really prove what I'm capable of.

-I asked Viza if he feels as though he would be ready to advance upward a level to Clearwater next season...

That's for the coordinators and everybody to decide, but I'll bust my butt in the off-season and try to prove that I do belong there and that I will be ready. But if I come back here, or they send me to Williamsport, or where ever they send me, I'm gonna do my best every day.

I also talked with the BlueClaws' backup catcher Jose Mayorga, who spoke about his season having spent time with Reading and Lakewood.

-Mayorga commented on his year and his role...

Well, I've been feeling good the whole season. I think that has been my job, whether it's here, in Reading, or in Clearwater. I think that's what I have to do to get a chance to get to the big leagues, so I'll keep doing that. If they need me to go tomorrow to go to anyplace I have to go, I'll just keep working hard and see about advancing to the next level next year.

-I asked Mayorga about what he learned when he moved up earlier in the season...

It helps a lot because I spent one week in Reading and it was a good experience because I learned about pitchers who throw better pitches in different counts, where in this level it's not the same. They have better pitchers over there with experience most of all. And I think that's the most important thing- I tried to learn from people that have been playing longer than myself. And it helped.

-Mayorga offered some thoughts on Viza and pushing through all the losses...

I think that he could pitch in other levels. It's not a good year for him, but he's got good stuff, pitching and, well, I have been talking to him and he had a good year last year and this year is the opposite. But, I think that he will make it and he just needs to keep working hard and keep his head up and that's the same as he has been doing. He's had a bad year. It happens. Even in the big leagues, sometimes people are hitting .300 and next year they hit nothing. That's part of baseball.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fightins Quotables: Nola, Lundquist, Altherr, Moore

AaronNola-TugHaines
Aaron Altherr, image- Tug Haines
Top Phillies draft pick Aaron Nola tossed a gem of an outing in Trenton on Friday night, in what will be the final appearance of his first pro season. Over five innings, the 21-year-old allowed just four hits and surrendered no runs while striking out two and walking none. He notched the win, as the Reading Fightins downed the Thunder by a score of 3-0.

In 12 professional outings, since he was selected 7th overall in this year's MLB amateur draft, Nola tallied a 4-3 record with a 2.93 ERA while striking out 45 and walking 10 in 55 1/3 innings combined between Double-A Reading and Class A Advanced Clearwater.

After the game, I spoke with Reading pitching coach Dave Lundquist and Nola himself about the outing and more. I also spent time chatting with Nola's backstop Logan Moore about his season as well as his pitching staff. Additionally, I chatted with outfielder Aaron Altherr about his time with the big league club this year. Read ahead for loads of exclusive quotes...

-Dave Lundquist on Nola's effort on Friday night...

It was outstanding. You know, five innings, with no runs, 62 total pitches. You know, the thing that was really impressive was, in the fifth, he had (runners on) 2nd and 3rd with nobody out and got a pop up in the infield, a strike out and a ground ball and really showed a good feel for pitching and working himself out of a jam. He did a nice job.

-Asked Lundquist if there's any temptation to let Nola go beyond his innings limit when his pitch count is low...

No, not right now. Not this year. Not with where he's at. Total wise, through college and here, no. We just want him to get to that one point and that's it. His pitch count was really low and he definitely could have continued going and it's good to know he could have continued going, but at this point in the year, no that's it.

-Also asked Lundquist for his thoughts about righty reliever Colton Murray, who notched his fifth save of the season for Reading in their win over Trenton on Friday...

Power guy that goes right after people. One thing he's done is he's really improved his curve ball as a pitch he can throw in and out of the zone. It's become a quality swing and miss pitch for him. Very aggressive and he goes right after people. It's what you look for in a reliever.

-Nola shared his thoughts on his outing...

Yeah, I felt well tonight. I thought I did good. I left some balls over the plate for them to hit and they got a couple doubles and they scattered a couple singles. Other than that, my arm felt good, my body felt good and my tempo was good and I was pounding the strike zone. You know, they were swinging and I was getting early outs.

-I asked Nola if he noticed the considerable concentration of Phillies fans in attendance on the road in Trenton...

I kind of zone it out, but it felt like there was a good crowd there tonight and a good bit of Phillies fans, but, you know, at the end of the day, I zone all of it out, man, I just focus on me and the glove and the team.

-Nola on if he gets the itch to go past five innings, even when the coaches won't allow him to...

Well, absolutely. I think everybody will have that itch. They told me right when I got down to Florida that I was going to be on a five inning limit, 70 to 80 pitches and I was okay with that. Whatever they want me to do, I'll do. I've agreed with everything they've told me to do. And now the season is probably over for me, throwing wise.

-Altherr talked about his time with the major league club this year and how it could help him...

It was great to experience it and see how they go about their business and try to emulate that and do it for my game and I know it's going to help me in the long run. I was real excited. Hopefully, I can get back up there.

-Altherr speaking on if he'd have any level of disappointment if he wasn't called back up to the Phillies when the rosters expand in September...

Not really. Not at all. I mean, just, it gives me more time to prepare for next year and make sure I come out strong in spring training and whatever happens, where ever I start out next year, just go out in spring training and have a great spring.

-Altherr describing his call up to the big leagues, joining the Phils in Atlanta on short notice...

It was a whirlwind kind of day. I got a call about one in the afternoon, telling me I had to get on a flight and I left a couple hours later. We were in Reading, had an off day, and I got the call from (manager Dusty Wathan) and I had a car service pick me up about three o'clock and the flight was delayed till about 7:15 and I didn't land till about quarter after ten probably. I got there about the top of the 9th inning and I was calling the clubhouse guy asking him, "Should I go to the game, or should I go straight to the hotel?" It was a close game, so he wanted me to stay on the line and he'd keep me posted in case they went to extra innings, so he told me to hurry up and get down to the ballpark and I showed up in the tenth inning. I walked right in, in the middle of the game, introduced myself to everybody. Bottom of the tenth, I'm in the cage, warming up, getting loose. Then, in the top of the 12th, I got my first at bat.

-Asked Altherr if he was able to enjoy his first call up, or if the pressure and the rush of it made it too hectic to do so...

I enjoyed what I could. Just, all the players knew I was nervous. They saw me pacing back and forth. They saw I was getting my at bat and they talked me through it, just giving me advice and they told me to stay relaxed and it's the same game. It was fun.

-Logan Moore on his feelings about his season thus far...

Pretty so-so for me. Obviously, I'd like to have better numbers and stuff, but putting that stuff aside, I think I've gained a lot of information and ultimately, I learned a lot of things and that's what it's all about right now is just development, I think. For that standpoint, I've learned a lot, so overall, not too bad.

-Asked Moore if his reputation for being a strong defender with a bat that isn't as strong is something he hears about...

Yeah, I hear that a little but, but right now, my main focus is catching the best I can and I mean the better you are defensively, the less you have to worry about offensively, so I try and make that number one and I've had some success catching wise, so I am going to try and build on that. Also, the hitting too, it's gonna come. It's just a matter of time. I'm still learning a lot, but for now I'm just trying to catch as good as I can.

-Moore on if there are any pitchers he has caught this year that stand out as being more advanced than the others...

I like catching Adam Loewen a lot, because he's been there before. He's been in the big leagues. So, he's always has a clue of what he wants to throw and all that, so we're kind of always on the same page. He makes it pretty easy for me as far as game calling. He's always in the zone, for the most part, and he's one of the guys I have a lot of fun catching.

And, obviously, some of the younger guys like Severino Gonzalez and Aaron Nola and those guys, they have real good stuff and they're just learning on making pitches and things like that. We got a pretty good staff overall. I like catching all of them. But, I'd say Loewen may be the one that really jumps out at me as far as knowing the game and pitching.

-Asked Moore what it is about Gonzalez and Nola make them different from other hurlers...

They just go out there and compete every day. They command their fastball real good and for the most part they keep it down. They're not walking a ton of guys. They're just in the zone and pitching and working their butt off to be the next guy and they go right after people and it's fun to be on the other end of that, 'cause they don't shy down. They're just, "Here it is. Come hit it." And it's fun and it keeps the game going.

-Moore shares thoughts on Gonzalez's fastball movement...

He's got movement, it's just the other way. It's not a sinker, he's got a natural cut to it, which helps him out against righties and lefties, actually. His fastball's running away from righties a lot and running into lefties, so he's able to get the ball inside to lefties and away from righties pretty good. So, it's not every straight, so there's always some movement. It's just not sink movement, it's the other way. It works. It's something you don't see a whole lot, but it works. It's pretty good.

-Moore talking about Nola's repertoire...

He's got a little arm side run and then he's got a two-seam that bites his arm side really late, so he's got a lot of action late on his fastball and then he's got good off-speed. A good change up, a good curveball, slider, whatever you want to call it. And he throws them all for strikes, which is gonna be tough to hit if he's got all three working.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Tocci looking to add what's missing in off-season

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Carlos Tocci, image- Tug Haines
At a very young age, outfielder Carlos Tocci garnered a high level of praise for his raw tools on the baseball field. With minimal offensive production since he was signed by the Phillies, the young Venezuelan has left some wondering what's been missing.

Signed at age 16 for a reported $759,000, Tocci was 2011's biggest international free agent target. Since then, the slim framed youngster has struggled to live up to high expectations surrounding him.

In his initial season in the pro ranks, Tocci tallied a .278/.330/.299 slash line in 38 games in the rookie level Gulf Coast League in 2012.

The following season, at age 17, he began the year with full season Class A Lakewood, where he sported a .209/.261/.249 line in 118 games. He repeated the level this year, posting a .244/.296/.328 line through 122 games, including action on Thursday.

It took 862 professional at bats before Tocci launched his first round tripper. The youngster, who was ranked as the Phillies' ninth best prospect heading into this season, felt the big hit he had long waited for was rewarding not only to get over the hump and to prove that he could do it, but it showed the effort he put forth leading up to it was finally having results.

"It makes me happy because when you feel like something's going good, all the things that you did, all the work, is going well and everybody can finally see it," Tocci said via translator and teammate Jose Mayorga.

The statistical improvements are clear, but the team's manager Greg Legg sees more than just the numbers. Phillies coaches and personnel view the tools and abilities that made Tocci so popular among scouts as lacking a key ingredient. Strength.

"He's definitely finishing the season stronger than he finished last season," Legg said. "You can tell that he's a stronger player and that's probably the big thing we're waiting on is for him to just grow into a man (and gain) a little man-strength.

Tocci, who turned 19-year-old last week, is aware of the Phillies desire for him to add muscle and pounds to his six-foot-two 160-pound frame. It's been requested of him every year since he signed.

"All the coaches have mentioned that I need to get bigger, stronger and I know that," Tocci said. "The coaches also say to get better at being an athlete. Not just try to hit bombs and extra bases. They say my arms and my physical condition can get better."

Winter league baseball will not be on the agenda for Tocci, who knows his duties this off-season will include a Phillies mandated workout routine.

"He needs to work on explosive things. Speed drills. Weights. Some kind of program in that regard," Legg asserted.

According to Tocci, it's not yet clear whether that program will happen under the team's supervision in Clearwater, FL, or if they'll let him go home to work out in Venezuela, but he's already looking forward to the results after an improved offensive campaign this year.

"The only thing I can say is those results make me want to work three times as hard, to get more results and better numbers and not just be a Single A player."

BlueClaws Quotables: Team Speaks on Astudillo's Batting Crown Chase

Willians Astudillo, image- Jay Floyd
As Class A Lakewood standout Willians Astudillo continues his quest toward a South Atlantic League batting title, entering the final weekend of the season, his team is backing him.

The 22-year-old missed all of last season with a left knee injury, but has clearly bounced back nicely. Astudillo is 40-for-85 (.471 avg) in his last 23 games, helping to boost his league leading season average to .340.

I spoke with BlueClaws personnel about Astudillo's exciting batting crown chase. Read ahead for those quotes...

Manager Greg Legg-

"He's played the same all year, with the same energy and intensity. I never saw him have a lull. He loves baseball. I think that's the reason he gets up in the morning is to hit. But it has added some excitement to (our final week of the season). It's definitely interesting and if we can do anything to help him, we will."

"It's neat, we got Cozens, who set a franchise record for 15 homers and (stealing) 20 bags. No one else has ever done that. I think he's the only guy in the league to do that this year. So, we've got a couple pluses on the offensive side."

Fellow Venezuelan Carlos Tocci-

"I'm excited because I know Astudillo's going to win that title because he's been hitting his whole life and he's a great hitter. I want to help push him to win that title."

Reliever Joe DeNato-

"I've never seen a better hitter than him. He's got the best hands I've ever seen. He doesn't strike out. And he's consistent too."

Catcher Jose Mayorga-

"Willians is a great hitter. From the first time that he signed, I saw him the whole year, whole season, the whole time I've seen him above .300. He will make it and I think he has a great chance to win it."

Astudillo, who has played first base, outfield and catcher to stay in the lineup, on his defensive versatility-

"I've been working a little bit more than normal, because I have to take ground balls and play the outfield. Plus I have to catch bullpens. It has been hard for me. I'm not used to all the extra work and playing all the positions, but I feel good in all positions. I want to always be in the lineup and if I can make it where the manager wants to use me anywhere, I just want to be in here and help the team."

"I'm always having fun whenever I'm in between the lines. I just try to do the same, having fun, playing hard. I have more fun because I know I'm fighting for the title. Each day, I'm getting closer to the batting title, so chasing the title adds to it also."

Astudillo pushing toward batting title with BlueClaws' support

WilliansAstudillo
Astudillo, image- Jay Floyd
The last place Lakewood BlueClaws have been out of the playoff hunt for months, but there's another chase that the entire team is focused on that's set to go down to the wire. With the regular season winding down, blossoming star Willians Astudillo is battling to clinch the Class A South Atlantic League batting title with his entire team behind him.

Following a 3-for-4 effort in the BlueClaws' home schedule finale on Thursday night, Astudillo sports a .340 average, holding a six point lead on the league's next best hitter, Delmarva's Chance Sisco.

The more you watch the exciting and fun-loving Venezuela native, Astudillo, the easier it is to see why his team has his back.

Behind the scenes, Astudillo keeps things loose, is a constant cheerleader in the dugout and is always the one to offer a teammate a boost, when it's needed. His teammates love him for it.

"We're all on his back. He's great! We want him to get every record possible," Lakewood reliever Joe DeNato stated.

Phillies third round draft pick outfielder Aaron Brown joined the BlueClaws earlier this month and, in a short amount of time, has grown impressed with the energetic and intense Astudillo.

"He could hit at any level and I don't doubt that at all," Brown said. "He's proved that this year and just watching him for the past two and a half weeks, it's been amazing the way he's able to just compete at the plate and he's a very tough out. And if he gets the award, he's very deserving of it."

Rooting for their comrade isn't enough, as other BlueClaws are doing their part to assist Astudillo's push for the batting crown.

"Everybody is really excited for him, the whole team," backstop Jose Mayorga said with a big grin. "We help with his hitting. If he's doing something bad, we try to catch it and make him adjust quickly to get hits."

Even the team's manager Greg Legg is thinking ahead, admitting that if Astudillo is leading by a solid margin on the final day of the season the skipper would remove his most consistent bat from the lineup, in order to prevent any risk of the batting average dropping.

"If it was a lock, yeah (I'd pull him), but I'd have to have a mathematician next to me," Legg said with a laugh. "And I may have no idea what Cisco did or anyone else that might be coming close. If he had a six point lead the last day and he went two-for-two, I think you'd pull him and say he got it, but we'll see what happens."

For the 22-year-old righty batter, who has been a multi-positional standout, spending time at first base, catcher and in left field, the support he has received from his club has meant a lot.

"I feel good because all my teammates are behind me and pushing me to win the title" Astudillo asserted. "They want me to win and it feels very good. It feels like a family and I'm trying to do my best to bring the batting title to the team."

Astudillo adds that his actual family back home has offered equal support from afar.

"My whole family is paying attention, watching the box scores. If they can see the games online, they are watching. But, all my family is cheering for me, trying all day to find out the box score and after each game they try to call me. It feels good to have the support of my family, my teammates, my managers, the coaches, everybody that's trying to help me," Astudillo stated.

This week, Astudillo, who is listed at five-foot-nine, 180 pounds, was named as a South Atlantic League postseason All-Star, based on a vote of the league's managers and coaches. He also represented the BlueClaws in the mid-season All-Star event back in June and his production has only improved since then.

In 61 games prior to the All-Star break, Astudillo tallied a .317/.344/.415 slash line. Since that time, in 53 contests, he's posted a .370/.405/.474 line.

The success hasn't changed his focus as Astudillo's approach has stayed the same. With four games remaining in the season, he wants to finish just as he's played throughout the year, but heading home with some shiny, new hardware is certainly on his mind.

"I just want to keep doing what I've been doing this season. I'm trying to keep working hard, finish strong and take that batting title back to Venezuela."

This article was written for The Shore Sports Network.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Video: RHP Tyler Viza Bullpen Footage

Tyler Viza was selected by the Phillies in the 32nd round of the MLB amateur draft last year.  In his first full season of professional baseball, at age 19, the six-foot-three 170-pounder has already set the single season team loss record for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, having dropped 17 of his 21 decisions this year.

Overall, coaches and Phillies brass are pleased with the progress they've seen from the young Arizona native, who surprised many by beginning his 2014 campaign on a full season roster and stunned more by staying there for the duration of the year.

After going 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA in five April outings, Viza has posted a 1-15 record along with a 5.75 ERA in the 19 starts that followed.

Recently, I captured footage of Viza loosening up for a start.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Reading Eagle survey: Crawford ranked top Phils prospect

Recently, Mike Drago of The Reading Eagle conducted a survey of experts, made up of local writers and other media members, designed to rank the top prospects in the Phillies developmental system.

The participating individuals, who are all close to the Phillies minor league system, were asked to rank their personal top 20, which were tabulated to determine the paper's published list of top 15 Phillies prospects. Individuals surveyed included Baseball America's Josh Norris, Chris Rotolo of the Asbury Park Press, Mitch Rupert of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette as well as yours truly, Jay Floyd of PhilliesNation.com.

The collection of experts determined that last year's first round draft pick, J.P. Crawford, who represented the Phillies in the MLB All-Star Futures Game this year, is the top prospect in the organization. Crawford, 19, is widely expected to be the eventual successor to former National League MVP Jimmy Rollins at shortstop.

Last year's Reading Eagle rankings featured Maikel Franco at the top. The Dominican native fell to number three this year. A few new names are also featured on the list.

Here's an excerpt of The Reading Eagle's 2014 prospect rankings...

JP Crawford, image- Jay Floyd
1 J.P. Crawford: Just 14 months after being drafted the California shortstop found himself playing in the All-Star Futures Game. At 19 he was the youngest player on the Team USA roster and the second-youngest in the game. He was moved up to high Class A Clearwater in mid June, his third level in little more than a year. He's hit at all of them and carries a .295 batting average and .388 on-base percentage through his first 720 professional games. (ed. note- Crawford has played just 170 pro games)

2 Aaron Nola: The Phillies desperately needed a fast-moving, strike-throwing starting pitcher when they tabbed the LSU right-hander in the June draft and that's exactly what they got. He became the first Phillies draft pick to reach Double-A in his first professional season since 1986. He'll likely start next season in Reading and end it in Philadelphia.

3 Maikel Franco: The Phillies were hoping the 21-year-old would be their third baseman by now but he had a poor spring training and an even worse spring at Lehigh Valley. After a lousy first half he finally started to hit, batting .343 in July. He's still extremely young – almost six years younger than the average International League player – so there's no reason to panic.

4 Roman Quinn: He was moved off shortstop when J.P. Crawford made his way to Clearwater in June, but that's OK because the Phillies are short of outfield prospects. Quinn has been slowed by an Achilles tendon ruptured in the offseason yet still has an organization-leading 29 steals, is a switch hitter and figures to cover lots of ground in center. He's batting just .251 at Clearwater but he just turned 21 in May.

5 Jesse Biddle: The left-hander out of Philadelphia has been an enigma. The former first-round pick has great stuff but his career has gone sideways since arriving in Reading last season. At times he's dominant, at other times his command disappears. The concussion suffered in May leaves a cloud over his season. It's hard to gauge how much of an impact that's had on him. The good news: He's still just 22 and lefties develop late.

The remainder of the top 15 rounded out with the following 10 players:

6. Aaron Altherr, OF, Reading
7. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, RHP, Lehigh Valley
8. Matt Imhof, LHP, Lakewood
9. Carlos Tocci, OF, Lakewood
10. Kelly Dugan, OF, Reading
11. Dylan Cozens, OF, Lakewood
12. Deivi Grullon, Clearwater
13. Cameron Perkins, Lehigh Valley
14. Aaron Brown, OF, Lakewood
15. Severino Gonzalez, RHP, Reading

Injured hurlers Adam Morgan and Shane Watson fell from the Reading Eagle's rankings after making the list last year, as did catchers Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp. Also, right-hander Ethan Martin, who spent some time with the big league club this year, missed the list.

Other players receiving votes this year included catcher Andrew Knapp, lefty hurler Yoel Mecias, outfielder Cord Sandberg, third baseman Zach Green and first baseman/catcher Willians Astudillo.