Monday, August 13, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Clearwater OF Kevin Markham

Kevin Markham, image- Jay Floyd
Through much of the season, outfielder Kevin Markham has been a contributor for his team.  The 24-year-old opened the 2018 campaign with Class A Lakewood where he helped that club win the first half division title and clinch a playoff berth by sporting a .282 batting average with a pair of homers, 15 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 53 games.

Following a promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater the lefty batter has tallied a .275 average with four doubles, two triples, seven RBI and four steals in 29 games.  The Threshers lead their division in the second half standings and appear to be headed for a post-season berth of their own.

Markham was the 24th round draft pick of the Phillies last year out of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Recently, I interviewed the Texas native about his successful first full year in the minors, his team, playing along side rehabbing major league players and more.  Read ahead for that interview.

-It’s been a nice season for you. Successful stint with Lakewood and a deserved promotion. Is the season going how you expected and did you set this sort of goal to be at High A for yourself?

I worked harder than I ever have to get ready for the season this year so that I could set myself up to be the best player that I could possibly be. My goal at the beginning of the year was to have a healthy season and to this point I feel as though I have done so. Being in High A was a goal of mine in the back of my head, but it’s not the thing that got me going. I just wanted to be the best teammate I could be to help my team win games.

-What was it like to get the news of the promotion? Was there any trickery to make you think the news was something else, or was (Lakewood manager) Marty (Malloy) straight up about it?

It was a great feeling getting the news that I was being promoted. It was something that I had worked very hard for and couldn’t thank the Phillies organization enough for it. Marty was straight up about it. He was great to play for and I’m very thankful for my time with him.

-What was the highlight of your time with Lakewood?

There were many highlights of playing in Lakewood but when we clinched 1st place in the first half it was a very special feeling. We all had that goal in the beginning and it was a really great feeling to get to celebrate that with my teammates.

-What is the vibe with the Threshers like right now, with the club leading the standings for a playoff spot? Is everyone excited and focused on keeping that division lead?

The vibe here is something very similar to the one in Lakewood. Just full of guys who are easy going and fun to be around. Obviously, we have the goal of making playoffs and are working hard to do so but we try to keep it light and fun which helps us play better in my opinion.

Markham, image- MiLB.com
-Playing in the Florida State League, what are the best and worst things about that?

Playing in the Florida State League has its pros and cons. I think the best thing here are the bus rides. Our longest ride here is only a couple of hours where in Lakewood the longest ride was 14 hours. The worst part has to be the heat and humidity.

-Do you have any game day superstitions or any teammates with any noteworthy ones?

I personally do not have any superstitions or know of any crazy ones that my teammates have.

-Earliest memories of baseball?

My earliest memories of baseball go way back to little league. Watching my brother play made me want to play because I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I had a great support system growing up with parents and a brother that would play with me any time I wanted to play.

-At what point did you realize that baseball could be a job for you and did your approach to the game change with that realization?

I first realized this could be a job for me around my junior year of college. I never played the game in hopes of being drafted. I just wanted to help my teams win in any way that I could. My approach to the game never really changed. My main goal was to take my college to Omaha (for the College World Series) and I failed my team in that goal.

-Did you have a favorite player growing up?

My favorite player growing up was Ken Griffey Jr. The way he played the game and how much fun he had in doing so just made him to fun to watch.

-What’s your favorite rain delay activity?

My favorite rain delay activity came in my freshman year of college when we had a dance off for 20 minutes before the game was called.

-Of late, the Threshers have had some rebabbing big leaguers around. Talk about what it's like learning from those guys.

Having the rehab guys around is a very cool feeling. Those are the guys that we are striving to be and to see how those guys go about their work is special to see. Crawford was fun to be around. He’s a very laid back guy who likes making the game fun again. He was easy to talk to, always had a good time. Eickhoff is a great guy. Easy going and goes about his business in the right way. Every day he shows up, he is finding a way to get better. Ramos just got here but it is cool to watch him play. He’s very even keel in his personality and can tell he’s on the right track to be back in the show here soon.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Talking Phillies prospects on the latest Hittin' Season Podcast

Happy weekend to all.  For your Friday afternoon commute or for your casual weekend listening or perhaps your delayed and laid back effort to catch up sometime later, check out John Stolnis's wonderful Phillies podcast Hittin' Season, as yours truly spends time chatting it up about some top prospects from the organization.

Not only does John recap the week in Phils action, lay out some remarkable statistics and unveil his updated MLB top 10 teams power rankings, but he and I discuss the likes of top minor leagues names like Sixto Sanchez, Mickey Moniak, Adam Haseley, Kyle Dohy, Jose Pujols as well as Spencer Howard plus more.

Check out the program and other recent episodes in the embedded media player below or head on over to SoundCloud.com/TheFelskeFiles!


Thursday, August 9, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview DitC Edition: Lakewood 3b Cole Stobbe

Cole Stobbe, image- Jay Floyd
On a throwback Thursday, we're taking it back to April of this year when I talked to Class A Lakewood third baseman Cole Stobbe (pronounced STOW-bee) in this previously unreleased interview.

This year, Stobbe has missed significant time with two separate hamstring strains to the same leg.  In just 12 total games with the BlueClaws the righty batting Nebraska native posted a .209 average with three doubles, a home run and seven RBI.

The 20-year-old was the Phillies' 3rd round draft choice in 2016.  He was ranked as the Phillies' 22nd best prospect entering this season.

Read ahead for the full interview.

-What are you early impressions of Lakewood?

It’s a big field. But, you see the crowd, you see how they interact, it’s going to be a fun place to play.

-How did your spring campaign go for you?

It was good. You know, the whole thing about spring is that nothing counts, so you can go ahead and get yourself ready for when it does count, which is now, so I think our team did a good job with that this spring and we came in ready to play.

-With this team, there are guys returning to this league for a second time, Daniel Brito and some others. Is there anything they’ve told you about this place or anything else about the level to get you ready?

Yeah, I mean there’s not much said about Lakewood itself because it is what it is. It’s nice- it’s probably one of the nicest stadiums, so there wasn’t much said about that. It’s more about opposing (teams’) stadiums, like stadiums that aren’t so nice, the travel. So, just picking their brains about the travel and how they get ready on the road.

-So what are the impressions you get about that travel and long road trips? Are there negative notions or feelings about the amount of travel?

It’s early, so I haven’t hit that yet, but that’s what you signed up for. You signed up to play baseball and it’s a job, so you’ve got to take the highs and the lows. Whether it’s 16 hour bus rides or three hour bus rides, it’s all part of it.

-You talk about “It’s all part of it”, that’s a famous phrase throughout minor league baseball, made popular by Cord Sandberg, Jack Murphy and others. Do you thrive and live by that?

Of course! Especially in pro ball, at the lower levels, everything is all part of it. For the Latin guys, they’ve got shirts (that say) “Todo es Parte”, so I think it’s a good motto to go by.

-Outside of the ballpark too, right?

Right, yeah, it’s kind of like taking things that don’t go your way, taking a lesson from it and moving on. I think it’s a good thing if you’re playing baseball or even off the field.

-Very cool. Is there anyone on this BlueClaws roster that you’ve bonded with a lot or are really close with?

All the dudes from last year that I was on Williamsport with and then Brito. I’ve been his roommate probably five times throughout instructional league and all that, so Brito is probably one of the closer ones I’m bonding with.

-I know that at the strength and speed camps last fall Spanish classes were mandatory for the American guys. Did you go through those camps and classes?

Yeah, I went through the Spanish classes, but I took four years of Spanish in high school, so it was sort of a refresher. I did those four years and then got Rosetta Stone and I try to communicate with the Latin guys as much as possible.

-Are you fairly fluent?

You can ask a Latin on that…

-I’ll ask about you! But here’s a test…could you turn on the Spanish channel and keep up?

Keep up? Probably not. Order a meal at a restaurant? Yes.

-Four years and Rosetta Stone?!

Hey, it’s tough. The Spanish you learn here is a little different than the regular conversational stuff you’d hear.

-Okay. Cool. I’ll stop giving you a hard time. You were an early round draft pick. Do you have any standout draft day memories?

The draft is unpredictable, so no matter what anyone says, you’ve got to take everything with a grain of salt and, you know, you can’t believe one thing or another, you just have to wait for your name to be called. Overall it was a good experience and I’m thankful to the Phillies for giving me the opportunity.

-Is there anybody coach wise that you’ve taken a lot from in your career so far?

(Tyler) Henson, the hitting coach. He was in Williamsport last year and he moved up with us. I have a good relationship with him and I think we understand each other pretty well.

-I noticed on the roster with his date of birth, he’s still a playing-age guy (at 30 years old). It could probably easier to learn from a guy that could still be out there doing it as opposed to someone, not to be insulting, that is a parent’s age or something like that. So, is it cool to have someone that’s closer to your age to be able to bond with and learn from?

Of course. I think it’s good for the whole team, just kind of bridging that gap, so he understands what we go through nowadays. And Marty’s unbelievable. He’s a players’ managers. He’s doing a great job. But I think with Henson, he’s fresh out. I think he’s a couple years out from playing so he understands a lot about what we’re going through and a lot about what needs to be communicated.

-You mentioned communication there and I know with the new regime there’s Sam Fuld in a role to be able to convey or relay analytics details and all that to the players. Any thoughts on the exposure at all? Do you dig it? Do you think it’s going to be very helpful?

I like it. I mean, if you’re playing the statistics, playing the percentages and the guy’s hitting 70-percent pull, why wouldn’t you play him to pull? He’s only going to hit over to the right side or opposite field 30-percent of the time, so why wouldn’t you play the 70 and take away all those hits? So, I think it’s very beneficial.

-The analytics focus- is there anything being brought to the offensive players? Or is it just defensive strategy?

Yeah, we’re talking launch angles and exit velo’s, but our main focus is on hitting the ball hard, getting the barrel of the bat on the ball and good things will happen.

-Did you play any other sports, growing up as a kid?

I grew up playing hockey and baseball and then I played baseball, football, basketball in junior high and then in high school I played basketball, baseball.

-Any brag-worthy details about your hoops days?

No. I ran fast and jumped high and I weighed a little less. I was a defensive specialist, so I would get the rebound and pass to the point guard.

-Is there anybody on this club that stands out to you as a leader thus far?

I think the guys that are returning are kind of doing the most right now, ‘cause they know what to expect, they know how Marty (Malloy) is as a manager, so I think the returning guys are standing out for sure.

-How about Brito? You mentioned him being a roommate. Every time I’ve encountered him or when I see him around, he’s the fun guy- laughing, joking, keeping things light. Do you see the same things?

Doesn’t change (for me). He’s like that at midnight, he’s like that at 6 AM. It’s unbelievable, that dude. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to be around.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Temple product Hockenberry thriving in new role as coach

Matt Hockenberry, image- Jay Floyd
After he was drafted and signed by the Phillies in 2014, Matt Hockenberry thought he was living the perfect life, as becoming a professional pitcher was what he thought was his ultimate goal. Last year, after roughly three years in the minor leagues, he was released from his contract and he wasn’t sure what was next.  His true dream job, where he would excel swiftly, was on the horizon.

With baseball being the only life he ever envisioned, Hockenberry had a stroke of luck when he found himself out of the game in 2017.  He received a call to interview for a new coaching position at the Phillies' lowest domestic level, as they were adding a second team to the rookie level Gulf Coast League and would need to fill a completely new coaching staff.

Described as extremely passionate, the Temple University product stood out as an individual that the Phillies wanted to talk to when it came time to interview prospective coaches.

"He's all about it", said Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan with a laugh.  "He's all about it and he's going to be an outstanding teacher. He's learning, but he asks a lot of good questions and I think he understands that there's a lot to learn."

As a pitcher, Hockenberry enjoyed some success in his first couple seasons as a pro, posting nice numbers in Class A.  In his first full season in the minors, he would record a 2.24 ERA in 42 games for Class A Lakewood. The following season, in 2016, he tallied a 1.39 ERA in 41 contests for Class A Advanced Clearwater, earning a promotion to Double-A Reading.  There, he would notch a 5.79 ERA in three appearances. 

He returned to Double-A last year to open the regular season, but Hockenberry surrendered hits to seven of the 13 batters he faced in four outings.  He was sent back to Clearwater where the Phillies decided they had seen enough of him on the mound and he was dismissed in late July.

The time in between gigs with the Phillies flew by and now the 26-year-old looks forward to growing right along with the players he's working to develop.

“This has been the absolute dream job that I didn't ask for," Hockenberry excitedly shared.  "It has been the most rewarding career that I think I could have ever asked for.  You know, it’s not about me. It’s about the kids."

One of those kids is promising GCL Phillies West hurler Ben Brown, the Phillies’ 33rd round selection in last year’s draft out of Ward Melville High School in NY. The 18-year-old praises “Hock” for much of his success (3-2 record, 2.95 ERA, 11.8 K/9 in eight games).

“He just watched and he was so observant when I first started pitching in front of him in spring training,” Brown asserted. “I can confidently say he's influenced my career more than anyone else up to this point as far as pitching goes because I was not where I am now three months ago, when he first started working with me. He's been such a motivator to me mentally, he's worked with me on mechanical stuff (also).”

And not only has Hockenberry assisted with the growth of his young pitchers right out of the gate, he’s helping their battery mates as well.

“He’s taught me a lot just in the month and a half that I’ve been here,” said catcher Logan O'Hoppe, who was the Phillies’ 23rd round draft pick in June this year. “As far as communication with the pitchers and stuff like that, he’s helped me a lot with that and I’m really enjoying it.

“It’s just been sequencing different hitters as far as with pitches and just controlling the game behind the plate. Just overall I can tell he’s helped me a lot.”

A quality of Hockenberry that stood out and possibly helped him land the new role is his attention to the other language commonly spoken around U.S. baseball diamonds besides English.  With so many Latin players throughout the sport, the York County, PA native always focused on building bonds with each of his teammates.  A way to do that was to do his best to master the Spanish language.

Not only does it now help him form bonds with and communicate with his pitching staff, but it has inspired his multicultural group to help one another follow suit.

"I have witnessed, I have snuck up on, I have found out that my bullpen…they’ve been teaching each other Spanish and English," Hockenberry stated.  "That’s one of the things that I pride myself on the most is being able to speak it myself to where the American guys realize that, 'Oh my God, our coach, he's a normal American, Pennsylvania guy that can speak Spanish. I should probably learn this.'"

Hockenberry has some quality mentors to learn from as he masters the techniques around teaching young pitchers.  Led by Phils minor league pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves and roving pitching coach Carlos Arroyo, Hockenberry is well on his way to becoming an exceptional teacher, leader and inspiration to his players.

"I just think Matt's a really sharp guy," Jordan said.  "He's got a lot of passion for what he's doing. He spends a lot of time there. He's not in a hurry to get in and get out. He's all about those players which is what we want.  He's gonna be really good at what he does."

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Sixto update and a bit more

Sanchez with Lakewood last year, image- J. Floyd
I heard from plenty of social networking followers and other folks online in the past few days either expressing displeasure that presumably I left out asking about certain players in my recent interview with Joe Jordan.  Others have politely asked for details on a promising pair of top prospects' recovery from their respective injuries.

The fact of the matter is that Joe, or anyone else for that matter, doesn't always have an answer for every question.  Additionally, I may not ask about every topic or player that everyone wants to hear about. 

But, I am here, at long last, to offer some insight that my readers have been craving.

Sixto Sanchez, the Phillies top pitching prospect is not officially done for the season.  The 20-year-old right-hander has been out of action for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers since early June with the aforementioned elbow inflammation.

The Phillies are hoping to get the Dominican Republic native into some game action before season's end.

"Our thoughts are he's back pitching late August," Joe Jordan said this morning via text message.

That's good news for the Threshers and their fans.  Clearwater is two games back in the Florida State League North Division standings.  The addition of Sanchez could help them clinch a post season spot or battle into the FSL playoffs.  Though he would likely throw rehab outings with a Gulf Coast League (rookie short-season level) team before joining the Threshers.

In eight starts this year, Sanchez posted a 4-3 record with a 2.51 ERA, a .224 batting average against and an 8.7 K/9 mark.

Jordan has not commented on injured 2018 first round draft pick Alec Bohm.  The righty-hitting third baseman is out of action with a left shin contusion.

Bohm is no longer in a walking boot and has been seen working around the Phils' complex in Florida to get ready for a return to action.

In 14 games with Class A short-season Williamsport, prior to being sidelined, the 3rd overall draft selection tallied a .192 batting average with a double and four RBI. 

Additionally, I've heard from a source that talented lefty David Parkinson is headed to Clearwater after a dazzling campaign with Class A Lakewood this year.  The six-foot-two 210-pounder boasts an 8-1 record and the South Atlantic League's best ERA at 1.51 through 17 starts for the BlueClaws this year. 

The 22-year-old lefty was the Phillies' 12th round draft pick out of Mississippi last year. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood pitching coach Brad Bergesen

Brad Bergesen, image- Jay Floyd
Last week I talked with Class A Lakewood pitching coach Brad Bergesen about his staff, a group that leads the South Atlantic League with a 2.79 mark through action on Tuesday.

Prospects discussed include relievers Connor Brogdon and Zach Warren, injured starter Kyle Young, as well as lefty starters David Parkinson and Will Stewart.

Read ahead for that interview.

-We saw Spencer Howard with a nice outing today.  What did you see from him?
I saw a lot of good there today.  I was very, very pleased with the stuff he was featuring today.  I think he had four plus pitches.  There was a few hitters where- two, three hitters—where he got a little out of whack, but then he regained it, but overall I thought it was a very, very good outing for him.

-Where does this outing rank among his other efforts this season?

I think overall, just a solid outing for him.  I think it’s one he can build his confidence on.  I think he had 10 strike outs today, so his stuff was there.  It could have easily been one run for him today, so the line is not always indicative of how he pitched.  Stuff wise, it was electric at times.

-Connor Brogdon gets a save and has been one of the key guys out of this team's bullpen in the second half.  What can you share about what he's giving you?

He’s really stepped up for us and he really stepped up for us today, getting a two-inning save today. It was big. He got a few runners on there and I saw him really execute some timely pitches today.

-Has it been an easy transition following the loss of a couple of All-Star out of the bullpen with the promotions of both Kyle Dohy and Addison Russ?

Dohy and Russ were two big guys for us in the back end of the bullpen, but this game and some of the other games and life, it’s about opportunity. And so with them being gone and you’ve seen guys like Zach Warren and Connor Brogdon really step up to it and answer that call.

-What weapons do Brogdon and Warren feature that are helping them succeed?

Brogdon obviously he’s got a real good fastball. He’s an extension guy, so he’s releasing it closer to home plate than most guys, so those are two of his weapons. I think it’s his fastball and where he’s releasing it, so it’s going to look a little harder to the hitter. I think he’s got a really good change up and his slider, I saw it today, I saw some really good ones.

Zach Warren his fastball and curve ball mix is plus. His curve ball is as sharp as you’re going to see and he’s able to show that third pitch too of change up and at times it’s plus as well.

Kyle Young, image- Jay Floyd
-When Kyle Young was active and in this BlueClaws rotation what did you see from him?

I saw a lot of good with him. You know, just with his height, for as big as he is, he’s got a pretty good feel for some of his pitches and command, so hopefully, we’ll get him back soon.

-I've talked to several guys on this pitching staff and they're pretty fond of you and rave about how you've helped them, giving you a lot of credit.  What does it mean to you to have these guys crediting you with their efforts this year?

I appreciate it, but by no means do I want to sit there and take the credit, ‘cause I think it’s just a byproduct of the Phillies organization. I think on the pitching side, what they’re doing between Rafael Chavez our minor league pitching coordinator Carlos Arroyo, he’s one of our pitcher rovers, those are two guys that are putting forth the philosophy and giving these guys the foundation, so that by the time they get to me they have a great foundation and maybe we tweak something here or there. But I think it’s really a byproduct of what they in the organization are doing with their guys.

-David Parkinson has been really outstanding for the team this year and I think some people may have expected him to come back down to Earth and his numbers haven't faced.  Leads the league in ERA.  Can you talk about him a bit?

I mean he’s been outstanding for us this year. He’s not your guy that’s going to light up a radar guy, so maybe that’s how he kind of slipped through the cracks, but he’s been outstanding for us,. He’s a guy—he’s a very analytical guy. He’s a big command and sequence so he’s got a real good idea of what he’s doing, so he’s always thinking a pitch or two ahead.

-And Will Stewart, (who has the league's second best ERA)?

Will has a plus sinker. His two-seam and his change up are his bread and butter. But he’s also able to spin some breaking balls too, so he’s got a good feel for that.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

RHP Howard taking strides with Class A Lakewood

Spencer Howard, image- Jay Floyd
Compared to some of his Lakewood BlueClaws teammates starting pitcher Spencer Howard may not be having an exceptionally remarkable campaign, but he’s starting to show enough progress to get both the Phillies and fans excited.

On a pitching staff that leads the Class A South Atlantic League in earned run average with a 2.81 ERA through action played on Sunday, a hurler with a personal ERA of 4.50, as Howard has, might normally not be all that noteworthy. That could especially be the case when a pair of his teammates, Will Stewart and David Parkinson, rank first and third in the league in ERA respectively. But the Phillies second round draft choice from 2017, Howard, feels that he’s made the right amount of progress and is proud of what his teammates are accomplishing.

The environment is enjoyable and fortifying for all of the BlueClaws’ promising young pitchers. They're supportive of one another and they each push the next man with friendly competition. There's no selfishness and there's nobody hoping to be the only one performing well in order to stand out.

"Throughout this organization with the staffs that I’ve been on, it seems to be a trend," Howard shared following his most recent start. "I don’t know if the Phillies just purposely go for good people, or whatever, but overall it’s just good-ass dudes playing some baseball. It’s a lot of fun."

Lakewood's pitching staff overall leads all of minor league baseball with 20 shutouts.

The right-hander, who is listed at six-feet-three and 205 pounds, has tallied a 6-7 record with an outstanding 11.6 K/9 mark and a .238 batting average against through 17 Sally League starts to date this season.

Howard’s production has seen some ups (1.89 ERA in four April starts) and downs (8.79 ERA in four May starts) this season. He attributes the arduous path to occasional mechanical flaws and he feels comfortable with knowing that he's aware of how to right the ship when it goes off course. And even when he’s not able to adjust in an immediate fashion, he’s taking lessons along the way to ensure each outing has a silver lining.

“When I feel confident in my mechanics then everything’s there,” Howard said. “It’s been a consistency thing for me, just trying to get to that comfortable place on the mound. There’s been a few outings where I haven’t felt that good, but I managed to just battle through it.”

While the California native works to enhance the evenness of his mechanics, the Phillies have stressed the importance for Howard to build a solid base and develop a better understanding of pitch sequences.

Once that foundation is firmly in place the fast track may not be far off for the product of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

"When it comes together, and for me it's going to come together not too far down the road, maybe the second half of his progression to the big leagues is going to go a little bit quicker than maybe the first half," said Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan.

Howard made his professional debut within about a month of being selected with the 45th overall pick last year.  In nine starts with Class A short-season Williamsport Howard posted a 1-1 record with a 4.45 ERA and a .214 batting average against.  

His pitch repertoire features a fastball that frequently reached 97 and 98 miles per hour in his most recent outing in which he struck out 10 batters in 5 1/3 innings. He’s also equipped with an exceptional cutter that resembles a slider, a curveball that features good break and a change up that fools batter frequently.  Each pitch can come off as what insiders would call plus offerings.

“It’s fun to watch him start to put all those pitches together in one outing,” Lakewood pitching coach Brad Bergesen stated “Earlier in the year I’d see him have one of the four, or two of the four or three of the four sometimes, but his last few outings he’s been a lot more consistent with his feel of four pitches.”

With noticeable progress and a bright future ahead, Howard and the Phillies are excited to see what happens when the base, his mechanics and the aresenal become unrelenting.


“It's got a chance to happen big,” said Jordan.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan

Joe Jordan, image- Jay Floyd
On Sunday, Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan took some time to talk with me about plenty of prospects throughout the Phils developmental levels.

Topics discussed include injury updates for several hurlers including Jose Taveras, Nick Fanti, Bailey Falter and a critical note on Triple-A reliever Brandon Leibrandt.  Also mentioned are outfielders Jhailyn Ortiz and Jose Pujols, catcher Deivi Grullon, Lakewood starters Will Stewart and David Parkinson as well as impressive Double-A reliever Kyle Dohy along with Triple-A reliever Tyler Gilbert.

Read onward for much of my interview with Joe and check back in the coming days for his thoughts on some other names that are worthy of interest. 


-Kyle Dohy's graduated out of Lakewood and Clearwater, landing in Reading.  He's started to get some attention, after he was a 16th round draft pick and pitched in short-season Class A last year.  Can you talk about his season and how impressive that's been?

Well, I think it speaks for itself that it's been a phenomenal year for him.  You know, you just-- he is a power pitcher from the left side out of the bullpen and he's got three pitches to get good hitters out with.  And I just think from a velocity to an execution standpoint with his fastball, if he establishes his fastball then it opens up the whole plate for his other two pitches and that's, for me, what he's been able to do.  And he's been phenomenal.  Again, he's got three plus pitches.  You have the ability to-- he's got a pretty good arsenal to draw from.

-Has he been the biggest eye-catcher in the system this year?  Has there been anybody else that's really made a name for himself the way Kyle has this year?

I think that he's definitely, if not the biggest surprise, (he's) one of them.  Just because it's a pretty ascent to Double-A out of last year's draft.  So, yeah, it'd be hard to argue with that.

-What are his offerings and his strengths? 

It's a hard curveball behind a well above average fastball at times and then a change up.   You know, he's got three pitches that he can go after both left and right handed hitters with.  That's why he's done what he's done.  He's just been really, really good.

-For Lakewood both Will Stewart and David Parkinson are lefty starters that have been quite impressive.  I think people have been expecting those guys to come back down to Earth with their statistics, but they haven't and have been strong all year.  What can you share about those guys?

Well, Will, for me, the first three months of the summer was as good as anybody we had in our system on the mound, as far as starting pitching.  And he's just gotten stronger as he's added strength and understanding to how his delivery's supposed to work.  It's a power sinker with a plus change up and an improving breaking ball, so it's been-- we're kind of managing his innings right now.  We've got a target we want to try to get him to at the end of the year, but he's really, really taken a huge step forward. 

And David, for me, can pitch with pretty much anyone in our system.  It's fastball, curveball, slider, change up, really good feel for sequences.  He gets a lot of swings and misses on an 89 to 92 mile an hour fastball, but it's because he knows when he executes it, he can throw his fastball.  He's got a really good feel for how to sequence a hitter and, so I've been really impressed with him this year.  Again, based on last summer, you know last summer was our first time to see him and I think he's really-- we've had a lot of guys that have just taken big steps forward, so both these guys are two of them.

-Also on that list of guys to take significant strides is likely Tyler Gilbert.  How about him?

Yeah, I think it's just more of the same.  Late last summer in Clearwater he started playing around with a cutter grip.  And it was a pitch that I think he took to really quickly.  We saw it late last summer and he went and pitched in the fall league, went and brought that pitch forward.  I think he's gotten more comfortable and familiar with the bull pen role and how to prepare and how to get ready.  His fastball's up a grade.  His cutter is good.  He's got a change up and a breaking ball.  He's really just grown for me, as a pitcher, and understanding what he has and how to use it.

-How has Deivi Grullon impressed you this year?  He wins the Eastern League home run derby, he's hitting for more power.  (His manager) Greg Legg is happy with his progress, mentioning he's improved his English.  What have you seen from him?

Well, I think what you just said from Legger.  I think he's gotten better in every aspect of his game.  He's really-- I think the coolest thing about Grullon's development is he has really taken ownership of his staff.  I think he has taken ownership of running the pre- and post-game meetings.  I think he really understands now, more than ever, the importance of the role of the catcher to be a leader, to understand pitchers' strengths and pitch off of those.  So, offensively, listen, he just keeps getting better.  But there's not one part of his game that he hasn't come forward on.  We've had him since he was 16 years old.  It's been really cool to watch.


Jhailyn Ortiz, image- Jay Floyd
-Speaking of a guy signed at 16, Jhailyn Ortiz has been a pretty consistent RBI guy in the middle of the BlueClaws' lineup.  Talk about him a bit.

Well, I think Jhailyn's getting exactly what he needs and he's getting experience.  Listen, no one has more ability.  He's a very energetic young guy.  I love what he's doing.  As soon as he gets a little better understanding of the strike zone and how guys are trying to pitch him, this guy's gonna go fast.  I think experience is what he needs, that's what he's getting.  He's got everything you need, every ingredient- every physical ingredient- you need to be a fantastic player one of these days. 

-A guy I ask you about every time we talk is Jose Pujols.  He showed a lot of power a couple years ago at Lakewood, seemed to struggle at Clearwater last year and now this year he seems to have figured out that league.  Is he where you were hoping for this year?

Well, I think he falls into the same category as to what we were talking about with Dohy.  A guy that had a really, really tough go last year and I think what Jose's done is make adjustments with being  over aggressive, take what the game gives you, understand how you're being pitched to.  He's just been terrific to watch.  It's really rewarding for all of us because obviously we lived through the struggles of last year with him.  And I'm proud of him.  I'm proud of him for-- he's the one that's made the adjustments, but he's a pretty damn good player right now. 

-Yeah, absolutely.  He's been outstanding there.  I wanted to ask about some guys that are situated down in Clearwater, rehabbing with various injuries.  Nick Fanti's a guy that's missed time this year with a lower back strain.  Is he going to throw with a team again this year?

Well, that's our hope.  He's getting better.  It's, you know, he's just dealt with some physical stuff that's kept him sidelined, obviously.  I think he's improving, getting ready to start throwing, his throwing progression.  We'll get him out before the year is up.

-J.D. Hammer's a guy, coming into this season, I think people were excited to see and they haven't seen him.  Any feedback for him?

Yeah, I think we're gonna see him sometime in August.  We'll be able to recapture some innings for him sometime this fall or winter.  So, you know, it's been more of the same, just dealt with some injuries, but we're gonna get to see him in August.  

-Continuing with a list of pitchers I'm hoping to ask about Brandon Leibrandt has missed time after a tremendous start for Lehigh Valley.  What's his current status?

Well, Brandon Leibrandt had UCL (Tommy John) surgery, so he's at home kind of recuperating right now, but he'll be rehabbing this fall and winter and pretty much all of '19.

-A couple other injured pitchers worth checking in on are Jose Taveras and Bailey Falter.

Falter's gonna-- I think he's throwing his last rehab outing maybe, I'm guessing the 31st or the 1st.  And then he'll be back with Clearwater.  And Taveras, he's throwing.  We gotta get him built up.  But he'll be pitching in August. 

-Taveras's injury- is it a recurrence of his initial spell on the DL?

It was more of- it was really nothing structural, it was he was lacking some strength and he dealt with a little shoulder tendonitis and when he came back he just wasn't physically as ready as we felt like he was, so we wanted to back off.  He's fine.  He's throwing.  We just wanted to get him built up and he'll be pitching in August.

-So I know that Trevor Bettencourt was a guy that was maybe put on the disabled list as a precaution, when he was missing some of the velocity he showed last year and it sounds like something similar with Taveras.  Is that the normal path, if there's a guy and he lacks strength and there's evidence like that, with radar gun readings, to set them aside and see if you can work it out?

Yeah.  I think what we did with Trevor was very prudent.  And he will be with a club, hopefully, this week some time.  He's doing really good.  I saw him down in Clearwater last week.

-And, Joe, I know you prefer to talk about the healthy guys, so Cole Irvin has progressed at a nice pace since he was drafted two years ago and is an All-Star for that  Triple-A IronPigs team.  What are your thoughts on Cole Irvin's season?

He's had a great year.  Hell, there's no other way to slice it up.  He's had a terrific year and in previous seasons he may have already been in the big leagues.  Right now, we've got a pretty good rotation in the big leagues and a pretty good group in Triple-A, so he just needs to keep doing what he's doing. 

-I want to ask about one more guy.  Ranger Suarez has enjoyed some success this year at Double-A and Triple-A.  He gets a big league start to make his major league debut this past week and, hopefully, that's the first of many.  Can you share some thoughts on Ranger?

Well, I mean, Ranger's been terrific.  I thought he did a good job in his debut.  You know, the beauty of Ranger Suarez is he knows exactly who he is.  He knows himself, he knows what pitches he's got.  He's gonna go do what he does and I thought that's what he did in Cincinnati.  I think that he's had a good year and he's got a lot of pitching left to do.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Speedy OF Quinn headed back to the big leagues

Roman Quinn, image- Jay Floyd
Multiple reports on Friday have the Phillies promoting often injured outfielder Roman Quinn to fill a spot on the team's major league roster.  The addition will give the club an elite defender and a switch-hitting contributor that is a stolen base threat that can get in pitchers' heads . 

The Phillies' 2nd round draft pick in 2011 has posted a .305 average with a pair of homers, 11 RBI and 14 steals in 28 games with Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year.  He's been working his way back of late, following surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right hand.

Starting with his first full season in professional baseball in 2013, the center-fielder and sometimes-shortstop, Quinn, has played in 378 games throughout the Phillies organization. During those five and a half seasons, the 25-year-old has spent 405 total regular season days out of action with injuries that, in addition to this year's ailment, range from a broken wrist to a torn muscle and from a ruptured Achilles tendon to and oblique strain.

Those tallies of days count his team's scheduled opening day through the last day of the minor league regular season, which is Labor Day each year.  The total amount of days injured increases to 432 by figuring that he could have been with the big league team to wrap up the 2017 campaign and that season lasts another three to four weeks. The calculations do not count time spent in off-season leagues.

Having more days sidelined than actually on the field really proves the narrative about Quinn as seen in the embedded tweet below.


Here's hoping Quinn can stay healthy and help the first place Phillies (58-44) continue to succeed.

PhoulBallz Interview: Catching prospect Logan O'Hoppe excerpts

Earlier this week I posted an article about the impact that Gulf Coast League Phillies catcher Logan O'Hoppe is making in his first professional campaign. 

The 18-year-old righty batter sports a .500 average with three doubles, a triple, a home run and eight RBI through 15 games played with the Phils' West team in the rookie level GCL.

In quotes that didn't make the article, the 23rd round draft selection from this year shared insight on guidance from his pitching coach Matt Hockenberry, already knowing some Phillies farm hands before signing with the organization and more.  Read ahead for those excerpts.

-On the topic of what coach Matt Hockenberry has helped him with...

It hasn’t been really anything specific to be honest with you.  It’s just been sequencing different hitters as far as with pitches and just controlling the game behind the plate.  Just overall I can tell he’s helped me a lot and I mean still there’s a whole lot of room for improvement.  I’ve been here for a month, but I’ve probably learned more from him than I did in a long time back in New York.  

-He offered thoughts on how he thinks amateur ball prepared him for the minor leagues...

My high school coaches were really big with helping me and setting me up to not be too overwhelmed down here.  My head coach’s name was Casey McKay and his dad was the assistance coach, Ronnie McKay.  And then Ronnie was actually a coach in the White Sox organization a couple years back, so he had first-hand experience at what it was like.  Just mentally prepare myself.  I knew it was all going to be new, but just getting ready for what it would be like- I think those two guys helped me most back in amateur baseball.  As far as baseball itself, they obviously taught me a lot too, but with how pure the game was it was something that I never took for granted. 

-Speaking on if he knew what to expect with the Phillies organization...


I had an idea because of Kyle Young and Nick Fanti, the guys from Long Island that got drafted in years past, so I had an idea from talking to them and seeing what it was about but I was going into it with an open mind.  I had a little bit of an idea of what to expect…but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how everything down here.  It’s so well run and we’re so well taken care of.  

-On if the Phillies drafting him was a surprise...

I knew after day two of the draft maybe we had a shot with the Phillies.  It was between the Phillies and one other team, so I did have an idea.  Looking back, I’m so happy it was.

-Sharing thoughts on the support he gets from friends and family...

I’m really blessed to have the support back home.  My parents are my two biggest supporters.  Everyone else too.  Family and friends and cousins...it’s been a little overwhelming to see just how much they’ve been there.  I knew they were going to be supportive and I knew I was going to miss them, but I didn’t think it would be as much as it is.  I’m kind of interested to go home to see what it is like, because I miss them a lot and just to see their reactions to how things go, it’s going to be fun to see and I’m looking forward to it.  

-On adjusting to life so far from home and being independent...

I told my parents that I haven’t been too homesick down here.  I just love the whole—everything about it.  Being an adult down here, being on your own and making sure that you get everything done yourself is what I'm enjoying the most down here, I think. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

GCL hurler Brown dazzles with 16 strike out effort

What a day it was for Ben Brown. The right-handed pitcher showed why he’s considered a standout on the Gulf Coast League Phillies West team in a 5-0 victory over the Tigers East team on Tuesday afternoon in Lakeland, FL.  In six innings of work, the 18-year-old Brown looked dominant, holding the opposition to two singles and a walk while recording 16 strike outs.

“Ben Brown to me has been my most consistent starter,” said GCL West pitching coach Matt Hockenberry. “He has been a guy that he’s a leader on the field. He gets outs. He gets quick outs. He pitches to contact. He’s just a guy that’s going to be exciting to watch in the future.”

Contact wasn’t truly on the docket for Brown on Tuesday, though, as he missed a ton of bats. 

The Phillies’ 33rd round draft selection last June, Brown sports a 3-0 record with a 1.80 ERA and a .193 batting average against and a 13.5 K/9 mark in six appearances (five starts) for the GCL West team.

Brown, whose repertoire features a (usually) 92-94 MPH fastball, a curve ball and a change up, recalls having similarly strong outings in high school, but doesn't think whiffing opponents was his claim to fame before today.

"Since I got down here, the strike outs haven't really been there," Brown stated.  "Of course, the hitters are better (here) than on Long Island, NY.  But, you learn how to read swings a little bit better, the more you're down here, and eventually, like how I was pitching today, I was able to get some reads on the swings and I was able to put you away."

As remarkable as his stat line seems, the humble Brown refrains from taking much credit, dishing nods to Hockenberry as well as his battery mate Logan O'Hoppe.  He acknowledges the backstop for calling a good game and sticking with their game plan.  The coach receives accolades for countless aspects of the young pitcher's development and progress.

The props go both ways, however.

O’Hoppe, the Phils’ 23rd round draft pick this year, is having a remarkable campaign as well.  He's batting .500 with three doubles, a triple, a home run and eight RBI through 15 contests.  He credits his roommate and fellow Long Island, NY native, Brown, with helping him stay focused.

“Ben’s helped me a lot. If I needed to talk about home of anything I could talk to him and he, obviously, would understand ‘cause we’re from 10 minutes away from each other at home,” O’Hoppe said. “He helped me a lot with keeping my head on straight with my work down here and not missing home too much.”

It’s been a noteworthy year to date for the six-foot-six 210-pound Brown.  During extended spring training, prior to the GCL regular season getting started, Brown made an appearance in an intra-squad exhibition and faced big league infielder J.P. Crawford, while the Phils’ 1st round pick from 2013 was rehabbing an injury. Brown was tagged for a home run and a walk by the nearly five years elder Crawford, but Brown also struck him out and views the experience as a significant learning experience on his road to bigger things on the baseball diamond.

"It's a blessing to face guys like that, because it's ultimately how you get better at pitching is learning how to pitch against those big guys," Brown said.  "That's eventually your goal is to pitch against those guys everyday."

Monday, July 23, 2018

Young catcher O'Hoppe making a splash in rookie ball

Fresh out of the MLB first year player draft catcher Logan O'Hoppe (pronounced oh-HOP-y) is just about a month into his professional playing career, but he’s already making some pretty big impressions.

O’Hoppe, the Phillies’ 23rd round draft selection this year, is assigned to the Rookie level Gulf Coast League and spends time behind the dish for the Phillies’ West team (they also field an East team while there was previously a single GCL club in prior seasons). Through 13 games, the 18-year-old Long Island, NY native sports a lofty .500 batting average with three doubles and six runs driven in.

While he's paying offensive dividends in the early going, it's his work with the team's pitching staff that's helping O'Hoppe build a meaningful reputation.

Phillies West pitching coach Matt Hockenberry cites the six-foot-two 185-pounder's skill set and mindset as reasons to be excited about the Phillies’ first high school catcher signed since 2010 (Chace Numata).

“He is an unbelievable human being,” Hockenberry said of O’Hoppe in a recent phone interview. “He’s a new draft guy, a guy that you have to just let do his thing and he is ridiculously intelligent behind home plate. He’s got all the tools that I think in my mind lead to a long, successful career. He’s got the body, he’s got the durability, his receiving is unbelievable.”

Hockenberry, a Temple University product who is roughly a year removed from his own playing career, values the way O’Hoppe works hard and trusts his own gut. The first-year coach also raves about the youngster's already outstanding defense, something he was praised for on his way to becoming his conference's player of the year this spring at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School.  There, he batted .511 and notched a .662 on-base percentage in the regular season.

A true student of the game, O'Hoppe is taking advantage of every opportunity and values the work place vibe that the organization has instilled around the Phils minor league complex in Clearwater, FL.

“It’s a different world down here and I’m enjoying it a lot,” O’Hoppe shared. “I always dreamed to just go to a field every day to have everything I needed to prepare for the game and recover from the game and to do well. They’re so bought-in to everything you’re doing and as long as you get your work done and do it the right way, I feel like there’s no way you can’t be in a good spot to succeed.”

O’Hoppe describes himself as a stereotypical New York kid that grew up loving the Yankees and Derek Jeter. But it was a meeting with Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher as a child that helped him fit the bill of what he views as an exemplary ball player.

Swisher’s grandmother, who had a big part in raising him as a young man, passed away after he had started his big league career. O’Hoppe lost his paternal grandmother at a much younger age. During a family trip to see the Yankees in spring training, a not-quite-teenage O’Hoppe chose to seek advice from a big leaguer that had dealt with similar heart ache.

“I asked him a question about how he dealt with that, ‘cause it was a little tough for my family and I. He always had some impact on me,” said O’Hoppe.

That influence helps to further define the type of ball player and the sort of person O’Hoppe is. On or away from the ball field, his goal is to make an impact on each person he meets, whether conversing socially or talking with a fan seeking an autograph.  He wants each individual he encounters to remember the meeting. He expects that of himself.

Speaking of expectations, his noteworthy output to open his first professional campaign was not an outcome that he anticipated, however.

"I didn’t expect this at all. I thought I was going to hit under .100 to be honest with you," O'Hoppe admitted. "I told my parents before I headed down here, 'I may get the bat blown out of my hands.'"

But despite any doubts in himself, he says the support he gets back at home from his family and friends is huge and has been a motivator while he adjusts to his new life eight states away.

On the developmental path, O’Hoppe has a long way to go and much to learn.  He's got a general focus for how he aims toward making similar impressions as he ascends the baseball ranks.

"A big thing that everyone knows throughout professional baseball is to just stay consistent," O'Hoppe said.  "Hopefully, I’ll stay in my routine and do things that work for me so I can continue to get better and keep getting opportunities."