Sunday, May 20, 2018

Is it time to be concerned about Mickey Moniak?

Mickey Moniak with Lakewood in 2017
Almost daily I am engaged via Twitter or email or text messages or in person about Phillies prospects. It comes with the gig.  The player that scores the most inquiries is, as should be expected, 2016 top overall draft selection Mickey Moniak.

Questions from fans that don't want to seem overly judgmental will ask, “Should we be concerned?” Others, living up to the more stereotypical Philadelphia sports fan reputation, will assert the notion, “He’s a bust!  Somebody didn't do his job right!”

For the most part I have responded in defense of Moniak and others, letting people know that the youngster’s skills are real and his coaches stand by them. I’d caution fans that he was young, still a teenager, among the five youngest position players in the Class A Advanced Florida State League (per his team the Clearwater Threshers, as of the end of April), and he just needed time to catch up to the older, more mature pitching at that level.

Lately, though, I shrug and no longer think that concerns about Moniak's offensive numbers are unfounded.

The lefty batting Moniak, through action on Saturday ranked fourth lowest in the FSL, among qualified batters, with a .495 OPS. He’s got just five extra base hits, all doubles, with 10 RBI and a .224 batting average in 39 games.

On the heels of Moniak’s 20th birthday last weekend, if he’s the fifth youngest batter in the league, I wonder how are those younger players faring? They shouldn’t be outshining the top overall draft pick, right?   Let’s have a look .(International players are not included in MLB draft process)

Isaac Paredes, a Mexican shortstop prospect with the Tigers, who is still 19 years old until February next year, has a .704 OPS through 34 games. With seven doubles, a triple, four home runs and a .218 average, the righty hitter looks capable of handling the league.

Braves outfield prospect, Cristian Pache, who is 19 years old until November sports a .738 OPS through 38 games. The righty batting Dominican sports a .289 average with nine doubles, three triples, a homer and 13 RBI. No problems for Pache, it seems.

Dylan Carlson, a Cardinals outfield prospect, is a teen until October. He’s got a .617 OPS in 17 games to date since a promotion last month. The switch-hitter, who went 32 picks after Moniak in the 2016 draft, has two doubles a home run, nine RBI and a .200 average over 17 games in the same league that Moniak is playing in. That’s not too bad.

Mets shortstop prospect Andres Gimenez, who will turn 20 in September, has a .746 OPS. The left-handed batter has seven doubles, three triples, two home runs, 13 RBI and a .262 average through 35 games. Overall, the Venezuelan is the best of the bunch.

Also, by comparison, the Phillies’ 2015 first round pick (10th overall) Cornelius Randolph was a few weeks younger than Moniak is at the same level last year. On the same date a year ago, a younger Randolph had a better OPS by 106 points.  However, even that .601 mark concerned some people. He's now in Double-A continuing to work and battle tough, older pitchers with a .550 OPS in 32 games.

The previous, and only other, time the Phillies drafted in the top overall spot, was 1998 when they selected Pat Burrell. Burrell was a college third baseman, who made his MLB debut as a first baseman and ultimately made his home in left field. Burrell had a good career as a big leaguer, but he was never an All-Star. Based on that, by today’s demanding standards, if a number 1 overall pick never became an All-Star, then he turned out to be a bust.

For Moniak, though, I'd bet with this type of worrisome start to his professional career, fans would be happy with Burrell-esque production.  After all, he helped the Phillies win a World Series and notch four separate 30-homer seasons and blasted more than 250 round-trippers for the team.  But Burrell was a taken out of college and was expected to be a power guy.  Not quite that similar to Moniak, a high schooler with a much small frame that drew comparisons to Tony Gwynn or Ichiro Suzuki on the type of hitter he could become.

Let's not forget, another first rounder that got a championship ring for being part of that 2008 championship club.  Sure, I recall Chase Utley, who did some things and Jayson Werth who was a top pick with the Orioles.  But how about another position player that was drafted in the first round?  Who remembers Greg Golson?

Golson, the Phillies' 1st round pick in 2004 (21st overall), played in just 40 big league games and, at the age of 32, is still playing independent pro ball.

With a September birthday, Golson was roughly 9 months older than Moniak at the same Class A levels when he played there.  He would tally a .295/.345/..410 slash line (Moniak comparison- .284/.340/.409 at same level) in 47 games with the Rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies.  Golson posted a .264/.322/.389 slash line in his season with Lakewood in 2005.  The following season the righty hitter repeated Lakewood where he played 93 games, sported a .233/.277/.374 slash line (Moniak- .236/.284/.341 at same level) and moved up to Clearwater.  Wrapping up his 2006 with .264/.324/.472 production (Moniak- .221/240/.255) over 40 Florida State League contests.  Two years later, with 511 minor league games under his belt, Golson was a late season call up for the World Champion Phillies in the month he turned 23.

So, after reviewing all of these statistical comparisons, is it time to worry about Moniak’s output?

Sure, you can worry. You can sweat the possibility that Moniak, Randolph or some other recent Phillies high draft picks may not become the next Bryce Harper and might be headed toward Golson territory.  You could live your life void of wishful sports vibes, convinced that a 20-year-old will never be able to live up to your sky high expectations.  But maybe that’s not the best way to spend your energy or time.

Perhaps be grateful and rave about the draft picks that are, or have the potential to, outperform their draft slot.

Standout Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins was a 5th round pick in 2014, taken 142nd overall.  The number one overall pick that year, Brady Aiken, didn't even sign. It's a completely different kind of draft, but there's Phils center fielder Odubel Herrera, who was a Rule 5 draft pick, which means the Phils swiped him from another team's developmental system.  He's been the best player on a team that's battling for top spot in their division and has reached base via hit or walk in 45 straight big league games. 

Back to the minors, specifically Clearwater, where a pair of later round picks, OF Austin Listi (17th round, 2017) and 1B Darick Hall (14th round, 2016) are currently teammates of Moniak and are on the opposite end of the league leaders board.  They rank 2nd (.955) and 3rd (.922) in the FSL in OPS respectively.  Also with Clearwater, the Phils' 31st round draft pick from 2015 Nick Fanti made his season debut this week after recovering from a back strain.  He's the guy that tossed two no-hitters with Lakewood last season.

Ultimately, it's up to you if you want to gripe and stress out over troublesome draft picks.  But, even though you "just want people to be accountable", that's feeding the "Negadelphia" stereotype.  Things are different now.  You may have heard how the city's football team shook that vibe completely this year and allowed their long-starved fans to finally puff out their chests and boast about being the absolute best with pride.  The baseball team is striving for the same turnaround and you won't be able to enjoy the run to Super Bowl Sunday if you can't get over Danny Watkins.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading coach Rico Brogna

Former Phillies first baseman Rico Brogna re-joined the Phils organization this year as a coach with the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils. 

During his playing career, Brogna also took the field for the Mets, Red Sox, Braves and Tigers, the team that drafted him in the first round in 1988.  With the Phillies, he posted two 20-homer, 100-RBI seasons.  Now, he's trying to help develop the Phillies stars of the future.

Recently, I talked with Brogna about some of his team's players, his time coaching and scouting elsewhere, his favorite teammate from his playing days and plenty more.  Read ahead for that full interview.

-Malquin Canelo's been a catalyst through the first several weeks of the season for this lineup.  He's always had a lot of good tools., but in the past maybe he hasn't really stood out compared to other guys on teams he's been on.  Now, though, he's starting to stand out a bit.  What do you think of him?

He absolutely is.  I think he's playing good on all sides of the ball.   He's really running the bases well.  The defense at times is exceptional.  He's got a lot of range and really a lot of play making skills on defense, at shortstop and at second.  He's played some second base too.  But that is definitely a part of his game that shines.  Base running, like I said, I think he's been really aggressive with stealing and taking the extra base and certainly offensively, he's really in a good place.  He's able, now, to pull his hands in, when they try to work him inside, and try to get be quick.  And some of those have resulted in home runs, so he's a really exciting player to watch when you coach him and he has a variety of ways he can help you win.

-The roster's pretty deep with talent, with guys having to sit from game to game.  You might have Jan Hernandez, Cord Sandberg, Kyle Martin out of the lineup on any given day.  You're not making the lineup each day, but is that a difficult point, to have to rotate everybody?

Yeah, it's one of those, maybe, good problems to have.  I think, you know, Legger's (manager Greg Legg) done a good job of rotating guys and kind of communicating it before hand.  There are a lot of guys that-- you know, everybody on the roster wants to be able to get the right number of at bats and at times it's hard to do on a daily basis when we have a lot of guys that can maybe play almost every day.  But, again it's a good problem to have.  And it's not a problem.  It's a lot of quality depth and that being said I think the guys that can play multiple positions, whether it's in the infield or the outfield, we've been trying to move them around.  Legger and us as a staff have been talking about it so they can find ways to keep getting AB's and experience in different places.  

-You've got more than a couple guys that really can flash big time power.  Zach Green's a guy that shows it, and you've got him and Kyle Martin and others.  How do you go about bringing that power out of them?

Well, they work hard and Kevin Riggs is working with those guys everyday and I haven't really seen too many hitting coaches work as hard as Riggsy.  He's really good with hitting as far as whatever the guys need.  He's always working hard and the players are working hard right along with him.  They're in position to hit mistakes well and they're barrelling balls that are center cut, so yeah, one of the things we do well is, as a lineup, we get pretty deep with the amount of guys that can hit for power.  So, good pitches and good pitchers are tough to hit for anybody at any level, but they want to get in a position where they can capitalize on whether it's a breaking ball hanging, or a center cut fastball-- something that's kind of quote-unquote a mistake, because really as a hitter, that's what you want to be ready for and really they are and it can be for much more than a base hit.  They can punch a double in the gap or hit a homer.

-What's your role?  'Cause you mention Riggs as the hitting coach, and I think I had your positions twisted.  So tell me about your role with the team.

It's a little bit of a watch and do everything. We kind of classify it as-- well, they added a fourth coach at every level this year.  They started to do it last year, I think, but it's everywhere now in the organization.  And it's more a bench coach kind of thing to help with some of the defensive positioning and also work with some of the outfielders, help with some of the hitting.  It's more of a bench coach.  So, when Legger had to go to his son's graduation last week from Penn State, which was a cool thing, so I got to manage for three days.  And, yeah, it's more of that, instead of being specific with the hitters or with this position group.  It's more of a chance to do all of it. 

-What brought you to the Phillies?  Obviously, you played here, but had you coached pro ball before this year?

Mm-hmm.  That was probably one of the things that got me back was having the relationship with the Phillies in the past.  I had been pro scouting with the Angels the past few years.  I coached for the Angels for a couple of years in Anaheim, so I've done a combination of some minor league managing, coaching, big league for a couple years and a lot of pro scouting.  I'd say the last 12 or so years, a combination of all the above, so I enjoy being in the game and being a pro scout taught me a lot about players and evaluation of players and all that stuff.  

-Well, it's probably several weeks late, but welcome to Reading.  Welcome to the team.  

Thank you.

-So, speaking of evaluating players, what have you seen from Cornelius Randolph?

Another good prospect.  I think he's really starting to-- the other day he had three hits with a double to right-center and a double to left-center. Tonight just late on a couple fastballs, but right there where he wants to be.
 
And he's got a great attitude, even when he just misses a ball or pops it up and was close, he knows he's close.  He's aggressively running the bases and works hard on his defense.  Just a really fun kid to be around.  He loves to work, has fun playing the game.  I think once the hitting-- you can really start to see him gain confidence and rapidly, so I think as this season goes and he starts seeing the (teams in the) league a few times and get a chance to make adjustments and learn the level, the second half of the season, as we move into that, you'll see more consistency.
 
 -Damek Tomscha has been putting up a lot of good numbers for the team.  He's been really consistent.  Do you think he's ready for a bigger challenge?

I do.  Yeah, no doubt.  I'd love to see it happen.  I think he's very reliable defensively and that's a high compliment when you're reliable.  Catch the ball, make the throws and get all the outs you're supposed to.  That's not easy to do.  And he does that exceptionally well.  He's actually a very heads up base runner as well.  He'll take the extra base when some people don't think he would.  He's a very intelligent player.  He sees the field.  He competes so hard in the box.  You can just see him compete.  It's almost like you can see it sweating out of him.  But you love it that he competes and finds a way to barrel the ball and hit it.  Uses (the field) line to line and if you leave a pitch out over the plate he can hit a homer.  He's really kind of the coaches dream.  He's like a coach on the field.  He competes like crazy and is a all-around solid ball player.  I would love to see him get a chance to get challenged whether it's the middle of the season or sooner, or whenever, 'cause he's shown that he has the ability.

-Last thing for you.  You're describing Damek as this great player to have around the team and it makes me wonder who was your favorite teammate during your playing days?

Gosh, so many.  So many.  It was fun playing with so many guys, but when Scott Rolen and I were locker mates for four years in Philly, you know, he was quietly one of the funniest guys I've ever been around.  So smart and so quiet, but so quietly hilarious and brilliant and he was-- it's hard to pick one guy, but he was awesome.  We lockered next to each other, we hung out, we would go get McDonald's together after games sometimes when no one else would be going to McDonald's and (we'd) hang out and have fun.  

-Do you guys stay in touch these days?

A little bit.  He doesn't want to be found.  He wants to be somewhere on the globe and be like Where's Waldo.  Where's Scotty?  You know, I'll text him sometimes and he'll go, "Yeah, you got me in Greece." 
 
It's always like we talked just yesterday whenever text or call.  Good dude!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

BlueClaws Quotables: Will Stewart Interview Excerpts

Will Stewart (right), image- Jay Floyd
Recently, I ran a feature on Class A Lakewood starting pitcher Will Stewart.  The 20-year-old lefty sports a 4-0 record with a 1.46 ERA through his first six appearances this season.

I talked at length with Will and much of the interview didn't make it into the article, so I am publishing excerpts from out chat here.  Read ahead for more of what the Phillies' 20th round draft pick from 2015 had to say.


-What would you want fans that are just starting to hear about this guy Will Stewart who is posting great numbers in Lakewood to know about you?


I would say to learn more about me, not just the stat line, because there’s going to be times when the stat line does not reflect how I pitched and there’s going to be times where the stat line tells you I got crushed.  

Trust that I’m going to work as hard as I can to be here.  We’re not heroes.  We’re regular people that go play a game that’s a lot of fun.  When we do good, people want to make us heroes and that’s great, but when we do bad you got to keep in mind we will come back.  That’s how it is. 

-Have you found that some of you success is related to facing some competition that you are familiar with or have seen (at lower levels)?

There’s a few guys on every team that you know, that you’ve heard of, that you can see the stat line and you know what kind of player they are so having the scouting reports on these guys is huge because you never go into a game without knowing what you’ve got to do, so that’s a big deal.  

-I know the scouting reports you mentioned are hand delivered and you guys can study them.  Is that helpful for you?
 
Yeah, definitely.  And we have meetings on it and we get pulled into the office and we talk about it.  It’s you, the catcher and the pitching coach and we sit there and it’s kind of a more intimate conversation about how we’re going to attack the day and everything like that. 
 
-Who are you rooming with?

Damon Jones.  He’s huge and he’s awesome.  Okay, actually, honestly, he’s a gentle giant.  You look at him and you’re like, “Wow the guy’s huge!” And then you room with him and you say, “Wow, you’re just too nice!”  So, it’s awesome.
 
-Thoughts on Lakewood and the region thus far?

It’s definitely different.  I’m from the south.  I’m from Alabama, so the people are different.  The way they talk, the way people react to different situations are really different.  Being in the stadium, because that’s the only place you get to see the region as a whole, because there’s people from everywhere around here, I feel like the only thing that kind of gets me is that they are brutal.  They are ruthless.  They don’t care what’s going on.  If our team’s not doing good, then we’re gonna be pissed.  It’s kind of like, I feel like Phillie fans are very passionate.  Like they are like, “We’re going to win, or we’re going to lose, but you’re going to know who we are either way!”  But, I like Lakewood.  The weather’s been a lot better than I thought it was gonna be.
 
-Have you been to the boardwalk or anything like that?
 
Yes, we went over to the board walk and I was a little disappointed.  There was nobody there and I was like, “What are we doing?!”  I got to see the beach.  The beach is nice and that was cool, but it kind of reminded me a little bit of Florida, but there it’s not as cold.
 
-Before you were drafted what was you knowledge of the Phillies?

There’s these pictures of some of the guys with Phillies jerseys as kids and things like that, but I was not a Phillies fan growing up and I didn’t know any culture of the Phillies. So, getting here, getting drafted by them was a huge culture shock.  Like, (the fans) are worse than Yankee fans.  You know how you hear Yankees fans are crazy?  Well, Phillies fans are HUGE fans.  I’m talking diehard fans, like kind of like Alabama football fans.

-After spending time in Florida at the complex, I imagine you know many of the Phils' biggest names, who the fields are named after.  Carlton, Ashburn, Schmidt.  Did you know who those guys were before becoming a Phillie?
 
No, none of them.  I didn’t know any of them.  I knew guys like John Smoltz and Albert Pujols.  Guys that are kind of from my era.  I was not a big huge history buff for baseball.  I didn’t really care.  But now that I’m in here, I get to see how much they appreciate those people and how much they mean to the organization as a whole, I feel like I should have done my homework before I got drafted by them.
 
-It’s amazing to me that you already have these impressions of the fan base because at the lower levels guys usually don’t get to much exposure to the really passionate fans.  That might come later, when you arrive in Reading and are playing in Pennsylvania in a region where all the fans grew up with the Phillies, so there you might get more of the venom, if it’s needed.  Not that it would be for you. 
 
You mentioned not being into baseball history.  Did you play or was there interest in other sports? 
 
No, not really.  I did when I was really young, but I feel like when you’re young you do that.  I picked one sport once I got to middle school.  I picked baseball because I knew that was the only one I was going to be good at.  I could not play basketball to save my life.  I didn’t want to play football because I didn’t want to break my arm.  And we didn’t have soccer and lacrosse like they do up here, so I played baseball and that was it. 
 
-And no hockey either?
 
God no!  We don’t even do hockey.  Nashville (Predators of the NHL) is the closest thing to us and I still don’t understand it.  I don’t know the rules of hockey.  I don’t know who half the teams are.  I don’t know how it works.  So, I’m not a hockey fan. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading pitching coach Steve Schrenk

Steve Schrenk, image- Jay Floyd
Last week I talked with pitching coach Steve Schrenk about his staff with the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils.  The covered mostly all of the team's hurlers including JoJo Romero, Ranger Suarez, Elniery Garcia, Edgar Garcia, Luke Leftwich plus plenty more.

Read ahead for my complete interview with "Schrenky".

-Related to JoJo Romero (0-4 record, 6.68 ERA), seems like he's not producing the way perhaps he was expected to, thus far.

Yeah, he’s not—I don’t think he’s satisfied with what he’s doing right now.  It’s been just a couple innings here and there for the most part.  It’s been a couple pitches, a couple innings.  I think for the most part he’s been throwing the ball okay.  He needs to be a little more consistent with the strike zone and using his off-speed pitches for strikes.  But, he’s done a good job.  It’s like I said, a couple innings here, a couple big hits.  I think he’ll be right out of the funk that he’s in, in a little bit and get it going.
 
-Seranthony Dominguez earned two promotions within two weeks and is now on the big league roster.  Does that news for a guy that was on this team just a couple weeks back lead to more excitement among the team?

Yeah, I definitely think there is.  We told these guys at the beginning of the year…there are a lot of guys that had been here in 2016 and 2017 that are pitching in the big leagues now.  So the opportunity’s right  here for them.  And to see (Dominguez) go up so fast gives the guys a good boost to know the Phillies are moving their guys, moving their pitchers and trying to win.


-Harold Arauz (3-1, 4.34 ERA) had a nice start in Trenton, keeping the team in the game.  What have you seen from him?


He does a good job.  You know, Harold is not overpowering.  What he has is he knows how to mix pitches.  He’s been going a pretty consistent five, six, seven innings every time, so he does a good job.  He’s got a good curve ball, a good little cut fastball, he’s been doing great.  So far, so good.  He’s doing exactly what he did last year in the Florida State League, so it looks good.

-Elniery Garcia has been on this team in parts of three season, joining the team for the playoffs a couple years ago, then being here and missing time last year.  Have you seen him mature during that time?

Yeah, I have.  Obviously in ’16 when he was he in the playoff run when we faced Trenton, he was really good.  Had a little setback last year with some arm problems and then with the suspension that he had, but, you know, he’s been up and down and I look for him to get stronger as the year goes.  But, his velocity is coming back.  He knows how to pitch.  I’m looking for some good things from him like he did in 2016.

-Is Edgar Garcia (0.44 ERA in 13 outings) an underrated guy that could start to garner a lot of attention?

I think he will.  He’s been pitching very well out of the bullpen.  He’s got a big league slider, pretty good fastball, 91 to 94 and his slider’s probably the pitch for me that’s going to make the difference.  It’s a difference maker out there.  We’ve been putting him in some different situations and he’s stepped up to every one of them.  So, he’s been doing very well.  I think he will be a guy that continues the path that he’s on right now.

Ranger Suarez, image- Jay Floyd
-How about some thoughts on Ranger Suarez (placed on the DL over the weekend, hamstring...1-2, 4.25 ERA) this year?

Doing great.  You know, holding his own.  He had one inning (in his last outing), just that one inning where he needed to make a pitch, but I think was it and they didn’t even hit it hard.  But he’ll be fine.  He throws strikes.  He knows how to pitch.  Sneaky velocity.  We’ve got to sharpen up his breaking ball a little bit.  But, I like what I see.

-What advantages do former starters like Luke Leftwich, Tyler Gilbert and Tyler Viza give you out of the bullpen?

They give you some length and some innings.  They know how to pitch and they've got three pitches.  That helps a lot.  You know, I think it's a benefit for those guys to come out and see what they can do.  It's much easier to transition from starter to reliever than it is a reliever to a starter.  And so far Tyler's done a good job.  Both Tylers, both Gilbert and Viza.  And Leftwich is-- you never know with some guys, they might develop another pitch and they might turn back into a starter, but right now they've taken to their role and it's been nice.  

-I can't not ask you about Franklyn Kilome (1-1 record, 5.74 ERA), so what have you seen from him this year?

You know what?  He started off a little slow.  He's been working on things that he needs to get cleaned up a little bit but the last start he had, before he got hit in the hand was outstanding and I look for another one.  The more he gets out there he gets more consistent, the more consistent he's getting.  He's throwing a lot more strikes with some little delivery changes we've made and he's buying into it.  He's still young.  Young-minded, young pitcher.  You know what I mean?  

For a lot of these guys, it's their first time in Double-A.  For a lot of my starters, if not all of them.  I think we had a combined 15 starts when we started the season, so we've got some work to do, but there's a lot of projection in all five of them for me right now.  But, Kilome, obviously with his size and what he brings to the table, I think he's going to be okay.  So far, it's been nice.  He had to work.  Every one of them had to do a lot of work, to get their feet wet here, but they're doing a good job with it.

-Is there anyone that's had an addition or subtraction to his repertoire this year?

McGarry's throwing a little bit of a slider.  Leftwich is throwing a slider.  Not really, other than that.  Harold's doing his thing.  Suarez-- Oh, Viza's throwing a splitty.  So, we've added a splitty to him and it's been good so far.  

-How long do guys work on a new offering before they are trusted to throw it in a game?

If they can throw it in the bullpen, for me, they can take it into a game.  It's the minor leagues.  It's for development.  The only way to know if it's any good is to take into a game.  I don't want them to experiment with in the big leagues.  I want them to have it now.  Yeah, we want to win games here, but at the same time now's the time to experiment with things.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Lakewood pitcher Stewart has the right attitude

Will Stewart (right), image- Jay Floyd
LAKEWOOD, NJ - Will Stewart has a chip on his shoulder.

It's not a hot-tempered, get-out-of-my-face chip.  Instead it's one that lies underneath, behind a calm demeanor and a steadily approachable mug and he unleashes it only on his opposition.

The left-handed pitcher was taken by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 2015 amateur draft out of Hazel Green High School in Alabama.  Getting selected after 693 other guys gave the six-foot-two 175-pounder something to prove.

"I think guys in the higher rounds, we have more to prove because we weren’t the guys that we going to come out of high school and get all the love," Stewart shared at Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park last week.  "There’s nothing wrong with that.  If you deserve it, you deserve it.  But the later round guys I feel like we’re hungrier.  We need it more.  We don’t have things, like a big signing bonus, to fall back on."

Well, Stewart is doing a lot of proving and he is starting to get the love because of it.

Through six starts with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws the 20-year-old has tallied a 4-0 record with a 1.46 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP while striking out 31 and walking five in 37 innings pitched.

Equipped with a two-seam fastball that usually ranges from 92 to 93 MPH and can clock higher, a solid change up, a slider and a curve ball, Stewart has been able to get the best of the South Atlantic League in the early going this season.

"He's just doing a really good job with his mix, keeping hitters off balance, changing speeds when he needs to," Lakewood manager Marty Malloy said.  "Making pitches when he needs to is the most important thing.  I mean, he's got command of his pitches, he's got command of his fastball and he's able to work off of that."

The gleaming production isn't something that the humble hurler will accept acclaim for.  He gives credit to the defense behind him in each outing.

Stewart also values the organization's focus on pitching to contact, compared to other teams that may have a large focus on velocity for their pitchers. It's an approach that took some time to get used to.

Initially, upon debuting as a pro, Stewart pitched as a reliever with the Rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies. Returning to that same club in 2016, he was part of the starting rotation and has stuck as a starter since then, pitching in short-season A level Williamsport last season.  He compiled a 7-5 record and a 4.24 ERA through he first three seasons in the minors.

If he stays on his current path, this would be his first professional season with an ERA under 4.

The comfort level in Lakewood has helped Stewart improve and shine.  BlueClaws pitching coach Brad Bergesen gives freedom to his pitching staff.  The flexibility has improved Stewart's mindset and has given him independence that he has used to take strides. 

"(Bergesen) trusts in everything we do," explained Stewart.  "He tells us to play to our strengths and he gives us the freedom to know, yeah, we’re gonna fail, but the thing is just learning from the failure and not having your hand held."


With significant autonomy and an ideal attitude, Stewart is anxious to really prove his worth as he targets an ascension up the developmental ladder.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood manager Marty Malloy on top performers, injured players, more

Marty Malloy, image- Jay Floyd
The Class A Lakewood BlueClaws have a four-game win streak intact entering the weekend.  The team's pitching staff ranks third in the South Atlantic League with a 2.67 staff ERA.  Their offense, however, ranks last in the league with a .221 batting average. 

On Friday, I talked with BlueClaws' manager Marty Malloy about a few of his key pitchers and some of the disappointments at the plate. 

Prospect discussed include standout starters Will Stewart and Ramon Rosso as well as closer Addison Russ.  Position players Gregori Rivero and Daniel Brito were topics of discussion as were injured offensive contributors Jhailyn Ortiz, Simon Muzziotti and Cole Stobbe. 

Read ahead for my full interview with Malloy. 


-Left-hander Will Stewart is off to a great start with the team.  He's 20 years old and has a 4-0 record with a 1.46 ERA through six starts.  What can you share about how outstanding he has been?

All his starts have been quality.  And then obviously with the last outing, he was really, really good.  Eight solid.  Shut out.  Good change.  Good mix, making pitches when he has to.  Keeping batters off balance.  You know, obviously he's 4-0 and there's a reason behind that.

-Righty Ramon Rosso (21 years old) has looked just as good.  He's 1-0 with a 1.10 ERA in his six games.  What's been the key for him?

I just think he's attacking hitters, the same as Will.  When he needs to spin one, he spins it.  The guys are off-balance, he makes pitches, he's ahead in the counts.  He's not pitching from behind.

-Addison Russ has been exceptional out of the bullpen.  Thoughts on him?
 

You know, obviously, he's got the split that is the big equalizer, right now.  He's got a plus fastball.  I think he's up to 95 with it.  Like I said, he's able to go to the split for a strikeout when he needs it, but he's also getting ahead with his fastball and he's making pitches when he has to in the tough times of the game when it's on the line. 

-Is there anyone else on this pitching staff that's been standing out for you?

I think they've all been good.  You know, we're three games over .500.  We may not have swung the bats as well as we can or have expected thus far, but our starters have been really, really good.  Giving us quality starts, keeping us in the game, giving us opportunities to get to the latter part of the game and we've been successful for the most part.


Jhailyn Ortiz, image- Jay Floyd
-You mentioned the lineup not producing up to expectations and there are a few guys that we expected to be in the everyday lineup that are sidelined with injuries.  One of those guys is Jhailyn Ortiz.  Do you have any updates on him?

He's got a bruised shoulder.  I look for him to be back any day now.  I don't know the exact time frame, but it's something that's got him down in Florida, getting AB's (with the extended spring training team).  He's just taking care of what needs to be taken care of and he'll be back here in the near future.

-What things did you see from Ortiz earlier in the season before he was injured?

He's a big power guy that can play.  He's a big guy that can play right field.  He's got a plus arm.  He's got plus power and it's the matter getting him back, getting him healthy and getting him going.

-Simon Muzziotti was another guy that was injured and is not longer in the lineup.  What's his situation?

Well, he broke a finger on a bunt situation.  That ball ran in on him and hit him.  He's several weeks out, but he'll be down in Florida getting prepared to get back here.  He was off to a hot start, playing unbelievable in center field and giving us a threat in the lead-off spot.  But he'll be back.  He'll be fine. 

-Stobbe's another guy that's missing due to injury.  What can you share on him?

Well, he's a guy that had a strained (hamstring) and he's in Florida as well.  You know, obviously, we hadn't had the best weather unfortunately, so he's down in Florida in the sunshine and he's doing the same thing; rehabbing, just getting prepared to come back and be ready to go and finish the season.

-Brito was on this team for you last year and his early stats in 2017 were pretty standout, but not so much this year.  Just talk about his season so far?

I'm not worried about his numbers right now.  He's still doing the work he needs to do every day to get ready for the game.  It's a long season.  You know, a lot can happen between now and the end.  He's given us quality work, played quality defense.  He's just got off to a slow start.  I can't pinpoint just one thing.  He's still giving us AB's.  He's still in the game.  Doing everything that's asked of him and we'll look for good things from him in the future.

-Catcher Gregori Rivero's been pretty hot.  I see you're figuring out ways to keep him in the lineup each day, whether it's using him at first base or as DH.  What have you seen from him this year?

Obviously, he's giving us solid AB's.  He can catch, he can play first.  If something were to happen, he could go play other positions, if need be.  But we've got 25 guys on this roster.  They're all going to get an opportunity.  They're all going to get to play, but he's made those most of his opportunities and he's doing a nice job.

-The roster's a long list and I don't want to keep you too long, but is there anybody else on the team that has meant a lot to the group's success so far?

I think all of them.  We're in this thing together.  Some guys may be off to a quicker start than others.  It's a learning experience for all these guys.  Most of these guys are first year guys.  It's a daily grind.  It's a process, a journey, whatever you want to call it.  We've had a tough schedule so far.  Not to make any excuses, 'cause we don't do that here, but in one stretch (we played) 15 out of 18 on the road and that's new for these kids and they're just having to experience it, learn from it and get better every day. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Clearwater Threshers 1b Darick Hall

Darick Hall with Lakewood in 2017, image- Jay Floyd
Clearwater first baseman Darick Hall has been torching Florida State League pitching this season.  The 22-year-old lefty slugger leads this Class A Advanced Florida State League in home runs with 10 and has posted a .289 average and 27 RBI in 33 games.

A 14th round draft selection in 2016, Hall made a big splash last year in his first full season as a pro.  With Class A Lakewood, the six-foot-four 235-pounder notched a team record 27 homers.  Overall, combined with the time he spent at Clearwater to close the regular season, Hall posted a .270 average with 29 round trippers and 101 RBI in 121 games.

This week I talked with Darick about his powerful production, which coaches and teammates he has learned the most from, the buzz surrounding his offense and more.  Read ahead for that full interview.



-You're leading the FSL in homers and enjoying a great start to the season.  Congratulations on that.  Share some thoughts on the offensive success there in Clearwater.  

Thank you! One of my biggest keys this season so far has been sticking to my plan at the plate and not giving in. I focus on getting my best swing off early and being on time. We talk a lot about an "A" hack and "B" hack as an organization. Early in the count is the time to use your "A" hack and later is the time to use the "B" hack. This has shined a lot of light on approach for me.

-After leading the Sally League and now jumping out to an FSL lead in home runs...is it a goal to maintain the lead and stay on top in the category?
 
My goal is always to be productive and to consistently square up the baseball. The home runs take care of themselves. My goal is to drive the ball at all times without sacrificing contact for power. 

-How has the jump to Class A Advanced been?  Is it still challenging despite your performance?
 
It's definitely been a jump. The pitchers are definitely more crisp. They are around the zone more and they try to induce weak contact early instead of always going for the punch out. The umpires for the most part are better. 

-With all the home runs comes attention.  Phillies fans have begun to hear about this guy Darick Hall who has a load of power down in Clearwater.  Is that welcome attention?  Do you enjoy the buzz?
 
It's been a blessing honestly.  As a player anytime you are recognized it is an honor. Our job is to play to the best of our abilities and maximize the talent we have. 

-Your home numbers (1.203 OPS) seem much better than road numbers (.707 OPS).  Is there anything about the home park that stands out for you?  Are you seeing the ball that much better there?  Or is it just how things have gone so far?

We've honestly played so many home games this half that I've become really comfortable with our home field. Our field is arguably the nicest field in the FSL and it makes it so much fun to play at.

-What sort of feedback have you gotten from the coaches on your progress?
 
The biggest feedback that I've gotten is my footwork at first base has progressively gotten better and they like what they are seeing defensively. This past off-season I made it my mission to improve my footwork and it's nice to have seen results come out of it. 

-Is there a coach that has really helped you with your development since you turned pro?

Chris Truby (the Phils' minor league infield coordinator) has really laid a platform of what he expects out of me defensively. He basically gave me what I need to work on to take my game to a higher level. Nelson Prada last year at Lakewood was always the guy I would turn to about approach at the plate. He is always refreshing to talk to about hitting and is very understanding. John Mizerock is another one of my favorite coaches. I tend to overthink and he's a big time believer of simplicity. He helped me at Williamsport and he is here in Clearwater this year. (Lakewood manager) Marty Malloy was another one that helped me. Being in your first full season you always look to your manager at times to get you through and his grit and ability to grind was something that I looked up to and respected.

-Your college and pro teammate Austin Listi is enjoying some success and is among league leaders is some categories as well.  He's older than you, but you've been with the Phillies longer.  Is there any sort of brother relationship with him and if so, who is the OLDER brother of you two?
 
Austin has really made point of his ability at the plate this year so far and it's awesome to see! Listi and I have a lot of the same interests and are roommates. We both love the outdoors and enjoy watching bass fishing videos together. (Laughs)  We're good friends and it's awesome to have a fellow (Dallas Baptist) Patriot to grind with!

-Have you gotten any exposure to any big leaguers or former big leaguers that made a lasting impression on you during your time in Florida, whether it's during the seminars, during spring training, or whatever?
 
I got the chance to work with Carlos Santana during a couple days with the big league club and that was a treat. He's got so much knowledge at first base and I did my best to soak it up.  I talked to Rhys Hoskins about approach while he was down getting some AB's in spring training.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Randolph confident about progress, staying positive

C. Randolph, Image- Jay Floyd
Rarely, the path from being a team's top draft choice to contributing for that organization at the top level is swift and full of positivity throuughout  Most often, a player's journey to reaching the big leagues is challenging and difficult.

As he deals with growing pains involved with being a professional baseball player, Phillies outfield prospect Cornelius Randolph falls into that more common classification.

Randolph, the 10th overall draft choice in 2015 out of Griffin High School in GA, has progressed at a solid pace despite battling against opposition that is usually older and more seasoned.  

At 20-years-old, Randolph, who goes by just "C" for short, is one of the youngest players in the Double-A Eastern League and, statistically, that inexperience is clear.  Through 25 contests, the lefty hitter has notched a .182 batting average with four doubles, a home run and five RBI.

Plenty of fans watching box scores and stat lines for the talented youngster have formed harsh opinions, often asserting, prematurely, that Randolph is a bust.

A recent tweet by Randolph, which stated, "I got confidence in myself and that’s all I need" almost seemed prompted by critics and haters.

Randolph, who expected the adversity that's been presented at the Double-A level, denied that notion.

"I honestly don't look at that stuff," Randolph said.  "If you tag me in it, then so be it, but I don't look at the negative stuff.  There's no need.  Fans can say, 'Oh, he's not doing this.  He's not doing that.'  But they're behind the computer or desk.  They're not playing.  They don't fully understand what's going on, so, no it was not guided towards them.  It was more that I'm confident in myself and struggles happen.  Get through it."

Feeling improvements in his pitch selection and contact at the plate helps Randolph know he's headed in the right direction.

"My AB's show it every night," Randolph confidently shared.  "That's the thing the fans don't see.  They don't don't see the AB's, they just see the numbers.

"I'm progressing.  Every AB is getting better and better.  I'm actually starting to hit the ball hard, I just gotta find holes now."

Avoiding unwelcome criticism and unproductive feedback is a smart call for anyone.  Though, Randolph understands the high expectations that come from being a top draft pick.

Playing several states away from his home in Georgia, Randolph still talks with his parents every day.  Family as well as teammates give him the positivity that helps him stay focused and take strides.

The Phillies felt Randolph showed enough last year in the Class A Advanced Florida State League and over the off-season in the Arizona Fall League to have him open this season in the Eastern League.

With Clearwater in 2017, the 5-foot-11 205 pounder posted a .250 average with 13 homers and 55 RBI in 122 games.  In the AFL he tallied a .239 average with four doubles, a triple and eight RBI in 19 games.

Coaches also see development with Randolph's performance, despite the disappointing statistics.

"It's his first year of Double-A and it's got its challenges," Reading coach and former Phillies first baseman Rico Brogna stated.  "That being said, the last week to 10 days, some of the things he's been working on with hitting is transferring into the batters box during the game."

Continuing to grow and adapt is the immediate plan with the ultimate focus on reaching the big leagues and helping the team that took a chance on Randolph three summers ago and made him a millionaire as a teenager.

The difficulties along the way are what Randolph feels will help him the most.  And he welcomes them with wide eyes and high hopes.

"Until you struggle, you're not going to make adjustments.  You're not gonna learn anything unless you struggle." 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Promote them: Phils minor leaguers ready for the next challenge

This week promising reliever Seranthony Dominguez was promoted to the big league roster, joining the Phillies bullpen just 10 days after earning a promotion to the Triple-A level. 

The 23-year-old Dominican dominated the minors this year, posting a 2-2 record with a saves, a 1.62 ERA, a .143 batting average against and an 11.3 K/9 mark in 11 appearances. 

Dominguez's bump up should be the first of a series of promotions throughout the Phillies minor league levels, as there are several others ready for greater challenges ahead.

Damek Tomscha, image- Jay Floyd
At the Double-A level, right-handed hitting corner infielder Damek Tomscha is wrecking the competition throughout the Eastern League.  In 26 games, the 26-year-old sports a .337 batting average, five homers and 17 RBI.  Additionally, the Phillies' 17th round draft selection from 2014 has notched five mult-hit games in his last eight contests.

Another power bat from the Reading lineup, corner infielder Zach Green has shown progressing production as well and could be deserving of a promotion before long.  In 20 games, the 24-year-old righty batter, who was a 3rd round draft choice of the Phils in 2012, touts a .307/.358/.587 slash line.

Leading the way of those ready for a step upward is Class A Advanced Clearwater first baseman Darick Hall.  In 31 games, the 22-year-old lefty batter has a .296 average, a Florida State League leading 10 home runs and 25 RBI.  Hall was a 14th round draft pick in 2016. 

A teammate of Hall's in Clearwater, but also in college at Dallas Baptist, Austin Listi also appears ready to move up.  The first baseman/left fielder ranks second in the FSL in average (.370) and OPS (1.002).  The righty hitter was the Phils' 17th round draft selection last year.

Another Thresher, lefty pitcher Bailey Falter has looked very sharp as well.  In five starts, the 21-year-old has tallied a 3-0 record with a 2.28 ERA with 24 strike outs and just seven walks in 27 2/3 innings.  Falter was a 5th round pick in 2015.

Ramon Rosso, image- Jay Floyd
With Class A Lakewood, drawing attention and appearing ready for what's next is right-handed starter Ramon Rosso, who has been incredible for the BlueClaws.  The 21-year-old Dominican has a 1-0 record with a gleaming 1.10 ERA with a .167 batting average against and an 11.3 K/9 mark.

Lefty starter Will Stewart, a 20th round pick from 2015 could be ready for better competition as well.  The 20-year-old likely won't get a nod because if his age, but he's looked great in the South Atlantic League, sporting a 3-0 record with a 1.86 ERA, a .211 BAA and a 7.8 K/9 mark.

To keep up with daily minor league scores, stats, news and more...make sure to follow me on Twitter!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Threshers LF/1B Austin Listi

Austin Listi with Lakewood last year, Image- Jay Floyd
Left fielder/first baseman Austin Listi is off to a great start this season with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers.  Through 21 games the 24-year-old sports a .363 batting average, which ranks 2nd in the Florida State League, with eight doubles a triple, three home runs and 13 RBI. Additionally, his 1.020 OPS is 2nd best in the league.


Listi, a right-handed batter, is listed at six feet tall, 210 pounds.  He has eight multi-hit games this year.

A 17th round draft pick out of Dallas Baptist last year, Listi has enjoy plenty of success since turning pro, as he tallied a .262/.315/.451 slash line in 53 combined games with short-season A level Williamsport and Class A Lakewood last year.

Recently I talked with Austin about his outstanding offensive production thus far this season.  Read ahead for that full interview.



-You're off to a hot start, great stats and production. What are your thoughts on what you have done in the FSL this far?
Thank you, I don’t really think about stats too often. I just try to go out and do something that helps the team, whatever that may be. I’m happy with my start.  All glory to God for all the blessings.

-Any changes to your approach or things you worked on that are proving successful? 
I’ve tried to focus more on putting the ball in play with two strikes and not try to kill the ball with two strikes. In college I would often still try to drive the baseball with two strikes. It’s easier to get away with that in college but at this level it’s much harder.

-Any noticeable difference between the A level leagues, and/or are you finding the promotion easy with facing a lot of the same pitchers and such?
I think the pitchers here in High A are more consistent with their pitches. They can throw multiple pitches in multiple counts for the most part. That would have to be the biggest difference I have noticed so far. They can locate with most of their pitches.

-What feedback have you gotten from the coaches so far this year on what you are doing?
The coaches give us all praise when we deserve and they help us when we need it. They are great about teaching us as well as complimenting us.

-I have talked to a couple Reading and Lakewood guys about the new regime and the focus on analytics. What have you seen with that? Is it mostly just defensive positioning or are there other things that are being shared with the players to improve results?
Honestly, not seeing much of anything different than I’ve seen before. Scouting reports on the pitchers and their hitters. Typical stuff we did in college and have done in pro ball. We get our analytics that show us our hitting numbers and heat maps that helps a lot.

-Any other big changes with the team this year, stemming from the new regime? I recall reading about Kapler's focus on nutrition & diet elsewhere...has that translated to the Phillies?
It’s hard for me to say, since this is my first full season. I was drafted last year so I couldn’t really tell you what if anything has changed much.

-What's the best thing about playing in Clearwater? 
There is a ton of positives about playing in Clearwater. The weather is nice, the travel is great. The facilities are top notch. We really get taken care of. The beach is close by, fishing all around us. There are a ton of great things.

-Have you gotten time with any big leaguers or ex-big leaguers during spring or on the side at all that have left impressions on you? 
Tommy Hunter was with us for a game, he was great. He’s a good dude to have around, he’s been in the big leagues for a while and knows his stuff. We’ve played against some other big leaguers which is always cool to see.

Monday, April 30, 2018

What's up with those number 1's?

Mickey Moniak with Lakewood last yr, Image- Jay Floyd

Every couple days, usually, someone reaches out to me on Twitter to check up on the number 1 overall selection from the 2016 draft, outfielder Mickey Moniak.  I suppose I am easier to holler at than Ye Olde Google machine for some people, so...

The 19-year-old has struggled throughout the first month of the regular season with Class A Advanced Clearwater.  In 22 games with the Treshers, Moniak sports a .213 batting average with four doubles, five RBI and one stolen base.

The lefty batting California native tallied a .236/.284/.341 slash line with Class A Lakewood last year in his first full season as a pro player. While those stats aren't worrisome, they were not the sort of production that would convince everybody that he had definitely graduated out of the South Atlantic League.

Starting the 2018 campaign at a higher level probably surprised a lot of people.

Most concerning may be the overall lack of power that Moniak has shown to date.  Without just one home run since early July, pitchers aren't afraid to come right at the youngster and they are getting the best of him with considerable frequency.

The assignment with Clearwater is not necessarily a failure yet, but his Florida State League numbers hold, perhaps more time with Lakewood could be valuable to the center fielder who turns 20 years old on May 13th.

Last year's first round draft choice, Adam Haseley, is also with Clearwater and his posted solid numbers there.  The 22-year-old lefty batting Virginia product has posted a .280 batting average with a home run and 12 RBI and three steals through 22 games with the Threshers. 

Cornelius Randolph, the Phils' 1st rounder from 2015, hasn't looked great thus far at the Double-A level.  The 20-year-old lefty hitting outfielder sported a .152 average with a homer and four RBI through 18 games following action on Monday.  He's also striking out in 28.1% of his plate appearances. 

Randolph, like Moniak, didn't convincingly show he had nothing left to prove at his previous level, notching a .250/.338/.402 slash line at Clearwater last season. 

I would expect it's possible the Phils will consider, or are already considering, swapping Randolph and the two-years-older Haseley on their respective rosters sooner than later.

Opening round draft choices from both 2014 (Aaron Nola) and 2013 (J.P. Crawford) have already reached the big leagues with the Phils.  Here's hoping the trio of outfielders they've chosen with their first pick over the past three years iron things out so they can join the big league fraternity too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

We know it's early, but are the Phillies championship contenders?

Image- Jay Floyd
Entering action this week, the Phillies resided just ½ game out of first place in the National League East division and confidence in the team among its fan base was growing by the day. With playoff fever consuming local 76ers supporters and Super Bowl dreams fulfilled this year for Eagles Nation, high hopes are abound for the local nine.

A remarkable turnaround, led by a new regime, has fans, media types and baseball insiders alike wondering that the Phillies’ odds of reaching or winning the World Series could be.

This week I gathered feedback from several sports authorities that are familiar with the Phillies, seeking insight on their early impressions and thoughts on the team’s potential for postseason glory. Read on for those remarks.

TV anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, formerly of Comcast SportsNet/NBCSN Philly-


To say the Phillies are off to a good start is an understatement. I thought if they got enough good starting pitching behind Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola that they could be in wild card contention as long as the offense continued to show growth from its young players. If you told me only three of the 11 regulars Gabe Kapler has used would hit over .250 through the first 21 games (including four under .200) I wouldn’t think this team would be .500 let alone within a game of the best record in the National League. But here we are thanks to outstanding pitching from that aforementioned 1-2 punch plus Nick Pivetta, and the ability of Vince Velazquez and Ben Lively to keep the Phils in games.

While this isn’t the second coming of the “Four Aces,” the improvement in pitching has paved the way for a possibility unforeseen at season’s outset. I thought if the Phillies were to make a push, they’d have to slug their way into a Wild Card spot. They’ve responded with dismal generic numbers slashing .230/.325/.372 as a team. That’s...not good. I mean the OBP is good, but hitting .230 (22nd) and slugging under .400 (24th) won’t get it done. Fortunately this team has been at its best when it counts, aka with runners in scoring position. Night and day is how I’d describe a team with the previously mentioned numbers vs. one that ranks 7th in OPS (.837) w/ RISP through 21 games.

We’re watching a team at the 100 M mark of an 800 M race and off to a very strong start. Can they finish in the top 5 of a 15-team race that has already seen a couple of teams (Reds, Marlins) pull up lame? The short answer is yes, because they have the talent to do it. The long answer is they haven’t played the Nationals once yet, that schedule gets ridiculous in June, a 6-1 record in 1-run games is due for regression, and 10 comeback wins over the first 21 games would seem like more than their fair share. But if the pitching keeps this up and Jerad Eickhoff can be closer to his 2016 self than his 2017 self when he returns, things could get interesting. And I’m not talking just as a wild card contender. The Nats will get healthy and they’re still -as Jimmy Rollins might assess- the team to beat in the division. But the longer they can hang around close to the top, the more time Gabe Kapler has to instill in this group that there’s no timeline for when the rebuild is officially over. Instead there is only the present. And the Phils have to feel pretty good about what the future could hold based on what they’ve done well before “hittin’ season” has officially started.

Tony Graham of BlueClaws.com and a former long-time sports reporter with the Asbury Park Press-


While the Phillies surprising start has been a revelation I tend to be more of a realist than optimist.

First an observation - I admit I am a baseball traditionalist and while I see the value of versatility and analytics I just wonder how effectively the lineup will jell with the constant shuffling of positions and personnel.

Granted while it offers depth I think - especially in the case of young players like Kingery and Crawford - they need to play every day to develop.

As for pondering the Phillies’ post season chances:

As long as the starting pitching holds up - beyond Nola and Arrieta - the Phillies could be in the wild card mix.

The bullpen - which I believe has performed above expectations thus far - should be bolstered further with the eventual return of Leiter Jr. and Neshek.

At the plate one has to believe Santana will come around and that the offense overall has yet to hit its stride - whatever that may be. While promising (begin with Hoskins and go com there) it has a ways to go before it challenges -if it ever does - the Howard-Utley-Rollins level.

My overall opinion is that while a nucleus for success is now in its formative stages and the ball club is trending upward it could be more of an “April-May team” in 2018.

It may play over its head for a while this spring/summer though still being at least a year away from legitimate playoff contention when it adds at least one more impact free agent.

WIP radio host Joe Giglio-

I'm not surprised the Phillies are doing well, but I am surprised at how they've gotten there: Pitching, but an inconsistent offense. It'll likely even out, with more runs allowed and scored, but there's a foundation here for success. I like the lineup depth and the bullpen. If Nick Pivetta can continue to pitch at a high level, the rotation has three very formidable starters. It's a fun team that should have a chance at a wild card this year.

Eric Floyd, who previously wrote for PhilliesNation and blogged for University of Pittsburgh athletics-

This past Sunday, in the midst of getting no-hit through four innings, Nick Pivetta let up a 2-run home run to Elias Diaz. If this scenario had occurred any time over the last six seasons, a 2-run deficit would feel almost insurmountable with the assumption that the lead would only balloon from there. Today, however, the 2018 roster has reversed the narrative. This team’s relentless attitude and ability to learn and grow game-by-game sets them apart from those squads that fell apart time and again. This version of the Phillies is looking to prove that the days of collapsing and helplessly tanking are gone and that the future is bright. Based on how they have played this April, I feel comfortable saying that this team could absolutely fulfill their goal for 2018 – making the playoffs.

However, a couple issues. First, I have been guilty of buying into the Phillies’ April hype before. In 2016 when the team finished April 14-10, including a 8-1 stretch to finish the month, I wrote that they would finally secure the first winning record since 2012. Reality said no and the team finished 71-91. Second, since the Eagles won the Super Bowl, Philadelphia has been on a sports-centered tear. The Flyers may have flamed out, but there is tangible excitement surrounding the Sixers’ current playoff run. I would be remiss not to mention that I am viewing the Phillies through intensely green and blue-tinted shades that have me seeing Phillies red in the playoffs. Lastly, the comparison between the Phillies statistical start in 2016 and this past month is startling at first glance. Through 21 games in 2016, the team was hitting .231/.292/.371. Following the 21stgame of the year on Sunday, the team was hitting .230/.325/.372. This team is getting on base more often than two years ago, at least so far, but otherwise it appears similar. The key difference that is going to make this squad a contender this year is the pitching.

The Phillies’ rotation has received deserved praise for their start this season, putting together a 3.01 ERA, good for lowest in the National League. But as a whole, the team’s pitchers have amounted a 3.01 ERA. The 2016 team’s pitching through 21 games? A 4.08 ERA. The addition of Jake Arrieta, the continued dominance of Aaron Nola, and the possibility that some combination of Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Ben Lively, and Jared Eickhoff performing at a high level for this team would spell success for the Phillies. When pitchers can work deep into games and as a team keep opposing teams to a 3 runs or less, it becomes much easier for the bats to fight their way back into a game. The lineup will come together and surely improve, especially given the number of young players still adjusting to the major league-level, but make no mistake, pitching will lead this team.

Yes, the schedule so far has been light. Yes, there will be tougher tests to come – especially the final stretch of this home stand against the NL West-leading Diamondbacks and equally surprising Braves. But, if this team keeps operating with the mindset that carried them through the first month, there is a promising summer ahead. Regardless of where the team ultimately ends up this year, this team is already making baseball in Philadelphia fun to watch again.

Tyrone Johnson, producer and host on 97.5 The Fanatic-

I have been impressed by the Phillies pitching early so I think they’ll be in the mix all year, but will not make the postseason. Hoskins is a future MVP in my opinion and my favorite player in the MLB. Kapler will end up being a good manager, but I think the day to day instability both with the lineup and their defense will ultimately cause them to come up short. I also don’t think the Phillies will make a trade deadline move when other contenders will. 

My own thoughts-

Personally, with the team proving in the early going that they can compete, residing just a half game out of the top spot in their division entering action on Tuesday, I am very confident that the 2018 Phillies could make a push into the postseason and threaten to compete in the Fall Classic, if things go right.

Come mid-season, if the team remains in contention, they can become buyers at the trading deadline for the first time in several years. Adding offense to a team that’s currently third in the National League in runs scored or pitching to a team that is second in the league in ERA prior to game action on Wednesday would make this club fully fearsome.

And on the topic of adding production to this already dangerous squad, keep in mind that the Phils’ biggest off-season acquisition (Jake Arrieta was signed during preseason, folks), Carlos Santana, hasn’t busted out of an early season funk yet. A common outlook in baseball is that hitters hit. Big name offensive players with track records like Santana ultimately produce numbers that closely match what’s on the back of their baseball cards or, to speak in non-old guy terms, what’s in the career totals row their Baseball Reference page. Imagine how much fun fans and the Phillies are going to have watching Santana improve his season numbers to the more familiar .806 OPS territory he’s tallied in his eight years in the majors.

Internal additions to the pitching staff are expected come in the form of last year’s Phillies All-Star Pat Neshek, reliever Mark Leiter Jr. and starter Jerad Eickhoff as they recover from their respective ailments which currently have them sidelined. And that doesn’t even factor in exciting righty pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos, who has impressed this season with a 1-0 record, a 1.98 ERA and 22 strike outs compared to five walks in 13 2/3 innings in his first three starts with the Triple-A IronPigs.

Through the first few weeks of the season, the Phillies’ win-loss record is better than I thought it would be and, barring injuries, the team is only going to get better this year. I’d say the possibility of reaching the playoffs is a real thing and the team that is the hottest in October will prove most successful in the end, so a run at a championship isn’t out of the question as the team continues to improve.

If you have an opinion on the Phillies’ chances of reaching the postseason, leave some feedback in the comments section or hit me back on Twitter.