Thursday, September 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading hitting coach Rob Ducey talks prospects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Six others to join Franco as Phils roster expands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 1, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: RHP Colton Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fightins Quotables: Nola, Lundquist, Altherr, Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nola shared his thoughts on his outing...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Moore talking about Nola's repertoire...

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

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

TOCCI_8148
Carlos Tocci, image- Tug Haines
At a very young age, outfielder Carlos Tocci garnered a high level of praise for his raw tools on the baseball field. With minimal offensive production since he was signed by the Phillies, the young Venezuelan has left some wondering what's been missing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manager Greg Legg-

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

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

Fellow Venezuelan Carlos Tocci-

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

Reliever Joe DeNato-

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

Catcher Jose Mayorga-

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

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

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

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

Astudillo pushing toward batting title with BlueClaws' support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was written for The Shore Sports Network.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Video: RHP Tyler Viza Bullpen Footage

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

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

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

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


Monday, August 25, 2014

Reading Eagle survey: Crawford ranked top Phils prospect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Franco making case for September call up

Maikel Franco, image- Jay Floyd
While the minor league season begins to wind down, Lehigh Valley third baseman Maikel Franco continues to go full throttle.

As the IronPigs kicked off their final home stand of the season on Saturday with a double header against the division rival Syracuse Chiefs, Franco, who is hoping his season continues on beyond the final day on the regular season calendar, which is Labor Day, September 1st, continued to display his improved offensive efforts going 6-for-7 with two home runs combined in two games while recording a cycle in the night cap.

The feat was certainly quite an achievement, but possibly more impressive because it was accomplished in just six offensive innings for the winning home club in game 2, as minor league double headers are slated as seven-inning contests.

Franco, who turns 22 years old this week, struggled through the early part of his first Triple-A season, ending June with a .202 batting average and just 28 extra-base hits in 78 contests. In 46 games since the start of July, the Dominican born slugger has tallied a .326 batting average while mashing 26 extra-base hits, including nine of his season total of 14 homers during that stretch.

Entering the 2014 season, Franco was ranked as PhilliesNation's top prospect after posting a.320 average with 31 home runs and 103 RBI in 134 combined games with Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading.

Franco's big night marked the second time in team history that an IronPig hit for the cycle. The previous player to accomplish the remarkable achievement was outfielder Michael Taylor in 2009.

When major league rosters expand in September, the Phillies will be burdened to not find a way to include the blossoming youngster in the list of names they call to join the big club for the final four weeks or the season.

Also hot-

Lakewood first baseman/catcher/designated hitter Willians Astudillo went 2-for-4 in the BlueClaws' loss at home on Saturday. This marked the sixth straight game and the eighth time in the last nine games that the 22-year-old Venezuelan recorded more than one safety. Astudillo, who was an All-Star this season, leads the Class A South Atlantic League in batting with a .339 average.

Friday, August 22, 2014

PhoulBallz Podcast Epsiode 69: Justin De Fratus Joins Us In Studio

It's the landmark 69th edition of the PhoulBallz Minor League Podcast with our special guest Phillies pitcher Justin De Fratus. Joining the program in studio, Justin sat in for an extensive interview talking about his time in the minors, his past "controversial" Twitter comments as well as playing for Charlie Manuel and Ryne Sandberg. He also shares stories about initiating former teammate Brian Gump to Class A ball and how former big league All-Star Brad Lidge impacted his approach after Lidge's retirement plus loads more.

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


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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading's Cerebral Slugger Jake Fox

Jake Fox, image- Tug Haines
Since rejoining the Phillies organization in June, corner infielder Jake Fox has been the driving force of the Double-A Reading offense. The 32-year-old veteran of four big league seasons, having played with the Cubs, A's and Orioles, has dominated Eastern League pitching, posting a .322 average while mashing 20 home runs and driving in 65 runs in 66 games.

Two seasons ago, Fox played with Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, batting .230 with five homers in 26 total games as a late-season edition.

Prior to signing with the Phillies this year, Fox competed in Mexico, where he sported a .307/.397/.605 slash like in 57 games with Laguna.

Fox, who was originally drafted in the third round of the 2003 amateur draft by the Cubs, plays with an extremely cerebral approach.

Recently, I spoke with Jake about his intellectual focus toward the game, how he helps the teammates around him and more. Read ahead for that interview.

-I've talked to Zach Collier recently about how you've helped him improve his offensive approach and you're definitely a guy that takes pride in influencing and helping your younger teammates. What can you tell me about that?

I think one of the hardest things about this level is that you're stuck in between trying to win games and developing and I think a lot of times at this level you finally separate guys from other things other than their talent, because at this level everybody's talented, everybody can play the game. And one thing that I preach to these guys a lot is not relying on athletic ability, because we have some athletes in this locker room. But, as you move up, it's an intelligent sport and it's about more than your athleticism. So, this is the first time that they have to think about the game, more than just an athletic sport. And, so, a lot of times when you talk to young guys like Zach Collier and Aaron Altherr, who are young guys that always relied on just their athletic ability, they've never had to create an identity as a hitter.

The most important thing you have to do at this level is create your own identity, about what I want to be and what am I going to do to become that type of hitter. Because a lot of times a lot of hitting coaches will preach to guys about being a complete hitter instead of playing to what you're good at. Okay, so having said that, nobody's Miguel Cabrera. Nobody's going to go out there and hit .340 and 60 homers and 140 RBI's every year. But, you can still be effective and get to the big leagues by playing to your strengths.

You know, it's a lot about getting these hitters to understand what kind of hitter they want to be and then how are we going to work to get to that? And in Zach's case, we've talked about what his strengths are and his strength is he's got really good hands and he is very good at elevating the ball to right field. So, I'm going to play to that. I'm going to make that pitcher throw me a pitch that's into his zone, so I can elevate a ball to right field. And especially in this park. And once you get them thinking about this is my plan, I'm going to be in my plan and I'm going to be in a position where I'm going to force that pitcher to be in my plan.

And that development starts happening with that mental aspect of the game and that's another reason I've started introducing intelligent games into the club house because it makes you formulate a plan for an entire game. Instead of having just one at bat at a time. I have a chess board here in my locker. We started playing games like Hearts and Spades and we've started playing games that make you think three, four, five steps ahead rather than just one at bat at a time. And I think when you talk about young guys at this level, one thing that that's difficult to teach, unless you have somebody showing them, is that mental aspect, that mental approach to hitting or to pitching and I think that's one of the things, when I first got here- I always say when I was in the big leagues, I was over-matched.

I'm a short, fat white guy. I'm slow and I was always over-matched. But, I come to this level and you got guys like this and they see me having success and they look at me and they say, "How are you doing this?" Okay, what just happened? Let's go through my game tonight. Guy threw me a first pitch fastball and I hit it off the jumbotron. Right? What do you think he's going to throw me? Right? So, we get to my next at bat and there's two thought processes. You can think, okay, now that he hit that, he's looking for a slider, so I'll throw him a fastball, which I swung at a fastball and I looked stupid on a slider. Now, I know what I'm getting the rest of the at bat because I looked like an idiot on a slider and then I wound up hitting a slider for a double. Okay and we explain that to these kids and now you get a plan together even if you have to give up a pitch or even an at bat to get one later. I think that's where you start putting together a game plan about, "How am I going to approach this game? When I come up to bat in the 9th inning, with the game on the line, how am I going to make sure I get a pitch to hit?" I can't control the result of that pitch, but I can control getting a pitch to hit and hitting it hard.

-With the production you've had since joining the Fightins this year, I think there are fans and media members alike that would be disappointed if you weren't promoted to the big leagues as a September call up. Would you share that opinion if that didn't happen?

Everybody wants to be in the big leagues. If I said no, I'd be lying to you. I understand what my role is. I also understand it depends on how the team's doing. If the team's not in the race, then they'll be calling up the prospects to give them that experience in the big leagues. It's not my first rodeo. I've been around this. I would love to think that the work that I've done would get me that call up, and I would love go up there and be a part of that team and help them any way I can. Obviously, that's a great resume' builder and would help with getting me back to where I want to be, but that being said, I've been around the game long enough to know that the organization has a plan and they want to see some guys get that experience and get their feet wet, so to speak, at the big league level. I don't really know what to expect and I've found, in my career, that if you keep worrying about that, it's going to drive you insane. All I can control is what I do and I'm going to come out here and have fun and play everyday and whatever happens happens. They're going to make their decision no matter how I do or how I feel about it.

-There are several prospect names on this team that casual Phillies fans would be familiar with. Aaron Nola's the top draft pick, Jesse Biddle's been a highly regarded prospect, Aaron Altherr has had a couple cups of coffee with the big club this year. Are there any players on this team that might be underrated in your opinion?

I tell you what, the one thing that I've been impressed with since I've been here is the amount of ability that's on this club. I didn't know what to expect coming here. I looked at the roster before I came and I saw the age of some of these guys and, you know, I had a feeling that my role here was going to be different than when I was here in 2012. In 2012, my job was to produce so that we could get to the postseason and win the playoffs. This year, it's a little bit different.

To answer your question, I look around this clubhouse and it's amazing to me the development I've seen since I've been here. 'Cause these guys, when I got here, these guys were very raw, very athletic and now they've been working so hard and you can see the development happening. A guy that really stick out in my mind is Carlos Alonso. He comes out and- what I look for in a player is different than what most guys look for in a player. I need a guy that's going to go out and give his 100 percent every day. Come out and play hard and play the game right every single day because, to me, in the end when you play 160 games when you get to the big leagues, you want to know what you're going to get out of a player. You want to know who's going to put everything on the line every day and that's a guy that, to me, comes out there every day and gives everything he has. You know, and obviously, we have some guys that are talented, but I wouldn't call them underrated. There's nobody here that's underrated, because when you get to Double-A, they're all talented. To me, you've just got to find those little things, and I talk to them all the time...What's going to separate you from those other guys that they have? What is it? Is it going to be the way you approach your every day? Is it going to be how you handle the bat? Steal bases? Is it the way you play defense? What's going to separate you?

In this organization- let's talk about this team...we have really good infielders. I mean, let's just talk middle infielders. We have (Edgar Duran), (K.C. Serna), we have Alonso, we have (Albert Cartwright), we have really good infielders just on this team, so what's going to separate them and get that organization to choose them over somebody else? And unfortunately, this business pits a competition within the same team, but you have to learn how to win at the same time. So, it's kind of a fine line where you have to separate yourself but still help the team win. So, and that's where one of the things I look for is how does he go about his business? Is he a professional? And can you count on him every day to bring the same product to the field? One of the things I'm looking at, at this level, is there's a lot of inconsistency.

But, you see the way they approach it and that's one guys that's impressed me with the way he handles his business is Alonso.

-We mentioned how you're tearing up the Eastern League. You did tremendous in Mexico this year as well, before returning to the Phillies. Is it tough to find a challenge out here each day with all the success you're having?

(Laughs) Man, that's a tough question, because I'm a competitor at heart and I've always been a competitor at heart and I love succeeding. And I don't- sometimes it's great to be challenged, but sometimes it's great to come out here and put up numbers too. At the same time, I love to be challenged and one of the things about this season was I had two places that I challenged myself as a hitter. 'Cause I had two different styles of pitching that I was facing and I was able to adjust to both. So, to me, in itself that's a challenge for me. But at the same time, I take pride in coming out and competing and winning battles and winning games.

And one of the things that was tough on me when I got here was we had a long losing streak. That was tough. That's one of the reasons I introduced these games is because I love competing. Whether it's cards or chess or baseball, take your pick.

I grew up with an older brother and we were always competing. And that's one of the things I love about my job is every day I come out and compete. You know, my brother tells me, "I miss that! I don't have that in my life." So, yes, I find the challenge every day, coming out here winning games and competing and there's some certain satisfaction in having some success because you know that you're winning that competition, you're winning that challenge. That's one thing that drives me every day to come out here is that competition, that challenge of winning the battle every single day. I guess when you talk about this level of play, you know, baseball's baseball. And I've always said, "If you can play and you can make adjustments, it doesn't matter where you play." You go out and make adjustments to the league...and you play. And that's one thing that I've struggled with in my career. I feel like I've shown that I adjust to where ever I'm at. Major leagues, Double-A, Triple-A, Mexico, Dominican Republic, everywhere they've put me, independent ball. I feel like I've come out and competed and found a way to succeed and I feel like I wish that at some point in my career somebody would have given me the chance to compete at the big league level, because, you know, (during my time there) I came off the bench or was a role player, granted I took that challenge head on, but you're fighting an uphill battle, so to speak. I just wish that somebody would have given me that opportunity to have that daily challenge, that daily competition.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

PNTV: Prospect Chat, Simmons Interview, Greene & Stairs

A brand new edition of Phillies Nation hit TV's throughout the region on Tuesday.  On the latest episode, I joined Pat and Corey on set to discuss several top Phillies prospects, namely Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, J.P. Crawford and Jesse Biddle.

The episode also features segments with former Phillies Curt Simmons, Tommy Greene and Matt Stairs, plus the usual insight and analysis that your expect from the hosts.

If you missed it on TV or would like to watch it again, check out this week's Phillies Nation in the media player below.  New episodes premiere each Tuesday at 6PM on The Comcast Network


Monday, August 18, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Top Phils Draft Pick Aaron Nola

Aaron Nola, image- Tug Haines
The Phillies' top pick from this year's draft, righty hurler Aaron Nola, has looked very good in the early stages of his pro career. In nine games combined in the minors, the 21-year-old LSU product sports a 3-3 record with a 3.35 ERA while striking out 36 batters and walking seven in 40 1/3 innings.

Over the weekend, I spoke with Nola, who was recently promoted to Double-A Reading, about his draft experience, the possibility of being shut down before season's end, the transition from college to the pro's, looking up to his brother Austin and more. Read ahead for that full interview.

-What was your draft experience like? How did you celebrate?

We had a party over at LSU in our lounge and it was a bunch of family and some friends over there. We had about 100 people actually, so it was pretty big. It was fun. It was a fun time and it's definitely something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life. The draft and getting picked early by the Phillies.

-How do you think pitching at LSU prepared you for your transition to the minor leagues?

It prepared me, man. I'm glad I went to LSU. I matured more. I matured on the field. Also my physical and mental ability rose up in college, you know, you see a lot of older guys that I'm playing against right now, 23 to 26 year old guys, and I feel like a lot of the guys I played against in college are in high A. I haven't seen too many in Double-A, but I saw a lot of guys down in Clearwater that I played against one, two or three years in college.

-When you were drafted there were experts that asserted you'd be one of the first players out of this year's draft to reach the majors. What does that type of forecast mean to you?

It's good to me that they have that much confidence in me. I'm just going to try to work my hardest to move up each level, but I'm focused on Double-A right now and, you know, where ever that takes me, that takes me. I'm just focused on each start here right now, trying to get better each start.

-Has the transition from college to being a professional pitcher been what you expected?

I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I knew it wasn't going to be a breeze. It was different in college. Things change. You get your new teams, new hitters, new everything. New fans, new crowd, different levels, you know, you got bigger crowds, smaller crowds. In college, we always had a big crowd. That's my biggest adjustment right now is moving levels and meeting people. I'm meeting a lot of guys with each club and they give me a lot of tips, a lot of older guys that I can take tips from.

-What are your thoughts on the coaches here in the Phils' organization thus far?

I'm anxious to work with them more and more as this season goes on and as this season finishes and then next year. That's another big thing, as you move levels you meet new guys and you meet new coaches, new strength coaches and new trainers. You've just got to take everything, all the tips they bring you and you put them all together.

-Some people suspect that the Phillies may wish for you to stop pitching before the end of the season to limit your workload. If that's the case, would you be on board with that decision and how much input do you think you'd have?

If they want me to go three more starts, 170 innings, that's fine with me. I can do it. But, you know, whatever (the Phillies) want me to do, I'm going to agree with them and I'm right with them on their decisions.

-Who were some of your favorite players to watch as you were growing up?

I just like watching a lot of pitchers, a lot of baseball and a lot of games with my brother, he's a couple years older than me and he's played ball a little longer than I have, so I watched a lot of his games, but, you know, Pedro Martinez is one guy that I liked. I watched a lot of videos with him and then Mike Leake. We're kind of similar guys, he has my kind of arm slot, so I kind of pick items from them and add them into my arsenal, stuff like that. But at the end of the day, I'm myself. I go out each time and do my thing, do what I know and what I can do.