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.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fightins Quotables: Manager Wathan talks Reading players

I spoke with Double-A Reading Fightins skipper Dusty Wathan prior to Friday's home contest against the Binghamton Mets. Topics of discussion included top draft pick Aaron Nola's pitching restrictions, outfielder Kelly Dugan's progress, Severino Gonzalez's season and plenty more. Read ahead for those exclusive comments from Wathan.

Kelly Dugan, image- Jay Floyd
-Speaking about Kelly Dugan, who entered action on Friday sporting a .330/.423/.481 line in 32 games since the All-Star break...

Kelly's been very good. I think he's done a nice job with his swing, he's flattened it out a little bit. He's driving balls the other way better than I've ever seen him. You know, I think he's really learning his swing, becoming a better hitter. I think his power numbers are a little down and some people have voice their concerns about that, not inside the organization, but media. But, to me that's no big deal. To me, he's a better hitter than I saw last year. And the power will come. I'm not worried about that. he's driving balls all over the ballpark and having really good at bats every night, so it's really good for Kelly. He's had a long stretch where he's felt good and it's nice to see for him and the organization.

-I asked Dusty if he thought OF Aaron Altherr's brief stints with the Phillies this year could benefit him in the long run...

Yeah, I think so. I think everybody wants to get to the big leagues and play in the big leagues and sometimes once you get a taste of it, it makes you want to be there even more. I think he went from the Ritz-Carlton to the Super 8 one time, so if that's any incentive to get back there and to work on what he needs to work on to get there, that's the prime example right there.

-Speaking about veteran corner infielder/DH Jake Fox, who is Reading's top offensive performer at 32-years-old, and his impact on younger teammates...

He's been outstanding. To have a veteran to do what he's done in his career, plaed all over the place, played in tbe big leagues, multiple leagues all over the world and the attitude that he has, the leadership that he has, to be able to use that experience that he has to give to give to other players. He's willing to do that. Hes a good mentor to a lot of these guys. He likes to talk hitting. I think sometimes, as coaches, we can talk till we're blue in the face about things, but when it comes from a peer and a guy that has done it before and is doing it right now, sometimes it really clicks for some guys.

-On another veteran with big league experience, LHP Adam Loewen...

He's been outstanding., I think he's starting to comfortable with pitching, really using his legs well and I think he's had seven or eight quality starts in a row. Every time we give him the ball, he seems to get a little bit better and gets a little more comfortable on the mound. I think the biggest thing for him is that he's been able to command his fastball a little bit better each time out and then his change up just has really developed into a good pitch for him and he's trusting it.

-I inquired if rumors of top draft pick Aaron Nola (3-3, 3.35 ERA in nine pro appearances) being shut down before the season ends are true...

Right now, we've been holding him at 85 pitches per outing, or five innings and that's really all we have. Right now, I think we're just going start to start. We'll probably listen to him a little bit and then still have some talks about it.

Jesse Biddle, image- Jay Floyd
-Comments on LHP Jesse Biddle's return to Reading after missing time with post-concussion symptoms (Biddle is slated to start game 1 of Reading double header on Saturday)...

He's pitched a couple times down in Clearwater and it's nice to see him back up here and, you know, hopefully he can go out there and have a good start and get himself back on track.

-Commenting about RHP Severino Gonzalez, who was honored by the Phillies as their top minor league pitcher last year and has posted an 8-12 record with a 4.93 ERA in 24 games started for the Fightins...

I think he's getting close to his innings limit. We skipped him a start and he's way over his innings (total) than he's ever been in his career. I think if you look at this year, at his age, he probably should have pitched a full year in Clearwater and he's pitched a full year at this level, especially with him being in extended spring last year. He's been outstanding. He's learned a lot. He's learned about himself. I think he's learned to pitch a little bit more than in the past and learned what he has to do. It's been a really good year for him, I think, personally for a development standpoint. Maybe the numbers aren't there, but sometimes there's a lot of things you can learn, despite what the numbers might say. (Thursday) night was an example. We gave him a lead, he struggled the first couple innings by walking some lead-off guys, but pitched with the lead from the 3rd inning and I think the biggest thing (Thursday) night was very encouraging. He had a five run lead going into the 7th inning and he gave up a couple hits right away and he had 1st and 2nd, nobody out and was able to pitch out of that jam by only giving up two runs and I think the key point was he had 2nd and 3rd, only one run in with one out and instead of trying to strike that guy out, threw a good sinker, got a ground ball, allowed that run to score, struck the next guy out, staying away from the big inning, which is something that he's starting to learn. You know, one or two or three runs is going to be a pretty darn good start and help me win a lot of ball games and help my team win a lot of ball games. I think from a maturity standpoint I was really happy to see that (Thursday) night.

Biddle slated to make Reading return on Saturday

Jesse Biddle, image- Jay Floyd
After a miserable stretch of starts in June, lefty pitcher Jesse Biddle was placed on Double-A Reading's temporary inactive list. On Saturday, he'll make his long awaited return to the FirstEnergy Stadium mound when he starts the first game of the Fightins' scheduled double header against Binghamton.

The 22-year-old posted a 0-4 record with a 12.64 ERA in four June starts. It was clear that there was something quite wrong with Biddle, who had missed a start in late May after being pelted with hail and suffering a concussion.

A mixture of feelings including confusion and anger were firmly settling in while Biddle's efforts on the mound were not.

The Phils saw a need for the Philadelphia native and Germantown Friends School product to take a break. Exams discovered lasting impact on Biddle stemming from the concussion and time off was required.

"For me it was an important time not only to take a mental break and to go down to Florida and fall back in love with the game of baseball, but it was also important for me to see a doctor, go to physical therapy and get my mind right because I definitely was experiencing some symptoms and whether or not they were affecting me on the field, they just affected my day to day life and I can realize that not that I feel 100-percent better," Biddle explained in the Reading clubhouse on Friday night.

Initially, the news shared with the media and the fans was that deactivating Biddle was a mere mental break, which resulted in some of those same people proclaiming that the young hurler was not tough enough. It wasn't until Biddle spoke out recently and proclaimed the break as physically necessary that the truth was fully known.

The inaccuracy of news and presumptions about him being delicate between the ears didn't bother the strong and athletic Biddle. Instead, he has chosen to focus on the uplifting assistance he's gotten from the Phillies.

"I've had nothing but a positive experience with this whole thing," Biddle asserted. "Every coach that I've come across and dealt with has been wonderful and always had (their) best intentions at heart and I couldn't ask for much more out of a coaching staff and out of an organization. They really took a personal interest in me."

Taking in his first game in Reading in more than a month and a half when he witnessed Friday's 8-7 loss to Binghamton, Biddle is happy to be back and received many kind words from fans in attendance.

"I got a lot of 'Welcome back Jesse's' and it means a lot to me to have so much support and I can't wait to get out there," Biddle said, adding that he wishes he had more time to pitch for Reading this year. " It's frustrating to have only a little bit of the season left, but at the same time this is what it takes to get back on track and to feel right again. I'm just glad to be back here and to have the few starts that I have."

Without his troublesome stretch in June, Biddle has tallied a 5-5 record along with a 2.88 ERA in 14 starts this season.

It's possible that Biddle could be called upon to pitch in an off-season league to make up for some missed time. A possibility could be pitching in the Arizona Fall League, which features loads of top minor league talent, a majority of which are from the Double-A level. The six-foot-five 225-pounder doesn't know if he'll go, but he's willing, if the Phillies want him to.

"I feel good and I'm always up to play more baseball," said Biddle excitedly.

For now, though, he'll focus on building on his recent success, having posted a 2-0 record with a 1.50 ERA in three appearances in Florida, and closing out the season in a strong fashion.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

BlueClaws Quotables: Walding and Cozens talks about second half success

This week I spoke with a pair of solid Class A hitters that have increased their offensive numbers considerably in the second half of the season.

Lakewood third baseman Mitch Walding and outfielder Dylan Cozens have improved quite a bit since the South Atlantic League All-Star break with Walding sporting an OPS that's 255 points higher in his last 49 games than it was in his first 46 games this year, while Cozens has posted an OPS mark 85 points higher than he did before the break.

I asked both players about the uptick in production and more.  Read ahead for those exclusive quotes.


-Walding, the Phillies' 5th round pick in 2011, spoke about what he attributes to his recent success...

You know, at first I was doing some things and I was exactly feeling too comfortable at the plate.  I was kind of struggling really hard with getting pitches and doing some things and I talked with our hitting coordinator (Andy) Tracy and my hitting coach Lino Connell.  We changed some things with my hands, um, changed my approach at the plate and going to get pitches that I wanted to get instead of, kind of- what I was doing was I was being indecisive, waiting to see the pitch and making my decision when the ball was half way and by the time I was making my decision, I was too late, so I was striking out a lot and wasn't hitting the ball the way I should be.  And now I'm attacking pitches and doing things that I want to do at the plate.  Things have turned around a lot. 

-Walding, who has tallied a .239 average with six home runs and 51 RBI through 95 games with Lakewood this year, specified what mechanical changes he made in the batters box...

Moving (my hands) down a little bit.  Kind of getting them in a good slot, right above my shoulder.  Just having loose hands, kind of being able to feel my hands work a lot more, 'cause I might drop them if they're too high.  Just kind of moved them down a little bit and staying relaxed with my hands. 
-I asked Walding if there's any concern about congestion at his position with Cody Asche and Maikel Franco manning the hot corner at the top levels while Harold Martinez, Zach Green, Jan Hernandez and himself all hold down the same position at the trio of Class A levels...

Obviously, I know there's guys around.  I know that they're there, but I'm not necessarily worried about it.  I think about what I have to do everyday.  You know, I have to go do my best every day and worry about myself.  Obviously, people talk about all the other guys at the same position, but at the end of the day I have to worry about myself and kind of just do what I came here to do and put up good numbers and help my team win.

-The six-foot-three 190-pound Walding offered thoughts on feedback he's received from his coaches in the second half...

They're all pretty happy with the way I've turned things around.  They're starting to see the way I can hit and they way I've changed things.  I know I've been able to hit the ball and stuff.  In the first half I didn't do it so well.  I know what my potential is and I know that I can continue to grow from here even.  And, so I think they're happy with the strides that I've made so far.

-Walding spoke on if there's any additional pressure for an early round draft pick while he's struggling to produce...

I think there's a little bit.  There's definitely a little pressure, you know, if you are a high draft pick.  But, I think at the end of the day, when you put pressure on yourself, it's not because of where you were drafted at, it's more just you know how good you are and...where you want to be.  I think every guy knows that they have the ability to be in the big leagues and that's what I believe in myself.  I know I can be a big league player.  And I think when you go through struggles, it's hard because you know how good you can be and where you should be and when you don't live up to your own expectations, let alone everyone else's, it's definitely tough.  I think my expectations of myself are higher than everyone else's.


-The soft-spoken Cozens, who was the Phillies' 2nd round draft selection in 2012, shared some insight on what's been the difference for him offensively...

Just staying focused on getting my pitch and not chasing after the stuff that they want me to chase after and just seeing the ball up and taking good swings on it.  Just mental focus.

-Cozens also talked about his level of satisfaction with his season in which he's posted a .251 average with 14 homers, 53 RBI and 19 steals through 118 games for the BlueClaws...

I would say that I'm probably going to never be satisfied, even if I hit .300.  That's just who I am and there's always room for improvement.

-The six-foor-six 235-pound Cozens shared insight on the feedback he has received from coaches as well...

One of their biggest points is finish your work and finish strong.  And they liked how I've progressed through the year and just keep getting better and better. That's the main goal.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Phils 11th round draft pick Drew Stankiewicz

Drew Stankiewicz, image- Jay Floyd
Infielder Drew Stankiewicz was an 11th round draft choice this year by the Phillies. The son of former big leaguer Andy Stankiewicz, Drew is already in the midst of his second stint with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws.

After posting a .305 average in his junior year this season at Arizona State University, Stankiewicz was anxious to begin his pro career and quickly signed with the Phillies.

The 21-year-old batted .390 in July with short-season Class A Williamsport and rejoined the BlueClaws on July 30th.  He spent a week with Lakewood in June.  Through 13 games with the 'Claws, the five-foot-nine 160-pounder has posted a .156 average with an RBI and two steals.

I spoke with Stankiewicz this past weekend about his draft experience, adjusting to the pro's, his father's pride in him and plenty more.  Read ahead for the full interview.


-What was your draft experience like?  How did you find out you were drafted by the Phillies and how did you celebrate?

I was sitting at home and I got a call from my scout, Brad Holland, saying that we're probably going to take you in the next round.  So, I turned I turned on my computer and watched the pick and me and my family were just celebrating down in Phoenix, Arizona, where I live.

My whole family was there.  We just sat there and just were all happy, got some food.  It was like any normal day, and I was thankful I got drafted.

-What's been the biggest thing about adjusting to the pro's, coming from college?

Honestly, it's more mental than I thought.  Physically, playing in the PAC the past years, which is the top baseball you can play in college baseball, but coming here, it's more of a mental game, when you're not succeeding you just get down on yourself, but you can't do that, because you play every day here in the minors, so it's just probably more mental.


-How do you think playing college ball helped you prepare for professional baseball?

I think it helped me tremendously.  Just the way we do things here is basically the same.  You've got to work hard, play hard and just grind everyday.

-What are your impressions of playing in Lakewood with the BlueClaws thus far?

I think the stadium's beautiful.  That's pretty much what stands out to me.  It's amazing to play in.  The fans are great.  It's just a great place to play.

-Thoughts on playing in Williamsport?

It was actually pretty fun playing there.  The Little League World Series is there.  It's more of a smaller town than I'm used to, but it was a great place to play.  

-I know you grew up in a baseball family.  Do you remember the first game you attended?

Aw, shoot.  I probably couldn't remember the first game.  They all blend together a bit, but I remember going to watch my dad play a lot.  That was obviously an unbelievable experience that I'll remember for the rest of my life.  But I don't think the first game is something that I would remember.

-Has your dad seen you play a game as a pro yet?

He's actually seen me play two.  It was when we were down in Greensboro, he was in North Carolina, coaching the USA team, so he was there and he got to see me play a little bit.

-What was his reaction?  Tears in his eyes?  Great level of pride in his boy?

He's pretty, uh- he's a manly man.  He doesn't show emotions around me, but I just want to make him proud in anything I do, so I'm sure he's proud of me.

-Do you have any game day superstitions or good luck charms?

I think the one superstition I have is I have to say a prayer before every game.  Just probably that and putting on my socks and shoes the same way.  That's about it though. 

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

Shoot.  I'm just a grinder.  I'm not the most talented player.  You know, I'm five-foot-nothing.  But, I play defense real well and I just try to get on base anyway I can and try to help the team win anyway I can.  That's my game.  Anyway I can help the team win, that's what I got to do and I'm a grinder. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Joe Jordan talks Phils prospects

On Sunday, I sat down with Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan.  As usual, I bounced as many names as I could his way until I felt as though I may be keeping the former pro catcher and longtime scout from doing the work that he was at the ballpark to do.  Topics of discussion included Adam Morgan's recovery from shoulder surgery, Cameron Perkins' slow start at the Triple-A level, Maikel Franco's turnaround, Dylan Cozens' emergence and several more prospects.

Read ahead for all of Jordan's remarks about some highly regarded prospects.

Adam Morgan, image- Jay Floyd
-Are there any updates you can share on lefty pitcher Adam Morgan (3rd round pick, 2011), who underwent shoulder surgery last off-season?

He's throwing, progressing well. You know, I mean, we're hopeful that during instructional league we may have actually him on the mound, participating. But really, right now, he's doing well.

-And righty Shane Watson (supplemental pick, 2012) is completely shut down till next spring, correct?

He's not going to throw any (more) this year. We're just going to try to rehab him and get him ready for spring training.

-Tyler Viza (32nd round pick, 2013) is one of the youngest pitchers in the Class A South Atlantic League. He's got the Lakewood record for losses. He's 19 and it's his first full season as a pro. Any concern about what sort of discouragement that claim to fame could bring for him?

No. He's a strong minded kid. He gets it. He's getting his innings, he's (pitching) every six days. He's gonna gain from this year. Obviously, some of it's been his doing, some of it's not scoring runs, but he's alright. 

Dylan Cozens, image- Jay Floyd
-Outfielder Dylan Cozens (2nd round, 2012) has had a really nice campaign this year with Class A Lakewood. He has shown loads of power, plenty of speed (.252 avg, 14 HR, 53 RBI, 19 SB, 114 g) and has really improved throughout the year. Thoughts on his season?

I think it's gone the way we hoped it would. He just needs to play. This is just his second year to really play baseball full time in his life. So, he's getting better in every facet of his game.

He's got a chance to be a really good player. If he stays and gains and keeps working, because he is working. He's trying to become a baseball player and, again, you can go down every part of his game that you want and he's getting better in all of them.

-With Class A Advanced Clearwater, Roman Quinn and J.P. Crawford have really been catalysts for that club. Two young, fast, talented guys...

I'm happy that Quinny, once we got him on the field and got him playing, he's done well. And JP's just had a very solid year (in Lakewood and Clearwater). So...listen, it's all about just playing. They need to play and that's what they're getting. It's a good league and they're competing, so it's good.

Yacksel Rios, image- Jay Floyd
-Yacksel Rios (12th round, 2011) has has a really nice season for Lakewood (5-1 record, one save, 3.35 ERA, 6.70 K/9, 30 games/10 starts). Any level of surprise with what the 20-year-old has done?

Rios is a young kid and we like him. In a normal year he may have stayed in extended (spring training) and went to Williamsport. Same with (Viza). You know, we just- we were in a position that they needed to come here and we felt like they could benefit from the experience. But, Yacksel's gotten better too. I think he's, you know- like Tyler, we've got about three more starts and I'm a little bit concerned that they're gonna run out of bullets.

-Yoel Mecias is a well regarded hurler, bouncing back from Tommy John surgery. He gets to join the BlueClaws for a stretch, fully healthy, to wrap up the season. What's the outlook for him?

This has been good for Mecias. We figured he'd come up here and have success, throw the ball over the plate. I mean, he just needs to pitch. Long rehab, getting back, don't really care where it's at. This is all about the off-season and next year, for me. So, it's a good level, we had a spot in the rotation, I feel like, like I said, he can get what he needs right here. 

Maikel Franco, image- Jay Floyd
-Maikel Franco was the top ranked Phils prospect entering the season. I talked with him in late June, when the offense was still not great, and he promised that the production people expected of him was coming and it did. Clearly, very young, at 21, in Triple-A. What are your thoughts on him?

He's a young hitter that got himself out a lot for about two and a half months. Then we started seeing signs of calming down and swinging at better pitches in June, but, you know, he's done what he traditionally does and what he did here (in Lakewood) two years ago- he's a July/August guy. We gotta turn that calendar up a little sooner. The guys gonna be a good hitter. And he's gonna be a good hitter for us for a while.

-The Phillies have a nice collection of outfielders on the way up with guys like Kelly Dugan, Aaron Altherr, Zach Collier's finally turning it on and some others. What can you tell me about that group?

It's a group that they've got some talent, they've got some ability. I mean, honestly, that group, for me, has been...I think they've gotten better. I think we have good outfielders. We have outfielders that can throw, that can run, that can do some things. Honestly, it's time for someone to step up and separate themselves from the rest of the group with the bat, 'cause they all have the ability to hit. They all have the ingredients to hit and, you know, it's time for one or two of them to separate themselves from rest of them. That's the way I look at it.

Cam Perkins, image- Jay Floyd
-One would think Cam Perkins stood out earlier this year. He moved up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after starting the year with Double-A Reading.

Well, he was hitting .345 when we promoted him, so I would say he earned the opportunity, and again I think he may have been a little bit like Franco where he's gotta learn older pitchers, veteran pitchers, guys that have major league experience that know what they're doing. They'll identify a young hitter quickly as somebody who ought to get themselves out and they'll just stay away from the hot zone. They'll let you get yourself out and they'll show you a 0-0 fastball up and away, 'cause they know you're geared for fastballs, and you can't do anything with it.

That's what they do and that's what Perkins has done since he's been there. And, again, he'll eventually calm down and be a good hitter. He can hit. I know he can hit. I don't have any doubt that he's going to be a good hitter. It's just growing pains. It's the same thing that Franco went through and the same thing that (Cody) Asche went through when he was there initially and that's something that we've got to get ahead of. And these hitters, we've got to make them understand, maybe at a little earlier time, and again, it's- you're talking about three guys that have gone up to Double-A and hit. It's Triple-A. Franco's starting to hit. Asche did. You've got to be a disciplined hitter. Good hitters hit good pitches.

Additional info: Confirmed by Lakewood manager Greg Legg, the BlueClaws will send five players to the fall instructional league in September. Infielder Malquin Canelo, catcher Andrew Knapp, second round draft pick LHP Matt Imhof, second baseman Andrew Pullin as well as catcher/first baseman Willians Astudillo will be among those who spend an extra month in Clearwater following the minor league regular season.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Collier beyond hot in August for Fightins

Zach Collier, image- Jay Floyd
They're calling him "Mr. August".

You'd have a difficult time finding a hotter batter in professional baseball right now than Double-A Reading outfielder Zach Collier and the increase in production couldn't have come at a better time.

In his last six contests, the six-foot-two 200-pounder has been scorching the ball to the tune of a .417 average with seven home runs and 11 RBI, helping his club notch five straight wins.

With veteran slugger Jake Fox (.330 avg, 17 HR, 56 RBI in 54 games) leading the Reading Fightins offense for two months since signing with the Phillies, it was only a matter of time before his outstanding production rubbed off on those around him. For Collier, it was some verbal guidance from the 32-year-old as well as Fox's generous nature with his personal equipment that helped.

"He's helped me out a lot, you know, just talking, going over hitting and everything like that. I'm actually swinging (Jake's) bats, his model. And I've broken a couple and now we're down to one, so I'm trying not to break this (last) one," Collier said on this week's edition of the PhoulBallz Podcast.

Collier, who was selected 34th overall by the Phillies in 2008, didn't give all the credit to Fox and his wood, however, as the young lefty hitter described how he's stayed focused on getting his output at the plate together.

"I just keep working hard with Rob Ducey, our hitting coach, and just continue to stay aggressive and be ready to hit, you know," Collier added. "I've been seeing the ball really well lately and that's been the difference."

If there's one player in the Phillies organization that needed to turn his season around it was Collier, who entered the month sporting a .220 average with two home runs and 11 RBI in 61 games this season.

The 23-year-old stood by while formerly well-regarded outfield prospects, and teammates, were released one after the other this summer. Former top draft pick Anthony Hewitt, key trade acquisition Tyson Gillies and a once promising Jiwan James all found themselves looking for their next opportunity over the past month-and-a-half.

Had Collier not proven he was making progress, he may have been next.

Entering this season, the California native sported a .241 average with 16 home runs, 168 RBI and 88 steals in 466 career games.

Despite watching his friends get their walking papers, the situation didn't add pressure for Collier, who is steadily aware of a need to stand out in the developmental ranks.

"I try not to worry about that stuff," Collier asserted. "One thing I really want to work on and continue to focus on is how I go about the game. This game is stressful enough as it is and I can't make it any harder by worrying about things I can't control."

Collier cited some levels of frustration with his season prior to his bust out performance over the past week, but he has no problems maintaining a positive outlook and plans to build on his recent hotness.

"I may not have started the way I wanted, but I'm definitely going to finish a lot better than I started."

To download the full episode, which also features an interview with Clearwater starting pitcher Colin Kleven, click HERE.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

PhoulBallz Podcast Episode 68: Colin Kleven and Zach Collier Interviews

The PhoulBallz Minor League Podcast is back! On the 68th edition of the show Clearwater starting pitcher Colin Kleven and Reading outfielder Zach Collier phone in. Kleven discusses his season as the Threshers' most consistent pitcher, playing in front of smaller crowds in the Florida State League, his teammates Roman Quinn and J.P. Crawford plus plenty more. Collier chats about the secret to his recent hot streak in which he's slugged five home runs and driven in nine runs in his past six games as well as his suspension for a positive Adderall test and much more. Tug and Jay also discuss the Double-A debuts of Aaron Nola and Jacob Lindgren, Jiandido Tromp's offensive production with Williamsport and Jake Fox's big season.

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.

Nola, Biddle strong with new teams

Aaron Nola, image- Tug Haines
Two big name pitching prospects took the mound and shined for their respective new teams on Wednesday night as this year's top draft pick Aaron Nola and 2010 first round selection Jesse Biddle looked strong and notched wins.

Nola, who was selected by the Phillies with the 7th overall pick in June's MLB amateur draft, made his Double-A debut with the Reading Fightins, going five innings, allowing one earned run on six hits while striking out four and walking one to down New Britain.

First baseman Jake Fox carried the Reading offense with his team leading 16th home run and four RBI.

In eight pro games, Nola sports a 3-3 record with a 2.97 ERA while striking out 34 and walking six in 36 1/3 innings.

Biddle, who entered this season widely regarded as the Phils' top pitching prospect, tossed five no-hit innings for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers to earn a win. He struck out five and allowed just one base runner, a walk.

The 22-year-old lefty returned to action for the first time since July 26th, when he made his first appearance in more than a month for the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies after being sidelined for a reported mental break. Biddle, a Philadelphia native, was 3-9 with a 5.03 ERA in 15 games started for Reading earlier this season.

Clearwater first baseman Art Charles slugged his club's team-leading 13 homer and drove in two runs to pace the offense toward a win over the Daytona Cubs. The Threshers (20-26 in the 2nd half) are in fifth place in the Florida State League's North Division, 7.5 games out of first place.

The victory for the Fightins, in front of 7,202 fans at Reading's FirstEnergy Stadium, was their 50th of the season. The team is still firmly locked into last place in the Eastern League's Eastern Division, 19.5 games off pace for a playoff spot.

Both pitchers were on an innings cap for the night. Nola will likely stick by an 80 pitch/five innings max per outings going forward this season, while Biddle's workload may increase a bit as he is stretched out.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Minors Notes: Joseph set for surgery, MAG debuts for Pigs, Neris to bigs

Tommy Joseph, Image- Jay Floyd
-Catching prospect Tommy Joseph is slated to have season ending surgery to repair an ailment in his left wrist.

The injury initially took place back in May, when the 23-year-old was part of a collision at home plate while playing with Double-A Reading.

As a member of the Fightins this season, the righty batting Joseph tallied a .282 batting average while slugging five home runs and driving in 19 runs in 21 games. Joseph last played in mid-July when, after some rest, he rehabbed with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies, going 5-for-20 with a double in six games prior to experiencing a setback with the injured wrist.

Reports state that the surgery will be performed by Dr. Don Sheridan, an orthopedic hand and wrist surgeon in Arizona.

Joseph was acquired from San Francisco along with two other players in 2012 for Hunter Pence.

-Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez made his Triple-A debut with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on Saturday. The 27-year-old Cuban notched a save while surrendering a hit and striking out one in a scoreless frame. His fastball was clocked at 93-94 MPH during the outing.

Prior to his promotion, Gonzalez went 0-2 with five saves and a 3.14 ERA while striking out 24 and walking seven in 14 1/3 IP.

The 27-year-old Cuban was signed to the three-year contract with a club option for a fourth year last summer by the Phillies.
Hector Neris, Image- Jay Floyd

-Right-handed reliever Hector Neris was promoted to the Phillies on Sunday to take the place of Phillippe Aumont, who was demoted after another rough big league outing on Saturday night against Washington.

Neris, a Dominican native, was signed by the Phillies in 2010. In 40 combined appearances with Reading and Lehigh Valley this season, the 25-year-old put together a 5-2 record with two saves and a 3.82 ERA while striking out 45 and walking 24 in 63 2/3 innings.

-Following a month of June in which he posted a .162 average with a homer and 11 RBI in 27 games, IronPigs third baseman/first baseman Maikel Franco has sported a .327 average with four home runs and 23 RBI in the 27 games that followed.

The 21-year-old has a .240/.290/.381 slash line overall in 105 games at the Triple-A level this season.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lakewood's Greene motivated by high expectations

Larry Greene, Image- Jay Floyd
The pressure that comes with being a top draft pick is something that many players will not confess to feeling, but for one prospect it's something he openly admits to experiencing and says it's what will drive him to live up to high expectations.

With a lack of considerable progress in the three years that have passed since Larry Greene Jr. was drafted with the 39th overall pick out of Berrien Country High School in Georgia many have grown impatient with the young outfielder's progress.

The 21-year-old, who has struggled with his offensive production since turning pro, openly admits to feeling the weight and pressure of being the Phillies' top pick in 2011.

"I feel like I need to produce and be more of a team leader," Greene asserted. "Everybody has a specific job and the scoreboard tells us what we can do and us players go day by day. But, I do feel expectations for me, like I need to turn it on and get it moving. I just feel like the rest of this year is going to be big for me and I'm just going to do what I can."

Another well touted high school pick taken early by the Phillies was Anthony Hewitt, a player that fans have begun drawing comparisons to, when it comes to Greene. Hewitt denied on multiple occasions feeling any urgency to prove the Phillies right for drafting him 24th overall in 2008. That outlook and his results on the field led to the outfielder, who possessed a .223/.264/.370 slash line after six years in the professional ranks, being released by the Phillies in June.

Those that described Hewitt as a bust in recent years were proven correct when the Phils gave up on him. Bust is a word that Greene, who was touted for his big time power upon being drafted and hit his first homer in 51 weeks last weekend, doesn't want to have applied to him when things are said and done. But, he doesn't dwell on that possibility either.

"You can't have any negative thoughts here. If you have negative thoughts, you're going to be screwed in this game. I just got to be positive. It's a mental game. I'm talking to (my hitting coach) everyday, making sure my head's clear. It's going good for me," Greene stated.

According to Greene's manager with Class A Lakewood, Greg Legg, the youngster still has the power potential that scouts once determined was worthy of a million dollar signing bonus. The Phillies' coaches see what's missing. It's something Greene's been working on this year.

"We're doing some work on his load, on his leg kick. They added that in extended (spring training) and then he hurt his wrist. It's a timing thing and we're giving him a little more time," Legg shared in his office last week.

The wrist injury Legg mentioned is an ailment that was initially diagnosed as a cartilage tear that required surgery, but rehab and rest did the trick for Greene, who returned to action sooner than anticipated. The injury kept the 21-year-old out of action for two months this season, however.

Greene's progress isn't visible in the stats lines yet, but he feels the improvements resulting from the mechanical adjustments he has undertaken are coming along and he mentioned once more an understanding of what everyone's waiting for from him.

"All the work I put in, when I was down there rehabbing, when I came back up here to continue it, I don't know, it's a big change and it needs to happen pretty soon here," Greene said.

The lefty hitting Greene entered this season with a .236 career average with six home runs and 54 RBI in 181 career games. In 47 games this season he sports a .189 average with a homer and 17 RBI.

The weak stats give him just a bit more incentive.

"I know I'm better than that," Greene said. "I know I can produce numbers. I just have to be- the confidence has to be there everyday."

While he works on mechanical tweaks at the plate, the now healthy Greene feels it won't be long before everything starts to click.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Videos: Mecias, Rios Bullpen Footage

From time to time I'll post video clips of rising prospects in action or doing pregame work. This round of clips features bullpen footage of Class A Lakewood hurlers Yacksel Rios and Yoel Mecias.

Rios, a righty, sports a fastball that has regularly been clocked at 91-92 MPH this season and features nice movement, a quality change up that registers in the low 80's and an improving slider that sits in the upper 80's. BlueClaws pitching coach Les Lancaster asserts that opposing batters generally don't often get good swings against the 21-year-old Puerto Rican, as he hides the ball well with his wind up. Rios was the Phils' 12th round draft choice in 2011.

After beginning the season in the Lakewood bullpen, Rios has notched a 3-0 record with a 3.76 ERA in eight starts.



Mecias, a left-hander, is a well touted pitching prospect for the Phillies that is bouncing back after undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer. The 20-year-old Venezuelan sports a low 90's fastball, a change up described as "Major League ready" and a slider that coaches are looking to help improve.

Thus far since his return to action, the six-foot-two 160-pounder has tallied a 2-1 record with a 3.09 ERA with 21 strike outs and 13 walks over 32 innings in seven starts.

Monday, July 28, 2014

BlueClaws Quotables: Imhof, Legg and Lancaster

In this round of exclusive quotes from the Class A Lakewood locker room, I talked with this year's second round draft pick Matt Imhof about working with a new catcher after joining the BlueClaws recently, his boost in social networking popularity after being selected by the Phillies and plenty more.

Also, I spoke with Lakewood manager Greg Legg about the progress of outfielder Dylan Cozens as well as the contributions of "the Andrews", Andrew Pullin and Andrew Knapp. Pitching coach Les Lancaster shared some thoughts on righty hurler Ranfi Casimiro as well.

From my interview with Imhof (check out the feature by clicking HERE, if you missed it) the 20-year-old talked about his surge in online followers after he was drafted-

I got a lot of text messages. I think I got 400 (new) followers on Twitter in about an hour.  It was awesome. It kind of takes a while to set in. You go to bed and you don't really feel any different and then the next day, you're like, "Wow. A lot just happened in the past 24 hours." So, it was a lot to get used to, but it was an awesome experience and I definitely got some more followers on Twitter and Instagram.

Imhof commented on if there was any adjustment period needed when working with a new battery mate-

Knapp did a great job for me. We knew each other a little before. He kind of knew was I was about. He put down the right fingers, I just wasn't executing the pitches the way I wanted to. I kept falling behind, giving them good hitters counts. If you're not going to locate the fastball, then with hitters counts, they're going to take advantage and that's what they did.

Imhof shared details on his pitch repertoire-

Fastball, curve ball, change up. My out pitch has always been my fastball. It's my best pitch. The second one is my slider. It's what I used all college, I was fastball-slider. I call it a slider, I call it a curve ball, it's the same pitch. There's kind of a slurvy break. And then the change up I've been developing. I probably threw it 15 times against Kannapolis, which is the most I've ever thrown a change up in a game, so it's definitely a transition for me.

I asked Imhof when he realized that pitching professionally might be in his future-

Probably the beginning of my sophomore year. My freshman year was just about getting used to college baseball, then I had a really good fall heading into my sophomore year, and my pitching coach pulled me aside and said, "Hey, you really have a good opportunity here." And that was the first time anyone told me they could see me playing professional baseball. And then from there, I put together a really good sophomore year and happened to make Team USA and then it kind of took off.

Imhof spoke of players he looked up to as a child-

I always idolized Randy Johnson. I liked the way he attacked it like that with that bad-ass attitude of, "My stuff's better than you. I'm going to throw it at you!'" I also was a big Andy Pettitte guy. Those two lefties kind of are who I looked up to.


Dylan Cozens, Image- Jay Floyd
Greg Legg offered his thoughts on the 20-year-old lefty batting Cozens who sports a .248/304./418 slash line with 18 steals through 102 games this year-

Cozens has been playing great. Hopefully, he keeps it up for the next 38 or so games. It's been fun to watch him. A lot better at bats, the concentration's there. He's been driving the ball to all fields. A lot of great things.

Legg on Pullin and Knapp, who have been steady producers for the BlueClaws-

Pullin's been real, real steady. A couple hits here and there. His defense has really improved. Knapp comes to play every day. It's good to see him catching and we're gonna catch him two games in a row, then probably DH him or sit him a game. He's been swinging the bat pretty well for us from both sides and he's been catching pretty good too.

Lancaster on right-hander Casimiro (2-9, 5.53 ERA in 20 games), who has a 1.82 ERA in six day games while sporting a 7.19 ERA in 14 night games-

The majority of the games we play are gonna be at night, so he's just not making his pitches. Been leaving them over the plate. He'll go through a period where he'll show you something real, then one or two innings in the game, something happens and he just can't make adjustments to limit the damage.

I asked specifically if there's anything to Casimiro's success in day games while he's struggled more at night-

It's just luck of the draw and everything. You know, it's him being more consistent.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tommy John surgery just part of the game for prospect Mecias

Yoel Mecias, Image- Jay Floyd
As prevalent as reconstructive elbow surgery has become for baseball players, it just comes with the territory, if you ask Phillies lefty pitching prospect Yoel Mecias.

The Venezuela native was an All-Star last year for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws when the team hosted the South Atlantic League's annual showcase of its top players.

As a 19-year-old Mecias was impressive, posting a 4-3 record with a 3.79 ERA with 70 strike outs in 57 innings through 13 outings (11 starts) in 2013 for the 'Claws, prior to being sidelined with an elbow issue that resulted in Tommy John surgery.

As a rising prospect that had begun garnering plenty of attention throughout the Sally League, Mecias was disappointed to have his breakout campaign cut short, but he didn't let the negative feeling settle in too deeply.

"In the beginning the injury was hard on me, but I knew it was all mental. I just tried to take that away. For me, I just had to be patient and just work. It's part of the game," Mecias stated with the help of Lakewood hitting coach Lino Connell, who translated the youngster's thoughts.

Mecias returned to the mound, facing opposing batters in under a year when he made his season debut last month with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies. In four starts in the GCL, the six-foot-two 160-pounder sported a 0-1 record with a 4.76 ERA while striking out 10 and walking eight in 17 innings.

According to Mecias, the rehab process is in the past and he's working on getting the rest of his body back to where it was prior to the injury.

"I'm not concerned with the elbow anymore. I feel great. I'm just working hard to get 100-percent in shape overall," Mecias declared.

He's looked sharper since returning to Lakewood, tallying a 1-0 record while allowing a lone run, which was earned, on four hits in 10 innings of work while striking out eight and walking three.

The club's pitching coach, former big league hurler Les Lancaster, has been pleased with the output the resilient Mecias has put forth in two outings since joining the BlueClaws.

"He's just coming off the surgery and everything, but (he) looks good. He's getting stronger each time out," Lancaster said with a bit of pride in Mecias' progress.

The Phillies will watch Mecias, who was inked by Venezuelan scout Jesus Mendez in December, 2010, closely and have mandated per-outing caps on his activity, in order to be cautious with his workload.

"He's gonna go five innings or 80 pitches, which ever one comes first. Last time was five (innings)/80 (pitches), the second time was five (innings)/68 (pitches), so he's done a good job," Lancaster stated.

Phillies fans looking for a bright spot within the system of late should look no farther than Mecias' recent progress.

Ranked highly among Phillies prospects, the athletic looking Mecias throws a fastball that was regularly clocked in the low-90's prior to the injury and a plus change up. He continues to work on his breaking pitch, a slider, which needs some improvement according to coaches.

With things now on the right path for Mecias, he's ready to help the BlueClaws down the stretch for the remainder of the season and has already been prepared for what's next.

"They already told me that I'll go to instructs, so be ready to pitch more after the season," Mecias asserted.

Mecias also said he would possibly pitch in the Venezuelan Winter League if the Phillies allow it, but that may not be likely. A full off-season of rest should be on the agenda for the promising young pitcher before he becomes he buzz of the organization next year.