Friday, May 27, 2016

Lively promoted, Appel to DL, Hollands & Asche to continue rehab

Ben Lively, image- Jay Floyd
The Reading Fightins announced a transaction this afternoon, as righty starting pitcher Ben Lively has earned a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Lively, a 4th round pick of Cincinnati in 2013, was acquired by the Phillies in a trade for Marlon Byrd two 0ff-seasons ago.

In nine starts for Double-A Reading this season, the 24-year-old posted a 7-0 record with a 1.87 ERA while striking out 49 and walking 15 in 53 innings pitched. Last season with Reading, Lively sported an 8-7 record with a 4.13 ERA in 25 games.

Recently, I spoke with Lively, who noted that the key to his success this year was throwing more quality pitches early in at bats.

He'll make his Triple-A debut, starting on Friday night for the IronPigs.

Mark Appel has been placed on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain. The 24-year-old left his most recent start for the IronPigs on Sunday after being charged with four earned runs in just 2/3 of an inning.

Appel has a 3-3 record with a 4.46 ERA and a .267 batting average against in eight starts this season. He was a key acquisition in last off-season's Ken Giles trade and was the top overall draft pick by Houston in 2013.

Additionally, left-handed pitcher Mario Hollands (Tommy John surgery) and left fielder Cody Asche (oblique) will continue to rehab from injuries with Lehigh Valley as well.

Hollands, 27, has a 1.04 ERA while striking out 12 and walking one in 8 2/3 innings on his rehab stint to date.

In nine minor league contests, the 25-year-old Asche is batting .147 with two home runs.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Reading's Serna eyeing big leagues despite less than ideal role

KC Serna, image- Jay Floyd
Organizational depth is a common phrase used around baseball to describe older minor league players that help fill out Double-A and Triple-A rosters. They could be players with a bit of big league service time or guys that may have been branded as having a ceiling that's upper-levels-of-the-minors high, but not any higher. Reading utility man KC Serna might be a player categorized in such a way, but that doesn't impact his goal of continuing to climb upward in the professional ranks.

Another similar term journeyman is something that Serna explains can be a good thing, but not where he plays.

"I mean, that'd be, typically, a good position if you're in the big leagues, but we're not. So, you know, obviously it's not the best role you want to be thrown into," Serna said.

Selected in the 42nd round of the 2011 draft by Cleveland, Serna had a successful debut season in pro ball with short-season A level Mahoning Valley after a great collegiate career at Oregon, where his 163 hits rank second in school history.

In 2012, Serna found himself released by Cleveland and would return to baseball playing in the independent American Association in 2013, posting solid numbers, which lead the Phillies to come calling for the 2014 season.

The past three seasons have seen Serna spending time at three levels of the Phils system, including time last year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. This year, the 26-year-old's .351 batting average heading into action on Monday was tops for the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils. He'd also notched seven doubles with a home run and 11 RBI in 27 games.

The recent promotion of top Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford from Reading to Lehigh Valley could result in more playing time at shortstop for Serna. In order to land in the lineup more frequently, the six-foot 185-pounder has become more versatile, going from a middle infielder in college to playing third base, left field and center field as a pro. He even tossed a scoreless inning as a pitcher this season for Reading.

"A lot of things are out of our hands. I can't really control whether I'm gonna be in there or not," Serna expressed. "I try to show up to the field everyday, regardless of what the lineup says, just trying to get my work done.

"To be honest, I don't really look at the lineup too often. I try to just focus on getting better and making sure that my game's tight so that when I'm called in there, I'm ready to go."

Serna maintains a fresh mental approach by treating his non-daily activity like a college schedule, where teams only play a few days a week.

As a youngster, Serna admired Yankees legend Derek Jeter's ability to garner attention for his talent, hustle and leadership rather than off-the-field nonsense. In his current role, Serna takes pride in being a bit of a veteran that can assist younger teammates with advice that could apply on or off the field.

Despite being a leader in his own right, the southern California native admires the skills of many of the younger players around him, citing what stands out most about the Reading team he's a part of.

"Just the abundance of talent. A lot of these guys have more than a couple tools. You know, and it's fun to watch them kind of mold their games into a big league baseball player. And I've seen a couple of them over the past two or three years, it's fun to watch them grow as a person and a more solid all around baseball player," Serna stated.

With all those rising stars of the Phillies' future racing through the minors right now, it's possible that Serna isn't in the organization's plans for the big league roster. But that doesn't spoil the righty batter's frame of mind, though, as he's got a smart outlook on the business.

"Generally, I'm not playing for just the Phillies. I'm playing for 29 other teams," Serna explained. "Whether they pick me up after the year, whether I get my shot here or somebody else picks me up mid-year, I really don't know. But, I know where I stand. I know who I am. So, I'm confident in that."

On that note, Serna's goal remains firm.

"Climbing levels, whether it be here or with any other club."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: Catcher Logan Moore talks Reading pitchers


Logan Moore, image- Jay Floyd
Last week prior to his promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to fill the void left by J.P. Arencibia, I spoke with minor league backstop Logan Moore, who began the season with the Double-A Reading Fightins.

The 25-year-old was a 9th round draft selection by the Phillies in 2011 out of Northeastern Junior College. Serving mainly as a backup to catching prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, Moore has posted a .239 average with a home run and seven RBI in 23 games overall this season.

Moore shared thoughts on filling the void during Alfaro's injury this season, playing off-season ball and some of the Figthins' top starting pitchers. Read ahead for that interview.

-During Jorge Alfaro's recent time on the shelf with an oblique strain, you served as the team's only true catcher, with Jake Fox, who has caught in the pros before, serving as the emergency option, for some time. What was that stretch like?

I mean, I knew coming in I wasn't going to play everyday and when something happens like that-- I don't want anybody to be hurt every, but I got a chance to play-- and I'll never say I don't want to play in the game and I didn't mind it at all. If I'm gonna be there, I may as well be out there playing. So, it sucks that he got hurt and all that but I didn't feel tired or anything by any means. I played all off-season, so it was pretty normal for me I was ready to go everyday and gotta figure out a way to help the team win.

-You mentioned playing over the winter for the Tigres. What can you tell me about the time down in the Dominican Winter League?

It was good. It was a good experience. A little different. I mean Dominican's a different country for sure. But, we had a good team. It was a good time. A great experience. I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fightins Quotables: Crawford and Lively ready for bigger challenges

JP Crawford, image- Jay Floyd
Recently, I spoke with a pair of top performers from the Double-A Reading Fightins in shortstop J.P. Crawford and starting pitcher Ben Lively. Crawford, of course, is the Phillies' top prospect and their top draft pick from 2013. In 34 games this season, the 21-year-old sports a .262 average with two home runs and 11 RBI also sporting a strong OBP at .389. The 24-year-old Lively has been the ace of the Reading staff, posting a 6-0 record with a 1.53 ERA and an 8.8 K/9 mark through eight starts.

Read ahead for interview excerpts from each player.

Crawford-

-He spoke on his manager Dusty Wathan's comments (click here for those) that he expects Crawford to be promoted to Triple-A in the coming weeks and if he thinks he's ready for that move...

Yeah, I think I’ve been playing good and I’m ready to prove what I can do if I get moved up and if I don’t, I’ll just keep doing what I do and keep performing.
-Talking about what he focuses on to stay motivated...
Honestly, I’m just focused on winning and playing good team baseball. You can put up all the numbers, but it’s no fun when you’re losing. I mean, atmosphere is great when you’re winning. Everybody’s in a better mood. I love this team and it's fun when we're winning here, so I focus on winning.
-Comments on working with, at times, the Urban Youth Academy and making an impact among young players...
It’s great, just being an influence to younger kids, I mean, it’s unbelievable. It’s a great feeling you get inside. I remember when I was younger, (Aaron) Hicks would be there and I would be like, “Damn, I want to be like him and I’m happy he’s out here.” So, I just want to do the same and give back.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Lively continues AA dominance with 12 K effort

B Lively 2
Ben Lively, image- Jay Floyd



TRENTON- Righty pitcher Ben Lively struck out a career-high 12 batters in an excellent performance, helping the Reading Fightins (24-13) win by a score of 7-2 and clinch a series split in a four game set on the road against the division rival Thunder (19-16).

In the outing, the 24-year-old gave up four hits while walking four over seven scoreless frames.

With the win, Lively's record this season goes to a gleaming 6-0. In eight starts for the first place Fightins, the six-foot-four 190-pounder sports a Double-A Eastern League best 1.53 ERA, an 8.8 K/9 mark and a 0.96 WHIP.

The numbers are a nice improvement over his efforts last year that saw Lively post an 8-7 record with a 4.13 ERA, a 7.0 K/9 and a 1.43 WHIP in 25 starts for Reading. The Florida native feels a change of approach is what has helped him improve.

"I'm just making more quality pitches early in at bats this year and it's just been helping me a lot," Lively said. "Last year I felt like I was trying to put guys away right off the bat and it definitely didn't help. So, this year, I just kind of changed the attitude to make quality pitches early in at bats and letting the guys behind me work and getting the strike out when I need to."

Lively, ranked by Phillies Nation as the team's number 23 prospect this year, might not be among the top prospect names that fans or media types will think of when it comes to the Phillies organization, but he's emerging as one they should get to know better. Lively, himself, doesn't pay any attention to keeping up with other well-regarded up-and-coming talents in the Phils' developmental ranks.

"I'm just going to play my game and if I play my game and everything goes how I want it to be, then it should all work itself out. I mean, I'm not going to get all hyped up about all the prospect stuff and let all that stuff get to me. I'm just going to play my game and keep it rolling," Lively stated.

After taking a 1-0 lead when Rhys Hoskins grounded into a double play, scoring a run, in the opening frame, the Fightins busted things open in the 3rd inning. Following RBI hits by Hoskins and Dylan Cozens, designated hitter, "The Cerebral Slugger" Jake Fox came to the dish and swiftly ousted a baseball from ARM & HAMMER Park for a three-run home run to put the team up 6-0. All of the early damage was done against Trenton right-hander Matt Wotherspoon.

Trenton got on the board in the 8th inning, when Lane Adams plated a run with a ground out against lefty Jeremy Bleich.

Fox would do damage again in the 9th with a run-scoring single against reliever Alex Smith.

The scoring would wrap up in the bottom of the 9th when Miguel Nunez allowed an inherited runner to score on a fielders choice.

Reading will enjoy a day off on Monday before beginning a stretch of 27 straight days with a game scheduled, when their road trips continues in Bowie on Tuesday.

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading 1B Rhys Hoskins


Rhys Hoskins, image- Jay Floyd
First baseman Rhys Hoskins garnered some deserved attention earlier this season when he notched a 19-game hitting streak with the Double-A Reading Fightins. A 5th round draft pick in 2014 out of Sacramento State, Hoskins is still figuring some things out in his second full season of pro ball.

Through 33 games this year, the 23-year-old sports a .238 average with five doubles, six home runs and 21 RBI.

Last season, Hoskins was honored as an All-Star with Class A Lakewood prior to earning a promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater.

Recently, I spoke with Rhys, Phillies Nation's number 14 prospect, about how he feels regarding Double-A competition, his hit streak and his stacked team among other topics. Read ahead for that full interview.

-What are your thoughts on the competition here in the Eastern League this year?
Obviously, the pitchers are a little better and the teams are a little better. There's a lot more guys that you can see in the big leagues, guys that have a real good chance to be in the big leagues in this league, so it makes it a lot more fun to be out there competing against them.

-This Reading team is packed with recognizable prospect names and you're among the names that people have become familiar with. What's it like to be on this roster with these guys?
I mean it's fun when you win. Especially, (because) we've got a really, really good team. You know, we've got guys like Crawford and Alfaro and Cozens and Quinn and Mora and all these guys that hit, hit, hit. And to hit in a lineup with all these guys, it makes everyone's job easier.

Friday, May 13, 2016

OF Prospect Cozens using hot start to propel toward bigger things

D Cozens 3
Dylan Cozens, image- Jay Floyd

TRENTON- Normally a slow starter that heats up as the season moves along, Dylan Cozens is happy about his hot start this year.

The 21-year-old entered this season as a career .242 hitter with an average of seven extra-base hits in the opening month of the full season. Through 33 games this year for Double-A Reading, Cozens sports a .274 average with eight doubles and an Eastern League leading 10 home runs. This year, he out-slugged his previous best April by 125 points.

"I've never had a good start in the minors (till now)," Cozens said. "I always tend to pick it up and get better as I get going, so to start strong is great."

Reading manager Dusty Wathan explains that the emergence of Cozens lately is a result of the player becoming better overall at the plate.

"You can't teach power. It's one of those things that we talk about all the time, you can't teach it. And he has it in there, so the process is, 'Let's see if we can develop this guy into a hitter.' And when he becomes a hitter and he hits more balls consistently on the barrel, more balls are going to go out of the ball park and I think you're seeing that now," Wathan said.

Cozens, a second round pick of the Phillies back in 2012 out of Chapparal High School in Arizona, has performed considerably better at Reading's home park, FirstEnergy Stadium, in the early going this season, but he hasn't noticed a variance in the numbers.

"I don't pay attention to that. It'll all balance out," Cozens, who touts a .299/.390/.746 home slash line compared to a .246/.323/.386 line on the road.

That prediction of the numbers balancing out seems fairly on point, following an effort in Trenton on Thursday that saw Cozens slug three deep fly balls, each of which looked like home runs off the bat, but an uncooperative wind path knocked two of them down. He was successful getting one ball to leave ARM & HAMMER Park during the contest. It was his fifth round-tripper in his past six games.

Five homers in a week is more impressive when considering he notched just five big flies in 96 games with Class A Advanced Clearwater in the Florida State League last year.

The effort to become a better, smarter hitter may have played a role in last year's drop in home runs, following a 2014 in which he slugged 16 in 132 games with Class A Lakewood.

"If you're at a ballpark where it's a big field, you're not trying to juice it out of the ballparks as much, because then you're working against yourself, kind of, and you'll have more fly ball outs and you're hurting yourself, hurting the team. I just kind of play to the park and the elements a little bit," Cozens stated.

In addition to his power bat, Cozens worked this past off-season on increasing his speed and he has worked on learning what he calls "the art of stealing bases" so he can contribute in other ways.

The athletic six-foot-six 235-pounder was hoping for a perfect season on the base paths with steal attempts this year, but was caught for the only time in 10 attempts earlier this week when Binghamton pitched out.

"He's a lot more of an athlete than you think he is. He runs better than you think he does," Wathan said. "He doesn't get out of the box real well, as far as naturally- his first step, but once he gets going for a guy his size, he can really run. He goes first-to-third real good."

Cozens also can gun down runners and does a fine job in both left and right field.

"He made a great catch in right-center field yesterday with the bases loaded, they had the tying run on second base and if he doesn’t make that catch, they’re scoring three runs and who knows what’s going to happen in our ball game," Wathan said of Cozens, who made a game saving catch to help Reading beat Binghamton on Wednesday.

With all the right tools and being as hot as can be, Cozens wants to avoid feeling complacent. Knowing that Double-A isn't the ultimate goal, he's embraced an outlook to keep himself motivated.

"I just try to look at as there's always someone better. I just try to look at a guy that I think is doing better than me and I try to let that motivate me and make that drive me to be better. I want to be the best," Cozens said.

A second generation athlete, Dylan's father Randy was a defensive standout at Pitt and was drafted into the NFL before knee injuries ended his playing days.

With a family trip to Pennsylvania planned for late in the season to see him play, Cozens hopes he won't still be on the Reading roster when that happens.

"To finally start off like this has me feeling good and confident about the rest of the season," Cozens said. "Hopefully, I won't be in Reading anymore."

If the production keeps up, the Cozens family could easily alter the travel itinerary to nearby Allentown, home of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, or perhaps to the home city of the big league team, Philadelphia.


Another potential move:

Speaking with media members, Wathan also shared that he would not be surprised to see top Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford moving up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the coming weeks...

"He's pretty close. I think he's pretty close to getting out of here. He's pretty close with the at bats where he was in Clearwater last year (before he got promoted to Reading). I think, you know, it wouldn't be a surprise for me to see him out of here in the next couple weeks to a month, or so. You know, he's done what he needs to do. He's got a couple more things to prove to get where he wants to go and where we want him to go as an organization. But, it wouldn't surprise me if you were to see something in the next couple of weeks."

Tommy Joseph promoted, Phillies Nation commenter scoops everyone

T Joseph
Joseph, image- Jay Floyd



If you were tuned into my Twitter feed on Thursday night or paid attention to the comments section here on Phillies Nation throughout the evening, you may have been alerted to the news of Tommy Joseph's impending arrival to the Phillies.


In the embedded tweet, I screen capped a post in the PhilliesNation.com comments section from a reader named Paul Albrecht, who stated he witnessed the talented prospect redirect his luggage from the IronPigs' bus to Philadelphia to meet the Phillies, who would be returning from a road trip.

Well, confirmation came out this morning that the commenter's report was accurate and Joseph will join the Phils for their weekend series at home beginning on Friday.

Joseph, 24, sports an International League leading .347 batting average with six homers and 17 RBI in 27 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year.

The righty batting first baseman was acquired from the Giants in the 2012 Hunter Pence trade.

Massive hat tip to Paul for the scoop.

Fightins Quotables: Reading pitching coach Steve Schrenk talks about his staff

Steve Schrenk, image- Jay Floyd
Following a terrific outing in which Ricardo Pinto flirted with a no-hitter into the 7th inning in Trenton on Thursday, I spoke with his Reading Fightins pitching coach Steve Schrenk, who offered thoughts on the young hurler's effort and several other pitchers on his staff as well...

-Talking about Pinto's seven shut out inning performance...

You know, he gets his first win this year. He's been fighting to get one his last four outings but it's just nice to get him a win tonight. He had his good change up working for him and I like the way he pitched against a good hitting Trenton team.

-Sharing more thoughts on the potential for a historic game...

Obviously, you'd like to see a no-hitter. I would have loved to have seen one last night. But they hit the ball and they got their hits. I think the most important thing for me is to make sure he got that first win under his belt. I think that's important for a kid at this level to get his first win here. But he threw well. They didn't hit the ball hard for their two hits, but they're still hits.

-Speaking on if Pinto would have been permitted to go the distance with a no-no on the line...

You know what, Dusty (Wathan) and I were talking about it during the game and we'd have liked to see him do it, just depends on how hard it was and if he was able to do it without a whole lot more pitches. But it's hard to tell when you're at that time. We'd have given him every opportunity to do it, it's just a matter of not putting his arm in jeopardy. But it was good.

-Offering feedback on his starting rotation aside from Pinto, like Anthony Vasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and John Richy...

They've been doing a good job. They've been throwing well. The biggest thing for me right now is we've been throwing a lot of strikes and they've been learning who they are as pitchers and they've been taking that out to the game. That's what you have to do at the level. There's not a lot of mechanics things that we work on, it's mostly what do I do best and what kind of pitches can I make and how can I get guys out, studying hitters. That kind of stuff. They're starting to do that. They're growing up and doing that. But I like the way they're doing it.

Vasquez kind of leads that pack. He's an older guy and they watch how he works and he's a leader on the club. And I think those guys are seeing how he works and they're taking right after him.

Pivetta, you know, he's coming a long ways from last year and he's doing a good job at it too.

I think it's just a growing up process for everybody. And, of course, Ben (Lively) has been great for us too. He's 5-0 and he's been throwing the ball well. He's been commanding the strike zone and mixing in his off-speed pitches and he's learned how to use his change up now, so- to keep him a little deeper in games.

Richy's here now with us. You know, it's a little bit up and down. He had a hard time getting out of spring training- he got hit by a pitch- but he's been better. He'll be better. Just gotta get him out there and get his stamina up, I think is the biggest thing right now. I noticed in the fifth inning he's running out a little bit. But, that's just part of pitching and we need to get him in pitching shape for the season.

-Talking about lefty reliever Hoby Milner improving after changing his arm angle last year...

Yeah, definitely. We dropped his arm action down in Puerto Rico last off-season and he's making a name for himself right now, as far as I'm concerned. He can get left-handed hitters out with where he's at and his breaking ball's been better, so it's been good for him. You know, he's pitching out of the bullpen and we'll see what happens. It would be a great story. But with the way he's throwing right now, I'm very happy and that stuff he's doing right now, he could do that in the big leagues. It's just a matter of getting the opportunity.

-Discussing who might get late-inning opportunities following the recent promotion of Edubray Ramos...

I think with right now, with what we have and (Gregory) Infante is here, he took Ramos' spot and he's done it before in this league and Nunez also will probably be in the late innings and Hoby did it tonight. So, I mean, yeah have some options, which is nice for Dusty. But, I think those three guys later in the ball game you'll see a lot of.

-Some thoughts on another lefty reliever, Tom Windle...

Tom's been a little up and down. Before his last outing where he gave up four or five runs in an inning, he had been throwing very well. He had, I think six strike outs in a couple of innings of work, or three innings of work. So, he was throwing well. He's still is- he's throwing strikes and that's the big thing for him. He just has to learn what his stuff's doing and what his cut fastball's doing and work off of it. But, he's matured a lot. I like where he's at and he shows good stuff and it's all going to come down to what he can do and understanding what his pitches can do and the mental part of the game for him.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

BlueClaws Quotables: Emmanuel Marrero talks about early success


Marrero, image- Jay Floyd
Lakewood infielder Emmanuel Marrero was named Phillies minor league player of the week for the period ending May 8th.  The 22-year-old Puerto Rico native wrapped up the week with three straight multi-hit games and went 12-for-24 (.500 avg) with three doubles and four RBI in six games last week for Class A Lakewood. 

Recently, I spoke with the switch-hitter about his success at the top of the order that has him batting .327 overall in 27 contests for the BlueClaws.

-Marrero offered his thoughts on being successful at the plate...

It's working early.  I've been getting good pitches to hit and it's been fun, you know?

-Speaking on what has contributed to the increased production (batted .182 at the same level last season)...

Yes, I work a lot with (hitting coach Nelson) Prada on hitting line drives and staying in the game.

-Commenting on if anyone else has been of considerable help with the improvements he has made...

I played winter ball in Puerto Rico and I worked with the hitting coach over there.  We worked a lot every day.  And I keep working here on the same things I worked on in Puerto Rico.  

-Talking about what player he looked up to most and wanted to emulate as a youngster...

Roberto Alomar, because he's a switch hitter like me and he's from Puerto Rico.  He played infield too.  I saw him play on TV, but I never saw him play in real life.  

-Remarks about playing in New Jersey...

It's cold here, but we have to play through it.  I like it here.  I like the fans.  They're always in the games and we play very hard for them here.


More to read (click the links):

On PhilliesNation.com this week, I reviewed Marrero, along with other prospects like Tommy Joseph, Dylan Cozens and more when taking a look at the Phillies' minor league hot list. 

Last week I published quotes from Lakewood manager Shawn Williams discussing Marrero's success along with others.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Phillies minor league hot list: Joseph, others opening eyes


Tommy Joseph, image- Jay Floyd
The standout player on any hotlist of late should be the man that I receive daily tweets from fans about, asking when he’ll be called up to replace Darin Ruf or Philadelphia legend Ryan Howard. The man who was recently an afterthought or a player most fans thought was a fizzled out prospect who had been ravaged by concussions. The player that had to abandon his catching position due to those injuries and moved elsewhere on the diamond in order to continue his career. The guy that was acquired from the Giants in a trade for Hunter Pence back in 2012, Tommy Joseph.

The 24-year-old first baseman/designated hitter has been on fire, excelling at the plate all season. In 23 games for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, he sports a .392 average and a 1.126 OPS, both of which lead the Triple-A International League. Joseph a right-handed hitter, has slammed seven doubles and six homers while driving in a team-best 17 runs.

He’s playing like someone very deserving of a shot in the majors, but Joseph was a .197 hitter in parts of two seasons at the Triple-A level prior to this year, so it’s possible the team isn’t convinced what they are seeing is the real Tommy Joseph. The Phils do have a new front office in place that seems to be doing things differently, so striking while the player is hot could be in the works and a promotion may not be too far off for the player once ranked among the team’s top prospects.

It would be a smart move for a team whose 1st basemen rank 28th out of 30 MLB teams in batting average.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Series Preview: Phillies at Marlins, May 6-8

Fresh off a series loss on the road in St. Louis that saw the cruising Phillies (16-13) drop three of four, the team heads south to take on the division rival Marlins (15-12) in the three-game set this weekend.

The Phils had been winners of 15 of their last 21 games prior to visiting the Cardinals. Now, they'll look to get back on the winning track in Miami.

This will be the first meeting between the two clubs this season.

Friday, 7:10 PM. RHP Vince Velasquez (4-1, 1.44 ERA) vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen (2-1, 4.26 ERA). In two road starts this season, Velasquez has a 2-0 record with a 2.25 ERA. Velasquez's .164 batting average against ranks 6th best in MLB so far this season. He has not allowed a run in three of his five outings this season. Chen threw eight shutout innings in his lone career start against the Phillies last June. Chen sports a 4.91 ERA in three home starts this season.

Saturday, 7:10 PM. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (2-2, 4.88 ERA) vs. RHP Tom Koehler (2-3, 7.25 ERA). In four career starts against the Marlin, the 29-year-old Hellickson has a 0-1 record with a 3.97 ERA. Hellickson sports a 3.00 ERA in four road starts this season. Ichiro Suzuki is 2-for-19 (.105 avg) in his career against Hellickson. Koehler, 29, has a 2-3 record with a 4.53 ERA in 11 games against the Phillies. Koehler has a 3.72 ERA in 50 career games at Marlins Park. Odubel Herrera is 3-for-8 (.375 avg) against Koehler.

Sunday, 1:10 PM. RHP Aaron Nola (2-2, 2.93 ERA) vs. LHP Justin Nicolino (2-0, 2.70 ERA). Nola tossed eight shutout innings in his lone career start against the Marlins. Nola, 22, has a 2-0 record and a 0.64 ERA in four road starts this season. Nicolino, 24, was a 2nd round draft pick (by Toronto) in 2010. He is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts against the Phillies.

Maikel Franco is batting .314 with four homers in 14 road games this year. Franco is 1-for-17 (.059 avg) in his last five games.

Odubel Herrera's .447 OBP is tied for second best in the majors. The 24-year-old lefty batter has a .368 batting average in 19 career games against the Marlins.

In 10 games against the Marlins, Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez has a 2-0 record with a 0.95 ERA and a .203 batting average against.

In 70 career games against the Phils, outfielder Giancarlo Stanton has a .266 batting average with 17 home runs and 38 RBI. The righty batting slugger is hitting .400 with six home runs over his last 10 games.

Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria has a .284 batting average with a homer and 19 RBI in 43 games against the Phils. The righty hitting Cuban has a .184 average in 11 home games this year.

The Phillies' team batting average against left-handers is .166, worst in the majors.

Marlins' bullpen ERA- 3.29 (12th in MLB)
Phillies' bullpen ERA- 4.32 (22nd in MLB)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: Phillies RHP Prospect Mitch Gueller

Mitch Gueller, image- Jay Floyd
A supplemental opening round pick in the 2012 draft (54th overall), righty pitcher Mitch Gueller has taken a considerable amount of time to reach a full-season level of pro ball. This year he made that jump and opened the season with Class A Lakewood.

The six-foot-three 220-pounder has struggled somewhat in the early going, posting a 0-1 record with a 9.58 ERA through three starts. He entered 2016 fresh off a strong campaign last year with short-season A level Williamsport, where he helped lead the team to the playoffs with his 10-1 record, 2.23 ERA and .229 batting average against in 12 starts.

Last week I spoke with the 22-year-old about his time table for reaching Lakewood, his pitch repertoire, his BlueClaws team, New Jersey and more. Read ahead for that full interview.

-Some people would feel that after you were drafted you took a long time to reach Lakewood. How would you reply to that type of assertion?

That's true, I guess. I would have liked to have been here sooner, but I didn't pitch well enough. I had a lot of development to do and I took it as part of the process and grinded through it. I was in Williamsport for three years, so I think I'm ready to go now.

-I got to see you pitch for Williamsport last year in Staten Island, good outing. Just talk about your season there last year, which was successful and included a postseason run.


I mean we had a good team. It was fun to go out and pitch for the guys and, you know, just knowing that we were going to put up runs and win ball games was a great feeling going out there, being able to throw in front of them.


-My key memory of you from that day, other than the good outing, was your mustache. Does that make a comeback this year?

I'm thinking it's got to come back this year. Yeah, definitely. You can expect to see that.

-I have spoken with the coaches here. There's a new pitching coach here this year leading the way, Brian Sweeney. How do you feel about the coaching staff and how they're helping you along this year?

They're great. They get after it. They get to work and they're positive and they're good to be around. Brian Sweeney the pitching coach is a great influence for all the pitchers. He's just working with us on all parts of the game and we focus on pitching and I really like his stuff so far.

-You mentioned the word "stuff" there. In regards to your stuff, with your offerings, is there anything new with the grips or pitches you've added, things like that?

My slider's been improving. It's only a pitch that I've thrown for two years now, but it's getting better and better. I'm really comfortable throwing it, so I'm excited to see that. I haven't really changed anything aside from that, but like I said the slider's coming along for me.

-What's the full repertoire aside from that?

Fastball, change up, sinker and that's about it.

-Do you have a lot of confidence in each pitch at this stage?

Yeah, I feel like I could throw any of them in any count to any hitter too, so I'm excited to just throw 'em.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood manager Shawn Williams talking injuries, Tobias, Pujols, Watson

Shawn Williams
The Class A Lakewood BlueClaws have been exciting to watch this season, despite a disappointing 6-16 overall record thus far this season. This week I spoke with team skipper Shawn Williams about several talented young prospects such as righty pitcher Shane Watson, outfielder Jose Pujols and infielder Josh Tobias. Additionally, I asked him about the injuries his team has dealt with so far in the early going.

Read ahead for the exclusive comments.

-The BlueClaws have had quite a few injuries with some key offensive contributors like Deivi Grullon, Zach Coppola and Cornelius Randolph missing time. How is the team able to deal with this kind of shake up?

For me, it gives an opportunity for a lot of these other guys to get a chance and they've taken full advantage of it and we've still-- I mean, we've been swinging the bats well overall all season and, like I said, it's giving them a chance to get in there and show what they can do and they've done a heck of a job filling in.

-With a few key guys out of action, does that impact the way you manage?

It doesn't effect how I manage, but I think in the long run, it's going to make us better because of other guys getting opportunities, so they're staying sharp. The guys are going to come back when they're healthy and I think, for me, you got the whole lineup and you've got the 12 position players that are going to take off because they've all gotten their chance to come in and when they get a chance to play, it's just staying fresh and they've been producing and helping us stay in these ball games.

-Shane Watson is a guy that some may think is beyond this level. What thoughts can you share on Shane and his progress?

Shane has been, especially his last two starts, has been outstanding. I mean, he's been a lot of fun to watch. Just his demeanor, his mound presence, how aggressive he is going at these hitters, his tempo. I mean, you're going to see hitters calling time a lot because he's working quick and it works to his advantage and it's just been a lot of fun to watch.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Kilome staying confident despite rough start with BlueClaws

Franklyn Kilome, image- Jay Floyd
Widely ranked among the Phillies' top 10 prospects, right-handed pitcher Franklyn Kilome was one of the most excited inclusions on the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws' roster heading into the season. A disappointing effort in the early going hasn't shaken the youngster's frame of mind though and he's focused on showing the skills that got him loads of attention.

The Dominican Republic native, touting an upper-90's fastball, had an impressive campaign with the short-season A level Williamsport Crosscutters last year, posting a 3-2 record with a 3.28 ERA and a 6.6 K/9 mark in 11 regular season outings. This season did not get off on a similar foot for Kilome, however.

In three starts for the BlueClaws, the 20-year-old has a 0-3 record along with a 15.83 ERA and a .435 batting average against.

Control has been a concern for Kilome, as he has walked 10 batters in 9 2/3 innings.

The poor numbers haven't fazed the youngster, though, and he's anxious for his next outing after being skipped in the rotation, with a day off for the team this past Monday.

"Yeah, I figure I will bounce back. I feel really good. You know, I want to get back out there. I pitch on Sunday, so I'm going to do a good job," Kilome shared on Wednesday.

Kilome was slated to make his next start on Sunday, but with the BlueClaws' rain out on Thursday, that outing may be pushed back a day to Monday in the last game of Lakewood's home stand.

Over the off-season, the Phillies brought Kilome north to work out at the team's spring training facility in Clearwater, FL with a goal of adding muscle to his slim six-foot-six 175-pound frame. The program was successful as he's added strength and several few pounds of muscle. Along with the changes to his body, Kilome's mechanics were updated as well, as the Phils has him alter how he uses his legs.

While he's adjusting to so much, including the cold April weather after never having pitched in temperatures below 50 degrees, Kilome cites advice from his coaches as a key factor in what keeps his confidence high in the competitive South Atlantic League.

"They talk to me every day. They say, 'You're going to be okay.' We all know it's a process, so they say, 'Stay confident', just like that, 'Keep going and never give up.'"

With Kilome returning to the mound in the coming days, here's hoping his command gets on the same level as the belief he has in himself and we get to see the return of the promising prospect that had a break out campaign last year.

Monday, April 25, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood second baseman Josh Tobias

Tobias, image- Jay Floyd

Second baseman Josh Tobias has been an offensive catalyst for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws thus far in the young season. The 23-year-old switch hitter entered action on Sunday among the South Atlantic League leaders in hits, batting average, OPS and RBI.

A 10th round draft selection out of Florida last year, Tobias had a solid pro debut with short-season A level Williamsport, batting .321 with four home runs and 37 RBI in 61 games, helping to lead the Crosscutters into the playoffs.


Recently, I chatted with the man known around the clubhouse as "Toby" about playing with Lakewood, players he looked up to as a child, how he spends his free time and plenty more. Read ahead for that interview.

-You've got some teammates that have played in Lakewood before. Did anyone prepare you for what to expect before coming here in regards to the fans, the facilities or the town?

Yeah, a lot of guys that are playing in Clearwater now talked to me about what it's like playing in front of Lakewood fans and also the travel, going back and forth among places down south. But, I was well prepared for it before I came here.

-Some guys will come here to Lakewood with impressions of New Jersey they've seen in the media and things like that. What did you know about Jersey before coming to Lakewood?

I knew it would be cold because I'm from North Carolina and it's chilly there till March, but I knew it would be colder here. I knew about the accents. We had a couple cab drivers when we got here, because a lot of us didn't have cars, so a lot of the "yous" and stuff, it's a little different to me. Other than that, I was really surprised. I haven't seen the shore at all. I live in New Egypt. It's a really nice place. I like it up here.

-I wanted to ask you about Williamsport last year. Can you share some thoughts on your debut pro season with the Crosscutters?

Aw, man. That was a great team. We had a chemistry with the guys and we had a great manager (Pat Borders). I mean, it was a just end from a good college season I had, so it was kind of rolled into it. I just had a blast there and I want to continue that into this year.

-You've got a lot of guys from that team coming up with you here to the BlueClaws roster this year. You guys had an outstanding run there, going into the postseason. Do you feel like you guys are bonded?

Oh, yeah. This is pretty similar to that Williamsport team, so we're all pretty close. We all know each other pretty well. There's not any awkwardness when we talk, we don't need to get to know each other because we've played together for three or four months already.

Friday, April 22, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: "C" Randolph Q&A Excerpts

Randolph, image- Jay Floyd
Last week, I spoke with outfield prospect Cornelius Randolph, who prefers the nickname "C", and wrote a feature for the Shore Sports Network on last year's top Phillies draft pick working through some struggles at the plate to open the season. Below are some excerpts from that interview.

-What are your thoughts on South Atlantic League competition thus far?

It's pretty good. Yeah, I mean right now I'm not swinging the bat the best, but it'll come around and I'm trying to take it day by day.

-What have you learned about the fans here in Lakewood, the facility, the park? Do guys that have been here before like Jiandido Tromp or Shane Watson help out and share some things with you to get you ready?

I heard the fans-- this place packs out pretty much all the time. I've also heard-- well, I've seen that the field plays pretty big. Tromp has been talking to me about how to play the ball off the wall and how the ball kicks. Like that break up there (points toward center field) if somebody hits the ball up there, how it's going to kick. Just little things that's going to help me out.

-You've got a couple good coaches in Shawn Williams and Nelson Prada, both guys were here last year. What advice have you gotten from your coaches thus far?

They're just talking me through things. Making sure I'm not trying to do too much, not trying too hard. Just keeping me into my game.