Sunday, August 31, 2014

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fightins Quotables: Nola, Lundquist, Altherr, Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nola shared his thoughts on his outing...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Moore talking about Nola's repertoire...

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manager Greg Legg-

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

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

Fellow Venezuelan Carlos Tocci-

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

Reliever Joe DeNato-

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

Catcher Jose Mayorga-

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

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

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

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

Astudillo pushing toward batting title with BlueClaws' support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was written for The Shore Sports Network.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Video: RHP Tyler Viza Bullpen Footage

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

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

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

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


Monday, August 25, 2014

Reading Eagle survey: Crawford ranked top Phils prospect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Franco making case for September call up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also hot-

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

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

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

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


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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading's Cerebral Slugger Jake Fox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

PNTV: Prospect Chat, Simmons Interview, Greene & Stairs

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

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

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


Monday, August 18, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Top Phils Draft Pick Aaron Nola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.