Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Off-season Q&A: Frandsen Speaks on 2012 Success, Managers & His Foundation

Infielder Kevin Frandsen proved to be one of the most pleasant surprises for the Phillies in 2012.  In a season that saw the infield struggle with injuries, the team called up the California native to fill a void at third base and he proved to be a worthy addition.  Frandsen, who was an International League All-Star last year for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, joined the Phillies in late July and proceed to notch a .338 average with two homers and 14 RBI in 55 contests.

The 30-year-old Frandsen, who is a .267 career big league hitter, is slated to be the key reserve for a Phils infield that projects to be at full health headed into the 2013 season. 

Last week, I spoke with Kevin about his success with the Phillies, his two managers from last season, his unique foundation and more.  Read ahead to check out the full interview.


-Kevin, you had a lot of success last year at the Triple-A level and in the majors.  I just wanted to get some thoughts from you on what you would attribute the great output last year.

Just playing.  I've always done well in the minor leagues, 'cause I played every day and I finally got an opportunity to play every day in the big leagues and it's taken six, seven years up there, you know, fighting and doing stuff to finally get that opportunity and, you know, that's all it is.  You ask a basketball player how they're gonna get a chance to shine and it's to get minutes.  It's the same thing, just getting innings in there and at bats and, hopefully, things go right and they did.  I felt like- I've always asked if I could sink or swim up there and I felt like I swam.  Hopefully, that will continue and I'll help out the team this year and, obviously, the main goal is to get hardware and winning championships here is the number one goal.


- You got to play for Ryne Sandberg last year with Lehigh Valley and he's going to take a step upward to be on the Phillies coaching staff this year.  Some guys might feel an individual like him could have more impact on players because of the things he has done, the legacy he has built.  Do you agree with something like that, where a guy like him will have more impact on young players?

Yes and no.  The thing that's gonna get by with him more than anything is how awesome he is, personally.  He's so humble.  You're not going to find a Hall of Famer with more credentials than him and not talk about himself.  That alone makes you want to listen.  When he speaks, it's never about himself.  It's about how you can make your game better.  Not about, "Oh, well I did this..."- No!  He's never about that.  He's about making you a better player, (getting) you to respect the game more, by playing harder, by preparing yourself so you're never going to be in a wrong spot.  I think it's only going to help, having the experience with the coaching staff that we do have already, this just adds a little bit more.  I'm excited because I got to play for him for two year and we got really close and I know what type of man he is and I feel like having a good person in the dugout and a good leader to add to what we have here is only going to be key to making big things happen.


- You mentioned that ultimate goal of obtaining some hardware and clearly that would all start in spring training.  When do you expect to head down to Clearwater and do you have anything in mind as far as goals in spring training go?

I don't set goals.  I just want to get out there and do what I normally do and that's play hard.  You get the rust off the first week, or so.  I'm going to get down there on February 9th.  I always get down early, 'cause I like getting situated.  There's no reason to be rushed.  I miss being in the clubhouse, ultimately, and it's nice to get down there early and get into all that.


- You eluded to being a pro veteran with time spent at various levels.  What would you consider among some of your career highlights?

Number one is being in "756", playing shortstop for when Bonds hit (the record breaking home run).  Jonathan Sanchez had a no-hitter and I was playing second base that night.  (Those were) two incredible moments.  And I think last year I made a play against the Reds, it was a play at home and I got a standing ovation, and it was one of the first "standing o's" I had for a play, or anything like that.  You're not looking for those things as a player, but when it happens, it hits you hard and you just want to play even harder.  Not to get more of those, but because you know people appreciate you, and to show that you appreciate them by playing harder.


- We talked about Ryne, but Charlie Manuel is, of course, another manager with a big time reputation that surrounds him.  What are your thoughts on Charlie and maybe how he compares to some other guys that have managed you?

Good man.  And he's upfront with you right away.  He's not trying to lie to you and tell you things and then go the opposite way.  You know what you're getting out of him and I think as a player, as a man, it doesn't matter what your job is, you want to know what your role is and he defined it for me.  And he defined it by remembering that I love college basketball in spring training and when I got called up, that's all we talked about for a day and a half.  It means a lot to me that he remembers that, because I know it was in February when we first talked about it, so when he brings it up in July, it means that much more.  So, I think you know what type of human being he is and, for me, that goes farther than what you are as a manager and what-not, because I think being a good person will lead you to being a good manager.  At some point, you're going to have people following you because you're a leader and that's number one.


- So, you mentioned ideal qualities in a coach meaning a lot to you and I know something else that means a lot to you is your foundation and it's relation to your brother.  Talk about that a bit.

19 For Life, we started eight years ago, just after my brother, DJ, passed away and it's a foundation that we started to keep his legacy alive, which was never complain, never worrying about himself.  It was always about others, and, so, we have a couple events that draw some money for us, so we can spread it around to kids that have battled adversity and to continue to succeed in sports.  It's just a way of giving to the children's hospital up in Stanford, in Palo Alto, where he was pretty much all 19 years of him battling cancer.  So, 19 For Life stands for a lot of stuff.  He was born on May 19th, he battled cancer for 19 years, his favorite number was 19, his favorite player was Dave Righetti, who wore 19 and my first number in pro ball was 19.  And it means a lot that a lot of people are starting to ask more and more about it because I love talking about my brother.  I love talking about what he stood for in his 25 years of living.  His 25 years of living was more living than most 80-year-olds.  He lived it completely full and it's just fun to be able to pass that along. 

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Also of interest....Top Phils prospect Jesse Biddle ready for Double-A....Phils manager Charlie Manuel speaks exclusively with PhoulBallz.com

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ramirez Designated For Assignment

In order to clear space on their 40-man roster, following the signing of free agent pitcher Chad Durbin this week, the Phillies designated righty hurler J.C. Ramirez for assignment. The 24-year-old was originally acquired by the Phillies in the December, 2009 trade that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle.

The Nicaragua native showed some promise at times, but had not been consistent in the Phillies organization, tallying a 21-22 record along with a 4.53 ERA over 95 appearances at three levels. Additionally, Ramirez struggled this off-season, producing a 12.38 ERA in 12 relief outings with La Guaira of the Venezuelan League.

During the 2012 season, Ramirez had been moved from the bullpen, after serving as a starter with Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading over the previous two seasons.

Ramirez, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, long wanted to prove his worth to Phillies fans, after the organization had dealt away a prominent star in a trade to acquire him along with pitcher Phillippe Aumont and outfielder Tyson Gillies. Now, he may be on his way to another organization, never having fulfilled that lofty goal.

Prospect Nation 2013: #20 RHP Tyler Knigge

Right-hander Tyler Knigge (pronounced kuh-NIG-ee) proved himself to be a fast rising pitching prospect last year, as he dominated with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers and later earned a promotion to Double-A Reading.

Drafted in the 12th round of the 2010 draft out of Lewis-Clark State College, Knigge made his pro debut that year, pitching with the Gulf Coast League Phillies and the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters, sporting a 0-4 record along with a 5.28 ERA in 11 outings (four starts). He would pitch in the Florida Instructional League that year as well. The following season, Knigge was a strong performer with Class A Lakewood, pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, where he looked tougher on opposing batters, tallying a 4-3 record, four saves and a 3.32 ERA.

In an effort to increase his own stamina, Knigge lost approximately 15 pounds over the 2011-2012 off-season. With improved conditioning, Knigge was amazing with Clearwater last year, posting a 0.60 ERA along with a 4-1 record and nine saves in 34 relief outings, and was recognized as a Florida State League All-Star.

In early July, the 6-foot-3-inch 225-pounder was promoted to Reading and would post strong numbers there as well, with no decisions, two saves and a 2.92 ERA in 21 appearances. If not for an oddity of an outing on July 20 in Trenton, in which he was charged with three earned runs without recording an out, Knigge’s ERA at the Double-A level would have been 1.82.

Knigge saw his batting average against go from .243 in 2011 to a much improved .204 in 2012, as he jumped two levels. Additionally, Knigge’s K/9 of 9.09 during the 2012 regular season was a nice improvement over the previous season’s 7.48 mark as well.

Knigge spent time this autumn in the Arizona Fall League, where he struggled a bit, posting a 7.50 ERA through 10 outings for Peoria.  The troublesome numbers weren't disappointed to a mentally sturdy Knigge, who took many lessons out of his time there against some top notch competition.

The 23-year-old possesses a repertoire that includes a plus fastball with some movement that generally ranges 94-96 MPH, but can clock higher, a solid change up as well as a quickly developing slider that his coaches have confidence in.  Knigge dropped his knuckle curve offering in favor of the slider heading into last year. 

The area where Knigge needs the most improvement, as he admits himself, is throwing his slider with more confidence, in fastball counts, and keeping the opposition off balance. The Idaho native, who was coached by his father, Kent, during his formative years, credits his dad, who was also a pitcher at Lewis-Clark, with helping him learn the game.  Kent, an American Legion coach, continues to help Tyler with his mechanics to this day, providing physical and mental advice, whenever he sees fit.

Look for Tyler to begin the season in the back end of Reading's bullpen, likely as the club's closer.  With his tools and exceptional focus on improving all aspects of his game, it may not be long, before Knigge is mentioned among the crop of home grown relievers like Antonio Bastardo, Mike Stutes and Justin De Fratus, that the big league Phillies are expected to depend on going forward.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Top Prospect Biddle Looking Forward to Season with Reading

Widely recognized as the Phillies' top prospect, lefty hurler Jesse Biddle can't wait to get his 2013 season going.

In attendance for the Phillies winter charity banquet at Lakewood's Woodlake Country Club last week, Biddle looked forward to the event for weeks, as he feels rubbing elbows with Phils brass like assistant general manager Benny Looper, director of player development Joe Jordan, and manager Charlie Manuel, as well as seeing the fans, kicks things into baseball mode after a lengthy stretch of winter weather all throughout his home region in western Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

"I love coming back for events like this," Biddle said with a smile. "This is my Lakewood family. Being around the whole environment here, everybody is just so excited to be talking baseball again right now. It's January, so there's not a lot of baseball stories right now and to be able to come to something like this, it just gets me ready for the season."

Following a strong campaign with Class A Advanced Clearwater in which Biddle sported a 10-6 record, a 3.22 ERA and a 9.53 K/9 mark, the 21-year-old is expected to take a step upward and pitch for Double-A Reading in 2013. Biddle made sure to increase the intensity of his routine this off-season, as he is aware the competition will only get tougher as he ascends up the developmental ladder.

"Everything (this off-season) has been harder. I think last year I was pushing a little bit more heavy weight type exercises and now I'm starting to do more cardio, as well as weights. And when I was training last year, it was two times a week and now it's four times a week. It's just upped a level and that's how it's going to be every off-season, everything's just going to get harder and harder," Biddle expressed with determination.

A Philadelphia native, Biddle was the team's top draft selection (27th overall) in 2010 out of Germantown Friends School. Although he's been to countless games in Philadelphia at Veterans Stadium and Citizens Bank Park, during his days growing up as a fan, he has never been to a game at Reading's FirstEnergy Stadium, where the 6-foot-5 235-pounder stands an excellent chance to begin the upcoming season.

Asked to express his level of excitement toward the possibility of taking the mound in Reading, which is just about 60 miles outside of the city and in the heart of Philadelphia sports fan territory, Biddle was beyond delighted at the potential.

"Excited isn't even the word, 'cause as soon as I got drafted, anybody who knows anything about the Phillies, the first thing that comes to (mind with) the Phillies name, when it comes to minor league baseball, is Reading, so I had people coming out of nowhere saying, 'Can't wait to watch you in Reading!' Everyone's been saying that to me for years now and I can't wait to actually get the opportunity to pitch for my hometown and pitch for my family."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Prospect Nation 2013: #21 OF Kelly Dugan

Kelly Dugan was the Phillies' top draft pick (2nd round, 75th overall) back in 2009.  Since then, it's been a bit of a slow progression in the pro ranks, but after a solid season with Class A Lakewood in 2012, the California native has shown that he is ready to make an impact in the organization.

Much hype surrounded Kelly upon being drafted to the Phillies, as an image of him on the set of his director father Dennis Dugan's film Grown Ups, with many of Hollywood's comedy elite, made the rounds.  Through his career, though, Dugan has dealt with a collection of injury concerns that have prevented the 6-foot-3-inch 195-pounder from fully establishing himself as a potential rising star.

After signing his first professional contract, Dugan, who was working on being a switch-hitter at the time, debuted with the Gulf Coast League Phillies, posting a .233 average with eight doubles, a triple and eight RBI in 45 games.   The following year, with the GCL team and short-season Class A Williamsport, Dugan batted .366 with a homer and eight RBI in 28 combined games.  He missed roughly two months of action that year after he was hit in the leg with a batted ball during batting practice in June and later developed a staph infection that required draining.

Dugan returned to Williamsport in 2011 and represented the club in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game.  With the Crosscutters, in 47 games, he sported a .284 batting average along with two home runs and 21 RBI.

Last season with Lakewood, Dugan displayed improved power and steady production, as he notched a .300 batting average, 12 homers and 60 RBI in 117 games.  Additionally, his OPS, at .857, was .127 points higher than his mark from the previous season.

A refined approach at the plate was a big reason for improved offense and it was all Dugan's own doing. As he dealt with the struggles involved with developing an ability to switch-hit, Dugan chose to discontinue his efforts from the right side, wanting to focus solely on being a lefty batter.  Dugan felt as though his ability to hit left-handed pitching would improve quickly from his natural side, if he gave it a chance, and he was pleased with the results, as his splits (.305/.386/.496 vs righties, .291/.390/.419 vs. lefties) were fairly balanced.

Overall, Dugan is a consistent and confident hitter.  He showed abilities to drive the ball well and hit the other way during his breakout season in Lakewood.  In order to ensure further improvements, Dugan spent time this off-season privately working on his hitting with seven-time big league All-Star Reggie Smith.

In 2012, concerns with Dugan's hamstring during preseason and then an ankle sprain in April had the youngster resigned to manning first base for the BlueClaws.  Once he was fully healthy, however, Dugan moved back to the outfield, where he feels more comfortable. 

The 22-year-old displays average speed on the bases, but has a strong ability to read balls off the bat and get solid jumps on fly balls while on defense in the outfield.

Dugan is now back to where he and the Phillies feel he belongs, among a group of prospects that are on the rise and worthy of being talked about in the future plans of the big league club.  In the coming season, expect Dugan to take a step upward and man the outfield for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

PhoulBallz Interview: Joe Jordan Talks Young Prospects, Catching Depth & More


This week, at the Phillies' winter charity banquet in Lakewood, NJ, I had the opportunity to speak with Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan about many matters related to the Phillies developmental system.  Included in the topics of discussion were the depth at the catcher position, the team's plans for some of their youngest prospects and two former top draft picks among other things.

Prior to joining the Phils last off-season, the former pro catcher held the position of director of scouting with the Baltimore Orioles.  The University of Oklahoma product also previously worked in scouting with the Expos and Marlins.

Read ahead for that full interview.


- Looking back on last year, it seems the system underwent a bit of a refined approach since you were hired, with several players from the 2012 draft class quickly made their debuts with Class A full season Lakewood.  In previous seasons that was rather rare.  Can you speak on that a bit?

Well, I don't know, as far as the change of approach.  But, the thing that I really tried to do last year, when I came over, was I tried to involve as many people as I could in our decision making process.  I did not make those decisions by myself.  I really leaned on Benny Looper, our assistant GM, who has done my job before and he is my boss.  But, I also leaned heavily on the managers and the rovers that see the players, really, more than I do, that knew the players.  And I think there were some instances where maybe we were being more aggressive, maybe, than the past.  But really, it was a group decision and most of them I think were good decisions.  I think a couple of them maybe the player wasn't quite as ready as we thought, but, you know, I don't really believe in pushing guys, but I believe in keeping them challenged and that's what we tried to do.


- The Phillies currently have considerable catching depth in their developmental ranks.  Is that a nice luxury to have?

It is and it's very unusual and we're very fortunate, as an organization.  It's a hard, hard position to find and we feel good.  We really feel good.  Obviously, we have a fine catcher in the Major Leagues, an All-Star catcher.  But, you know, when you look at Double-A and Triple-A, behind that, we've got Steven Lerud, who did a good job for our Major League team, when he went up last year.  And he's a very good defensive catcher, but prospect wise, when you look at (Sebastian) Valle and (Cameron) Rupp and Tommy Joseph, obviously, you know, those guys have gotten a lot of attention and it's warranted, because they're, I think...they have talent, but it's a competitive situation and that's gonna help all of them, because they're gonna have to come to camp ready to go and ready to perform.  We like that, down low we've got some guys that we like as well.


- Former 1st round draft pick outfielder Zach Collier had a nice year in 2012, following his suspension for banned substances.  What are your thoughts on Zach and what do you think the future holds for him?

I'm proud of Zach as far as the way he handled his suspension.  We kept him in extended (spring training) and played him in a lot of games there, so that when he was ready (to be activated), he was ready to go.  He didn't have to play himself into shape.  He was in shape and had seen live pitching.  But, I'm really proud of him because he handled it very well and he had a good summer, tailed off a little bit at the end of the Florida State League, but he did well and then he went to the (Arizona) Fall League and did really well.  I think that's the guy that we're counting on, because it's left-handed swing that you can trust and he can run and he can throw.  He can do a lot of things.  And, yeah, I'm proud of him.


- Another outfielder that was drafted in the first round, Anthony Hewitt has been slow to progress in his pro career.  He'll turn 24-years-old early in the season.  Is it premature to call Hewitt a little bit of a disappointment, based on where he was drafted?

Last year was obviously my first year to be around Anthony and I got to see him play all year, and I had a good conversation with him this past week on the phone and what I told him is kind of what I believe- he has every physical ability needed to be a really, really good Major League player.  We talked about the mental approach, the plan at the plate, you know, the focus.  There's certain things for me that we're gonna really focus on in February and March in spring training with him, I told him.  Again, I like a lot of what I saw with him.  I think Double-A is gonna be a good challenge for him, but I really hope that in six, seven more weeks, we're gonna be in Florida, before the season starts, we can hit on some things.  No, he's no disappointment.  We still have work to do.  But he's a worker and I know he's got the ability and I know he's got the desire.  We've just got to try to hit on some things


- A couple of young guy that were drafted in the early rounds a couple years ago, shortstop Roman Quinn (2nd round, 2011) and outfielder Larry Greene Jr. (1st round, 2011) would be expected to play with Lakewood soon.  Do you agree those two will be BlueClaws to start the 2013 season?

Oh, absolutely.  I mean that's our expectations for each of those guys.  Two very, very exciting young players.  You know, when you start with Roman, a switch-hitting shortstop, that has top-of-the-scale speed...he will arguably be the fastest player in (the South Atlantic) League when he goes up, but he made a lot of progress defensively and offensively last year.  And, sky's the limit.  I like his make up, he's a good worker.  And, really, he's got a long way to go, he has the physical ability to one day be a really, really good impact type player.  And really, the same thing for Larry.  Larry was a little bit behind, coming into spring training physically.  He really worked hard in extended, got in shape.  I'm probably as proud of him as anyone,  simply because not only did I think he made a lot of progress with the bat, but he can be a pretty good left fielder.  For a guy his size, he was running Major League average down the line, last summer, so, again both guys can be good players and they got a lot of work to do.  I expect them to be BlueClaws.


- Another young guy on the rise, younger than those two, is 17-year-old outfielder Carlos Tocci.  What are your thoughts on Carlos and his future?

Well, "Toch" is probably as instinctive a young player as I've seen in a while.  He really has a good clock.  The game's a little slow to him, especially in center field.  He's a glider, not a burner.  He's an above average runner, but he doesn't look like it when he runs.  But he always gets there.  He's got a really good instinct for the game.  He's not very strong and that's something we focused on this winter and we've added some strength.  About 10 pounds to his body, which is hard to do, because, you know, he's skinny.  But, he can get the bat to the ball.  He's got a real good feel for where his barrel is and so, again, I wouldn't totally rule out the (possibility) that he's on (the BlueClaws) at some point, if not from day one.  We're gonna challenge him and see what he's capable of in spring training.


- Last year's draft class featured some great talent in the early rounds with guys like Shane Watson, Dylan Cozens, Mitch Gueller and Chris Serritella.  What is the outlook for those guys in the coming season?

I think the college guys, (full season Class A) is the right level for them.  We're talking about (Chris) Serritella or (Cameron) Perkins, the college players that we took last year.  I like what I saw from them.  They should be on this club when the season starts.  As far as the young guys, I really like what Marti (Wolever) and his guys did last year in the draft.  They really got some talented young players.  Whether or not they're ready to come to full season club day one, don't know that.  I like what I saw last summer and in instructional league and we'll just wait and see.


- Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. often states a point of view that no player is untouchable (in trades), if it makes the team or the organization better.  Clearly, there would be players you'd rather not get calls about, but do you share that same frame of mind regarding trade availability?

That's Ruben's call, you know, and I think the thing that we have to- the thing that I feel like we have to do is two things...obviously, develop the players.  The program needs to be sound so that they're gonna get better.  And two, evaluate our players correctly.  It's the decision of him, Scott (Proefrock), Benny Looper, those guys, whether or not we move players for established Major League guys.  For me, my job is to make sure they're developing and evaluate them correctly, so that, if we're gonna move them, we have a pretty good idea of what we're giving up. 


- Along with the young arms that the Phillies have already used at the big league level, there is a crop of young hurlers on the verge of being able to help the big club, with guys like Julio Rodriguez, Jonathan Pettibone, Colby Shreve and Tyler Knigge.  Do you think we could see some of those guys promoted to the Majors this year?

I fully expect that, you know, part of the spring training package that I sent out to players this year was reminding them that we did have a lot of minor league guys go to Major Leagues last year and contribute.  Probably more important was the experience they got and the fact that that should really help in Major League camp and help them try to make the club.  We absolutely expect our Major League club to need our help this year and, so, that's our whole focus.  They guys you mentioned and others.  Hey, we're just gonna go to work.  We're gonna get them ready and hopefully, when there's a need, we've got somebody that's playing well or pitching well that fits the need that Charlie has and we'll have someone ready. 


- With Roly de Armas managing the Gulf Coast League team for a while and now Nelson Prada in charge of the short-season Williamsport team, the two lowest stateside affiliates of the Phillies have Spanish speaking skippers.  Is that something that is done on purpose to help Latin players transition to playing in the U.S. more easily?

I really think it's important.  It's not paramount.  It doesn't have to be that way.  When you have a qualified candidate, someone that can communicate with all players, it has to be a benefit.  And, honestly, the Latin coaches are harder on the Latin guys than they are on the American guys.  They are!  It's a pride thing.  And, so, I don't worry one bit about the guys that we've got and I know that they'll treat them all the same.  The fact that they can talk to them and communicate, get a point home, that's very important.  


- And speaking of managers, it appears that in recent years, the Phillies have focused on developing managerial and coaching prospect, not only player prospects.  With guys like Mark Parent coming through and now with Chris Truby, Dusty Wathan and Mickey Morandini managing teams, as well as Ryne Sandberg going up to the Phillies, what are your thoughts on that?

I totally agree with you.  I inherited a bunch of really good baseball guys.  It starts with the managers and there are others.  I think we have, obviously, we've got the six managers here in the United States on the minor league clubs, honestly, we've got about 10 or 12 managerial candidates in our system, so, listen- they've done a great job hiring people and it's a great place to work.  I can vouch for that now.  And, yeah, we attract good people and hopefully, the environment is good to work in and that's my job to make sure it is.  And we've got really good people.

Manuel Full of Gusto as Spring Training Nears

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel grows older each year, but you'd never know it from the gusto he exudes when talking about a new season ready to blossom. Decades of the baseball grind, thousands of miles worth of annual travel, countless ups and downs and the pressure that comes with coaching in the most demanding sports city in the nation simply don't take a toll on the 69-year-old.

Appearing at the annual charity winter banquet held at Lakewood, NJ's Woodlake Country Club on Wednesday, Manuel smiled and expressed considerable enthusiasm toward what's to come. The baseball lifer, whose days in pro ball date back to 1963, beamed as though he was slated to begin his coaching career instead of heading into what some deem as potentially being his final year leading a team, as his contract is up following the season.

Manuel, who is entering his ninth season as the skipper of the Phils, is excited about many aspects of the current team, despite finishing last season with an 81-81 record, their first non-winning season in a decade, and missing the post-season for the first time since 2006.

A surplus of outfielders is where Manuel will focus plenty of his attention this spring. He has high hopes for off-season acquisitions Ben Revere and Delmon Young, but players like Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, Laynce Nix and John Mayberry Jr. will likely be trying to prove themselves worthy of a spot in the lineup. Manuel thinks the competition may bring out the fire in each man trying to land steady at bats. He also expressed eagerness toward getting to the preseason schedule, so he can begin figuring out the right outfield formula.

"I think we're gonna have some fun in spring training because all six of them are gonna get to play," Manuel proclaimed.  And there's things I like about every one of them and if we just get some consistency in the outfield, to me it doesn't matter who's out there, as long as they can perform and as long as we can score some runs.  We got some talent there to do it with.  I'm excited about it.  I want to get there and get it going and watch them play and see what happens."  

Also, this off-season, the Phillies added a duo of hitting coaches in Steve "Hendu" Henderson, who previously served as the organization's minor league hitting coordinator, along with former big league All-Star Wally Joyner. Triple-A manager Ryne Sandberg, who was a Hall of Fame player, was also promoted to be the third base coach with the big league team.

According to Manuel, the team's collection of coaches will help the offense as well by improving the hitters' all-around mentality.

"I think between Hendu and Wally Joyner and Ryne Sandberg and myself, I think, and with Utley and Rollins and some of the guys on our team (who are) already good hitters, I think we should be able to establish an atmosphere where we love to hit and have a lot of fun. We'll be offensive minded and we'll really enjoy playing the game," Manuel stated.

Stressing the focus on the team's bats, Manuel said that the health of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, two main cogs during the Phillies' five-year run of division titles, who were each injured for lengthy stretches last season, would be very important to the club. He also expressed that the addition of third baseman Michael Young was something the team needed. All three men are former All-Stars with substantial post-season experience.

It's not just the offense that will carry the Phillies in 2013, according to Manuel. There's another aspect of the roster that has the Phils' skipper fired up.

"I'm excited about our team and we have a chance to have a big offensive team. But even more, probably, I'm excited about our young bullpen," Manuel said with a grin.

Asked to describe his thoughts on the team's collection of young relievers, Manuel offered three words: Big time potential.

"We got a whole bunch of guys. We got (BJ) Rosenberg, we'll get (Mike) Stutes back, we got (Jeremy) Horst, we got (Raul) Valdes, we got (Antonio) Bastardo, we got (Phillippe) Aumont, and we got (Justin De Fratus), we got (Jake) Diekman. And if Adams is healthy and if he's slated in the 8th inning for us, we still can use Bastardo on lefties definitely, in the 7th and the 8th. And I look for the young guys, after about a month or two months after the season starts, you're gonna see our bullpen become a big time bullpen because we have a lot of talent," Manuel stated.

Add in enthusiasm about his starting pitchers as well as the depth of his infield and Manuel is more than happy with the current Phillies roster and thinks that things can certainly improve from last season's disappointing finish.

"The goal is always the World Series. We can do it. I want us to be better than we've ever been."

 ________________________
**Additional quotes from Charlie...

Speaking on the collection of prospects that were announced as non-roster invitees to spring training on Wednesday:

"I talked to them all last week.  I saw Asche hit in the Arizona Fall League on TV, in the All-Star Game, and that's why I watched the whole game.  He got a hit, hard line drive to right field, he looked like a good hitter.  He's a bigger kid than I thought he was on TV.  When I saw him on TV, I was guessing he was 6-foot or 5'11", but he's bigger and he swings the bat good.  And those other guys, that I met, they'll all get to play in spring training.  We'll play them all and we'll send some of our guys over and play minor league games and things too."

When asked how he felt about the signing of outfielder Delmon Young this week:

"I was excited (about Delmon Young) because I've known him quite a while.  I saw him in (the South Atlantic League) when he first signed.  I think he was with Charleston.  But he's a good hitter, he's a good clutch hitter, he's good with men on base and late in the game.  He's gonna help us. We're gonna go to spring training and play him in right field, get him back to the place on defense to where he was about three years ago."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mather, Prospects Among Non-Roster Spring Invitees

The Phillies announced today that six additional non-roster players have been invited to big league spring training.  The list of new names extended the invitations includes former big leaguer Joe Mather, third baseman Cody Asche, lefty hurler Adam Morgan, catcher Tommy Joseph and right-handed pitchers Justin Friend and Kyle Simon.

Mather, an outfielder who was signed recently as a free agent on a minor league deal, batted .209, with five homers and 19 RBI in 103 games with the Cubs last season. A third round draft pick in 2001, Mather also has Major League experience with the Braves and the Cardinals.

Asche, the Phils' 4th round pick in 2011, posted great numbers in his first full pro season in 2012. The 22-year-old University of Nebraska product tallied a combined .324 average with 12 home runs and 72 RBI in 130 combined games at Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading last season.

Morgan, who was selected in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft, progressed to the Double-A level as well last year, posting an 8-11 record along with a 3.35 ERA and a 9.59 K/9 mark in 27 combined outings for Clearwater and Reading in 2012. Morgan will turn 23-years-old next month.

Joseph, acquired in the July trade that sent Hunter Pence to San Francisco, was a Double-A Eastern League All-Star in 2012. Often praised for his leadership abilities, the 21-year-old righty hitter tallied a .257 average with 11 homers and 48 RBI in 108 games last year.

Friend, a 26-year-old minor league veteran, had a great season last year with Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. In 50 relief appearances last year the Oklahoma State product posted a 4-1 record with a 1.33 ERA and 9 K/9.

Simon, a 22-year-old reliever, was acquired by the Phillies last June in the trade that sent Jim Thome to Baltimore. After joining the Phils organization in 2012, Simon posted a 4-0 record along with three saves and a 1.36 ERA.

Other non-roster players invited to spring training with the big league club are righty pitchers Aaron Cook, Juan Cruz and Rodrigo Lopez, lefty pitcher Cesar Jimenez, catchers Humberto Quintero and Steven Lerud, outfielder Jermaine Mitchell as well as infielders Pete Orr, Michael Martinez, Andres Blanco and Josh Fields.

Prospect Nation 2013: #22 RHP Tyler Cloyd

Tyler Cloyd dominated in the minors last season thanks to a refined repertoire and top-level command. Running through Eastern League and International League competition, Cloyd reached the big leagues by season's end and is in a position to potentially help the big club in the coming season.

An 18th round draft selection in 2008, Cloyd began his pro career that  year, posting a 7-4 record with a 3.91 ERA in 14 outings combined with  the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies and short-season Class A Williamsport. Since then, the 6-foot-3-inch  210-pounder has had winning records every season, while alternating  between starting and relief duties.

In 2009, splitting time between Class A Lakewood and Class A  Advanced Clearwater, Cloyd went 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 27 games (26  starts).  In 2010, Cloyd made 31 relief appearances and four starts for Clearwater, posting a 4-3 record with a  5.32 ERA.  He also made two appearances with Double-A Reading that year,  earning a 1-1 record with a 4.00 ERA.

Whether it’s as a starter or  pitching out of the bullpen, Cloyd has become comfortable taking the  mound in any role, as evidenced by his 2011 output.  Cloyd would go on  to appear in 31 games (22 starts) for Clearwater and Reading that year, collecting a 9-4 record, a 2.77 ERA and an 8.51 K/9 mark, which  proved to be a career best.  Following the season, Cloyd pitched in the  Arizona Fall League but wasn’t as sharp in a starting role there, 4 record with a 4.35 ERA.

In his finest season as a  professional last year, Cloyd posted a 15-1 record while notching career  bests in ERA at 2.26 and batting average against with a .214 mark in 26  combined starts at Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.  Although many of his other stats were at a professional peak, his K/9  mark fell to 6.09 during last year’s minor league campaign.

Late in August, the Nebraska native joined the big league Phillies’ starting rotation, filling in for an  ailing Cole Hamels . In five starts in the Majors, Cloyd tallied a 2-2 record along with a 4.91 ERA.  He ended the season sidelined with arm fatigue.

Cloyd’s ability to throw strikes has  been his strength, throughout his career.  While his upper-80’s  fastball isn’t among the most acclaimed in the organization, his command is  tough to beat.  Additionally, the 25-year-old has added a cutter and improved his curveball while eliminating the slider from his offerings.

Fairly reliant on his routine and  some superstitions, Cloyd keeps his production up by sticking to things  that have become habitual. His night-before-a-start massage and his  lucky underwear keep his body as well as the mental side of his game on point.  Also, Cloyd says he requires chewing gum  while he’s on the mound to avoid headaches.

A young minor league veteran, Cloyd  knows that he can command every aspect of his game and he is capable of  dictating the pace of a contest, no matter what the scenario may be.  The coming season should provide Cloyd, in one role or another, with an opportunity to, again, see how well his abilities translate at the big league level.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Prospect Nation 2013: #23 Catcher Cameron Rupp


Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft, catcher Cameron Rupp has steadily been an improving prospect for the Phillies. The 24-year-old has shown an ability to lead a pitching staff and work harder than most to improve his all-around baseball abilites.

Rupp, a Texas native, made his professional debut with the short-season Williamsport Crosscutters in 2010. In 55 games that year after making his pro debut, Rupp posted a .218 batting average with five home runs and 28 RBI against NY-Penn League competition.

In 2011, as a member of the Class-A Lakewood BlueClaws, Rupp proved himself to be capable of serious adjustments, as the 6-foot-2-inch 230-pounder had a tough time through the first half of the South Atlantic League season, posting a .219 batting average with two home runs and 13 RBI in 48 games.  Working hard behind the scenes with Lakewood hitting coach Greg Legg, Rupp altered his approach at the plate and showed considerable improvements after the All-Star break, batting .318 with two home runs and 31 RBI in 51 games.

Rupp, whose father Kevin pitched in the Montreal organization during his playing days in the 1970's, displayed increased power in 2012 as a member of the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers. With career highs in doubles (22), home runs (10) and OPS (.770), which was 50 points higher than his mark the previous year, Rupp proved that his production with the stick can keep up with his efforts behind the dish.  For his strong output, Rupp was honored as a Florida State League All-Star last season. 

The mental side of the game is critical for many players, but it's a clear factor for Rupp, to anyone that watches him play regularly.  Confidence is something Rupp relies on a great deal, as he snowballs his success, whenever the 6-foot-2 230-pounder gets hot.

Praised for his work ethic on defense, his strong throwing arm, his solid footwork and especially his ability to lead, Rupp has shown evidence of becoming a complete package on that side of the game.

The University of Texas product, Rupp, faces a chance of beginning the 2013 season with Clearwater once aagain, but that is simply because the organization is currently loaded with catching depth in the minors. With two of last season's Double-A Eastern League All-Stars, Mexico native Sebastian Valle, and former Giants 2nd round draft pick Tommy Joseph in the mix at the upper levels, Rupp could be held down until he or one of the others is traded.

The other two backstop prospects are both younger than Rupp (Valle by 22 months, Joseph by 34 months).  The longer Rupp takes to reach the upper levels of the minor leagues, the more hindered his progress may become.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Prospect Nation 2013: #24 RHP Kyle Simon

Right-handed pitcher Kyle Simon was acquired last June by the Phillies in the trade that sent Jim Thome to the Baltimore Orioles.  His side-angled delivery, sweet mustache and excellent numbers made him stand out after joining the Phils organization.

The 22-year-old sports a repertoire that features a low-90's fastball with sinking movement, a split and a plus slider. Simon is as automatic of a ground ball out in key situations as the Phillies have in their developmental ranks.

Simon, who stands 6-foot-5 and is listed at 225 pounds, was moved to the bullpen upon joining the Phillies organization, tallying a 3-0 record with a 1.26 ERA in seven outings for Class A Advanced Clearwater.  Soon after, he was promoted to Double-A Reading, where he went 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in 13 regular season outings. 

Overall with the Threshers and R-Phils, Simon held opponents to a .165 batting average against.  Additionally, Simon starred in a playoff outing for Reading in September, retiring all eight batters he faced, to help the club lock down a win against division rival Trenton.

Prior to the trade, Simon was appearing as a starter for the Frederick Keys of the Class A Advanced Carolina League.  In 14 starts there, Simon posted a 2-8 record along with a 3.96 ERA.

Current Phillies director of player development, Joe Jordan, previously had been the scouting director in Baltimore and sought out Simon when the Orioles became interested in Thome last year.  Simon began his pro career as a reliever after being drafted in the 4th round by the O's, putting together a 1-2 record with a 2.16 ERA in 14 combined appearances in the short-season New York-Penn League and the Class A South Atlantic League in 2011.  Jordan, knowing that Simon's success would come more easily out of the bullpen, made sure to end the Los Alamitos, CA native's starting rotation assignment.

The University of Arizona product has a preference for relief work, finding the relaxing approach to beginning a game hanging out in the 'pen and the potential to pitch more regularly and in pressure situations more appealing.  During the 2011 college season, however, Simon was the ace of the Arizona Wildcats' staff, as a member of their rotation, sporting an 11-3 record with a 2.72 ERA and five complete games in 19 outings (18 starts).
 
Simon spent some time this off-season in the Arizona Fall League where he struggled a bit, allowing 12 earned runs in 12 innings pitched for Peoria. There, he served as a member of the Javelinas' starting rotation, perhaps further proving he should stick to relieving.

Look for Simon to return to Reading, at the start of the 2013 season with the sky as the limit for a guy with his skills.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Buschini Building Success After Phils Failed Him

Less than two years after he was drafted by the Phillies in the 4th round, infielder Adam Buschini was stunned to learn that the team he had hoped to grow with and help win games for had given up on him. Buschini played through a serious injury during his junior season in college and into his pro career, hoping his own toughness would result in success for his teams, but sometimes such fortitude can prove thankless and it did for this heard-nosed ballplayer.

As the California Polytech State University baseball team reached the Tempe Regional tournament for the first time in 2009, Buschini, who starred as the Mustangs' offensive leader, refused to succumb to a broken hand suffered on a hit by pitch. That year, he led the Mustangs in batting average (.422), home runs (11), RBI (61) and several other categories. With high hopes of leading his team to post-season glory, Buschini stuck it out, but Cal Poly fell to Kent State and Buschini's college career was complete.

Quickly, the gritty competitor's career went from a collegiate calamity to minor league motive, as the righty hitter signed his first professional contract and debuted with the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters. A rough initial stretch in the pro ranks saw Buschini post a .228 batting average with two homers and 15 RBI through 52 games for the 'Cutters.  Buschini would participate in the Florida Instructional League that year as well.

The following year, the 6-foot-2-inch 210-pounder was a key contributor for the Class A BlueClaws in the early going, but his hand injury worsened. Over time, Buschini lost cartilage in the injured area, making it painfully difficult to throw, lift weights and especially to hit a pitched ball with authority. Again, though, Buschini found himself on a club that was in the hunt for a post-season berth and felt responsibility to play through the discomfort in order to help his teammates.

"Our Lakewood team of 2010 was in the hunt for first place in the first half. Our manager Mark Parent...wanted me to stick it out and play because we didn’t have any other third baseman," Buschini explained during a recent interview.

No blame lies on Parent in Buschini's mind, however, as the California native credits the current Chicago White Sox bench coach as one of his favorite coaches he's played for and realizes that the choice was his to make. The decision was the right one, for Buschini, as the BlueClaws locked down the first half North division crown, helping them reach the playoffs and eventually win their second consecutive South Atlantic League title.

Midway through the season that year, Buschini visited Phillies team doctor Randall Culp, who performed an examination on the ailing infielder and was stunned that Buschini was still competing.

"(Dr. Culp) said 'Why are you playing baseball? You should have had surgery a long time ago, I can’t believe you are able to play'", Buschini explained.

A procedure, which saw cartilage taken from Buschini's left knee and put into his right hand resulted in considerable downtime and months of rehab.

The following spring training, the Phillies cut ties with the resilient man that played through an injury and did everything he could to help their organization raise a championship banner for their Class A club.

"It was hard for me, knowing that I played hurt for the organization and never got another chance," Buschini stated. "I had less than 500 at bats with the Phillies, which is equivalent to almost one full season in the minors."

His departure from the Phillies didn't end Buschini's baseball journey, however. Continuing his career with a focus on getting healthy and hopes of being re-signed by a Major League club to play in affiliated ball, Buschini has competed during the past two years in independent leagues. In 2011, Buschini played for the team that Parent managed before joining the Phillies organization, the Chico Outlaws of the North American Baseball League. There, he posted solid numbers, batting .288 with nine homers and 52 RBI in 81 contests. This past year, he played with the Amarillo Sox of the American Association, where he became an All-Star while leading his team in batting average and home runs.

Following that effort, still looking for a place to get experience and put himself on display for big league clubs, Buschini found himself an extra summer, down under. Taking the advice of college teammate Brian Grening, who played there last year, Buschini signed with the Canberra Cavalry of the Australian Baseball League.

Piggybacking on the successful 2012 with the Sox, Buschini is now contending for an offensive triple crown as a member of the Cavalry, ranking third in the league in batting (.345 avg), first in home runs (10) and first RBI (38), while leading Canberra to a 22-17 record, which is second best in the ABL. Buschini stays focused on his efforts on the field and keeps his fingers crossed that a Major League franchise will come calling.

"I feel like I have done enough and showed that I am healthy. But it is out of my hands. All I control is my effort on the field everyday. Hopefully, a team will take notice and take a shot," Buschini, who does not have an agent, said.

Buschini also admits that he's had teammates reach out to their organizational contacts about his availability and asserts that he's heard from multiple big league teams, but hasn't had a contract offered by any of them at any point.

For his exceptional offensive output, Buschini credits a full physical recovery and a healthy body for being able to hit to his full capacity. He also states that contact lenses that he received from a service known as SlowTheGameDown.com, which focuses on visual performance training and features a tag line of, "As your eyes lead, your body follows", have improved his hand to eye coordination.

Additionally, Buschini's college coach, Larry Lee has been a colossal supporter of Buschini, instilling confidence in him and offering continued assistance with hitting.

As for his current team, and the significance of their success, Buschini stresses how important it would be to him and the entire Cavalry club to take down the two-time defending league champion Perth Heat.

"It would mean everything, if we won. Canberra has the best fans in the ABL and we want to bring home the Claxton Shield for them," Buschini excitedly declared. "We have the team to do it. We have great chemistry and everyone is pulling for each other. I believe if we stay healthy, we have a good chance. Perth and Sydney are both very good teams so we will see what happens."

Even if the Cavalry falls short of dethroning Perth, the experience of playing in Australia is one that Buschini will value for a long time. Citing the welcoming host family he lives with for having helped him adjust to the culture and dialect differences there, as well as celebrating the holidays in 100 degree weather as standout memories, the 25-year-old has taken away plenty from the experience.

Should his efforts in the ABL not steer him directly to an affiliated team in 2013, Buschini has his sights set on the Atlantic League, where many individuals, including former Phils prospect Bill Rice with Camden (NJ), played last year and were then scooped up by big league clubs on minor league deals. Lew Ford began the 2012 season playing in the league as well, then reached the Majors with the Baltimore Orioles by year's end.

"I have heard (the Atlantic League) is all ex-MLB and Triple-A players. I feel that playing in that league will give me the best chance to get picked up."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Prospect Nation 2013 #25 RHP Brody Colvin

Righty pitcher Brody Colvin has ridden the biggest of career roller coasters during his time as a pro with the Phillies. From signing his first contract, to an off-season arrest in 2010, to looking like a future ace as he mowed down Class A opposition in his first full professional season, to being demoted from the top spot in that year’s post-season rotation after a mental lapse in the field, to ranking among the Phils' best prospects, to tallying an 11.02 ERA in seven Double-A outings in 2012, the team's seventh round draft pick from 2009 has experienced a large amount of highs and lows in a few short years.

Once regarded as one of the Phillies' Baby Aces, Colvin hasn't displayed the command, velocity or the dominance that earned him the considerable praise that had many fans and experts so excited just a couple years back.

In his own words, during an exclusive interview last summer, mechanics and panic consumed Colvin as he hit a rough patch during his time with Class A Advanced Clearwater. Following a three-game stretch last May, during which Colvin went 0-2 with a 10.13 ERA, the 6-foot-3-inch 210-pounder was moved to the bullpen in an effort to take a break and clear his mind. From there, Colvin showed the Phils' brass that he was ready to return to a starting role and proceeded to post a 2.68 ERA and strike out more than a batter per inning over his next eight outings for Clearwater.

In late July, Colvin took a loss, letting up six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings for the Clearwater Threshers, but had impressed the Phillies enough with the string of success just prior to that poor effort, that he was promoted to Double-A Reading. Colvin quickly looked capable of competing in the Eastern League, going 1-0 while allowing five earned runs in 11 innings over his first two starts for Reading. The fair efforts didn't go on very long, however, as the Louisiana native proceeded to tally a 14.54 ERA the rest of the way and did not appear in the postseason for the R-Phils.

There was a drop in production the previous season for Colvin as well (3.38 ERA, 7.83 K/9, .258 batting average against with Lakewood in 2010/4.71 ERA, 6.02 K/9, .289 batting average against with Clearwater in 2011), but that was attributed to a back ailment that landed him on the disabled list and resulted in a dip in velocity. 

With the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws in 2010, Colvin helped the club lock down their second consecutive league title, posting a 6-8 record during the regular season.  During the latter portion of that campaign, he was pulled from a game, by manager Mark Parent, after failing to back up third base when an opposing batter slapped a triple. The mental mistake cost Colvin his assignment as the team’s number one starter going into the postseason that year.  Prior to spring training that year, Colvin was charged with resisting arrest after a conflict outside a Louisiana night spot. That was Colvin as a 19-year-old.  Now at 22, his maturity is no longer that of a hotheaded and absent-minded teenager.

At full health, proper mechanics should allow Colvin's arsenal (mid-90's fastball, circle change and strong curveball) to prevail. However, throwing strikes is always a big focus for Colvin's success, as his Achilles heel has long been his fastball command.  The youngster stays within himself a lot, admitting that because he's the individual on the mound, in control of any necessary adjustments, he tends to not depend on the help available around him.  That can potentially present a scenario where the problems with Colvin's mastery of his own repertoire can linger, fester and grow.

Heading into the 2013 season, Colvin certainly still has the the tools that allowed him to rise up the prospect rankings and to be considered among the top Phillies prospects in each of the past two years.  It's up to the hurler to get back on track and make the necessary modifications to show that he can compete at the upper levels of pro ball.

The Phillies are still confident that Colvin's future is as a Major League pitcher.  Look for Colvin to begin the year on Reading's staff. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Prospect Nation 2013: The Prelude


We’re just under a month until pitchers and catcher are due to report to Clearwater for spring training. That means it’s time to kick off our annual countdown of the top 25 prospects in the Phillies organization. Gradually, in the coming weeks, leading to the kickoff of the 2013 regular season, I will be unveiling player reviews for each of the top developmental talent that you, as Phillies fans, should be familiar with.

Taken into consideration when reviewing these young talents will be age, minor league performance relative to levels played, value to the organization as well as future potential.

These rankings will not include players over 25-years-old or individuals that have spents lengthy and multiple stretches in the big leagues. Thus, players such as Austin Hyatt, Darin Ruf, Justin De Fratus, Phillippe Aumont and Jake Diekman will not appear on this year’s list.

Some very talented youngsters did not make the cut simply because other individuals ranked higher. Included in the group that fell short of making this year’s top 25 list are outfielders Leandro Castro and Jiwan James as well as righty pitchers Colby Shreve, David Buchanan and Gabriel Arias.

Additionally, 2012 draft picks Mitch Gueller and Dylan Cozens weren’t far off the list either and, with their exceptional talents that earned them each a considerable signing bonus from the Phillies, could very well find themselves on this list next year.

Castro, 23, is one of the most enjoyable players in the Phils' system to watch on the field and is likely the first alternate to this year's list.  As an Eastern League All-Star with Double-A Reading last year, Castro posted a .287 average with 10 homers, 71 RBI and 13 steals in 133 games.  Castro worked during the 2012 season to improve his approach at the plate and, according to Reading manager Dusty Wathan, he became a smarter player last year as well.  The righty hitting Dominican certainly has the tools to continue to develop and play at higher levels, but with a bat that generally appears to be on the verge of displaying considerable power, consistency must be key for Castro to reach the bigs.

James dealt with a troubling left knee issue all throughout the 2012 season, which resulted in a drop in offensive output and speed numbers from the 23-year-old.  He sported a .249 average with 14 doubles, five triples and six HR while stealing just eight bases in 16 attempts last season for Double-A Reading.  The coaches in the Phillies system have long awaited the development of James' physical frame.  Once described by Lakewood hitting coach Greg Legg as "a pillar of consistency", the 6-for-4 180-pounder hasn't put on the muscle that made the same coach declare, "once he gets his man-strength, look out!"  In turn, James' OPS of .651 last season was a career low.  It's hard to tell what the future holds for this athletic defensive wiz, but it's clear the Phillies have long wanted him to add muscle and he hasn't done it. Originally selected in the 23rd round of the 2007 draft as a pitcher, James became an everyday outfielder beginning in 2009, following an arm injury. 

Sporting a 94-95 MPH fastball, a cutter, a change up and a solid curve ball, Shreve is a skilled hurler that can put together some terrific stretches of outings, when he is hot. A victim of numbers last spring, the Nevada native began the 2012 regular season with Class A Lakewood after pitching there in each of the previous two seasons. It wasn’t long before vacancies in the higher levels allowed Shreve to move up to Class A Advanced Clearwater, where he pitched in seven games in 2011. As a member of the Threshers bullpen last season, Shreve tallied a 1-1 record, two saves and a 2.25 ERA while striking out 19 and walking six in 20 relief innings over 13 appearances. By early June, Shreve found himself pitching for Double-A Reading, where he put together a 3-1 record with two saves and a 4.40 ERA in 28 outings. Shreve’s confidence seemed to take a hit, as he walked 25 batters and struck out 29 in 43 innings for the R-Phils. If he had exhibited some better control, the Phils’ 6th round pick from 2008 would have stood a better shot at being ranked on this year’s list. Shreve turned 25-years-old earlier this month and pitched in the Arizona Fall League this off-season.

Buchanan, the Phillies' 7th round draft choice in 2010, missed some considerable time last season, following tendon surgery on the middle finger of his throwing hand. Armed with a fastball that generally ranges from 89-92, a slider and a sinker, Buchanan posted a 3-5 record with a shutout and a 3.86 ERA through 12 starts with Double-A Reading last season. Buchanan's time missed as well as his drop in K/9 (from 6.29 with Lakewood and Clearwater in 2011 to 4.89 last year) were the main contributors to his fall from the list as the Georgia State product ranked #22 last year on this list. Heading into the 2013 season, the 23-year-old expects to be 100% and should return to the Reading rotation in April.

Arias, a native of the Dominican Republic, impressed many with his 95 MPH fastball last year for Class A Lakewood.  With the 'Claws last season, Arias posted a 4-9 record with a 3.66 ERA and a 9.09 K/9 mark.  He wrapped up his 2012 regular season making a start for Clearwater, striking out nine and walking none, but taking a loss in five innings of work.  A candidate to begin the 2013 season with Class-A Advanced Cleawater, Arias' development may rest on the consistency of his slider and his change up. The 23-year-old has a bright future and is very capable of being a strong reliever at higher levels.

As opening day approaches, check back here regularly for the unveiling of the newest list of the top 25 ranked prospects within the Phillies organization and witness the count down, one by one.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Off-season League Notes: 1/13/13

It's time, once again, to travel around the globe as we review how Phillies talents are performing in off-season and winter leagues.  Be warned that news is becoming quite limited, as the closer things get to spring training, the less there is to report. 

In the Caribbean Leagues, teams have begun playing in their second wave of the season, as the top four teams from the Dominican and Puerto Rico leagues as well as the top five from the Venezuelan Winter League meet in a round robin style stretch of contests in their respective leagues, with the top two advancing to each league's finals. 

Shortstop Freddy Galvis (pictured) has been steadily batting lead-off with Zulia during their run in the VWL’s round robin semi-finals. In eight contests in the semi’s, the 23-year-old is batting .353 with 11 RBI. Galvis has seemed rusty in the field this month, after taking some time off at the close of the regular season, committing four errors in his first six round robin games.

Phillies Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte has not been playing regularly, going 2-for-5 with two sacrifice bunts in two contests for Zulia last week. The lefty hitting center fielder batted .307 with 46 stolen bases combined at Class A and Class A Advanced in the Arizona system in 2012.

In Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente League, righty hurler Julio Rodriguez has struggled for Carolina in the round robin semi’s. In two games, the 22-year-old has tallied a 36.00 ERA. Last season for Double-A Reading, Rodriguez posted a 7-7- record with a 4.23 ERA and a 9.13 K/9 mark in 29 games (22 starts).

Outfield prospect Leandro Castro is 2-for-10 with an RBI in four Dominican League round robin games for Oriente, while Castro’s teammate Michael Martinez is 0-for-4 with two walks in three games.

In the Mexican League, which features a more traditional bracket style playoff system, righty hurler Rodrigo Lopez has helped Culiacan reach the semi-finals.  In seven regular season outings in the Mexican League, RoLo posted a 5-1 record along with a 0.91 ERA.  Additionally, the 37-year-old Lopez let up just one earned run in 6 1/3 innings in his lone playoff start thus far.  


In the Australian Baseball League, which is still in the midst of its regular season...

Tim Kennelly was back in action this week, after the reigning league MVP took seven weeks off at the request of the Phillies. In three games, Kennelly went 4-for-13 with two RBI. Overall in seven games as an offensive player, the 26-year-old has a .276 batting average with a double and four RBI. Additionally, Kennelly has pitched in two contests, allowing three earned runs in two innings (13.50 ERA).

University of Delaware product Carlos Alonso, 24, is sporting a .200 batting average along with one homer and six RBI in 36 games for Brisbane. The righty hitting infielder posted a .278/.363/.352 line for Class A Advanced Clearwater in 2012.

Right-hander Josh Warner, who is a native Australian, has had a tough time in the ABL, posting a 7.11 ERA in five relief outings for Brisbane. On the bright side, the 20-year-old has struck out 10 batters and walked only one in 6 1/3 innings. Warner pitched with the short-season Williamsport Crosscutters and the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws is 2012.

Catcher Liam Bedford, also a native of Australia, has posted a .180 average with two doubles and two RBI in 22 games for Melbourne. The 19-year-old tallied a .130 average in 19 games for the Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2012.

Infielder Jeremy Barnes, who played with Clearwater, Reading and Lehigh Valley in 2012, is batting .321 with three homers and 21 RBI in 36 games for Canberra.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Off-season Q&A: Ludy Has Sights Set on Sophomore Success

Last season the Phillies selected catcher Josh Ludy as a senior out of Baylor University in the 8th round of the MLB amateur draft.  The 22-year-old righty hitter had a solid debut as a pro.  Serving mainly as a backup, the Indiana native sported a .271 batting average along with 11 doubles, one triple, a homer and 12 RBI in 32 games for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws. Following the regular season, Ludy was among a group of prospects selected to spend an extra month in the Florida Instructional League.

This week, I spoke with Josh to get his thoughts on his transition from college to the pro's, time spent at instructs, his off-season training regimen and plenty more.  Read ahead to check out the full interview.


- You performed well last season with Lakewood after signing your first professional contract.  How would you assess your first go of it in the professional ranks and was the adjustment from college to the minors what you expected?

I feel the first year for me went well. Obviously, there are a lot of things I would have liked to have improved on, but it's all part of the process. I think one of the biggest adjustments for me was having to get familiar with an entirely different staff of pitchers. Coming from college, where you spend four years with some guys, or, at the least, have a full year to get to know guys, to maybe catching someone one time and they move on, or having a new guy come in towards the end of the season. It took a little while to get comfortable in learning everyone, but towards the end of the year I felt pretty good about it. As far as hitting, it was definitely an adjustment moving to the wood bat again. Where the weight is in the bats, and the smaller sweet spot took some getting used to, but the more time spent with it, the more natural it felt.


- What was the experience of playing in the instructional league like and how is it beneficial to players?  Also, is it a big plus to be able to play there and make an impression on more coaches and front office folks from the organization?

I had a great time at instructs. Getting to do individual work with the coordinators on a daily basis was a great experience. We have a great group of coaches and instructors that are there to make us better and have a lot of insight and wisdom to pass down. Every day was an opportunity to be able to show the organization what you can do.


- Since the season, what has your routine been and are you doing anything differently than other winters?  How much time off from hitting do you take?

Since instructs ended, I've been working out five or six days a week, trying to get prepared for the upcoming season. This winter is a lot different than the past mainly because I'm not in class, and don't have to be at team workouts and practices. At Baylor, our workouts were with the team, and we had to be places at certain times. Now, I can set my own schedule and have more time for other things I enjoy. I took off the end of October and November from hitting and started working back into it around the first of December.


- What facility do you use for off-season training and who do you workout with?

For hitting and throwing, and some conditioning I use the facilities at Baylor, and there is also a local gym I can lift at or do yoga classes. I work out with most of my old teammates from Baylor that are playing pro ball for other teams, as we all seem to come back for the off-seasons.



- When do you expect to head to Florida for spring training and what are your goals for your time there?

I'll probably head down a few days before the report date, that way I can get acquainted with everything again. My goals mainly just include performing like I know I can, controlling the things I can control, and not worrying about the rest. Take advantage of the opportunities and make the most of it.


- I imagine that the college season back-to-back with your months as a pro made for the longest year of baseball you've had as a player.  What's been the best/most enjoyable non-baseball thing you've done this off-season?

Definitely getting to spend more time hunting. My roommate has a ranch about two and a half hours from here that I can go down to on the weekends, since I'm not tied down with school. Just the anticipation of a big buck or boar walking out gets my heart pumping.