Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: The Prelude

With the new year upon us, it’s time to kick off our annual countdown of the top 25 prospects in the Phillies organization. In the coming weeks, as a fresh season approaches, I will be unveiling player reviews for each of the top developmental talents that you, as Phillies fans, should be familiar with.

Taken into consideration when reviewing these developing talents will be age, minor league performance relative to levels played, value to the organization as well as future potential and possible proximity to the big leagues.

These rankings will not include players over 25 years of age or individuals that have spent lengthy and multiple stretches in the big leagues.

Some very talented youngsters did not make the cut simply because other individuals ranked higher. Players that drew consideration included righty pitcher Mitch Gueller, lefty hurler Hoby Milner, and catcher Andrew Knapp.

Gueller, the Phils' supplementary first round pick in 2012, has failed to crack the rankings based on a lack of urgency and velocity. The 20-year-old posted a 3-8 record with a 5.86 ERA while striking out 35 and walking 26 in 58 1/3 innings in 14 starts at Class A short season Williamsport last year. Gueller, a six-foot-three 210-pounder is still viewed as promising, but must learn to better deal with the lows that come with being a pro pitcher in order to dig himself out of holes.

Milner, who turns 23 this month, put together some terrific stretches with Class A Advanced Clearwater in 2013 including a 10 games stretch from late April to mid-June when he tallied a 1.72 ERA. Milner's ability to command his pitches and his tendency to look sharper as a game goes on makes him a prospect to watch in the coming season. The six-foot-three 165-pounder was a 7th round pick by the Phillies in 2012.

Knapp is a backstop with a high ceiling and was selected by the Phils in the 2nd round of last year's draft. The 22-year-old batted .253 with four homers and 23 RBI in 62 games at Williamsport last season. The University of California product underwent Tommy John surgery this off-season and hopes to bounce back better than ever following his recovery.

Players from last year's countdown who are still in the Phillies' developmental ranks and fell off this year's list include outfielder Zach Collier, lefty pitcher Austin Wright as well as right-handed pitchers Kyle Simon, Brody Colvin and Tyler Knigge.

Collier, who busted out in 2012 with a tremendous offensive effort in the highly competitive Arizona Fall League did not seem to display a fair amount of progress in 2013, as the former 34th overall draft pick sported a .222 average and a .658 OPS in 123 games at Double-A Reading last year. The 23-year-old stands to repeat the same level in the coming season. Collier may best be known for missing 50 games in 2012 due to a banned substances suspension following a positive amphetamines test at the end of his 2011 season.

Wright, 24, was the Phillies' 8th round draft pick in 2011. A year removed from earning a nod as the Class A Advanced Florida State League pitcher of the year, Wright, at times, looked unqualified to pitch in the Double-A Eastern League in 2013. The six-foot-three 220-pounder put together a 6-5 record and a 5.92 ERA while striking out 77 and walking 59 in 94 1/3 innings in 27 games for Reading last year. Formerly a starter, Wright's future is now seen as a reliever by the Phillies.

Compared to his previous season's stats, Simon saw a considerable dip in his K/9 numbers and a hefty jump in his BB/9 mark during a season in which he dealt with a triceps injury. He also struggled to enhance his pitch repertoire in 2013. Issues with his newly added slider and maintaining consistency down in the zone resulted in Simon's removal from the Double-A Reading closer role as well as this prospect list. The 23-year-old, who was acquired in 2012 from Baltimore for Jim Thome, posted a 2-6 record with a 4.61 ERA in 45 games with Reading in 2013.

Colvin, a 7th round pick in 2009, had a rough time with his command in 2013.  Once a top organizational prospect, the 23-year-old spent time switching between the rotation and the bullpen for the second straight year, as the Phillies have tried to mix things up for the youngster when he struggles.  Minor league coordinators still feel Colvin's has a future in the big leagues, but his 6.40 ERA in 21 Double-A games last season might instill doubt in many related to that topic.

The 25-year-old Knigge looked more human last year after dominating at Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading in 2012.  A 12th round pick in 2010, Knigge sported a 4-3 record with three saves and a 4.25 ERA through 48 games with Reading in 2013.  Equipped with a fastball that can steadily be clocked at 94 MPH, Knigge closed out last season strong (2.81 ERA, .175 BAA in his last 11 outings) and, provided he can be consistent down in the strike zone, could be a big contributor with Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year.

Catcher Sebastian Valle will also not be found on this year's prospect list after the Phillies designated the 23-year-old for assignment in recent weeks. Formerly a member of the Phils' 40-man roster, Valle's progress was stagnant in 2013 as the Mexico native did not develop at a rate once thought to be in the bright youngster's future. He's still in the system, but when the organization virtually gives up on a player as a prospect (on Valle, GM Ruben Amaro stated to the media in December: "Prospects are prospects - sometimes they develop, sometimes they don't"), so will this prospect list.

As Grapefruit League competition 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 countdown and the future, one by one.

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