Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shortstop prospect Quinn has positive outlook after Achilles surgery

The following article originally appeared on ShoreSportsNetwork.com, your home for coastal New Jersey sports.

Roman Quinn, Image- Jay Floyd
After suffering his second major injury in a stretch of four months, 2013 Lakewood BlueClaws shortstop Roman Quinn is bouncing back both physically and mentally and hopes to be better than ever when he returns to the field this coming season.

Following recovery from a broken left wrist he suffered in mid-season when he was hit by a pitch, the Phillies shortstop prospect experienced the second considerable physical setback of 2013 when he ruptured his right Achilles tendon while running sprints during routine workouts earlier this off-season. After the second considerable blow to his health, Quinn found himself with a feeling of defeat and went through a period of seclusion.

The 20-year-old was the Phils' second round draft choice in 2011 and was the among the organization's top prospect, according to many outlets, heading into last season.

Surgery to repair the Achilles was completed nearly three months ago and Quinn is already ahead of schedule.

Praised for his fleet-footed efforts in beating out grounders for hits, swiping bags with ease and taking extra bases where others couldn't, Quinn doesn't feel as though his recent injury will impact the key weapon of his game, his speed.

"No worries at all. I did my research and all I gotta do is train hard and next year, I'll be back stronger," Quinn said in his first interview since undergoing surgery.

Initially, though, the realization that he'd be out of action for another lengthy stretch, with such a troublesome ailment, highly discouraged the Port St. Joe, FL native. It was discussions with another Phillies minor leaguer who had been through Achilles surgery that allowed Quinn to bounce back psychologically.

"It brought me down real low, man," Quinn explained. "It was just very discouraging until I talked with Albert Cartwright, actually. He had the same injury. I talked to him about his injury and everything and he was just telling me, 'Stay with it and just go hard in your rehab, man, and you can come back even faster, even stronger.' 'Cause that's exactly what he did and as soon as I heard that, it gave me all my confidence back."

Cartwright, who was originally a Houston draft pick and joined the Phillies in a trade prior to the 2011 season, became good friends with Quinn when Cartwright was making a comeback in the spring of 2012.  Cartwright, who was very happy to share details of his personal triumphs with the younger Quinn, was away from the diamond for six months and didn't play in a game for seven months, while he recovered from surgery on his right Achilles tendon in 2011.

The 26-year-old Cartwright says there's no lasting impact on his health, relating to his game play. 

"It's funny because people ask me about how my foot is doing, if it still gives me problems and I chuckle because I think I worry about my other foot more than the one I injured," Cartwright said.

Quinn, who was still adapting to a new position (he was mostly an outfielder in high school prior to turning pro) and working to develop his skills at switch-hitting (Quinn is a natural righty batter) last year, was far from satisfied with the efforts he put forth in 2013 with the BlueClaws. The youngster feels, though, that the struggles to this point will help him be tougher on the field and between his ears.

"I really think that this is going to help me out a lot," Quinn stated. "It could be a blessing in disguise. I think that anything to help me slow everything down again and getting everything figured out mentally, because mentally is, like, the biggest part of the game, I think it would make me a tougher player. Facing more adversity and overcoming that, man, it's gonna play out real well."

As a member of the BlueClaws last year, the five-foot-ten 170-pounder batted .238 with five home runs, 21 RBI and 32 stolen bases. Quinn made his professional debut with Class-A short-season Williamsport in 2012, posting a .281 batting average with a homer, 23 RBI and a league leading 30 steals in 66 contests. He was also tops in the New York-Penn League in triples with 11 and runs scored with 56 in his first year in the minors.

With a daily routine that includes 10 minutes of walking on a treadmill, 10 minutes on an exercise bike, loads of stretching and calf raises as well as a normal gym routine for the rest of his body, Quinn is pain-free and optimistic for a mid-season return in 2014. He is currently targeting late June or early July this year to participate in game action.

"I'm feeling great. My Achilles doesn't bother me at all. It just gets real tight some days and I have to stretch it out. It's feeling really good. I'm feeling really good about my recovery and coming back to play."

Quinn would likely see action in the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies, who play in Clearwater, FL, where organizational training staff could continue to monitor and work with youngster, before he might make a return to Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

PNTV Interview Outtakes with Ethan Martin

Throughout the first half of the 2013 season, I conducted dozens of interviews with Phillies minor leaguers for a concept segment on Comcast's Phillies Nation TV.  Those interviews were never used on the program and I've been chasing the powers that be to put those segments together as web content for the better part of six months, since the minor league season ended.  While a majority of that footage and the potential for it to see the light of day are out of my hands, I did come across some of the digital files and put together this 90 second clip of Phillies RHP prospect Ethan Martin answering some fun questions.

Martin, who was acquired in 2012 from the Dodgers for Shane Victorino, posted an 11-5 record along with a 4.12 ERA and a .229 batting average against in 21 starts for Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season.  He also made 15 appearances (eight starts) with the big league Phillies, sporting a 2-5 record with a 6.08 ERA and a .261 batting average against. 

The 24-year-old Georgia native was the Dodgers' 1st round draft choice in 2008.

Check out the media player below to see this never-before-released interview with Ethan, who stands a great chance at being a considerable contributor for the Phillies this year.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #18 Outfielder Dylan Cozens

Natural power is what made outfielder Dylan Cozens the Phillies 2nd round draft choice (77th overall) in 2012. The six-foot-six 235-pounder has since shown a lot of progress in his short time in the minor leagues and is one the organization's most promising offensive players.

After signing with the Phillies, Cozens debuted with the rookie level Gulf Coast Phillies.  In 50 games there, the lefty hitting Arizona native collected 15 doubles, two triples, five homers and 24 RBI. Cozens also participated in the Florida Instructional League in 2012, where he impressed Phillies coaches and staff with his ability to drive the ball to the farthest reaches of the Carpenter Complex and neighboring teams' facilities.

After a productive spring in 2013, Cozens was retained in extended spring training and made his official season debut with the short-season Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League.  Cozens was among the league leaders in many categories last year, placing second in the league in doubles (19), extra base hits (30), and runs (50) while ranking third in slugging percentage (.469).  Additionally, he batted .265 with two triples, nine home runs and 35 RBI in 68 games for the Cutters.

As would be expected, Cozens performed better against right-handers (.273/.351/.500) than he did against lefty pitchers (.247/.325/.397) last season. 

The highly athletic youngster was committed to play Division 1 football with Arizona after competing in just one year of high school football as a defensive end.  Cozens passed up the opportunity to be a dual sport collegiate athlete for the Wildcats when he quickly signed with the Phillies following the 2012 draft.

At the plate, Cozens has a bit of a long swing that critics point out could result in difficulty producing a high batting average, but if the Phils are looking for a prototypical corner outfield slugger with this powerful teenager, a .250 average would be perfectly acceptable if the power is there to offer other valuable production.

The Phillies are big on Cozens' power potential and feel his ceiling is as a big league slugger.  In his senior season of high school ball for Chaparral HS, he led the state of Arizona in home runs with 19.

On the bases, Cozens isn't as slow as most people might expect of a big-bodied masher.  He's proven to be an occasional threat on the bases, swiping eight bags in 10 tries with the GCL club in 2012 and notching 11 steals in 17 chances last year with Williamsport. 

On the defensive side, Cozens hasn't had any difficulty adjusting to the pro ranks.  Coaches have noticed a small issue with his first step, but Cozens has been praised for his adaptability and is already a capable fielder.  He covers a good amount of ground and has a very strong arm.

Jersey shore area fans will be treated to quite a show this year as Cozens is a lock to play with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws this upcoming season, barring some type of injury.


To view the running list of this year's countdown, click HERE.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

PhoulBallz Podcast Episode 51: Abreu Returns & WrestleMania Season Kicks Off

On the 51st edition of the PhoulBallz Minor League Podcast, Jay and Tug discuss the return of Bobby Abreu to the Phillies as well as the team's off-season of aging. Other topics include the Phillies' TV broadcast changes, WWE's WrestleMania season kicking off with the Royal Rumble this Sunday and Daniel Bryan's insane popularity.

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

Prospect Nation #19: Outfielder Cameron Perkins

Cameron Perkins, Image- @BaseballBetsy
Outfielder Cameron Perkins has been one of the Phillies' most promising prospects since he was selected in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. The righty batting outfielder has been a solid performer in many aspects of the game and is closest to the big leagues of any player from that year's Phils draft class.

Perkins signed quickly and upon his pro debut he batted .158 with three RBI in five games for the Gulf Coast League (rookie level) Phillies. Following a promotion to the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters, Perkins shined. In 67 games, he posted a .304 average with 23 doubles, one triple, one home run and 38 RBI.

An aggressive swinger, Perkins was a top performer in the Class A Advanced Florida State League when he was sidelined with a fractured wrist after being hit by a pitch on May 31st. At the time of his injury, Perkins was among the league leaders in several offensive categories.

Five weeks later, Perkins was back in action and completed a solid season with Clearwater following two rehab outings with the Gulf Coast League Phillies. Overall last year, he batted .299 while notching 30 doubles, five triples, six homers and 53 RBI.

His .808 OPS in 105 total minor league games last season certainly proves there's already some pop in his bat. The youngster's six-foot-five 200-pound frame offers some upside for development with power at the plate. It's possible that Perkins' frame may never fill out to strapping Pat Burrell type proportions, but with a similar build to Von Hayes, who exceeded 15 homers in a big league season five times and led the National League in doubles once, there's damage that can be done with his stick.

This off-season, after the Phillies learned that Kelly Dugan's turf toe would prevent him from participating in the Arizona Fall League, the club sent Perkins to fill the void, as they are required to have seven active players there. In 18 games with Peoria, Perkins batted .216 with four doubles, two triples and three RBI.

The 23-year-old puts the ball in play with frequency and makes a lot of contact, keeping strike outs to a minimum.

Perkins hits very well against left-handers (.320/.353/.453 in 2013) and doesn't have much of a drop off against righties (.289/.350/.459 in 2013).

Defensively, Perkins has adapted to his new position as a corner outfielder swiftly, after playing third base in college and after manning the corner infield spots upon debuting as a pro with Williamsport in 2012. The move provides an easier path to the upper levels of the Phils' system that is clogged with young talent at third base.

On the bases, Perkins hasn't offered much in terms of speed. In 2012, he swiped five bags in seven chances, while he was successful four times in nine attempts in 2013.

The Purdue product was honored by the Phillies last year for working the most hours of community service among Threshers players.


To view the running list of this year's countdown, click HERE.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #20 RHP Kevin Munson

Selected by the Phillies in this off-season's Rule 5 draft, right-handed pitcher Kevin Munson is probably the most likely prospect on this countdown to make the team's opening day roster.

Munson, a fourth round draft selection in 2010 by Arizona, tallied a 1.59 ERA in five outings in the Mexican Winter League prior to joining the Phillies' organization this off-season. The hard-throwing hurler has been an under-performer in recent years and looks to shine with a change of scenery this year.

In four pro seasons, the six-foot-one 215-pounder has posted an 11.39 K/9 mark, which clearly shows his ability to overpower the opposition at the plate. His 4.98 BB/9 mark certainly indicates there's plenty of room for improvement when addressing his control. Also, his 40.2% career ground ball ratio is fair, but not great.

Pitching as high as Triple-A last year, Munson sported a 0-2 record with one save and a 5.09 ERA in 24 appearances for Reno in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.

In parts of three seasons at Double-A Mobile, Munson has a 5-7 record along with a 5.03 ERA in 75 games.

Based on the guidelines of the Rule 5 draft, Munson, a reliever, would have to stay on the Phils' 25-man roster, barring any disabled list time, or be offered back to Arizona.

The 25-year-old learned that he'd be leaving the Diamondbacks and joining the Phillies organization when he saw the news on Twitter. Just last year, a different Diamondbacks prospect, Ender Inciarte, made the Phillies' opening day roster after they plucked him in the Rule 5 draft, but the Venezuelan outfielder was offered back to Arizona when the Phils decided not to keep him on their big league roster for the full season.

The Phillies hosted Munson, along with several other minor leaguers, for their annual prospect education seminars last week. While in the area, the group met with team brass, visited the MLB Network studios, gave interviews with local media and attended a Sixers game. Munson also took part in a prospect Q&A session with fans via the Phillies' official Twitter account.

Munson, the career saves leader at James Madison University, sports a fastball that can hit 95 MPH with a hard slider that his coaches like a lot.

Look for Munson to get plenty of action during the exhibition season which will enable the Phillies to make a fair decision on the youngster, as he competes for a bullpen job with the likes of Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, Mike Stutes, B.J. Rosenberg, Phillippe Aumont and others.

To view the running list of this year's countdown, click HERE.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #21 RHP Mike Nesseth

Mike Nesseth, Image- Jay Floyd
During the 2013 season, righty reliever Mike Nesseth proved himself to be a mover within the Phillies' developmental ranks.  After a rough start to his season with Class A Advanced Clearwater, Nesseth was promoted to Double-A Reading where he was dominant and earned himself another promotion before season's end.  With the progress he's shown,
the Minnesota native is a prospect to know in the Phils system as the new season approaches.

Nesseth was the Phillies' 17th round selection in 2010 while already recovering from Tommy John surgery. Undergoing the procedure approximately six weeks before the amateur draft, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate's spot fell quite a bit from where he would have been taken if he was healthy.

It was late June 2011 before Nesseth made his official pro debut.  As a member of the Class A short-season Williamsport Crosscutters, the youngster sported a 3-6 record with a 3.21 ERA in 14 starts.  He also held righty batters to a .191 batting average.

The following year, after a difficult stretch to open the season, Nesseth was moved to the bullpen, where he has stayed and feels most comfortable.

In 18 games (four starts) with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws in 2012, Nesseth posted a 5-1 record along with three saves, a 3.06 ERA and a .192 batting average against.  In late June, he was promoted to Class A Advanced Clearwater, where he sported a 2-2 record with eight saves, a 2.76 ERA and a .238 batting average against in 21 appearances.

Last year, Nesseth kicked off the season back with Clearwater, where he struggled at times, but a need at the Double-A level resulted in a promotion that couldn't have gone much better.  With Reading, Nesseth notched a 1-4 record with nine saves and a 1.64 ERA in 35 games out of the 'pen.

Much like a September call up to the big leagues to end the season for certain minor leaguers, Nesseth got a taste of the Triple-A International League before the 2013 regular season was through.  With the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Nesseth allowed just a lone unearned run in seven innings of work late in the season, as the Phillies wanted a glimpse of what he was capable of at that level.

Following his remarkable 2013 campaign, the Phillies assigned Nesseth to Peoria of the highly competitive Arizona Fall League. His time there wasn't successful, as his 0-2 record, 9.20 ERA and .344 batting average against in nine games were alarming.  Nesseth's trouble as a member of the Peoria staff was a result of getting behind batters in the count. 

In an October interview with me, while he was playing in the AFL, Nesseth described the opposition he was facing in that league as an unbelievable level of competition.  It's possible that fatigue was a factor for Nesseth, who pitched a month and a half longer in 2013 than he had ever done before. 

Nesseth, who tends to be a slow starter during the regular season (5.71 ERA in April 2013 with Clearwater, 6.50 ERA in April 2012 with Lakewood), could possibly benefit from the additional action last year, as it may not take as long to knock off any proverbial rust this year.  In his two full minor league seasons, Nesseth's ERA after April is tremendously improved (1.41 ERA from May 1st till the end of the season in 2013, 1.85 ERA from May 1st till the end of the season in 2012).

After signing with the Phillies, Nesseth's arm angle was changed to a more over-the-top delivery, by coaches, as the organization was focusing on his recovery from surgery and long term health.  Over time, though, the 25-year-old found his more natural, lower arm slot and has seen a nice spike in velocity that wasn't there when he pitched at the Class A level.

The six-foot-five 210-pounder sports a pitch repertoire that includes a fastball, which regularly reaches the 94-95 MPH range, a strong slider and an very good change up.

Averaging a 4.97 K/9 mark in the minors, Nesseth is bit more of a contact pitcher than other guys that might be suitable for late-inning relief.  Additionally, his control was much improved last year as his 2.63 BB/9 ratio was far more appealing than the 4.24 BB/9 ratio from the prior year.

Expect Nesseth to begin the 2014 season with Lehigh Valley, where he'll take on back-end-of-the-bullpen responsibilities as either a set up man or possibly the team's closer.  If Nesseth can prove himself to be a consistent contributor for the IronPigs, it's quite possible fans could see him in a Phillies uniform this year, as inevitable needs arise throughout the season.


To view the running list of this year's countdown, click HERE.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014 #22: Outfielder Larry Greene Jr.

Larry Greene Jr, Image- Tug Haines
Upon being selected by the Phillies 39th overall in the 2011 amateur draft, outfielder Larry Greene Jr. was often praised for his outstanding power potential. However, after a sluggish start to his pro career, there's some doubt surrounding the young slugger.

Prior to being drafted, in his senior year of high school, the lefty batting Greene became an All-American, posting a .536 average in 30 games with 11 doubles, 19 home runs and 52 RBI while drawing 37 walks.  Expectations on the baseball diamond were high and Greene turned down offers to play college football and baseball, electing to sign with the Phillies following the draft.

In his first full season of pro ball in 2012, Greene played with short-season Class A Williamsport where he posted a promising .270 average with 22 doubles and 26 RBI in 70 contests.  Williamsport's home park, Bowman Field, is notoriously difficult on hitters, so the lack of power numbers was not concerning even for a guy who had developed a reputation for being a big time power hitter.

Moving forward, Greene's 2013 season was rough to say the least.  Billed at six feet tall and weighing 235 pounds, the youngster reported to spring training out of shape and was held back at extended spring training when the regular season began.  Greene had become a new father and indicated in one interview with me that perhaps enjoying fatherhood during the winter months had gotten a bit in the way of staying fit.

After shedding some pounds throughout the exhibition season, Greene was assigned to Class A Lakewood, where he struggled quite a bit.  In 34 games combined during April and May, Greene batted .178 with five doubles and 13 RBI.  Through the remainder of the season, Greene improved his offensive output, sporting a .227 average with 17 doubles, a triple and four homers in 77 games.

While Greene can be selective and draw walks, his focus on being aggressive at the plate, and possibly trying to live up to his reputation of being a masher, resulted in his strike out rate shooting way up last year (35.7%) over his figure the previous year in the New York-Penn League (25.7%).  

The Phillies brass still very much believes in Greene, who they feel will develop the power that the 20-year-old still regularly displayed in batting practice, even at pitcher-friendly venues like Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park.  His quick bat and uppercut swing project very positively from the left side.

This off-season, Greene participated in the Fall Instructional League and attended the Phillies' Dominican baseball academy in November.  Getting extra time on the field with additional instructors and coaches overseeing his every move will certainly be beneficial to a prospect with the kind of expectations that earned him a $1 million signing bonus.

With his legs, Greene is certainly quicker than he appears.  With major league average speed getting to first base out of the box, Greene could develop into a guy that can help his team on the bases with the right instincts, going first-to-third and things like that.

Defensively, Greene is a pretty good left fielder and has some quality range.  The Phillies are excited about the ceiling he has in the outfield, already seeing the right development relating to his reaction time on batted balls and improving on his ability to nail runners on the bases.

Sporting a very solid BABIP of .357 along with that concerning strike out rate, in his two minor league seasons, the focus for Greene has to be making more contact this year.  The Georgia native, who will turn 21 years old by the start of spring training, is likely best suited to begin his 2014 campaign back with the Class A BlueClaws in order to build his confidence and show that he can handle that level.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #23 Outfielder Tyson Gillies

Tyson Gillies, Image- Jay Floyd
Outfielder Tyson Gillies has been plagued by injuries during his time in the Phillies' organization. In 2009, the British Columbia native was acquired in the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle. Due to an inability to stay healthy, Gillies has not made the type of progress that the Phillies once hoped he would.

When he was dealt to the Phils, Gillies was a top prospect of the Mariners that had played in the MLB All-Star Futures Game and appeared to be a solid candidate to possibly replace Shane Victorino in center field when the time came.

In 2009, Gillies became a highly regarded player in the Mariners organization, as his offensive output excelled. Gillies posted a .341 batting average, which was good enough for third highest in the minors, with a Seattle organization leading 44 steals and a .916 OPS in 124 games with Class A Advanced High Desert.

Over his four seasons since joining the Phillies organization, Gillies has tallied a .217 batting average while stroking 16 homers, driving in 60 runs and swiping 28 bags through 220 games.

Since he was acquired, along with J.C. Ramirez and Phillippe Aumont, Gillies has seemed fragile. Recurring left hamstring issues, a nagging foot injury, a behavioral suspension and a concussion have forced Gillies to miss considerable time, although his 114 games played in 2013 more than doubled his total (106) from the previous three years in the Phils' system. He also was faced with a drug arrest while rehabbing in Florida, although those charges were later dropped.

Last season, Gillies' hamstring concerns returned late in the year and he ended the season on the disabled list. His main obstacle, however, was an altered approach at the plate, which resulted in an early-season demotion. Through 19 April games with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Gillies posted a .154/.276/.231 line. He was sent back to Double-A Reading, where his production picked up quite a bit (267/.312/.477 through 51 contests). In July, the left-handed batting prospect returned to Lehigh Valley and closed out the season with a .238 average, one homer, three RBI and seven stolen bases over his final 31 contests for the IronPigs.

Gillies told me in an interview during the last week of the season last year that his 2013 was very disappointing. The six-foot-two 205-pounder felt as though if he had proven himself to be healthy and put up some good numbers in the minors that he could have contributed to the big league Phillies, who had loads of injury openings and needs during the season. Despite his level of dissatisfaction with himself, Gillies, who is a very mature-minded player, was pleased for teammate Steve Susdorf when he got a proverbial cup of coffee with the big club last summer.

Defense has definitely continued to be a major asset for Gillies, who has strong range and possesses a very good arm. His ability to gun down brazen runners who may doubt Gillies' defensive skills is something coaches have taken notice of, especially last year when he left a lot to be desired at the plate.

A solid line drive hitter that displays some gap power, Gillies is well known for his hearing impairment. Diagnosed at an early age with significant hearing problems, Gillies grew up using hearing aids and has become accustomed to playing baseball with a slight disadvantage. Gillies is also quite selective at the plate and is very capable of forcing pitchers to throw more pitches and can draw walks.

Pitch recognition is the main area where the Phillies' coaches feel Gillies needs to take strides, aside from staying off the disabled list, of course.

In the end, Gillies' ceiling and the Phillies' patience with him will depend on the 25-year-old's health. While fans have grown impatient with the talented Canadian, it's not farfetched that the Phils could share the same opinion and cut ties with Gillies if serious progress is not displayed this year. Look for Gillies to get some late-inning substitution time during the spring training exhibition season and to begin the 2014 season in the Lehigh Valley outfield.

Monday, January 13, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Catching Prospect Andrew Knapp

Catcher Andrew Knapp was selected by the Phillies in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft out of the University of California. In a half-season in the organization, the 21-year-old posted very good numbers, batting .253 with four home runs, 23 RBI and seven steals in 62 games for the Class A short-season Williamsport Crosscutters.

Prior to being drafted by the Phillies last year, Knapp led the Cal Golden Bears in batting average with a .350 mark, and slammed eight homers with 41 RBI in his junior season, proving himself worthy of the ranking as a Preseason All-American by Baseball America.

This off-season the Phillies announced that the switch-hitting Knapp had undergone Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and would miss considerable time recovering.

This weekend, the six-foot-one 190-pounder took some time to answer questions about his first pro season, his recovery and more. Read ahead for that full interview.

- Andrew, what was your draft experience like last year? What were you doing when you found out? Were you watching the draft?

My draft experience was awesome. I was at home with friends and family just sitting around watching it on TV. It was pretty stressful just sitting and waiting but I had talked to my agent earlier that day and he had told me that he would give me a call if he heard from any teams. Supposedly, he was trying to call me right before the Phillies pick in the 2nd (round), to let me know they were gonna take me, but his call didn't make it through to my phone and I ended up watching Jim Bunning read off my name at the draft, which was very cool. Everyone that was over just went nuts and there were tons of hugs and stuff so my draft experience was very awesome.

- Were you expecting to be selected by the Phillies or was it a surprise?

Being drafted by the Phillies did come as a surprise for me because I had not had very much contact with them before hand, however I didn't go into the draft thinking a certain team was going to pick me. I tried to go into it with no expectations.

- After your pro debut with Williamsport last year, you posted some really good numbers. Was the transition to pro ball tougher or easier than you expected and why?

I think that the transition from college to professional was pretty simple. From the baseball side of things there is not much transitioning that needed to be done, however from the mental side of the game there was some adjustments that I needed to get used to. For example, playing so many games in a row is a big change that I needed some getting used to, but I think that playing in collegiate summer leagues like the Northwoods and Cape (Cod) helped me with my transition to pro ball as well.

- What was the highlight of your first minor league season?

I think one of the highlights from this past season was when our pitching staff threw a combined no-hitter. It was the first no-hitter I have ever been a part of and to be able to call a no-hitter from behind the plate was very cool.

- I know you wrapped up 2013 with an injury which resulted in Tommy John surgery. What can you share about that, what your reaction was and if you battled through it for a while?

I did have surgery in October of this past year and I am on my way back to getting on the field again. I was pretty upset at first but I know that everything happens for a reason and that God has a plan for me and this is just a little piece of adversity that I will overcome. My family has been very supportive and helped me through this as well as the Phillies staff.

- Is the recovery process from that procedure different for a non-pitcher?

The recovery process is different than that of a pitcher, however it is not as short as being a normal field player. Being a catcher, I throw much more than any other position so it takes longer than a normal field player, but I should be able to hit earlier than I can throw, which is helpful.

- Where are you now in the rehab process and what's the time frame for in-season game action?

I am just over three months into my recovery and I am doing well. I am running and lifting weights now, trying to get my legs back into shape. I am doing some light lifting with my upper body and I am hoping to start swinging and start my throwing program here pretty soon.

- How would you scout yourself, if given the chance? Describe your game.

I think one of my best attributes as a player would be that I am a student of the game and I pride myself on being a leader on the field. I am a smart player and being the catcher, I need to be the quarterback of the field, so leadership is key. I also pride myself in being a catcher that pitchers like throwing to. It is very important that pitchers are confident throwing to their catcher and I try to really work for my pitchers. Offensively, I try to have a quality at bat every time I go to the plate, and be consistent with my game, not try to do to much.

- Thoughts on the coaches you've worked with in the Phils organization thus far?

All of the coaches I have worked with so far have been very helpful and I have really enjoyed working with them. They all know the game and it is very fun to listen to what they have to say and their experiences with the game and their careers. I have really enjoyed working with the catching coordinator Ernie Whitt, he has helped me a ton with my catching and I'm excited to continue to learn from him.

- And lastly, who were your favorite players growing up?

One of my favorite players growing up was Chipper Jones. Being a switch-hitter I always loved watching Chipper rake from both sides of the plate. More recently I have really enjoyed watching Josh Hamilton and Buster Posey play. They both rake and play the game right.

Image- MiLB.com

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #24 Catcher Deivi Grullon

Deivi Grullon, Image- @BaseballBetsy
At the time of his signing with the Phillies in July, 2012, Dominican native Deivi Grullon was one of the top catching prospects in the Caribbean. After a year in the minors, the 17-year-old is looked at as an even more promising player.

Grullon, who signed for a reported $575,000, looked very good with the Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2013, posting a .273 batting average with eight doubles, a home run and 14 RBI in 41 games at the rookie level.

Two weeks after Grullon signed with the Phillies, his father, Simeon, a former catcher who was integral in helping Deivi develop as a player, was struck and killed by a motor vehicle while on his own motorcycle. The youngster has not let the tragedy impede his progress, as he's shown solid adaptability and great progress. He's already looked at as a potential impact prospect.

Grullon projects as a big league catcher, but is clearly very young and has a long way to go. Already possessing a filled out frame at 5-feet-11 180 pounds, Grullon has drawn comparisons to Phils backstop Carlos Ruiz. Grullon may not project to develop a considerable amount more power, but that's okay. If the Phillies know what they have to work with at a younger age, it could be better suited for his progress.

A righty batter, Grullon dominated left-handed hurlers, tallying a .462/500/.590 line against southpaws in the GCL. Improvements will need to be made against righty opposition, though, as Grullon's .183/.256/.256 production against right-handers was fairly alarming. A refined approach when faced with pitchers' counts, in general, is something scouts have cited as a standout quality for Grullon as well.

As a catcher, it is no surprise that Grullon would not project to contribute with his legs. Speed would certainly not be a brag-worthy aspect of this youngster's multifaceted game.

It's likely that Grullon, who spent time in the Florida Instructional League following the 2013 regular season, will begin his 2014 campaign in extended spring training, then join a short-season roster once they get rolling in June. However, time at Class A full-season Lakewood may not be too far in his future.

Grullon will turn 18 years old in mid-February, prior to the start of minor league spring training.

ProspectNation

Friday, January 10, 2014

Pitching prospects Morgan and Watson reportedly out till August

Adam Morgan with Reading in 2012, image- Jay Floyd
Two of the Phillies' top pitching prospects are likely out of action until August, according to reports. Right-hander Shane Watson, who spoke with me exclusively last month about his upcoming procedure, is slated to go under the knife in the coming days, while left-hander Adam Morgan underwent surgery to repair his recurring shoulder issues this week.

Watson, the Phillies' first round draft selection in 2012, is currently in Los Angeles, where he will have surgery to repair an enlarged capsule in his throwing shoulder. The 20-year-old posted a 4-6 record along with a 4.75 ERA and a .230 batting average against in 16 starts at Class A Lakewood last season.

Morgan missed considerable time last season with a shoulder strain, but returned to close out the season in a strong fashion, tallying a 1.59 ERA in his first seven Triple-A starts off the disabled list before allowing four earned runs in 1 1/3 innings in his final outing of the season.

Although he bounced back and looked great to wrap up his 2013 campaign, the Phils' 3rd round draft pick from 2011 suffered a setback that required surgical repair, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.

PhoulBallz Interview: Mickey Morandini speaks on new coaching assignment

Mickey Morandini, Image- Jay Floyd
This week, the Phillies announced that Mickey Morandini, who had managed their full-season Class A affiliate in Lakewood for the past two season, would be assigned to the coaching staff of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs for the upcoming season.

The switch wasn't very surprising, as each year there's some realignment of members of the developmental coaching staff and more so considering that no manager in the BlueClaws' 13-year history had every managed the team for more than two consecutive seasons. Based on that trend, it was likely that Morandini would be coaching elsewhere this year.

The 47-year-old was drafted by the Phillies in the 5th round of the 1988 amateur draft and batted .268 with 32 homers and 351 RBI for the Phils, Cubs and Blue Jays over 11 big league seasons. He was on the Phillies club that won the National League pennant in 1993 and represented the organization as an All-Star in 1995. Following some time away from the pro ranks after his playing career was through and coaching his sons in youth baseball, Morandini became a professional coach in 2011 when he managed the Phillies' short-season Class A affiliate, the Williamsport Crosscutters.

I spoke with Morandini about his new assignment with the IronPigs, his goals for the future and his expectations for players in the system he's coaches thus far. Read ahead for that full interview.

- What went into the decision to move you from managing at the Class A level and adding you to the coaching staff at the Triple-A level? Was there a meeting or interview for the spot, or was it just an assignment?

It's an assignment. I had told them as much as I love managing I just wanted to progress through the system in any way that I could, so when this position came up, it fit me pretty well and, um, so it worked out good.

- So, based on what you're saying that you wanted to progress, is the goal here to coach in the big leagues? I know some coaches in the minors will say that they love helping to develop guys. Is that something that coaches will just say? Is everyone's goal to coach in the big leagues?

Well, I mean, my goal is to get to the big leagues. I mean, I love doing what I am doing. I love working with kids. I always have. That's part of the reason I got back into it. You know, my progression through (coaching) little kids, to high school, to working with professional athletes has been really good and I've enjoyed it. But, the ultimate goal is, at some point, I would love to manage in the big leagues.

- You're going from A-ball, where there's very young players, to Triple-A, where there are older players and even veterans. So, how much will your approach change when it comes to working with the players?

It's gonna change a little bit. I mean, the level I was working at I think patience was the key and I had to be very patient. It was very repetitive. With young kids, it was a lot of teaching involved, trying to do things the way we want them done. In Triple-A, guys have been in the big leagues, or they're knocking on the door and it's more kind of refining some things. I don't think you have to be as patient. Hopefully, you only have to say things one time to get things done. So, it's gonna be a little different and that's part of the reason I'm really excited I get to work with, you know, kind of a new athlete now. Someone that's been through a lot of things and has been around the game and, hopefully, I can help continue their progress.

- With kind of a goal among goals reached, moving upward in the developmental ranks as a coach, talk more about your level of excitement for this change.

I'm ecstatic! I'm really excited about it. I'm ready for the challenge. I've got a great group of coaches I'm gonna be working with and learning from and I'm just really excited for it. It's a great league. Lehigh Valley is a great place to play. They've got great fans there and, like I said, I'm really looking forward to it and I can't wait for the season to get started.

- Does your arrival date to spring training change now, being up at the highest level of the minors instead of the lower levels?

Yeah, Triple-A coaches go to big league camp, so I'll be heading down there around February 9th. We've got some meetings, two days after that and then we'll get the players in and get them going. So, my stay there is extended an extra three weeks.

- Just based on your experience with the Phillies organization the past few years, first managing at short-season Class A, then full-season Class A, and this might be for fun or speculation, but what players that you've managed do you think could be among the first to catch up to you at Triple-A?

(Laughs) Who's gonna catch up to me? Well, Franco would have been the one, but he's already gonna be there. So, I think J.P. Crawford's got a chance to move through the system very fast. You know, I had Aaron Altherr in A-ball. He's got a chance to get there fairly fast. I know he'll probably start out at Double-A this year if all things go well. But, I would say that probably J.P. would get there the fastest.

- And lastly here, I know you mentioned the other Lehigh Valley coaches (manager Dave Brundage, pitching coach Ray Burris and hitting coach Sal Rende). Do you have a good rapport with those guys already?

Not a whole lot. I worked with Sal a little bit. Not too much with Dave and with Ray, but I'm really looking forward to it. They've been around a long time and there's a lot of knowledge there, so I'm planning on learning a lot from them.

Prospect Nation 2014: #25 LHP Jay Johnson

Left-handed hurler Jay Johnson has proven to be quite the nice gamble for the Phillies since he was signed as a minor league free agent in 2011.  The New Brunswick, Canada native had previously been drafted by the Orioles and Blue Jays, but failed physical examinations which prevented him from signing with those clubs.  After some work to prove himself, Johnson earned a pro contract and has developed into a quality lefty reliever.

Due to concerns raised with his throwing elbow during team exams, both Baltimore and Toronto backed out after having come to terms on financial agreements with Johnson.  The offers were rescinded following the discovery of bone spurs and loose chips in his joint.  Johnson never lost focus and was confident he would get an opportunity to be a professional pitcher at some point.

There was a third opportunity with the Mariners, but they backed down too and it took a phone call from Johnson's college coach Brian Kubicek to the Phils' senior advisor to the general manager, Pat Gillick, that resulted in a workout in Clearwater, FL which got Johnson the deal as well as the jersey that he long desired.

The Lethbridge Community College product made his pro debut in 2011 with Class A Lakewood.  That year, in 40 games, Johnson looked strong, putting together a 1-5 record with five saves and a 2.94 ERA while striking out 49 batters in 49 innings out of the BlueClaws' bullpen.

The following year, the six-foot-two 210-pounder pitched mainly with Reading, but missed time with an injury.  In 28 games at Double-A in 2012, Johnson notched a 2-1 record with a 5.02 ERA.

Johnson was a member of last year's Team Canada World Baseball Classic roster and feels that he picked up a lot by being around some big name MLB veterans.  During an interview with me last summer, Johnson cited John Axford, Joey Votto and Justin Morneau as players he learned a lot from in the brief time he was a teammate of theirs last spring.  Matching the intensity of such players, Johnson was among those that were ejected in the infamous WBC brawl against Team Mexico last March.

The 2013 season began with Johnson back at Double-A where he became one of Reading's most reliable arms.  Through 38 games the youngster has a 2-2 record with three saves and a 2.65 ERA. He heated up along with the northeast weather, as he tallied a 1.76 ERA in 30 Eastern League games after April.

Following his strong effort with Reading, Johnson was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley where he initially had a rough go of things against International League competition.  Through his first six outings with the IronPigs, Johnson tallied a 12.70 ERA, but he bounced back, closing out his regular season allowing just two earned runs over 12 innings for a 1.50 ERA in his final 11 outings.

Johnson sports a pitch repertoire that features a low-90's fastball which spikes higher in velocity when he pitches more often, a nice slider and a change up that he likes to use to confuse right-handed batters.  The menu has proven successful for the 24-year-old, who has a career 10.24 K/9 mark and 46.6% ground ball ratio.  Johnson thrives on less innings/pitches per outing with more frequent appearances.

The main weakness for Johnson is the number of free passes he issues.  Walks will be what holds Johnson back, if he never pitches above Triple-A.  He posted a walk rate of 17.2% last year and has a 15.5 mark for his career in that category.  Comparatively, 25-year-old lefty hurler Mario Hollands, who was invited to big league spring training by the Phillies this week, has a career 7.2% walk rate in four professional seasons at similar levels. 

If he can reduce the bases on balls issued and continue to mow down the opposition, Johnson would be a fine candidate to be a big league filler if a lefty vacancy arises in the Phillies' bullpen this year.

Look for Johnson, whose favorite player growing up was Jonathan Papelbon, to be a late-inning setup guy in Lehigh Valley or possibly the IronPigs' closer to open the 2014 season.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Phillies Notebook: Broadcaster Changes, Spring Invites, Minor Coaching Changes

A news release from the Phillies on Wednesday addressed upcoming changes to the team's broadcast staff, which features the removal of Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews from the television "airwaves".

Wheeler and "Sarge" were often mocked by fans, with the former being hated by viewers while the latter was a beloved character chock full of catchphrases and neat hats.

The Phillies' statement:
As the longest-tenured member of the Phillies broadcasting team, Chris Wheeler will return to his club roots after stepping down from his role as a Phillies broadcaster. With 37 years of broadcasting experience, combined with his front office background where he began his Phillies career, ‘Wheels’ will take on a new role allowing the organization to continue to benefit from his knowledge, experience and dedication to the game. Additionally, Gary Matthews will continue to work with the Phillies bringing his exceptional background as a major league ballplayer, broadcaster and commentator to new roles at the Phillies.
According to reports, the radio broadcast team of Scott Franzke, Larry Andersen and Jim Jackson will remain untouched.

News also came out on Wednesday that five minor leaguers will be invited to big league spring training, Lefty hurlers Jesse Biddle and Mario Hollands, third baseman Maikel Franco, right-hander Kenny Giles as well as catcher Sebastian Valle will all get time with the big league club.

Biddle was the Phillies' top prospect going into last season. With Double-A Reading in 2013, the 22-year-old posted a 5-14 record with a 3.64 ERA along with a .210 batting average against and a 10.02 K/9 mark. Biddle was the Phillies' first round draft choice (27th overall) in 2010.

Franco, who represented the Phillies in the MLB All-Star Futures Game alongside Biddle last summer, was the organization's breakout star in 2013, crushing 31 homers and driving in 103 runs in 134 games combined at Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading. Franco has spent time playing 1st and 3rd base this off-season in the Dominican Winter League, where he batted .226 with three home runs and 14 RBI in 47 regular season games.

Hollands has been a versatile hurler, pitching effectively in relief and as a starter at several levels of the Phils' developmental ranks throughout his pro career since he was drafted in the 10th round out of UC Santa Barbara in 2010. Hollands sported a 7-3 record along with a 2.86 ERA in 27 games at Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading last season. Hollands tallied a 2.45 ERA in eight Venezuelan Winter League outings this off-season.

Giles has made a name for himself with his triple-digit fastball and impressive slider. Primed to be a strong back-end bullpen arm, Giles performed very well in the Arizona Fall League, where, aside from one bad outing, he held opponents scoreless while striking out 16 batters in 10 1/3 innings. Giles missed time last season with two separate oblique strains and sported a 2-2 record with six saves, a 6.23 ERA and an 11.92 K/9 mark in 24 games while trying to stay healthy for High A Clearwater.

Valle, who was previously a highly ranked prospect for the Phillies, hasn't progressed at the desired rate offensively, so the Phillies recently removed the 23-year-old from their 40-man roster. Valle batted .203 with 12 homers and 41 RBI in 98 games at the Double-A level last year. In 46 regular season games in the Mexican Winter League this off-season, Valle batted .304 with three home runs and 15 RBI for his hometown Los Mochis club.

The Phillies also announced some coaching changes at the developmental levels as last season's Class A Lakewood manager Mickey Morandini will become a coach with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, while last season's hitting coach for Lakewood, Greg Legg, will become that team's new skipper. Morandini, a former Phillies All-Star second baseman, began his pro coaching career as manager of the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters in 2011 and was the skipper at Lakewood the past two years.  Legg was the BlueClaws' inaugural manager when the club debuted in 2001.

Additionally, Chris Truby, who was the manager of the Clearwater Threshers each of the past two seasons, is set to become the organization's minor league infield coordinator. Truby played in the majors with Houston, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Montreal.

Doug Mansolino, the Phils' previous minor league infield coordinator, will replace Mike Compton was the minor league field coordinator. Mansolino has coached 29 seasons in the pros, including years in the majors with the White Sox, Milwaukee, Detroit and Houston.

Ramon Henderson, who has spent 28 years with the Phillies as a player (1982-1989), a minor league manager and coach (1991-1997, 2009, 2013) as well as a major league coach (1998-2008), will take over as the manager of the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers. Henderson, who played in the minors as a 2nd and 3rd baseman, was the Phillies' bullpen coach for 11 years and he previously managed the team's Dominican Instructional League and Class A Martinsville.

Also, former Phillies outfielder Rob Ducey will join the staff at Double-A Reading as the team's hitting coach. The 48-year-old previously coached and scouted for several organizations, most recently with Arizona.

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.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

PhoulBallz Podcast Episode 50: Mark Leiter Jr. Talks Pitching and Memorabilia

On episode 50 of the PhoulBallz Minor League Podcast Jay and Tug are joined by Phillies pitching prospect Mark Leiter Jr., who discusses his first season as a pro, growing up in a family so ingrained in professional baseball as well as collecting autographs and memorabilia.  The guys also name Mark's newest pitch, talk about a possible Ryan Madson/Phillies return rumors, the Mummers and plenty 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