Friday, February 28, 2014

Jesse's Journal, Vol 2: Getting Veteran Advice, Compliments From Halladay

Jesse Biddle, Image- Jay Floyd
With the spring exhibition season underway, top Phillies pitching prospect Jesse Biddle took time this week to share his thoughts from inside big league spring training.

Biddle, who was the Phils' top draft choice (27th overall) in 2010, represented the organization in the MLB All-Star Futures Game last year. Now, in his first time in big league camp, Biddle looks to leave a solid impression on coaches and team brass as he targets a Major League debut this year.

This week, Biddle pitched against his Phillies teammates, as they competed in an intrasquad game. The outing wasn't very successful for the 22-year-old, but he took some positives out of surrendering hits to the likes of Ryan Howard, Ben Revere, Kevin Frandsen and others, while showing that he's capable of competing at this level but striking out Marlon Byrd and Cody Asche.

Biddle talked about the silver lining of a rough appearance, Phillies spring instructor Larry Andersen, being complimented by Roy Halladay and much more. Read ahead for our latest exclusive entry from Jesse.

On pitching against veteran players in the Phillies' intrasquad game this week-

"The experience was great. It was a pretty awesome moment. You had a guy like Ben Revere leading off, uh, Chooch batting second. That's a really cool lineup and we have a lot of really good talent, obviously. It's nice to be able to compete against those guys. Numbers wise, I gave up a few singles and some hits, but I was really happy with my ability to throw strikes and attack the zone. I left a couple pitches up to some really, really good hitters and that's what happens, so it's just a learning process."

On the feedback that some of the opposition in that game shared with him-

"I got some feedback from Ryan Howard and Kevin Frandsen, among some others guys, and, you know, they were just talking to me about some little mechanical things that they saw, that they were able to pick up on some different pitches. The kind of stuff that, you know, you have to learn those things and learn those little nuances that help you become a big league pitcher.

"It's just something to put in the back of your mind and work on in your bullpen sessions. That's things where you want to create that muscle memory. And as soon as Ryan Howard told me what he saw, that was kind of a light bulb just went off in my head and I realized that it's just me switching a little bit of my mentality on the mound and being able to kind of getting me back in line."

On prospect rankings and high levels of expectations for what his ceiling is as a pitcher-

"No one's ever going to have higher expectations of me than myself. The bar I set for myself every year is way beyond what anybody else is going to set for me, so I don't worry about what publications are saying, or anything like that. I don't really see any of that, aside from the occasional person posting something on Twitter. But, it's really not important to me. There's so many guys around baseball...who can really play, so to be able to be compared among them and be able to kind of hold my ground, it's pretty cool. But at the end of the day, none of that really matters once you get inside the lines. When push comes to shove, you've got to just throw strikes and get outs."

Thoughts on Roy Halladay stating to reporters that he was impressed with Biddle's abilities-

"I mean that's a compliment that I definitely- that I'm really honored by. You know, he's a Hall of Fame pitcher and he came up to me and he told me that he really likes the way I throw the ball and he thinks my stuff is really good. That's a huge confidence booster. That's something that I definitely was really honored by and humbled by and it meant a lot to me. But, once again, Roy Halladay could tell me that my stuff is great, but it doesn't really help me out once I get between the lines. That's not really gonna get me to the big leagues. That's just a confidence booster that I need to use to get better every day."

Speaking on former Phillies pitcher and current radio broadcaster Larry Andersen helping out the young players as an instructor during spring training-

"LA is awesome. He's awesome. He is definitely a guy we love having at camp. He really, I mean, he was talking to me about some mechanical things, just how important it is- he really stresses getting the ball down in the zone. And he was just talking about the difference between throwing a fastball and change up and some little nuances here and there. LA is just the funniest guy. He's always got a joke. He's always got something to lighten the mood and he's somebody that you really look forward to seeing during the day."

On the impressions that guys like Andersen, Mickey Morandini, Larry Bowa and others, who have been to the World Series with the Phillies, leave on the team in camp-

"I think that there's a sense of, you know, and it's also true for guys like Hamels, Utley, Rollins guys who have already won a World Series, there's a sense of we want to win and we want to win now. And that's something that you're expected to do in the Phillies organization. With the success that they've had with the '93 team and 2008, there's a sense of wanting to win and wanting to win as soon as we can. There's not really, you know, nobody wants to wait. Nobody's trying to rebuild the team. There's a whole lot of talent in the club house and a whole lot of guys who want to win."

Thoughts on how wins and losses don't particularly matter in spring training-

"As a team, it's just about getting better and working on stuff. If you go out there and you pound the zone and you throw a lot of strikes and you give up a bunch of jam shot singles and an occasional double that goes down the line and you give up three or four runs, but that day you did your job, you threw good pitches, you got outs, well, you can chalk that up to success. You know, maybe you were working on your change up or something like that. You're always working on something new in spring training. So, there's really no worry about wins/losses and things like that. As long as you're getting better and as long as you're working on the stuff they want you to work on, then that's all you can ask for at the end of the day."

Sharing details on some loved ones planning to view him live, in action this spring-

"Well, my girlfriend actually got down (on Thursday). And my brother's coming down in a couple days. My parents are coming down in a couple days and then a couple of my friends are coming down too, so I'm pretty excited about all that. You know, I think they're just using me as an excuse to get out of the cold, but whatever it takes, it's always nice to have people support you."

To read the initial Jesse's Journal post, click HERE.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #7 SS Roman Quinn

Roman Quinn, Image- Tug Haines
Selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft out of Port St. Joe High School, speedster Roman Quinn was immediately a prospect that many thought would be on a fast track upward in the Phillies system. Hampered by injuries last year, it could be a difficult road back for the athletic shortstop.

Listed at five feet ten inches tall and weighing 170 pounds, Quinn showed great improvement during his first year as a pro. After signing late, he did not play in his first official minor league game until 2012. With short-season Class A Williamsport, Quinn sported a .281 average with nine doubles, a league-leading 11 triples, one homer and 23 RBI while swiping 30 bases in 36 opportunities.

Those excellent offensive efforts came while learning to switch hit and adapting to a defensive switch to the infield after playing mostly outfield in high school.

Comfort was a big factor for Quinn in 2013, according to his Class A Lakewood coaches, who saw things get easier for him at the plate as the season went on. Quinn opened last season as a 19-year-old. He got off to a rough start, batting .202 with a .556 OPS in 22 April games. In May, things began to look up offensively for Quinn as he tallied a .304 average with an .874 OPS in 26 contests. His season would not last much longer, as the Florida resident was hit by a pitch that resulted in a broken left wrist in June.

He wrapped up his 2013 BlueClaws campaign sporting a .238 average with seven doubles, three triples, five home runs and 32 stolen bases in 41 chances through 67 games.

Unable to compete in the Florida Instructional League, due to the slow healing wrist, Quinn continued to work out and suffered a ruptured right Achilles while running sprints in the autumn. Surgery to repair the issue came soon afterward and Quinn is expected to miss the majority of the upcoming season.

Quinn, who is a natural right-handed batter, displays gap power from both sides, as he strives to improve his switch-hitting ability. Quinn's walk rate (9.1% in two pro seasons) has been quite good, considering his age and other hurdles. As his experience increases, so should his ability to draw free passes. His strike out rate (20.6% as a pro) is evidence there's room for improvement with making contact, which the Phillies are confident will come as Quinn gets more pro at bats.

At the plate, Quinn has also worked steadily on improving his skills at bunting, which could be a big tool for him going forward, based on his quickness.

On the bases, Quinn was among the fastest players in the minor leagues prior to his Achilles injury. He was regularly praised for his skills at beating out grounders for hits, stealing bases with ease and taking extra bases where others would not be able to. Quinn told me during an interview this off-season that he has no worries about the recovery process or the ailment possibly having a lengthy impact on his career. He's focused on rehabbing and training toward a full recovery.

Defensively, Quinn has a strong arm and has shown considerable improvement with the glove and throwing accuracy as he has progressed in the developmental ranks. At times, frustration has gotten the best of Quinn, who has steadily battled with focus while changing positions and he has seen one error snowball into multiple errors in games on occasion. Some scouts project that Quinn will return to the outfield, especially with another fast-rising shortstop prospect, last year's top pick by the Phils, J.P. Crawford, now in the mix.

Playing under former Phillies All-Star Mickey Morandini, who managed Lakewood last season, was very helpful in allowing Quinn to develop his defensive mindset and adjust to the infield, according to Quinn.

The 20-year-old possesses the raw tools to potentially be an impact player in the big leagues one day and would likely spend time back at Lakewood in the latter portion of the 2014 season, if his recovery goes well. Quinn is already ahead of schedule and is targeting late-June or early-July for a return to game action.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #8 RHP Kenny Giles

With a fastball that is regularly clocked at 100 MPH, right-handed pitcher Ken Giles has garnered increased attention since joining the Phillies' organization and is primed to be a fast moving prospect that could make an impact on the big leagues in the near future.

Selected in the 7th round of the 2011 amateur draft out of Yavapai (Junior) College, although he was committed to transferring to Arizona at the time, Giles began his professional career with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies that year. After facing a difficult decision to turn pro and leave college behind, Giles struck out seven batters in 4 2/3 innings over three outings with the GCL team. Prior to making his debut in the minors, Giles, a big-time strike out artist, notched 67 strike outs in 38 innings during the 2011 college season.

Giles began the 2012 season with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws where he went 3-3 with five saves, a 3.61 ERA and a .215 batting average against in 29 outings (six starts). Giles was promoted to Class A Advanced Clearwater in July and proceeded to pitch exclusively as a reliever for the Threshers, going 1-0 with three saves, a 3.07 ERA and a .183 batting average against in 10 appearances. Combined at those two levels, Giles sported a 12.18 K/9 mark

Last year, Giles was limited after dealing with two separate oblique strains (one on each side). In just 24 appearances with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, Giles sported a 2-2 record with six saves and a 6.31 ERA. While his typical ability to overpower batters was on display in the Florida State League (11.92 K/9), his walks were up (to 6.66 BB/9 from 5.49 BB/9 a year earlier) as he battled to recover from his health concerns.

The Phillies would have liked to see Giles sport tidier numbers so they could have moved him up to Double-A ball for a stretch before the 2013 campaign was complete, but that didn't happen. Instead, he was assigned to pitch in the highly competitive Arizona Fall League following the regular season, where he continued to impress with his triple-digit velocity.

With Peoria in the AFL, Giles made 10 appearances, recording no decisions, notching three saves and tallying a 5.23 ERA. In 10 2/3 innings the New Mexico resident struck out 16 and walked eight. Aside from a lone poor outing (six earned runs without recording an out) Giles was not scored upon in the AFL.

The outstanding velocity is clearly what makes Giles stand out, but team personnel also very much admire his aggressive style and the manner in which he goes after opposing batters with a drive that shows he can't wait to notch his next out.

The highly competitive Giles shows flashes of being a complete hurler, using his full six-foot-two 190-pound frame to finish his pitches. He'll need to continue the exemplary mechanics and avoid any regression toward solely using his power arm to throw the ball toward the catcher's mitt if he is to reach the big leagues and maintain good health.

His repertoire features that impressive fastball that's earning him so many accolades and a quality slider that compliments his heat well. Considering the type of role Giles has filled in previous seasons and the duties he is expected to take on going forward, those two pitches will be all that he needs to stand out as he continues to ascend toward the big leagues.

A career ground ball rate of 36.5% is an area that likely won't improve much, based on his menu of offerings, but combined with a strike out rate of 12.18%, that may not be too hard to live with for Giles and the Phillies.

The walk rate for Giles is certainly something he'll want to improve, as the 23-year-old has averaged a 14.1% mark in three pro seasons.

It seems likely that Giles, who is currently in spring training with the big league squad, will start the 2014 season with Double-A Reading, where he'd take on some closing duties. The ceiling for this talented hurler is as a back-end big league reliever. His health and ability to display control will determine how quickly he gets that opportunity.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #9 OF Carlos Tocci

Carlos Tocci, Image- Tug Haines
Outfielder Carlos Tocci was signed by the Phillies for a reported signing bonus of $759,000 in the summer of 2011 on his 16th birthday. Since that time, many have raved about the teen's talent and he's done his best to live up to the hype.

A native of Maracay, VZ, Tocci participated in the Florida Instructional League after he signed his first professional contract, but made his official minor league debut in 2012 as a member of the Gulf Coast League Phillies.

His ability to compete with older players is definitely something that has Tocci standing out in the eyes of coaches, scouts and fans alike. In 2012, the righty batting "Toch" posted a .278 average with two doubles and nine RBI in 38 contests in the GCL, with all but one of his games played before his 17th birthday. He described the competition there as easy and the pitchers as predictable.

The following year, Tocci found his opposition to be improved and tougher to handle. He continued to impress as he made the opening day roster for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws and stayed on their roster for the entire season, but his statistics weren't great.

Playing north of Florida for the first time in his life, Tocci struggled in the early going, posting a .192 average in 22 games in the northeast's cool April weather. As the spring season took shape, Tocci's batting average would see a nice boost along with the temperatures, as he hit .269 in 27 May games. The summer heat didn't keep his production going, however, as overall in 118 games for the 'Claws, Tocci put together an unimpressive .209/.261/.249 offensive line.

Despite those troubling numbers, the organization was still pleased with his efforts, as he never appeared overwhelmed as the youngest player in the league. Tocci has drawn attention for possessing great instincts at the plate. He has quick hands, shows a solid ability to get the barrel of his bat to the ball and can hit to all fields.

The six-foot-two 170-pounder has developed a reputation for being too skinny and needing to add muscle. Coaches and team execs regularly cite the promise that Tocci has and speak of looking forward to when he develops increased upper body strength. He already has gap power, but hasn't forced any balls to leave the yard in two seasons in the minors.

Tocci is often praised for his maturity and focus on making necessary adjustments. In an interview with me last summer, Tocci, who grew up admiring big league slugger Miguel Cabrera, asserted that another highly regarded Phillies prospect, shortstop Roman Quinn, helped him progress last year. The two would regularly discuss opposing pitchers and set up an offensive game plan prior to contests while they were teammates with Lakewood.

On defense, Tocci, who turned 18 in late August, has excellent range and glides to the ball, easily covering a lot of ground to track down fly balls. With 10 outfield assists in 2013, he's got a very good arm that can keep brazen runners from taking extra bags. Tocci has been strictly a center fielder during his time in the minors, playing just one GCL game in left field.

On the bases, Tocci is very quick and will be a stolen base threat as he moves upward in the developmental ranks, despite not being very successful (six steals in 13 chances) in stolen base attempts last year. He's capable of taking advantage of weak-armed outfielders and grabbing extra bases when opportunities arise.

It seems suitable that Tocci would repeat a season in the South Atlantic League with Lakewood this year. The additional exposure to that level would be the best thing for him at this stage.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Minor League Coaching Changes Announced

MinorsLogoPhillies beat writers reported news via Twitter today (here, here and here), stating that Ramon Henderson, who was set to begin his first season managing Class A Advanced Clearwater this year, has left the team due to personal reasons. To fill the void, the Phils have assigned Class A short-season manager Nelson Prada to take over as skipper for the Thresers.

Replacing Prada with the Crosscutters of the New-York Penn League will be Shawn Williams, the 30-year-old son of former big league manager and Phillies coach Jimy Williams. Williamsport will now have a void to fill at hitting coach, as Williams was previously slated for that job.

After a stretch of more than a decade as a major league coach for the Phillies and a demotion to the minors in 2009, Henderson was fired for reasons that were reportedly alcohol abuse related. He returned to the organization in a coaching capacity with the Gulf Coast League Phillies last year. Henderson played in the Phils' developmental system as an infielder for eight seasons during the 1980's.

Prada, who turns 38-years-old today, played four years in the minors as a catcher. He joined the Phillies organization last season after managing Class A Beloit (Twins affiliate at that time) of the Midwest League for five seasons.

Clearwater has been managed by former big leaguer Chris Truby for each of the past two seasons. Truby was reassigned as the Phils' minor league infield coordinator this off-season.

Prospect Nation 2014: #10 RHP Severino Gonzalez

Right-handed pitcher Severino Gonzalez had a breakout season in the Phillies' system last year, putting himself on the map as a rising star in the team's developmental ranks. The Panama native had previously not pitched above the Venezuelan Summer League, but truly excelled pitching in the United States for the first time in 2013.

After signing with the Phillies as an amateur free agent in 2011, Gonzalez made his pro debut that same year in the VSL, putting together a 1-1 record with a save and a 2.11 ERA in 17 games as a reliever. The following season in the same league, Gonzalez tallied a 7-3 record and a league best 1.65 ERA in 14 starts. He also led the league in strike outs (86), innings pitched (92 2/3) and complete games (two).

In 2013, at the age of 20, Gonzalez came to the United States for his very first spring training and showed no great issues when dealing with the cultural change. He was able to bond with countryman Carlos Ruiz, who was serving a drug suspension at extended spring training which helped Gonzalez adapt. His comfort level was clear, as he was impressive enough to earn a spot with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers by early May and shined brightly in the months that followed.

Through his first 11 outings in the Florida State League, Gonzalez sported video game numbers, allowing just one earned run in 26 1/3 innings while striking out 32 and issuing just two free passes. A rough appearance (four earned runs in one inning) on June 22nd was followed by a demotion to Class A Lakewood, which was designed to get Gonzalez into a starting role.

With Lakewood, Gonzalez continued to dominate, going 3-0 with 1.69 ERA while striking out 31 and walking three in 21 1/3 innings over four starts.

After a return to Clearwater, during which he sported a 2.23 ERA in eight starts, Gonzalez closed out the season with a start on Labor Day for Double-A Reading, allowing two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out six and allowed no walks in that game.

Gonzalez's exceptional season saw him post 7-5 record, a 2.00 ERA, a .224 batting average against along with his 10.33 K/9 and his 1.91 BB/9 combined at three levels. For his efforts, the youngster was named as the Phillies' Paul Owens Award winner, an honor given to the top minor league pitcher and position player in the organization each year.

Control is Gonzalez's top skill. The 21-year-old possesses a very strong command of his pitches. Coaches love his ability to consistently throw the ball where he wants it and they are impressed with the way he attacks opposing batters and pounds the zone inside. He also has great mindset on the mound which comes across in the manner in which he confidently mixes his pitches.

His repertoire features fastball that often sits in the low 90's, a quality cutter, a strong change up that fools batters and a curve ball that coaches saw great improvement in last year. His ability to throw all four offerings steadily for strikes is certainly a plus for Gonzalez and the menu keeps batters guessing, which improves the impact of his fastball.

Ideally, the Phillies and their fans would like to see the six-foot-two 155-pounder add some muscle. A more developed frame could add some MPH's to the fastball, which isn't overly impressive in it's current state. Increased velocity would help in the long run for sure.

Gonzalez is loaded with promise at this stage. He'll very likely get more time with Reading in the Eastern League in the coming season. Need may determine what role he fills in 2014, but I feel as though the future for Gonzalez is in the bullpen with a ceiling as a big league reliever.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Jesse's Journal: Prospect Biddle Talks About Big League Camp

Jesse Biddle, Image- Jay Floyd
Left-handed hurler Jesse Biddle, who has become one of the Phillies' prized prospects since he was taken as their top draft choice (27th overall) in 2010 out of Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, is in Clearwater, FL, taking part Major League spring training for the very first time.

Biddle, 22, was an Eastern League All-Star last year, when he posted a 5-14 record along with a 3.64 ERA, a 10.01 K/9 mark and a .210 batting average against in 27 starts for the Double-A Reading Fightins.

As the new season approaches and the six-foot-five 235-pounder strives to impress Phillies brass and coaches among a collection of talented and experienced hurlers, Biddle will be checking in each week to offer his thoughts from inside camp. Read ahead for the first edition of Jesse's Journals.

Describing his initial thoughts on his first big league spring training-

"It's been amazing. It's been really fun. They treat you really well, obviously, in big league camp. I mean, I'm just learning a lot from some really talented players and some guys that have been around the game a long time."

On getting time to learn from the likes of Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay-

"I've been around Cliff a pretty decent amount on the field, just kind of watching the way he goes about his business. It's really fun to be a part of. It's fun to watch somebody who has done so much in the game and had so much success and kind of what he does to have that success. And then Roy Halladay, I mean I've been able to talk to him just a little bit. Kind of got to bounce some questions off him and, obviously, he's another guy that he has a chance to be a Hall of Famer. He's a pretty- he's done a whole lot of good in this game and he's an incredible role model."

Impressions of Halladay's transition into the tasks involved with instructing rather than competing-

"I'm not really in his head or anything, but it seems to me like he's pretty happy with the transition. You know, he seems like he made the right decision and he's sticking by it. I don't know whether or not he's going to get the itch to play again. I'm not really sure. He's a competitor. But, he pushed his body to the limit for a long time and he was a workhorse for a very long time in the big league and what he was able to accomplish was pretty awesome."

On the types of insight or advice that Lee and Halladay are able to share-

"For me most of my conversations with Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay have been mostly about the mental side of the game, um, some of the nuances that they've kind of picked up on. And then kind of just me asking them what it takes to be successful and then a lot of the discussions have been about how they prepare themselves mentally for, and in between, every pitch."

Details on his daily routine at the ballpark-

"My time at the ballpark is usually...right now, it's about 6 AM till about 1 or 1:30 PM. And, I just come in and do some running with David Buchanan. We like to get in early and work. We get in and there's a lot of condition prep, a lot of getting ready for the day and a lot of pre-stretching. There's a whole routine for us. You know, I'll have a big breakfast and then once you get out on the field, you got your (pitchers fielding practice), you got your bullpen session and, for the most part, you're out on the field for a while. Whether it's running, PFP, playing catch, stretching. There's a lot of stuff to do during the day. The things about big league camp is that everything is very fast. Everything is very quick and it's over. I think that's the way they like to run it and it's a lot of fun. It's just a little confusing at first. You gotta know where you're going, so I just follow Cliff."

Differences between big league camp and minor league spring training-

"I think the big difference is the emphasis in big league camp is winning ball games. The emphasis in minor league camp is kind of progressing and getting better. And, obviously, the major leagues is about getting better as well, but at the end of the day, what it comes down to is what it takes to win ball games and what it takes to win a World Series for the city of Philadelphia. Those are the big things. So, it's a little bit more business oriented. It's fun to be around. It's a nice change of pace. I'm just really trying to pick up on the little things."

Thoughts on the Phils' new pitching coach Bob McClure-

"Well, I like the way he approaches the game. He's got a pretty simple approach, but he really stresses a lot of key points and things for me that I like to focus on. I mean, one of the big things is keeping the ball down in the zone and he stresses that very heavily. That's a big part of my game that can keep me more consistent. I like the way he coaches. He's very player friendly. He's very open to questions and, you know, he was just a really friendly nice guy and you can't really ask for anything more out of a coach."

Details on his spring training roommates and what he's up to in his free time-

"Me, Mario Hollands, Zach Collier and David Buchanan all have a house together. It's pretty awesome. We've been playing some pretty hardcore ping pong and it's getting very, very serious in this house. We've got a big living room with a ping pong table and it's getting pretty real. Buchanan is kind of the resident pro, but we're catching him."

Check back in the coming weeks for more from Jesse.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #11 LHP Adam Morgan

Drafted in the third round in 2011 out of the University of Alabama, left-hander Adam Morgan quickly made an impact in the Phillies' system upon debuting as a pro.  However, a shoulder injury last year that kept him out of action for a lengthy stretch and resulted in off-season surgery has reduced his value as a prospect in the eyes of many.

In 2011, Morgan looked great, tallying a 3-3 record with a 2.01 ERA and a .206 batting average against in 11 starts as a member of the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters.

Morgan would go on to skip full season Class A Lakewood and began the 2012 season with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers.  In the Florida State League, the Marietta, GA native tallied a 4-10 record with a 3.29 ERA and was named a mid-season All-Star. he earned a promotion to Double-A Reading after July and helped them reach the Eastern League playoffs, posting a 4-1 record along with a 3.53 ERA in six regular season starts.

Last season with the IronPigs, after eight outings, Morgan had a 1-4 record along with a 4.97 ERA and a .283 batting average against when he experienced shoulder discomfort and went out of action.  Following some time on the shelf and a pair of rehab appearances with the Gulf Coast League Phillies, Morgan posted an outstanding 1.59 ERA through his first seven starts after returning to the Lehigh Valley rotation, before he wrapped up his season with a troubling outing in which he allowed four earned runs in 1 1/3 innings.

Morgan's time working through physical rehab led to the discovery of what he described to me as "some hitches" that weren't helping him maintain a healthy throwing shoulder, so minor adjustments were made to his mechanics to improve his approach on the mound. 

After beginning an off-season throwing program late last year, a physical setback that popped up and further evaluation from Phillies team doctors led to surgery to repair his left shoulder.  The team expects Morgan to miss the majority of the 2014 season.

Despite the missed time and the injury, Morgan, who turns 24 years old before the end of this month, sees the positives from his 2013 season, having started his second full season in the minors at the Triple-A level and proving that he could compete at that level in the International League against some very talented prospects and plenty of players that have big league service time.

IronPigs manager Dave Brundage agrees that Morgan benefited a considerable amount from last season, pointing out to me late last season that the lessons of learning how to pitch without being at full strength and without your best stuff as well as what it takes to come back from injuries will help the youngster in the long run.

A solid ability to locate his pitches enables Morgan to get ahead of the opposition, although working around some shortcomings with his shoulder health last year resulted in a spike in his walk rate from 6.2% in 2012 to 7.3% in 2013.

Morgan also saw a drop in his K/9 mark last year, striking out 6.55 per nine innings, while he previously averaged a remarkable 10.29 strike outs per nine innings a year prior.

A very goal oriented individual, Morgan views his father, Wiley, as his hero.  Dating back to 5th grade, Adam wanted to be just like the elder Morgan and proclaimed at a young age that he would some day pitch for Alabama, just like his father had done. Showing with that achievement that he can do whatever he sets his mind to, Morgan has barely started accomplishing everything he wishes to do on the baseball diamond.

Morgan sports a repertoire that includes a solid low-90's fastball which features nice movement, a great change up that scouts have raved about, an excellent slider that he uses to attack opposing batters when he is ahead in the count and a curve ball that he's made some improvements with. 

Physically, Morgan, who stands six-foot-one and weighs 195 pounds, doesn't project to change much.  Skills wise, the talented hurler may have a ceiling as a back-end big league starter.  

Once Morgan is ready to return to the mound, which should occur before the end of the regular season if things progress well, expect him to get some rehab appearances with the rookie level GCL team or the Threshers to allow him to stay under the close supervision of Phillies trainers and staff in Clearwater.  Once his full health is established, a return to Triple-A would be suitable.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

PhoulBallz Podcast Episode 53: Pro Wrestler Joey Ryan Interview, Remembering Fregosi

On episode 53 of the PhoulBallz Minor League Podcast, Jay interviews pro wrestling superstar Joey Ryan, who chats about independent wrestling, his try out for the WWE, his time with TNA, being a finalist for the MLB Fan Cave as well as his beloved LA Angels. Tug and Jay also remember former Phils manager and Angels legend Jim Fregosi and chat about the Phillies' pitching staff for the coming season plus much more.

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

You can also check out previous episodes and subscribe on iTunes

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #12 3B Zach Green

Zach Green, Image- TriCity ValleyCats
Third baseman Zach Green became one of the Phillies' emerging impact prospects last year in his first full season of professional ball. A 3rd round draft choice from 2012, the 19-year-old stood out as a rising star last year and looked to have a very bright future in his first full professional season.

Upon signing his first pro contract, the righty batting slugger quickly showed his skills with the bat as he sported a .284 average with 13 doubles, a triple and three home runs for the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2012. Green had been committed to playing baseball at Oregon State prior to the MLB draft.

With a body type that is prototypical of a corner infielder at six-foot-three 210 pounds, coaches and scouts speak highly of Green's raw power. The California resident represented the Class A short-season Williamsport Crosscutters in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game last year, winning the league's annual home run derby. With the Cutters, Green batted .252 with 20 doubles (league lead, tie), a triple, 13 homers (league leader) and 41 RBI.

Green is toward the bottom of a growing depth chart at the hot corner for the Phillies. Behind developing stars such as Cody Asche and Maikel Franco as well as prospect Mitch Walding who had a lackluster 2013 season with Class A Lakewood, Green hopes to continue to excel and climb toward his ultimate goal of playing in the big leagues.

Having played shortstop at Jesuit High School (CA), where he batted .403 in his varsity career, the athletic Green was moved to third base after turning pro and has been very capable at the position. The strong armed, accurate throwing youngster has nice range and quick reflexes. It is possible that as Green ages and adds pounds that he could change positions, which he would welcome if it helped him get to the big leagues. His passion for the game is clear as Green simply wishes to play and hit at progressing levels and doesn't worry about his defensive assignment..

Speed is not a big factor of Green's game, but it's not a hindrance either. Successful in 10 of 17 stolen base attempts in the minors, fans should not expect a great amount of steals from Green, though he's got the type legs that could help him go first-to-third and take an extra base when the chance presents itself.

It's likely that Green will begin his 2014 campaign with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws. It will be interesting to see how his power performs at Lakewood's home field, FirstEnergy Park, which is typically favorable to pitchers. Williamsport's Bowman Field, where Green tallied nine homers last season in 36 contests, plays the same way, so look for big offense from this soon-to-be 20-year-old this year in the Sally League.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown. 


Monday, February 10, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #13 OF Aaron Altherr

Aaron Altherr has long been praised for his on-field skills and this upcoming season may provide the evidence that many are looking for to see if he truly has what it takes to be a top prospect.

A righty hitting outfielder that stands six-foot-five and weighs around 195 pounds, Altherr was selected by the Phillies in the 9th round of the 2009 draft and debuted as a pro that year with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies.  In 28 games there, he batted .214 with a homer and 11 RBI while swiping six bags.

The following year, he spent time with the GCL team and earned a promotion to the Class A short-season Williamsport Crosscutters.  In 55 total games in 2010, Altherr batted .297 with a home run, 25 RBI and 12 stolen bases. 

In 2011, Altherr began the season with Class A full season Lakewood, where he struggled as a 20-year-old, posting a .211/.272/.272 line in 41 games.  The concerning output got Altherr demoted, but he bounced back in a return to Williamsport, earning himself a spot as a New York-Penn League All-Star.  His .260 average with five home runs, 31 RBI and 25 steals in 71 games were impressive.

Returning to Lakewood in 2012, Altherr showed that he could handle that level and became one of the club's most dependable offensive threats, batting .252 with 27 doubles, six triples, eight home runs, 50 RBI and 25 stolen bases in 110 games.  

Recognized as an All-Star with the Class A advanced Clearwater Threshers last year, the youngster sported a .275 average with 36 doubles, six triples, 12 homers, 69 RBI and 23 stolen bases.  Altherr's approach at the plate was clearly improved as the season went on as well in 2013, showing an ability to be selective and draw walks.  His career high OPS of .792 showed progress with the bat as well.

This past off-season, Altherr would play for Peoria in the highly competitive Arizona Fall League.  In 12 games there, the Arizona resident tallied a .200 batting average with three doubles, three RBI and two steals.

Pitch recognition will be an area that Altherr must focus on, as it is for many minor league batters.  His strike out rate of 26.6% with Clearwater last year was nearly five full percentage points higher than his mark the previous season.  That trend has to improve. 

Born in Germany to a military family, Altherr, who is a self-described contact hitter, drives the ball to the gaps and loves to cause trouble for the other team on the bases.  Altherr is very quick and is a steady stolen base threat.  He sports an outstanding 83% success rate in steal attempts over the past three seasons.

Having played shortstop at Agua Fria High School in Arizona, the Phillies considered switching Altherr to third base in 2011, and he worked out there, but the move didn't stick and he returned to the outfield.

On defense, Altherr has very good instincts and glides to the ball with superior range.  His arm keeps aggressive runners honest.  Altherr's time in the field last season was split between center field and left field, although he's played several games in right field in the minors as well.

The 23-year-old may be primed to be the breakout prospect that helps the organization discontinue its trouble with high-ceiling "toolsy" types that haven't locked themselves in as quality prospects.

His tools (speed, athleticism, power) will be what makes Altherr a contributor for the Double-A Reading Fightin Phillies, as the organization expects to assign him there to begin the 2014 season.  There, in the Eastern league, Altherr will be tested and get the chance to compete against the type of talent that presented quite a challenge for him in the AFL last autumn.  He'll be playing at the level that often separates the men from the boys, as the saying goes, and Altherr will welcome the challenge.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #14 RHP Shane Watson

Shane Watson, Image- Jay Floyd
Despite having a difficult stretch of health concerns since he signed his first pro contract Shane Watson, has proven himself to have the potential that made him the Phillies' top draft choice in 2012.

Although he was committed to pitch for the University of Southern California, Watson signed his first pro contract, reportedly worth $1.3 Million, and later debuted with the Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2012. Pitching no more than two innings per outing, Watson tallied a 0-1 record with a 1.29 ERA over seven appearances. Additionally, he recorded eight strike outs while walking only one in seven innings of work.

Action in the GCL was limited for Watson, as the youngster learned that he was diabetic after turning. Faced with a mystery illness and drastic weight loss, Watson saw physicians in Florida and was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which, when addressed and treated, is certainly manageable for a professional athlete.

Bouncing back the following year, the six-foot-four 200-pounder posted a 4-6 record with a 4.75 ERA and a 6.63 K/9 mark in 16 starts with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws. By early July, though, Watson was sidelined with a shoulder strain that was later diagnosed as an enlarged capsule and required off-season surgery.

Improvements were made over the course of his abbreviated 2013 season. As a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League, Watson had a 6.35 ERA in his first 12 starts then wrapped up his campaign with a 0.86 ERA over what ended up being his final four outings of the year.

Watson, the 40th overall pick in the 2012 draft, sports a pitch repertoire that includes a low-to-mid-90's fastball, a curve ball with great movement, a developing change up with a nice drop off in velocity and a solid cutter.

Control is generally a positive for Watson, who has a walk rate of 8.6% in his young pro career thus far. Additionally, his 47.7% ground ball rate is very encouraging.

Watson, who turned 20 years old in August, wasn’t the first player selected by the Phillies out of California's Lakewood High School. Travis d’Arnaud, who played with Shane’s older brother, Scott, was the Phillies’ 1st round selection (37th overall) in 2007 out of the same school. Watson also was not the last Phils top draft choice from LHS, as his childhood friend J.P. Crawford was taken with the 16th overall selection last year.

It was the compensation pick that the Phillies got for losing Ryan Madson to free agency that enabled them to draft Watson, who is compared to Brett Myers at times. His ceiling could be big league ace if progress goes as the Phillies hope it will.

The time frame for a return to action for the determined Watson is not clear. According to reports, it could be August before he takes the mound, but in an interview with me this past December, Watson stated that doctors informed him the recovery time would be just three months total, if things go well. It's likely that Watson gets some time back with the BlueClaws once his recovery is complete.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #15 LHP Yoel Mecias

Yoel Mecias, Image- Tug Haines
Despite having his 2013 campaign shortened due to a severe elbow injury, Venezuelan born hurler Yoel Mecias made a name for himself as a notable prospect in the Phillies system last year. The lefty, who turned 20 years old this off-season, underwent Tommy John surgery in June after an impressive stint with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws.

Signed as an amateur free agent in December 2010, Mecias made his pro debut with the Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2012, tallying a 0-2 record with two saves and a 2.16 ERA in 14 games (four starts). In his 10 relief outings, Mecias sported a 1.90 ERA. Overall, he struck out 34 batters and walked 11 in 41 2/3 innings that year after some time in extended spring training.

Mecias also made an appearance for Aragua of the Venezuelan Winter League in 2012 as well.

In 13 games (11 starts) with Lakewood last season, Mecias posted a 4-3 record and a 3.79 ERA along with an 11.05 K/9 mark. His efforts were enough to gain him recognition as a South Atlantic League All-Star. He was also honored as the Phillies' minor league pitcher of the month in May when he posted a 3-1 record and a 1.50 ERA over six starts.

With an eye on his pitch count, Mecias was permitted to pitch longer than five innings just twice last year. The cautious approach didn't have great results, of course, as the youngster experienced trouble with his elbow and required reconstructive surgery on his ulnar collateral ligament.

Equipped with a fastball that ranges in the high 80's to low 90's and an already Major League ready change up, Mecias will look to upgrade his breaking pitch, a slider, that will need some improvement as he climbs the developmental ladder.

At six-foot-two and 160 pounds, Mecias possesses a small frame. He projects to fill out a bit and add muscle, which would increase is stamina along with his velocity.

It's possible Mecias ends up as a reliever in the long run, but organizational coaches view him as a big league starter in the future. His progress will certainly determine what his role will be.

Mecias is going to spend much of this coming season rehabbing his throwing elbow but could possibly be on the mound by mid-summer. Former Phillies prospect Carlos Carrasco underwent Tommy John surgery and returned to game action in under a year when he appeared in rehab games with Double-A Akron in the Eastern League playoffs in September 2012.

When Mecias is ready to appear in official games it'll likely be for the GCL team, so he can pitch under the watchful eyes of Phils trainers in Clearwater, but a return to Lakewood could be on tap for this year as well, once he's 100 percent, if his recovery goes well.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

PhoulBallz Podcast Episode 52: Schilling Cancer News, Joe Giglio Talks Phils

It's the 52nd edition of the PhoulBallz Minor League Podcast! On this installment, Tug and Jay welcome sports talk host and Bleacher Report baseball writer Joe Giglio who discusses the state of the Phillies, new manager Ryne Sandberg and the team's lackluster off-season. Additionally, the guys chat about Curt Schilling's cancer diagnosis and the speculation that old Veterans Stadium may have played some part in a growing list of Phillies who have dealt with the disease. Roman Quinn's recovery from Achilles surgery and CZW's 15th anniversary show are also topics on this episode.

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

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014: #16 Catcher Cameron Rupp

Cameron Rupp, Image- Jay Floyd
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft, catcher Cameron Rupp has steadily been an improving prospect for the Phillies. After debuting in the big leagues last year, the 25-year-old has certainly proven himself as a talented backstop that could have quite a career ahead.

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

The following season, 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 the BlueClaws' coaching staff, 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 was honored as a Florida State League All-Star in 2012, posting a .267 average with 10 homers and 49 RBI in 104 games for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers.

The 2013 season saw Rupp open the regular season with Double-A Reading, where he split time behind the plate with Sebastian Valle. In 41 games there, Rupp sported a .245 batting average with six doubles, eight homers and 21 RBI. By early June, the youngster earned a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he tallied a .269 average with 10 doubles, six homers and 24 RBI in 53 games.

When September rolled around, the Phillies promoted Rupp once more, having him join the big league team as a late season call-up. In four games there, Rupp was 4-for-13 (.308 avg) with a double and two RBI. His longest pro season to date was then extended even longer as Rupp was assigned to the Arizona Fall League where he batted .278 with four doubles, a triple, a home run and six RBI through 14 games with Peoria.

At the plate, Rupp's bat has shown increasing power during his time in the minors. His .740 career OPS leaves room for improvement, but he has shown an increase in homers each season in the pro ranks and is capable of driving the ball to the gaps.

Rupp's strike out rate in 2013 of 25.6% was up a hefty amount from his 19.8 mark the season before. Additionally, his walk rate of 6.8% last year, which fell off from 10.3% a year earlier, was a bit concerning as well. He'll need to thwart those trends to show that the right type of progress is being made on offense.

The mental aspect of the game is a strong suit for Rupp, who thrives on being the smartest baseball mind on the field. He's worked closely with coaches such as Dusty Wathan and Ernie Whitt in his career to learn how to guide his pitching staff and to detect tendencies of opposing batters. Rupp has also made an effort to pick the brain of former All-Star and World Series champ Carlos Ruiz, who welcomes all opportunities to teach the Phillies' younger talents.

Regularly praised by coaches for his work ethic on defense, his strong throwing arm, his solid footwork and especially his ability to lead, Rupp, whose father Kevin pitched in the Montreal organization during his playing days in the 1970′s, has become a complete package on that side of the game.

Speed is not a facet of Rupp's game, but a catcher that lacks great quickness is no big deal in baseball, for sure.

Look for Rupp to begin the 2014 season back in Triple-A, but if a need arises in the majors this year, he could be called upon to fill in at any time.

Click here to view the running list of this year's countdown.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Prospect Nation 2014 #17: Catcher Tommy Joseph

Tommy Joseph, Image- Jay Floyd
Acquired from San Francisco in a swap for Hunter Pence in July 2012, catcher Tommy Joseph quickly became one of the Phillies' top positional prospects. In the time since that trade, however, Joseph has struggled to produce as he has dealt with injury concerns that have prevented him from getting and staying hot.

Possessing a high ceiling bat and strong backstop skills, Joseph is still a prospect that could make a big splash in the Phils system if his health allows him to stay on the field.

In 2009 Joseph was was drafted in the second round out of Horizon High School in Arizona. That season, he was recognized as an All-State player as he dominated opposing pitchers with his .494 average, 15 home runs and 36 RBI in 37 games played.

Upon making his professional debut the following year, the six-foot-one 215-pounder played with Class A Augusta of the South Atlantic League. In 2010, with the GreenJackets, Joseph posted a .236 average with 16 homers and 68 RBI in 117 games.

In 2011, Joseph batted .270, while slamming 22 home runs and driving in 95 runs in 127 games for Class A Advanced San Jose. Over the off-season that followed, he was ranked as San Francisco's 5th best prospect by MLB.com.

An All-Star in the Double-A Eastern League in 2012, the righty hitting Joseph tallied a .257 average with 11 home runs and 48 RBI in 108 games between Richmond and Reading. Joseph spent a month following the 2012 regular season playing in the Arizona Fall League, where he sported a .204 average with one double and five RBI in 14 games played.

Overall, Joseph, who admired All-Star catchers Mike Piazza and Jorge Posada as a child, is an aggressive batter that can really drive the ball. Having displayed impressive pop at multiple levels, Joseph entered last year with promising power potential.

The 2013 season was a tough one for Joseph, who experienced the third concussion of his career, which kept him out of action for a considerable amount of time. The 22-year-old, who began last season with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs and was sidelined after 21 games. After some time on the shelf, Joseph played several rehab games for the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies and the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers before returning to Double-A Reading in early July. The return didn't last long, as further complications from his concussion and a reported shin issue kept Joseph, who batted .179 with four doubles, three home runs and 16 RBI in 36 combined games, out of action for the remainder of the regular season.

This off-season in nine games with the Estrellas in the Dominican Winter League, Joseph batted .192 with two doubles and two RBI while striking out 10 times without a walk. His DR League numbers aren't nearly impressive, but there's certainly a silver lining coming out of Joseph's time there, as Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan has stated in recent weeks that the youngster held up under the pounding behind the plate there, taking some mask and helmet impacts with no setbacks or lasting effects.

Defensively, Joseph, who possesses a top notch work ethic that his coaches and team officials love, is strong behind the dish and is capable of leading a pitching staff. He also has a solid ability to keep the opposition's running game under control with his arm.

Joseph's skills behind the plate could be what keeps him in the big leagues, should his bat be the main tool that gets him there. However, the possibility of changing positions, likely to first base, would be considered if ever concussion issues return for the Arizona native.

On the bases, Joseph runs as a catcher would be expected to and will never be a true stolen base threat.

Joseph should see a fair amount of reps in big league spring training this year, but is probably a lock to begin this 2014 campaign back with the IronPigs once again.