Monday, September 29, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: 3rd round draft pick Aaron Brown

AaronBrownMiLB
Aaron Brown, image- MiLB.com
Prior to being selected as the Phillies' 3rd round draft pick this year, Aaron Brown was a dominant college pitcher. In 17 starts for Pepperdine in 2014, he posted a 13-1 record along with a 1.95 ERA. Brown's efforts at the plate were just as impressive, as he sported a .314 average with 13 homers, 49 RBI and a .908 OPS.

Citing his power and bat speed, the Phils see Brown's highest ceiling as an offensive player. After playing roughly two months with short-season Class A Williamsport, Brown was promoted to full season A level Lakewood to close out the season with a couple weeks remaining on the schedule. Lakewood manager Greg Legg, a baseball lifer, praised Brown's intensity and asserted that three of the hardest hits balls he saw all season were off the bat of Brown during the short time he was with the club.

In 61 games in the minors, after making his pro debut, Brown tallied a .268 average while slugging four home runs and driving in 21 runs.

Earlier this month, prior to the end of the minor league season, I spoke with Brown, who sees his own future as an outfielder, about his draft experience, how college prepared him for the pro ranks and plenty more. Read ahead for the full interview.

-What was your draft experience like this year?

It was a great experience. Just getting picked by the Phillies in the third round was pretty awesome. And then, you know, I just wanted to come out here and started learning, kind of developing as a person and as a player and so far, that's been the experience. So, it's been a lot of fun learning from the guys, playing with these guys as well and it's just been a great time so far.

-Were the Phillies among teams you expected could pick you or were they a surprise?

Yeah, they were definitely on the radar. And through my advisers, I had heard a couple things from the Phillies early on and they were always one of the teams that I knew were pretty interested in me and it turned out they called my name and it worked out pretty well.

-How did you celebrate when you got the news you were selected?

Well, for me, it was practicing at TCU before super regionals. And it was a lot of fun. I heard the news, was feeling really excited for the opportunity and just went out there and spent the rest of the day with my teammates and coaches and enjoyed that last part of the college career.

-How did playing at Pepperdine prepare you for a career in the pro ranks?

It prepared me very well. That's a great program out of southern California. The coaching staff there did a very good job of allowing me to develop as a player and, you know, just teaching me the game, the ins and outs, and I felt very prepared to come out here and compete.

-What thoughts can you share about your half season playing in Williamsport and Lakewood?

Williamsport was a great place, honestly. Just going out there and having that fan base to start, they get between 2,000 and 3,000 a game, that was a great atmosphere. I had fun there in my first couple months of pro ball, and had the opportunity to come up (to Lakewood) and play in front of 5,000 people every night is pretty sweet as well. Playing (in Lakewood) is just another step up and is part of the journey. It's been a great experience thus far.

-You mentioned your coaches in college helping you. What can you share about the coaches you've encountered with the Phillies thus far?

They've been awesome. Just very open and honest with me, allowing me to work on some things and giving me a couple tips here and there and a lot of it is the mental side of the game. Everyone here has the physical ability and the talent. But, you've got to understand the mental side of the game and that's where I've been growing the most.

-When was the first time you thought to yourself that you could possibly have a career as a professional baseball player?

Out of high school, when I was being talked to by some of the pro teams, I thought, 'Okay, this is an opportunity in front of me', so I knew that if I put my time towards it and really focused on it that I would have an opportunity. And the dream has always been to play pro ball and now, I'm here and I'm working towards it and it's been a very really experience.

-If you were asked to scout yourself, what would you say?

Very aggressive player. Loves to try to make plays. You know, just 110% all the time. Goes out, plays hard every day, loves the game, has a passion for it. That's what I would tell you.

-What players did you admire before turning pro and were they pitchers or offensive guys?

I've always been a fan of Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and just recently Mike Trout, as he's been proving what he can do at the big league level. Those are guys I admire and I try to model my game after and try to watch them and learn from them too. Those are definitely some of the guys.

I do watch Mike Trout a lot, his swing and the way he plays the outfield and I pick up things here and there and kind of make it a part of my own game. Watching him has allowed me to be a better player.

Friday, September 26, 2014

PhoulBallz Podcast Episode 71: Phillies Lefty Mario Hollands Interview

The PhoulBallz Podcast is back with episode 71. On the latest edition of the show, Tug and Jay are joined by Phillies rookie hurler Mario Hollands, who discusses his first season in the big leagues, his days in the minors, Jonathan Papelbon as a leader and plenty more. The guys also discuss the rookie campaigns of David Buchanan and Kenny Giles as well as Cole Hamels' remarkable year.

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.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Instructional League is underway, roster listed within

Fall instructional league got underway over the weekend. Instructs, as it's commonly referred to, is a month-long off-season league, generally consisting of recently drafted players and foreign signees, players that missed time due to injury, or those that participated in short-season leagues, allowing those individuals to refine their skills or add innings/at bats to their season. It also serves as an opportunity for a greater number of developmental coaches to see newly signed players and those they've not been exposed to in action.

Here's the Phillies' complete roster of players listed in attendance is listed below.

PITCHERS
Victor Arano
Kyle Bogese
Ismael Cabrera
Austin Davis
Yan De La Cruz
Elniery Garcia
Scott Harris
Matt Imhof
Carlos Indriago
Tanner Kiest
Franklyn Kilome
Brandon Leibrandt
Sam McWilliams
Adonis Medina
Aaron Nola
Chris Oliver
Felix Paulino
Ricardo Pinto
Edubray Ramos
Calvin Rayburn
Nick Rodesky
Carlos Salazar
Ranger Suarez
Jose Taveras
Josh Taylor
David Whitehead
Jason Zgardowski

CATCHERS
Joel Fisher
Deivi Grullon
Andrew Knapp
Gregori Rivero
Lenin Rodriguez

INFIELDERS
Jonathan Arauz
Willians Astudillo
Daniel Brito
Derek Campbell
J.P. Crawford
Grenny Cumana
Luis Encarnacion
Arquimedes Gamboa
Jan Hernandez
Rhys Hoskins
Emmanuel Marrero
Andrew Pullin
Drew Stankiewicz
Damek Tomscha
Jesmuel Valentin

OUTFIELDERS
Jesus Alastre
Venn Biter
Aaron Brown
Carlos Duran
Bryan Martelo
Cristian Palacios
Cord Sandberg
Jake Sweaney

The Phillies also expect to have lefty Adam Morgan see some action on the mound. The Phils' 3rd round draft choice from 2011 has been out of action since last winter after undergoing shoulder surgery. The 24-year-old sports a 13-22 record with a 3.25 ERA and an 8.33 K/9 mark in 56 professional games.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

LHP Loewen is a candidate for Phils rotation next season

Adam Loewen, image- Jay Floyd
With a considerable level of anticipation that the Phillies will experience some turnover with their pitching staff leading to next season, it feels as though fans and media alike have begun to say goodbye to certain hurlers. Who replaces those arms promises to be the focus of the team's offseason.

A candidate to fill a void in the Phillies' rotation next is former big leaguer Adam Loewen, who the Phillies acquired earlier this season as a free agent.

Loewen, a left-hander, has been to the majors twice. His initial ascension to the big leagues was as a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles after he was selected as the fourth overall draft pick in 2002, two places before Zack Greinke and three spots prior to Prince Fielder.

He last pitched in the majors in 2008 as a 24-year-old. After suffering a stress fracture in his throwing elbow, having a four-and-a-half inch long titanium screw surgically inserted into the joint and dealing with lasting complications from the ailment, it became apparent, at the time, that Loewen's pitching career was finished.

The British Columbia native would spend that following off-season working on his offense and showed enough to the Toronto Blue Jays that they offered him a contract to begin a new path to the big leagues, as a position player.

As an outfielder, Loewen again reached the top level of the sport, playing in 14 games with the Blue Jays in 2011, batting .188 with a home run and four RBI. After a couple more years in the minors trying to climb the developmental ladder with in the Mets' and Blue Jays' systems, he was told his time was up as a hitter. Last winter, however, Loewen got the itch to pitch and his career was reborn once again.

"I wanted to continue at the time, but the decision was made for me," Loewen stated. "But, I'm not bitter about it anymore. I love pitching and maybe it'll work out for the better."

Back on the mound, Loewen got some exposure in front of multiple teams. The Phillies offered him a minor league contract after the 2014 campaign began.

Loewen's return to the mound was assisted by his best friend former pro backstop and current coach Cole Armstrong, who helped with bullpen sessions and long toss programs.

The six-foot-six 235-pounder also offered credit to Double-A Reading's pitching coach for helping him get his groove back.

"Dave Lundquist and I have really been on the same page this whole time. I feel like he's really helped me with my development and getting the feel back for my pitches," Loewen explained.

Lundquist asserted that he saw loads of progress in the 30-year-old's efforts during his time with the Fightins this year.

"When he first got here, the biggest thing he needed was reps off the mound, as many as we could get him. Then he slowly but surely began getting into his natural rhythm with his release point and arm speed and spin on the baseball," Lundquist stated. "He finally started getting comfortable with everything and we saw a lot of development. He put together a lot of quality starts for us".

This season, Loewen posted a 5-5 record with a 3.25 ERA along with a 6.65 K/9 mark in 19 combined starts for Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading. He wrapped up a stretch in which he tossed nine consecutive quality starts for Reading on August 9th. Loewen tallied 2.52 ERA over his final 12 starts of the season.

While the results where what Loewen says he expected of himself, the durability of his formerly troubled arm came as a surprise. He seemed to anticipate fatigue or discomfort, but those never came. In their place were added arm strength and stamina.

Loewen is equipped with a fastball that, in the low 90's, registers a bit lower on the velocity scale than it did when he was a rising prospect that held MLB All-Stars Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira and Derrek Lee hitless in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006.

His secondary pitches are also just slightly varied from his initial run as a hurler.

"My two-seamer actually tails now rather than cuts. Everything used to cut. Now, I have a four-seamer that naturally cuts and the two-seamer I can kind of put where I want to with the fastballs going both ways," Loewen said, mentioning that he also mixes in change ups, sliders and an occasional curve ball to keep the opposition guessing.

Expect the tenacious trouper to get a solid look in front of Phillies coaches and brass next preseason with a true shot at making the starting rotation. Loewen is confident that he'll be able to contribute on the mound at the top level.

"I've gone from Double-A to the big leagues before and that was my first jump to the big leagues," Loewen said, when asked if he felt like he was ready to compete at the big league level again. "I feel like I'm ready. I feel like I did when I last got on the mound when I was 24-years-old."

Ailing Watson suspended 50 games for drug violation

ShaneWatson
Shane Watson, image- Jay Floyd
On Friday, it was announced that injured Phillies pitching prospect Shane Watson would miss the opening 50 games of the 2015 season, after being served with a suspension as a result of testing positive for a banned substance.

Reports stated that the illegal substance was not a performance enhancer, but instead was a drug of abuse.

The 21-year-old right-hander, who recently announced his engagement to be married via his Twitter account, missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair an enlarged capsule last winter. Watson rehabbed this summer, but experienced a setback which was going to keep him out of action till next spring.

Watson's injured status will not impact his suspension. In fact, the required time off could force the young hurler to proceed at a much slower pace and could be good for his physical health in the long run.

Watson was chosen with the 40th overall pick by the Phillies in 2012. He sports a 4-7 record with a 4.44 ERA and a .227 batting average against in 21 professional games.

Prior to the 2014 season, Watson was ranked as the Phils' number 14 prospects by PhilliesNation.com.

Update: Watson responded to a request for comment via text message late Saturday morning.  He did not wish to comment on the circumstances surrounding his suspension, but offered the following thoughts on his rehab process, which he is conducting under the Phillies' supervision in Florida:

"Nothing but good news (regarding my throwing shoulder) right now.  I just have to remember there's no rush back and to take my time, but also push myself to the limit while giving myself enough rest."

The California native has been throwing from flat ground and is up to a distance of 75 feet, doing so every other day without discomfort.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

PhoulBallz Podcast Episode 70: Adam Loewen, Dave Lundquist & Colton Murray Interviews

It's Episode 70 and the guys are joined by pitcher Adam Loewen who participates in the inaugural edition of the new segment, "Nine Silly-ass Questions".  The episode also features exclusive interviews with Reading pitching coach Dave Lundquist and Double-A reliever Colton Murray.  Jay and Tug also chat about 2014 season highlights including Kenny Giles, Maikel Franco, Willians Astudillo and Hoby Milner while other topics include Kyle Kendrick as well as the Paul Owens Awards won by Luis Garcia and J.P. Crawford.

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.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading hitting coach Rob Ducey talks prospects

Rob Ducey, image- Tug Haines
Prior to the end of the minor league season on Monday, I spent some time with Double-A Reading hitting coach Rob Ducey about several of his players' progress this season.

Ducey, who played in the big leagues with the Phillies, Blue Jays, Rangers, Mariners, Expos and Angels, joined the Phillies organization as a coach this year.

The former outfielder spoke about the Phillies' collection of rising young outfielders including Aaron Altherr, Zach Collier, Kelly Dugan, Cameron Perkins and Peter Lavin. He also offered insight on talented infielder Carlos Alonso. Read ahead for that full interview.

-Aaron Altherr has an exciting year with time spent at the big league level. What are your thoughts on Altherr's season?

Well, he's obviously in the development part of his career and is trying to iron some things out mechanically, mentally, things that young players go through while they're trying to establish themselves as professional players. I see worlds of opportunity for him going forward. He's got tremendous athleticism, he's got a very good aptitude to work with and he's really good to be around.

-Zach Collier didn't have a great season, but got considerably hot in early August. He's a guy that people had high expectations for, based on being an early round draft pick. What can you share with me about Zach's progress?

Obviously, this being my first year here, I didn't have an opportunity to see him prior to this year, but he's come a long way with the understanding of what he needs to do to prepare to play the game and get ready and compete at this level and, hopefully, at a level higher.

-I've spoken with guys on the team and often times they'll cite Carlos Alonso as a guy that's an exemplary player who really works hard. It may be hard for you, as a coach, to judge or speak on a guy's ceiling, but what do you think about Alonso's future?

Carlos is a grinder. He goes out and plays the game the right way. He's a true professional on and off the field. He goes at it the right way and it wouldn't surprise me that he ends up playing in the big leagues for a long, long time because of the way he goes about it. You know, when you talk about tools, you don't really need to talk about tools with him. He's a baseball player and he knows how to play, he knows how to win, (has) tremendous influence as far as in the clubhouse and with his teammates. It's been really fun to be with him this year, because of all of that.

-I spoke with (Reading manager) Dusty Wathan a couple weeks ago about Kelly Dugan's progress this year, and despite his injuries this year and the power numbers being down for him, Dusty asserted that Kelly was a better and smarter hitter than he was last year. Clearly, you weren't around last year, but what progress have you seen from him from spring training to the time his season ended (with a late season foot injury)?

I think that he developed a bit more understanding of his swing and the angle and path of his bat coming through the hitting zone. He hit a lot of top spin balls and even balls, line drives he would hit, had over-spin and trying to correct that was- for me, the focus of working with him this year was trying to get his ball to have a truer flight and we accomplished that. He hit the ball the other way. He pulled the ball, with truer spin, so in his regard I think we had a very successful season.

-Cam Perkins performed great for you guys this year prior to moving up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where his numbers took a dip. Obviously, he deserved to make that jump, but do you think the lack of production there can be discouraging for him?

Well, I think it's discouraging for anyone, any athlete to go to another level and to feel like you have somewhat control of what's going on then all of a sudden it spirals downward. You know, Triple-A is a different beast. It's a different animal. Then you go, you know, obviously the major league level and it's that much harder. You know, guys know how to pitch. They add and subtract. They find a weakness and they exploit it. And he's got tremendous hand-eye coordination. He's got a really good frame. He's gonna hit for some power and, but he was able to put the bat on the ball while he was here and he reminded me of a young Dale Murphy and I just think that he was very, very good hitting ability.

-Lastly, are there any other players that came through this club this season that made a big impression as having a bright future?

Peter Lavin has had a really, really good year for us and he started in Clearwater. He's a guy, again, that wouldn't surprise me if he ended up on a big league roster as a fourth outfielder. He can run, hit, throw. He's a left-handed hitter. He's got a little bit of power. He goes about it the right way and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he ended up with some big league time.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Six others to join Franco as Phils roster expands

Maikel Franco, image- Jay Floyd
As was widely reported on Monday, the Phillies are slated to promote third baseman/first baseman Maikel Franco to the big leagues with the expansion of rosters in September.

The right-handed hitting Franco, who turned 22-years-old last week, pledged in an interview for Phillies Nation's television program in late June that he was about to turn on the offense and he came through on that promise. After sporting a .209 average with 22 extra base hits in 78 games through the end of June, the Dominican Republic native tallied a .324 average with 31 extra base hits in the 55 games that followed for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Also joining Franco among players moving from the IronPigs to the majors are relievers Mike Adams, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Luis Garcia, utility man Cesar Hernandez, catcher Cameron Rupp and outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr.

The righty Adams had been rehabbing an injured throwing shoulder after being sidelined in early June. The 36-year-old allowed an earned run in three innings of work over three appearances with the Pigs dating back to last Tuesday.

Gonzalez, a Cuba native, made news last year when he was signed to a three-year contract worth $12 million last year. The 27-year-old, who has been steadily clocked in the mid-90's with his fastball this year, pitched at three levels of the developmental ranks this season. In 31 games, Gonzalez posted a combined 0-4 record with seven saves and a 3.11 ERA while striking out 54 batters and walking 26 over 46 1/3 innings.

Garcia was a beast for the IronPigs this season, posting a 2-1 record with 22 saves, a 0.96 ERA and a 10.03 K/9 mark. The 27-year-old right-hander appeared in four games with the Phillies earlier this season, but allowed eight earned run in 5 2/3 innings (12.71 ERA).

Hernandez, who also spent some time in the big leagues this season, batted .225 with a .556 OPS in 52 games with the Phillies this season. Additionally, the 24-year-old switch hitter put together a .290 average with a .751 OPS in 66 minor league contests at two levels this season.

Rupp, the Phillies' third round draft pick from 2010, batted .165 with six homers and 19 RBI in 56 games for Lehigh Valley this season. The 25-year-old has posted a .211 average with eight RBI in 21 big league games.

Gwynn was with the Phillies through much of the season before being designated for assignment in July. In 20 games with Lehigh Valley, the 31-year-old batted .290 with a home run and seven RBI.

The group is expected to join the Phillies as they continue their series in Atlanta on Tuesday.

MLB rosters expand from a 25-man maximum to the entire 40-man roster on September 1st. The minor league regular season ended on Monday.

Monday, September 1, 2014

PhoulBallz Interview: RHP Colton Murray

Colton Murray, image- Tug Haines
This season right-hander Colton Murray made some solid impressions, earning his way to Double-A and solidifying himself as a key piece at the back end of the club's bullpen.

A 13th round pick from 2011, Murray had spent time with the big league club in spring training each of the previous two seasons prior to this year. Following a 2013 campaign in which he tallied a 5-7 record with 11 saves and a 5.07 ERA in 47 games with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers. Those efforts were not enough to earn an invitation back to big league spring training this year. However, with the numbers he posted this season, the 24-year-old Murray is likely a lock to be among pitchers showing up early to big league camp next year.

Following 11 appearances while posting a 2.04 ERA with Clearwater this year, Murray, whose fastball is regularly clocked around 95 MPH, was promoted to Double-A Reading where he sported a 1-5 record with six saves, a 2.29 ERA and a 9.15 K/9 mark.

This weekend, I spoke with Colton about his season, his relationship with former teammate Kenny Giles and more. Read ahead for that interview.

-You've had a really nice season. What's your level of satisfaction with your 2014 campaign?

I'm really satisfied with it. I mean, I feel like I had a really good year. I feel like I had a complete turnaround of last year and I feel like I've shown the organization who I am and what I have to offer.

-You've spent some time with the big league club in spring training in previous seasons. How do you feel like that time spent there around some of the big league veterans might help you in the long run?

It was a lot of fun and it's a great experience for guys like me just to be around those guys and be able to speak to them. Being in the bullpen, you're just able to talk a lot to the guys and get inside their heads a little bit. It's great seeing (Jake) Diekman and stuff and talking to him.

-I spoke with pitching coach Dave Lundquist about you recently and he described you as possessing desirable or exemplary qualities for a reliever. When your coaches have that level of confidence in you, what does that mean to you?

It's a little bit of a confidence booster, but it's the words that are said from him to me that mean the most, not what he tells reporters or whatever. But, more so, just the advice he gives me, not just the compliments. More so, learning from what he has to say and going off all that.

-Aside from Lundy and Diekman, are there any other guys in the Phillies organization that have helped you or made solid impressions on you?

The biggest impression is the guy I talk to everyday, (Kenny) Giles. I talk to him all the time, so just hearing from him and his experiences up there is different than from anybody else that I could talk to, 'cause I've been with him since day one. He was my instructs roommate and stuff like that so, I've learned a lot from him.

-Is your repertoire anything like his, with the fastball/slider combo?

I'm fastball, curve ball, and now a slider, cutter, two-seam. Whatever. I throw a lot more pitches. He's got crazy velocity, with his slider it's a 92 mile per house freakin' curve ball half the time. I tried to teach him a change up by sending him pictures. We were in Erie and he asked me for a change up grip and I had to send him pictures of my grip. Obviously, he's not throwing a change up, up there, but you know...our repertoires aren't the same, but our attitudes on the mound- definitely.

-Kenny's a guy that gets a kick out of his high velocity. You've got some great velocity yourself. Is that something you find yourself getting pumped up for?

I'm more of a fuel by aggression guy. The more tense I am on the mound, the better I pitch. My reactions aren't going to be different than most. I like seeing the batter react to the pitch. Like, out of frustration. All that does is make me kind of smirk and I realize I have them, if they start doing stuff like that.

-Were there any pitchers you looked up to prior to turning pro that you liked a lot or wanted to emulate?

No, not really. The guys I remember throwing growing up are always the wrong guys. The guys I remember are, like, John Rocker. Just the intimidation factor that he gave out on the mound. Even before he reached the mound. obviously, his sprint. I was a big fan of the Royals and I was always sad seeing our guys go. Every player that was good went to another team, so I got frustrated.

-So, who were you into as a youngster? Beltran?

Carlos Beltran. He was my first rookie card, my first signed bat. I followed him till he left then I was pretty much done. Lima time came around, but...