Friday, February 26, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: Aaron Nola from big league camp

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Aaron Nola, image- Jay Floyd
With a rebuild in full swing, one of the talented youngsters that the Phillies hope will lead them into the next era of winning, starting pitcher Aaron Nola, took time out of his spring training workout schedule to talk with us directly from Clearwater. The 22-year-old right-hander spoke about his new goal with the Phils after reaching the big leagues, learning from a veteran, compliments from his manager and plenty more. Read ahead for our exclusive interview with the team's 2014 first round draft pick.

- What are your thoughts on where you are now versus where you were at this point last year?

I feel like I'm more prepared this year than I was last year. I think part of that was because (this year) I got off my first full season of pro ball and I kind of knew what the off-season was like after going through the first one. So, I knew what I needed to do workout wise. I knew what I needed to do pitching wise and conditioning wise. So, I feel like I'm in a better place now than I was last year.

- Is there anything specific that you would point out as being improved, like mechanics, repertoire or anything, when thinking about now and last spring?

Yeah, I feel like my stuff is a little bit better than it was last year at this time. Uh, but it's not completely where I need it to be or where I want it to be. So, this spring training I'm going to focus on my arsenal and the pitches in there and my control. I feel like working and trying to get those pitches better is my main focus this spring training.

-I know a lot of people would already rave about your curve ball, so is it another offering that's the focus there?

My change up. I've been working on my change up all off-season and I'm still continuing to work on it. That's one pitch that I need solidly in my arsenal and I need it- it's not where I want it to be right now, but that's why I am going to continue to work on it. That's a pitch that I really want to throw a lot more this year.

- Is there anybody so far that stands out in spring training as being a big help to with the improvements you're looking to make? Or maybe into last season, is there anyone that has been a really big help to you?

Friday, February 19, 2016

RHP Eickhoff suffers thumb fracture

st 2016Reports out of spring training on Friday stated that righty pitcher Jerad Eickhoff suffered a fractured thumb on his throwing hand during a bunting drill last week. The setback has prevented the 25-year-old from throwing off a mound thus far, early in camp.

The six-foot-four 240-pounder was among the collection of prospects the Phillies obtained last summer in the trade that sent Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman to Texas.

After joining the Phillies, Eickhoff quickly made his major league debut, posting a 3-3 record with a 2.65 ERA and a .245 batting average against in eight starts.

The ailment is not expected to keep Eickhoff out of action for very long. The Phils anticipate the he'll still be ready to start the regular season with the big club.

Eickhoff was originally a 15th round draft choice of the Rangers in 2011.

PN Writers Roundtable: 2016 Predictions

In the second of our writers' roundtable posts on Phillies Nation this week, we ran through some questions predicting what to expect of the upcoming big league season.  Among the topics were impact prospects, how the Phils will finish the 2016 campaign, roster surprises and more. Read ahead for my thoughts...

Which prospect makes the biggest impact this year?

Reliever Jimmy Cordero will be that guy, simply based on the amount of time I expect him to get at the big league level. Sure, the Phils have some great prospects in J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams, but both guys are at positions where there isn't an immediate need for them at the big league level. The bullpen will have need and Cordero, who can reach triple digits with his fastball, will be the youngster that contributes the most this year.

What in-season trades do you anticipate the Phillies making?

The Phillies should continue to be sellers. They should move forward, trying to clean out the leftovers of the "dynasty" years from the cupboard. If a contending team with holes can use Howard or Ruiz, the Phils should make those moves, no matter the return. David Hernandez could be a worthwhile trade target for contending teams by mid-season, as well.

Who could surprise people by making the roster?

I think right-hander Cordero will stand a good chance to be on the big league club from opening day forward, but I've talked about him already, so let me mention Ernesto Frieri as a contender to be in the bullpen. He's a non-roster invitee and I simply think the Phils will want some veteran leadership in the mix there and the team may like him more than some rookie types such as Velasquez or Colton Murray. I just think Frieri will show enough in spring training to end up making the cut to come north.

How do the Phillies finish in 2016?

They could be up to 10 games better than the 99-loss season they had last year, but I expect the team to continue to be difficult to watch at times this year. However, with all the youth making its way toward the big league roster it'll be a much more interesting season than 2015. An 89-loss season puts them in third place last year in the generally weak NL East, so you could see them make moves in that regard this year.

To check out the complete post on Phillies Nation, including the other writers' answers, click this link.  And for our previous roundtable regarding the Phillies' 5th starter, click this link.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Phillies announce new radio deal, drop AM broadcasts

At long last, the Phillies announced their latest radio deal this week and the team's broadcasts will be heard exclusively on the FM dial in 2016.

The contract, which was reportedly inked on Tuesday, links the Phils to CBS Radio and stipulates that the broadcasts will air strictly on WIP 94.1 FM. In recent seasons, the Phillies were simulcasted on WIP as well as WPHT 1210 AM. WIP is slated to carry select spring training contests and all 162 regular season games this year.

A move to WIP makes plenty of sense as the longest tenured all-sports talk station in the city of Philadelphia (WIP previously resided on the AM dial before moving to FM in 2011) is already a destination for the region's baseball fans while WPHT does not feature any other sports related programming on its schedule.

The radio broadcast team will remain the same with Scott Franzke, Jim Jackson and Larry Andersen handling commentary.

Monday, February 15, 2016

PN Writers' Roundtable: Who Will Be the Phils' 5th Starter?

Over on Phillies Nation today, the staff provided their predictions on who would be the Phils' fifth starter to open the 2016 season. 

My take: With a left-hander needed among the starting five, I'll be looking at Brett Oberholtzer, who was acquired in the Giles trade, to make the Phils' starting rotation.  In 45 big league appearances (42 starts), the 26-year-old sports an 11-20 record with a 3.94 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP and a 5.9 K/9 mark.  Growing up in Delaware as a Phillies fan, it was always a dream of his to take the mound in red pinstripes.  Having attended the 2008 World Series parade as a fan, the six-foot-one 225-pounder wants to be a guy that helps turn things around for the organization that finished with the worst record in MLB last year.  There won't be a better story in spring training and fans of the Phillies should be backing this local product.  Let's go, Brett!

To read the answers from the other PN writers, click this link.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

PN Minor League Insider Jay Floyd on PST Podcast

Image- Tug Haines
Earlier this week, Phillies Nation's minor league reporter Jay Floyd (follow on Twitter @PhoulBallz) was interviewed on the Philadelphia Sports Table Podcast. The weekly program, hosted by Jeff Warren and Len Hunsicker, focuses on the big four pro sports teams in Philly, touches on local Division 1 college athletics and more. The pair embraces the passion of the Philly sports fan base along with what the fans bring to each game, online discussions, talk radio and more.

On the latest edition of the PST Podcast, Jay phoned in to discuss the Phillies' rising prospects, key story lines among the non-roster invitees heading into spring training, the future of the catcher position, a possible future ace among the organization's young talents, along with the Phils' upcoming number 1 overall draft pick as well as plenty more.

The interview with Jay kicks off at about the 46:30 mark of the show and you can check it out by clicking this link.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Prospect Nation 2016: #1 SS J.P. Crawford

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JP Crawford, image- Jay Floyd
Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Highly touted shortstop J.P. Crawford ranks here as the Phillies' top prospect on our annual Prospect Nation countdown.

Regarded widely as the Phils' star of the future, Crawford also sits among many outlets' top minor leaguers across the entire sport.

After he was selected by the Phillies 16th overall out of Lakewood High School (CA) in the 2013 draft, Crawford joined the Phillies system and quickly proved to be among the organization's most talented young players.

Upon making his minor league debut as an 18-year-old with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies, Crawford was greatly impressive. He was tops in the GCL in batting for a considerable stretch, posting a .345 average with a homer, 19 RBI and 12 stolen bases through 39 games. To wrap up the regular season, he was promoted up two levels to Class A full season Lakewood.

As a member of the BlueClaws in the South Atlantic League, Crawford handled the jump well for a youngster that was playing high school ball just three months earlier. He sported a .208 average with a double, two RBI and two stolen bases in 14 contests.

Crawford would open the 2014 campaign back with Lakewood and showed a great deal of progress. In 60 games for the BlueClaws, he sported a .295 average with three home runs, 19 RBI and 14 steals. After he was honored as a Sally League All-Star, a promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater was in order.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Phils acquire infielder Featherston from Angels

phils logoOn Wednesday, the Phillies acquired infielder Taylor Featherston from the Angels for a player to be named later or cash.

The six-foot-one 185-pounder did not perform well as a big league rookie last season, posting a .162/.212/.247 slash line in 101 games. Featherston, 26, had done considerably better since turning pro, notching a .274/.343/.453 in four minor league seasons.

He has primarily been a shortstop and second baseman during his professional career, but has also played third base.

Featherston was recently designated for assignment by the Angels. He was a 5th round draft selection out of Texas Christian in 2011.

This off-season, Featherston played with Licey in the Dominican Winter League, where he tallied a .216 average five RBI in 10 games.

This addition will add depth for the Triple-A level. Expect Featherston to get some playing time in big league camp this spring.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Prospect Nation 2016: #2 RHP Jake Thompson

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Jake Thompson, image- Jay Floyd
Acquired as part of the group of prospects that came in return in the trade for Cole Hamels, right-handed pitcher Jake Thompson shot toward the head of the pack to become the Phillies' top pitching prospect last summer. Touting a strong arm and a some big strike out numbers, Thompson looks to be destined for a spot in the big league rotation sooner than later.

Originally a second round draft selection out of Rockwall-Heath High School (TX) by Detroit in 2012, the six-foot-four 235-pounder had a tremendous start to his pro career in the Gulf Coast League that year. In seven starts there as an 18-year-old, Thompson posted a 1-2 record with a 1.91 ERA and a .149 batting average against.

In 2013, Thompson sported a 3-3 record with a 3.13 ERA along with a 9.8 K/9 mark in 17 games for Class A West Michigan.

The following season, Thompson opened the year with Class A Advanced Lakeland, posting a 6-4 record with a 3.14 ERA in 16 starts before earning a promotion to Double-A Erie. There, the Texas native would tally a 1-0 record with a 2.45 ERA in two starts before being traded to Texas in a swap for Joakim Soria. Following the deal, he was assigned to Double-A Frisco, where he notched a 3-1 record with a 3.28 ERA. His strikeout numbers for the entire season stayed high, averaging more than a strike out per inning pitched.

He opened 2015 back with Frisco, where he continued to post good numbers, collecting a 6-6 record with a 4.72 ERA before the Phillies traded for him and a group of other young players. With his new organization, he was assigned to Double-A Reading, where he became the ace of the pitching staff, leading the team into the postseason with a 5-1 record, a 1.80 ERA and a .217 BAA in seven regular season starts. He would average 7.6 K/9 mark overall last season.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Prospect Nation 2016: #3 OF Nick Williams

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Nick Williams, image- Jay Floyd
Part of the collection of prospects the Phillies obtained last season in the trade that sent Cole Hamels to Texas, slugging outfielder Nick Williams is as promising as any of the very talented young players the team has in their developmental ranks.

A second round pick of the Rangers out of Ball High School (TX) in 2012, Williams quickly signed and debuted as a pro. In the rookie level Arizona League, he posted a .313 batting average with a pair of home runs and 27 RBI while swiping 15 bases in 48 games.

The following year Williams played with Class A Hickory in the Sally League. In 95 games, he tallied a .293 average with 17 homers, 60 RBI and eight steals.

In 2014 Williams would open the season with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, where he notched a .292 average with 13 home runs and 68 RBI in 94 games. That production earned him a promotion to the Double-A level to wrap up that season in August, where he posted a .226/.250/.290 slash line in 15 contests.

Last season, the lefty batting Williams returned to Double-A Frisco, batting .299 with 13 homers and 45 RBI through 97 games. He also represented the Rangers in the MLB All-Star Futures Game. By late July, the trade to the Phillies occurred and Williams transitioned to Double-A Reading, where he suffered a concussion as the result of a collision on defense in the field and missed some time. Despite the stint on the shelf, Williams posted a .320/.340/.536 slash line in 22 regular season games, helping the Fightins reach the Eastern League playoffs.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Phils deal former top prospect Biddle to Pirates

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Jesse Biddle, image- Jay Floyd
Multiple reports confirm that the Phillies have traded left-handed pitcher Jesse Biddle to Pittssburgh in a deal with an undisclosed return at the time of this writing.

Biddle, 24, underwent off-season Tommy John surgery and will miss the entirety of the 2016 season.

The move seemed to be something that has been in the works from the Phillies side since they designated him for assignment, removing him from their 40-man roster last week. With his extended injury time, placing him on the 60-day disabled list would have allowed the Phils to keep Biddle on their roster without having him take up valuable space there, as there are exceptions for ailing players.

The Philadelphia native has missed considerable time with injuries in recent years, including a concussion, elbow soreness as well as a knee issue and dealing with whooping cough for an extended stretch.

Pittsburgh could be an ideal place for Biddle to rebound, once healthy. It's become a popular destination for pitchers looking for a career resurgence under pitching coach Ray Searage.

In 2010, the Phillies made Biddle, a Germantown Friends School product, their top draft pick, taking him 27th overall on the 1st round.

Splitting his 2015 campaign between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Biddle tallied a 9-6 record with a 4.95 ERA and a .295 batting average against in 24 starts last season. In 133 career games over eight seasons, the six-foot-five 235-pounder posted a 40-45 record with a 3.81 ERA and a .240 BAA.

Recently, the Phils have begun to acquire a collection of other left-handed talent, including Bobby LaFromboise who was selected off waivers from the Angels, signing minor league free agents Edgar Ibarra and Jeremy Bleich along with undrafted free agent Evan Crower, who played quarterback at Stanford.

*UPDATE*- The Phillies announced the deal this afternoon, confirming that they've received righty pitcher Yoervis Medina in the swap for Biddle. Medina, a 27-year-old Venezuela native, sports a 10-9 record with a 3.08 ERA and a .222 batting average against in 146 big league relief appearances. He pitched in 17 combined games with the Cubs and Mariners last season.

Prospect Nation 2016: #4 RHP Mark Appel

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Mark Appel, image- MiLB.com
The Astros' decision to give up on the number one overall draft pick from 2013 could be a terrific blessing for the Phillies as righty hurler Mark Appel lands firmly among his new club's top prospect rankings following this off-season's trade that sent reliever Kenny Giles to Houston.

There is no question that there would be extremely high expectations of a guy selected number one in the MLB draft. As such, some critics have already grown impatient with Appel's progress. Sporting a career 5.12 ERA in 2 1/2 professional seasons, the Stanford product will hope a change of scenery will assist with his efforts to show and prove that he is worthy of the high regard that made him the first player taken.

A tremendous college career in which he was honored as a multi-time All-American was topped off with a 4-0 record, three saves, a 0.90 ERA, a .203 batting average against and a 13.06 K/9 mark in nine games pitched in his senior season.

Following the 2013 draft, Appel made his minor league debut with Class A short-season Tri-City in the New York-Penn League. In two starts there, he struck out six and walked none, allowing two earned runs in five innings pitched.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Prospect Nation 2016: #5 Catcher Andrew Knapp

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Andrew Knapp, image- Jay Floyd
Catcher Andrew Knapp really put himself on the map last year with a breakout season. Notching an All-Star bid while posting terrific offensive numbers and obtaining organizational honors, the 24-year-old now looks primed to make an impact at the highest levels of the sport.

Knapp was the Phillies' 2nd round draft choice out of the University of California and made his professional debut that year, tallying a .253 batting average with four home runs, 23 RBI and seven steals in 62 games for the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters.

That off-season, the righty throwing Knapp required Tommy John surgery to repair a damaged elbow. He was back on the field by the following May, getting at bats, but sitting out on defense for some time to allow additional recovery for his elbow. He joined the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers during the fifth week of the season. It was mid-June by the time he would play on the defensive side of the game.

Upon joining the Threshers, Knapp struggled with the bat, posting a .157 average with a home run and seven RBI in 23 games. After a 5-for-48 (.104 avg) stretch that wrapped up on June 1st, Knapp was demoted to Class A Lakewood, where he would rebound offensively. In 75 games as a member of the BlueClaws, he posted a .290 batting average along with five homers and 25 RBI.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Prospect Nation 2016: #6 OF Roman Quinn

Roman Quinn, image- Jay Floyd
Dating back to when he was selected by the Phillies as their second round draft choice out of Port St. Joe High School (FL) in 2011, Roman Quinn has been a promising prospect that the team has high expectations for. Now, as he reaches the upper levels of the pro ranks, the switch-hitting center fielder has become a buzz name to potentially take over a role in the big league outfield in the near future.

Quinn would make his pro debut as a 19-year-old with short-season Class A Williamsport in 2012, posting a .281 average with nine doubles, a league-leading 11 triples, one home run 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 shortstop, after playing mostly outfield prior to signing his first pro deal.

Comfort was a big factor for Quinn in 2013, according to his Class A Lakewood coaches, who saw things get easier for the talented youngster at the plate as the season went on. 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 that month. 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, ending his campaign with .238 average with seven doubles, three triples, five home runs and 32 stolen bases in 41 chances through 67 games.

Unable to compete in that autumn's Florida Instructional League, due to the slow healing wrist, Quinn continued to work out and suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon while running sprints. Surgery came soon afterward and Quinn missed considerable time while recovering.

Originally expected to miss the majority of the 2014 season, Quinn, who is listed at five-foot-10, 170-pounds, was back on the field by mid-May and impressed many with the strides that he took.

Playing in 88 contests, the most he's played in any of his three pro seasons to that point, for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, Quinn returned to post a .257 batting average along with 10 doubles, three triples, seven home runs and 36 RBI.