Saturday, July 30, 2016

OF Pullin standing out among stacked Reading lineup

Pullin, image- Jay Floyd
In a lineup that features a pair of sluggers battling it out for the minor leagues' home run title, mild mannered and average framed outfielder Andrew Pullin somehow stands outs.

The Double-A Reading Fightin Phils include the leading home run hitter in the developmental ranks in first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who has mashed 30 round trippers, as well as impact outfielder Dylan Cozens, who is chasing his teammate with 26 dingers of his own. The Fightins also have veteran professional hitter Jake Fox, whose 19 homers are tied for third best in the EL as well as highly touted backstop Jorge Alfaro. Additionally, top prospect J.P. Crawford and promising speedster Roman Quinn have been in this team's lineup this season. For the generously listed six-foot, 190-pound Pullin to garner attention, among that collection of bats, it's remarkable.

Pullin, who was a 5th round draft selection by the Phils in 2012, has impressed many with his ability to drive the ball with considerable gap power and his consistent production. Through 21 games since his promotion from Class A Advanced Clearwater, the Washington state native sports a .365 average with three doubles, five home runs and 19 RBI.

"He’s a tremendous hitter," said Reading manager Dusty Wathan during a recent interview. "If you’re able to hit a fastball, you’re gonna be able to hit at a lot of levels and Andrew can definitely hit a fastball. He stepped right in. We put him in a pretty good spot to hit in front of some pretty good hitters, to give him an opportunity to get some fastballs and he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity."

The players he's been hitting in front of are the aforementioned Alfaro, Hoskins, Cozens and Fox, who have been the core of the lineup that has notched 38 more home runs and plated 120 more runs than any other team in the Eastern League heading into action on Friday.

According to Pullin, the comfort level of hitting in front of that group of mashers has helped him settle in.

"There's no pressure because if you don't (get something done), the next guy will. That's definitely something I've noticed," Pullin stated. "You know, everybody can do something at any time and we can score a lot of runs really fast and it's a lot of fun."

Prior to joining Reading, the 22-year-old lefty batter sported a .293 average with four homers and 19 RBI in 36 games with the Class A Advanced Clearwater.

Pullin's 2016 campaign got off to a late start for the Threshers when, after participating in the Phillies' Futures Series exhibitions in April, Pullin took a leave of absence to address some personal matters.

According to Pullin, the Phillies were accommodating in allowing him the flexibility to take time off, listing him as retired for a stretch, and to later return once matters were taken care of.

"The Phillies were great," Pullin expressed with appreciation. "They were very helpful on everything and I'm very happy to be a part of this organization."

Reading entered the weekend with a team OPS that was 50 points higher than the next best offense in the league. With a collection of top bats and the minor league postseason just about six weeks away, Pullin and the rest of the Fightins are primed to chase the club's first championship series victory since 1995.

"Everybody on this team is real special and has a lot of talent," Pullin stated. "It's fun to be a part of, like I said. It's a fun team and we play really well together."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Phillies Plan to Make Moves at Trade Deadline

The Philadelphia Phillies came into the season with low expectations because the team is undergoing a rebuilding process, which means they won’t be in contention anytime soon. At the start of the season, the Phillies played hard and out-performed expectations, but the team finally came down to earth and is trying to get back to playing .500 ball. Due to their rebuilding, the Phillies have one of the worst online MLB sports betting odds, but the team is still competitive and capable of big wins every now and then.

With the trade deadline approaching, the Phillies can try to get rid of the few remaining bad contracts that they have, and also get some young talent that can be important to the team’s success in the future. By trading some players away, the Phillies will also have to figure out which young players to call up to the majors, so they can get some experience heading into the offseason.

Currently, Philadelphia’s most valuable trading chip is Jeremy Hellickson, who has been plagued with trade rumors since the team signed him. The veteran pitcher has been one of the most consistent players on the team this season, and has a 3.84 ERA in 20 starts.

With teams looking for consistent pitching as they make their playoff push, Hellickson seems like the perfect candidate to be wearing a new uniform before the trade deadline.

According to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, reports that sources close to the Phillies told him the team wasn’t considering trading the right hander despite interest from other teams.

However, the Boston Globe reported that several teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, and Miami Marlins are all interested in Hellickson and believe they can pry him away from Philadelphia with the right package of players.

If the Phillies get a significant offer for Hellickson, the general consensus is that the team will trade the 29-year-old. If they do, Triple-A player Jake Thompson is one of the leading candidates to get the call to the majors to replace Hellickson.

Thompson, who has a 7-5 record and a 2.58 ERA, was a surprise omission from the Triple-A All-Star game. If the Phillies don’t call Thompson up, another player that might get called up is Jorge Alfaro, the catcher the team received in the trade for Cole Hamels. 

If the Phillies are to call Alfaro up, they will have to trade Carlos Ruiz, who many believe will be a good fit for the Cleveland Indians, due to his defensive value. Since the Indians have lost starting catcher Yan Gomes for the next two months, acquiring a player like Ruiz, seems like a no-brainer for the team.

According to reports, Alfaro has been playing very well in the minors and seems to have outgrown Triple-A, so it makes sense that the Phillies try to add him to their MLB roster to give him some experience against top competition and try to figure out where he fits in the team’s future plans.

While Philadelphia won’t be getting any big names at the trade deadline, they will be trying to get young pieces that can help them in the future and get them back in contention in the NL East.

PhoulBallz Interview: Second base prospect Josh Tobias

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Josh Tobias, image- Jay Floyd

It didn't take long for second base prospect Josh Tobias to make an impact with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers following his promotion there earlier this week. On Thursday, in his second game in the Florida State League, the switch-hitting 23-year-old notched a 4-for-4 game while drawing a walk.

Tobias was part of a chain reaction series of promotions for second basemen that saw Taylor Featherston come to the big leagues, Jesmuel Valentin go to Triple-A and Scott Kingery join the Double-A ranks after Phillies utility man Andres Blanco was sidelined with an injury this week.

An All-Star for Class A Lakewood this season, Tobias, who was the Phillies' 10th round draft choice last year, posted a .304 average with seven home runs and 55 RBI in 93 games in the South Atlantic League.

Prior to his promotion, I spoke to Josh about his All-Star experience, his progress this season, a certain BlueClaws promotion and plenty more. Read ahead for that interview.

-You were part of a trio (including Luke Leftwich and Jose Pujols) that represented the BlueClaws in the Sally League All-Star Game down in Lexington last month. What was that whole experience like for you?

It was a great experience. I mean, up in Kentucky, it was me, Leftwich and Pujols and we had a great time. We had a huge concert for us one day, so we went out and hung out there and they had a dinner for us that night as well. So, we had a blast. And the game was fun as well, with the home run derby and just hanging out with all the guys from all the different teams. So, it was a blast.

-You talked about hanging out with guys from other teams...is there any info sharing, getting advice on other pitchers from other players and things like that?

Not really. I mean, I've faced several of the guys that had already thrown in the All-Star Game, but mostly we were just having fun. We weren't really talking about the game. We were just chillin' in there. Some guys we asked how they threw when we got to up to bat and someone would say, "Yeah, I played against him. He throws this and that." So, if I were to face him again, I'd have a better idea than I did then.

-What does it mean to you to be able to do that with a couple teammates? Does that make it more special?

It definitely made it more fun. Definitely easier to get around, not being by yourself, so you have a group to go with. Yeah, it was more memorable being with two teammates, so you can share the experience together.

-What was the reaction from teammates for your All-Star nod? What was the support like for you to go represent the BlueClaws?

Oh, they were excited for me. When they announced it, they were all clapping for me and told me "congrats". They told me "go kill it and have fun". They were excited for all of us. Pujols and Leftwich were excited for me and I was excited for them.

-Very cool. There's ups and downs throughout a season. Do you feel like you've made progress and gotten to where you want to be this season?

I'm always still working on things. You can never not work on things during the season. But, I'm feeling good at the plate and in the field and I mean everybody goes through slumps and everybody goes through dry spells, but the best thing (about baseball) is you've got another game the next day. So, I'm just working on my game every day, no matter what I can do.

-Is there any feedback that you've gotten from the coaching staff lately that differs from what they were telling you early in the season?

They-- sometimes they tell us not to-- we take it a little easier now because we're kind of deep into the season, so we're not doing as much as we did in the first half, to where we're killing ourselves out there. So, now we're taking things easy and trying to keep things simple.

-You seem like one of the more fun guys on the team with the way you interact with teammates. If I were to ask the team about you, would they tell me the same thing?

Yeah, I like to have a good time. I take myself seriously, but not too seriously if that makes sense. But, I like to joke around, but in the game I get serious. I'll be the guy to come make you smile if you have a bad at bat or something like that or if you have a bad play, I'll come up there and make you laugh about it.

-A recent promotion the BlueClaws had, where the team wore jerseys with cat pictures and allowed fans to bring their feline friends to the game, got some national attention. There was a photo of you holding a cat all over the team's social media channels. Was that promotion and that attention fun for you guys?

It was awesome. The cat jerseys were a little ridiculous, but I thought they were funny. I mean, I have a cat at home, so it's cool. They asked me to hold the cat, so I did, but then it started spazzing out in my arms. I ended up dropping it. So, I dropped the cat and said, "Okay. I need to go sit down now. I've embarrassed myself enough today."

-Cats always land on their feet though, so it's all good, right?

I thought it was going to land on its head, but it did land on its feet.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Williamsport's Suarez tosses no-no in double header sweep


To kick off Tuesday night's twin bill at BB&T Ballpark, Williamsport left-hander Ranger Suarez was on point, mowing down the Auburn Doubledays (Nationals affiliate) lineup to notch a seven-inning no-hit shutout in the Crosscutters' 4-0 win.

The only batter to reach base for Auburn was lead-off man Blake Perkins in the opening frame. He would quickly be erased when the next batter grounded into a double play. It would be smooth sailing for Suarez from that point on.


The effort was the first complete game of the 20-year-old Venezuelan's pro career.

During his current hot streak, Suarez has a 3-0 record with a 1.17 ERA over his last four starts. Overall, he sports a 4-0 record with a 2.09 ERA in seven games.

The offensive star in the gem was first baseman Darick Hall, who laced two doubles and drove in three runs for the Cutters.

Following the historic win, Williamsport would sweep the double header with a 6-2 victory in the night cap.  Double header games in the minors are scheduled for seven innings each.

The six-foot tall 180-pound Suarez posted a 3-0 record with a 0.65 ERA in six games for the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies last year after pitching for three season in the currently defunct Venezuelan Summer League.

Suarez was signed as an amateur free agent by the Phils in 2012.

At 24-14, the Crosscutters sit one game out of first place in the Class A short-season New York-Penn League's Pinckney Division.

Phillies minor league hot list: Ortiz, Moniak, Morris, Thompson & more

Here's a quick rundown of the Phillies minor league hot list. Details are up to date prior to game action on Tuesday, July 26th.

Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs (61-41, 2nd place North Div. International League)

Right-handed Jake Thompson continues his tremendous stretch for the IronPigs and remains the top option for a promotion if a vacancy opens up in the Phillies’ rotation. In his last nine starts, the 22-year-old sports a 6-0 record with a 0.58 ERA and a 5.3 K/9 mark. In 19 starts this season, Thompson, who was acquired from Texas as part of last summer’s Cole Hamels trade, has a 9-5 record with a 2.29 ERA and a .224 batting average against.

Righty pitcher David Buchanan has allowed just two earned runs in 22 innings (0.82 ERA) over his last three starts. In 19 games (18 starts) this season for the Pigs, the 27-year-old has a 7-5 record with a 4.05 ERA and a .257 batting average against.

In 11 games since the Triple-A All-Star Break, outfielder Nick Williams is sporting a .318 average with five doubles, two home runs and eight RBI. Williams, another prized acquisition in the Hamels trade, has a .287/.320/.468 slash line in 90 overall games this season. The 22-year-old was originally a 2nd round draft selection of the Rangers in 2012.

Righty reliever Luis Garcia took over the role of closer following the release of Edward Mujica. Garcia, 29, has tossed five scoreless appearances since taking over those duties. Garcia, who has a 3.99 ERA in 111 big league contests, has a 6-3 record with four saves and a 2.76 ERA in 36 games for Lehigh Valley this season.

Double-A Reading Fightin Phils (69-33, 1st place Eastern Div. Eastern League)

Outfielder Andrew Pullin is batting .377 with five home runs and 19 RBI in 19 games since his promotion from Clearwater. Pullin, 22, was a 5th round draft pick of the Phillies in 2012. He missed time earlier this season when he took a leave of absence for personal reasons.

Righty hurler Tyler Viza has a 2-1 record with a 2.25 ERA over his past three starts. In nine starts since his promotion from Clearwater, the 21-year-old has posted a 4-3 record with a 3.67 ERA. Viza was a 32nd round draft choice in 2013.

First baseman Rhys Hoskins launched his minor league leading 29th home run in Reading’s win over Binghamton on Monday. The 23-year-old was the Phils’ 5th round draft choice in 2014. In 96 games this year, Hoskins sports a .286 batting average. His 91 RBI are best in the EL.

Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers (20-11 in second half, 1st place North Div. Florida State League)

In three starts for the Threshers, right-hander Drew Anderson has allowed one earned run in 14 1/3 innings (0.63 ERA). The 22-year-old missed the entire 2015 campaign after Tommy John surgery. Combined with his time in Lakewood, Anderson has a 2.61 ERA and a 10.1 K/9 mark in 10 starts this season. He was selected by the Phillies in round 21 of the 2012 draft.

In 11 games with Clearwater since the All-Star break, Temple University grad Matt Hockenberry has not allowed an earned run. In 28 games in the FSL this year, the 24-year-old has a 1-1 record with two saves, a 1.13 ERA and a .184 batting average against. Hockenberry, a righty, was a 9th round draft pick in 2014.

Righty pitcher Will Morris has a 4-0 record with a 2.05 ERA in 10 appearances since the FSL All-Star break. The 23-year-old was a 24th round draft choice of the Phils in 2013.

Class A Lakewood BlueClaws (17-13 in second half, 3rd place Northern Div. South Atlantic League)

Middle infielder Grenny Cumana is batting .368 over his past 15 games. Overall, the 20-year-old Venezuelan sports a .289 average with 16 doubles, a homer, 21 RBI and 13 steals in 62 games for the BlueClaws this year.

Lefty reliever Zach Morris has a 0.53 ERA in his last 27 appearances for Lakewood after opening the season with an 8.48 ERA in his initial seven outings. The 23-year-old, who was the Phils’ 24th round draft pick out of Maryland last year, has a 4-1 record with five saves, a 2.56 ERA and a .240 batting average against in 34 overall games this year.

Class A short-season Williamsport Crosscutters (22-14, 2nd place Pinckney Div. New York-Penn League)

Righty pitcher Adonis Medina has a 4-0 record with a 1.14 ERA through seven starts this season. The 19-year-old Dominican has held opponents to a .143 batting average for the Crosscutters.

Lefty starter Ranger Suarez has a 3-0 record with a 2.56 ERA in six starts for Williamsport. The 20-year-old Venezuelan has tossed five innings or more in each of his outings.

Right-hander Bailey Falter is boasting big strike out numbers for the Cutters with a 10.9 K/9 mark (and a 2.3 BB/9 mark) over six starts. The 19-year-old, the Phillies’ 5th round draft pick from last year, is 1-3 with a 3.21 ERA.

Rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies (20-7, 2nd place Northwest Div. Gulf Coast League)

Left-handed hurler Nick Fanti has a 3-0 record with a 1.63 ERA and a .178 batting average against in six appearances (four starts) this season. Fanti, 19, was the Phils’ 31st round draft pick last year.

Outfielder Mickey Moniak has a .312/.372/.416 slash line through his first 20 professional games. The 18-year-old lefty batter was the 1st overall draft pick in this year’s MLB draft. He is batting .350 against righty pitchers, while posting a .176 average against lefties.

Outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz leads the GCL in home runs with six. The 17-year-old Dominican has a .296/.400/.593 slash line through 22 games played this season. The Phillies signed Ortiz last year for a reported $4 million.

This post originally appeared on PhilliesNation.com.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview with Reading manager Dusty Wathan

D Wathan
Dusty Wathan, image- Jay Floyd


Recently I sat down with the manager of the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils. During the chat, Wathan, who is primed to walk away from this week with Reading's all-time managerial wins record, spoke about his team's power hitting duo, veteran Jake Fox, starting pitcher Nick Pivetta, the wins record and more. Read ahead for that interview.

-Last week you got to go along with six of your players to the Eastern League All-Star Game in Akron. What can you share about that?

It was a tremendous group of guys. We had a lot of fun. They represented themselves well. It was just a fun time and to have those guys on the field at one time, it’s special to be able to be the manager for that.

-Many fans are having a blast online and otherwise watching the power duo of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens slugging it out for the minor league lead in homers. There's excitement each night following them, seeing what each guy did. Is it as fun for you guys as coaches to watch what they're doing?

Well, yeah. I think, you know, when you work closely with these guys, anytime any of these players have success you take a lot of pride in it and you’re very happy for them because you see all the work that goes on behind the scenes. The fans don’t get the opportunity to see that. You know, they see the finished product, they see the game, but they don’t see these guys in cage at 1 o’clock in the afternoon and the conditioning and all the other things that go along with success.

-Jake Fox is a veteran on this club with big league experience. Players will often tell me that he's the type of guy that helps them and is great to learn from, somewhat supplementing the coaching staff. What are your thoughts on Jake?

Jake’s been tremendous. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him and then some. He’s been a leader on and off the field. He’s done everything that a guy in his situation should do and will do and that’s what we expected of him and that’s why we signed him this winter and gave him an opportunity to play. I can’t say enough about him. If he wants to, I think some day when his days as a player are done, he’s going to have a lot of opportunities to coach. 

-With another win, you'll set the Reading wins record by a manager at 351. I know you're not too fond of talking about your own accomplishments, but what are your feelings on being able to reach that mark?

I mean, if you’re somewhere long enough, you’re probably going to break a record. I’ve been here five years now, so I’ve been lucky to have a lot of good players and the organization’s, especially over the last couple years, the scouting department and the player development department, getting these guys prepared to come to this level and they’ve put up a lot of wins.

-Would you trade all of that for this team to win the EL championship this season?

Aw, yeah! Obviously, that’s the ultimate goal every year when you start is to move guys up and get them to the next level and win with the guys that started a level or two behind you and I think we’ve done a good job with that. Especially on the pitching side, we’ve had a lot of guys that are in our rotation that weren’t here at the beginning of the year and the same thing with the bullpen. We’ve got some guys mixed in on the field also, so that’s what it’s all about is winning and it’s a big part of development. Right now it’s a lot of fun.

-Nick Pivetta,one of your team's All-Stars, has been excellent, going 8-2 with a 3.04 ERA in 13 starts for this club since April. He may be a bit of a sleeper prospect with so much attention going to many other guys in this organization. What are your thoughts on Nick and what he's been able to accomplish for this team?

Nick’s come a long way since the first time I saw him last year since he got here. He’s gone through a lot of changes with his mechanics. He’s done a lot changes with his mentality with how he pitches. He’s matured a lot. He’s got a ways to go in a lot of different categories, but he’s on the right track and he’s going in the right direction, so it’s fun to see the progression he’s had since we first got him and I think he’s enjoying his time here and he needs to continue doing what he’s doing, but it’s an exciting time for him and I would say that he’s not much of a sleeper prospect. I would say he is a prospect. 

-New addition Osmel Aguila joined the club with a vacancy to fill after Roman Quinn went on the disabled list. Have you been impressed with his contributions?

He’s a guy that we just signed prior to the season out of Cuba and never played in the United States before. You know, he’s trying to get his feet wet here, with the language, the culture and all that. He’s done a nice job filling in. We needed a guy to kind of fill in at center field and luckily we had him in the organization ready to go and he finally got all his paperwork and got over here and I think it was tough for him at first, but I think he’s doing well.

-Another guy that joined this team during the season is outfielder Andrew Pullin. He's been a contributor to the already potent lineup.

Yeah, he’s a tremendous hitter. If you’re able to hit a fastball, you’re gonna be able to hit at a lot of levels and Andrew can definitely hit a fastball. He stepped right in. We put him in a pretty good spot to hit in front of some pretty good hitters, to give him an opportunity to get some fastballs and he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity.

For more from Wathan on catching prospect and EL All-Star Jorge Alfaro, click this link to read my recent feature on the Colombian backstop.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Phillies fans will love catching prospect Alfaro's warlike mentality



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Jorge Alfaro, image- Jay Floyd
For Phillies catching prospect Jorge Alfaro, his skills on the field are what have earned him consideration as one of the team's most promising prospects, but his killer instinct and aggressive style of play are what fans will come to find as the most endearing things about him.

When he went 3-for-3 in last week's Eastern League All-Star Game, the 23-year-old Colombian did so with a unique approach. While many players on the diamond that night were going through the motions or taking it easy, Alfaro tackled the exhibition contest with a different approach. He looked at that game with the same mentality that he goes about during the season.

To Alfaro, if a game is on the schedule, it's meant to be won.

"It's another game and I know it's an All-Star Game, but I didn't try to do too much, I just tried to calm down a little bit and play like it's any other game, like I have to win," Alfaro said. "I never like to lose, so I just try to win all the time and if (a 3-for-3 game) comes with that, then I'll take it."

Despite missing three weeks of action earlier this season with an oblique strain, the right-handed batter ranks 20th in the EL with 132 total bases and sits 8th in the league with a .296 batting average while he has slammed 11 home runs and driven in 48 runs in 66 games.

Behind the dish, the backstop sports a superior ability to defend against base stealers, gunning down runners at a 43% rate.

According to Alfaro's manager with Double-A Reading, former catcher Dusty Wathan, Alfaro has improved greatly in just a few months under his watch this year.
"He’s come a long way since the first time I saw him in spring training," Wathan stated. "I didn’t get to see him last year. And he’s worked very hard at what he’s doing and he’s getting better every day.
"I think he’s (near) the top of the league in hitting, he’s at the top of the league in throwing percentage, he’s received well this year. He’s gotten better at that. His balance has gotten better. Definitely, I mean he’s at a valuable position and he’s doing a good job at it."
Alfaro was, of course, one of the key prospects the Phils obtained when they sent ace pitcher Cole Hamels to Texas last summer. He was originally signed as an amateur free agent in 2010 at the age of 16.
This season, Alfaro, who sports a .767 career OPS in the minors, has helped the Fightin Phils to a 66-31 record, which is best in all of professional baseball.
At the time he was acquired by the Phillies, Alfaro was on the disabled list after undergoing ankle surgery and he later missed time in the Florida Instructional League, a month-long off-season exhibition league, with a hamstring strain.

Considering the handful of injuries he's dealt with over the past year paired with his all-out style of play, some may wonder if Alfaro should take his foot off the gas, so to speak, on the playing field. The six-foot-two 225-pounder can't fathom playing the game he loves any differently.

"I mean I never think about that. I just go out there and play hard. I never think about getting hurt," Alfaro asserted with a stern expression. "I'm never going to stop playing how I play. I just go out there and it's like a mission, you know? Like a war. I go out there and try to win all the time and I mean that's the way I play and I think I'm never going to change that."

Once Alfaro gets the chance to go to battle for the city of Philadelphia and continues those winning ways, no one there will ever want him to change.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood pitching coach Brian Sweeney talks prospects


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Brian Sweeney, image- Jay Floyd
Last week I sat down with Lakewood pitching coach Brian Sweeney to chat about his Class A BlueClaws pitching staff. He talked about the progress of his hurlers, the improvements made by rising prospect Franklyn Kilome, Alberto Tirado changing roles and levels this season and plenty more. Read ahead for that full interview...

-The starting rotation has had some good success lately. What are your thoughts on that?

We’re on a good little roll right now. Guys are doing things right, attacking the zone with clean deliveries and confidence. They’re fun to watch and I’m glad to see them succeed.



-Is there anyone on the staff you have noticed making the most progress since the season opened?

Everybody’s made improvements and that’s really exciting. At the beginning of the year we had our struggles, so really any step forward was an improvement, but these guys are really embracing the process and I see good things especially from guys in the bullpen. You know, Sutter McLoughlin has stepped up his game, Skylar Hunter (on Saturday) both pitching. Kilome is taking strides. Jose (Taveras) has had those starts, you know the one where he had 15 strike outs and the other day when he went into the 9th inning, so it’s been fantastic. The guys are very coachable and they have promising futures.


-You mentioned Kilome there. He had a rough April and has looked really solid with an exception or two. What has been the biggest difference for him, with turning things around?

Well, he’s got weapons now that he’s using. He’s got a new toy in his curve ball that he’s been able to throw for strikes and he’s got that rocket for an arm. And, you know, with a lightning bolt coming out of there we want to get the thunder. Get the legs working— we get those long arms and legs working together then some good things can happen. And with that will come the consistency. He’s had his growing pains, but he’s worked very hard at getting better.

-Skylar Hunter joined the team late after a drug suspension. Can you comment on him a bit?

You know, Skylar, having him here—he’s starting to pitch some more meaningful innings and he’s starting to learn how to build some outs with his pitches. You know, coming out of college, he didn’t really know how to pitch as a professional. The hitters get a little bit better so he has to learn when to throw his pitches in certain counts and once he started figuring that out, with a clean delivery, he’s been very successful. We’re very happy to have him here. Everybody makes mistakes and he’s learned from them.

-When there are disciplinary concerns for drugs or other legal concerns, in the coaches' opinion, would you say there's a level of disappointment that he let the team down? Are you feeling for the guy? What are the feelings toward that?

There’s a lot of emotions. You know, I feel bad for the guy and I only met him in instructional league and I got to know him as a person and to hear about a mistake that happened, I’m happy that, hopefully, he has learned from it and, you know, that he’s moving forward. And having him here-- it's a thing in the past and we’re moving forward and we’re excited to have him.

-I know some guys have moved in and out of key late inning roles in the bullpen for this BlueClaws team. Is this sharing duties by design rather than having totally defined roles?

Yeah, they’re definitely sharing a lot of duties. I think we have four guys with a save at this point and we’re comfortable putting most of the guys at the end of the bullpen at any moment. It’s good for them, at this level, to experience every situation. Come in if the starter goes down in the second inning, or close out the game, or pitch in a blow out in the middle. They’re going to have to do it all because when they get to the big leagues, most likely, they’re not going to go as the closer right away or as the set up guy. They’re going to have to learn to pitch with a big lead or small lead, so it’s important for them to learn how to pitch in all types of situations.


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Alberto Tirado, image- Jay Floyd
-Tirado began the season in your bullpen, went to Clearwater, then came back as a starter here. What can you share about his season?

He’s had a roller coaster year. It did not start very well at all. He went and made some adjustments, came back here raring to go. I use the words “embrace the process” a lot. He really has! He’s done a fantastic job with his work that we’re doing in the bullpen, mentally, in between games. I couldn’t be happier for the direction he’s going in.

-Do you pay much attention to pitchers at the lower levels at all?

I definitely check the box scores to see what’s going on. I’m not familiar with all the names. I know some of the guys that I worked with last year in the GCL. Adonis Medina’s had an incredible run in Williamsport, you know, doing a good job. I’ve got my hands full here, so I’m just basically worrying about my guys, but the Phillies’ future is promising. They’ve got a lot of good arms.

-Are there any under-the-radar guys on this team that are buzz worthy and deserving of fan interest coming their way?

Well, yeah, I think everybody. There’s a guy that’s been here all year- Zach Morris. He—there was a point where he didn’t give up a run from May 5th or something like that till the end of June. With inherited runners, he wasn’t letting anyone score and he’s just done a fantastic job and he’s probably flown under the radar for where he pitches in the game and things like that. So, there’s a lot of guys to love on this team. Good people, fun to be around and they’re baseball players and that’s what the Phillies are trying to teach them.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Viza remarkable in gem, as Reading keeps rolling

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Tyler Viza, image- Jay Floyd
TRENTON- Tyler Viza wasn't pleased with his initial frame as he kicked off the second half of the season for the team with the best record in baseball. Shaking off a two-run home run with just one out in the contest, he would shut down 23 consecutive opposing batters to help the Reading Fightin Phils notch a 4-2 win over the Trenton Thunder.

Following a lead-off single to Tyler Wade in the 1st inning and a Dustin Fowler line out, third baseman Miguel Andujar launched a change up that was left up in the strike zone deep out to left field, giving Trenton a two-run lead.

For the next 7 2/3 innings, no other member of the Thunder lineup would reach base against Viza. The next 23 Trenton batters were retired in order.

The 21-year-old Viza would go eight innings, recording seven strike outs with no walks. He threw 66 of his 93 pitches for strikes.

"He was mixing his pitches well," pitching coach Steve Schrenk stated. "I thought he pitched inside well tonight and kept their hitters off balance all night. The last couple of starts he's been doing a really nice job for us."

For Viza, who was drafted by the Phillies in the 32nd round in 2013, it was his third win in seven Double-A starts. The Arizona native credited his battery mate, promising prospect Jorge Alfaro, for assisting with executing their game plan after the difficult opening inning.

"Jorge and I were on the same page all night," Viza said. "You know, our main focus was to pitch inside and get ahead early with these guys and try to put them away with my off-speed stuff. Later in the game, they started jumping first pitch fastball, so we kind of slowed it down, started going first pitch curve ball or change up. We went back inside, since they were cheating the fastball and it all worked out in the end."

Viza joined Reading last month after enjoying considerable success in the Florida State League for Class A Advanced Clearwater. In nine starts for the Threshers, he sported a 6-2 record with a 2.54 ERA and a 10.03 K/9 mark.

Reading got their scoring started in the top of the 2nd, when designated hitter Jake Fox slugged a lead-off homer. Then KC Serna plated another run with a single and Andrew Pullin gave Reading a 3-2 lead with a run scoring ground out.

Alfaro got the Fightins an insurance run in the 9th inning with a clutch single that scored Angelo Mora.

Left-hander Hoby Milner would relieve Viza to start the 9th. After giving up a two-out single to Fowler, righty Miguel Nunez would enter the game to record the final out for his 11th save.

The victory took took Reading's record to 64-27 (.703 winning percent) on the season. They'll continue their four-game series at Trenton with a 7PM contest on Friday.

Additional quotes...

Viza on if he would take more away from the positive aspects of this outing, or if he might dwell on the mistake in the first inning: "I mean you can't be too high in this game. You can't be too low. We're definitely going to try to fix those mistakes, like I talked about, so that's definitely one thing and I'm going to have to take the positives out of this game as well and keep moving forward with them."

Viza on playing in the Eastern League: "It's a lot of fun. I mean it's baseball. I'm having fun playing the game that I love. You can't beat it. There's no job like it in the world. I'm definitely taking it one game at a time, one step at a time. I'm still pretty young and I definitely try to learn with every game I pitch."

More from Schrenk speaking about Viza: "He's always been a guy that goes out there and gives us a lot of innings and competes and that's just what he does and he throws a lot of strikes. He keeps us in games and that's what he does. He's done that his whole career."

Bonus! For fun or out of respect, the in-house Trenton Thunder score cards in the press box on Thursday had a very humorous reference to Reading's place in the standings. See the embedded tweet below...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Mujica granted release, other transactions

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Edward Mujica, image- Jay Floyd


The Phillies granted right-handed pitcher Edward Mujica his release on Thursday.

The 32-year-old Venezuelan sported a 0-3 record with a 3.69 ERA and an International League leading 23 saves in 36 outings for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. One day prior to his departure from the team, Mujica notched the save in the IL's 4-2 victory over the Pacific Coast League in Wednesday night's Triple-A All-Star Game.

In spring training with the Phillies this year, Mujica posted a 0-1 record with a 2.16 ERA in seven relief appearances. He struck out seven and walked two in 8 1/3 innings in Grapefruit League action.

Mujica was an All-Star closer for St. Louis in 2013. Having spent parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues, Mujica is a veteran that will surely find employment and very like a roster spot in the majors very soon.

Additionally, the team announced that righty pitcher Severino Gonzalez has been added to the IronPigs' roster following being optioned on the 10th. In 11 big league outings this season, the 23-year-old has a 0-1 record with a 3.38 ERA.

Elsewhere in the minors, left-hander Mario Hollands has been outrighted to Double-A Reading.

Battling back from Tommy John surgery, the 27-year-old has posted a 3.76 ERA with 25 strike outs and seven walks issues in 26 1/3 innings in 19 games at three levels of the minors since his return to action.

Also, righty starter John Richy was moved from Reading to the Class A Advanced Clearwater roster.  And lefty pitcher Adam Morgan was added to the IronPigs roster while left-hander Anthony Vasquez was assigned to Reading.

*UPDATED 1:30pm to include Morgan and Vasquez notes.*

PhoulBallz Interview with IronPigs All-Star Andrew Knapp

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Andrew Knapp, image- Jay Floyd


Phillies catching prospect Andrew Knapp launched a solo home run to help the International League All-Stars down the Pacific Coast League team in the Triple-A All-Star Game by a score of 4-2 on Wednesday in Charlotte.

In 69 games with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs this season, the switch-hitting 24-year-old sports a .264 average with seven homers and 32 RBI.

Recently, I spoke to Knapp about his All-Star nod, learning from veterans, his own progress, the Lehigh Valley staff and plenty more. Read ahead for that full interview.

-With the All-Star honor coming your way, what were your feelings on that? Do you feel a level of accomplishment?

Yeah, it's awesome. It's great to get any acknowledgement. A lot of hard work went in. I really hammered the defensive stuff this year and I've kind of been battling through the offense, you know? Not getting too down on myself early in the year and being able to put together some good at bats. So, it's a real honor.

-In the past, maybe the thing people might critique about you was your defense. Is that what you're still focusing heavily on?

I feel like I'm always trying to get better. We've been trying to make it muscle memory, where you don't have to worry about it, and you can go worry about the game plan stuff. Calling the game and the defensive alignment and all that. So, it's getting to the point where it's starting to be fun and I'm not worrying about it as much, so then I can just focus on the pitcher and getting them in the zone. You know, the receiving and the blocking has been there and the throwing has felt really good. My arm has felt really good, so it's kind of just becoming second nature.

-You spent time with the big league team in spring training. I've always heard from other players that Carlos Ruiz is a huge influence and can help younger guys a lot. Do you feel that's accurate that Chooch can be a great source to learn from?

Yeah, definitely. I talked to Chooch quite a bit in spring, just tried to pick his brain as much as I could. He just has so much experience and knowledge that just talking to him, you gain a lot of stuff that you don't even know about yet. Whether it's on the field or just off the field, scouting report type stuff. You know, looking at what pitchers want to do and stuff like that. That was awesome to get to go to spring (training) and pick his brain.

-How much does Ruiz stand out over other players in the mentor sense?

I think, you know, there aren't many veterans around, so I don't have that much experience being around a lot of big league guys. But when I am around Chooch, he just takes you in like you've been there the whole time and he doesn't "big league" you in any way. He just wants to go out and help and show you what he's learned and share that knowledge. So, it's been awesome to have him around.

-I'm almost surprised the opportunity hasn't come up this year, because it always seems like catchers can get beat up and miss some time, but if the need at the big league level for another catcher comes, would you be ready to take on that level?

Yeah, I think so. I think that's kind of what this year has been about, is just being ready for that call when it happens. I'm trying not to think about it too much. I'd rather spend my time working about being ready for when it does happen rather than worrying about if it's gonna happen or not. So, that's kind of what I've been focusing on this year is just putting my head down, putting in the work and being ready for when the call happens.

-What feedback have you gotten from the coaching staff this year? Is it anything different than previous years?

I mean, not much. It's all good stuff. I think when John Mizerock was here, we worked a lot defensively on and off the field. We worked a lot in the video room watching film and going over scouting reports and that stuff. It's kind of been nice to have control over this pitching staff and having those guys throw to me.

-When you watch film is it footage of you, or the battery mate, or the opposition...?

It'll be me behind the plate, it'll be me hitting, a lot of time it's watching the opposing pitcher and then kind of going back and looking at the game. Looking at how the game went the night before and seeing what we could do differently.

-Jake Thompson has had a lot of success lately. From your side, what has been the key for him to improve since early in the season?

I don't think Jake was pleased with his first month here, but he's been lights-out since. What's he done different is he's commanded the strike zone much better. He's filling it up, he's been throwing all four pitches for strikes instead of feeding the fastball in there and then the off-speed wasn't there. I know he's still battling with the slider. I don't think it's up to Jake's standards, but it's getting there, so you know that's awesome for him. He's been battling through the whole time. He never put his head down or anything, so it's encouraging.

-There are several guys with big league experience that have played on the IronPigs this year. Is there anyone from that group has been able to help you grow and learn?

We've had a lot of guys, especially bullpen guys, that have a lot of big league time. (Edward) Mujica has got close to nine years, I think. So, having a guy like that around, you can kind of look at them and see how they handle situations has been nice. I think when J.P. (Arencibia) was here, it was nice to have him. He was explaining a lot of stuff to me that I haven't even-- I haven't experienced that stuff, so it was good having him here. But, I think this clubhouse is really gelling. We all get along. It's pretty easy to come to the park and play, so it's been a positive for sure.

-Is there anyone on the roster here that has one of those standout, knock out pitches that leaves a heavy impression?

(Edubray) Ramos was lights out. His fastball-slider combination is why he's in the big leagues. I was surprised he lasted this long. I mean everyone in the bullpen has got their own individual stuff. I like catching Mujica because you know what you're going to get every time, but I mean Luis Garcia has got a power arm. His slider is pretty wipe-out.

-You mentioned Ramos there. Is he one of the best stories to come out of the organization this year, with his rapid progress from the low levels of the minors up to the majors in about a two year window?

It's pretty incredible. He just goes out and pitches the same every time. He just attacks hitters. He throws his slider and fastball in the zone and when you throw 95-plus, it's pretty wipe-out, so I'm pretty happy for him. I would be surprised if he ever pitches in the minors again, based on the success he's had.

-When do you feel like your estimated time of arrival to the majors could be? When could you join Edubray?

I'm hoping this year. It's not up to me, but I'm kind of-- I want to force their hand a little bit. You know? But, like I said, it doesn't have anything to do with me, I just have to be ready for when it happens.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

PhoulBallz Interview with RHP Prospect Skylar Hunter


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The 2016 season didn't start off the way righty pitcher Skylar Hunter had hoped it might. During spring training, it was announced that the 22-year-old had tested positive for an illegal drug and would miss the first 50 games of the season.

Last year after the Phillies drafted Hunter in the 12th round out of the Citadel, Hunter posted a 3-3 record with a 3.38 ERA in 22 relief appearances for short-season A level Williamsport. This year, since being activated, he sports a 1-1 record with a 4.80 ERA in nine outings with Class A Lakewood.

This week I spoke with Skylar about the suspension, his season to date, recent news related to police shootings and plenty more. Read ahead for that full interview.

-With the disciplinary issues that you faced, can that be a big learning experience for you?

It definitely is. You get the consequence of your actions and you get a life lesson. I feel like it made me stronger and I feel like I’m ready to go.

-When that takes place, are you faced with a feeling like you let your teammates and the organizations down?

Yeah, there’s definitely that kind of feeling. I think the worst part of it was just knowing that everyone was still playing and I was just at home, hanging out. So, that was probably- I had a lot of time to think about it and that was probably the worst part, knowing that everyone was out there, playing, winning games and I was just hanging out. So, I missed a month of spring training and then I went and got after it and I’m feeling pretty good and I’m ready to go.

-So you get sent home for a month. How did you spend that time?

You’re still working out. You’re still throwing every day. You’re still getting after it. I think I got after it a little harder that month that I was gone.

-Was there a level of surprise when the suspension news is brought to you?

Yeah, there was a level of surprise. A lot of disappointment, a lot of surprise. Like I said, I feel like it made me stronger and you learn from it. I’m ready to go now, so that’s all that matters.

-I was here for your first day joining the team last month and the team was very welcoming. What was that day like for you?

It was great. I show up and I’ve got this beautiful ballpark, I’ve never seen it before, and it’s a great place to be in. I played with almost all of these guys last year in Williamsport and they’re all great buddies of mine and they were excited for me and I was excited to see them and get going.

-How do you feel about your performance thus far? Are you all caught up to where you want to be?

I feel like started out with a little bit of bad luck, a couple earned runs here and there, there was some untimely hits for me, but I feel like I’ve hit a groove and I feel like I’m doing well right now. The past couple outings have been good and I feel like I’m going to keep it rolling.

-What feedback have you gotten from the coaching staff here?

Just compete and do what I’m doing. I’ve got good stuff and I know that. I’ve just got to compete with it and be smart. Most of it’s just how to pitch when they talk to you. It’s about how to get guys out in certain counts and things like that and they’ve been preaching that a good bit. It’s been helpful.

-Is there a standout leader among guys in the BlueClaws' bullpen?

I think we’re all pretty good with that kind of stuff. I mean, I feel like we’re all pretty good. We all do our jobs and we kind of take pride in what we do. I feel like it kind of feeds off each other and everybody does good with that.

-Getting away from the game a bit, there was big news in the country, with more police involved shootings of black men and then retaliation when several white police officers are targeted by a shooter. How do you feel about what has been taking place?

Um, yeah. I mean, I’m sad for it. It’s something that doesn’t need to happen. I saw a tweet the other day that was a Martin Luther King quote. It said, “Hate can’t drive out hate. Only love can do that”. So, I think everybody just needs to come together and fight through this together. It’s a sad time, but I feel like it’ll make the country stronger if we get through it.

-If you had an opportunity to speak to some young baseball players, children who wanted to play baseball beyond high school, whether it's college or the pros, what advice would you give them?

Yeah, I would say work hard every day because it’s really crazy how many people play this game and how many people move on. If you keep working hard and you keep learning new things every day, then you can do something special. So, I’d say keep going, keep pounding. I know you’re going to get down on yourself sometimes, but if you just keep rolling through it, you’ll be fine.
 
-Do you have any game day superstitions or good luck charms?

I like to listen to a lot of reggae music because I get a little hyped up on the mound. I get going a little bit and I feel like it kind of mellows me out a little bit and it lets me calm down and attack with a game plan rather than getting out there, getting all hyped up and chucking it.

-Does that hold true with your walk out music or is that something different?

No, that’s funny you said that. My walk out music is actually The Stroke by Billy Joel, so I guess it’s kind of upbeat and it’s kind of a rock song, but I think I’m changing it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Cozens and Pinto see action in MLB Futures Game

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Dylan Cozens, image- Jay Floyd

Outfielder Dylan Cozens and pitcher Ricardo Pinto represented the Phillies as Major League Baseball kicked off its All-Star week festivities on Sunday with the MLB All-Star Futures Game in San Diego.

The pair had minimal impact on the game that saw the World team pound the United State team by a score of 11-3.

Cozens was 0-for-1 in a single plate appearance for the US, while Pinto retired both batters he faced for the World club.

The Phils prospects would serve up a pair of defensive gems as Pinto allowed a deep fly ball to the second batter he faced that could have been a home run if not for a spectacular over-the-wall catch by Padres center field prospect Manny Margot.

In his turn at bat, Cozens would lace a drive toward the right field corner that was also caught in tremendous fashion by Cubs prospect Eloy Jimenez.

Cozens, a powerful lefty batter, has had an outstanding season with Double-A Reading, where he's been honored as an Eastern League All-Star. In 85 games, the 22-year-old has posted a .286 average with 24 home runs and 75 RBI. Cozens was the Phillies' 2nd round draft selection in 2012.

The right-handed Pinto, also 22, has a 3-3 record with a 4.58 ERA in 17 starts with Reading this season. The Venezuela native received the Paul Owens Award, given to the top pitcher and position player in the Phillies developmental ranks each year, in 2015 when he posted a 15-4 record with a 2.97 ERA in 24 combined starts with Class A Lakewood and Class A Advanced Clearwater. Pinto was signed as an amateur free agent in 2011.

In the Futures Game, Jimenez, a 19-year-old playing with Class A South Bend in the Midwest League. was also the standout for the World team on offense, notching two hits, including a home run, while driving in four runs.

This article originally appeared on Phillies Nation.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Three Threshers combine for no-hitter

On Sunday, three Threshers hurlers combined to toss a no-hitters as they downed St. Lucie 4-0 in front of a home crowd at Clearwater's Bright House Field.

Making his first start in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, righty Drew Anderson made the start, going four innings. A 44- minute lighting delay chased the 22-year-old from the game. He was relieved by righty Will Morris, who notched the win with four frames, while Victor Arano closed things out in the 9th inning. Each pitcher allowed one base runner via a walk.

Anderson, a 21st round draft selection in 2012, returned from Tommy John surgery earlier this season with Class A Lakewood, where he posted a 1-13 record with a 3.38 ERA and a 9.9 K/9 mark in seven starts prior to his promotion to Clearwater.

Morris was a 24th round pick in 2013 out of the College of Southern Nevada. The 23-year-old sports a 5-2 record with a 3.16 ERA in 17 appearances for the Threshers this season. Arano, 21, was acquired as a player to be named later from the Dodgers in the 2014 Roberto Hernandez trade.

On offense, the Threshers plated the only run they really needed on a Mitch Walding RBI double in the 4th innings. They would add a trio of runs in the 7th thanks to RBI hits by Kyle Martin and Malquin Canelo and a bases loaded walk from Drew Stankiewicz.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Exclusive: Pitching prospect Jake Thompson interview excerpts

This post originally appeared on PhillyLongDrive.com.

I recently wrote a feature on Phillies righty pitching prospect Jake Thompson, who has been dominant of late with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.


The feature, which can be read over at PhoulBallz.com, includes comments from both Thompson and his pitching coach Dave Lundquist, with both men describing the what has made the difference in helping the 22-year-old standout get on track and become a hot buzz name among the organization's promising future contributors.

Here, I've included some interview excerpts from my time chatting with Jake last week. Read ahead for those exclusive quotes.

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Jake Thompson, image- Jay Floyd
-Offering thoughts on what he does between starts to stay sharp and prepare for his next outing...
I’m not a big film guy. You know, unless there’s something specific that I’m trying to find. I don’t watch much film. I’m pretty basic. Obviously, I’ve got to get my running in every day and two to three lifts per week and then a lot of contrast and arm care, treatment stuff like that to stay fresh.

-Speaking about working with Lundquist...
Me and Lundy we work every day. We talk every day. Just making sure everything stays intact and you don’t want to concentrate on one thing too much and another slips away. We just try to keep the entire thing put together.

-I asked Thompson if there's anyone on the IronPigs' roster that he might learn from as a mentor...
I wouldn’t necessarily say a mentor, but all the veterans would have, both position player and pitchers, they’re all open. None of them are guarded or anything like that. I think (James) Russell’s a good guy to talk to. He’s got five or six years in the big leagues. He knows how to get guys out. (Edward) Mujica’s real good. Frank Herrmann is another highly intelligent pitcher, a good guy to talk to when you need something from him.

-Talking about why he doesn't feel snubbed to not be named as an International League All-Star...
For me that’s not what matters to me anyway. Just my personal growth as a pitcher. I’m extremely satisfied with where I’m at, especially just struggling out of the gate like I did and getting to a point where I’m comfortable and finally feeling good.

-Sharing insight on if there was anyone on the big league roster in spring training that he picked up a lot from...
I loved talking with (Jeremy Hellickson) and Charlie (Morton). They’ve had a lot of success and have been up there a while. Both are extremely intelligent and the cool thing for me is that they were extremely open and welcoming and would do anything for you and that’s the kind of people you need in the clubhouse.

Follow me on Twitter for loads of prospect updates and exclusives!