Saturday, December 30, 2017

PhoulBallz Interview: Off-season Check in with RHP Jacob Waguespack

Waguespack with Lakewood in 2016, image- Jay Floyd
Jacob Waguespack had a noteworthy 2017 season, proving to be a hurler on the rise in the Phillies' developmental ranks.  Opening the year as a member of the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers' bullpen, he was converted to a starter and earned two promotions before his campaign was through.

With Clearwater, the righty, who spent the entirety of last season as a 23-year-old, tallied a 6-5 record with a save, a 3.29 ERA and a 9.6 K/9 mark in 24 appearances (10 starts). After joining the Double-A Reading roster, Waguespack sported a 3-2 record with a 3.65 ERA and an 8.5 K/9 mark. The Mississippi product would join the Triple-A Lehigh Valley roster for their playoff run, looking strong in a start in which he came in on the losing end of a 1-0 defeat that ousted the IronPigs from the postseason.

Recently, I talked with the man whose teammates call him "Wagz" about his change of roles this year, the impact of his instructors, working this off-season with a major league relative and more.  Read ahead for that full interview...


-How would you describe your 2017 season? Did you enjoy the kind of success that you expected for yourself?

People have been asking me, you know, you come home and people ask you how your season was and what I've been telling them is I had fun this year. The first couple years you get your feet wet and learn the ropes and everything, but this past year was really fun and, you know, we had a really good group in Clearwater and a good tight-knit group of guys and that made it fun to go out to play every day. And then once they converted me to a starter, it was nice to get in that routine and you start watching a lot more film and things like that and kind of learning your craft. And then I wasn't really expecting to be moved up to Double-A, so to get that call was awesome and that's another thing about the Double-A guys, it's a great group of guys and it made playing the game really enjoyable. And then, of course, at the end of the season, they were saying that a few guys might run out of innings in Triple-A and they might send a few of us up and I really wasn't expecting to be sent up there, but that was another great experience and to be around those guys and learning from those older guys was really fun.

-You mentioned the conversion from reliever to starter, so when that's brought to you, how is it suggested? What's the presentation of something like that?

So, we were in Kissimmee, Florida and Chavy (pitching coordinator Rafael Chavez) was in town that weekend and he and Fultzy (Aaron Fultz) the pitching coach brought me in the office and sat me down and I thought we were just going to shoot the breeze and talk about pitching a little bit and they said, "Hey, we're going to convert you into a starter." And my first reaction was, "Are you serious? Are you joking?" But, I didn't really expect that. But, Chavy was saying that they think with my physical stature, I'm a big guy, (six feet, six inches tall), that I'm a durable guy and they think I can withstand more innings, so that was a big reason that they did that. And he also said that he wanted me to work on my secondary pitches and, obviously, as a starter you get way more innings and you can develop those secondary pitches, so that was the reason they converted me, so I could work on my change up and my curveball. And then out of that I kind of developed a slider as well. But, a few things went into it, but I would say those are the two main things and they kind of wanted to see how I would fit in that role. So, yeah, that's what happened in that discussion.

-Were you strictly a reliever in college too, like you had been prior to this switch in the pros?

Well, my freshman and sophomore year I was a starter and my freshman year I got hurt and had some bone spurs in my elbow, so I actually had surgery that summer and then when I came back my sophomore year, I was a midweek starter, but it just wasn't the same after that, I had kind of a down year that sophomore year and went to summer ball and started there as well, but-- and I actually did really well in the Northwoods League-- but whenever I came back for the fall, we had lost some guys in the draft and they wanted me out of the 'pen just to provide a long relief guy or even to come in and save a few games, so they wanted me out of the bullpen my junior year.

Waguespack, image- Jay Floyd
-Within the Phillies organization, is there any coach or instructor that really stands out to you as someone that's helped you improve your game or take the most strides toward improving?

You know, that's a great question and I don't really want to single anybody out because I think that every coach that I've been involved with has actually helped me out to some degree. You know, I've adapted to Chavy's pitching philosophy, I think that's helped me out a good deal, just from the mechanics standpoint. And I spent a year with Brian Sweeney and he's an awesome guy and he helped me out a great deal with my mechanics and watching film and then I went to Clearwater with Fultzy and after every start I would go and talk to him for the next inning and we would just talk about the game and talk from the mental side and when I went to Double-A and Schrenky (Steve Schrenk) was there and him and (Carlos) Arroyo was there they tweeked a little bit with my mechanics and developed a two-seam in Double-A so, you know, I think each coach has helped me out a great deal and I'm pretty fortunate that we've got great coaches in our organization.

-Yeah, it sounds like they're all doing their part and it's excellent that you'd give credit all around. How's this off-season going? Are you working a job? Have you been to any of the seminars or clinics in Clearwater?

No, actually, last year, since I played winter ball, I didn't-- this year I was completely resting. I put that ball down and took a good couple months off. I actually, just started throwing today, so today was my first day of throwing, so I'll get on the Phillies' throwing routine and I'll get going with that, but I was mainly focusing on training. I actually work out down here in Baton Rouge with Aaron Nola. We've got a good relationship and we've got a great trainer down here and we're getting after it. Not working any jobs. Just focusing on the baseball side this go-around and just seeing how it goes.

-That's outstanding. How about working with Nola? What does he bring to the table that helps you or rubs off on you?

Well, not many people know, but me and him are related. We're third cousins, so I've actually known him for a while and I would just say his humility and his humble character-- he could just walk into a gym or somewhere and you would never know he's in there. He just blends in and that's his best attribute. And throughout last off-season, I was struggling with a couple things on how to call some pitches and set up guys and I would shoot him a text and he would hit me back pretty quick and offer some great advice. So, that guy, he's been through the system and obviously had some success at the top. He's a humble guy and he'll help you out any way he can.

-Yeah, no doubt. I remember last year I was swapping messages with him during spring training, trying to set up a time to talk and on Easter Sunday he made time to do an interview for me on the phone.

Yeah, man. That's how he is. You call him and he's willing to help you out, just like anybody else.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

PhoulBallz Interview: Off-season check in with RHP WIll Hibbs

Righty pitcher Will Hibbs enjoyed an outstanding 2017 campaign at the Class A level.  En route to an All-Star bid with Lakewood in the South Atlantic League, the six-foot-seven 245-pounder posted a 6-4 record with 20 saves, a 1.77 ERA and a .137 batting average against in 40 appearances.

Hibbs, the Phillies' 19th round draft selection in 2016, also earned a promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater in June, but he returned to Lakewood after sporting a 7.88 ERA in five relief outings.

Recently, I talked with the Texas native about his off-season, getting married, encounters with the late Roy Halladay and more.  Read ahead for that full interview.


-To start, just wanted to ask about the how the off-season began for you. How long did you discontinue throwing and what fitness or exercise do you work on during that stretch? 

I took about three full weeks off from everything: lifting, throwing, etcetera. I did some body weight and functional fitness exercises about three times a week, just to keep my body active.

-Did you participate in any of the clinics or sessions in Clearwater like instructs, the strength/speed clinics?

 I did not report to Clearwater for any off season clinics. I got married on December 2nd so a lot my time prior to that was devoted to wedding preparation and working.
-Wow, congrats! That is big news. Tell me more about wedding plans or prep, if you don't mind. What were you involved in and did you enjoy it?  
The artsy prep was done predominantly by my wife and our mothers, while I was responsible for getting all my groomsmen’s stuff organized. 
As for the weekend, it was held on the grounds of a golf course, so I played a lot of golf up until the point of saying “I do”.  

-Any baseball related aspects at the ceremony or reception?

Since baseball dominates the majority of our yearly schedule, we didn’t do a lot of baseball themed things in the wedding. We had some baseball cake balls at the rehearsal dinner, and plenty of pictures of me in uniforms from years past, but that’s about it.

-What is the current workout routine and what facilities are you using?

I am staying consistent with our organization prescribed workout routine (which includes) similar exercises that we do in season. I am working out at a local gym that my wife and I go to.

-What are you doing outside of your workout routine this off-season?  Are you holding down a job or working as a coach or instructor at all?

I am working part time at a golf course (so I get to play) lots of free golf!  I ran a pitching camp throughout November and will do another one in January at one of the local baseball facilities.

-What big lessons did you take out of last season that you know will stick with you for many years?

The biggest thing I took from last season is to "control the controllables". Things don't always go your way on the mound, regardless of who is at fault, but you have to learn how to recover and keep your team in the game and give them a chance to win.

-Several guys have talked to me in the past about being able to get exposure or time with Roy Halladay while he was working as a mental skills advisor down in FL.  Did you have any meaningful meetings with him and what did that mean to you?  Do you have any noteworthy encounters to share?

Every conversation I had with Roy was meaningful. I made it a point to soak up anything he had to say, even it was about how he viewed things off the field. He was the kind of guy that you always wanted to be around; you could always learn something from him. It would be absolutely sinful to not be 100-percent  engaged when talking with him, no matter the topic. You could tell he was a fierce competitor in every aspect of life.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Frosty Phillies Favorites: 2017 Christmas Player Survey

Santa Haseley
Season's greetings!  Everybody loves the holidays and, of course, baseball players are no exception. Every year at Christmas time, I survey a group of Phillies prospects about what they get excited for during the holiday season.

Players taking part in this year's eighth annual Christmas questionnaire include this year's top Phillies draft pick Adam Haseley, starting pitcher Jacob Waguespack who wrapped up the 2017 season in the playoffs with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Double-A second baseman Drew Stankiewicz, Class A third baseman Luke Williams as well as Class A All-Star pitchers Will Hibbs, Trevor Bettencourt and Nick Fanti.

Questions and answers listing each player’s holly jolly holiday favorites are listed below…

-What is your favorite Christmas song and which artist or version do you like best?

Haseley- The Christmas Song by Michael Buble.

Hibbs- Oh man, "All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey is a jam. It's just a universal Christmas song that gets everyone in the holiday spirit!

Williams- Jingle Bell Rock.

Stankiewicz- Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.

Fanti- Well, I'm not huge on Christmas music, but I think any version of any Christmas song is sung best by yourself in the shower.  But probably any Jingle Bells version. 

Bettencourt- It's not conventional, but I actually had heard it last year and it is hilarious and I love it.  It's called The Holiday Rap, so if you look it up on Spotify, it cracks me up and I love it.  It's great. 

Waguespack- I would have to go with N Sync, what's the name of it?  (I asked if it was "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays"- he confirmed that was it )  That's the jam right there.  That song will never get old.  That's the best for sure.

-What is your favorite Christmas movie or TV special?

Haseley- Frosty the Snowman; it’s on our little VCR cassette tape thing at our house and we used to watch it every year.  Oh, it’s like the old school one.

Hibbs- The "Home Alone" series, no doubt. Watching the Wet Bandits (Marv and Harry) get continually outsmarted and injured by a 10 year old never gets old.

Williams- Home Alone. It's, for sure, a family favorite in our house.

Stankiewicz-  The Grinch because growing up my family and I would always watch it before we set up our tree.

Fanti- My favorite Christmas movies are probably Home Alone, Elf and the beginning of the movie Ted.  But overall, probably Elf because Will Ferrell is so funny in that.

Bettencourt- I'd probably have to go Home Alone.  I don't really watch too much Christmas specific stuff, but I'm a pretty big fan of Home Alone.  You can't beat it.  

Waguespack- I think I have to go with Elf.  Will Ferrell...he's the man.  You know, that movie is another one that I don't think will get old.  I just love that movie. 

-Do you have a favorite food to eat at the holidays and who makes it?

Haseley- My mom makes ham for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  So, we have ham and turkey for Thanksgiving, and just ham for Christmas.  It’s mom’s ham!

Hibbs- I don't discriminate.  Everyone in my family makes awesome food around Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you held a gun to my head, I would have to say deviled eggs.

Williams- My mother makes a huge turkey feast for us. We do this because for Thanksgiving we go to my aunt and uncle's house, so this gives my mom the opportunity to make her own turkey feast for us on Christmas. 

Stankiewicz-  Tamales.  My Grandma always makes then from scratch.

Fanti- My favorite food is anything that comes from my brother-in-law's restaurant Fanatico.  They cater my Christmas and sausage and peppers and the fish is great.

Trevor B. the elf
Bettencourt- My mom every year for Christmas makes this seafood cioppino, it's pretty amazing.  Everybody comes over, you get some rubber gloves, so you don't smell like fish, you crack into some crabs, some shrimp and she kills it.  I love it.

Waguespack- I gotta go with my Mawmaw Rose, she makes a chicken and sausage gumbo.  You know, I'm from Louisiana, so she makes a killer chicken and sausage gumbo and we throw some potato salad in there and that's a Christmas Eve tradition right there.

-Do you have any big family traditions at Christmastime that you look forward to?

Haseley- There is an event at our church called The Singing Christmas Tree that we go to every year.  It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s basically a bunch of singers in these really tall Christmas trees and there’s a storyline and stuff like that.  So we go to that every year.  It’s the same Christmas story, but they change it up.

Hibbs- My family always takes turns opening gifts, rotating from one person to the other, one at a time until all the gifts are opened. I used to get frustrated when I was younger because it took so long, but now I appreciate it because it allowed us to spend more time together during the best day of the year. It's even more special now when my brothers and sister are in town because it's rare that all of us kids (and respective spouses) are in the same room together.

Williams- On Christmas Eve we go to my aunt and uncle's house to have dinner and open gifts from our cousins. We do a Secret Santa with all of our cousins from my father's side of the family every year. 

Stankiewicz-   My family plays a card game called Castigo, which means "penalty" in Spanish, and we are all way too competitive and always end up in a big fight.  My brother, two sisters, mom and dad and Grandma all play.. It's essentially the Mexican version of Rummy. 

Fanti- Every year my family does a Secret Santa with my sisters and I so I always look forward to that.  We also do a White Elephant game where you get a number and take a present but the fun part is people can steal the present from you so it gets really intense and funny.

-Does your family have a Phillies ornament on the tree?

Haseley- I don’t know yet.  (Hadn’t decorated the tree at time of interview)

Stankiewicz- We do not (laughs).

Fanti- Yes, there's a picture of my parents with me in a Phillies uniform hanging on the tree.  My mom wanted to put a Phillies hat or something on the angel, but that was a little too  much for me.   

Bettencourt- No, we do not.  Maybe this year, who knows?

Waguespack- I would have to say 100-percent yes, because my mom probably has five at least. 

-Do you have a standout Christmas gift from childhood that still sticks in your memory?

Hibbs- Santa got the family a ping pong table one year, and we played on that table religiously until it fell apart.

Williams- One year I got an electric scooter and I want to say I rode that thing everyday for hours. I was in love with that thing. That's probably why it only lasted maybe a year. 

Stankiewicz-  I remember my first big barrel bat.  The TPX Response.  

Fanti- For some reason one of my most memorable gifts was when I customized a skateboard and my parents said they didn't get it but then they did and for some reason I was so excited about it, so I shredded for about a month before falling on my arm and I never touched it again.

Bettencourt- I'd probably have to say my first Rawlings glove.  I remember going to store with my dad, like the week before.  We were getting something else and I was looking at the gloves and I had a random glove, nothing special and when I woke up Christmas morning, I had this burnt red Rawlings glove and I was too pumped about it.  I don't know what happened, I don't know how it happened, but I opened it Christmas morning, (it was) stiff as a rock, ended up leaving it on top of the TV, no sunlight, no nothing.  Picked it up the next day and it was nice and soft and kind of broken in and it was still in the little case and I was shocked.  So, I'll chalk that up to a little Christmas miracle.  

Waguespack- I would say that one of my grandmothers, we have a blended family on my dad's side, so my step-mom's mom actually one Christmas, there's six grandchildren, one Christmas she gave us all electric scooters, so that was huge.  I think we were nine or ten and those had just came out and were a lot of fun. 

-Do you recall finding out the real deal about Santa and is there a story to go with it?

Haseley- I don’t.  My sister’s older than me and I think she found out and I probably found out from her.  

Hibbs- What do you mean...?

Williams- I don't remember what age but I'd have to say around 10-12 I had all these thoughts about Santa and people saying he's fake and one day it just hit me that there's no way he's real. So yeah that's my story. Pretty boring I know. 

Stankiewicz-   When I was younger I tried to stay awake for Santa to see what he looked like in person and I snuck out of my bedroom and saw my dad eating the cookies (we left for Santa).  I screamed and yelled, "Those are for Santa!"  Then I realized the note was in my dad's exact handwriting. 

Fanti- Well, I won't name any names, but one of my sisters used to be tough to get out of bed and she lashed out because she was cranky and I was excited for Christmas.  
Bettencourt- The last time I remember him being real and believing in it, I got a bike and my mom was helping me write a letter to him.  After that, I think I knew when my parents got me and my sister like a combined gift.  It was one of those air hockey tables and while we were trying to sleep, you could kind of hear them making it and you could hear them helping each other and I was thinking, "Okay, there's something going on here."  So, I would have to go with that.  Great gift, but...

Waguespack- No, not really, 'cause I've got two older brothers, so I probably think they knew as they got into middle school or whatever, but they probably didn't say anything, so I could have the spirit for a couple more years, but I think it was kind of one year where we all just figured it out.  I remember driving in the car and my mom let it slip about (the Easter Bunny) and we had my brother and someone else in the car and she kind of let it slip and I had already kind of knew, but after that it was confirmed.


Previous editions of this survey include answers from Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, JP Crawford, Mark Leiter Jr., Cameron Rupp, Scott Kingery and loads of others.  

 Those editions of this holiday survey can be viewed at the following links- 2016 survey, 2015 survey, 2014 survey, 2013 edition, 2012 edition, 2011 edition and 2010 edition.

Happy holidays, everyone and thanks to Eric Floyd for the photo editing.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Phillies announce 2018 minor league coaching staffs

On Thursday, the Phillies announced their minor league coaching staff for the 2018 season, including a few big additions.
 
At the top of the developmental levels, Gary Jones has been hired as the manager of the Phils’ Triple-A affiliate the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.  Jones, 57, spent the previous four seasons as the third base coach for the Cubs.  He has also coaches in the A’s, Padres and Red Sox organizations.

Jones makes the third individual that the Phillies have hired away from the 2016 World Series champions this off-season.  John Mallee, the team's new hitting coach at the big league level, held that position with the Cubs for the previous three seasons and new first base coach Jose Flores served as Chicago's minor league field coordinator (virtually a second-in-command of the minors) for a handful of seasons.  
 
Former Phillies infielder Wes Helms will also be added to the IronPigs’ staff as a coach.  Hitting coach Sal Rende and pitching coach Dave Lundquist will remain in their roles with the team.
 
Greg Legg, image- Jay Floyd
Returning Double-A Reading manager Greg Legg's history with the Phillies dates back to 1982 when the team drafted him as an infielder in the 22nd round. He would play for 13 professional seasons, including time spent in the majors with the Phils. Since 1994 he has served as a coach at various levels of the minors.

Legg will be joined by former Phillies first baseman Rico Brogna.  He previously worked as a scout with the Angels. 
 
The new hitting coach with Reading will be Kevin Riggs, who has coaching experience with the Rockies and Pirates developmental systems.  Steve Schrenk will return as the team’s pitching coach.
 
With Class A Advanced Clearwater, Shawn Williams will return as the club’s skipper for his second season there.  Aaron Fultz, another former Phillie, will be retained as the Threshers’ pitching coach.  John Mizerock, who served as hitting coach with Reading last year, will join the Clearwater staff in the same role.  Ruben Gotay, a former big league infielder with the Royals, Mets and Braves, will be added as a coach with Clearwater. 
 
Class A Lakewood will see manager Marty Malloy return for his second season with the team.  His staff will be completely new with former Phillies farmhand Tyler Henson named as hitting coach, former big league hurler Brad Bergesen joining the team as pitching coach and Venezuela native, Milver Reyes being added as coach. 
 
For short-season Class A Williamsport Pat Borders will return for his fourth season as the team’s manager.  Former Phils farmhand Christian Marrero will join the team as a hitting coach with Hector Berrios returns as pitching coach.  Greg Brodzinski, who was a catcher in the Phillies farm system in 2015 and 2016, will be added as a coach. 
 
The organization also announced that they have added a second team in the short-season rookie level Gulf Coast League. 
 
The GCL East team will feature manager Roly de Armas hitting coach Rafael de Lima, pitching coach Hector Mercado and coach Charlie Hayes. 

The GCL West team includes manager Nelson Prada, who was the hitting coach with Lakewood the last few seasons, former infielder Chris Heintz and former Temple University and Phillies minor league reliever Matt Hockenberry as pitching coach. 
 
Rob Ducey, who was a hitting coach in the Phils’ system in recent seasons, will take on the position of base running and bunting coordinator.  Other developmental mainstays such as coordinators, roving instructors and rehab coaches will be retained in their roles.  Details on those positions and others mentioned above can be viewed at this linked web address.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

PhoulBallz Interview: Adam Haseley talks off-season, Halladay, more

Adam Haseley, image- Jay Floyd
Selected by the Phillies with the 8th overall pick in this year's MLB draft, outfielder Adam Haseley proved to be a promising talent during his half-season as a pro.

The 21-year-old lefty batter tallied a .284 average with three home runs, 28 RBI and six stolen bases in 58 games at three levels, including the final 18 contests with Class A Lakewood.

This off-season Haseley, a native of Florida has spent much of his off-season in and around Clearwater, training at the Phils' facilities there.  Recently, I spoke to the Virginia product about his initial experiences in the minors, his efforts since the season ended, meeting Roy Halladay prior to his passing and more.  Read ahead for that full interview.



-Was there a standout lesson you took from your first season as a professional player that you know will stick with you for years to come?


I would say two things; one, getting used to playing every day, in the sense of getting ready, you know, every night and kind of finding something else that you’re involved in besides going to the field every day.  It gets kind of (repetitive).  I think it’s important to have something other than baseball that you’re involved in, whether it’s reading or going out with teammates for lunch or something like that- something that just mixed things up.

-Do you have any moments that mean a lot to you, from last season in the minors?

Probably my first day in Williamsport and just kind of like taking it all in.  They dropped me off at the front gate of the locker room and I walked in and put my bags down and kind of just thought to myself that this is where it all begins.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget getting in that day and trying to fit in and trying to start the process as soon as I could.

-When a new guy walks into a locker room following a draft, promotion, trade, whatever…how difficult is that fitting in?  Is it tough to learn all the names and faces?

 

Yeah, it’s not easy.  The first day that I got to Clearwater, they had a little mini camp after the draft, I didn’t know anyone and a bunch of guys had been there days before me.  So, that was the hardest day just from a standpoint of trying to get to know people and just being the new guy and not really knowing where I was.  The next two times I moved, the first time to Williamsport and then to Lakewood, it would be a little easier because I would know a guy or two when I got there. 

-All new guys to the organization would be slated to go to the fall instructional league, following the regular season.  What is that like and can you talk about the other camps you attended?

For instructs, overall it was really beneficial, I thought.  I got to meet a lot of the different coaches and the hitting instructor for High A was there and I met a lot of teammates, whether it was the Latin players or other players that I didn’t play with.  I thought it was good.  We got to start testing new ideas and get some more reps and travel around and play at different locations.  I really enjoyed it.

-Did you attend the strength camp or the speed camp that the Phillies hosted down there?
I attended both of those.  It was good.  The strength camp got underway around October 31st or November 1st and I took two weeks off from lifting after instructs, just letting the body and mind rest, so I thought November 1st was a good time to start.  In the speed camp we worked a lot of things, whether it was first jumps or form running, so it was real good.  It was a good start and I have kept training.  I’ve been working really hard and trying to get ready for the next season. 

-I know Roy Halladay had been working as a mental skills coach down there.  Had you encountered him at all after signing with the Phillies?
I actually introduced myself the Monday before he passed.  He actually came and spoke to our little group at the strength camp that afternoon and I just introduced myself afterward and he was very encouraging and gave me a couple books that he encouraged me to read.  And I was just grateful to have met him.

-Do you value that experience a lot?

Yeah, I was just happy that I got to meet him the day before, just that he took the time out of his schedule and his life to invest in us and tell us some of the important things that he learned in his career, it was just pretty special to me to meet him in the time that I did.

-Do you recall finding out what happened with him?  Where you among teammates when the news broke about his plane crash?

Yeah, we were in Spanish class that we were taking on Tuesdays and Thursdays it was about 3:30 or something like that and we were getting out at 4 and one of the guys had said something about it and we all obviously got online and had to check.

-Was it tough to deal with at all?

It was relying on each other, trying to make sense of it and I know a couple guys along with myself got to go to the Threshers’ event for honoring him a few days later, so that was pretty special.
-It's great you had the chance to meet him.  Spanish class you mentioned, and I know for the Latin guys that come up and play in the States, English class is mandatory.  Is the Spanish class for you guys mandatory or voluntary?

It was mandatory within those two camps.

-Any previous exposure to the language?  Any head start with it?

Most of us did and a lot of it was reviewing.  I took it for a couple semesters in college.  It was good, it gave us more time to bond together and it’s positive to get that refresher on Spanish.

-Things were heating up for the Phils as of late.  Can you, as a minor leaguer, get excited for or do you follow Phillies hot stove news?

Yeah, I was trying to follow it all.  I was at the Winter Meetings one night, I was just meeting a friend up there that just graduated and was trying to land a job.  We were out in that direction a couple nights ago, so yeah, I was trying to follow it a little bit.  There was some talk in the clubhouse for speed camp of what might happen, so it’s been interesting.

-Since it sounds like your entire off-season has been loaded with baseball, do you have any personal plans you’re looking forward to before spring training begins?

There is this event in Atlanta, it’s called Passion, it’s like a conference for Christian students in college, so I’ll be going to that.  It’s on New Year’s Day till the third of January.  That’s about it.
-Tell me more about that…do you go with college friends?
It’s basically, the church in Atlanta is called Passion and they put on a conference every year for 50-to-60 thousand college students from around the country and they all come in to—it’s usually at a few different locations, but this year it’s at the Philips Arena in Atlanta and it’s basically a three-day conference with different bands and different speakers and stuff like that.  I went last year and it’s pretty cool. 
 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

PhoulBallz Interview: Phillies 3B prospect Luke Williams talks Colombian League, Alfaro, more


Luke Williams, image- Jay Floyd
Third baseman Luke Williams is enjoying success this off-season in Colombia following a difficult-at-times regular season with Class A Lakewood.  The 21-year-old has posted a .297 batting average with two doubles, a home runs, 10 RBI and five stolen bases through 30 contests as a member of the Toros.  

In the midst of an eight game hitting streak, Williams is 12-for-29 (.414 avg) during that stretch.

A 3rd round draft selection of the Phillies in 2015, the righty hitting Williams tallied a .216 batting average with a home run, 27 RBI and 29 stolen bases in 115 games this year for the BlueClaws. 

Recently, I spoke with Luke who commented on the competition in Colombia, the difference in cultures, playing alongside Phils backstop Jorge Alfaro and plenty more.  

If all goes well, the experience playing abroad will really help Williams reach the top levels of the sport and he'll be making an impact on the lines on sports betting sites before long.

Read ahead for that full interview.  

-How would you describe the experience in Colombia?  Has it been what you expected?

My experience here in Colombia has been great. I'd have to say I expected it to be somewhat like this. I got to go to the Dominican Republic my first year for a few weeks so I had an idea of what I was going to be going through but unexpected things always seem to happen. It's been great getting to experience a country that is so different than the U.S. Obviously, it doesn't have some of the luxuries that the U.S. has but I've enjoyed having to adjust to the lifestyle here. One thing that cracks me up every time is when we (Americans) are walking down the street everyone just stares like they've never seen a white person before. It was strange at the beginning but we are used to it now. 

-Thoughts on the level of competition there?

The level of competition here is pretty good. You'll see some good young talent and a lot of older players who don't play in the states anymore but reached the higher minor league levels while they did.  So I have definitely been challenged while being here but I felt like I've stood my ground and have learned a lot. 

-Are there any big differences between baseball in the U.S. versus the games down there?  Anything that you like better there?

I'd have the say the game out here in Colombia is a lot more relaxed. I think that has to do a lot with the culture. Everything here seems to be done at a chilled and relaxed rate. It's "tranquillo" (chill in Spanish). One thing here is that you play to win. In the minors it's more emphasized on development, even though we still want to win. But here it's all about winning and if you don't win, the fans will let you know. It's nice to be in that kind of atmosphere again. 

-Does playing abroad give you a better understanding of what some of your organization mates go through, coming from foreign countries to play in the U.S.?  If so, how?

Yes, absolutely. I think the biggest thing is the language barrier. It makes things a lot harder when you can't communicate with the locals. Now I know a little Spanish, enough to get by. But it still is difficult. I can't have a full conversation with the people here. Another thing is adapting to the culture. I was culture shocked for the few first days, I'm not going to lie. The atmosphere, food, people, weather, etcetera are all things you just have to adjust to. And I think we (speaking of himself and teammate Casey Brown) have done a good job of doing that.

-How much of a help has Jorge Alfaro been either between the lines or just adapting to the culture or both?

He's been great in both aspects. It's been great to be able to be on the same team as him and to just pick his brain a little. We talk hitting all the time together just kind of tossing ideas back and forth. It's nice to also have someone you can have a conversation with in English. He also has helped us with the culture as well. The first few days we were here he was giving us information of on where to go, where not to go, and information like that. It has definitely helped to have someone like Jorge on our team. 

-Jorge’s a name that Phils fans know already and are excited about.  Is he just as popular down there in his native country?

I'd say he's even more popular here. Everyone knows who Jorge Alfaro is. If I'm not mistaken, I think he is the first big leaguer from his hometown of Sincelejo, so he's a big deal around here. People are always asking him for pictures and his signature and he always takes time out of his day to do that for them. 

-Most American guys that play in foreign leagues wrap up their time mid-season.  When is your time there done?  Are you coming home before Christmas or playing longer and what about Casey?

As of right now I will be playing the whole season. As for the other U.S. players I am not sure what their plan is. 

-What is the best part of this off-season so far?

For me, just the overall experience. There have been so many days where I just take a step back from everything and think to myself, "Wow, I'm living and playing baseball in Colombia. Who would have thought." My brother and his friend came and visited me about a month ago and all my brother could say to me was, "I can't believe you actually live in Colombia." I am just so thankful for what baseball has done for my life and the experiences I've had. It definitely hasn't been easy and I'd sure love be to be home with my loved ones for Christmas, but this is my life and I'm living a once in a lifetime experience.