Sunday, July 30, 2017

Arauz tosses no-hitter for Clearwater

Harold Arauz, image- Jay Floyd
With just two outs remaining to wrap up a perfect game, Clearwater hurler Harold Arauz issued a walk to Ft. Myers third baseman Brandon Lopez.  Arauz would bounce back to retire the next two batters, wrapping up a no-hitter to lock down a 2-0 victory.


Earlier in the day, the Thresher lost game one of the double header by a score of 4-0.  In the minor leagues, games of double headers are slated as seven-inning contests. In his seven frames on Sunday, the 22-year-old Arauz was dominant, as he would strike out 10 Miracle batters in his third start of the season. 

The right-handed Panama native would see his record go to 4-2 with the Class A Advanced Threshers on the season.  The strong effort on Sunday saw his ERA with Clearwater drop to 2.03. 

Arauz, a six-foot-two 185-pounder opened the season with Class A Lakewood where he posted a 1-2 record with a 1.99 ERA in eight relief appearances. He also appeared in one game this season for Reading in late June.

Primarily a reliever this year, Arauz started all 22 of his appearances in the organization last year.  He was acquired from Houston as part of the Kenny Giles trade in 2015. 

The Threshers are 19-18 in the second half.  They sit in third place, six games behind the Tampa Yankees for the top spot in the Florida State League North division.

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading pitcher Cole Irvin

Cole Irvin, image- Jay Floyd
Starting pitcher Cole Irvin has had a swift rise thus far in his pro career.  A 5th round selection last year, the 23-year-old lefty is the first player from that Phillies draft class to reach the Double-A level.

Irvin opened his 2017 campaign with Class A Advanced Clearwater.  In 12 outings there, the California native posted a 4-6 record with a 2.55 ERA and a .265 batting average against.  In June, he was promoted to Reading, where he has tallied a 4-1 record with a 2.70 ERA and a .244 batting average against.

Earlier this month, I sat down with Cole to chat about his success as a pro, which players (including a Phillie) he looked up to as a child, social media and plenty more.  Read ahead for that full interview...

-It's been a swift rise through the minors.  Just a short year after making your pro debut, you're at the Double-A level and you're pitching with success.  Can you offer some thoughts on this quick pace ?

It's been kind of crazy.  It's been kind of nuts.  I didn't expect myself to be here this quickly, more or less this soon.  You always have expectations of yourself and what you want to do, and what your goals are for the year, but for myself, I'm happy that I've kind of got to my goals as quickly as I have.  I wasn't expecting to be in Double-A till August/September time, when guys start moving around.  But now I'm here, made my Double-A debut about a week before I made my professional debut a year before that.  It's been kind of a whirlwind of crazy things going on, but it's kind of funny- I was talking to my dad and I said, "I made my professional debut and July 4th and I got my first professional hit July 3rd."  It's kind of cool that things revolved around July 4th for me, because it's my favorite holiday.  So, I love playing baseball on July 4th.  Nothing better than beers and hot dogs and watching some fireworks, you know?

-You mention your dad and I imagine you've got a lot of support from your whole family?

Yeah, absolutely.  You know, I keep my family really close to me and the people that know what's going on in my everyday life will know what's going on and it's a big deal, especially when I told my dad that my Double-A debut was going to be with me batting 9th, so he got super happy.  My best friends were hazing me a little bit.  "Don't strike out!" kind of stuff and I'm glad in my debut that I didn't.  But it's been fun and, like I said, my family's real close to me and they've been behind everything.  They haven't seen me throw for an affiliate till I reached Double-A, so they can see me on TV, so they can see my starts now and, eventually, they'll make it out to the east coast to see me (in person).  We'll see when that happens.  

-You're a Cali guy.  What is hometown for you?

Home town is Anaheim.  Yorba Linda to be exact.  Um, I grew up in Anaheim, went to high school in Anaheim and then I went to the University of Oregon.

-Is there anyone from your youth, maybe an Angels player, that really made some memorable impressions for the game of baseball with you?

I was a big, big Jim Edmonds fan as a kid.  So, watching him play, the way he played the game and then realizing when you're older the two knee surgeries that he's gone through, you know, he wasn't your stereotypical center fielder.  You look at him and he could barely move out there and he's out there making arguably, to me, the greatest catch in major league history, diving backwards, Willie Mays catch.  It was just insane.

I actually had a chance when I was a kid to interact with him, because he was with the Angels and we had a family friend that had a Christmas party and- What do you know?- They were friends with the Edmonds.  So, I got to experience being around him and I don't really remember the interaction.  

I think I was like four or five (years old).  My dad and my mom always told me that I practically fainted, I was so excited.  I was so in awe.  I couldn't talk to anyone else.  It was a cool memory, growing up loving baseball.  Baseball's always been my driving force.  I could never get tired of it.  I want to stay in the game as long as I can.  It's been fun. 

-What's it like on this team with you, Zach Coppola and some other guys moving up from the Threshers to this team with Reading?

I think there's a lot of camaraderie.  A lot of guys know each other, believe in each other and knows what the others can do, so when things aren't going right, you know how to talk to your teammate.  And that's a thing that's important and losing stinks.  So, the importance is just being able to back your teammate the best way you can so, if you're not playing and he's having a bad day you should be able to interact with your teammate and say, "Hey, we got you right here.  We're going to back you up.  We're going to pull for you and everything's going to turn around for you.  You're going to get one more (at bat).  You're going to get one more pitch.  You're to come out of the situation on top.  Just don't worry about it."  The biggest deal is trying to understand your teammates.  So, having guys from Clearwater and now interacting with some of the guys here, the camaraderie is awesome.  The guys are all best friend with each other and it's really cool.

-What is the pitch menu for you right now and is any of the offerings a go-to pitch for you?

Four-seam, two-seam, one-seam- I haven't been throwing that here yet, because it's so unpredictable- but, change up, slider and curve ball.  My out pitch is my change up.  I can throw it in any count.  All my pitches I can throw in any count, but change up, slider, curve ball, those are my out pitches and every once in a while if I know a guy is a free swinger, I'll throw a fastball up 'cause he's gonna be able to swing at it.  You just gotta understand the situation in terms of kind of what's going to be an out pitch, especially at this level.  Guy are going to start being patient.  There is a difference between High A and here with patient hitters, guys not exactly jumping out at the first pitch they see.  You know they understand that the might get one more decent pitch to swing at.  So, the biggest thing for me is to minimize how many decent pitches they see.  (Laughs)

-I know mental coaching and guidance on the mental side of the game is something that has helped some of the pitchers on this club.  Roy Halladay is down in Florida, helping a lot of the guys with that.  Did you take advantage of anything like that?

I only met with him once.  It was really just a get-to-know-me meeting.  It wasn't really baseball related or anything like that.  I never had a chance to pick his brain.  As a pitcher coming up in the high school ranks, Cole Hamels is a pitcher that I watched.  I was very much compared to him.  So him being a Phillie and playing with Roy Halladay was something of a- kind of a big deal for me.  Especially, when he became our mental skills coach, down in Clearwater.  I didn't get to meet with him as much, but I've met with so many mental strength coaches, I don't know if I was going to talk to him about anything mental.  I think I wanted to talk to him what Cole Hamels is like and everything he was and what that rotation was like. 

Things were going well and when things are going well, you tend not to think about, "How do I handle the bad?" You don't think about the bad because things are going well.  

He's an awesome guy and I know a lot of guys have talked with them and it's helped them along the way.  It's awesome to have him, an unbelievable big leaguer in your corner and be able to talk to him and have him as a mentor.  Austin Davis and a couple other guys in the organization will stay in contact with him.  For me, I got his number and I texted him about when we were meeting and the next thing I know on my Snapchat, Roy Halladay can be an option for a friend.  And I didn't hit add friend, as much as I wanted to.  But it's kind of cool to think, "Do I hit Add Friend for Roy Halladay?"  

But it's kind of fun and cool and kind of humbling to have a guy like him in your corner. 

-Is it crazy to think that this elite level Cy Young Award winner messes around on the same stupid applications that every young person does?

I don't think so.  'Cause I feel like parents have to be involved with what their kids do.  So, him being a father, I'm sure he's trying to stay on top of the social media and understand what's going on, so his kids can't spook him.  I don't know what his deal with it is, but it's cool because also through the years of playing I also met Bret Saberhagen and I'm a huge baseball buff, so I got to play golf with him when I was younger.  And a guy, he played at Richmond, he's in the Giants organization, Tyler Beede, he and I were buddies and we got the pleasure to work with Bret Saberhagen for a little while in our younger high school years.  And seeing him, he's on social media, Twitter and stuff.  Big Royals guy, obviously.  But you see these professional athletes, especially the older athletes like Halladay and Saberhagen, to be able to use social media in a positive direction.  They're promoting their teams, their clubs.  They're also giving it a positive outlook, so that's something that I kind of like to see myself as, is more as a positive light on other people in my social media instead of, "Hey, here's me!"  Every once in a while, you're going to have those things...

-Right.  "Look at me!",  "Look at my watch!",  "Look where I am!"

(Laughs) Right.  As much as you don't want it to be like that, every now and again it's going to be, but you want to limit those things and you want to shed light to people like, I'm a good person too and I just want to make sure everyone else's day is better.

-I've had a great time chatting.  One last thing before I let you go, you talked about being a big baseball buff.  Are you keeping a lot of mementos like that first hit ball as you move forward in your career?

I've got 'em all.  I've got the first pitch in Double-A.  I've got the first professional debut.  I've got the first double- first hit technically, but I like saying first double!  (Laughs)  I have them all, so hopefully, when that first home run I'm going to be able to get that back.  But, who knows when that'll happen.  It's not up to me.  But for anyone out there, please give me that home run ball back.  I'll pay for it!  (Laughs)  I want that ball!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Aaron Judge Continues Magical Season with Home Run Derby Win


During the 2017 Major League Baseball Home Run Derby, Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees once again demonstrated while he's the leading candidate to win both the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year awards.

Coming into the Derby, Judge led the major leagues in home runs hit through the All-Star break with 30. And on the night of the derby, he bested three different guys who have hit 20 home runs themselves this season, en route to dethroning Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins as the Home Run Derby champion.

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On the way to winning this year's Derby, Judge beat out some of baseball's elite sluggers, including Stanton and Justin Bour of the Marlins, fellow Yankees teammate Gary Sanchez, Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies, Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals.

In the first round of the Derby, Judge faced Bour in what resulted in perhaps the most thrilling battle of the evening. After crushing 23 home runs in the opening round -- easily representing the highest total of any player in any round for the evening -- he still ended up narrowly escaping with a victory against Bour, who ended up hitting 22 home runs himself.

Judge faced Bellinger in the second round, with far less dramatics. After the latter hit 12 home runs to start the round, Judge easily cruised past this number by hitting 13 home runs with more than a minute to spare.

In the final round, Judge took on third baseman Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins. Sano went to bat first and started off the round slowly, hitting only one home run through the first two-and-a-half minutes of the round. But he came on strong after calling a time out, pushing his total to 10 home runs, including a 449-footer at the end of the round.

But like in his match up against Bellinger, Judge responded swiftly and decisively, again cruising past his opponent with time to spare. Unlike Sano, Judge came out of the gates hot, crushing home runs off the first three pitches he faced; two of them went for more than 458 feet.

At baseball’s midway point, Judge is hitting .326 with 30 homers and 66 RBIs. He has been anointed by none other than commissioner Rob Manfred as possibly the next face of baseball. As lofty as this might seem, people around the organization say that Judge’s combination of patience, intelligence, and power as a hitter could lead to him to a home run total higher than anything Mickey Mantle ever achieved.

In other words: the Home Run Derby was just another chapter in Aaron Judge’s magical rookie season.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

PhoulBallz Interview: Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez

Sixto Sanchez, image- Jay Floyd

A big buzz name around the minor leagues this season is right-handed pitcher Sixto Sanchez.  The 18-year-old Dominican Republic native touts a high 90's fastball that steadily gets into triple digits, a solid slider and a change up that compliments the other offerings well.  On top of all that, his command is likely what impresses most of all.

In 56 1/3 innings for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws the six-foot tall 185-pounder has struck out 54 batters while walking just six.

Sanchez has a 4-3 record with a 2.88 ERA and a .199 batting average against through 11 starts this season in the.

Much like many Phillies minor leaguers, the talented youngster uses his legs to drive toward home plate, he varies his speeds to his advantage and features a strong and consistent delivery.

Previously a shortstop as a youth player, Sanchez switched to the pitcher's mound three seasons ago.

He has transitioned remarkably, displaying strong poise as he mows down the competition.  At this pace, it may not be long before Sanchez reaches the top level of the sport and has fans ready to check baseball betting options online with William Hill.

Recently, I spoke with Sanchez, with the help of a translator.  He spoke a bit about adjusting to the South Atlantic League, working closely with his staff mates and more.  Read ahead for that interview.

-I just wanted to get your thoughts on your  2017 so far, with all your success.

Everything is good so far.  I'm feeling pretty good now.  I'll work hard to keep it going.

-Is there any feedback you're getting from the coaches that is helping you along?

Yeah, they look out for me.  Make sure I do things right.  They're helping me thus far in my career.

-How about the competition here?  Was it an easy adjustment to pitch in this league?

There's really good competition here.  It's not that easy.  But, I try to do what I can.

-Other pitchers on the staff have performed well also.  Does that help you, being on a staff with other pitchers that are enjoying success?

Of course, that's helping me. That makes the job easier because we talk together and we keep on communicating every start to get better and help each other.

-When you signed with the Phillies, was there anything about the Phillies organization that made this team appealing more than others?

Yeah, I liked the organization.  I wanted to sign with the Phillies from the start.

-There used to be some appeal for Latin players that the general manager was bilingual and could speak Spanish.  Is there anything now that makes the Phillies a place you would want to go?  Something specific?

It's hard with the language and the team tries to help us speak English.  So, I'm trying to get better with English.

-That campus that the Phillies built in the Dominican Republic with the dorms, have you spent time there over the off-season?

Yeah, we take English classes in the Dominican.  They make sure we work.  So, it's a long process.

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-Is there any player from your youth that you used to watch that you found appealing and maybe wanted to emulate?

Yes.  As a kid, I liked Pedro Martinez.

-He pitched with the Phillies.  Does that stand out in your memory, him pitching with the Phillies for a year?

No.

-Only with the Red Sox?

(Smiling) Yeah!

-Do you have goals moving forward the rest of the year? 

I just want to keep learning and help the team win.  Would be great if the BlueClaws could make the playoffs.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lakewood's Fanti goes distance for second no-hitter of season

Nick Fanti, image- Jay Floyd
Lefty starter Nick Fanti Jr. recorded another historical moment this season, as he went the distance, shutting down the Charleston RiverDogs’ (Yankees affiliate) offense to record a no-hitter on Monday at Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park.
 
In nine innings of work, the 20-year-old struck out 12 and walked one on 113 pitches to put his name in the history books and improve his season record to 7-2 in 15 starts. 
 
Fanti, the Phillies’ 31st round draft selection in 2015, previously helped Lakewood notch a no-hitter this season when he tossed 8 2/3 innings without surrendering a safety against Columbia on May 6th.  His roommate at the time, reliever Trevor Bettencourt, entered the game to record the final out.  Bettencourt has since been promoted to Class A Advanced Clearwater. 
 
The six-foot-two 185-pounder, Fanti, stated that he received a congratulatory text message from Bettencourt after Monday’s feat and he replied, “Since you aren’t here anymore, I figured I would do it all myself!” 
 
Hailing from Long Island, Fanti’s father, Nick Fanti Sr., typically doesn’t miss any of his home starts and he happened to be on hand, along with Nick’s girlfriend, for the special outing on Monday.  The Fanti men were able to share a special embrace on the field following the game.
 
“I kind of pointed to him and I had some people clear the way for him and I made sure he got through because I wanted to give him a hug,” Fanti said, admitting that his dad seemed to be getting emotional in the moment, but was able to disguise any watery eyes behind his sunglasses.
 
In the contest, Charleston’s lone base runner, first baseman Brandon Wagner, reached with a free pass in the top of the 2nd inning. 
 
Gregori Rivero, a new comer to the team, caught Fanti’s gem in his third start with the BlueClaws. 
 
According to Fanti, he didn’t know early on that the day had the potential to be special.  His control was not on point during his pregame warm ups.
 
“My bullpen was pretty horrible.  I was pretty much all over the place and my pitching coach (Brian Sweeney) told me, ‘You know the Nolan Ryan story (about how he had a wild bullpen and then threw a no-hitter)?’  And I said, ‘Yeah.’  And he also said that to me before the last no-hitter.  And after the game today, he said, ‘You really take that story seriously!’”
 
Designated hitter Henri Lartique counted for the lone run in the victory for Lakewood on Monday with his 7th home run of the year. 
 
The effort was the second individual nine-inning no-hitter in BlueClaws history.  The previous one was tossed by former 1st round draft selection Gavin Floyd in 2002.  It was a 1-0 loss to Lexington.  Keith Bucktrot also notched one on his own, tossing a shortened seven-inning no-no in 2001. 
 
The BlueClaws (51-43 this season) will travel to Rome, to open a series begin a three-game set starting Wednesday night.   Following the road trip, which also features a stop in Charleston, where Fanti’s next turn in the starting rotation will likely fall, the ‘Claws return home for a four-game series against Hickory starting on Thursday, July 27th.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading OF Carlos Tocci

Carlos Tocci, image- Jay Floyd
Outfielder Carlos Tocci is having a solid season with the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils.  Honored as an Eastern League All-Star, the 21-year-old is batting .307 with a pair of homers, 33 RBI and 43 runs scored in 84 games. 

Signed as an international free agent in 2011 on his 16th birthday, the six-foot-two, 160-pound righty batter has long been a promising player with a high ceiling. 

I recently spoke with Carlos about his improvements, his family back home in his troubled home country of Venezuela, and plenty more.  Read ahead for that full interview.

-It's been a great year for you.  What does it mean to you to get the All-Star nod?

Yeah, I've been working this season very hard.  It's exciting to me because, you know, you work for that recognition and I feel really good. 

-This week you went two straight games with a home run.  These were your first ones of the year.  As I mention it, you're smiling.  What has been the biggest difference for you lately?

I've been working with my hitting coach (John Mizerock) on some different swings.  The park over there in Reading is crazy, but (the goal is to) not get too long and stay short to the ball.  You know, it's been good for me and it's good results.  (Also, I) don't get out of my plan and I think it's good for me.


-Are there coaches in the system that you've had at other levels that you remain close with?

Yeah, I exchange text messages with (Nelson) Prada from Lakewood.  He talks to me not too much, but we always stay in contact.

-You're in this lineup with some talented guys.  Mitch Walding, one of those other All-Stars with you, is a big power guy on this team and has busted out.  What is it like being in the lineup with him and some of the other guys.

I mean they always seem amazing, you know.  And this team can really hit.  The pitching is good.  We have good defense too.  It's good.  It's really fun that those guys can hit.  The last few weeks since Scotty (Kingery)'s been here, he's been hot all year, but it's been fun that we've kept it up and we can have success.

-Sitting here talking with you, I am impressed with how far your English has come.  A couple years ago we did a TV segment on you in Lakewood and there wasn't a lot of your interview footage that got used because it wasn't the best stuff for the piece.  We used more quotes from the coaches.  Is there anybody that has helped you a lot with the English?

No.  I think I really can talk with the American guys here, my teammates and that helps me a lot.  The teacher helped from my English class.  I graduated, finally.  But, I keep talking with those guys and they helped me a lot.

-You seem like you're at a spot in your career that you might be positioned to play in an off-season league this year.  Do you have any indication that you could be playing winter ball at all?

No, they don't tell me anything right now.  It's too soon.  The place over there, Venezuela, is not good right now.  You know, it's a lot of trouble.  I think it's too soon to know.

-Do you have a lot of family over there still?

Yeah.  I try to get them here, but it's really hard. 

-Do you feel like this career for you can help your family kind of escape the trouble or just be safe or just help them out?

Yeah.  I think I have to work and I can really help my family to come here.

-Do you give that a lot of thought or do you put it out of your mind because it's not that great to think about?

Yeah.  I try to don't think about that a lot, but they're safe over there.

-Okay.  I don't want to dwell on that too much, so what are you most looking toward for the rest of the year?  Are you looking forward to the playoffs at this point?

I mean always that's a thing, we always hope to make the playoffs.  It's good to( set your sights on) that kind of goal, and I think it would be good if the team makes the playoffs.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading OF Zach Coppola

Zach Coppola, image- Jay Floyd
Outfielder Zach Coppola has enjoyed some solid success this year in the Phillies developmental ranks.  The 23-year-old, who was a 13th round draft choice in 2015, opened the season with Class A Advanced Clearwater, where he batted .350 with a homer, 12 RBI and 10 steals in 55 games.  Following a promotion to Double-A Reading, the five-foot-10 160-pounder has tallied a .281 average with nine RBI and 10 stolen bases in 34 games. 

Recently, I talked with Zach about coaches who have made lasting impressions on him, his family, Reading Fightin Phils fans and more.  Read ahead for that full interview.

-It's been a great 2017 for you so far.  Hitting for high average, earning a promotion.  Talk about your success.

It's been a good year.  I'm just working hard, trying to stay consistent.  I think that's been my main goal.  But, yeah, it's been going well.

-What has been the difference for you?  'Cause last year you were with (Class A) Lakewood, missed some time with injury, you make it to Clearwater and jump another level to Double-A.  I think it's a pretty quick path to this level without missing a beat.  Do you notice significant differences between these levels you've played at?

I think as you go up the pitching gets better and better.  You know, their command, their off-speed are a little better, pitching backwards sometimes.  Pitching mainly, but other than that, they do a pretty good job preparing us for each level.

-Who has made a big impact on you from the Phillies system?  Is there a coach or a player that you've gained some insight from that has helped you a great deal?

I think just talking with (outfield coach Andy) Abad around here.  He's got so much knowledge and he shares it well with us, so it's always been cool to chat with him.

-Every now and again, I'll see an interaction on Twitter, people with your same last name liking or retweeting things I post about you.  They seem very supportive.  Can you talk about the backing of your loved ones a little bit?

My family's big into the Twitter world.  They show a lot of support.  It's awesome to see.  You know, seeing different retweets and stuff, it's all over my feed, when I see it.  Yeah, it's always great to have that support, especially with them behind you and them coming out to watch you play, so it's great to have that support.

-Through the lower levels there may be low attendance or just fans that don't have the same connection as the Reading crowds can have, as they're fans that grew up as Phillies fans.  Have you noticed a difference playing in front of that Reading crowd compared to the other levels?

Yeah, absolutely.  It's almost like you see the difference.  They're actual fans.  They're not just there...  Like, they care about the game and they care about what's going on during the game.  The fans there are so much more involved and it's crazy.  It's awesome.

-I know the Phillies are big on volunteering, whether it's Boy and Girls Clubs, or helping with a local youth league, or something like that.  What does it mean to you to help you the community there when you get the chance?

Yeah, they do a great job of giving us different opportunities to make it easy for us.  But we did something with special needs kids, playing a game in Reading and that was awesome.  Our whole team went and it was a cool experience to see them being able to play what we play, so it was fun.

-On that topic, I'll talk to guys that experienced some coaching from a pro or an older known player in their youth that made a big impression that lasted for some time.  Do you have a guy like that, who helped you?

My hitting coach back home, Mike Mahoney, he was with the Cubs for a while and it was always fun watching him and how he carried himself and seeing how he went about his business as a professional baseball player.  You know, you look up to him growing up and how he was a professional baseball player from Iowa, so you don't get that too often.  It was pretty cool to see and I still see him now when I get back home, so it's always cool to share stories and chat with him.

-Were there any players you watched on TV or in person as a young guy that you might have wanted to emulate?

Ichiro was always a player that I liked.  He could run, a small guy.  But, Brett Gardner right now.  Just players with my similar attributes.

-A couple guys on your team have drawn some attention.  You've got All-Stars like Carlos Tocci and Mitch Walding.  What's it like playing with those guys?

Oh, it's great.  You get on base with those guy behind you, it's pretty fun to watch.  Especially with the home runs coming and playing in Reading.  It's pretty fun.  Yeah, it's exciting.  

-Do you have memories from playing as a young guy of when you realized you might have the potential of making a career in the pro ranks?

It was mainly my junior year of high school.  I think our team had 13 or 14 Division 1 players and one draftee and I think we all became really close and now in the off-seasons we still hang out and work out together, some of us that are still playing.  And I think that was kind of when we all kind of realized that, "Hey, this could be our future!"  So, we all became really close and it's pretty cool.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Walding rides power surge into EL All-Star festivities

Eastern League home runs leader Mitch Walding will represent the Reading Fightins in the league’s All-Star Game this week in Manchester, NH and will also compete in the event’s Home Run Derby.
 
With 20 big flies thus far this season, the 24-year-old is enjoying a remarkable power surge. He was honored as Eastern League player of the month in June, when he launched 13 homers and sported a 1.246 OP in 25 games.

Through 74 games, the California native has tallied a .240 average and 49 RBI with Double-A Reading this year.
 
Walding, the Phillies 5th round draft selection in 2011, notched a previous career high in round-trippers last year, when he smashed 13 combined home runs in 123 games with Class A Advanced Clearwater and Reading last season.

He credits a refined approach at the plate with his improved offensive production.  

"I changed my swing a little bit," explained Walding.  "I got back to more of what I was doing last year in Clearwater.  I think I got back to what feels good for me.  I went through a period where I was doing something that wasn't really working for me, so I went back to square one, got back to my basics and I think that was best for me, hitting." 

Walding (top) and Tocci, image via Mitch Walding
The six-foot-three 190-pound lefty batter won the Class A Advanced Florida State League All-Star Home Run Derby last year, as a member of the Clearwater Threshers. 

As has become routine around the minor leagues, winners of league Home Run Derbies are awarded championship belts, a la WWE or UFC.

"It would be kind of cool to add another one to the collection, but I have to go out there and do it first,' Walding said.

Aside from the derby, Walding is looking forward to enjoying his time with some Reading teammates in the game.

"It's really great.  I was really excited just to be a part of the All-Star Game and the represent the Phillies and the great organization that they are," Walding said.  "I'm really excited to go out there with a bunch of my buddies and play against some really good talent and have some fun."

Walding will be joined by four teammates on the Eastern Division roster.  Pitchers Drew Anderson and Yacksel Rios as well as outfielders Carlos Tocci and Jiandido Tromp will join Walding.

Tromp, a 23-year-old Aruba native, will also compete in the Home Run Derby.  The righty batter sports a .294 average with 11 homers and 35 RBI in 75 games this year.   

Toronto affiliate New Hampshire hosts the All-Star events with the derby slated for Tuesday, July 11 at 6:30 pm with the All-Star Game itself set for the following night at 7:05 pm.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Phils Minor League Notebook, 7/10/17

Just a quick rundown of some noteworthy performers throughout the Phillies minor leagues.

Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs- 

Hoskins & Kingery, image- Jay Floyd
International League All-Star Rhys Hoskins went 1-for-2 with a single and was hit by a pitch in Sunday's MLB All-Star Futures Game.  In 88 games this season, the righty hitting first baseman has a .289 batting average with 20 home runs and 66 RBI.

Also in the Futures Game, second baseman Scott Kingery went 0-for-1.  In 12 games since he was promoted to Triple-A, the 23-year-old is batting .306 with four homers, eight RBI and four steals.

Right-handed pitcher Tom Eshelman sports a 7-2 record with a 1.96 ERA through 11 starts as a member of the Lehigh Valley rotation.  Eshelman was acquired as part of the Ken Giles trade to Houston in 2015.

Double-A Reading Fightin Phils-

Third baseman Mitch Walding has been ripping up the opposition of late.  Named the Eastern League player of the month for June, Walding tallied a .337 batting average with 13 homers and 27 RBI in 25 games.  Walding, the Phillies' 5th round draft choice in 2011, will represent Reading in the Eastern League All-Star Game and the EL Home Run Derby this week.

After posting a 5.52 ERA in 10 games as a starter, right-hander Shane Watson was moved to the bullpen, where he has posted a 2.51 ERA in nine relief outings.  The 23-year-old was taken 40th overall by the Phillies in the 2012 draft.

Righty Yacksel Rios, another Reading All-Star, has a 1-2 record with two saves and a 1.89 ERA and has struck out 47 while walking 10 in 38 innings this season.  The 24-year-old was a 12th round pick by the Phils in 2011.

Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers-

Including a game in which he was hit by a pitch on June 27th, outfielder Cornelius Randolph has reached base in 21 straight games.  The 20-year-old lefty batter has a .245 average with eight home runs and 35 RBI in 76 games this season.

Outfielder Jose Pujols has been struggling throughout the season.  In 60 games this season, the 21-year-old righty batter is hitting .169 with three homers and 16 RBI.  Thus far in July, Pujols is 0-for-20 with 10 strike outs.

Class A Lakewood BlueClaws- 

Darick Hall, image- Jay Floyd
Through 69 games, first baseman Darick Hall sports a .277 batting average with 17 homers and a league-leading 67 RBI (he is 18 ahead of the second place guy).  The 21-year-old was a 14th round draft selection last year.

Outfielder Mickey Moniak, last year's first overall draft pick, is batting .270 with four homers, 31 RBI and nine steals in 80 games this season.  The 19-year-old lefty hitter need to improve against left-handed pitchers, as his slash line (.214/.256/.298) against them isn't very good.

Lefty starter Ranger Suarez has been remarkable all season long.  The 21-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 1.59 ERA and a 9.5 K/9 mark in 14 starts for the 'Claws.

Class A Short-season Williamsport Crosscutters-

Outfielder Adam Haseley, who was the Phillies' 1st round draft selection this year, sports a .440 batting average with a home run and eight RBI since signing.  He has notched a hit or a walk in each one of his 13 games as a professional.

Through four starts, left-hander Kyle Young has a 3-0 record and a 1.47 ERA while having struck out 26 batters and walking five in 18 1/3 innings.  The 19-year-old was a 22nd round draft pick last year.

Rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies-

Simon Muzziotti, an 18-year-old outfielder, has a .304 average with a double and three triples in 11 games.  The lefty batter is making his stateside debut this season, after spending last year in the Dominican Summer League.  He played in two games with Clearwater prior to the GCL season getting started recently. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

PhoulBallz Interview: IronPigs reliever Jesen Therrien

Righty pitcher Jesen Therrien has been pushing his way toward the big leagues and could become a factor out of  the Phillies bullpen soon enough.

The 24-year-old Quebec native sports a 2-1 record with nine saves, a 1.49 ERA and a 10.6 K/9 mark in 33 combined games with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season. 

Recently, I spoke with Therrien, a 17th round draft selection from 2011, about his repertoire, growing up as a baseball fan in hockey country, and plenty more.  Read ahead for that full interview.


-You have had a lot of success this year.  Can you share some thoughts on your 2017 season to date?

I mean for me, this year has just really been consistent.  The key is just pound the strike zone, be aggressive and, like I say, pound the strike zone early in the count and things are gonna be good.

-What is the full menu of pitches for you and what's the best weapon?

I use all my pitches.  Four-seam, two-seam, slider and splitter.  And just I'll say I'm more comfortable throwing my slider, but I'm comfortable throwing all my pitches in any count.

-Do you think there was a big adjustment going from Double-A to Triple-A?  Where there any difficulties?

It's still baseball.  High A, Double-A and Triple-A, you have to pound the strike zone and be aggressive.  And if you have that mentality as a pitcher, everything's going to be fine.

-You're a Canadian guy.  What are your earliest memories of baseball growing up?

Aw, I was like three years old or four years old.  My family has always been big baseball fans, so I started really early.  Even though hockey is the biggest sport up there in Canada, my family would always bring me to baseball games and teach me how to play.

-Did you attend pro games as a young guy?

Yeah!  The Montreal Expos.

-Are there any big memories of particular players?

I used to like a lot of players.  Of course, Vladimir Guerrero was the star back then.  

-Were there any pitchers that made in impression on you, as somebody you might want to emulate?

I love-- I had a lot of pitchers I really like.  I can't say just one.

-Is there anybody that sticks in your mind as having made impressions on you?

Of course, Eric Gagne. I mean he was always my mentor.  He helped me a lot, so I used to watch him a lot when I was young, yeah.

-Gagne tried a pro comeback this year, pitching with the Atlantic League for a quick few weeks.  It didn't work out, but were you aware of that?

Yeah, after the (World Baseball Classic) he wanted to sign somewhere and play baseball.  He always was and still is a big gamer, so that's why they call him "Game Over".  It was fun to see him come back.

-Did you get to compete along side him on the WBC team?

I was on the team.  I played for the exhibition game, but I didn't compete in the WBC.

-Was that your choice or something that was the organization's call?

I think it was just to give me the experience.  It was helpful to be there with those guys.  It was great.

-I talked with your pitching coach Dave Lundquist about you and he thinks that you're a guy whose name that Phillies fans are going to know about, if they don't already.  Is that in your mind at all, making the right impression or trying to make your name known?

No, not really.  For me, the thing is, just play baseball as simple as it is.  Just throwing strikes, one pitch at a time and just worrying about what I can control.  You know?  I can't control anything outside of the field.  My job is to go out there on the mound and do what I can do best for the team.

-I also talked with Lundy about Pedro Beato being a veteran leader for the younger guys out in the bullpen.  Is he a guy you can learn from.

Yeah.  All the guys here, not just one guy in particular.  But, like it's a lot like the WBC team.  A lot of veterans.  A lot of guys that have played a lot in the big leagues and just to learn from them and be around those guys, it's great to see their routine and to see their approach toward the game too.

-Many of the guys that were on the Reading team last year are now on this Lehigh Valley roster.  You guys fell short in the playoffs last year.  Are you looking ahead to making it back to the playoffs this year?

I mean, we have a great team right now and we have a lot of young guys and veterans, a great mix!  Of course, I think we are a really competitive team, so I think we have a chance.  We have to improve to do it.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Velasquez continues rehab with Reading, is focused on future as starter

Vince Velasquez, image- Jay Floyd
TRENTON, NJ- Phillies starting pitcher Vince Velasquez was pleased with his efforts, despite allowing three runs, two earned, in a loss for Reading against division rival Trenton on Thursday night.

The talented hurler cited jitters as a reason for coughing up a pair of runs early on a home run to Thunder clean up hitter Billy Fleming in the opening frame of the contest.


On the disabled list since May 31 with an elbow strain, Velasquez surrendered three hits, while striking out four and walking one in his three frames of work. He threw 52 pitches, 33 of them for strikes. While mixing up his four-pitch arsenal, he felt pleased with his command. 

"I was a lot more consistent today," Velasquez said. "Some of them got away from me, but for the most part everything was in the (strike) zone. I was pounding the zone the whole time. Normally, on a regular basis, I'm missing more than that."

Through 10 starts with the Phils this season prior to the injury, Velasquez posted a 2-5 record with a 5.58 ERA.

The 25-year-old, who was acquired in 2015 as part of the trade that sent Kenny Giles to Houston, is eager to put the first half of the season behind him and use it as a learning experience.

"It's a must. I mean, there's nothing wrong with reflecting back, but you can’t take the past back. You can't bring it back. You can pretty much just learn from it. But, that’s being a student of the game, and you can also learn from your own mistakes as well. So, it was just tough for me. In the first half, I didn’t have that change up. I didn’t have that command with my stuff. And then my curve ball wasn’t as consistent as I wanted it to be,” Velasquez stated.

Velasquez has been a topic of discussion in recent days, with reports saying the Phillies may consider moving the six-foot-three 215-pounder to the bullpen. Having heard such chatter, Velasquez is not fazed by the possibility, but certainly has a preference to stay where he is comfortable.

"Have I been open to it? Yeah, I have," Velasquez admitted.  "But, at this point, it's my decision. My mindset is on starting and going from there. If they decide on putting me as a closer, alright, that's fine. I still have a job to do."

The next rehab outing for Velasquez is slated to come next week while the Double-A level, Triple-A level and the Major Leagues enjoy their All-Star break. He'll make that appearance for Class A Advanced Clearwater and should be lined up to throw about 75 pitches in that game.  If there are no setbacks, Velasquez anticipates that he will rejoin the Phillies following that next rehab start.

The loss for Reading completed the second straight series sweep in Trenton this season.  The Fightins have lost all seven contests at ARM & HAMMER Park this season. 

Reading pitching coach Steve Schrenk talks Watson, Anderson, Irvin, Tirado, more

Steve Schrenk, image- Jay Floyd
This week, I sat down with Double-A Reading pitching coach Steve Schrenk, who spoke about his team pitching staff, including Shane Watson, All-Star Drew Anderson, Victor Arano, Austin Davis and Cole Irvin, who is already enjoying success in the Eastern League one year after making his professional debut.

This marks the third interview this week with Phillies' organization developmental pitching coaches.  My interview with Triple-A Lehigh Valley coach Dave Lundquist can be found at this link, while my interview with Class A Lakewood coach Brian Sweeney can be viewed at this link.

Read ahead for that latest full interview with "Schrenky"...


-I want to ask you about several guys.  First guy that pops in my mind is Shane Watson, who went through a transition, moving from the starting rotation to a relief role.  He's been successful there, outside of one outing maybe.  Can you talk about that switch for him?

It's been great so far.  It's something he wanted to do, so that makes it even easier for him.  I think he likes coming out and being available every day, at least every other day and pitch and throw a fastball and a slider.  His velocity's bumped up two to three miles an hour, which has been great for him.  I just think it fits his personality and I think he does too.  I think it's been great.  He doesn't let anything bother him and he's in attack mode.  He's done a good job, so it's been great.

-On that sort of change, a lot of times you might hear or read fans and media types clamoring for trying a guy in a different role.  "They gotta try Mark Appel in the bullpen!  They have to get Shane Watson out there!"  Or, "They need to move this other guy!"  Does the organization think about it that much and when those changes are made, how much debate or thoughts goes into moving a pitching from starting to relieving?

There's a lot of thought that goes into it and we gave Shane a lot of opportunities to start.  When you have good, big, strong arms, you want them to start.  I mean you want guys that are durable that can go a long time.  Mark Appel's a big bodied guy that can throw the fastball for a long period of time.  Shane was too, a high school kid that got bigger and stronger.  But at some point if the third pitch doesn't come along, whether it's a curve ball or a change up and you only have two pitches, you've got to make a transition to go over to the bullpen.  And I think personality has a lot to do with it.  You'll hear me say that a lot.  I think the personality of a kid, if he can handle it.  If he's able to the adversity every night, or not doing well.  That's a big part of it. 

-Vicor Arano joined the club during season, back from the disabled list.  What have you seen out of him this season?

He's been doing well ever since he got back.  He had some arm troubles in spring training.  He's been up here, he's been doing well.  I have him on limitations, because of his arm trouble, but I mean, one day on, one day off.  Two innings, two days off.  So, I mean, he's doing a great job.  I think he's doing as well as I think we thought he'd do, from last year.  Again, another guy that started, ended up in the bullpen.  

Do I think he can start?  I mean, we'll see how his arm-- He's a big, strong kid too.  I think right  now, he likes where he's at and it's a good role for him, but he's been tremendous for us.

-Drew Anderson is a talented starter for the Reading team.  I talked to him recently and he seems really focused on helping the team win and not much else.  Can you share some comments on him?

Drew's been doing well.  Obviously, he made the All-Star team.  He's had a little bit of a rough start.  I don't think it was the start that he wanted, but I think transitioning to Double-A and getting to where he's at and using all his pitches, he's come along just like we thought he would and he's becoming the pitcher-- he's probably gonna be in the big leagues.  He's still got some work to do.  He's still got some pitches to work on and some game calling, but I think he's in the right place for where he's at right now and he's headed in the right direction.

-You talked about Shane adding some ticks on the radar gun and I think reliever Yacksel Rios (who was named an Easter League All-Star on Thursday) has done the same.  He was on this team last year and has enjoyed much more success in 2017.  Nice turnaround for him...

Rios last year struggled with command and confidence.  The double C's.  But this year he's been great.   He's got both of them.  The confidence is back.  His arm slot's a little higher than what it was last year and I think just him coming back here knowing what he was getting into in the this league has helped him a lot.  I think the confidence is the biggest thing.  His stuff is the same.  He's gotten better with his slider and he's got a good fastball.  He's 95 to 98 with it.  He just needs to stay healthy and keep pitching and continue on the track that he's on.

-When pitchers here add those miles per hour, is there a contributing factor to it that you think is the main reason?  I know a lot of guys with do throwing motion exercises with towels and side work that helps with strengthening, but is there any big factor that you notice that helps the most?

You know what, a little bit of credit to Rafael Chaves, our coordinator, and we all as a group and as a staff have been working on our lower halves, using our lower half and learning how to lead with our hip I guess you would say.  Lead with our legs.  Letting our legs to the work and letting our arms follow.  It's helped.  It's helped a lot of guys.  We've had a lot of guys actually bump up their velocity.  So I think we've seen that over the past couple year, what we're doing with guys with what we're working with guys-- with long toss, with the towel work and throwing sides and all that stuff, but at the same time, they're doing it properly and they're using their legs and we're saving some arms and we are seeing an increase in velocity.  So, it's been good.

-Do other team or other organizations focus on the same work or what percentage or other teams do a similar amount of extra work?

Teams do the bull pens, they do all the workouts, they do all the running and stuff but I think we take it to another level as far as doing some of the towel work and getting on the mound everyday.  Not throwing every day, but getting on the mound, working on our deliveries.  I don't see as many teams getting on the mound, everybody, everyday.  But that doesn't mean they're doing it when I'm not around.  But I think for the most part, baseball is baseball, but I think the Phillies are in a class of our own as far as using our lower halves and utilizing what we know and what we can teach.

-I neglected to ask you earlier about Alberto Tirado, joining the team this week following a promotion from Clearwater, who is also a former starter, gone to the bullpen.  You may not have seen much of him, but what are your thoughts on him?

I haven't seen him throw this year.  From the reports that I got, I know he's been doing a good job.  I know he'll be going in our bullpen.  Again, didn't quite come up with that third pitch.  You need three pitches to start in the big leagues and that's where he wasn't.  He's got a tremendous slider and he's got a good plus fastball.  So, I mean it's just a matter of him going out there now and learning how to pitch.  And I always thought, in my mind, that he was going to be a reliever, but you know what?  We tried starting, and a big arm, to see what happened.  Like I said, your big arms, you want them to start, and, so I think this is the right fit for him.  I think his personality fits in the bullpen too.  The way he is, being around him when he was younger.  We'll see what happens.  I haven't seen him throw at this level, so time will tell.

-Austin Davis has been great out of the bullpen for you guys.  He's had plenty of success this year also.

He's doing well.  A left-hander that's come through our system.  He started a little bit, is in the bullpen.  A left-handed guy.  He's gonna contribute to the big league club some day.  Hopefully sooner than later.  He's been doing a nice job.  He's still gotta work on some things, command and pitches like that.  But he's doing a good job.  It's been nice to see him come up here and do well.  The nice thing about him is that he's done it at every level and he's proven himself.


Cole Irvin, image- Jay Floyd
-Cole Irvin has been a fast riser since in the system turning pro last year.  What have you seen from him thus far?

I've seen him two starts.  I like the way he attacks hitters.  He reminds me of Cliff Lee with the way he pitches and the way he goes after hitters.  He's very aggressive.  Here it is, hit it!  And here's my best stuff.  He shows a good slider and a good curve and fastball command has been off the charts so far and he shows a good change up.  So, there's some good pitches there and now he's got to learn how to throw them, when to throw them.  But I think at every level he's going to have some success.  He's left-handed, and like I said, I like the way he goes about it.  I like the way he works and I compare him to Cliff Lee the way he attacks hitters.  He's not afraid of anybody.

-I want to show this roster I have to you.  Out of guys I haven't mentioned, is there anybody you would love to share some thoughts about?

Tom Windle's been doing an excellent job as of late. Tom's struggled the last few years here.  Now he's starting to pitch.  He's learning how to pitch.  He went down and worked with Roy Halladay for a couple weeks and he's come back and been a different guy.  So, tremendous job what him and Roy are doing on the mental part of this and so far I've seen some really good things.

-Anyone else?


(Ranfi) Casimiro's been doing a really nice job.  He's been kind of pitching back and forth out of the bullpen and starting, so again, to (his) credit, he's got to show everyone at every levelbut o far with his height and the way he's doing stuff, great mix f pitches, he's been fun to watch.