Sunday, January 29, 2017

2017 Phillies Prospect Countdown: #20 OF Carlos Tocci

C. Tocci, image- Jay Floyd
Since he was signed by the Phillies for a reported signing bonus of $759,000 in the summer of 2011 on his 16th birthday, Carlos Tocci has been followed by a tremendous reputation. It took a while, however, before his output in the professional ranks appeared to live up to those expectations.

Right from the start of his career, the Venezuelan born outfielder was tasked with very challenging assignments. Tocci says that one of the things that resulted in him choosing to sign with the Phillies was that they pledged to allow him to begin his pro career in the United States instead of playing at home in the Venezuelan Summer League.

After participating in the Phillies’ fall instructional league in 2011, Tocci debuted in the minors with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2012, batting .278 with two doubles, nine RBI and nine stolen bases in 38 games. The following year, as a 17-year-old, he played the entire season with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws. Struggling against more experienced pitching, Tocci posted a .209/.261/.249 slash line in 118 games.

The unimpressive numbers didn’t sour the Phillies on his ceiling, though, as the organization maintained its opinion of the young righty batter as a very promising prospect. Tocci is a guy that has always been praised for his maturity, which coaches like a lot.

In a repeat campaign with Lakewood in 2014, Tocci, who grew up admiring MLB slugger and fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera, continued to adapt to the elder competition, seeing some improvement at the plate with a .242/.297/.324 slash line in 125 games.

He entered his age 19 season in 2015 with plenty left to prove in the Class A South Atlantic League, so Tocci returned to Lakewood and posted impressive offensive numbers, at long last. Earning a nod as an All-Star while posting a .321 batting average with two homers, 25 RBI and 14 steals in 16 opportunities.

At mid-season, Tocci was promoted to Class A Advanced Clearwater, where he sported a .258 average with a pair of home runs and 18 RBI in 68 games.

The 2016 season was a notable one for Tocci, who spent an entire season with Clearwater, tallying a .284 average with 26 doubles, two triples, three homers and 50 RBI.

This off-season Tocci had a solid campaign with the Tigres in Venezuela.  In 59 games the 21-year-old posted  .323 average with a  homer and 28 RBI.  

A lack of raw power for the six-foot-two 160-pounder is evidenced by the fact that it took 862 professional at bats before Tocci launched his first round-tripper, but he has begun to display a greater ability to drive the ball in recent season. The Phils have long wanted for Tocci to add strength to his thin six-foot-two 160-pound frame. He worked on that for four straight off-seasons, with a team-mandated workout plan and in-person training at the organization’s facilities in Florida. Touted as a contact hitter that has made loads of improvements at recognizing pitches, if Tocci can add the muscle, his offensive game will be much better off.

Featuring above average speed, Tocci certainly can become a threat to steal bases. He was successful in 13 of 19 attempts last season for the Threshers, which leaves room for improvement at getting reads on the opposition and better first steps.

Described as a glider, Tocci has excellent range in the outfield and shines defensively with his glove. He’s already a plus defender that can amaze on that side of the game.

With plenty of outfield depth in the Phils organization, Tocci could become a trade chip for the club that originally signed him, as players such as Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Tyler Goeddel, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens, Roman Quinn and others may block Tocci’s path to the big leagues.

Expect Tocci to make his Double-A debut in 2017, likely opening the season on the Reading Fightin Phils roster. His efforts in the Eastern League this year should be telling for his future.

You can follow along with this year’s Phillies prospects countdown by clicking this link

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

2017 Phillies Prosect Countdown: #21 RHP Mark Appel

M. Appel, image- Cheryl Pursell
Last off-season the Phillies landed former number one overall draft pick Mark Appel from the Astros in a trade for reliever Kenny Giles. Hopes were high that the new team and the player himself could capitalize on Houston’s exhausted patience with the once promising right-hander. However injuries, not necessarily performance, were of concern last year and Appel still remains surrounded by questions regarding his future.

At Stanford University, Appel enjoyed a tremendous college career in which he was honored as a multi-time All-American.  During his senior season in 2013, he notched a 4-0 record with three saves, a 0.90 ERA, a .203 batting average against and a 13.06 K/9 mark in nine games.

Following the 2013 draft, Appel made his minor league debut with Class A short-season Tri-City in the New York-Penn League. In two starts there, he struck out six and walked none, allowing two earned runs in five innings pitched. He was soon promoted to Class A Quad Cities and performed very well there. In eight starts, Appel notched a 3-1 record with a 3.82 ERA along with a .236 batting average against.

The following season, his first full year as a pro, Appel opened the season the Class A Advanced Lancaster, where he posted weak numbers. In 12 starts, he would sport a 2-5 record with a 9.74 ERA and a .372 batting average against. Despite that rough stat line, the Astros promoted Appel to Double-A Corpus Christi by the end of July. He would post a 1-2 record with a 3.69 and a .236 BAA in seven games there.

Appel returned to Corpus Christi to open his 2015 campaign. In 13 games, the six-foot-five 220-pounder would post a 5-1 record with a 4.26 ERA while striking out 49 and walking 23 in 63 1/3 innings in 13 starts. By mid-season, he was promoted to Triple-A Fresno. With the Grizzlies, he had a 5-2 record with a 4.48 ERA while striking out 61 and walking 28 in 68 1/3 innings through 12 starts.

Additionally, in 2015 he represented the Astros at the MLB All-Star Futures Game. He impressed with a blazing fastball clocking at 98 MPH for the first pitch he threw.

The 25-year-old sported a 3-3 record with a 4.46 ERA and a .267 BAA in eight starts with Triple-A Lehigh Valley last year before he was sidelined with a shoulder strain in May and later experienced an elbow issue during his shoulder rehab that required season-ending surgery.

In the Astros organization, reports suggested that Appel lacked the edge it takes for a pitcher to succeed at the top levels of the sport. A self-proclaimed nice guy, he may need to alter his approach a bit and develop a bit of a more aggressive side.

Coaches in the Phils’ system feel that Appel is an exciting prospect and they recognized the strides he took after joining his new organization.

Appel, who is on the Phillies’ 40-man roster, spent much of this off-season rehabbing and working out at the team’s training facility in Clearwater, FL He is expected to be fully healthy at the start of big league spring training.

The pitch arsenal for Appel features a fastball that gets toward the upper 90’s with some regularity as well as two above average secondary offerings, a change up and a slider, both of which sit in the mid-80’s. Consistency with command is a big factor with Appel, who has a 3.2 BB/9 mark in his pro career. That needs to improve if he wants to reach the top level of the sport. He has been able to rack up solid strike out numbers (7.9 K/9) through his minor league tenure.

In his pro career, Appel has been a starter in 61 of his 62 appearances.  The time may come sooner than later to try him in a relief role.

Appel was drafted out of high school by the Tigers in the 15th round in 2009, but attended college instead. He was also drafted 8th overall by the Pirates following his junior season, but chose not to sign. With Stanford, he was a two-sport athlete, also lettering in basketball.

Look for Appel to return as a key member of the IronPigs’ staff in 2017.

You can follow along with this year’s Phillies prospects countdown by clicking this link

Sunday, January 22, 2017

2017 Phillies Prospect Countdown: #22 RHP Kevin Gowdy

K. Gowdy, image- Joe Wombough
Taken with the 42nd overall pick in last years draft right-hander Kevin Gowdy is a pitcher that the Phillies have very high hopes for in becoming a special part of the team's future.

Heading into the 2016 draft, Gowdy, who had a UCLA commitment, had tallied a 4-1 record with a 1.59 ERA while striking out 93 and walking just five in 56 2/3 innings as a senior.

He also won a gold medal with the United States U-18 team in the 2015 WBSC Baseball World Cup, pitching in two of his team's big victories in the tournament.

In four regular season appearances with the Rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies after signing his first professional contract, Gowdy posted a 0-1 record while allowing four runs, striking out nine and walking two over nine innings. In the GCL title series, he threw two innings, allowing two unearned runs on two hits without recording a strike out or a walk.

His three-pitch menu is something the Phillies liked a lot about the young California that was said to be one of the most polished high school hurlers in the 2016 draft class.  His fastball can range low-to-mid-90's and he tosses it with great command.  A long, explosive stride along with his lean six-foot-four 170-pound frame helps him get some extra giddy-up on the fastball and put pressure on the opposition.  He's also equipped with a slider that has great movement with potential to become a plus offering as well as a change up that compliments his fastball well, dropping off 12-15 MPH from the heater.

The control for Gowdy is a big plus.  He is very consistent with his mechanics, which helps to solidify his delivery and offer reliable efforts on the mound.

Reports state that his work ethic and maturity are standout qualities for Gowdy as well, which will help him take strides toward higher levels at a quick pace.

On many outlets' draft projections, Gowdy was ranked higher than 42nd, so it seems that the Phillies were lucky that he was still available where they got him.  The team signed the young talent for a reported $3.5 million.

Look for Gowdy to be a part of the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws at some point this coming season.

You can follow along with this year’s Phillies prospects countdown by clicking this link.

Friday, January 20, 2017

2017 Prospect Countdown: #23 RHP Drew Anderson

D. Anderson, image- MiLB.com
Righty hurler Drew Anderson hasn't gotten a lot of attention compared to other fast rising talents in the Phillies' system.  The 22-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2015 and returned to the mound last season in time to solidify his place as a formidable young prospect and proved himself as a name that fans should start becoming familiar with.

The Reno, NV native was selected in the 21st round of the 2012 draft out of high school.  Upon turning pro, Anderson posted a 1-1 record with a 4.76 ERA in eight appearances with the Rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies.

The following year, his first full season as a pro, Anderson tallied a 6-3 record with a 2.00 ERA, a .214 batting average against and a 6.4 K/9 mark in 15 starts as a member of the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters.

In 2014, the six-feet-three 185-pounder posted a 4-4 record with a 4.68 ERA, a .266 batting average against and a 9.4 K/9 mark in eight starts for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws.  He would miss time that year with an elbow strain and returned to action rehabbing with the GCL team in July but would miss the remainder of the season following a setback.

Rest and rehab didn't do the trick and when pain returned in his elbow the following spring, surgery took place in early April to repair his ulnar collateral ligament.

After missing the entire 2015 season, Anderson returned to action last year in late May after some rehab appearances in extended spring training. As a member of the BlueClaws, Anderson would sport a 1-3 record with a 3.38 ERA, a .220 batting average against as well as a 10 K/9 mark in seven starts.  He would earn a promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater where he continued to stand out. 

Upon joining the Threshers, he was the starter in a game in which the team notched a combined no-hitter.  For the Threshers in eight starts, Anderson put together a 2-1 record with a 1.93 ERA, a .217 BAA and a 10.2 K/9 mark.

Anderson drew enough attention that the Phils added him to their 40-man roster this off-season in order to protect him from the annual MLB Rule 5 draft.  As a member of that roster, he'll be a part of big league spring training this year.

Prior to the surgery to repair his elbow, Anderson was known mainly as a control pitcher.  However, with conditioning work and improved strength in his lower half, he was able to add velocity following his return.  Reports had him touching 97 MPH with his fastball at multiple times last season, regularly clocking in the mid-90's.

Also in his repertoire are a very good curve ball and an improving change up that Anderson has targeted taking strides with.

Locating pitches and his command will continue to be a plus for Anderson, as his solid 2.9 BB/9 mark for his career will only improve as he refines the feel for pitches he's been working on in the lower levels of the minors.

The intangibles are what the organization likes about him the most.  Anderson is a focused and determined hurler.  He is tough, wants to compete and loves to learn about the sport that is his career.  He'll be a leader and a sponge for baseball knowledge as he moves upward in the developmental ranks.

The ceiling for Anderson could be a middle-of-the-rotation guy.  Look for him to be among the first wave of players sent to minor league camp from big league spring training in March and expect him to open the season with Clearwater again this year.  Being part of the Double-A Reading rotation before too long is probably quite likely for Anderson, who is looked at as a very promising prospect, as well.

You can follow along with this year’s Phillies prospects countdown by clicking this link.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2017 Prospect Countdown: #24 Second Baseman Jesmuel Valentin

J. Valentin, image- Jay Floyd
Second baseman Jesmuel Valentin has become a solid contributor at each level he has played and could possess the ability to continue that success as he approaches the big leagues.

Selected as the 51st overall draft pick in 2012, Valentin was quickly a well-hyped prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. Upon signing his initial professional contract fresh out of high school, the switch-hitter debuted in the rookie level Arizona League, posting a .211 average while launching two homers and driving in 18 runs in 43 games.

In 2013 the Puerto Rico native began the season in the rookie level Pioneer League, where he batted .284 with four homers and 24 RBI in 62 games. A promotion to the Class A Great Lakes team followed and, as a 19-year-old, he struggled a bit, batting .212 with six doubles, a triple and five RBI in 33 games.

The following year, Valentin repeated Class A and proved ready for the challenge. In 108 games for the Loons, he batted .280 with seven home runs and 47 RBI in 108 contests, making himself a desirable commodity to the Dodgers’ potential trade partners. After joining the Phillies’ organization in August as part of the Roberto Hernandez trade, Valentin was assigned to Class A Advanced Clearwater where he recorded a .205 average in 12 games.

Following the 2014 season, Valentin made headlines as he was suspended by the Phils organization following a domestic violence arrest. Charges were eventually dropped, according to Valentin, and he would return to action.

In 2015 as a member of the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, Valentin would tally a .273 average with a homer and 14 RBI in 31 games.

Last year 89 games with Double-A Reading, Valentin posted a .276 batting average with five home runs and 38 RBI. In July he was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh where he sported a .248 average with four homers and 14 RBI in 36 games. 

This off-season in 38 regular season games in the Roberto Clemente League, the five-foot-nine 180-pounder batted .257 with a pair of home runs and 18 RBI while playing for the Indios, which his father, former big league infielder Jose Valentin, manages.

Growing up around the game, Jesmuel cited to me in an interview last year that he grew close to Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar in 2003 when he was teammates with Jose on the White Sox.  Jesmuel would watch the Puerto Rican legend closely to learn as much as possible and the two bonded.

Defensively, Valentin is strong with turning two in the middle.  His arm may be best suited for second base, where he plays primarily. With some versatility under his belt, Valentin has manned shortstop in 105 professional games while covering the hot corner at third base in 14 games and taking on the outfield in 15 games.

Speed is not a big factor for Valentin’s game, so he won’t be stealing many bases (49 steals in 75 pro attempts, a 65% success rate), but he is a smart and aggressive ball player who can take an extra base in the right situation and not make mental errors in key spots. 

Valentin displays patience at the plate and can draw walks, notching a .348 on-base percentage for his affiliated pro career to date.  He can be a nice table setter for his teammates.

Look for Valentin back with the IronPigs this season, but if there is a vacancy in the infield due to injury or any other reason, he could be among the first names called upon to take a spot.

You can follow along with this year’s Phillies prospects countdown by clicking this link.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Reading Fightins manager Greg Legg Interview

Prior to the Reading Fightins annual winter banquet on Tuesday, team broadcaster Mike Ventola spoke with new manager Greg Legg.  Topics of discussion include Legger's coaching style, the group he expects to manage this year, being a Pennsylvania resident and more.  Check out the video player below for the full interview.



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 pro seasons, including time spent in the majors with the Phils. Since 1994 he has served as a coach at various developmental levels of the Phillies organization. Legg previously managed Reading from 2002 through 2004.

Monday, January 16, 2017

2017 Phillies Prospect Countdown: #25 RHP Tom Eshelman

T. Eshelman, image- Jay Floyd
Righty hurler Tom Eshelman was acquired last off-season from Houston in the Kenny Giles trade along with former number one overall draft pick Mark Appel as well as pitcher Vince Velasquez and two other players.  If Eshelman progresses as the Phillies hope he will, the talented Californian could become the steal of that deal.

Scouts had Eshelman classified as one of the most polished pitchers in the 2015 draft.  After becoming Houston’s 2nd round draft choice (46th overall) and signing for a reported $1.1 million, Eshelman started four total games at two levels of the Astros’ system that year.

In 2015 as a member of the rookie level Gulf Coast League Astros, Eshelman allowed two earned runs while striking out three and walking two in four innings of work.  He was then promoted to Class A Quad Cities where he allowed three earned runs while striking out five and walking three in 6 1/3 innings.

After opening the 2016 season with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, Eshelman would become a Florida State League All-Star.  In 11 starts there, the six-foot-three 210-pounder tallied a 4-2 record with a 3.34 ERA, a .251 batting average against and a 9.7 K/9 mark.  He would be promoted to Double-A Reading by mid-season.

As a member of the post-season bound Fightins, Eshelman wasn't as sharp.  In 13 starts for Reading, Eshelman posted a 5-5 record, a 5.14 ERA, a .307 batting average against and an 8.1 K/9 mark.  Those numbers shouldn't be alarming, as it's important to remember that he was pitching at the Double-A level in just his second pro season.

Eshelman would miss the Eastern League playoffs after requiring an emergency appendectomy in early September.

Continued physical development could help Eshelman add some velocity.  That would benefit him a lot, as the young hurler was peaking in the low 90's when I saw him pitch in July for Reading. He also is equipped with a slider that helps him get some swings and misses as well as a curve ball and change up that both can work as average offerings.

Control is definitely the big factor in the 22-year-old's game, as he notched a collegiate career record 0.4 BB/9 mark in three years at Cal State Fullerton, where he was a multi-time All-American.  He possessed a 313-to-18 strike out-to-walk ratio in his college career.  On top of that, in his 2015 junior season, Eshelman sported a 1.58 ERA in 18 outings for the Titans.

His ability to locate pitches helps Eshelman greatly, as he is often praised considerably for his control.  He possesses an ability to throw any pitch in any count, so the concept of a “hitter’s count” doesn’t really apply with him.  Considering that command is something that typically comes along later with pitching prospects and that Eshelman already has it, he’s well ahead of the game in that regard.

A deceptive delivery also plays in his favor.  Some buzz has surrounded the difficulty that batters can have picking up his pitches.

It's likely that Eshelman opens the 2017 season back in Reading as a key member of their starting rotation.  Look for him to perform better in the Eastern League this year.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2017 PhoulBallz Prospect Countdown Prelude

As a new year begins, so does my annual prospect ranking, which counts down the Phillies organization’s top 25 rising minor league talents. Over the next several weeks, with the organization in the midst of a rebuild, primed to give many young talents the opportunity to break into the major leagues and show what they can do, I’ll be serving up reviews for each of the top developmental talents that appear to have the brightest futures for the Phillies.

Taken into consideration when compiling the list is age, minor league performance relative to levels played, value to the organization as the player’s future potential and proximity to the big leagues.

These rankings will not include players over the age of 25 or individuals that have spent lengthy stretches in the big leagues.

For example, left-handed reliever Joely Rodriguez, who spent the final month of the regular season on the big league Phillies roster, will not appear on this countdown. Tyler Goeddel (12th on this list a year ago), who was a Rule 5 draft selection and was on the major league roster for the entirety of last season will not be on this list, despite the possibility of the young outfielder returning to the minors to continue his development this year. Also, righty hurlers Jake Thompson (#2 on this list last year) and Zach Eflin (8th here last year) started double-digit games with the big league club and will not be ranked here.

Players that garnered consideration for this list but missed ranking among the top 25 names include a trio of talented hurlers and a young infielder fresh out of the draft.

Victor Arano is a right-handed pitcher that posted a 5-2 record with eight saves, a 2.26 ERA and a .213 batting average against in 46 relief appearances at two levels last season. Splitting the season between Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading, the Mexico native sported a 10.7 K/9 mark. This off-season the 21-year-old posted a 2.79 ERA in eight relief appearances in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. Arano is on the Phillies' 40-man roster and it's been said that the organization is rather high on him as a potential impact reliever at the top level.

Outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz was an extremely difficult name to exclude from the list as he does have a very high ceiling, but at just 18 years old and having not played in a full-season league to date, he is far enough away from the majors that placing him outside of the top 25 was justifiable to me. In his first official pro season last year, the powerful Dominican sported a .231 batting average with eight homers, 27 RBI and eight stolen bases in 47 contests in the rookie level Gulf Coast League. Here's hoping the right-handed batter, who signed at age 16 for a reported $4.2 million, sees action with full-season Class A Lakewood this year.

A. Pullin, image- Jay Floyd
Outfielder Andrew Pullin had a remarkable campaign in 2016 after leaving baseball to deal with some personal matters at the start of the regular season. The 23-year-old, who was a 5th round draft choice by the Phils in 2012, posted a .293/.320/.476 slash line in 36 games with Class A Advanced Clearwater once he returned to action last year. After being promoted to Double-A Reading, the lefty hitting Pullin looked even better, as he notched a .346/.393/.559 slash line in 46 games. Overall Pullin saw a .165-point jump from his career OPS entering last year to his 2016 season totals. His coaches praise his hitting ability as a standout part of his game, but I want to see Pullin perform at a high level for a second season before I am prepared to rank him on this list.

Cole Stobbe, a 19-year-old shortstop, was last year’s third round draft choice and quickly impressed many with a solid campaign with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies. In 44 games, the Nebraska native tallied a .270 average with eight doubles, four home runs and 13 RBI. The six-foot-one 200-pound righty batter was a very well-rounded high school hitter, stroking the ball to all fields while displaying power, prior to the draft, and looks suited to change positions (possibly to third base) at some point with shortstop in this organization blocked by talent and depth. Stobbe could become a fast mover on this list, and in the minors, in the coming years.

Additionally, some youngsters that made last year’s top 25 while remaining in the organization's developmental ranks have slipped from the list.

Backstop Deivi Grullon steadily stands out as a very good defensive performer and as an exceptional leader for his pitching staffs. Many baseball insiders love his skill set, but with back-to-back campaigns at full season Class A Lakewood with an OPS under .700 (.608 and .695 respectively in 2015 and 2016), I felt Grullon had slipped behind others as far as Phillies prospect rankings go. The 20-year-old righty batter was ranked 24th last on this list last year.

Shortstop Malquin Canelo seemed to be a defensive standout that hasn’t proven his offense can play well at the higher levels yet. The 22-year-old right-handed batter put together a .246/.294/.330 slash line in 124 games for Class A Advanced Clearwater last year. Occasionally displaying a good ability to drive the ball, the five-foot-ten 160-pounder will need to do so on a more regular basis and he’ll need to develop a better ability to hit lefty pitchers (.202 average last year) if he is to become a valuable player at a position that is occupied by the man widely considered the Phils’ top prospect, J.P. Crawford. Canelo was ranked number 20 on this list last year.

In the coming weeks, check back here on PhoulBallz.com often for the unveiling of this year’s top 25 ranked prospects within the Phillies organization.