Thursday, May 31, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading SP JoJo Romero

JoJo Romero, image- Jay Floyd
Reading starter JoJo Romero has finally arrived.  Well, what I mean is; the JoJo Romero you may have read about during last off-season seems to be doing the sorts of things a highly regarded prospect is supposed to do after not doing those things in the early going this season.

After sporting a 7.18 ERA through his first five Double-A starts, the 21-year-old left-hander has tallied a 2.97 ERA in his most recent five starts.

This week I talked with Romero, the Phillies 4th round draft choice in 2016, about his turnaround, his team, attention that comes with being ranked highly as a prospect and plenty more.  Read ahead for that full interview.


-I just want to get your thoughts on your efforts so far in the Eastern League.
 
I’ve definitely learned a lot over these past couple months, or whatever.  So, you know, just adjusting to that and it’s a very hitter-friendly league, so as a pitcher you have to adjust to that as well.  I’m trying to make adjustments to what the hitters are trying to do in the hitter-friendly league and where the ball flies in the park too, so…constant adjustments.
 
-A lot of guys coming into this league will cite that there’s an adjustment period and a learning curve for some guys.  With that in mind, is there any particular thing that you’re trying to improve on?
 
Yeah, I mean it’s more just simplicity.  I think in the beginning, for most people in general, I think Double-A is a lot harder.  It’s a bigger jump.  Guys will try to do a lot more, but in reality it’s sticking to the basics.  Sticking to what got you there and I think that’s the one thing I’ve been doing these last couple starts, which is simplifying things and going out and having fun.
 
-The last time through here, a few weeks ago, your numbers weren’t gleaming and what you’re getting at there is that things have turned around for you over the last few starts.  Is there anything besides that simplistic approach that’s helping your improve, anything physical that’s changed?
 
Not so much physical wise, I’d say more of the day to day kind of focus in the sense of the bullpens or I’m working on certain things trying to keep a nice smooth effort and keeping the focus on what we’re doing in bullpens as well as flat grounds and small little things like that.  You know, keeping it simple.  And I think that’s what I’m able to do in my bullpens, which allows me to take it out to games and I think it’s starting to really show.
 
-With the success coming more recently, is having faced teams before this year part of what’s helping your confidence or ability to get outs?
 
I’m constantly learning.  But it’s not so much learning from playing a team already.  It’s about learning about what I can do with certain pitches and in certain counts and using it to my advantage, so when I play another team and I’ve seen them already, I know what their weakness is and I can attack it using certain pitches and using them different ways than I used them before.  I just gotta keep making those adjustments and picking up on those things. 

-Is there any feedback you've gotten from the coaches that's helping you along?

Simplicity.  That's why I've been saying it a lot, 'cause I felt personally I was doing a lot-- doing too much with other pitches earlier on in the year.  The one thing we've kind of referred back to is simplicity and command that fastball and, you know, it's basic.  So, just going back to that, keeping things simple and hopefully looking to keep this rhythm.

-There are a few guys on this team that come into the season with considerable reputations.  You're one of them, viewed as big prospect.  What does that mean to you to have that recognition?

Yeah, I mean it's nice, you get to see your hard work get noticed.  But at the end of the day, it's just a label.  You still have to go out there and perform and you constantly have to go out there and learn and make those adjustments and you have to put that to work.  It's all about results and how you go about it.

-It can't be a bad thing though, right?  You have more fans knowing your name and wanting your autograph.

It's definitely awesome.  I'm definitely signing a lot more autographs than I did in the years before, so it's definitely pretty cool.

-I've seen something from other media members when I've been around you before- I recall some guys asking you to help translate for one of your teammates.  You're not fluent in Spanish, but do you get that a lot, where people expect you to know Spanish?

Yeah, I think it happened a couple times when we first got to Reading and they asked me, "Can you translate?"  And I understand a little bit, but as far as translating, I'm not the first person you want to go to.

-Do you get that a lot, people expecting you to know...?

Yeah.  Definitely.

-Who do you room with on this team?

I room with our catcher Austin Bossart.  And on the road, it's Edgar Garcia.

-Edgar's a guy that's starting to make a name for himself.  He's been really hot lately out of the bullpen for this team.  What do you think of what he's been doing?

I mean, all his moments, he's taking advantage of it.  He's making himself known.

-How is it rooming with the backstop, Bossart?

It's awesome!  I mean, I got to pitch to him a little bit last year and since last year we've been on the same page, so it's awesome to get to room with him and get to know him better and that translates when we go out to the field too.

-You get to face this Trenton team for the second time within a few weeks.  Do you feel more confident going after a team after seeing them?

I mean I saw a few different names that weren't on the roster last time, so I definitely have to do a little more homework on that.  But, especially with the way I've felt the last couple starts, I'm starting to get in a little better rhythm and I think that adds a little more confidence especially seeing this team the second time around, you get more comfortable and get more confidence.

-Is there anybody in the Phils organization, player wise- not coaches, that you've learned a lot from?

Probably, Pedro Beato.  Every time he's around in spring training he's always talking to us, but there was one time last year in Clearwater, he was making a rehab- he made a couple appearances, and we were in the bullpen and we were talking about different pitch grips and things he does in certain counts.  Just trying to pick his brain about what his mentality is in different counts.  And that was pretty awesome.  That was probably the last time I got to talk to him a lot, so that was pretty cool.  

-I saw Jose Taveras out with the relievers tonight.  When there's starters hanging out in the bullpen, is that what they're going for?  Trying to be around other pitchers, to talk game?

Yeah, that's usually what happens out there especially when you have someone rehabbing.  You want to make your way out there, so you can get to talk to them and you can pick their brain.  But, that's ultimately why.

-A couple more things for you and thanks for all the time.  I really appreciate it.  You're out here tonight wearing an Eagles cap.  Are you that deep into Philly sports that you're supporting the Eagles too?

Aw, man!  I'm definitely starting to love the Philly sports.  Especially with the way they play, that kind of high energy.  That's something I love and that's the way I like to play, so I definitely got to support them.  I got a Sixers shirt, I've got a Flyers hat, so I'm ready!

-Perfect, man!  Were there any players you looked up to as a kid that perhaps you wanted to emulate?

Yeah, they weren't lefties though.  One of them that I watched a lot was Eric Gagne.  The whole thing was, "Game over".  That was kind of like a calling card.  So, you know, just watching pitchers like that, who were all intensity and that bulldog mentality when they were on the mound, those were the ones I liked watching.  

-I talked to him once, not in an interview setting, and the guy was so serious.  Nothing at all that gave me the opportunity to transition to any sort of fun chat with him.  Just all intensity.

Yeah.  Now imagine that on the mound with a 100 mile an hour fastball!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Phillies minor league hot list, 5/28/18

As minor league teams have reached roughly a third of the way through the minor league season, here's a quick run down on some of the standouts at all four full-season levels of the Phillies system.
 
-Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs (28-20, 1st place in the International League North Division)...

Cole Irvin with Reading last season, image- Jay Floyd
Thus far in the 2018 campaign, the IronPigs' Cole Irvin leads all Phillies minor leaguers in innings pitched with 54.  Through nine starts, the 24-year-old has a 5-1 record with a 3.17 ERA and an 8.2 K/9 mark.  Irvin, a lefty, was the Phils' 5th round draft choice in 2016.

His rotation mate Enyel De Los Santos has a 5-2 record with a 1.40 ERA and a .194 batting average against in nine starts.  The right-handed native of the Dominican Republic also sports a 9.8 K/9 mark.  De Los Santos was acquired from San Diego last off-season in a trade for Freddy Galvis.

First baseman Joey Meneses has been incredible for the IronPigs in May.  Through 25 games this month, the 26-year-old is batting .344 with nine homers and 20 RBI.  Meneses, a right-handed hitter, was a free agent signing by the Phils last off-season.  He previously played in the Braves' system.


-Double-A Reading Fightin Phils (19-28, 5th place- 10.5 games back in Eastern League East Division)...

Reading's Edgar Garcia has been outstanding in 18 relief appearances.  The 21-year-old righty has posted a 3-1 record with four saves and a 0.66 ERA while notching a 10.2 K/9 mark.  Opponents are batting .129 against him.

Right fielder Jan Hernandez is having a very solid season to date.  The converted third baseman touts a .321 batting average with three homers and 20 RBI in 39 games.  The 23-year-old Puerto Rican was the Phillies' 3rd round draft selection in 2013. 

First baseman Zach Green leads the team with 10 homers.  The 24-year-old righty batter appears to be well on his way to being honored as an Eastern League All-Star, sporting a .297 average with 30 RBI in 38 games.  Green, a California native, was the Phils' 3rd round draft pick in 2012.

-Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers (19-27, 5th place- 7.5 games back in Florida State League North Division)...

Bailey Falter w/ Lakewood last yr, image- Jay Floyd
Starting pitcher Bailey Falter has been outstanding in Florida State League action.  The 21-year-old lefty has posted a 4-0 record with a 1.60 ERA through seven starts this season.  A 5th round draft pick from 2015, Falter has a 37:7 strike out to walk ratio. 

First baseman/outfielder Austin Listi ranks 2nd in the FSL in OPS with a .952 mark.  The 24-year-old is batting .347 with three home runs and 21 RBI through 41 contests this season.  Listi was a 17th round draft pick out of Dallas Baptist last year.

First baseman/designated hitter Darick Hall leads the FSL in home runs with 11.  The 22-year-old is batting .284 with 35 RBI and a .371 on base percentage through 45 games.  He was a 14th round draft pick also out of Dallas Baptist in 2016.

-Class A Lakewood BlueClaws (28-12, 3rd place- 3.5 games back in South Atlantic League Northern Division)...

Starting pitcher Ramon Rosso leads all Phils minor league hurlers in strike outs with 57 in 44 innings pitched.  The 21-year-old right-handed has a 1-1 record with a 1.43 ERA and a .191 batting average against in eight starts.  Rosso is a native of the Dominican Republic.

Third baseman/first baseman/outfielder Jake Scheiner is having an outstanding May.  The 22-year-old righty hitter has notched a .316 average with three homers and 13 RBI through 25 games this month.  That effort follows an April in which he tallied a .233 average with one homer and six RBI in 20 games.  Scheiner was the Phillies' 4th round draft pick last year. 

Will Stewart is continuing his great production, as he sports a 4-0 record with a 1.45 ERA and a .211 batting average against through eight starts for the BlueClaws.  The 20-year-old left-hander was the Phils' 20th round draft pick in 2015.

Friday, May 25, 2018

PhoulBall Interview: Lakewood first baseman Quincy Nieporte

Quincy Nieporte, image- Jay Floyd
Lakewood first baseman Quincy Nieporte admittedly hasn't posted the greatest offensive numbers to date this season, but the 23-year-old first baseman is on his way to improving and  is helping the Class A BlueClaws fight for a division title in the South Atlantic League.

Nieporte, a righty batter, was the Phillies' 26th round draft selection last year out of Florida State University. 

Listed at six-feet-one and 225 pounds, Nieporte made his pro debut last year with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies, where he tallied a .299 average with five home runs and 35 RBI in 41 games.  This year, through 40 games with Lakewood, Nieporte has notched a .224 batting average with three homers and 13 RBI.

Recently, I talked with Quincy about welcoming the challenge in Class A, his team's overall success, which Phillies player he learned from and more.  Read ahead for the full interview.


-What are your impressions of the league so far?  Is the Sally League tougher than you expected? 

Definitely a lot more consistent talent. I spent half the year last year in the ACC in college and then the other half of the year was in rookie ball in the GCL and I just think the biggest (difference) was the consistency that you see every day and the schedule and everything.  But everybody can play in this league and pitchers are gonna pitch with velocity and some good stuff.  So, I've been impressed.  I've been under-impressed with myself so far, but it's just an adjustment period.  It's a long season.  It's not a sprint.  It's definitely a marathon.  But, I've had some fun here.  I've made some relationships and started to see how most organizations play as a whole and it's pretty fun.  It's a fun journey.

-You mentioned being a little let down.  What's the focus for you right now?  What are you working on?

Right now, the past few days, me and (hitting coach Tyler) Henson have been focusing on simplicity.  Keeping my swing as simple as possible, so I can think as minimal as possible in the box.  It's been going well.  I'm confident with the direction we're going in and the steps we've taken so far.  It's one of the those things that's just going to kind of keep going and you've got to get comfort and muscle memory and every day I'm gonna be a little more comfortable in the box.  I've had a couple swing changes to start the year already.  I think this is number three of four, which is fine.  I'm a guy that likes to make the adjustments and I've always been told throughout a minor league and major league season, you're always kind of tinkering with stuff, so I know there's going to be changes.  I'm not too upset or anything.  I'm excited and embracing the challenge.

-When I've seen you on the field and near the dugout before a game, you're one of the most excited guys I see out there.  You're smiling, clearly enjoying yourself.  With that talk about keeping a positive attitude, that doesn't surprise me based just what I've seen of you.  So, you find it easy (to keep that outlook)?

Yeah, I've probably done a hundred interviews and everyone always brings that question up about how watching me is kind of exciting and funny and odd and you'll see things you wouldn't really see if I'm not there.  And I think it's just one of those things where I always go back to the reason I started playing baseball is that I have so much fun playing it and it's such a fun game and you have so much time, so you get out of it what you put into it.  And yeah, there's going to be times when I'm get frustrated and a fan's going to be able to tell I'm pissed off.  But at the same time, it's a frustrating game.  You lose seven out of ten times and you're a hall of famer.  But it's just one of those things where there's highs and lows, and I think that's also something I'm going to continue to learn.  I consider myself an older guy and a veteran in the locker room, because I went through four years of college, but at the same time I'm still young in the minor leagues and I still have so much to learn.  And I think one of those things is to be even keel and be who I am and be myself.  Whether I'm 4-for-4 or 0-for-4, so...

-I love that outlook.  I wanted to ask you about just coming to this organization, without much exposure to the Phillies before you signed here.  What were your impressions of the organization?

Before joining the organization, they were always the team that beat my team.  I was a Braves fan, so growing up through middle school and high school, I was always a Braves fan.  It seemed like every year the Braves or the Falcons would let us down in Atlanta and it seemed like it was from the Phillies or Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, so I knew a lot about the Phillies beforehand.  So, it was just one of those things when I got the call that I was going to be a Phillie, I was happy.  It's a new home and I loved it.

-Any difficulty with that, though?  I imagine if you're growing up as a Braves fan, your family and friends would be Braves fans too.

It's funny.  We moved a lot growing up, so we were from South Florida, then Atlanta, then New York.  For some reason everyone in my family loved the New York teams.  But I could not stand New York.  I loved the Braves and the Falcons even when we were from South Florida.  So, it was an odd fan group I got into.  I was all alone.  None of my family shared the same views, so I was kind of rooting on these teams quietly in the living room by myself.  It was different.  It was one of those things that I didn't have a strong connection with, so it wasn't like I just got drafted by my absolute arch nemesis team.  I was just happy.  I knew, come draft, whoever picked me was gonna be my new favorite team.  It was an easy decision.

-How about with the New York teams.  That's kind of a regional rivalry.  Were you able to convert and of the family members over to the Phillies' side?

Yeah, my mom, brother and my sister, they'll pretty much support me where ever I go, whatever I do.  I think in the back of their mind, they wish I would get traded to the Yankees.  But, I think they're big Phillies fans right now.

-That's good.  How about this team?  What would you cite as what's helped the BlueClaws compete and do pretty well so far this season after a slow start?

Honestly, the pitching staff has been unbelievable to start the year.  If you ask anybody, any position player right now, I think we'll all agree that the offense hasn't been that great.  I think once the offense starts clicking and the pitching keeps doing what they're doing, I think we're going to be a pretty competitive team.  I think this team is full of guys that get after it and know how to play.  Kind of just dogs, you know what I mean?  We're not going to quit.  We've had one game this whole year we've been blown out and we came back and won the series.  I think it just goes to show you what this team is made of and we've got a lot of experience with college guys, some of the high school guys have been in the Phillies organization for a couple years, so I think everyone has the same outlook on the sport of baseball and you got to do what it takes to be a successful team and right now one of the-- well we've got two major aspects and it's defense and pitching.  And obviously the base running will come when the hitting comes, 'cause obviously you need the hitting to get on base.  We're doing two out of the four very successfully and for us to be where we're at statistics and standings wise is pretty impressive and speaks volumes for everybody on the team. 

-Is there anybody in the organization that you've picked up a lot from?

Honestly, everybody.  Not only the big league guys that come down that you get to watch every now and again, and the coaching staff, and everybody coming in and out of Clearwater and up here so far.  All the players.  Guys that are younger than me, older than me.  I kind of just watch everybody's mannerisms and see how they go about it.  Some good, some bad and you see that some guys' mannerisms are worse than others and they go about things a little negatively.  So, obviously there's a little learning curve, but I think the coolest moment that stuck out to me was the day before we flew up to start our season, we got Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta threw a simulated game to us and after he threw to us, Arrieta was talking to our pitching coach, Bergy (Brian Bergeson), and just kind of listening to how he broke down his feel and what he needs to feel in order for him to know if he's going to be successful or going to have a good game.  It was just amazing the details he went into.  So it was kind of one of those glimpses of listening to a guy of that caliber and just hearing how he looks at the game and how calm he was about it, but not freaking out or anything or stressing anything too much.  It was cool.  I wasn't even in the conversation.  I was just eaves dropping and loved it!

-Did you get to step in against him at all?

Not against Arrieta, unfortunately.  No, I was excited and looking forward to it, but the way we had the guys pitching and he was on a pitch count, I was playing first.  It was cool being at first and seeing him on the mound.  It was kind of a surreal moment.  So, it was fun.

-We're standing beside a wall here, leading to the club house and it's got pictures of everyone that's gone "from the shore to the show", as they say.  Guys that were BlueClaws and made it to the big leagues.  Have you glanced over this at all?

I noticed immediately when we first got back from the road trip, it was new.  The biggest thing that was interesting to me was seeing all the names, that I didn't even know came up with the Phillies organization.  Guys that you see in the big leagues with other teams.  It's impressive.  It's crazy.  And it's something that motivates everyone in here.  They're walking out the door to go play and they kind of take a glimpse and even if they don't look at it every time, they know there's 50 or so pictures up here.  So, it's a helpful reminder to keep in the back of your mind that maybe one day you could be the next picture.   

Monday, May 21, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading reliever Trevor Bettencourt

Trevor Bettencourt, image- Jay Floyd
Following a stellar campaign that saw him honored as a Class A All-Star last year, righty reliever Trevor Bettencourt is off to another good start this season.  As a member of the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils, the 23-year-old UC Santa Barbara product sports a 1-0 record with a 3.18 ERA, a .226 batting average against and he has averaged more than a strike out per inning.

Bettencourt, though, has missed time in recent weeks, sidelined with an injury that was announced by team as a shoulder strain.

Recently, I talked with Trevor about the removal of his signature mustache, changes brought on by Gabe Kapler's regime, plus he described some shortcomings this year that could have led to his time on the disabled list.  Read ahead for that full interview.

-You’re sporting a new look of late.  The team wants the ‘stache back.  Do you feel any pressure?
 
It’ll come back quick.  Some people are born with it and I think the mustache is just in my genes.  But, I mean last spring training I shaved it at the end and restarted and I got a lot of pressure this year to not do it and I didn’t do it.  I just felt like it was time to restart, so it’ll be back soon.  It’ll be back in full force for sure.
 
-Do you feel any sort of superstition attached to that, or is it just the look?
 
Uh, both.  You know, it was weird to shave it.  It took me a couple tries.  I picked up the razor a couple times and couldn’t do it.  I was actually in the bathroom and (Zach Coppola) was standing there and he was laughing at me.  He was like, “I feel the same way too.”  It’s just my thing and I had it all last year, so it’s hard enough, thinking of that.
 
-I understand.  Thanks for humoring me with those questions.  How’s the season going?  How do you feel?
 
Not bad.  A little different than last year right now.  Just working on some little mechanical things, some kinks.  I’m not at the same level as I was last year with (velocity) and movement.  But, I definitely feel close, but I’ll keep working and hopefully I can find that thing and make it click. 
 
-Is that typical that it can take some time to fully ramp up and hit your max levels with everything?
 
Last year, I felt pretty good all year.  I had some ups and downs, but it was pretty easy to bounce back.  I had my queues to fix it.  This year is just a little bit different.  Velo’s down a little bit and I’m learning how to pitch a little bit better since that’s down, so I gotta be smarter with my stuff and (pitching coach Steve) Schrenk’s definitely helped me out with that.  I hope it comes back soon, but I feel fine. 
 
-So the silver lining there is you’re improving in other aspects while you’re building the arm strength to get your velocity up.  You’re learning when you’re not as sharp in other aspects.
 
Right.  I mean last year I was really into analyzing everything and studying batters.  But, not having as much velo this year and curve ball’s not as sharp, I have to kind of play a little different.  It’s fun.  It’s fun and different, especially against these Double-A guys.  They have better eyes, so I have to be a little bit smarter.
 
-I talked to a couple guys on this team previously about new analytics being focused on with the new regime.  Have you noticed any differences, changes or upgrades with the info that you get?
 
I’ve noticed against me, some guys taking different approaches than last year, so that’s actually made me have to change my game, but personally, they show me my analytics, my numbers and show me where my strengths are.  I sort of already had an idea about that, but it’s sort of helped me realize what other hitters are going to do against me, so I can try to do the opposite.  It’s gonna be a little uncomfortable for me, but it’s going to be a way for me to get guys out.  So, I think it helps for sure.
 
-Another question about that new regime focus is one of the things Gabe Kapler was known for elsewhere was a dietary focus.  A focus on the foods the players consume.  Have you noticed any changes related to that?
 
Definitely.  They’ve been starting to give us more of kinda Whole Foods stuff.  I enjoy it a lot.  They’re pushing: get all your vitamins through foods, rather than supplements.  I mean, I have no problem with it.  I like eating better and I feel better.  I’m actually on an anti-inflammatory diet right now, so I’m kind of eating like a rabbit and I like it.  It’s awesome.  I like it a lot.
 
-How about the Reading coaching staff this year?  Any thoughts on them and how they’re helping you?
 
Schrenk’s helping us out a lot.  Legger (Greg Legg) is a great manager.  I’d run through a wall for that guy.  Rico (Brogna)’s a new guy and it’s awesome.  He had a postgame speech the other day and it was great.  He keeps it lively and (Kevin) Riggs is another great guy that has a lot of info to learn from.  Even us pitchers, we can learn stuff from a hitting guy.  So, it’s a lot of info to help us and it’s a fun time. 
 
-I know Brogna managed the team recently for a series while Legg was off for personal reasons.  Not asking you to cross any lines and reveal too much, but what was so outstanding about that Rico postgame speech and how was he as the manager?
 
It’s very loose.  It’s, “You’re here?  Get on out there and do your work!”  There’s a lot of trust he has in us, ‘cause he knows we’re going to go out there and work and get our stuff done.  It’s very loose, having fun.  And we were reviewing the series and he talked a little bit about baseball and it was kind of just about keeping us loose for the next series.  So, it was some fun stuff.  It was awesome.
 
-You’re holding back, and I’m not trying to push or anything, but what’s the difference maker in this awesome speech that makes you smile?  Were there vulgarities involved?  Were there extreme levels of energy?
 
Just a lot of energy and you know, if you talk to Rico you know he’s a funny dude and he’s always happy and always positive.  And so we ended up not winning the series and one (game) was rained out, but we had the chance to win all three and Rico was talking about the New Hampshire one as well, our series, and he was talking about him(self) trying to make it to his son’s lacrosse game.  And it was just a good review of the series.  It kind of kept us loose when we went in and we won that game that day.  It was just one of those things, that’s what we needed and he knew that.
 
-Did he make it to the lacrosse game?
 
No, he ended up making it right at the end.  His son scored a goal and everything.  It was awesome.  We were all pumped up and everything, so it was cool.
 
-Do you feel a rivalry with the Yankees teams at all because you play them so much at all these different levels? (the interview was done following a game at Trenton, the Yankees' Double-A affiliate)
 
A little bit.  I’ve already seen some guys from last year that we’ve played against.  So, it’s kind of familiar faces, but honestly, it’s just my second season, so I can’t--
 
-Do you feel it with other teams?  I think Rhys Hoskins and someone else told me before that they felt it more with the Pirates teams. 
 
Yeah, I could see that with the Pirates for sure.  For me, I almost think it’s the Blue Jays, personally, because when I went up to High A, we played them so much.  We play them also in instructs and now we’ve played them a couple times in Double-A.  In spring training we play the Pirates a lot and it’s always really good games.  Especially in spring training because even though it’s not about records, those are always intense games. 
 
-Last thing for you…Trenton often plays comedic songs or music for opposing batters.  Do you guys notice that?
 
We do.  We actually find it kind of funny because we like some of those songs.  So, it’s like, “You messed up, man.  This is a great song!”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Is it time to be concerned about Mickey Moniak?

Mickey Moniak with Lakewood in 2017
Almost daily I am engaged via Twitter or email or text messages or in person about Phillies prospects. It comes with the gig.  The player that scores the most inquiries is, as should be expected, 2016 top overall draft selection Mickey Moniak.

Questions from fans that don't want to seem overly judgmental will ask, “Should we be concerned?” Others, living up to the more stereotypical Philadelphia sports fan reputation, will assert the notion, “He’s a bust!  Somebody didn't do his job right!”

For the most part I have responded in defense of Moniak and others, letting people know that the youngster’s skills are real and his coaches stand by them. I’d caution fans that he was young, still a teenager, among the five youngest position players in the Class A Advanced Florida State League (per his team the Clearwater Threshers, as of the end of April), and he just needed time to catch up to the older, more mature pitching at that level.

Lately, though, I shrug and no longer think that concerns about Moniak's offensive numbers are unfounded.

The lefty batting Moniak, through action on Saturday ranked fourth lowest in the FSL, among qualified batters, with a .495 OPS. He’s got just five extra base hits, all doubles, with 10 RBI and a .224 batting average in 39 games.

On the heels of Moniak’s 20th birthday last weekend, if he’s the fifth youngest batter in the league, I wonder how are those younger players faring? They shouldn’t be outshining the top overall draft pick, right?   Let’s have a look .(International players are not included in MLB draft process)

Isaac Paredes, a Mexican shortstop prospect with the Tigers, who is still 19 years old until February next year, has a .704 OPS through 34 games. With seven doubles, a triple, four home runs and a .218 average, the righty hitter looks capable of handling the league.

Braves outfield prospect, Cristian Pache, who is 19 years old until November sports a .738 OPS through 38 games. The righty batting Dominican sports a .289 average with nine doubles, three triples, a homer and 13 RBI. No problems for Pache, it seems.

Dylan Carlson, a Cardinals outfield prospect, is a teen until October. He’s got a .617 OPS in 17 games to date since a promotion last month. The switch-hitter, who went 32 picks after Moniak in the 2016 draft, has two doubles a home run, nine RBI and a .200 average over 17 games in the same league that Moniak is playing in. That’s not too bad.

Mets shortstop prospect Andres Gimenez, who will turn 20 in September, has a .746 OPS. The left-handed batter has seven doubles, three triples, two home runs, 13 RBI and a .262 average through 35 games. Overall, the Venezuelan is the best of the bunch.

Also, by comparison, the Phillies’ 2015 first round pick (10th overall) Cornelius Randolph was a few weeks younger than Moniak is at the same level last year. On the same date a year ago, a younger Randolph had a better OPS by 106 points.  However, even that .601 mark concerned some people. He's now in Double-A continuing to work and battle tough, older pitchers with a .550 OPS in 32 games.

The previous, and only other, time the Phillies drafted in the top overall spot, was 1998 when they selected Pat Burrell. Burrell was a college third baseman, who made his MLB debut as a first baseman and ultimately made his home in left field. Burrell had a good career as a big leaguer, but he was never an All-Star. Based on that, by today’s demanding standards, if a number 1 overall pick never became an All-Star, then he turned out to be a bust.

For Moniak, though, I'd bet with this type of worrisome start to his professional career, fans would be happy with Burrell-esque production.  After all, he helped the Phillies win a World Series and notch four separate 30-homer seasons and blasted more than 250 round-trippers for the team.  But Burrell was a taken out of college and was expected to be a power guy.  Not quite that similar to Moniak, a high schooler with a much small frame that drew comparisons to Tony Gwynn or Ichiro Suzuki on the type of hitter he could become.

Let's not forget, another first rounder that got a championship ring for being part of that 2008 championship club.  Sure, I recall Chase Utley, who did some things and Jayson Werth who was a top pick with the Orioles.  But how about another position player that was drafted in the first round?  Who remembers Greg Golson?

Golson, the Phillies' 1st round pick in 2004 (21st overall), played in just 40 big league games and, at the age of 32, is still playing independent pro ball.

With a September birthday, Golson was roughly 9 months older than Moniak at the same Class A levels when he played there.  He would tally a .295/.345/..410 slash line (Moniak comparison- .284/.340/.409 at same level) in 47 games with the Rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies.  Golson posted a .264/.322/.389 slash line in his season with Lakewood in 2005.  The following season the righty hitter repeated Lakewood where he played 93 games, sported a .233/.277/.374 slash line (Moniak- .236/.284/.341 at same level) and moved up to Clearwater.  Wrapping up his 2006 with .264/.324/.472 production (Moniak- .221/240/.255) over 40 Florida State League contests.  Two years later, with 511 minor league games under his belt, Golson was a late season call up for the World Champion Phillies in the month he turned 23.

So, after reviewing all of these statistical comparisons, is it time to worry about Moniak’s output?

Sure, you can worry. You can sweat the possibility that Moniak, Randolph or some other recent Phillies high draft picks may not become the next Bryce Harper and might be headed toward Golson territory.  You could live your life void of wishful sports vibes, convinced that a 20-year-old will never be able to live up to your sky high expectations.  But maybe that’s not the best way to spend your energy or time.

Perhaps be grateful and rave about the draft picks that are, or have the potential to, outperform their draft slot.

Standout Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins was a 5th round pick in 2014, taken 142nd overall.  The number one overall pick that year, Brady Aiken, didn't even sign. It's a completely different kind of draft, but there's Phils center fielder Odubel Herrera, who was a Rule 5 draft pick, which means the Phils swiped him from another team's developmental system.  He's been the best player on a team that's battling for top spot in their division and has reached base via hit or walk in 45 straight big league games. 

Back to the minors, specifically Clearwater, where a pair of later round picks, OF Austin Listi (17th round, 2017) and 1B Darick Hall (14th round, 2016) are currently teammates of Moniak and are on the opposite end of the league leaders board.  They rank 2nd (.955) and 3rd (.922) in the FSL in OPS respectively.  Also with Clearwater, the Phils' 31st round draft pick from 2015 Nick Fanti made his season debut this week after recovering from a back strain.  He's the guy that tossed two no-hitters with Lakewood last season.

Ultimately, it's up to you if you want to gripe and stress out over troublesome draft picks.  But, even though you "just want people to be accountable", that's feeding the "Negadelphia" stereotype.  Things are different now.  You may have heard how the city's football team shook that vibe completely this year and allowed their long-starved fans to finally puff out their chests and boast about being the absolute best with pride.  The baseball team is striving for the same turnaround and you won't be able to enjoy the run to Super Bowl Sunday if you can't get over Danny Watkins.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading coach Rico Brogna

Former Phillies first baseman Rico Brogna re-joined the Phils organization this year as a coach with the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils. 

During his playing career, Brogna also took the field for the Mets, Red Sox, Braves and Tigers, the team that drafted him in the first round in 1988.  With the Phillies, he posted two 20-homer, 100-RBI seasons.  Now, he's trying to help develop the Phillies stars of the future.

Recently, I talked with Brogna about some of his team's players, his time coaching and scouting elsewhere, his favorite teammate from his playing days and plenty more.  Read ahead for that full interview.

-Malquin Canelo's been a catalyst through the first several weeks of the season for this lineup.  He's always had a lot of good tools., but in the past maybe he hasn't really stood out compared to other guys on teams he's been on.  Now, though, he's starting to stand out a bit.  What do you think of him?

He absolutely is.  I think he's playing good on all sides of the ball.   He's really running the bases well.  The defense at times is exceptional.  He's got a lot of range and really a lot of play making skills on defense, at shortstop and at second.  He's played some second base too.  But that is definitely a part of his game that shines.  Base running, like I said, I think he's been really aggressive with stealing and taking the extra base and certainly offensively, he's really in a good place.  He's able, now, to pull his hands in, when they try to work him inside, and try to get be quick.  And some of those have resulted in home runs, so he's a really exciting player to watch when you coach him and he has a variety of ways he can help you win.

-The roster's pretty deep with talent, with guys having to sit from game to game.  You might have Jan Hernandez, Cord Sandberg, Kyle Martin out of the lineup on any given day.  You're not making the lineup each day, but is that a difficult point, to have to rotate everybody?

Yeah, it's one of those, maybe, good problems to have.  I think, you know, Legger's (manager Greg Legg) done a good job of rotating guys and kind of communicating it before hand.  There are a lot of guys that-- you know, everybody on the roster wants to be able to get the right number of at bats and at times it's hard to do on a daily basis when we have a lot of guys that can maybe play almost every day.  But, again it's a good problem to have.  And it's not a problem.  It's a lot of quality depth and that being said I think the guys that can play multiple positions, whether it's in the infield or the outfield, we've been trying to move them around.  Legger and us as a staff have been talking about it so they can find ways to keep getting AB's and experience in different places.  

-You've got more than a couple guys that really can flash big time power.  Zach Green's a guy that shows it, and you've got him and Kyle Martin and others.  How do you go about bringing that power out of them?

Well, they work hard and Kevin Riggs is working with those guys everyday and I haven't really seen too many hitting coaches work as hard as Riggsy.  He's really good with hitting as far as whatever the guys need.  He's always working hard and the players are working hard right along with him.  They're in position to hit mistakes well and they're barrelling balls that are center cut, so yeah, one of the things we do well is, as a lineup, we get pretty deep with the amount of guys that can hit for power.  So, good pitches and good pitchers are tough to hit for anybody at any level, but they want to get in a position where they can capitalize on whether it's a breaking ball hanging, or a center cut fastball-- something that's kind of quote-unquote a mistake, because really as a hitter, that's what you want to be ready for and really they are and it can be for much more than a base hit.  They can punch a double in the gap or hit a homer.

-What's your role?  'Cause you mention Riggs as the hitting coach, and I think I had your positions twisted.  So tell me about your role with the team.

It's a little bit of a watch and do everything. We kind of classify it as-- well, they added a fourth coach at every level this year.  They started to do it last year, I think, but it's everywhere now in the organization.  And it's more a bench coach kind of thing to help with some of the defensive positioning and also work with some of the outfielders, help with some of the hitting.  It's more of a bench coach.  So, when Legger had to go to his son's graduation last week from Penn State, which was a cool thing, so I got to manage for three days.  And, yeah, it's more of that, instead of being specific with the hitters or with this position group.  It's more of a chance to do all of it. 

-What brought you to the Phillies?  Obviously, you played here, but had you coached pro ball before this year?

Mm-hmm.  That was probably one of the things that got me back was having the relationship with the Phillies in the past.  I had been pro scouting with the Angels the past few years.  I coached for the Angels for a couple of years in Anaheim, so I've done a combination of some minor league managing, coaching, big league for a couple years and a lot of pro scouting.  I'd say the last 12 or so years, a combination of all the above, so I enjoy being in the game and being a pro scout taught me a lot about players and evaluation of players and all that stuff.  

-Well, it's probably several weeks late, but welcome to Reading.  Welcome to the team.  

Thank you.

-So, speaking of evaluating players, what have you seen from Cornelius Randolph?

Another good prospect.  I think he's really starting to-- the other day he had three hits with a double to right-center and a double to left-center. Tonight just late on a couple fastballs, but right there where he wants to be.
 
And he's got a great attitude, even when he just misses a ball or pops it up and was close, he knows he's close.  He's aggressively running the bases and works hard on his defense.  Just a really fun kid to be around.  He loves to work, has fun playing the game.  I think once the hitting-- you can really start to see him gain confidence and rapidly, so I think as this season goes and he starts seeing the (teams in the) league a few times and get a chance to make adjustments and learn the level, the second half of the season, as we move into that, you'll see more consistency.
 
 -Damek Tomscha has been putting up a lot of good numbers for the team.  He's been really consistent.  Do you think he's ready for a bigger challenge?

I do.  Yeah, no doubt.  I'd love to see it happen.  I think he's very reliable defensively and that's a high compliment when you're reliable.  Catch the ball, make the throws and get all the outs you're supposed to.  That's not easy to do.  And he does that exceptionally well.  He's actually a very heads up base runner as well.  He'll take the extra base when some people don't think he would.  He's a very intelligent player.  He sees the field.  He competes so hard in the box.  You can just see him compete.  It's almost like you can see it sweating out of him.  But you love it that he competes and finds a way to barrel the ball and hit it.  Uses (the field) line to line and if you leave a pitch out over the plate he can hit a homer.  He's really kind of the coaches dream.  He's like a coach on the field.  He competes like crazy and is a all-around solid ball player.  I would love to see him get a chance to get challenged whether it's the middle of the season or sooner, or whenever, 'cause he's shown that he has the ability.

-Last thing for you.  You're describing Damek as this great player to have around the team and it makes me wonder who was your favorite teammate during your playing days?

Gosh, so many.  So many.  It was fun playing with so many guys, but when Scott Rolen and I were locker mates for four years in Philly, you know, he was quietly one of the funniest guys I've ever been around.  So smart and so quiet, but so quietly hilarious and brilliant and he was-- it's hard to pick one guy, but he was awesome.  We lockered next to each other, we hung out, we would go get McDonald's together after games sometimes when no one else would be going to McDonald's and (we'd) hang out and have fun.  

-Do you guys stay in touch these days?

A little bit.  He doesn't want to be found.  He wants to be somewhere on the globe and be like Where's Waldo.  Where's Scotty?  You know, I'll text him sometimes and he'll go, "Yeah, you got me in Greece." 
 
It's always like we talked just yesterday whenever text or call.  Good dude!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

BlueClaws Quotables: Will Stewart Interview Excerpts

Will Stewart (right), image- Jay Floyd
Recently, I ran a feature on Class A Lakewood starting pitcher Will Stewart.  The 20-year-old lefty sports a 4-0 record with a 1.46 ERA through his first six appearances this season.

I talked at length with Will and much of the interview didn't make it into the article, so I am publishing excerpts from out chat here.  Read ahead for more of what the Phillies' 20th round draft pick from 2015 had to say.


-What would you want fans that are just starting to hear about this guy Will Stewart who is posting great numbers in Lakewood to know about you?


I would say to learn more about me, not just the stat line, because there’s going to be times when the stat line does not reflect how I pitched and there’s going to be times where the stat line tells you I got crushed.  

Trust that I’m going to work as hard as I can to be here.  We’re not heroes.  We’re regular people that go play a game that’s a lot of fun.  When we do good, people want to make us heroes and that’s great, but when we do bad you got to keep in mind we will come back.  That’s how it is. 

-Have you found that some of you success is related to facing some competition that you are familiar with or have seen (at lower levels)?

There’s a few guys on every team that you know, that you’ve heard of, that you can see the stat line and you know what kind of player they are so having the scouting reports on these guys is huge because you never go into a game without knowing what you’ve got to do, so that’s a big deal.  

-I know the scouting reports you mentioned are hand delivered and you guys can study them.  Is that helpful for you?
 
Yeah, definitely.  And we have meetings on it and we get pulled into the office and we talk about it.  It’s you, the catcher and the pitching coach and we sit there and it’s kind of a more intimate conversation about how we’re going to attack the day and everything like that. 
 
-Who are you rooming with?

Damon Jones.  He’s huge and he’s awesome.  Okay, actually, honestly, he’s a gentle giant.  You look at him and you’re like, “Wow the guy’s huge!” And then you room with him and you say, “Wow, you’re just too nice!”  So, it’s awesome.
 
-Thoughts on Lakewood and the region thus far?

It’s definitely different.  I’m from the south.  I’m from Alabama, so the people are different.  The way they talk, the way people react to different situations are really different.  Being in the stadium, because that’s the only place you get to see the region as a whole, because there’s people from everywhere around here, I feel like the only thing that kind of gets me is that they are brutal.  They are ruthless.  They don’t care what’s going on.  If our team’s not doing good, then we’re gonna be pissed.  It’s kind of like, I feel like Phillie fans are very passionate.  Like they are like, “We’re going to win, or we’re going to lose, but you’re going to know who we are either way!”  But, I like Lakewood.  The weather’s been a lot better than I thought it was gonna be.
 
-Have you been to the boardwalk or anything like that?
 
Yes, we went over to the board walk and I was a little disappointed.  There was nobody there and I was like, “What are we doing?!”  I got to see the beach.  The beach is nice and that was cool, but it kind of reminded me a little bit of Florida, but there it’s not as cold.
 
-Before you were drafted what was you knowledge of the Phillies?

There’s these pictures of some of the guys with Phillies jerseys as kids and things like that, but I was not a Phillies fan growing up and I didn’t know any culture of the Phillies. So, getting here, getting drafted by them was a huge culture shock.  Like, (the fans) are worse than Yankee fans.  You know how you hear Yankees fans are crazy?  Well, Phillies fans are HUGE fans.  I’m talking diehard fans, like kind of like Alabama football fans.

-After spending time in Florida at the complex, I imagine you know many of the Phils' biggest names, who the fields are named after.  Carlton, Ashburn, Schmidt.  Did you know who those guys were before becoming a Phillie?
 
No, none of them.  I didn’t know any of them.  I knew guys like John Smoltz and Albert Pujols.  Guys that are kind of from my era.  I was not a big huge history buff for baseball.  I didn’t really care.  But now that I’m in here, I get to see how much they appreciate those people and how much they mean to the organization as a whole, I feel like I should have done my homework before I got drafted by them.
 
-It’s amazing to me that you already have these impressions of the fan base because at the lower levels guys usually don’t get to much exposure to the really passionate fans.  That might come later, when you arrive in Reading and are playing in Pennsylvania in a region where all the fans grew up with the Phillies, so there you might get more of the venom, if it’s needed.  Not that it would be for you. 
 
You mentioned not being into baseball history.  Did you play or was there interest in other sports? 
 
No, not really.  I did when I was really young, but I feel like when you’re young you do that.  I picked one sport once I got to middle school.  I picked baseball because I knew that was the only one I was going to be good at.  I could not play basketball to save my life.  I didn’t want to play football because I didn’t want to break my arm.  And we didn’t have soccer and lacrosse like they do up here, so I played baseball and that was it. 
 
-And no hockey either?
 
God no!  We don’t even do hockey.  Nashville (Predators of the NHL) is the closest thing to us and I still don’t understand it.  I don’t know the rules of hockey.  I don’t know who half the teams are.  I don’t know how it works.  So, I’m not a hockey fan. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading pitching coach Steve Schrenk

Steve Schrenk, image- Jay Floyd
Last week I talked with pitching coach Steve Schrenk about his staff with the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils.  The covered mostly all of the team's hurlers including JoJo Romero, Ranger Suarez, Elniery Garcia, Edgar Garcia, Luke Leftwich plus plenty more.

Read ahead for my complete interview with "Schrenky".

-Related to JoJo Romero (0-4 record, 6.68 ERA), seems like he's not producing the way perhaps he was expected to, thus far.

Yeah, he’s not—I don’t think he’s satisfied with what he’s doing right now.  It’s been just a couple innings here and there for the most part.  It’s been a couple pitches, a couple innings.  I think for the most part he’s been throwing the ball okay.  He needs to be a little more consistent with the strike zone and using his off-speed pitches for strikes.  But, he’s done a good job.  It’s like I said, a couple innings here, a couple big hits.  I think he’ll be right out of the funk that he’s in, in a little bit and get it going.
 
-Seranthony Dominguez earned two promotions within two weeks and is now on the big league roster.  Does that news for a guy that was on this team just a couple weeks back lead to more excitement among the team?

Yeah, I definitely think there is.  We told these guys at the beginning of the year…there are a lot of guys that had been here in 2016 and 2017 that are pitching in the big leagues now.  So the opportunity’s right  here for them.  And to see (Dominguez) go up so fast gives the guys a good boost to know the Phillies are moving their guys, moving their pitchers and trying to win.


-Harold Arauz (3-1, 4.34 ERA) had a nice start in Trenton, keeping the team in the game.  What have you seen from him?


He does a good job.  You know, Harold is not overpowering.  What he has is he knows how to mix pitches.  He’s been going a pretty consistent five, six, seven innings every time, so he does a good job.  He’s got a good curve ball, a good little cut fastball, he’s been doing great.  So far, so good.  He’s doing exactly what he did last year in the Florida State League, so it looks good.

-Elniery Garcia has been on this team in parts of three season, joining the team for the playoffs a couple years ago, then being here and missing time last year.  Have you seen him mature during that time?

Yeah, I have.  Obviously in ’16 when he was he in the playoff run when we faced Trenton, he was really good.  Had a little setback last year with some arm problems and then with the suspension that he had, but, you know, he’s been up and down and I look for him to get stronger as the year goes.  But, his velocity is coming back.  He knows how to pitch.  I’m looking for some good things from him like he did in 2016.

-Is Edgar Garcia (0.44 ERA in 13 outings) an underrated guy that could start to garner a lot of attention?

I think he will.  He’s been pitching very well out of the bullpen.  He’s got a big league slider, pretty good fastball, 91 to 94 and his slider’s probably the pitch for me that’s going to make the difference.  It’s a difference maker out there.  We’ve been putting him in some different situations and he’s stepped up to every one of them.  So, he’s been doing very well.  I think he will be a guy that continues the path that he’s on right now.

Ranger Suarez, image- Jay Floyd
-How about some thoughts on Ranger Suarez (placed on the DL over the weekend, hamstring...1-2, 4.25 ERA) this year?

Doing great.  You know, holding his own.  He had one inning (in his last outing), just that one inning where he needed to make a pitch, but I think was it and they didn’t even hit it hard.  But he’ll be fine.  He throws strikes.  He knows how to pitch.  Sneaky velocity.  We’ve got to sharpen up his breaking ball a little bit.  But, I like what I see.

-What advantages do former starters like Luke Leftwich, Tyler Gilbert and Tyler Viza give you out of the bullpen?

They give you some length and some innings.  They know how to pitch and they've got three pitches.  That helps a lot.  You know, I think it's a benefit for those guys to come out and see what they can do.  It's much easier to transition from starter to reliever than it is a reliever to a starter.  And so far Tyler's done a good job.  Both Tylers, both Gilbert and Viza.  And Leftwich is-- you never know with some guys, they might develop another pitch and they might turn back into a starter, but right now they've taken to their role and it's been nice.  

-I can't not ask you about Franklyn Kilome (1-1 record, 5.74 ERA), so what have you seen from him this year?

You know what?  He started off a little slow.  He's been working on things that he needs to get cleaned up a little bit but the last start he had, before he got hit in the hand was outstanding and I look for another one.  The more he gets out there he gets more consistent, the more consistent he's getting.  He's throwing a lot more strikes with some little delivery changes we've made and he's buying into it.  He's still young.  Young-minded, young pitcher.  You know what I mean?  

For a lot of these guys, it's their first time in Double-A.  For a lot of my starters, if not all of them.  I think we had a combined 15 starts when we started the season, so we've got some work to do, but there's a lot of projection in all five of them for me right now.  But, Kilome, obviously with his size and what he brings to the table, I think he's going to be okay.  So far, it's been nice.  He had to work.  Every one of them had to do a lot of work, to get their feet wet here, but they're doing a good job with it.

-Is there anyone that's had an addition or subtraction to his repertoire this year?

McGarry's throwing a little bit of a slider.  Leftwich is throwing a slider.  Not really, other than that.  Harold's doing his thing.  Suarez-- Oh, Viza's throwing a splitty.  So, we've added a splitty to him and it's been good so far.  

-How long do guys work on a new offering before they are trusted to throw it in a game?

If they can throw it in the bullpen, for me, they can take it into a game.  It's the minor leagues.  It's for development.  The only way to know if it's any good is to take into a game.  I don't want them to experiment with in the big leagues.  I want them to have it now.  Yeah, we want to win games here, but at the same time now's the time to experiment with things.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Lakewood pitcher Stewart has the right attitude

Will Stewart (right), image- Jay Floyd
LAKEWOOD, NJ - Will Stewart has a chip on his shoulder.

It's not a hot-tempered, get-out-of-my-face chip.  Instead it's one that lies underneath, behind a calm demeanor and a steadily approachable mug and he unleashes it only on his opposition.

The left-handed pitcher was taken by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 2015 amateur draft out of Hazel Green High School in Alabama.  Getting selected after 693 other guys gave the six-foot-two 175-pounder something to prove.

"I think guys in the higher rounds, we have more to prove because we weren’t the guys that we going to come out of high school and get all the love," Stewart shared at Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park last week.  "There’s nothing wrong with that.  If you deserve it, you deserve it.  But the later round guys I feel like we’re hungrier.  We need it more.  We don’t have things, like a big signing bonus, to fall back on."

Well, Stewart is doing a lot of proving and he is starting to get the love because of it.

Through six starts with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws the 20-year-old has tallied a 4-0 record with a 1.46 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP while striking out 31 and walking five in 37 innings pitched.

Equipped with a two-seam fastball that usually ranges from 92 to 93 MPH and can clock higher, a solid change up, a slider and a curve ball, Stewart has been able to get the best of the South Atlantic League in the early going this season.

"He's just doing a really good job with his mix, keeping hitters off balance, changing speeds when he needs to," Lakewood manager Marty Malloy said.  "Making pitches when he needs to is the most important thing.  I mean, he's got command of his pitches, he's got command of his fastball and he's able to work off of that."

The gleaming production isn't something that the humble hurler will accept acclaim for.  He gives credit to the defense behind him in each outing.

Stewart also values the organization's focus on pitching to contact, compared to other teams that may have a large focus on velocity for their pitchers. It's an approach that took some time to get used to.

Initially, upon debuting as a pro, Stewart pitched as a reliever with the Rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies. Returning to that same club in 2016, he was part of the starting rotation and has stuck as a starter since then, pitching in short-season A level Williamsport last season.  He compiled a 7-5 record and a 4.24 ERA through he first three seasons in the minors.

If he stays on his current path, this would be his first professional season with an ERA under 4.

The comfort level in Lakewood has helped Stewart improve and shine.  BlueClaws pitching coach Brad Bergesen gives freedom to his pitching staff.  The flexibility has improved Stewart's mindset and has given him independence that he has used to take strides. 

"(Bergesen) trusts in everything we do," explained Stewart.  "He tells us to play to our strengths and he gives us the freedom to know, yeah, we’re gonna fail, but the thing is just learning from the failure and not having your hand held."


With significant autonomy and an ideal attitude, Stewart is anxious to really prove his worth as he targets an ascension up the developmental ladder.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood manager Marty Malloy on top performers, injured players, more

Marty Malloy, image- Jay Floyd
The Class A Lakewood BlueClaws have a four-game win streak intact entering the weekend.  The team's pitching staff ranks third in the South Atlantic League with a 2.67 staff ERA.  Their offense, however, ranks last in the league with a .221 batting average. 

On Friday, I talked with BlueClaws' manager Marty Malloy about a few of his key pitchers and some of the disappointments at the plate. 

Prospect discussed include standout starters Will Stewart and Ramon Rosso as well as closer Addison Russ.  Position players Gregori Rivero and Daniel Brito were topics of discussion as were injured offensive contributors Jhailyn Ortiz, Simon Muzziotti and Cole Stobbe. 

Read ahead for my full interview with Malloy. 


-Left-hander Will Stewart is off to a great start with the team.  He's 20 years old and has a 4-0 record with a 1.46 ERA through six starts.  What can you share about how outstanding he has been?

All his starts have been quality.  And then obviously with the last outing, he was really, really good.  Eight solid.  Shut out.  Good change.  Good mix, making pitches when he has to.  Keeping batters off balance.  You know, obviously he's 4-0 and there's a reason behind that.

-Righty Ramon Rosso (21 years old) has looked just as good.  He's 1-0 with a 1.10 ERA in his six games.  What's been the key for him?

I just think he's attacking hitters, the same as Will.  When he needs to spin one, he spins it.  The guys are off-balance, he makes pitches, he's ahead in the counts.  He's not pitching from behind.

-Addison Russ has been exceptional out of the bullpen.  Thoughts on him?
 

You know, obviously, he's got the split that is the big equalizer, right now.  He's got a plus fastball.  I think he's up to 95 with it.  Like I said, he's able to go to the split for a strikeout when he needs it, but he's also getting ahead with his fastball and he's making pitches when he has to in the tough times of the game when it's on the line. 

-Is there anyone else on this pitching staff that's been standing out for you?

I think they've all been good.  You know, we're three games over .500.  We may not have swung the bats as well as we can or have expected thus far, but our starters have been really, really good.  Giving us quality starts, keeping us in the game, giving us opportunities to get to the latter part of the game and we've been successful for the most part.


Jhailyn Ortiz, image- Jay Floyd
-You mentioned the lineup not producing up to expectations and there are a few guys that we expected to be in the everyday lineup that are sidelined with injuries.  One of those guys is Jhailyn Ortiz.  Do you have any updates on him?

He's got a bruised shoulder.  I look for him to be back any day now.  I don't know the exact time frame, but it's something that's got him down in Florida, getting AB's (with the extended spring training team).  He's just taking care of what needs to be taken care of and he'll be back here in the near future.

-What things did you see from Ortiz earlier in the season before he was injured?

He's a big power guy that can play.  He's a big guy that can play right field.  He's got a plus arm.  He's got plus power and it's the matter getting him back, getting him healthy and getting him going.

-Simon Muzziotti was another guy that was injured and is not longer in the lineup.  What's his situation?

Well, he broke a finger on a bunt situation.  That ball ran in on him and hit him.  He's several weeks out, but he'll be down in Florida getting prepared to get back here.  He was off to a hot start, playing unbelievable in center field and giving us a threat in the lead-off spot.  But he'll be back.  He'll be fine. 

-Stobbe's another guy that's missing due to injury.  What can you share on him?

Well, he's a guy that had a strained (hamstring) and he's in Florida as well.  You know, obviously, we hadn't had the best weather unfortunately, so he's down in Florida in the sunshine and he's doing the same thing; rehabbing, just getting prepared to come back and be ready to go and finish the season.

-Brito was on this team for you last year and his early stats in 2017 were pretty standout, but not so much this year.  Just talk about his season so far?

I'm not worried about his numbers right now.  He's still doing the work he needs to do every day to get ready for the game.  It's a long season.  You know, a lot can happen between now and the end.  He's given us quality work, played quality defense.  He's just got off to a slow start.  I can't pinpoint just one thing.  He's still giving us AB's.  He's still in the game.  Doing everything that's asked of him and we'll look for good things from him in the future.

-Catcher Gregori Rivero's been pretty hot.  I see you're figuring out ways to keep him in the lineup each day, whether it's using him at first base or as DH.  What have you seen from him this year?

Obviously, he's giving us solid AB's.  He can catch, he can play first.  If something were to happen, he could go play other positions, if need be.  But we've got 25 guys on this roster.  They're all going to get an opportunity.  They're all going to get to play, but he's made those most of his opportunities and he's doing a nice job.

-The roster's a long list and I don't want to keep you too long, but is there anybody else on the team that has meant a lot to the group's success so far?

I think all of them.  We're in this thing together.  Some guys may be off to a quicker start than others.  It's a learning experience for all these guys.  Most of these guys are first year guys.  It's a daily grind.  It's a process, a journey, whatever you want to call it.  We've had a tough schedule so far.  Not to make any excuses, 'cause we don't do that here, but in one stretch (we played) 15 out of 18 on the road and that's new for these kids and they're just having to experience it, learn from it and get better every day. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Clearwater Threshers 1b Darick Hall

Darick Hall with Lakewood in 2017, image- Jay Floyd
Clearwater first baseman Darick Hall has been torching Florida State League pitching this season.  The 22-year-old lefty slugger leads this Class A Advanced Florida State League in home runs with 10 and has posted a .289 average and 27 RBI in 33 games.

A 14th round draft selection in 2016, Hall made a big splash last year in his first full season as a pro.  With Class A Lakewood, the six-foot-four 235-pounder notched a team record 27 homers.  Overall, combined with the time he spent at Clearwater to close the regular season, Hall posted a .270 average with 29 round trippers and 101 RBI in 121 games.

This week I talked with Darick about his powerful production, which coaches and teammates he has learned the most from, the buzz surrounding his offense and more.  Read ahead for that full interview.



-You're leading the FSL in homers and enjoying a great start to the season.  Congratulations on that.  Share some thoughts on the offensive success there in Clearwater.  

Thank you! One of my biggest keys this season so far has been sticking to my plan at the plate and not giving in. I focus on getting my best swing off early and being on time. We talk a lot about an "A" hack and "B" hack as an organization. Early in the count is the time to use your "A" hack and later is the time to use the "B" hack. This has shined a lot of light on approach for me.

-After leading the Sally League and now jumping out to an FSL lead in home runs...is it a goal to maintain the lead and stay on top in the category?
 
My goal is always to be productive and to consistently square up the baseball. The home runs take care of themselves. My goal is to drive the ball at all times without sacrificing contact for power. 

-How has the jump to Class A Advanced been?  Is it still challenging despite your performance?
 
It's definitely been a jump. The pitchers are definitely more crisp. They are around the zone more and they try to induce weak contact early instead of always going for the punch out. The umpires for the most part are better. 

-With all the home runs comes attention.  Phillies fans have begun to hear about this guy Darick Hall who has a load of power down in Clearwater.  Is that welcome attention?  Do you enjoy the buzz?
 
It's been a blessing honestly.  As a player anytime you are recognized it is an honor. Our job is to play to the best of our abilities and maximize the talent we have. 

-Your home numbers (1.203 OPS) seem much better than road numbers (.707 OPS).  Is there anything about the home park that stands out for you?  Are you seeing the ball that much better there?  Or is it just how things have gone so far?

We've honestly played so many home games this half that I've become really comfortable with our home field. Our field is arguably the nicest field in the FSL and it makes it so much fun to play at.

-What sort of feedback have you gotten from the coaches on your progress?
 
The biggest feedback that I've gotten is my footwork at first base has progressively gotten better and they like what they are seeing defensively. This past off-season I made it my mission to improve my footwork and it's nice to have seen results come out of it. 

-Is there a coach that has really helped you with your development since you turned pro?

Chris Truby (the Phils' minor league infield coordinator) has really laid a platform of what he expects out of me defensively. He basically gave me what I need to work on to take my game to a higher level. Nelson Prada last year at Lakewood was always the guy I would turn to about approach at the plate. He is always refreshing to talk to about hitting and is very understanding. John Mizerock is another one of my favorite coaches. I tend to overthink and he's a big time believer of simplicity. He helped me at Williamsport and he is here in Clearwater this year. (Lakewood manager) Marty Malloy was another one that helped me. Being in your first full season you always look to your manager at times to get you through and his grit and ability to grind was something that I looked up to and respected.

-Your college and pro teammate Austin Listi is enjoying some success and is among league leaders is some categories as well.  He's older than you, but you've been with the Phillies longer.  Is there any sort of brother relationship with him and if so, who is the OLDER brother of you two?
 
Austin has really made point of his ability at the plate this year so far and it's awesome to see! Listi and I have a lot of the same interests and are roommates. We both love the outdoors and enjoy watching bass fishing videos together. (Laughs)  We're good friends and it's awesome to have a fellow (Dallas Baptist) Patriot to grind with!

-Have you gotten any exposure to any big leaguers or former big leaguers that made a lasting impression on you during your time in Florida, whether it's during the seminars, during spring training, or whatever?
 
I got the chance to work with Carlos Santana during a couple days with the big league club and that was a treat. He's got so much knowledge at first base and I did my best to soak it up.  I talked to Rhys Hoskins about approach while he was down getting some AB's in spring training.