Saturday, June 30, 2018

Former Phils prospect Astudillo makes MLB debut with Twins

When the Twins put infielder Taylor Motter on the disabled list week, they needed a replacement.  What better man to answer the call than widely regarded multi-positional batsman Willians Astudillo?

Oh, he's not highly regarded?  You don't even recall his playful attitude and ability to almost never strike out and almost never walk when he played in the Phillies organization?  Well, he's a .310 career hitter in Triple-A and he was the Rochester Red Wings leading batter this season. And in 2,342 plate appearances in the minors, Astudillo walked 80 times and walked in just 76 instances.  The infrequency of both occurrences is genuinely the reputation he's built for himself in his nine pro seasons.  

Astudillo, a native of Venezuela, has played seven different positions (everything except center field and shortstop) in his minor league career.  When he made his big league debut at Chicago's Wrigley Field on Sunday, he split time in left field and center field, leaving shortstop as the only position he's never played as a professional. 

The 26-year-old, who is generously listed at five-foot-nine and 225 pounds, notched his first big league hit with a run scoring single.  He tallied a 1-for-2 overall effort on the day.

If you still can't recall who Astudillo is or if you've read to this point and are still wondering why you should care and him, the animated ,gif below, made from video I shot in 2014 when he played with Class A Lakewood, will show you why this guy matters.  And rest assured that Buster, the BlueClaws' mascot, surely won't soon forget "Big Willy".

PhoulBallz Interview: Lehigh Valley coach Wes Helms

Wes Helms, image- Jay Floyd
Former big league third baseman/first baseman Wes Helms took the dive into professional coaching this season as a coach in the Phillies organization for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

The 42-year-old owns a .256 career average with 75 homers and 374 RBI in 13 season in the majors.

With big league playing time for four organizations, Helms got to play with, against and for some legendary names.  I talked with Helms recently about which coaches inspired him, his path to a second career in professional baseball, which former Phillies teammates he keeps in touch with, his large souvenir collection and much more.  Read ahead for that full interview. 


-You're new to this club this year and it's your first coaching in the Phillies' system.  What was your coaching background prior to taking this role?

My last year playing was 2011.  I promised my wife I'd be home until my youngest got in school full time.  I waited till he was in the second grade.  So, this is actually my first gig coaching in the pros, but I coached high school the last five years.  I coached third base and did the outfield and assisted with the hitting.  The head coach there was the coach for 24 years at Auburn, Steve Renfroe.  A very good coach.  We worked awesome together.  For me, coaching, yeah the speed of the game is different there than it is here, but I was coaching third base, I was developing players, as I am here, so I had my feet wet a little bit.  Only difference is up here the guys are faster, bigger, stronger, so you just gotta adjust back to that.

-Was this something that you foresaw as a player, getting into coaching?

Yeah, I knew I wanted to coach when I got out of the game, especially toward the end of my career.  I loved the game so much.  I studied the game when I played it.  I kinda watched all the superstars, watched all the guys that weren't superstars, just to see how everybody went about their business, because I know what I did, but everybody's different.  So, I kind of got everybody's outlook on what they needed to do everyday.  So, I would always keep that in my mind and I knew when I got out of the game I knew I wanted to come back and help the pros in either the minors or the big leagues get better.

-I've talked to plenty of coaches that will tell me they had coaches when they played that they took bits and pieces from to put together their own coaching style.  Are there coaches or managers that you had that influenced you as a coach?

The two big ones were Bobby Cox and Joe Girardi.  Bobby Cox, when we were in Atlanta, I was actually in Florida when he retired, I went over there and brought him a bottle of wine and sat down and talked to him for a while because he was my first manager in the big leagues.  And he told me straight up.  He said, "Wes, you're gonna coach one day."  He said, "The biggest advice I can give you is don't care if the player likes you, but make them respect you."  And he said, "Like and respect are two different things.  If you try to manage for players to like you, then you're not managing to win the game." And he said, "Gain that respect from your players first.  They'll like you.  They may not like decisions you make, but they'll like you if they respect you."  That was one of the biggest things.

And then Joe Girardi in Florida in 2006, when we had that young team and we almost made the playoffs and everything.  He always told me, "You need to be in the game when you stop playing.  You need to be in the game.  The game needs guys like you to be around.  You're a hard worker.  You love the game.  You love to win.  You love all aspects of what the game brings."'  And he said, "The game needs you."  And he kept putting that in my ear, so those were the main two guys that planted the seed.

-What was your "in" with the Phillies when coming back to coach?  Did you mention to someone you were interested?  Did the team contact you?

It's actually funny.  Right when I stopped playing, the Phillies were the first team to call me.  They called me and asked me what my plans were.  And I was like, "Listen, I want to be at home with my family.  I haven't even thought about it yet.  And it kind of fizzled out a little bit.  And then I got a phone call from (Phillies minor league director) Joe Jordan back three years ago and he asked me what my plans were.  And this was back in December, and they needed a person in Clearwater, for the (Class A Advanced) Clearwater team.  And he said, "We'd like to offer it to you first if you want it."  And I said, "Let me talk to my wife."  And we actually talked it over while we were driving to Disney World actually.  And we talked it over and she said, "Wes, if you can give it two more years..."  She goes, "That's all I need."  That would allow my youngest to be a little older and then my oldest would be almost driving.  And, so, I did and after the two years, they brought me to big league camp last year as a special instructor and that got the juices going.  And I talked to Joe Jordan last year in spring training and I talked to (field coordinator Doug Mansolino), I talked to all the guys and that kind of got the juices going and after the season, Joe Jordan and I made contact again and he offered me this job.  And I knew it was time.  I was ready and they were ready to have me?

-What's the biggest challenge as a parent of a young child to be on the road with a schedule as demanding as a pro baseball player?

There's nothing that replaces being a parent at home with your kids.  I don't care what anybody says.  I try my best to parent from here.  I talk to them on the phone.  But, I think the biggest thing-- it's hard.  It's hard to be away from your family.  I think the biggest thing for me is I was used to it as a player.  My oldest now, I was away from him when he was little, so now my youngest he is just now seeing what my oldest saw.  And it was an adjustment this year in spring training and once the first part of the season started he's asking, "When's daddy coming home?  When's daddy coming home?"  And for me to hear that, there was nights I told (hitting coach) Sal Rende and (manager) Gary Jones, I would come to the field sometimes and say, "Man, I'm miserable today.  My kids are asking me when am I coming home."  So, they were just helping me through it.  And I knew it was going to be a transition, because I'm a big family guy.  I love my kids and I love my wife.  But, what helped me was I have a great wife that did it when I was a player.  It's not like I have a wife now that didn't live through me playing, so for her to have experienced me being gone as a player all the time, she got spoiled when I was home, but now she just fell right back into that.  So, she's helped big time with the transition to that.  That helped me to see how she handled it.  If it was harder on her, that would probably hurt me worse.  But now everything's just kind of smoothed over and daddy will be home in September or late September, however far we go and we're gonna live it up this off-season and do it again.  But nothing replaces you being home with your kids.

-As an outsider, I have a little guy at home, he's two-and-a-half and I've been doing this for roughly 10 seasons, but before I was doing this, as a fan, I would wonder, why don't all guys who get a new team or a new job take their family with them to the new town, so at least they're home half the time?  That's probably not a real option for everybody.  So, for those that don't move their family, what makes it not an option?

Financially, probably.  I think in the big leagues it's a little easier because when you get traded, then you've got the money and you say, "Come on."  You get the flights and you get whatever you need.  In the minor leagues it's a little different, especially for the guys that haven't been to the big leagues yet, their financial situation ain't all the way there yet.  So, to say, "I'm gonna fly my wife out, fly my two kids out and ship everything."  It's expensive.  So, I think the financial thing would be the first thing and also it depends on the situation of the player.  You know, I was talking to Danny Espinosa the other day.  And he just got here.  I asked him if his family was coming out and they were just going to wait and see what happens.  So, you've got that aspect.  They might not know what's going to happen.  Are they going to be here for a while?  Are they going to be in Philly?  You don't know.  So, that is another way to look at it.  You don't know how long you'll be in that certain spot.  You don't want to fly your family out and then turn right back around and you go somewhere else or the team doesn't want you any more.  So there's maybe three or four other ways to look at it, but the everyday fan doesn't see that stuff sometimes.  It's hard, man.  It's hard on players.  It's hard on coaches.  And I just say it takes a special person to do what we do and keep a strong family at home.  It really is.  It's a lot of commitment and a lot of work.

-From the looks of you now, someone, like myself, might think you look in good enough shape to be able to compete at this level.  Do you get that a lot?

Yeah, I actually hit in the cage today and (assistant general manager) Bryan Minniti's here, and he was coming in there going, "Man, what did you do when you went home for six years to stay in such great shape?"  And actually, I got into cross fit.  My wife and I do it together.  When we drop the kids off, that's kind of like our time together.  We enjoy it.  And actually, we've done some competitions together.  I found a cross hit gym here that I go to usually about four times a home stand.  On the road, I usually try to, if we're gone a week, I try to get up and do something at least three days a week.  And I told myself when I stopped playing, 'cause I played with so many guys that I saw retire, then in two or three years, they just blew up.  They gained 40 or 50 pounds.  And I'm like, "Listen, as long as my body will allow, I want to stay in shape."  Because my motivation is I want to be able to be myself as a coach and as a dad, like I was as a player.  I want to be able to play with my kids when I'm 50, 60 years old.  I want to be able to coach and throw batting practice when I'm 60.  That's why Sal Rende's throwing batting practice when he's 62, because he stays in shape.  And there's something to it, so I always told myself I'm gonna stay in shape.  So, I do cross fit and eat well and I really try to watch my nutrition and everything.

-You've got career playing time with the Phillies. Are there any highlights that stand out from your days with the Phillies?

My biggest highlight-- I mean, I struggled some when I played for Philly. Actually, in that stretch between Milwaukee-Florida, Philly was probably my worst numbers I had, so you know, the biggest thing I can bring out of that is I played with all those guys that won the World Series.  And to see what they went through to get there in that '08 season to win it, like I can just remember starting that '07 season, grinding and grinding and grinding.  You know, no one ever thought we could make the playoffs and we made it the last day of the season.  And to see how these guys worked for that and to come out in '08 and to be there for spring training and be there for the first three weeks of the season and then get traded and to see these guys how they worked together as a team; that's what I took from it.  That's why they won the World Series.  They had good players, but they just grinded everyday together and they had some good guys in that clubhouse.  And to be part of that...I always say, "I didn't win the World Series there, but I feel like I was a part of that team because I saw the struggles they went through to get to that point."  So, that's what I thrived off of there in Philly.

-Do you still see or are you in touch with any of those guys?

Yeah, I actually texted with Ryan Howard not that long ago.  He was one of my buddies that lived in Atlanta.  They were-- I don't know where they were, in Florida or something and he started texting me.  And Chase Utley...and Jimmy Rollins I ran into in spring training.  But, Jayson Werth and probably Ryan Howard were probably the two that I keep up with.  I used to keep in touch with Pat Burrell, but that kind of fizzled out.  Once you get to a certain point, you know, it kind of fizzles out until you see them again.  But that was a fun team.  I'll tell ya.  That was a fun team to be on.

-Jayson Werth's in the news this week announcing his retirement.  And I feel like there were people that didn't even know he was still playing at Triple-A.  Does that make an impact on you when you see that, like, "Oh, one of my last teammates is finally out of the game"?

That's the part of playing baseball that stinks, when you're done and you start seeing all these guys you played with- they're done.  And then all of a sudden you look at the roster and you're like, "I don't know any of those guys."  But, it's getting to that point, now.  Chase Utley's at the end.  All these other guys are at the end.  And to see Jayson Werth-- I actually looked at Sal and said, "I didn't even know he was playing this year."  So, just to see these guys hanging it up, it's tough because I tell people all the time that the hardest thing I ever had to do in baseball wasn't facing a pitch at 100 miles an hour.  It wasn't facing Randy Johnson or whatever.  It was the day I had to take the jersey off.  That was the hardest thing that I ever had to do.  So, when I see these guys doing that's I know what they're going through.  It's tough.  Especially, when you play the game as long as they have.

-One last thing for you, and thank you so much for all the time, this is great.  Do you have a memento collection from your playing days?

I do.  When I played I tried to get as much as I could for my son.  I've got probably about 200 baseballs.  About 150 bats.  I have about 40-something signed jerseys.  My whole basement is nothing but signed jerseys and balls and bats.  I would always-- for instance when we played against the Yankees, I would go up to Derek Jeter and I would ask him, "Hey, would you mind signing a ball or bat or something for my son?  I want to put it with his collection."  And they would always sign it for you.  So, I have a really good collection of stuff.  You know, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee all those guys.  And it's in the basement now, so, you know, one day I can look back at that and be like, "Hey, I played (with them)."  And my kids are going to grow up saying I played with all these guys and my grand kids we can show them when they're watching the game, with how different it's gonna be then.  "Hey, my dad played with all these guys.  This is the way the game used to be and now it's this way."  So, there's a lot to it.  There's a lot to it when you collect memorabilia.  

-Everything's on display?  Nothing really tucked away?

Everything's on display.  I've actually got one jersey from each of my teams, framed, and then of course all my other jerseys are hanging in a closet and everything.  I kept all that stuff and I hung one of each of mine.  And then all the other people. 


-Did you ever ask a guy who, whether it was to bust your balls or for real, said no to an autograph request?

Not one person every turned me down.  Actually, funny story, this is going on that aspect.  I got my first call up in 1998 in St. Louis and that was during the (Mark) McGwire home run chase.  I get my first hit, get on first base and he actually looked at me and said, "Congratulations, man.  That's the first of many, blah, blah, blah."  And I said, "I really appreciate that, man.  I've enjoyed watching you play your entire career.  I love it.  This is unreal I'm standing beside you."  I went in the clubhouse after the game and there was a signed bat by him.  He sent it over.  So, that's the kind of stuff that happened with him.  But I never had one guy turn me down when I asked them.  I actually had a lot of guys say, "If I sign you something, you gotta sign me something."  That kind of shocks you when like, Albert Pujols did that.  Albert Pujols signed me a jersey and a bat for my son.  He said, "You gotta send me a signed bat over."  So, that was pretty cool.  

-That is really remarkable.  Thanks so much for the time and I wish you the best.

Thanks for your time.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Foursome to represent Reading in EL All-Star Game

Zach Green, image- Jay Floyd
The Double-A Eastern League announced it's  All-Star rosters on Friday and they included four representatives from the Reading Fightin Phils.

Corner infielder Zach Green, outfielder Jan Hernandez, catcher Deivi Grullon and relief pitcher Edgar Garcia have all been named to the Eastern Division roster.  The game is slated to take place at Trenton's ARM & HAMMER Park on Wednesday, July 11th at 7PM.

Green, the Phillies' 3rd round draft pick in 2012 has had an outstanding offensive campaign this year. In 57 games the 24-year-old righty batter sports a .290 batting average with 15 homers and 46 RBI.

Hernandez was the Phils' 3rd round draft pick in 2013.  In 63 games this season, the 23-year-old righty hitter has notched a .286 average with seven homers, 35 RBI and five stolen bases.

Grullon, a 22-year-old Dominican backstop, has come into his own this year, displaying plenty of progress.  In 48 games, the right-handed batter is hitting .274 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI.   

Garcia, a right-handed Dominican native, has been rock solid this year for Reading.  Through 28 appearances, he has posted a 5-2 record with five saves, a 2.84 ERA and a .176 batting average against.

The Eastern division team will be coached by host Trenton Thunder manager Jay Bell and his staff.

Additionally, it was announced this week that a trio of Lehigh Valley IronPig will represent the Phillies organization in the Triple-A All-Star Game.  The 31st annual exhibition will also take place on Wednesday, July 11th in Columbus, OH at Huntington Park.

Lefty pitcher Cole Irvin, outfielder Joey Meneses and righty pitcher Enyel De Los Santos were selected to the International League All-Star team.  Meneses received the most fan votes overall and De Los Santos was also voted in as a starter.

De Los Santos, who was acquired last off-season from San Diego in a trade for Freddy Galvis, leads the IL in ERA with a 1.73 mark through 14 starts.  The 22-year-old Dominican commands four pitches that he throws in any count and that has proved very successful. 

Gilbert has rough Triple-A debut, remains on the right path

Tyler Gilbert, image- Jay Floyd
ALLENTOWN, PA-- Nerves can get the best of anyone in a high pressure situation or in a new or unfamiliar environment.  Right-handed pitcher Tyler Gilbert is no different.

Making his debut at the Triple-A level on Thursday night at Lehigh Valley's Coca-Cola Park, the 24-year-old struggled to find the strike zone.  Entering a game in which his team already trailed by two runs, Gilbert issued a four-pitch walk to the first batter he faced, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Tyler Wade.  Two singles followed, an inherited runner scored, as did Wade, to give the RailRiders a four-run lead that they wouldn't relinquish.

"I didn't feel like my legs were underneath me," Gilbert shared following the 6-3 IronPigs loss that gave S/W-B a split in the four-game set.  "I was a little nervous and kind of had a hard time finding the zone and ended up leaving balls over the plate that these guys can easily hit."

In the following frame, Gilbert, the Phillies' 6th round draft selection in 2015 out of USC, retired the side in order.

Proving that he could settle in and execute his duties despite some hurdles in his path was the lasting memory that Gilbert will choose to hold onto from his initial IronPigs outing.

"I kind of settled in that next inning and didn't feel as nervous.  I kind of just felt like I was going to go back to my comfort zone," Gilbert stated.

A strong first half of the season with Double-A Reading earned the California native a shot at pitching in the International League.  In 23 relief appearances this year for the Fightin Phils Gilbert tallied a 4-1 record with two saves, a 2.86 ERA and a 10.6 K/9 mark in the Eastern League.

Gilbert, who is listed at six-foot-three, 190 pounds, credits a new addition to his pitch repertoire with his standout efforts in 2018.  The cutter was taught to him late last season by right-hander Seth McGarry, who came to the Phillies organization from the Pirates in a trade that sent Joaquin Benoit to Pittsburgh.  Gilbert has refined the offering with coaches in the time since then in order to make it a true weapon.  That cutter rounds out his four-pitch menu along with a straight fastball, a curve ball and change up.

After opening his professional career as a starting pitcher, Gilbert easily made the transition to pitching out of the bullpen last year with Class A Advanced Clearwater.  In 34 relief outings, he notched a 2.90 ERA and struck out 52 while walking just 15 over 59 innings.  

Residing now just one step away from the big leagues, Gilbert isn't the type to look too far ahead.  He'll remain focused on doing his job as an IronPig and avoid the distraction of what could be in his future if he can take that final step toward the top level of the sport.

"I just want to focus on what I can do to help this team win and keep everyone in close games.  Obviously, I'm knocking on the door (to the big leagues), but I'm trying to be successful at this level and take one thing at a time."

Friday, June 22, 2018

Phillies Minor League Hot List: 6/22/18

We're beyond the mid-season point for both full-season Class A teams and now would be as good a time as any to run down some of the top performers throughout the Phillies' minor league levels. 


Class A Short-Season Williamsport Crosscutters- 

Through four games, lefty hitting first baseman Edwin Rodriguez is batting .462 with two doubles and two RBI.  The 21-year-old Dominican spent the last two seasons playing in the Gulf Coast League.

Outfielder Matt Vierling, who was the Phillies' 5th round draft selection out of Notre Dame this year, sports a .450 average with a triple, two RBI and two stolen bases through five contests.  The 21-year-old righty batter is a native of St. Louis.  

Venezuelan born hurler Gustavo Armas had an outstanding start in his first appearance of the young season for the Cutters.  In seven innings of work he allowed no runs while striking out seven and walking none.  The righty, Armas, is 22-years-old.

Class A Lakewood BlueClaws- 

A big week for the BlueClaws saw the club clinch a playoff berth by winning the first half division title on Sunday.  They then sent six players to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game only to see two of them, both relief pitchers (Addison Russ and Kyle Dohy), get promoted to High A Clearwater.  The promotions will continue, as there are plenty of players on this team showing they are ready for the next challenge, it's just disappointing that those who move up won't get to compete in the playoffs they earned a spot in.

Outfielder Kevin Markham leads the team in hitting with a .284 average.  Through 52 games this season, the 24-year-old left-handed hitter has a pair of homers, 16 RBI and 12 steals as well.  Markham was the 24th round draft pick of the Phillies last year.

All-Star starting pitcher Will Stewart has been outstanding all season for the Claws.  In 11 starts, the left-hander sports a 6-0 record with 1.13 ERA and a .202 batting average against.  Stewart, 20, was the Phils' 20th round draft selection in 2015.  

Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers- 

Infielder Grenny Cumana has been marvelous since his return from the disabled list.  In eight games, the 22-year-old Venezuelan has posted a .467 average with two doubles and two RBI.  

Outfielder Jose Pujols has been on a solid stretch since the end of April.  The 22-year-old righty batting Dominican has a .329 average with 13 extra-base hits (five homers) and 23 RBI in his last 40 games. 

Double-A Reading Fightin Phils- 

First baseman Austin Listi, promoted to Reading this week, is batting .400 with a home run and seven RBI in four games.  The 24-year-old was a 17th round draft choice of the Phillies last year.  In 58 games with Clearwater this season, Listi tallied a .344 average with nine homers and 45 RBI.

Corner infielder Zach Green has enjoyed a hot week, going 6-for-14 with two homers and nine RBI in his last four games.  The 24-year-old righty batter was the Phils' 3rd round draft pick in 2012.  His 12 home runs this season rank 5th best in the Eastern League.

Following a slow start, in which he posted a 7.20 ERA over his first four starts, lefty hurler JoJo Romero has enjoyed some success.  He's notched a 5-2 record with a 3.65 ERA and a 9.05 K/9 in his last 10 starts.  The 21-year-old was the Phillies' 4th round draft choice in 2016.

Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs-

Right-hander Ben Lively sports a 2.44 ERA and a .199 batting average against in eight starts for the IronPigs.  The 26-year-old was 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA over five starts in the big leagues this year prior to a demotion.  

Lefty pitcher Brandon Leibrandt continues his terrific season, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.18 ERA and a .194 BAA in 16 games (six starts).  The 25-year-old was the Phillies' 6th round draft pick in 2015. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

BlueClaws Quotables: Jake Scheiner and Addison Russ talk All-Star nods

The Lakewood BlueClaws are sending six players to the Class A South Atlantic League All-Star Game, slated to be played on Tuesday evening at 7:05pm at First National Bank Field in Greensboro, NC.

Following the last regular season game of the first half on Sunday, I talked with a pair of those BlueClaws All-Stars, third baseman Jake Scheiner and relief pitcher Addison Russ about representing their team in the mid-season exhibition, among some other things.

Read ahead for quotes galore from this talented twosome.

Jake Scheiner...

-Some of the offensive guys I've talked to on the team have cited concern over a bit of under-performing at times this season.  Do you feel like you've performed up to personal expectations you may have had coming into the season?

Yeah.  I felt like my numbers didn't show well in the beginning.  But, I stuck with my approach and kept it going and it led me to getting a nominated for the All-Star Game.  I think our whole line up collectively has improved tremendously.  You know, a lot of the guys, their numbers don't show, but I feel confident in our lineup one through nine. 

-What does the All-Star nod mean to you?

It's cool.  You set goals before a season and obviously, this is one of your goals and it's a good accomplishment.  But I'm just excited to keep playing.

-You get to go to this game with five teammates.  I've been here over the years and seen a lone pitcher from this team have to go to this thing all by himself.  Does it mean more to be going with so many teammates?

Yeah, it's awesome.  We're gonna have a good time out there.  I feel like we could have had some more pitchers on this (All-Star) team.  You know, just by looking at the numbers.  But that's how it shook out.  I'm excited.  It's gonna be fun.

-Any sort of special travel in place for you guys to get down to Greensboro for the game?

I think we're taking a bus to the airport around 6:30, then we fly down to Greensboro.  Then after the game (on Tuesday), we take a bus with the Columbia players to Columbia and wait for the (rest of the BlueClaws) to me us there.

-What's the vibe you get from the team over the weekend here with the (first half division title) hanging in the balance?

It brings out the good side in all these players.  I feel like we've taken really good at bats throughout the last 10 days and we've competed.  We've had a lot of good games where everybody's into it, everybody's locked in on every pitch and it's exciting.  It's fun to play in.

-How do you feel about the coaches?  Do you feel like they have helped you a lot this year?

Yeah, definitely.  I feel like my defense has improved, trying out two different positions that I've never played before, first (base) and left (field) and they've been helping me a lot with that.

-Is that flattering or meaningful to you when you're approached with a positional switch?  Because obviously they're asking that of you to keep your bat in the lineup and make you more versatile.

Yeah, it's definitely an honor to play a bunch of different positions and if you're in the lineup every day, it's always a good thing.  It's fun.

Addison Russ...

-It's been a big year for you thus far.  Everybody's excited for you, but how do you feel about the season you're having?

I mean, it's good.  Transitioning into the closing role was something new for me this year.  Last year I did more set up work.  So, I was excited to be in the crucial role on the team and I feel like me and (set up guy) Kyle Dohy have kind of done a great job of handling the pressure and rolling with the situation and the punches that are thrown with it. 

-What does it mean to you to have this All-Star honor along with Kyle?

I mean, it's a great honor.  I mean the organization that I play for, the Phillies, the BlueClaws and I feel like it's great that I get to represent them in this All-Star Game and hopefully I can go out and do what I've been doing in the first half.

-There's some attention that you get and Kyle gets, but when it comes to the ERA success that the team is growing famous for, the guys on the league leader board are all starters, because of innings requirements.  How happy are you for all these other guys that are having that success?

Oh, it's great.  Any time your team is successful, it's a good thing for you.  Especially having starters that are giving up so little runs that it allows me to come into games and get saves.  I've got 13 saves on the year and the only reason I'm able to get that high of a number is 'cause my starters have minimized damage and they've been excellent.  There's no other words other than that.  They're lights out. 

-I've seen a season when the BlueClaws sent only one guy to the All-Star Game.  You guys get to go to this game with a big group.  There's six of you.  Is it more fun to be able to go with so many teammates?

Yeah, I think it's gonna be a lot more fun 'cause we get to role in the with a group.  But, like you said, there's other teams that are gonna come in with one, maybe two guys.  I mean, the fact that four out of our six are pitchers, I mean, we're taking over a big portion of the pitching staff in that All-Star Game.  So, yeah, I definitely think it's going to be more fun as a group than it would be individually.

-I've heard some really good feedback about your pitching coach Brad Bergesen.  He's in his first year as a coach and he's helping you guys achieve all this success.  I've asked guys if he's such a big help because he's only a couple years removed from being on the mound, competing himself, and the guys say yeah, but I don't know if they're just saying yeah because I set it up and asked that.  What can you tell me about him and how he's helped you?

I mean, Bergy, he's the man.  Like you said, I think because he's fresh out of playing he kind of understands how it is to be the player, to take him out everyday.  He knows that it's a grind at times and sometimes you don't feel like you want to go out there, but it's our job and it's what we do.  But, yeah, Berg has helped me multiple ways and I owe a lot of my success to him mechanically and just figuring things out.

-You've has some good sized crowds as the weather's gotten warmer this season.  What do you feel about playing in front of these Lakewood crowds?

Lakewood's a great place to play.  I think it's one of the best stadiums in the league and it's the best fan base that we have.  The fans make it more fun.  Anytime you're playing in front of crowds of four or six thousand people, the adrenaline gets going.  Ninth inning, you hear everyone clapping.  It gets everything going.  I enjoy it a lot.  


Images by Jay Floyd

Sunday, June 17, 2018

BlueClaws clinch playoffs with first half division title

David Parkinson, image- Jay Floyd

LAKEWOOD, NJ-- It had been roughly four and a half hours since the Lakewood BlueClaws did what they needed to do on Sunday before they found out their first half fate. 

With a start time of 5:05 PM for Kannapolis (White Sox affiliate), who were ahead of the BlueClaws in the Class A South Atlantic League North Division standings by .003 percentage points, it would be a few anxious hours, or more, until a trip to the 2018 postseason would be decided.

Greensboro, the Marlins affiliate managed by former Phillies catcher Todd Pratt, completed a three-game sweep in Kannapolis to lock in a first half division title and a playoff spot for the BlueClaws.

Lakewood's star on Sunday was lefty pitcher David Parkinson, the Phils' 12th round draft selection a year ago.  The 22-year-old struck out 11, walked none and allowed no runs on just three hits over seven innings of work to notch his sixth win of the season.

The effort for Parkinson placed him in the top spot the league's ERA leader board at 1.07 through 11 starts. 

On offense, the team was lead by All-Star third baseman Jake Scheiner, who launched his 8th home run of this season to lead of the 4th inning.  The Phillies' 4th round pick from last year would also single later in the contest. 

Also at the dish for Lakewood, catcher Rodolfo Duran also slammed a solo homer while All-Star shortstop Nick Maton plated two runs on a pair of RBI ground outs and also walked and singled to complete a very productive day. 

The BlueClaws' terrific twosome of relief pitching All-Stars, Kyle Dohy and Addison Russ, each tossed a scoreless frame to preserve the shutout and helping the 'Claws defeat the Hickory Crawdads (Rangers affiliate) 4-0.

The BlueClaws were satisfied with how they finished the first half, but were unable to relax fully and prepare for the All-Star break as their future hung in the balance with the other game.

"It's exciting.  All of us wish Kannapolis had played this afternoon.  It would make it a lot more fun, but suspense is always good in baseball," closer Addison Russ stated following the BlueClaws' victory.

In the later contest, Kannapolis left nine runners on base including three in the 8th inning, when they began the frame with runners on 1st and 2nd and no outs, but failed to score.  At the time, the game that was deadlocked at one run each.  In the top of the 9th, Greensboro played small ball, using a walk, a sacrifice bunt and a squeeze play to take the lead and plated another run on a single.  Kannapolis went down in order in their half of the inning, losing 3-1, to drop the last of five straight losses to end their first half of the season. 

Whether or not the chips fell in Lakewood's favor, the team wouldn't have been completely let down, though if they had faced a similar result to last year, when they ended the first half in a virtual tie with Kannapolis and missed the playoff by percentage points.

"We've had a pretty successful first half and our team has a lot of positives," Scheiner stated.  "It's good going into the break knowing we came and won all these games."

Luckily, Greensboro won a few at the end of the half also. 


OTHER NOTES-

This trip to the postseason is the fifth playoff appearance in BlueClaws history.  They won league titles in 2006, 2009 and 2010 and appeared in the finals in 2016.  They have won the first half title twice before, in 2009 and 2010.

The shutout on Sunday was Lakewood's 15th of the season.  That is the best mark in the league as they have five more than the next closest team, Augusta.  The BlueClaws' 2.55 staff ERA is also tops in the Sally League. 


Scheiner, Maton, Russ and Dohy will be joined at the Sally League All-Star Game in Greensboro on Tuesday by starting pitchers Ramon Rosso and Will Stewart.  The group was on a bus to the airport to fly south for the All-Star exhibition while the Kannapolis game was going. 

Infielder Cole Stobbe landed on the disabled list again this weekend.  He played in five games this month after missing roughly seven weeks with a hamstring strain.  The 20-year-old, who was the Phillies' 3rd round draft pick in 2016, is sidelined after aggravating the same ailment and is not expected to rejoin the team following the All-Star break, according to a source.  He is expected to head back to Florida to continue to rehab the injury.  In 12 games this season, Stobbe sports a .209 batting average with three doubles, a home run and seven RBI.

PhoulBallz Interview- Lehigh Valley SS Dean Anna

Dean Anna, image courtesy of Cheryl Pursell
Lehigh Valley shortstop Dean Anna has been enjoying a strong month of June.  The 31-year-old veteran of 10 professional seasons sports a .291 average with three doubles and 10 RBI through 15 games this month.  Overall, on the season, the lefty batting Anna has notched a .262 average 63 contests to date.

In 2008, Anna was a 26th round draft selection of San Diego.  He went on to reach the big leagues with both the Yankees and the Cardinals.

Recently, I spoke with Anna about the 'Pigs' spot atop the International League division standings, being a veteran that can lead by example, which Yankee he viewed as a leader and plenty more.  Read ahead for the full interview. 


-The team's been great.  Great record, first place. What are your thoughts on the group and the vibe?

You know, the group here is amazing.  We've got really great team chemistry.  Everybody's pulling for each other.  It's nice to just be in the dugout and feel the vibes that everyone's just pulling for each other.  That's always a fun atmosphere when you're playing every single day.

-Excellent.  How would you describe your role on the team?

My role is, right now since Roman Quinn's out, I'm the lead off hitter as we speak and, you know, just have good at bats and get on base for the big guys.  And hopefully, they can drive me in when I get on base and just play good defense.  And whatever (manager) Gary Jones wants me to do, then I'll do it.

-At certain levels there tends to be a veteran guy around that the younger players can learn from.  Whether that's Jake Fox or Will Venable or whoever.  I feel like this year, the guy that can be that veteran leader is you and you can shine in that role.  Do you feel that way?  Do you take pride in that sort of thing?

Yeah, as you get older you start learning a lot more from experience and you know what works for you and you know what didn't work for you and you take a little bit of the good stuff as you keep playing, you kind of have a good idea of how to maybe help some younger guys.  You know, just kind of be a leader on the field by my actions and that's kind of what I try to do.  And if the guys want to watch me play and I'm playing hard, hopefully the younger guys see that and I know they're working hard too, but I can always be a lending hand to those guys if they need a little help or advice on stuff.

-That sounds great.  Was there anyone like that for you, eight to ten years ago, when you were first starting to break into these full-season leagues?

Yeah, I would say one can that I was around when I was with the Cardinals, Dan Johnson.  Dan Johnson's been around for a while and he'd always tell me some stuff.  He'd always say, "Trick your mind." And I always think of that.  You've always got to stay positive in this game.  There's a lot of failure and tricking your mind just to stay positive and stay in the game, rooting for your teammates is the best medicine for baseball.  

-I talked to one of the full season A level players with the Phillies last week and he was telling me that he got warned, before turning pro, that the minors can be very selfish, but he hadn't seen that in the Phillies system yet.  Have you played places where maybe selfishness was more prevalent?

Well, you know, everyone's trying to get to the big leagues.  That's everyone's goal, but you know, this is a team sport.  We play a sport for a living.  We play baseball for a living.  It's a team game and it's very important to learn the team game and then when you get up to the big leagues you can contribute to that team.  You know, I think that's a big part of winning and learning.

-Going back a few questions, you talked about leading by example.  Was there anyone you were around during your big league time that you saw that sort of thing from?

Yeah, I would say the guy that I've seen do it the best is Derek Jeter.  I was privileged to watch him go to work every day and I would just kind of watch how he went about it and just kind of learned from that and just try to follow that example.

-Do you hold on to mementos of your firsts from the big leagues?

Oh, yeah.  I've got my first home run ball and my first hit and things like that.  It was real special to me.  You work hard all your life to get up there, and when you finally get up there the hardest part was staying there.  So, that's the goal is to get back up there and stay.  

-IronPigs and Phillies fans, how do those fans compare to other team's fans that you've encountered?

The Phillie fans are awesome here.  We get a near-sold out crowd every single night and it's fun to play for them.  Great atmosphere.  It's really fun.

-Do you have any game day superstitions?

No, not really.  I just try to stick to my workout routine, but no crazy superstitions.

-Do you have a favorite minor league park or city that you've played in?

Honestly, Lehigh Valley is up there.  Charlotte was beautiful.  That was my first time playing there a week or two ago.   That was a really nice city.  So, those are probably up there.

-Was there anybody you looked up to, as a youngster prior to turning pro, that you may have wanted to emulate?

I would say Ryne Sandberg, I looked up to.  I watched him play, 'cause I'm from Chicago.  I got to watch him play, and stuff like that, so that was always fun to watch. 

-Did you play any other sports as a kid?

Golf and basketball.

-Which were you more skilled at?

Definitely a lot better at golf. 

-Do you get to play a lot with your teammates now?

Yeah, when we've got time.  Definitely!

-Who is your toughest IronPigs challenge on the golf course?

Sal (Rende), our hitting coach.  He's the best player on the team.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood LHP David Parkinson

David Parkinson, image- Jay Floys
Starting pitcher David Parkinson is among the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws' collection of outstanding hurler this season.  Through 10 starts, the 22-year-old left-hander sports a 5-1 record with a 1.21 ERA, a .206 batting average against as well as a 10.9 K/9 mark.

The Virginia native was a 12th round draft pick out of the University of Mississippi by the Phillies last year.

Recently, I spoke with Parkinson about his wonderful results this year, lessons from his pitching coach Brad Bergesen, his game plan on the mound, meeting a big leaguer while competing in Little League and plenty more.

Read ahead for that complete interview...


-Your numbers, the whole pitching staff's numbers, have been remarkable.  Almost disgusting. Just an impressive season so far.  Talk about your efforts so far this season.

I think us, collectively as a staff, are just controlling the games.  A small thing that "Bergy" teaches, our pitching coach, is just controlling what you can control.  I think every single one of our starters have done that. Yeah, we've had some bad games, but that happens.  You just keep going, just keep doing what can do. 

-Ten weeks or so into the season, how do your thoughts compare now against how you anticipated you might do in this league coming into the season?

I try not to think that way.  I just try to get better every day.  I try to come out every day and get a little bit better.  'Cause if you get a little bit better every day, after a day, after a week, after a month, after a year, you get a lot better just naturally.  I think that's one thing that I've really been focusing on this year is just fine tune the little things and then taking that in stride and work a little bit and it's been going pretty well. 

-What's the pitch arsenal for you and is there a particular go-to pitch that's been really working well for you this year?

Fastball, change up, curve ball and then slider sometimes.  I've been having a little bit of issues with that, but this year so far, my go-to has actually been my curve ball, which is my iffy pitch usually, so that's been fun to have that.  I finally figured out a good release point and I've been able to control that really well in the zone.

-Coach wise, I hear really good feedback from other pitchers about Brad Bergesen, which is cool because it's his first year doing this.  The pitching staff seems to be getting so much help from him.  Could that be because he's such a small time frame removed from when he was on the mound?

Yeah.  Absolutely.  He gets it.  He gets pitching.  He gets the game itself.  So, it's definitely good to be around a coach that gets that, who understands everything, that's been in those shoes, that's walked the path before and has been able to take you down it as well.  It's definitely good.

-Is there anything in your background prior to signing that you think helped you prepare for the pros?

Yeah.  Absolutely.  Out of high school I wasn't recruited by anybody.  I went JuCo my first year.  Worked my butt off there, committed to Ole Miss.  That whole entire path I took made me realize that it's not the end of the world no matter what happens.  There's always opportunities down the road and somebody will watch, somebody will like it and it just keeps going.

-The MLB draft is upon us.  Looking at the BlueClaws roster, there's a lot of you from last year's draft.  Share some thoughts on that day for you last year.  Getting drafted...how did you find out, how did you celebrate?

That's a hard day, man.  Everybody says it's an unknown entity and it truly is.  You never know what's gonna go on until you get that phone call.  You hear things from various scouts and then it ends up not being that.  It happens to everybody, but it was a surreal feeling, getting my name called.  And seeing my name posted up there, it was unreal.

-You smiled as soon as I started asking that question.  Was there anything celebratory to share?  Any cool moment you can talk about?  Or is it you smile 'cause it was a little exasperating?

Honestly, I'd say it was more a sigh of relief.  But, no, it was definitely celebratory.  It was something that I always dreamed about ever since I was a kid.  You know, being in elementary school, saying you want to be a pro baseball player, and all the teachers saying, "No, you have to find something that is legit." And then being able to do that with certainty is definitely a good feeling.

-When you say that, I get revenge thoughts in my mind.  Would you ever take your baseball card and send it to those teachers that tried to give you a reality check?

(Laughs)  No.  I wouldn't.  Mostly because my mom's a third grade teacher, so I gotta have respect for them.  But, it's cool. 

-You knew they were looking out for you, so that's good.  What are your thoughts on the team here?  Seems like there's a lot of good chemistry with this group.

Yeah, absolutely.  I mean, one thing-- coming in from college ball, one thing was told by a bunch of different coaches and players in different organizations, they say that it's a selfish environment and I've yet to see that.  This organization, as a whole, is a very selfless organization.  It's kind of amazing for me, being in the shoes that I'm in.  'Cause coming up, you don't know what you're doing.  I've never had a family member or anyone go through this process.  And once you go through it and start to get a feeling for it-- I love where I'm at.  It's a great organization, a great team here.  We all get along really well.  

-Excellent.  Any big differences you've noticed with the regime change for the Phillies at the top? Some guys will say they've noticed the post game meal spreads have changed.  The shifts and scouting material may vary from last year.  Is there anything significantly different from last year for you?

I didn't get that big of a taste of it.  I was in a half season at Williamsport.  But from what's I've seen it seems like they're doing the right stuff. 

-After the pitchers threw their side session today, down in the dugout I noticed there's heat maps for some of the opposition down by the bat rack.  Also some charts that show guys' likeliness to throw certain pitches.  Is that new?

That's a little different.  I never had anything like that last year.   That's one of those things that's just an extra added tool if you need it, because at the end of the day, you're gonna pitch to your strengths.  I mean, just 'cause it says this guy isn't good with fastballs low-away, and you're good with fastballs in and he's good with fastballs in doesn't mean don't pitch there.  It just means maybe there's that extra thought in the back of your head, maybe if you were having a long battle with a hitter, maybe try this because he's weak with it, if you have feel with it.  I think that's going pretty well though.

-So, is that a quality or helpful study guide for you?

Yeah.  I wouldn't even call it a study guide.  I glance over it.  You don't necessarily want to take that and try to pitch exactly to that when I go out there in the game.  I kind of want to have feel for the game and what's going on with the hitter, what kind of swings he's taking, if I'm working off that.  It's more of that back of your head, just use it here if you need it type thing for me.

-Did you have a favorite player growing up, or maybe a guy that you liked that you wanted to emulate?

Pitching wise, not really honestly.  But my favorite player of all time was Cal Ripken.  I grew up in Virginia.

-So, big Orioles fan.  Did you go to a lot of games there?

I started my life as an Orioles fan, but when the Nationals came around, then I started being a Nationals fans.  I was born in Alexandria, Virginia, which is 10 minutes down the road from D.C.  So, my family is big Washington fans for everything.

-Have you had any trouble getting family members to back you and the Phillies organization?

No, not at all.  (Laughs)  I think we'll be alright.

-Very cool. Did you collect cards at all, growing up?

 Yeah! 

-Do you still have 'em? 

Oh, yeah!

-What are some of the standout cards in your memory? 

My dad had a rookie Reggie Jackson card that was pretty significant.  Um, that's the only one I really remember, but I have, like, binders and binders full of baseball cards.

-Were there any guys you targeted to fill up pages of?

No, honestly, not really.  I remember as a kid, I'd always go to Toys R Us and they'd have like those big Topps (strip packs)-- for birthdays and stuff, I used ask for that all the time.  I've got a lot of baseball cards, man.

-Any memorabilia in the collection?

I've got a Justin Verlander signed ball.  He went through the same little league as us and when I was in 12-year-old All-Stars, we made it to regionals, right before Williamsport, and we were in Florida when he was playing and we got to go hang out with him and talk to him.  It was pretty cool.

-What impressions does that make on a young kid, meeting a big leaguer like that?

Well, I mean, when you're a 12-year-old kid, you don't really pay attention, 'cause it's like that's Justin Verlander in front of you and you're not listening.  You're kind of in amazement.  So, honestly, I can tell you that I don't remember anything that he said.  I just remember seeing him-- we watched him throw a bullpen actually, 'cause they had the mounds right there on the side of the field, like they do here in Lakwood.  So, the bullpen is actually on the field and we got to watch him throw a bullpen.  I remember that and I took a picture with him, which was pretty cool.  

-Have any of your teammates from those days come along as far as you have in baseball?

I had one teammate play college ball and then I think I had another one play college football.  I think it was just one other college baseball and then one college football.

Monday, June 11, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood LHP Damon Jones

Damon Jones, image- Jay Floyd
The Lakewood BlueClaws pitching staff has been leading the Class A South Atlantic League in team ERA for several weeks.  In 62 contests, the Claws' staff features a 2.62 ERA.  Furthermore, the starting rotation has been marvelous, placing four of its six members in the top ten on the league's ERA leaderboard.

Left-hander Damon Jones has had a hand in the club's remarkable production.  An 18th round draft selection by the Phillies last year out of Washington State, Jones has posted a 4-2 record with a 2.12 ERA, a .223 batting average against and a 9.7 K/9 mark through 10 starts.

Recently, I sat down with Jones to talk about his efforts this year, his teammates in the BlueClaws' starting rotation, his pitch repertoire and more.

Read on for that full interview.


-Talk to me about your impressions of the league and maintaining your tremendous results thus far.

It's a really good league.  I know we have a great rotation thus far and it's good to be a part of that. My last start was the longest outing I've had in my professional career and including college I never went seven innings, so it's a good thing.  I don't know, I really like all the ballparks in this league.  It's a great first taste of full-season ball.

-Do the parks play favorably to you?  Is that the reason for the appeal?

I mean, I guess.  There's some that have short porches and stuff like that, but for the most part, I'm getting a lot of ground balls, so I'm not really too worried about long balls yet.

-Very good.  Last month I talked with a couple of the offensive guys on this team and they mentioned they were hoping to do more with the bats, to try to help out and keep up with the outstanding efforts of the pitching staff thus far.  But, of course, the defense has been there from those guys.  On that side of the game, you obviously have a team behind you helping.  Do you feel like you're benefiting a lot from those guys on defense?

Yeah, we have a great eight guys behind us pretty much every time we go out.  So, a lot of error-free baseball we're playing, so that's really good.  It's nice to see a lot of double plays turned, some that aren't routine too.  A lot of diving catches in the outfield.  A lot of balls getting run down that probably would be doubles.  So, it's nice to have them behind us.

-Overall, this team is a good unit.  I think you guys have a lot of chemistry among the players, but how about the coaches?  Is there a good bond with those guys and are they helping you a lot?

Yeah, I love the coaching staff a lot.  (Pitching coach Brad Bergesen)'s been great.  I know it's his first year and everything.  He's an awesome guy.  I've learned a lot.  And I've tried to be my own pitching coach a bit too.  He's helped me with that.  Because as you move up in your career, you have to be your own pitching coach too and he's kind of helped me with that part of it.  (Manager Marty Malloy)'s a great manager.  He really pulls for us.  He's a big team guy, so it's awesome.

-Do you agree with that chemistry observation about the players?  Do you feel there's a strong team bond going?

Yeah, definitely.  We're a really close knit team.

-What's your arsenal like?  What's your pitch selection and what do you feel is your go-to pitch, if you have one?

My fastball's really my main go-to pitch.  I've been developing a slider and curve ball.  The slider really showed up (in my last outing).  The change up's probably my fourth offering and sometimes it shows really well, especially early in the year I threw a lot of good change ups, so I need to find that again, but, yeah, my fastball's usually my go-to.

-Where is the velocity?  Is it improved from previous seasons?

It's probably about the same from last year.  I'll throw anywhere from 90 to 95.  Last year, I think I hit a 96.  But, the fact that it's staying the whole game is a really big step for me, I think.

-Were you always a starter through your college tenure?

Yeah, I was mostly a starter.  I relieved maybe four of five times at Washington State.  At junior college I only relieved and then I started in the summer.  But, yeah, I got my pitch count up.  My command was pretty poor in college.  I mean, I always threw pretty hard in college ball, but the command is starting to get better and better, so I'm happy about that.

-Were you a three year college guy or did you play four years?

I red-shirted my first year, got elbow surgery, played one year of JuCo, then transferred and (pitched) two years at Washington State.

-What was the elbow surgery?

Flexor tendon mass repair. 

-Was that a long recovery?

It's about half of a Tommy John.

-Alright.  How do you feel your college years, the ups and downs of the injury time, recovery and all that helped you prepare yourself for pro ball?

It helped me to be mentally tough and physically tough.  I know what my body can take and I'm probably-- I mean, going through surgeries and stuff, I'm probably tougher than a lot of people think.  It just kind of gives a mindset of you can push through anything if you put your mind to it.

-Excellent.  Who do you room with here with Lakewood?

Stewart.  Will Stewart.

-At one of the levels, somebody was telling me the Phillies or their team was trying to room Americans and Latin guys together.  That's not the case here?

No, not really.  We have a couple guys that translate alright, but mostly, it's just (coach) Milver Reyes, who translates.  'Cause a lot of guys live together, especially on the road too.  So, it's nice to try to interact with them and learn the language because there's always going to be Latins in baseball.  So, if you can talk to them it helps.

-Over last off-season there were some symposiums or camps in Clearwater that had Spanish classes that were mandatory for the American players.  Did you attend any of those?

I just was at instructs.  I didn't go to strength or speed camp. 

I took four years (of Spanish) in high school.  So, I understand it pretty decently.  I'm not that good at speaking it, but I've been doing Rosetta Stone trying to learn more of it.

-You've got a couple Latino catchers here, so the communication with those guys is key.  What can you share about your connections with those guys?

Yeah, (Rodolfo) Duran and (Gregori) Rivero, they speak pretty good English, so they understand a lot.  So, it's not a bad thing.  They don't understand everything, but it's nice when you say something they understand you. I've pitched to both of them. They both pretty good.  I know they're both pretty young, but they're showing a lot of upside.

-Your rotation mates, everyone's been so solid.  Fans that don't get to come out and watch you guys are starting to hear a buzz about what kind of numbers this staff is putting up and what you guys are doing.  Talk about this starting rotation here.

From top to bottom, one through six we've been really solid all year.  I know Spencer (Howard) struggled a little bit, but when he shows his stuff, it's incredible what he can do.  He'll be back in the next week or two and he'll show that he was a second rounder for a reason.  (Ramon) Rosso's really come out of nowhere, kind of.  He showed a lot of good stuff last year in Williamsport and his cutter-slider combo has been devastating this year.  Stewart's a ground ball machine, doesn't give 'em up and if he does they're ground balls through the hole, but I've been charting when he pitches sometimes and he gets 15 ground ball outs in a game, it's nuts!  "Stretch" is really good.  I don't know- he's a very dominating force on the mound, when you see a seven-footer out there.  He really places the ball well and has a good off-speed with good change up, curve ball and slider combo. 

-Stretch, referring to Kyle Young.  Is that a widely known nickname?

Yeah, he has it on his glove too!

And then (David) Parkinson, he's one of the better baseball minds that I've seen, just talking about how he goes through pitch selection and he reads swings and stuff like that.  I can pick his brain, 'cause I don't really think about that.  Say (a batter) swings through a fastball, he'll know what to throw next.  He may not execute it all the time but he has his mind always working.  I don't know.  He's a really focused guy.

-Were there any pitchers or players that you looked up to growing up that you may have wanted to emulate?

Randy Johnson was my idol. That's probably it in terms of left-handed pitchers.  After high school, I didn't hit in college or anything, but probably just Randy Johnson for the lefties.

-Is there anybody with the Phillies you got exposure to, veteran coach or player wise, that you picked up a lot from?

I met (Jake) Arrieta a little bit.  I wasn't in the conversation, but he was talking to Bergesen and he has a great baseball mind.  A lot of guys listen to him for a reason.  He's been around the game a lot, had a lot of success recently too.  

I like listening to Gabe Kapler talk.  He talked to us a couple times in spring training.  He's very forward and knows what he wants to do and obviously it's showing with the Phillies.  He's got a good plan.  It started with a slow step at first, but he knows what he's doing.  Other than that, not really.  I didn't go to any big league games this year.

Friday, June 8, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading 1b/3b Zach Green


Zach Green, image- Jay Floyd
Corner infielder Zach Green is healthy after missing parts of a few straight seasons with different injuries and is having a solid campaign for the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils.  Through 48 games this year, the righty batter has notched a .276 average with 10 homers and 30 RBI.

Last week I sat down with Green, the Phillies' 3rd round draft pick from 2012, about his efforts this year, being healthy, what he's been working on and more.  Read ahead for that full interview.


-You look really comfortable out there this season.  That could come with being healthy, but I'm just going by your look out there in the box.  Talk about your comfort level out there and your experiences thus far in the Eastern League this year.

Yeah, I mean I think comfortable can be a very relative term, but yeah, a hundred percent.  I feel like I'm having a good time out here, like you said healthy, being able to be on the field and work on things and I feel like that goes with the confidence.  And, yeah, I'm able to put in the work day in and day out and that's what translates to the field and a hundred percent I'm confident with that.

-I feel like people that have watched you on your climb to this level have seen glimpses of the parts of your game that would be appealing to scouts, writers and such.  Maybe with the health concerns that wasn't able to be fully put on display for a lengthy stretch.  How do you feel about those bumps in the road and being able to now fully shine?

I mean, definitely not the best hand dealt as far as injuries go, but at the end of the day you can't make up for lost time.  You just have to take advantage of the time you have now.  You know, that's kind of the mindset I try to take to the field everyday.  Wake up with very good awareness of what I need to work on and just get after it and good things should happen.  That's it.  You can't make up for lost time.  You just have to take advantage of the time you have now.

-With the injuries and time on the shelf, was there ever a low point when you were really discouraged that, comparatively, it feels great to have bounced back from?

Definitely.  In 2016, when I have two surgeries in the off-season, that was a low point for me.  But, it came down to thinking, "Do I still want to play in the big leagues or not?"  And I still did, so I knew that I had to go about (my recovery) positively and get after it. 

-What were those two ailments that you had procedures for?

Elbow and hip surgery.

-What have you worked on this year?  Are there any changes in your approach at the plate?  Have the coaches given you specific things to improve on?

Yeah, not too much different.  Just little things, day to day..  Controlling the strike zone is a big thing the Phillies-- they want.  Which is good, you get on base, you win more games.  But, I think right now it's just doing damage to the fastball I should.  That's just a little tiny thing I'm working on right now.  But other than that, controlling swinging at bad pitches, pitches I shouldn't be swinging at and taking walks when I need to take 'em.

-I'm thinking forward to about six weeks from now, the EL All-Star Game is coming to Trenton and, with your good numbers, you could be back for that event.  It seems like Reading is always represented well in that game and there's several of you on this team having good seasons.  You, Malquin Canelo's standing out, Deivi Grullon is hitting great.  Have you given any thought to being an All-Star this year?

Yeah, last night my host parents from (when I played in) Lakewood were at the game, they live over in New Egypt, and they said, "Hey, you're having a good season.  We might be able to see you at the All-Star Game!"  So, that was kind of like-- you know about it, but you don't think about it, but that was one of those things where I realize if I have another productive month, it's definitely a possibility.  And that would be a really cool thing, only an hour (and a half) from Reading.  

But, yeah, Deivi's a really good catcher and hitting wise he's having a great season.  Malquin's just great defensively, I mean, we definitely should have some ballers there this year. 

-We talked last year after you got to this level and I wonder in your time here who was helped you the most to make progress and become a better player?

I really like Riggsy (hitting coach Kevin Riggs).  I think he's got a lot of good stuff.  You know, if you come to him, he's usually on the same page with people.  One of the things I've tried to do this season is have a lot better awareness of what the pitcher is trying to do.  Not just go up there like a chicken with its head cut of and just hunt, "Fastball!  Fastball!  Fastball!"  And I think he's good with that, so I think me and Riggsy talking about what's the pitcher trying to do?  Is it a good time to look off-speed here.  Those kind of things that you see at the big league level, he's really good to talk to about.  

-Mitch Walding got promoted to the big leagues recently.  One year ago, he's in this league, in this park, playing this corner spot, representing this team in the All-Star Game.  There are all things that you're doing or will be doing in July, potentially.  Does that excite you when you see that and can realize how truly close you are to making that big league dream come true?

Yeah, I mean, I remember texting him last year when I was rehabbing and he was struggling.  Just talking 'cause we're pretty good friends.  It's one hundred percent encouraging and I'm happy for him.  I think I set my alarm for 10 o'clock yesterday and checked my phone, saw that he got called up, called him at 10:02 and I caught him right before he got on the plane.  That was awesome.  It was definitely a big day for him and his family.  We played for a while and we grinded through a lot of stuff, so it was a good moment for him.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

2018 Draft: Day 3 Phillies notes

The 2018 MLB draft wrapped up on Wednesday with rounds 11 through 40.  Here are some highlights from the Phillies' day of picks.

With their first pick of the third and final day of the 2018 draft, the Phillies selected right-handed pitcher Jack Perkins out of Stetson University in the 11th round.  This year, in his junior season, the 20-year-old sported an 11-2 record with a 2.34 ERA, two complete games and a 9.2 K/9 mark in 17 games.  Listed at six-foot-three, 218 pounds, the Florida native was named to the pre-season All-ASUN conference team this year.  Last summer in the Cape Cod league he notched a 0-4 record with a 5.93 ERA in seven starts.
Righty hurler James McArthur was the Phillies’ 12th round selection.  McArthur was a teammate of Lakewood pitcher David Parkinson at Ole Miss, before the former was drafted by the Phillies in the 12th round last year.  The six-foot-seven 235-pounder made 16 starts for the Rebels this season, tallying a 6-1 record, a 4.48 ERA with a 7.9 K/9 mark.  The Texas native’s dad, Greg, played four seasons of minor league ball in the Orioles system.
With their 13th round pick, the Phillies drafted Jose Mercado, a shortstop out of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico.  The slick fielding 18-year-old is a righty batter.  The Beltran Academy is the same school that produced Phillies AA outfielder Jan Hernandez.
Jesse Wilkening, a catcher, was the Phils’ 14th round pick out of Nebraska.  The righty batting 21-year-old is an Indiana native.  In 31 games this year, he sported a .310 batting average with four home runs and 32 RBI.  He was named to the second team All-Big Ten team this year as a junior.  Wilkening was a 28th round pick of the Diamondbacks out of high school in 2015, but didn’t sign. 
Right-handed pitcher Daniel Carpenter was taken in the 15th round out of Martin Luther King High School in California.  Matt Breen of Philly.com reported that Carpenter, an 18-year-old, was previously a catcher, but switched to the mound after a significant growth spurt added seven inches to his frame.
In the 17th round, 1st round pick Alec Bohm’s college teammate from Wichita State, lefty pitcher Keyland Killgore was the Phillies’ choice.  The 21-year-old appeared in 24 games this year, 23 of those in relief, posting a 4-1 record with a 2.54 ERA and a 9/2 K/9 mark.  Killgore, a six-foot-three 175-pounder, red-shirted in 2016, so this year was his sophomore season.
Round 23 saw the Phillies take a high school catcher Logan O’Hoppe.  The 18-year-old righty batting Long Island native is committed to play at East Carolina.  Not sure I need to say anything more about this young man besides these two things: He batted .511 as a senior this year and won his conference’s triple crown, per Breen/Philly.com.
The Phillies took righty reliever Adam Cox in the 25th round out of Montana State University Billings.  In 14 appearances this year, Cox posted a 1-1 record with six saves, a 2.54 ERA, a .189 batting average against and a remarkable 14.9 K/9 mark.  The 21-year-old was named to the academic all-conference team three straight seasons.  Previously a two-way player, Cox spent most of last year on the offensive side of the game, pitching in just two contests.  In 2017, as a first baseman, second baseman and designated hitter, Cox batted .278 in 31 games.  In his sophomore season in 2016, he was named to the second-team all-Great Northwest Athletic Conference as both a designated hitter and as a closer. 
Backstop Jack Conley was the Phils’ 27th round draft selection out of NC State.  The 21-year-old righty batter posted a .333 average in 21 games this year in his junior season.  Conley was previously drafted out of high school by the Red Sox in the 30th round.  

30th rounder Brandon Ramey seems to be a teammate of 15th round selection Daniel Carpenter.  The 17-year-old righty pitcher is listed at six-foot-three 180-pounds.  
University of Kentucky junior Ben Aklinski, an outfielder, was the team’s 32nd round pick.  A JuCo All-American and Gold Glove winner, prior to transferring to KU, Aklinski is said to be an elite defender.  The five-foot-11 210-pounder batted .304 with six home runs and 42 RBI and was error-free on defense in 56 games this year as a senior.  Aklinski turned 22-years-old this week.

Rutgers catcher Nick Matera was the Phils' 34th round pick.  The 21-year-old Roxbury, NJ native batted .254 with five homers and 35 RBI in 48 games this year in his junior season.

Complete 2018 Phillies draft listing can be found at this link.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Six BlueClaws honored as All-Stars

Will Stewart, image- Jay Floyd
The Class A South Atlantic League announced its All-Stars on Tuesday and the roster for the Northern Division includes six Lakewood BlueClaws.

The team will send four pitchers, including lefty starter Will Stewart, righty starter Ramon Rosso, left-handed reliever Kyle Dohy and right-handed reliever Addison Russ.  Additionally, third baseman Jake Scheiner and shortstop Nick Maton are also on the team. 

Stewart, 20, holds the league's best ERA among qualified players with a 1.23 mark.  The Phillies' 20th round draft pick from 2015 also sports a 5-0 record and a .197 batting average against through nine starts this season.

Rosso, a native of the Dominican Republic, has a 2-1 record with a 1.44 ERA and a .191 BAA.  The 21-year-old has garnered a lot of attention this season with his seemingly out-of-nowhere, surprising contributions.

Dohy, a 16th round draft pick last year, has a 3-3 record with a 1.00 ERA and a .157 BAA in 19 appearances. The California native is 21 years old. 

Russ, the team's closer, touts a 5-0 record with 11 saves, a 0.98 ERA along with a .158 batting average against.  The 23-year-old was a 19th round draft pick last year by the Phils.

Scheiner, a righty batter, is batting .273 with 11 doubles, a triple, seven homers and 20 RBI through 52 games this season.  The 22-year-old Californian was selected in the 4th round of last year's draft.

Maton is hitting .267 with 10 doubles, three home runs and 15 RBI in 45 contests this year.  The 21-year-old was drafted in the 7th round last year.  His brother Phil is a pitcher for the Padres.

The 59th annual Sally League All-Star exhibition will be played in Greensboro, home of the Marlins affiliate Grasshoppers, on Tuesday, June 19th. 

Also announced last week were the Class A Advanced Florida State League All-Star.  Phillies developmental players that made that league's North Division All-Star roster were righty hurler Sixto Sanchez, the youngest pitcher in the league, first baseman Darick Hall, who was already promoted to Double-A Reading and won't take part in the contest, shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa and designated hitter Austin Listi.  

2018 Draft: Day 2 Phillies notes


Some details on the Phillies' activities during day 2 of this year's MLB Draft...

With the team’s 2nd pick in the draft, at number 107 overall, the Phillies selected right-handed pitcher Colton Eastman. The six-foot-three 200-pounder looked great this year in his junior season with Cal State Fullerton.

In 16 starts for the Titans, the Fresco, CA native posted a 10-3 record with a 2.20 ERA while striking out 116 and walking 27 in 110 2/3 innings pitched. He tossed a no-hitter against UC Santa Barbara in March and took a no-no into the sixth frame three other times this year.

Last week, in the NCCA baseball tournament, Eastman was remarkable, retiring the first 13 batters he faced, with seven of the first eight being strike outs.  He ended up giving up two runs on four hits in that outing.  

Eastman tallied a 2.20 ERA over his three year collegiate career.

In the 5th round, the Phillies drafted outfielder Matt Vierling out of Notre Dame. The six-foot-two 208-pounder had a solid season this year as a junior. In 54 games, the righty batter sported a .310 batting average with seven doubles, two triples, 10 home runs and 43 RBI. He also pitched in six games this season, but his production there (19.80 ERA, five K’s, six BB, five innings) is nearly not worth a mention.

At 137th overall, Vierling seems to be an excellent choice. He’s said to be a very athletic individual with some solid tools. He was previously picked in the 30th round by St. Louis out of high school.

The Phils’ 6th round draft choice was high school shortstop Logan Simmons. The righty batting 18-year-old is listed with a six-foot-three 190-pound frame. Scouting reports rave about a plus arm and potential plus power. The Georgia native might have a future in the outfield, thought others project his as a third baseman. The main critique on this young man is related to contact and strike out frequency.

Gabriel Cotto, a left-handed pitcher, was the Phils’ selection in the 7th round at 197 overall. The Puerto Rico Baseball Academy product is listed at six-foot-five, 175 pounds.  Video of him including details of his offerings at this link.

Seth Lancaster, a shortstop out of Coastal Carolina, was the 227th pick. A lefty batter, Lancaster sported a .305 average with 20 homers, 57 RBI and 23 steals in 62 games this year in his senior season. Lasik vision surgery following his junior season resolved a vision problem that stemmed from a viral infection in his cornea.  Following the corrective measure, his stats bounced back after they suffered due to the issue with his "front" eye. He likely could have been drafted last year if not for the ailment. At six-foot-one, 210 pounds, the South Carolina native tallied a .912 OPS in his four year college career. 

In the 9th round, the Phillies selected high school pitcher Dominic Pipkin. The right-hander is listed at six-feet-four, 160 pounds. At 18 years old, the California native features a quick arm and a long frame and is equipped with multiple pitches that have a lot of upside including fastball velocity reported to be in the mid-90's.

Madison Stokes was the Phillies' 10th round pick.  The righty hitter is a senior shortstop out of South Carolina.  In 47 games for the Gamecocks this year, he would notch a .331 average with 10 homers and 43 RBI.  Stokes is still involved in postseason play with South Carolina as they sit one step away from the upcoming College World Series.  

The remainder of this year's draft will get underway on Wednesday at 11 am Eastern, with rounds 11 through 40 taking place.

For details on the Phillies' opening round pick, 3b Alec Bohm, click this link.