Friday, August 31, 2018

Phils announce eight prospects to participate in Arizona Fall League

Sixto Sanchez with Lakewood in 2017, image- Jay Floyd
The Arizona Fall League is a place for aspiring Major Leaguers to go to develop their baseball skills in the Autumn months. As the weather begins to cool elsewhere, the diamond stays hot for many of baseball's most promising young talents in Arizona.

Rosters in the AFL are a mixture of different organizations' prospects, with each major league club sending seven, or sometimes eight, players that combine to fill up the 35-man rosters of the league's six teams.

With rosters announced on Thursday for the upcoming 2018 AFL season, Phillies players will be merged with players from the Mets, Reds, Giants and Astros to make up the Scottsdale Scorpions roster.



Top Phillies prospect Sixto Sanchez is slated to see action with the Scorpions after missing much of the season with an injury. The righty hurler, sidelined since June 3rd, has missed time with elbow inflammation.

In eight starts this season for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, the 20-year-old Dominican Republic native sported a 4-3 record with a 2.51 ERA while striking out 45 batters and walking 11 in 46 2/3 inninigs.

Also on the Scorpions roster are right-handed pitchers Seth McGarry, Tyler Viza and Luke Leftwich, all of which pitched at the Double-A level with Reading this year.

McGarry, a 24-year-old, was acquired by the Phils last season from the Pirates in a trade for reliever Joaquin Benoit.  The reliever has a 4.31 ERA in 41 appearances this season.  

Viza, 23, has also spent time with Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year.  Overall in 26 outings, 10 starts, Viza sports a 4-6 record with a 3.05 ERA and a .253 batting average against.  

Leftwich, a reliever, if he reaches the major leagues, would become just the second third-generation pitcher in big league history.  The 24-year-old was a 7th round draft pick in 2015.  Leftwich has a 3.75 ERA in 43 appearances (one start) this year.

Also on the Scorpions roster from the Phils organization are well-touted shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa, outfielder/third baseman Luke Williams, first baseman Darick Hall and outfielder Austin Listi.

The 20-year-old Gamboa, a native of Venezuela, has posted a .219 average with 14 doubles, four triples, two home runs and 37 RBI in 112 games this season with Clearwater.

Williams, 22, was the Phils' 3rd round draft selection in 2015.  He has posted a .251 average with nine homers and 42 RBI through 102 games with Clearwater this season. 

Hall and Listi were teammates in college at Dallas Baptist and have played together, thus far, at three levels of the Phillies' minor league developmental system since Listi was drafted last year.  Both are currently part of the Reading roster.

Opening Day for the 2018 AFL season is Tuesday, October 9th while the league will conclude with its annual championship game on Saturday, November 17th.  The league's 13th annual "Fall Stars Game" will take place on Saturday, November 3rd.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

BlueClaws Quotables: Tyler Henson interview excerpts

Last week I talked with Lakewood hitting coach Tyler Henson about his club's offense.  Among the key topics discussed were powerful outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz and promising second baseman Daniel Brito, who spent much of the season with the BlueClaws.  Read ahead for some exclusive quotes.

-Talk about how tough the grind of a full season can be for players that haven't gone through it before.

The guys that have never been through it, they don't understand how to-- physically it gets tiring, but the mental part is the biggest part of it at this point and not being too hard on yourself when you when you make outs, 'cause everybody wants to finish the season on a good note.  So, when these guys make outs and they get mad or get frustrated and carry it over to the next at bar, for me right now that's the biggest focus is to calm down and take it one at a time at this point.  So, for the most part, these guys are handling it well, but it's still a learning curve.

-Jhailyn Ortiz strikes me as a guy who plays loose.  Is that the case?

At times.  When he's going good, he's loose.  I mean, for me, he's got more ability than anybody in this league.  Will it ever click?  I don't know.  Hopefully, it does, because he's a Phillie and there's a lot of people in Philly that would love to see it.  He's a good kid and he's learning.  This has been a good learning year for him.  So, hopefully, he can finish on a strong note.

-Daniel Brito got promoted midway through the year after spending a season and a half with Lakewood.  What progress did you see that made it the right time for that move?

I thought he grew every at bat throughout the year.  He went through a little scuffle early on, because he was upset that he was here.  But he kind of grew out of that and then he started to grow as a hitter and learn how to put together good at bats and not worry so much about the results and just having quality at bats.  And when he started really focusing on that, he started to see the average climb, you know, and started to barrel (the ball) consistently.  So, I was happy to see him get going and get out of here.

-The story with the BlueClaws this year has been their pitching, which ranks at the top of team rankings for staff ERA.  On the other side of the game, the offense might be near the bottom in some categories.  Is there a silver lining or a story with this offense this year?

For me, from the beginning, it was all about teaching these guys to be professional.  The I think last time we talked that's mainly what I talked about was just how to have a routine, to teach them to go about their business every day and go about it the right way.  You know, that whole first month, I think we hit .217 as a team, which is hard to do.  But, no one quit.  Everybody kept working, kept working and kept working and those guys in the clubhouse, it's all on them.  They put all the work in and they did everything they needed to do to get where they're at now, and it's just about finishing the work.

-Is there anybody in this lineup that's underrated in your opinion?  Anyone that doesn't get the recognition he deserves?

To me, everybody in there is underrated.  I've been with them all year.  I love every one of them.  So, they all put work in and go about their business.  I can't just single one guy out. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Lakewood All-Star Maton taking lessons from the grind

Nick Maton greeting a fan, image- Jay Floyd
The grind of a full season is one of the first true measures for a minor leaguer.  An everyday player in his first year out of the draft can commonly endure a grueling campaign packed with lengthy bus rides, minimal days off and very few comforts of home over a five-month stretch.  For Lakewood shortstop Nick Maton it's proving to be a true test, one that may benefit him in the long run.

The Illinois native has been a contributor to the playoff bound Class A BlueClaws for the entire season.  Through 108 games this season, the 21-year-old Maton sports a .262 batting average with 25 doubles, five triples, eight home runs and 47 RBI.

With less than two weeks left before the BlueClaws will open the 2018 South Atlantic League postseason, a spot they clinched when they won the first half Northern Division title back in June, Lakewood, as a whole, seemed to be feeling the effects of a long season.  The club dropped four in a row at home last week to potential SAL finals opponent Lexington and averaged 2.7 runs per game over a stretch of six contests, of which they lost five.

The lefty batting Maton, feeling the grind himself, was batting .188 through 19 August games through action played on Saturday, following a July in which he tallied a .310 average over 24 contests.

The dip in offense is something Maton, who is listed at six-feet-two and 165-pounds, sees value in, though, focusing on a silver lining aspect.

"Right now is a pretty good (learning experience) for me," Maton stated.  "Just being able to stay within yourself and do what you’ve been doing the entire year, even though right now you may be struggling a little bit, it’s definitely kind of tough.  You’ve definitely just gotta go with it and, hopefully, you can get out of it."

The team and its fans should hope that Maton can shake himself of the struggles that have come with the lulls of the home stretch of the season.  According to BlueClaws hitting coach Tyler Henson, as goes Maton and fellow All-Star Jake Scheiner, so goes the team.

"When he's going good, the whole team thrives," Henson asserted.  "So, I kind of look at him and Scheiner the same way.  When everything's going their way, the whole team's clicking."

Despite the lulls of late, the coaching staff sees plenty of progress and maturity in Maton's game.  They point toward the changes he's made to his swing and his overall game as being notable.  Additionally, his work ethic stands out on a team packed with talent.

Going the extra mile and working non-stop seems to be something that he learned at home.  Maton, whose older brother Phil is a relief pitcher with the Padres and whose younger brother Jacob was drafted this year by the Mariners, says that he and his brothers owe much of their success on the diamond to their father, another Phil.

"We had batting cages in the back yard.  We always, the three of us, would be hitting and dad always throwing.  Always before dinner time I was out there hitting." Maton said, describing those times as some of his earliest and most fond baseball memories. 

Per Henson, physically, most players, even the ones that show signs of tiring, can push through and deal with the length of a full season the first time around, but how a player handles the mental side of things can be the difference maker.  He says it's critical to not allow any anger and frustration to carry over to the next at bat or the next game. 

With Maton, any such holdovers are of no concern.  In fact, his mental toughness and the lasting impact of lessons from this season are things that should stick with him and help him greatly as he progresses in the minor leagues. 

Maton, a 7th round draft selection by the Phillies last year, deems the season as one full of achievement even before the postseason gets rolling.

"I just wanted to keep on playing and see how I could handle this level," Maton said of his primary goal for this season.  "I feel like I handled it pretty well and this last month you can feel it definitely, it’s been a grind, more of a grind than it was previously.  But I’m just trying to hang in there and finish out strong and try to be my best for the playoffs."

The BlueClaws' open the best-of-three first round of the Sally League playoffs on Wednesday, September 5th with a game on the road against the division's Wild Card winner.  Games two and three (if necessary) will be played at Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park on Friday the 7th and Saturday the 8th.  If they advance, games one and two of the SAL title series would be played at the Southern Division winner's home field on Monday, September 10th and Tuesday September 11th.  Lakewood would host the remainder of the series on consecutive days (barring rain outs) beginning on Thursday September 13th.

Friday, August 24, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood RHP Connor Brogdon

Connor Brogdon, image- MiLB.com
Right-handed pitcher Connor Brogdon has been a key part of the Class A Lakewood pitching staff all year long.  After opening the 2018 campaign in the starting rotation, and posting a 1-2 record with a 3.73 ERA over seven starts, the 23-year-old was moved into a relief role, where he has been excellent.  In 21 relief appearances, Brogdon has tallied a 4-1 record with four saves, a 1.64 ERA, a .190 batting average against and a 12.0 K/9 mark.

A 10th round draft pick last year out of Lewis-Clark State (the same school that produced former Phillies farm hand Tyler Knigge) by the Phillies, Brogdon, a California native, is listed at 6-feet-6-inches tall and 192 pounds.

I spoke with Brogdon recently about his team's excitement level for the upcoming South Atlantic League playoffs, his refined pitch repertoire, the role changes he's undergone this season and plenty more.  Read ahead for that full interview.

-I just wanted to get some thoughts on your spot right now...as you've changed roles throughout the season.

So, obviously I was a starter at the beginning of the year.  I switched roles and went to the bullpen when Kyle Young came up.  And then I was kind of a long relief guy because I was fresh out of starting.  And then most of the second half I've been a late inning guy to bridge the gap to get to Zach Warren (the closer) and hold the lead in tight situations.  It's been a lot of fun coming into situations like that.

-Is this something you feel has made you more versatile or valuable?

Yeah, definitely.  I think I've pretty much proved that I can do both.  I can start and come into tight ball games and even get a save here and there when Zach has pitched the previous night.  So, yeah, I think I've shown that I can be versatile in the 'pen for sure.

-What's the pitch menu for you?  What's the full repertoire and what do you consider your go-to pitch?

I've got a fastball, I've got a slider, change up and then I'm working on a new curve ball.  I had one, kind of lost the feel for it, so now I'm working with Zach on his, 'cause his is really good.  So, I'm trying to kind of almost mimic it.  And it's coming along.  But my go-to is my fastball and my change up.  And I'll show the slider here and there to mostly righties and very seldomly to lefties.

-With the update to the curve ball, is that a refined grip?

Yeah, I changed my grip.  Zach throws a spike curve, so I basically just completely copied his grip and I'm just toying around with it, seeing if it'll play.  I've only busted it out twice, two different pitches in a game and they were both in the dirt, so it's got a ways to go.

-The big story with the team this season has been its outstanding pitching that has led the league in staff ERA for a huge majority of the year.  What is it like to be a big part of that?

It's a lot of fun.  I think we've got a good thing going here.  Every single starter on this squad has been extremely solid and you know you can count on getting five to seven strong innings out of them.  And then coming out of the bullpen, it's just our job to pick up where they left off and hold the lead for them and keep the offense in the game.

-I've talked to a lot of the pitchers on this team and some guys will talk about the unity and the support that each member of the staff supports and helps one another.  Do you find that same thing, where nobody is the selfish type and everyone's looking out for the next guy?

Yeah, definitely.  I think we're all looking out for each other and in my personal case when I go to Zach and I ask him, "What can I do to make my curve ball better?"  He doesn't hesitate to help and give me queues to help develop the pitch and I think it's like that with a lot  of guys.  You can ask anybody for anything as far as improving a certain pitch or their approach or their mindset and they'll be willing to help out.

-The feedback I've heard on your pitching coach Brad Bergesen is that sometimes he'll lay off and allow you guys to independently work and sort of coach yourselves.  Is that freedom part of what allows you to go work on a new offering or is he hands-on with that?

Yeah, he lets us go on our own, but he's always there.  I've gone over film several times with him.  He stands in on my flat-grounds when I need him to, 'cause I've been working on throwing the breaking ball at the back foot of a lefty, so he'll stand in left-handed and let me have a visual.  He's always there.  But there is a certain sense of free reign kinda like "explore yourself", but he's always there when you need him and he's a very knowledgeable guy.

-What's the vibe of late?  Is the grind of the long season a big factor right now?

Yeah, you know, it's August.  It's been a long stretch.  You can tell it's getting toward the end of the year.  But, we know that playoffs are coming up and only as of late have we been on a little bit of a skid, with losing four straight to Lexington. But I mean, we've kept it rolling all season till now, so I'm sure we'll turn it around when we go on the road to Hickory and Greensboro.

-It's been a while since the team clinched the playoff spot with the first half title.  Is the excitement for the postseason still there?

Yeah, definitely.  We keep it pretty fun all the time in the clubhouse and on the field.  You know, we're having a lot of fun.  Especially when we're winning.  Like I said, this is the first series we've been swept- I could be wrong (about that), but we're having a lot of fun.  Coming in the clubhouse everyday is exciting.  A lot of music being played after games most times, 'cause we're winning and only as of late has it been quiet.  But I'm sure on the road, we'll turn it around pretty quick.

-When there are these lulls with the long season or following a series sweep, who is the guy on this team that's going to pick everybody up?

I think we've got a few guys.  I think Quincy Nieporte, he's a pretty vocal guy.  Colby Fitch also pretty vocal.  You know, they're always talking.  They're always keeping everybody's heads up.  Zach Warren out of the bullpen.  He's another vocal guy.  He's one of those guys that keeps it light.  He's really funny.  He cracks a lot of jokes.  It's hard to be extremely serious and it's a good thing.  I mean even (manager) Marty (Malloy) and coach Bergesen, they talk a lot.  They're on us.  You know, stern when they need to be, but they'll also keep it light.

-What had it been like for you here this season?  What do you like about New Jersey?

Definitely different.  I kind of like the Wawas.  Big Wawa guy.  Weather's different.  Where I'm from, the west coast, it's pretty dry.  Here it's humid.  I've seen a lot of rain this year.  Don't get to see that a lot where I'm from.  It's been fun.  I've enjoyed it.  Especially the Wawa, the pork roll, egg and cheese.  It's all good.

-Now the pork roll, egg and cheese is a big thing here with the mascot races each game.  Which one are you partial to, with the races that go on?

I usually root for whoever is last in the standings, 'cause I figure they have the best chance of winning.  But, I've been a big cheese guy this year I think.

-I also wanted to ask you if there were any players or pitchers that you admired while growing up.  Was there anyone that you wanted to emulate?

Jose Fernandez.  I really tried to model my game after him as I was coming up through junior college and then in college.  And he recently passed, but I really tried to model myself after him.  He probably wasn't as tall as me, but he still had an electric slider and I tried to adopt that as much as I could.  It'll probably never look like that, but that's one guy that I really watching a lot, coming up.

-Did you collect baseball cards growing up?

No, not really.

-Is there any early baseball memory that sticks out for you?  Or was there a point when you realized that this could be a possibility to play pro ball?

I just know I came from a small town and I was always one of the better players on the team and I was actually a catcher and third baseman and I wasn't a pitch until later.  And I just remember I always hit for power.  Hit a lot of home runs.  I really enjoyed hitting home runs and being the feared hitter on the team when I was coming up through little league and stuff.

-Do you ever take batting practice out here to show off that power a little bit?

Nope.  23 shutouts and zero pitchers batting practices. Shout out to Brad Bergesen for that one.

-(Laughs) Awesome!  At what point is it that you turn to pitching and realize that you're pretty good at it?

I started to notice that I was pretty good about 7th grade or so and then got into high school.  Still played a position.  Migrated to the outfield, played center field for my entire high school career.  But  I think it was as a sophomore in high school when I realized maybe I could really go somewhere, pitching.

-With your loved ones so far away, have you started converting people into Phillies fans?

No, not really.  Everybody back home's pretty much a Minnesota Twins fan, 'cause my dad's from Minnesota.  So, they're all Twins fans.  My cousin, he'll follow the Phillies.  He's been a Giants fan his whole life, but ever since I got drafted by the Phillies, he's got a Phillies hat and he's kind of getting into the whole Phillies thing.

-Anybody in your family with other athletic prowess?  Anybody else an athlete in the family? 

No.  I'm an only child, so no siblings.  I was the youngest in my family, so everybody's been older than me till recently.  I've got a few young cousins. Nobody yet.  Maybe the cousins will come along.

-You could groom them and teach them the slugging pitcher ways...show them how to pitch.  Show them the new curve!

(Laughs) Yeah.  I'll do my best.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Phillies playing host for MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport

For the second straight year, Williamsport, PA, home of the Little League World Series and the Phillies Class A short-season affiliate, will host a big league contest know as the MLB Little League Classic.

On Sunday night at 7 PM, the Phillies are slated to host the Mets at historic BB&T Ballpark at historic Bowman Field.

Prior to the prime time contest, which will be broadcast nationally on ESPN, the big league players will also attend the Little League World Series games earlier in the day, where they'll have the opportunity to interact with players and fans alike.

The Little League World Series is an international tournament for children aged 10 to 12, held each year in Williamsport.  

Professional baseball dates back to 1926 at the Bowman Field venue, while the Crosscutters have been affiliated with the Phils since 2007.

This weekend I heard from the director of media relations for Little League International, Kevin Fountain, who offered the following nuggets of insight related to the event.

-While Major League Baseball handles the planning and operation of the game at Bowman Field, Little League International works directly with Major League Baseball, the New York Mets, and the Philadelphia Phillies to provide an enjoyable experience for all of the Little Leaguers in attendance. From pre-game festivities to in-game activities, the MLB Little League Classic provides tremendous opportunities and lifelong memories for all of the LLBWS participants.

-After witnessing how historic and memorable the 2017 MLB Little League Classic was, Major League Baseball and Little League International quickly began discussing a plan for 2018. On September 29, 2017, the official announcement for this year’s game was made to bring the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies to Williamsport. The MLB Little League Classic is a continued effort between Major League Baseball and Little League to grow the game and foster interest at the youth level and provides all of the players, managers, and coaches of the LLBWS the opportunity to experience a historic Major League Baseball game first-hand.


-While there is a core group of officials from Major League Baseball and Little League International who oversaw the initial planning of the event, there are various departments and personnel from MLB, Little League, the New York Mets, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the MLBPA that have contributed to the planning and organization of this historic event.

-The opportunity to bring the MLB Little League Classic to Williamsport has been one of the most historic and memorable moments in the 70-plus-year history of the Little League Baseball World Series. Not only is the event a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of the participants and volunteers of the LLBWS, it is a great opportunity for the Williamsport community to welcome Major League Baseball into this iconic baseball town.

Monday, August 13, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Clearwater OF Kevin Markham

Kevin Markham, image- Jay Floyd
Through much of the season, outfielder Kevin Markham has been a contributor for his team.  The 24-year-old opened the 2018 campaign with Class A Lakewood where he helped that club win the first half division title and clinch a playoff berth by sporting a .282 batting average with a pair of homers, 15 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 53 games.

Following a promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater the lefty batter has tallied a .275 average with four doubles, two triples, seven RBI and four steals in 29 games.  The Threshers lead their division in the second half standings and appear to be headed for a post-season berth of their own.

Markham was the 24th round draft pick of the Phillies last year out of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Recently, I interviewed the Texas native about his successful first full year in the minors, his team, playing along side rehabbing major league players and more.  Read ahead for that interview.

-It’s been a nice season for you. Successful stint with Lakewood and a deserved promotion. Is the season going how you expected and did you set this sort of goal to be at High A for yourself?

I worked harder than I ever have to get ready for the season this year so that I could set myself up to be the best player that I could possibly be. My goal at the beginning of the year was to have a healthy season and to this point I feel as though I have done so. Being in High A was a goal of mine in the back of my head, but it’s not the thing that got me going. I just wanted to be the best teammate I could be to help my team win games.

-What was it like to get the news of the promotion? Was there any trickery to make you think the news was something else, or was (Lakewood manager) Marty (Malloy) straight up about it?

It was a great feeling getting the news that I was being promoted. It was something that I had worked very hard for and couldn’t thank the Phillies organization enough for it. Marty was straight up about it. He was great to play for and I’m very thankful for my time with him.

-What was the highlight of your time with Lakewood?

There were many highlights of playing in Lakewood but when we clinched 1st place in the first half it was a very special feeling. We all had that goal in the beginning and it was a really great feeling to get to celebrate that with my teammates.

-What is the vibe with the Threshers like right now, with the club leading the standings for a playoff spot? Is everyone excited and focused on keeping that division lead?

The vibe here is something very similar to the one in Lakewood. Just full of guys who are easy going and fun to be around. Obviously, we have the goal of making playoffs and are working hard to do so but we try to keep it light and fun which helps us play better in my opinion.

Markham, image- MiLB.com
-Playing in the Florida State League, what are the best and worst things about that?

Playing in the Florida State League has its pros and cons. I think the best thing here are the bus rides. Our longest ride here is only a couple of hours where in Lakewood the longest ride was 14 hours. The worst part has to be the heat and humidity.

-Do you have any game day superstitions or any teammates with any noteworthy ones?

I personally do not have any superstitions or know of any crazy ones that my teammates have.

-Earliest memories of baseball?

My earliest memories of baseball go way back to little league. Watching my brother play made me want to play because I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I had a great support system growing up with parents and a brother that would play with me any time I wanted to play.

-At what point did you realize that baseball could be a job for you and did your approach to the game change with that realization?

I first realized this could be a job for me around my junior year of college. I never played the game in hopes of being drafted. I just wanted to help my teams win in any way that I could. My approach to the game never really changed. My main goal was to take my college to Omaha (for the College World Series) and I failed my team in that goal.

-Did you have a favorite player growing up?

My favorite player growing up was Ken Griffey Jr. The way he played the game and how much fun he had in doing so just made him to fun to watch.

-What’s your favorite rain delay activity?

My favorite rain delay activity came in my freshman year of college when we had a dance off for 20 minutes before the game was called.

-Of late, the Threshers have had some rebabbing big leaguers around. Talk about what it's like learning from those guys.

Having the rehab guys around is a very cool feeling. Those are the guys that we are striving to be and to see how those guys go about their work is special to see. Crawford was fun to be around. He’s a very laid back guy who likes making the game fun again. He was easy to talk to, always had a good time. Eickhoff is a great guy. Easy going and goes about his business in the right way. Every day he shows up, he is finding a way to get better. Ramos just got here but it is cool to watch him play. He’s very even keel in his personality and can tell he’s on the right track to be back in the show here soon.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Talking Phillies prospects on the latest Hittin' Season Podcast

Happy weekend to all.  For your Friday afternoon commute or for your casual weekend listening or perhaps your delayed and laid back effort to catch up sometime later, check out John Stolnis's wonderful Phillies podcast Hittin' Season, as yours truly spends time chatting it up about some top prospects from the organization.

Not only does John recap the week in Phils action, lay out some remarkable statistics and unveil his updated MLB top 10 teams power rankings, but he and I discuss the likes of top minor leagues names like Sixto Sanchez, Mickey Moniak, Adam Haseley, Kyle Dohy, Jose Pujols as well as Spencer Howard plus more.

Check out the program and other recent episodes in the embedded media player below or head on over to SoundCloud.com/TheFelskeFiles!


Thursday, August 9, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview DitC Edition: Lakewood 3b Cole Stobbe

Cole Stobbe, image- Jay Floyd
On a throwback Thursday, we're taking it back to April of this year when I talked to Class A Lakewood third baseman Cole Stobbe (pronounced STOW-bee) in this previously unreleased interview.

This year, Stobbe has missed significant time with two separate hamstring strains to the same leg.  In just 12 total games with the BlueClaws the righty batting Nebraska native posted a .209 average with three doubles, a home run and seven RBI.

The 20-year-old was the Phillies' 3rd round draft choice in 2016.  He was ranked as the Phillies' 22nd best prospect entering this season.

Read ahead for the full interview.

-What are you early impressions of Lakewood?

It’s a big field. But, you see the crowd, you see how they interact, it’s going to be a fun place to play.

-How did your spring campaign go for you?

It was good. You know, the whole thing about spring is that nothing counts, so you can go ahead and get yourself ready for when it does count, which is now, so I think our team did a good job with that this spring and we came in ready to play.

-With this team, there are guys returning to this league for a second time, Daniel Brito and some others. Is there anything they’ve told you about this place or anything else about the level to get you ready?

Yeah, I mean there’s not much said about Lakewood itself because it is what it is. It’s nice- it’s probably one of the nicest stadiums, so there wasn’t much said about that. It’s more about opposing (teams’) stadiums, like stadiums that aren’t so nice, the travel. So, just picking their brains about the travel and how they get ready on the road.

-So what are the impressions you get about that travel and long road trips? Are there negative notions or feelings about the amount of travel?

It’s early, so I haven’t hit that yet, but that’s what you signed up for. You signed up to play baseball and it’s a job, so you’ve got to take the highs and the lows. Whether it’s 16 hour bus rides or three hour bus rides, it’s all part of it.

-You talk about “It’s all part of it”, that’s a famous phrase throughout minor league baseball, made popular by Cord Sandberg, Jack Murphy and others. Do you thrive and live by that?

Of course! Especially in pro ball, at the lower levels, everything is all part of it. For the Latin guys, they’ve got shirts (that say) “Todo es Parte”, so I think it’s a good motto to go by.

-Outside of the ballpark too, right?

Right, yeah, it’s kind of like taking things that don’t go your way, taking a lesson from it and moving on. I think it’s a good thing if you’re playing baseball or even off the field.

-Very cool. Is there anyone on this BlueClaws roster that you’ve bonded with a lot or are really close with?

All the dudes from last year that I was on Williamsport with and then Brito. I’ve been his roommate probably five times throughout instructional league and all that, so Brito is probably one of the closer ones I’m bonding with.

-I know that at the strength and speed camps last fall Spanish classes were mandatory for the American guys. Did you go through those camps and classes?

Yeah, I went through the Spanish classes, but I took four years of Spanish in high school, so it was sort of a refresher. I did those four years and then got Rosetta Stone and I try to communicate with the Latin guys as much as possible.

-Are you fairly fluent?

You can ask a Latin on that…

-I’ll ask about you! But here’s a test…could you turn on the Spanish channel and keep up?

Keep up? Probably not. Order a meal at a restaurant? Yes.

-Four years and Rosetta Stone?!

Hey, it’s tough. The Spanish you learn here is a little different than the regular conversational stuff you’d hear.

-Okay. Cool. I’ll stop giving you a hard time. You were an early round draft pick. Do you have any standout draft day memories?

The draft is unpredictable, so no matter what anyone says, you’ve got to take everything with a grain of salt and, you know, you can’t believe one thing or another, you just have to wait for your name to be called. Overall it was a good experience and I’m thankful to the Phillies for giving me the opportunity.

-Is there anybody coach wise that you’ve taken a lot from in your career so far?

(Tyler) Henson, the hitting coach. He was in Williamsport last year and he moved up with us. I have a good relationship with him and I think we understand each other pretty well.

-I noticed on the roster with his date of birth, he’s still a playing-age guy (at 30 years old). It could probably easier to learn from a guy that could still be out there doing it as opposed to someone, not to be insulting, that is a parent’s age or something like that. So, is it cool to have someone that’s closer to your age to be able to bond with and learn from?

Of course. I think it’s good for the whole team, just kind of bridging that gap, so he understands what we go through nowadays. And Marty’s unbelievable. He’s a players’ managers. He’s doing a great job. But I think with Henson, he’s fresh out. I think he’s a couple years out from playing so he understands a lot about what we’re going through and a lot about what needs to be communicated.

-You mentioned communication there and I know with the new regime there’s Sam Fuld in a role to be able to convey or relay analytics details and all that to the players. Any thoughts on the exposure at all? Do you dig it? Do you think it’s going to be very helpful?

I like it. I mean, if you’re playing the statistics, playing the percentages and the guy’s hitting 70-percent pull, why wouldn’t you play him to pull? He’s only going to hit over to the right side or opposite field 30-percent of the time, so why wouldn’t you play the 70 and take away all those hits? So, I think it’s very beneficial.

-The analytics focus- is there anything being brought to the offensive players? Or is it just defensive strategy?

Yeah, we’re talking launch angles and exit velo’s, but our main focus is on hitting the ball hard, getting the barrel of the bat on the ball and good things will happen.

-Did you play any other sports, growing up as a kid?

I grew up playing hockey and baseball and then I played baseball, football, basketball in junior high and then in high school I played basketball, baseball.

-Any brag-worthy details about your hoops days?

No. I ran fast and jumped high and I weighed a little less. I was a defensive specialist, so I would get the rebound and pass to the point guard.

-Is there anybody on this club that stands out to you as a leader thus far?

I think the guys that are returning are kind of doing the most right now, ‘cause they know what to expect, they know how Marty (Malloy) is as a manager, so I think the returning guys are standing out for sure.

-How about Brito? You mentioned him being a roommate. Every time I’ve encountered him or when I see him around, he’s the fun guy- laughing, joking, keeping things light. Do you see the same things?

Doesn’t change (for me). He’s like that at midnight, he’s like that at 6 AM. It’s unbelievable, that dude. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to be around.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Temple product Hockenberry thriving in new role as coach

Matt Hockenberry, image- Jay Floyd
After he was drafted and signed by the Phillies in 2014, Matt Hockenberry thought he was living the perfect life, as becoming a professional pitcher was what he thought was his ultimate goal. Last year, after roughly three years in the minor leagues, he was released from his contract and he wasn’t sure what was next.  His true dream job, where he would excel swiftly, was on the horizon.

With baseball being the only life he ever envisioned, Hockenberry had a stroke of luck when he found himself out of the game in 2017.  He received a call to interview for a new coaching position at the Phillies' lowest domestic level, as they were adding a second team to the rookie level Gulf Coast League and would need to fill a completely new coaching staff.

Described as extremely passionate, the Temple University product stood out as an individual that the Phillies wanted to talk to when it came time to interview prospective coaches.

"He's all about it", said Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan with a laugh.  "He's all about it and he's going to be an outstanding teacher. He's learning, but he asks a lot of good questions and I think he understands that there's a lot to learn."

As a pitcher, Hockenberry enjoyed some success in his first couple seasons as a pro, posting nice numbers in Class A.  In his first full season in the minors, he would record a 2.24 ERA in 42 games for Class A Lakewood. The following season, in 2016, he tallied a 1.39 ERA in 41 contests for Class A Advanced Clearwater, earning a promotion to Double-A Reading.  There, he would notch a 5.79 ERA in three appearances. 

He returned to Double-A last year to open the regular season, but Hockenberry surrendered hits to seven of the 13 batters he faced in four outings.  He was sent back to Clearwater where the Phillies decided they had seen enough of him on the mound and he was dismissed in late July.

The time in between gigs with the Phillies flew by and now the 26-year-old looks forward to growing right along with the players he's working to develop.

“This has been the absolute dream job that I didn't ask for," Hockenberry excitedly shared.  "It has been the most rewarding career that I think I could have ever asked for.  You know, it’s not about me. It’s about the kids."

One of those kids is promising GCL Phillies West hurler Ben Brown, the Phillies’ 33rd round selection in last year’s draft out of Ward Melville High School in NY. The 18-year-old praises “Hock” for much of his success (3-2 record, 2.95 ERA, 11.8 K/9 in eight games).

“He just watched and he was so observant when I first started pitching in front of him in spring training,” Brown asserted. “I can confidently say he's influenced my career more than anyone else up to this point as far as pitching goes because I was not where I am now three months ago, when he first started working with me. He's been such a motivator to me mentally, he's worked with me on mechanical stuff (also).”

And not only has Hockenberry assisted with the growth of his young pitchers right out of the gate, he’s helping their battery mates as well.

“He’s taught me a lot just in the month and a half that I’ve been here,” said catcher Logan O'Hoppe, who was the Phillies’ 23rd round draft pick in June this year. “As far as communication with the pitchers and stuff like that, he’s helped me a lot with that and I’m really enjoying it.

“It’s just been sequencing different hitters as far as with pitches and just controlling the game behind the plate. Just overall I can tell he’s helped me a lot.”

A quality of Hockenberry that stood out and possibly helped him land the new role is his attention to the other language commonly spoken around U.S. baseball diamonds besides English.  With so many Latin players throughout the sport, the York County, PA native always focused on building bonds with each of his teammates.  A way to do that was to do his best to master the Spanish language.

Not only does it now help him form bonds with and communicate with his pitching staff, but it has inspired his multicultural group to help one another follow suit.

"I have witnessed, I have snuck up on, I have found out that my bullpen…they’ve been teaching each other Spanish and English," Hockenberry stated.  "That’s one of the things that I pride myself on the most is being able to speak it myself to where the American guys realize that, 'Oh my God, our coach, he's a normal American, Pennsylvania guy that can speak Spanish. I should probably learn this.'"

Hockenberry has some quality mentors to learn from as he masters the techniques around teaching young pitchers.  Led by Phils minor league pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves and roving pitching coach Carlos Arroyo, Hockenberry is well on his way to becoming an exceptional teacher, leader and inspiration to his players.

"I just think Matt's a really sharp guy," Jordan said.  "He's got a lot of passion for what he's doing. He spends a lot of time there. He's not in a hurry to get in and get out. He's all about those players which is what we want.  He's gonna be really good at what he does."

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Sixto update and a bit more

Sanchez with Lakewood last year, image- J. Floyd
I heard from plenty of social networking followers and other folks online in the past few days either expressing displeasure that presumably I left out asking about certain players in my recent interview with Joe Jordan.  Others have politely asked for details on a promising pair of top prospects' recovery from their respective injuries.

The fact of the matter is that Joe, or anyone else for that matter, doesn't always have an answer for every question.  Additionally, I may not ask about every topic or player that everyone wants to hear about. 

But, I am here, at long last, to offer some insight that my readers have been craving.

Sixto Sanchez, the Phillies top pitching prospect is not officially done for the season.  The 20-year-old right-hander has been out of action for the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers since early June with the aforementioned elbow inflammation.

The Phillies are hoping to get the Dominican Republic native into some game action before season's end.

"Our thoughts are he's back pitching late August," Joe Jordan said this morning via text message.

That's good news for the Threshers and their fans.  Clearwater is two games back in the Florida State League North Division standings.  The addition of Sanchez could help them clinch a post season spot or battle into the FSL playoffs.  Though he would likely throw rehab outings with a Gulf Coast League (rookie short-season level) team before joining the Threshers.

In eight starts this year, Sanchez posted a 4-3 record with a 2.51 ERA, a .224 batting average against and an 8.7 K/9 mark.

Jordan has not commented on injured 2018 first round draft pick Alec Bohm.  The righty-hitting third baseman is out of action with a left shin contusion.

Bohm is no longer in a walking boot and has been seen working around the Phils' complex in Florida to get ready for a return to action.

In 14 games with Class A short-season Williamsport, prior to being sidelined, the 3rd overall draft selection tallied a .192 batting average with a double and four RBI. 

Additionally, I've heard from a source that talented lefty David Parkinson is headed to Clearwater after a dazzling campaign with Class A Lakewood this year.  The six-foot-two 210-pounder boasts an 8-1 record and the South Atlantic League's best ERA at 1.51 through 17 starts for the BlueClaws this year. 

The 22-year-old lefty was the Phillies' 12th round draft pick out of Mississippi last year. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

PhoulBallz Interview: Lakewood pitching coach Brad Bergesen

Brad Bergesen, image- Jay Floyd
Last week I talked with Class A Lakewood pitching coach Brad Bergesen about his staff, a group that leads the South Atlantic League with a 2.79 mark through action on Tuesday.

Prospects discussed include relievers Connor Brogdon and Zach Warren, injured starter Kyle Young, as well as lefty starters David Parkinson and Will Stewart.

Read ahead for that interview.

-We saw Spencer Howard with a nice outing today.  What did you see from him?
I saw a lot of good there today.  I was very, very pleased with the stuff he was featuring today.  I think he had four plus pitches.  There was a few hitters where- two, three hitters—where he got a little out of whack, but then he regained it, but overall I thought it was a very, very good outing for him.

-Where does this outing rank among his other efforts this season?

I think overall, just a solid outing for him.  I think it’s one he can build his confidence on.  I think he had 10 strike outs today, so his stuff was there.  It could have easily been one run for him today, so the line is not always indicative of how he pitched.  Stuff wise, it was electric at times.

-Connor Brogdon gets a save and has been one of the key guys out of this team's bullpen in the second half.  What can you share about what he's giving you?

He’s really stepped up for us and he really stepped up for us today, getting a two-inning save today. It was big. He got a few runners on there and I saw him really execute some timely pitches today.

-Has it been an easy transition following the loss of a couple of All-Star out of the bullpen with the promotions of both Kyle Dohy and Addison Russ?

Dohy and Russ were two big guys for us in the back end of the bullpen, but this game and some of the other games and life, it’s about opportunity. And so with them being gone and you’ve seen guys like Zach Warren and Connor Brogdon really step up to it and answer that call.

-What weapons do Brogdon and Warren feature that are helping them succeed?

Brogdon obviously he’s got a real good fastball. He’s an extension guy, so he’s releasing it closer to home plate than most guys, so those are two of his weapons. I think it’s his fastball and where he’s releasing it, so it’s going to look a little harder to the hitter. I think he’s got a really good change up and his slider, I saw it today, I saw some really good ones.

Zach Warren his fastball and curve ball mix is plus. His curve ball is as sharp as you’re going to see and he’s able to show that third pitch too of change up and at times it’s plus as well.

Kyle Young, image- Jay Floyd
-When Kyle Young was active and in this BlueClaws rotation what did you see from him?

I saw a lot of good with him. You know, just with his height, for as big as he is, he’s got a pretty good feel for some of his pitches and command, so hopefully, we’ll get him back soon.

-I've talked to several guys on this pitching staff and they're pretty fond of you and rave about how you've helped them, giving you a lot of credit.  What does it mean to you to have these guys crediting you with their efforts this year?

I appreciate it, but by no means do I want to sit there and take the credit, ‘cause I think it’s just a byproduct of the Phillies organization. I think on the pitching side, what they’re doing between Rafael Chavez our minor league pitching coordinator Carlos Arroyo, he’s one of our pitcher rovers, those are two guys that are putting forth the philosophy and giving these guys the foundation, so that by the time they get to me they have a great foundation and maybe we tweak something here or there. But I think it’s really a byproduct of what they in the organization are doing with their guys.

-David Parkinson has been really outstanding for the team this year and I think some people may have expected him to come back down to Earth and his numbers haven't faced.  Leads the league in ERA.  Can you talk about him a bit?

I mean he’s been outstanding for us this year. He’s not your guy that’s going to light up a radar guy, so maybe that’s how he kind of slipped through the cracks, but he’s been outstanding for us,. He’s a guy—he’s a very analytical guy. He’s a big command and sequence so he’s got a real good idea of what he’s doing, so he’s always thinking a pitch or two ahead.

-And Will Stewart, (who has the league's second best ERA)?

Will has a plus sinker. His two-seam and his change up are his bread and butter. But he’s also able to spin some breaking balls too, so he’s got a good feel for that.