Sunday, September 30, 2018

2018 Exit Interview: First baseman Madison Stokes

Madison Stokes, image- Jay Floyd
Selected in the 10th round of this year's MLB amateur draft, corner infielder Madison Stokes was quick to make an impact in his pro career, helping the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws reach the postseason.

The 22-year-old righty hitter enjoyed a swift ascent, playing six games in the rookie level Gulf Coast League before earning a promotion to Class A short-season Williamsport.  As a member of the Crosscutters, Stokes sported a .338/.452/.506 slash line in 22 games.

Promoted again to Lakewood in early August, the South Carolina native would posted a .260 average with a homer and 11 RBI in 27 contests.

Prior to the end of the season, I chatted with Stokes, a University of South Carolina product, about his transition to the minor leagues, his draft experience and more.  Read ahead for that interview.


-What experiences did you have prior to the draft that prepared you most for playing pro ball?

I think playing in the ACC in that conference for sure has prepared me for the pitching and the pace of the game.  The coaches there they prepared us for this level of pro ball.  I give props to them.  But I think playing in the best conference in college baseball has for sure prepared me for it, as far as the pitchers, the hitters and the pace of the game.

-How big of an adjustment was it or what was the transition like from college to the minor leagues?

Yeah, it's not much different.  You're just meeting new guys, trying to learn names.  Especially with coordinators and managers.  So, trying to learn all the names, get acclimated moving up to different teams, and I started out in the GCL and the pace of that game compared to here is different.  So, just try to acclimate yourself to the level of pace of that game the level of competition, as it obviously gets better as you move up.  Just try to make in-game adjustments, as far as everyone out there competing and meeting new guys and learning how to play with them.

-What did you know about the Phillies organization before you signed with them?

Not a whole lot.  Not a whole lot, no.  I found out on Twitter that I got drafted by the Phillies and I was really excited.  I had a teammate a couple years back that got drafted by the Phillies, Kyle Martin.  So, I didn't know a whole lot about them.

-What's your relationship with Kyle?  He's a guy that's played in the system for a few years and he's been through here with the BlueClaws.

We were good buddies when we were in school.   I haven't talked to him lately.  I know he's over there in Clearwater.  I haven't had communication with him.  But he's one of my good buddies.

-Finding out about getting drafted on Twitter seems pretty unique.  I think most guys would gets a heads up ahead of time.  How did that go?

I was with my girlfriend on the couch, after we were cleaning her house, just waiting (for any news) and she saw my phone light up, found out on Twitter that my name got called.  She freaked out and ran outside.  I looked at my phone and it said I got drafted by the Phillies.  Then, my scout called me.  So, it was a really exciting time.  It was a humbling and cool moment.

-How did you celebrate?

We had a little leaving party before I left to get started with my pro career.  I guess it was kind of a celebration to have some family and friends and old coaches, people that have meant a lot to my life and people that have helped me get to where I am today.  So that was really neat to have them there for me that day.

-Was there a team or a player that you grew up as a fan of?

I didn't watch a lot of baseball growing up.  Just because we were out in the country in a small town and we didn't watch a lot of television.  I guess maybe a little bit of the Braves, if any team at all.  I liked Derek Jeter and I enjoyed watching a bunch of those guys.  I never really had a favorite team.  I guess Derek Jeter would be my favorite player.

-Was it that you were busy playing the game as opposed to watching others play it?

Well, now I watch as much baseball as I can.  Before, we were out in the country, we were always outside just doing whatever.  We weren't really allowed to stay inside and play video games and sit in front of  the TV screen.  But the more I got older, the more I played the game, the more I loved the game and the more I watched it.  Now, I watch as much as I can.

-Is there a guy that stands out more than others as a guy you would watch more and maybe want to emulate?

I really enjoy watching Mike Trout just because he has so much fun playing the game and he's the best player, I personally think.  But I'll pick out things from every single player that I can.  I watch every player that comes on hoping to see what could work out for me that I could pick out from them.  But I enjoy watching Mike play.  I enjoy watching Alex Bregman play, Carlos Correa.  They just play the game really hard and you tell they have a lot of passion for the game.

-Are you looking forward to instructs?

For sure!  It's exciting.  There'll be a bunch of coordinators there and I can continue to build relationships with them, get to know them, allow them to get to know me as a person and a player.  And I think it's great opportunity for me and a couple guys to go down there and go to instructs.

Monday, September 24, 2018

2018 Exit Interview: OF Matt Vierling

Matt Vierling, image- Jay Floyd
Outfielder Matt Vierling was a key mid-season addition to the Lakewood BlueClaws lineup that made it to the Class A South Atlantic League finals.  In 50 games, the 22-year-old posted a .293 batting average with 15 doubles, six homers and 25 RBI.

A 5th round draft selection this year by the Phillies out of Notre Dame, Vierling posted a .420/.453/.580 slash line in 12 games with short-season Class A Williamsport prior to joining the BlueClaws.

Earlier this month, I talked with Vierling, a Missouri native, about his transition from college ball to the minors, heading the the fall instructional league, experiencing New Jersey for the first time and plenty more.  Read ahead for that full interview. 


-What experiences did you have prior to the draft that prepared you for pro baseball?

Well, going through college at Notre Dame, there's a lot of things in college with the academics and everything and the baseball, playing in a tough conference in the ACC, and, you know, the school part taught me how to manage my time, but baseball wise I developed in college and learned a lot of valuable lessons there and met a lot of special people.  I continue to talk with a lot of people from Notre Dame, some people that I'm close with that have been in pro ball, about how they went about their first seasons and what was best for them, what worked for them and I've kind of done what they did, as far as mental game stuff and just go about every day and it has really helped me a lot this first season, so it's been going pretty well so far.

-The guys you're able to keep in touch with, are those guys closer to your class or are there guys that are long removed from Notre Dame that are still available to learn from? 

It does go back further.  Obviously, I still talk with some of my best friends in my class but there are some people there that have played pro ball before and they've been through it and those are the best people to talk to.  You can learn about what they would have done differently, or what lessons they learned and maybe I can use some of those and put it into my business here.  There are just certain things they did at the beginning of their pro careers that have helped me here.

-Well, what is on my mind when you mention the school name is a couple guys specifically.  Phillies fans would know one big Notre Dame name, Brad Lidge.  And BlueClaws fans might recall a guy that went to the postseason with this team eight or nine years ago named Jeremy Barnes that is now coaching in the minors with Houston.  Have you ever had a chance to talk with those guys?

I actually haven't touched base with any of those guys.  Trey Mancini's one of the guys.  He's with the Orioles right now.  I haven't talked to him that much, but we have a couple guys that were around the baseball team a lot there.  One of those guys is Steve Sollmann.  He was around the team a lot.  He helped me a lot with how he went about his business in his first pro year.  And the stuff he implemented has helped me a lot.

As far as Brad Lidge, I know his cousin Ryan Lidge.  He's with the Yankees.  He's a good friend of mine.  They're cousins.  Other than that, there's other guys that are in pro ball that have helped me out too.  It's good to have those connections there.

-Just speaking of the transition to turning professional and joining a new organization, how did the transition go for you?  Was it as you expected?

You know, traveling around a bunch, right after college, it wasn't overwhelming, but it was a lot.  But once I got comfortable, especially being here and I knew I was going to be here for a while just getting to know the guys-- it's just like going to play summer ball and you get to know the guys and they become your best friends for that period of time and it means even more now, going to the playoffs.  And being in this organization, being around them all the time, especially for the future as well.  It's definitely cool to make those relationships.  It was definitely a lot at first, but getting to know the guys-- they're all awesome dudes and it's fun to be a part of.

-Is there anybody in the Phillies system that you knew or competed against before coming and signing here?

So, competing...I played against Colby Fitch and Quincy Nieporte.  Quincy went to Florida State and Colby went to Louisville.  They're in our division of the ACC, so we play them every year.  So, I definitely competed against those guys, but I didn't know anybody coming here.  I didn't know anybody in the organization personally.

-You've posted some great numbers and have been an excellent contributor toward the team.  But you're still early in your career and many fans may not know you yet.  So, if you were going to educate people about your game, what are some of your strengths?  What would you say that you pride yourself on?

One thing I really try to do above all else is give all the effort I can possibly give every single at bat and play.  Just go as hard as I can, every single pitch.  But, you know, I love playing defense.  I love running around the outfield.  I love running around the bases.  And hitting wise- a contact hitter who can hit for some power here and there and just try to do everything really well, just try to do everything the best I can and do everything I can to help the team.

-I think barring a rare exception, guys in their draft year are always lined up to go to fall instructs following the season.  Is that something you're looking forward to?

Yeah, so I'm going to instructs and yeah, I'm excited about it.  Hearing from all the guys here and a lot of the guys have been through it once, some of them even twice.  They say that every coordinator and all the coaches will be there, which will be great to get around them and talk to them about what helped them and all their experiences. It's just going to be a good month of baseball where I can focus on developing and possibly trying to learn things that might help me.  Yeah, it'll be fun.  I'm looking forward it.

-What are your impressions or thoughts on New Jersey since coming here?

It's been awesome.  At Notre Dame, there were a couple guys on my team that live 15 or 20 minutes from the stadium, so I've been staying with them and they've been showing me around here in New Jersey and it's beautiful.  I mean the beaches are awesome and the weather as of late has been pretty nice, so I'm liking it a lot.

-Did you know much about New Jersey before coming here to play?

I really didn't.  I really didn't know much other than the show Jersey Shore.  I watched that, but I think for the most part I didn't know much more about New Jersey.

-Do you see a lot of those types, from the show, when you are out here?

Not many around here.  I guess that's a good thing.  But for the most part, yeah, I didn't really know much, but it's been cool.  There people are awesome around here.  The stadium is beautiful and the fans are great.

-How about the Phillies organization?  Did you have much knowledge about the team before they drafted you?

I didn't know much, but one definitely I knew about was Brad Lidge, because of Ryan.  But one big one was Ryan Howard.  He's from St. Louis where I'm from.  He went to high school out there and went to Missouri State, so I knew a lot about him.  He's a legend around here and has his number retired, out in center field.  I know they're an awesome organization and I'm pretty grateful to be drafted by them.  I'm happy I'm where I'm at.

Friday, September 21, 2018

2018 Exit Interview: RHP Seth McGarry

Seth McGarry, image- Jay Floyd
Righty reliever Seth McGarry joined the Phillies last year as part of a trade that sent pitcher Joaquin Beniot to the Pirates.  Since joining the Phillies organization, the 24-year-old has been a contributor on the field and behind the scenes.

McGarry, who was an 8th round draft selection in 2015 out of Florida Atlantic, had a solid 2018 campaign with the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils.  In 45 appearances the six-foot 180-pounder posted a 2-4 record with four saves, a 3.99 ERA, a .238 batting average against and an 8.6 K/9 mark.

Prior to the end of the regular season, I talked to McGarry about his pitch repertoire, his upcoming assignment to the prestigious Arizona Fall League, helping teammates in the Phils organization improve their offerings and plenty more.  Read ahead for my full interview with Seth.


-I hear good things about you.  That you're a helper and an educator and you share grips and pitches with other guys to help them improve their own repertoires.  These are gleaming reviews.  If you can, share some thoughts with me on helping out guys like Tyler Gilbert and Aaron Brown.

I mean, we learn a lot from our pitching coaches, but I feel like we learn the most, probably, from each other.  Everyone's different and you can kind of ask guys around for what they think about different pitches or different grips and kind of trying to understand different concepts for pitches.  So, with Tyler Gilbert, we had a guy on our team, Trevor Bettencourt, who threw cutters, but he throws his kind of different and we were just messing around, because I was trying to throw a cutter too and I was explaining to Gilbert the concepts of how I was trying to throw it and he just picked it up in about two days and it became one of his better pitches.  And then we kind of went over the concept of how it's more of a weak contact pitch and he freakin' just took off with it.

-How do you feel about being able to help another guy and contribute to his success?  Because I can ask a coach and they'll tell me everything, every step someone takes is rewarding and I don't know how much reward players can feel beyond their own successes, so is that rewarding for you to be able to see other guys taking strides with your help?

Oh, yeah!  Especially, when it's-- I'm new to the Phillies over the past year, but he was one of the first guys that I met and just seeing him start to soar and excel, especially with something I helped him with,  makes me feel good, but it's really cool to see him doing well.

-Arizona Fall League rosters came out recently and you're headed to pitch there.  Congratulations on that, it's always an honor to go play there.  What are your thoughts on that news?

Thanks.  It was pretty exciting to hear.  It's been kind of a bumpy season.  Had some ups and downs, but things have been clicking a little bit lately and when I got news that I was going there, it was pretty exciting 'cause I get a chance to continue what I've been building off lately.  

-Something that could be surprising to some is that going out there to play is a true assignment.  There's no, "Who's available in October and November?"  Is there a hint of disappointment that you might miss something you planned or does the honor of playing out there override all of that?

It's really exciting when it comes to baseball, but, for me, I had a couple things planned, but this overtakes that.  It's a great opportunity.  It's not something you want to pass up.

-Does it make it easier to be going with several guys from your organization?

Yeah, it definitely makes it a lot easier.  It's tough going somewhere new where you don't know anyone.  I've done that already, so it's nice to be going with some teammates and friends.

-Speak on that a little bit, because last year you switch organizations as part of a trade, coming over from the Pirates.  Is that also exciting to know this other organization scouted you and wants you to join their team?

Yeah, it was pretty cool.  It was a little different.  Kind of like getting drafted all over again.  New coaches, coordinators, new teammates, it was nice.  The Clearwater bullpen was kind of stacked, so I had already talked to a bunch of the bullpen guys previously in the season before I went over there, so I wasn't completely the new guy.  I already had some acquaintances and I've played against those guys for several years, so it was nice to actually meet the guys and become a Phillie.  

-I talked to guys on the Phillies side and I'll ask the questions about if there's a rivalry between the Phillies teams and the Yankees teams.  But I have had guys like Rhys Hoskins tell me that the rivalry is more with the Pirates.  Do you notice that from that side at all?  Is it 'cause the teams play each other at every level?


It's a little bit of that.  On the other side in the minor leagues with the Pirates, they're really big on pitching inside, so a lot of guys get hit, so a lot of teams don't like them.  You kind of feel the rivalry different places you go, some teams like each other and you kind of build rivalries with individual guys that you play against through years and years in the minors.

-Is that somebody that's getting the best of you and you feel like you need to triumph and get your turn?

Yeah, something like that.

-Is there somebody at this level that you have a rivalry with?

Not really right now, but it's been there before.

-What's the full pitch repertoire for you right now and what are your strengths?

Sinker, four seam, those are the two that I like to use together.  I throw a slider off the sinker and usually a 12-6 curve ball off the four seam, especially later in the count.

-Is there something that you see the most success with?

It had been the sinker with just the mentality of it of just trying to force contact and get the ball on the ground. 

-Before pro ball was there a moment in youth ball or amateur ball that was a standout moment for you of when you knew this was your path or that playing professionally could be a possibility for you?

I'd probably just say high school summer ball, after playing on a team where a bunch of guys got drafted, it gave me hope that it could work out for me.

-Player wise, was there anybody that, as a kid, you admired a lot or maybe wanted to emulate?

Not really any individual players.  

-Was there a team you grew up as a fan of?

Kind of the Rays, because it was the closest to home for me.

-Were you more interested in others sports?

I iked playing basketball, but more so I just like playing sports rather than watching them.  So, I kind of was more into a game or a practice and focused on those.

-Is there anybody else that you've played with that's achieving big things in the pro's?

Probably my best friend that I was in the Pirates organization with (Daniel Zamora) he was also traded this past year to the Mets and he got called up to the big leagues, so seeing him pitch on TV has been really cool.

-Is that somebody that you just played with in the pro's or something prior?

Just in the pro's, but we pretty much were attached at the hip.  Pretty much everything- throwing routine, stretch, lift, even just driving to the field together.

-So you're excited about him.  Is he still tuned in to what you're doing?

Oh, yeah!  He still keeps an eye on me.  He's a really good guy.  

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Lakewood falls as Lexington takes Sally League title

Spencer Howard, image- Jay Floyd
LAKEWOOD, NJ- Only one team can with the last game and unfortunately it wasn't the home club at FirstEnergy Park on Friday night as the Lexington Legends (Royals affiliate) nabbed a 2-1 victory and, in the process, their second Class A South Altantic League championship.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th, the Lakewood BlueClaws failed to plate a run and fell in the best-of-five series, three games to one.

Lakewood's lone run came in the 6th inning on a Jhailyn Ortiz RBI single.  Manager Marty Malloy waved another runner home that was gunned down at the plate.

Lexington took the lead back in the top of the 9th on a sacrifice fly by shortstop Cristian Perez, who doubled in the Legend's first run in the 5th.  The sac fly brought home left fielder Brewer Hicklen, who beat a close play at the plate.

"We had two plays at the plate, one was our guy being out and the other was their guy being safe and that was the difference in the game," said Lakewood manager Marty Malloy.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard, who threw a no-hitter on this same field one week prior, to clinch the BlueClaws' trip to the finals, lasted just five innings in the championship round.  According to Malloy, the talented right-hander tweaked his back and his removal from the game was a precautionary measure.  The 22-year-old is not expected to have any lasting symptoms.

Disappointment sat heavy with the team following the loss, but Malloy was already reflecting on all the positivity that was the 2018 BlueClaws season.

"I feel for that group 'cause I know what they've given every day.  They didn't just give it one day.  They gave for 145, so you know, nobody's every satisfied finishing in second place," Malloy said.  "A lot of people didn't think we'd have the opportunity to play for the championship, but that whole group out in the locker room, they believed in each other since day one.  I'm proud of them.  I'm proud of every one of them.  I'm proud of my staff.  What a good season.  It stinks that it had to come down to a loss, especially being here at this ballpark with these fans that supported us the way they have.  What a year."

Indeed.

Bonus notes: 

Malloy, who is wrapping up his second season with Lakewood, said he is contractually committed to returning to the Phillies organization next year.  Though, he does not know where that assignment will be yet.

Lakewood standout Jake Scheiner, who led the team in batting average with a .296 and played third base, first base and left field this season, will add another position to his repertoire.  The 23-year-old righty batting All-Star will head to the Phillies' fall instructional league and dabble behind the plate to see how it goes.  The enhanced versatility can only help the youngster.

James McArthur threw three scoreless frames in relief for Lakewood in game four.  His tally of consecutive scoreless innings dating back to his time with short-season Class A Williamsport is at 33 2/3.  The 21-year-old righty was this year's 12th round Phillies draft selection. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Lakewood dropped by Lexington, trails in championship series

LAKEWOOD, NJ- The Class A Lakewood BlueClaws fell behind early and could not mount a comeback as they fell in game three by a score of 6-3.  The 'Claws not trail the South Atlantic League Championship Series two games to one in the best of five series and will need wins in the next two games of the series or Lexington will prevail as the league champions.

On a night when a steady mist kept the grass and the baseballs damp, the BlueClaws struggled in the field.  Five Lakewood errors helped Lexington amass their run total.

The 'Claws added a balk, two wild pitches and a passed ball to its collection of miscues on the losing effort.

BlueClaws skipper Marty Malloy expressed frustration with his team following the defeat.

"Obviously, we're not happy with the way we played.  It was a sloppy game," Malloy said in his office after a meeting with the team's coaching staff.  "It's not something that we've done very often this year.  It was very minimal.  We didn't play good enough to win."

Lakewood starting pitcher Andrew Brown was touched for five runs (three earned) on nine hits while striking out three and walking three.  The 20-year-old right-hander, who was the Phillies' 13th round draft selection in 2016, took the loss.

Jake Scheiner, image- Jay Floyd
A bright spot for the Lakewood offense that left seven runners in scoring position in the game's first eight frames was first baseman Jake Scheiner, who notched four hits in the contest.  Tasked with starting a rally when he lead off the ninth, Scheiner struck out against Legends closer Tad Ratliff, who retired the BlueClaws offense in order.

Righty reliever Luis Carrasco tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief for Lakewood, striking out four batters.

"At the end of the day we've got to come back tomorrow and be ready to go.  You know, there is no (next day) if we don't come ready to play tomorrow," Malloy stated.

Trailing in the series, the BlueClaws will need to win on Friday and Saturday nights or they'll see the visiting Legends celebrate a championship on their field.

Taking the mound for Lakewood in the must-win game four on Friday will be righty Spencer Howard, who recorded a historic no-hitter in his last start that clinched the division championship and a trip to the championship series just seven days prior.  Malloy says the team

"After that last start, obviously, we all feel good that (Howard)'s gonna be in there tomorrow.  Hopefully, he replicates what he did last time," Malloy said.  "I mean he'll be excited, we'll all be excited tomorrow to have him on the mound tomorrow and get us to a game five."

Thursday, September 13, 2018

2018 Exit Interview: LHP Aaron Brown

Aaron Brown, image- Jay Floyd
Aaron Brown was a two-way player at Pepperdine, standing out both as an outfielder as well as a pitcher.  The Phillies' 3rd round draft selection in 2014 was slated to play exclusively on the offensive side after signing that year.  After reaching the Double-A level and seeing his batting average come in under .225, he was switched back to the pitching role last year.

During the final week of the 2018 season, I talked with the 26-year-old left-hander about the transition and his first full year pitching in the professional ranks.

Read ahead for my exclusive interview with Aaron.


-It’s been more than a year since your transition from outfielder to pitcher took place. Talk about the past year with the move that you made.

Honestly, it was a big opportunity for me to make that transition at the time and I just took full advantage of it. It was towards the end of the year last year. I started my pitching program June 2nd, I believe, when I came down from Double-A to Florida. I finished the year in High A there, once I got the arm into shape and threw a couple games in the (Gulf Coast League). But this year, was my first full year pitching and I’ve had some success thus far with staying healthy, so there’s a lot of positives for this year. And the main thing is just to make sure I’m staying locked in with my mechanics, just not trying to do too much and find those mechanics, keep them sound and work on location with the fastball and work on secondary pitches that I had from college. It’s just change up, slider right now. But I’m working on developing some other pitches and just it’s been a fun ride. It’s been a pretty smooth transition. It’s been a lot of fun.

I basically work off my fastball. My slider’s my second best pitch with the fastball, so if I can get ahead with the fastball and just stay ahead and out pitch with the slider—that was my repertoire in college and so I’m trying to stay with that and work with the catchers on how to approach the hitters up here. Obviously, they’re a better caliber than what I faced down in Florida. So, for me, making this transition so quickly it’s important for me to work with them and figure out how to pitch instead of just throw. So, that’s been a huge thing for me this year.

-What’s the velocity been like for you and was there a build-up time for you to get back to or exceed where you had been in college?

Yeah, I mean the velocity has been good pretty much all season. It was good in college, but now that I haven’t thrown in a while, it’s even better this year. I don’t know exactly where I’ve been on average but I know down in Florida I was up to 97. You know, here I’ve been up to 95, 96. So, that’s huge for me to know the arm strength is there and to know I can get up to there when I need it. Staying healthy is the key. Staying on my arm program and the care, you know, they’ve got a great program here, so we’re going to just follow that and work with the pitching coach and it’s all been really good.

-Where does it compare to college velo?

In college I would sit anywhere from 91, 92 up to 94. But I was only throwing once a week in college. I was starting on Sundays, so now that I’m in the bullpen, not throwing too many innings each outing, I can go out there and light it up sometimes here and there and that’s when I found out I can get back up there 95, 96, 97, so I saw it the other night too. So, that was a good sign at the end of the season that I can keep the arm strength up and know that it’s still there.

-Is there any pitchers’ batting practice for you to take at this level to get back and enjoy that other side of the game from time to time?

You know, we did that down in Florida in High A. We did about once a month. It was fun. And then I came up here and there wasn’t too much of that going on. But, recently we had some guys go down, so obviously me having my background in the outfield I was able to take some batting practice in case another guy went down, I was going to be the fourth outfielder. Especially for the National League series. So, it was fun being able to swing the bat a little bit, getting out there, being able to feel it again. You know, it’s something I’ll always love to do. It was my first position and my first love in the game, so it was definitely fun to get out there and take some swings and be ready to go, in case of emergencies. It was good to know I still had it.

-Is there anyone on the Threshers pitching staff or the Reading pitching staff that helped you adapt to the bullpen and the know level or excel in the new role.

Yeah, starting down in Florida it was really encouraging, ‘cause all the guys down there are more experienced and have more years pitching professionally, so just to pick their brains and to work with them on things was good. And then coming up here, these guys have been battling in Double-A, it’s a much higher level and getting to pick their brains as well and just work with them and my throwing partner Seth McGarry has been helpful with some different grips and he’s worked with me every single day, making sure my arm slot stays the same angle and that kind of stuff. Everybody out here in the bullpen has been a huge help. With their experience at this level it has been huge for me to watch them and how they go about things. And then also working with the pitching coach, (Steve Schrenk) and even the starters come around once in a while and I can ask them questions too. It’s just helped a lot.

-You mentioned a couple times, I think, consistency and mechanics and I know Schrenky’s big on that- repetition and making sure guys can stick with that sort of thing. If you can speak to that, maybe what advice or paths Shrenk or Fultz suggest to help out with that.

Yeah, definitely. They definitely stress that we get our “dry work” in, sort of shadow work (throwing without a ball, sometimes holding a towel for resistance) if you want to call it that. But I try to get out there after we stretch and throw, hop on the mound and do anywhere from 15 to 20 reps out of the stretch and out of the wind up, just work on my mechanics, feel my stride, feel the arm coming through and just repeat that delivery over and over. And that helps a lot, over the course of a season, making sure you don’t fall out of your sound mechanics and get into any bad habits. You know I have done that here and there, but I work hard to get back into it each time I start to feel something go wrong, I just get back on the mound, do more reps and hopefully find it again.

-When the concept of switching to pitching was brought to the table last year, is that something you welcomed? Were you excited? Did your heart sink for a second before you can get excited? How did you react?

You know, it was tough at first. Obviously, I fully believed in myself that I would be able to figure it out at the plate and knew I could play the outfield at the big league level and they knew that as well. But it was a little streaky with the bat, so when they sat me down I had a feeling it was going to be this opportunity because they knew that I pitched in college and threw well. So, for me it was exciting and kind of a bummer all in one. 

But I went home that night, thought about it, called my parents, talked to all my family back at home, agents, talked to my girlfriend, made the decision that this is a good opportunity for me. Left-handed pitcher in the Phillies organization is a great opportunity. In any organization. But, knowing that I had the background in pitching, it was just really exciting and wanted to make sure that I took full advantage of the opportunity. And I believe that I have.

-When it’s brought to you, was it an inquiry or an approach to feel you out, or was it an assertion like, “Hey this is what we want to do with you”?

No, not at all. They sat me down and just asked me if it was something that I would like to do. So, it was definitely an option for me. So, like I said, they gave me the option. I wasn’t an assertion. It wasn’t anything like that. They presented me with the opportunity and in my head, I’m like, “Hey this is amazing that they’re giving me the opportunity to continue my career and continuing my dream of playing in Major League Baseball. Like I said, I went home, thought about it and the next day I was like, “I’m all for it. Let’s do this!” And I was all in from that day till today.

-The year you were drafted, how was the decision made to choose if you would be an offensive guy or pitch?

Before the draft, they had asked me what I like to do more and I told them I like to play every day. The game’s meant to be played every single day. I like to play the game hard. I like to play every day. And playing in the outfield is second nature to me and I know in my heart that I love that. And they know that too. So, they—I think in the war room they were split 50-50. But I know the upper guys wanted to see me play the outfield and watch me hit and see me play the game. And I’m very thankful that they let me do that for a while. And there were definitely flashes of being able to make it as an outfielder. But now that the opportunity came up to start pitching, it’s been a fun ride and it’s been a huge blessing to me.

-Deivi Grullon is passing by while we chat, an all-star standout and a young but tenured pro catcher. Has he been a big help to you?

Huge help. And both catchers we have here have been awesome, but Deivi and Austin behind the dish. I can throw to them with ease, knowing they’re going to call a good game. And if I just do my job and try to locate my pitches and make good pitches in big counts and situations, then we’re gonna be alright because they know the game well, they know the hitters well and the read swings very well.  So for me it makes my job easy.  I get the sign and I just throw it in there.  They're working hard back there.  They're brick walls back there, so I'm thankful for both of them working with me and all our pitchers do.

-Any off-season ball plans for you this off-season?

No.  I think they're protecting my arm.  They've got an innings limit on me this year and I'm pretty close to it.  So, I will not be playing any winter ball or fall ball or anything like that.  I'll just be working on my mechanics and training and getting stronger and healthy for next season. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

BlueClaws fall in Lexington, championship seres knotted at a game apiece

The Comeback 'Claws were not able to match their tremendous resilience of one night prior when they fell to Lexington in game two of the South Atlantic League finals.

It was familiar territory as the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws trailed their opponent by a score of 5-0 in the late innings.  Much like Monday's affair that saw Lakewood pound three straight ninth inning homers to climb back into that contest, they got their scoring started on Tuesday with a Rodolfo Duran roundtripper.

That blast came in the 8th inning in game two, but those were the only runs that crossed the plate for the visitors and they fell to the Legends by a final of 5-2. 

BlueClaws starting pitcher Kyle Young tossed four innings, allowing a pair of earned runs while striking out two and issuing two walks to take the loss.  Reliever Julian Garcia was tagged for three earned runs over 2 2/3 innings.  James McArthur, this year's 12th round draft pick by the Phillies, went 1 1/3 innings without allowing any further damage.

The Lakewood offense was paced by right fielder Jhailyn Ortiz, who collected two hits including a double.

Duran has homered in three of four of the BlueClaws' postseason games.  The 20-year-old right batter led the team with 18 home runs this season.  

The series, tied at a game apiece, will return to Lakewood for the remainder of the best-of-five series for games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (if necessary). 

Phils announce Listi and Parkinson as Paul Owens Award winners.

Austin Listi, image- Jay Floyd
On Monday the Phillies announced that outfielder/first baseman Austin Listi and starting pitcher David Parkinson have been named the organizations top minor league performers and earned this year's Paul Owens Award.

Instituted in 1986, the Paul Owens Award is named after the man who spent 48 years in the Phillies organization as a scout, farm director, general manager, manager and senior advisor. The award is given to the organization's most outstanding minor league position player and most outstanding minor league pitcher each season.

Listi, 24, was a 17th round draft selection last year out of Dallas Baptist. This year, in his first full season as a pro, the righty batter opened the campaign with Class A Advanced Clearwater. In 58 games with the Threshers, Listi tallied a .344 average with nine home runs and 45 RBI. Promoted to Double-A Reading in mid-June, List would notch a .281 average with nine home runs and 39 RBI in 65 games there.

Overall, Listi led all Phillies minor leaguers in OPS this year with a .915 mark.

Set to play in the prestigious Arizona Fall League this off-season, Listi was stunned by the news about the award.

"When I got the call that I received the award I was blown away," Listi said. "I am humbled and honored to receive it. All glory to God for sure."

Speaking on his overall experience just one year removed from the MLB amateur draft, Listi described his season as enjoyable.

"I had a ton of fun and learned a lot this season. I enjoyed the grind and enjoyed my teammates and coaches. I’m happy that my family gets to be involved in everything I do, it makes everything that much more special," Listi stated.

Parkinson, 22, was the Phils' 12th round draft selection last year out of Mississippi. He opened the 2018 with Class A Lakewood where he sported an 8-1 record with a 1.51 ERA and a .210 batting average against. Late in the season, the lefty was promoted to Clearwater where he put together a 3-0 record, a 1.24 ERA and a .175 ERA in five outings. His 1.45 ERA was best in the Phils developmental ranks.

BlueClaws take opener of Sally League championship series

On Monday night in Lexington, Lakewood had mustered just a lone hit entering the ninth inning and trailed 5-0.  Five straight hits, three of them consecutive home runs, tied the game, buying the visitors new life and the chance they needed to lock down an extra-inning victory and take charge in the best-of-five South Atlantic League Championship Series.

With the game on the line, the BlueClaws' power (the club's 95 regular season home runs were the largest single season total in team history) was on display in the top of the 9th

Following base hits from pinch hitter Josh Stephen and first baseman Jake Scheiner, catcher Rodolfo Duran mashed a deep fly ball for a three run homer that put the BlueClaws within two runs at 5-3.  Slugging right fielder Jhailyn Ortiz then slammed a fly ball the opposite way that hit near the right field foul pole for a round tripper.  Then a third straight big fly from shortstop Nick Maton tied the contest at 5-5.

Madison Stokes, image- Jay Floyd
Designated hitter Madison Stokes laced a single in the 11th that plated Duran, who had led off the inning with a single.  That gave the BlueClaws their first lead of the contest and they held on to capture the series opener with a 6-5 win.

Set up man Connor Brogdon struck out five, walked one and allowed a hit over two innings of work to earn the win.  Closer Zach Warren struck out two and walked one in a scoreless inning to lock up the victory and notch the save. 

Lakewood starter Damon Jones allowed four earned runs in four frames of work.  Reliever Gustavo Armas allowed another Lexington run in three innings of work.  Luis Carrasco also threw a scoreless inning out of the Lakewood bullpen.

The two teams are back in action as the series continues on Tuesday night in Lexington.  Game three is set to be played in Lakewood on Thursday with games four and five (if necessary) to be played on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

IronPigs season ends with playoff loss to familiar foe

For the third straight season, the Triple-A affiliate of the Phillies, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, came out on the losing end to the Yankees affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders.

Following a dramatic walk-off win on Friday night in which catcher Nick Rickles got the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 13th inning to force a game 4 in the best-of-five series, the IronPigs were just one out away from pushing the series to the maximum.

Closer Pedro Beato was on the mound facing Railriders center fielder Shane Robinson.  Former Phillies prospect Quintin Berry pinch ran at second base.  With Berry in motion, Robinson stroked Beato's pitch up the middle.  Pigs' shortstop Dean Anna fielded the ball, threw to first base too late to make the out.  An aggressive Berry made the most of the moment, darting toward home and scoring to tie the game at 2 runs apiece.

The IronPigs failed to mount any offense in the bottom of the 9th.

Moving into extra innings for the second straight night, the Pigs turned to reliever Ranfi Casimiro, who allowed the first three runners to reach base.  A run scoring ground out gave the Railriders a 3-2 lead, but they weren't through.  Lefty Tom Windle entered the game to try to limit the damage for Lehigh Valley, but second baseman Bruce Caldwell launched a grand slam to put the visitors ahead by a score of 7-2

In the bottom of the frame, the IronPigs went down in order to lock that score in as a final.

The new free runner on second base rule to open every extra inning that was used throughout the minor leagues during the 2018 regular season was not in use during the postseason.

Left-hander Ranger Suarez got  the start for Lehigh Valley.  The 23-year-old went 5 2/3 innings allowing one earned run on three hits while striking out five and walking two.

The IronPigs offense was paced on Saturday by left fielder Danny Ortiz, who notched three hits including a solo homer.  Second baseman Jesmuel Valentin collected two hits while driving in a run.

This year marked the IronPigs' 11th season as the top minor league affiliate for the Phillies.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Lakewood advances to SAL finals on the back of Howard's no-hitter

Spencer Howard, image- Jay Floyd
LAKEWOOD, NJ-- Leaving his coaches struggling for words and forcing his tough guy manager to admit he was tearing up, Friday was the best day of Lakewood pitcher Spencer Howard's life.

The right-hander was electric, dominating division rival Kannapolis (White Sox affiliate) in a nine-inning complete game no-hit shutout that clinched a Northern Division Championship and a trip to the South Atlantic League Championship Series for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws.

Howard, a second round draft choice of the Phillies last year, struck out nine, walked one, hit a batter and tossed a wild pitch, but held the Intimidators without a hit or any runs, in an outing that was as impressive a performance as you could see.

Waves of emotions came over everyone at FirstEnergy Park.  Some expressed their joy with excitement and cheering.  Others, like BlueClaws manager Marty Malloy, felt a little different.

"I'm just at a loss for words," Malloy said, as he reflected on Howard's outing in awe from his office after the victory.  "I've got so many things going through my head, different emotions.  I had tears in my eyes with two outs in the 9th inning tonight waiting for him to get that last out."

The BlueClaws scored just one run of their own, but it was enough to come out on the winning side, thanks to Howard's tremendous effort.

The six-foot-three 205-pounder had everything clicking even before he took the mound.

"You could see in his (warm ups) that he had a little extra 'umph' on the ball," pitching coach Brad Bergesen said.  "He was spotting up really good and he carried that right out into the game.  You could see in the first inning that-- you know, you never expect a no-hitter, but-- you could tell he had some special stuff tonight."

In 23 regular season starts with Lakewood, Howard tallied a 9-8 record with a 3.78 ERA with an 11.8 K/9 mark and a .240 batting average against.

The team's radar gun registered Howard's fastball at 100 MPH at times during the contest.  Hearing that he reached triples digits while locking down a trip for his team to the championship round with a no-hitter led Howard to proclaim Friday as the best day of his life while still in the dugout following the final out of the contest.

Knowledge of what sort of momentous outing was developing as the game went on didn't impact what Howard was feeling on the mound.  There were no nerves to battle through or jitters to make adjustments for. 

"I kind of just stuck to my plan I had going into the game from what I saw and what (catcher Rodolfo) Duran saw from the first game.  Just attack with fastball and if they put it in play, great, but just make my pitches when I have to," Howard explained.

Howard and Bergesen embrace following the no-hitter
Bergesen, who had a lengthy pro career as a pitcher at many levels made a point to have both Howard and Duran sign a score sheet for the night.  It will be a valued memento from a special night in his first season as a coach.

"This is probably the best pitching performance I've gotten to watch in person," Bergesen said.  "I've gotten to see (a no hitter) before, by one of my teammates, but what was at stake tonight and to be able to do that at home it was just- I have no words to describe it.  It was just unbelievable."

Lakewood will travel to Lexington to open the best-of-five championship series on Monday.  The series will see games three, four and five (if necessary) scheduled for three consecutive day beginning next Thursday. 


Friday, September 7, 2018

Another night, another pair of losses in minor league postseason

Just as both teams had done on the previous night, the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs and the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers dropped their respective postseason contests on Thursday.

The IronPigs face elimination from the International League playoffs after falling behind 0-2 in the best-of-five opening round to divisional rival Scranton/Wilkes Barre.

For the Railriders, 23-year-old lefty Nestor Cortes tossed eight innings of one-hit ball to help shut out the IronPigs by a score 3-0 on Thursday.

Catcher Andrew Knapp collected the only safety for the Pigs in their losing effort.

Left-handed All-Star Cole Irvin took the loss, going seven innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits while striking out six and walking only one.

For the Threshers, unfortunately, the loss ended their 2018 run, as they lost the last two games of the best-of-three series, after winning the opener on Tuesday, to lose in the opening round of the Florida State League playoffs.

Clearwater (77-60) wrapped up the season with the league's most wins.

Reliever Trevor Bettencourt was charged with three earned runs in 2/3 inning to be charged with the loss.

Left fielder Grenny Cumana went 3-for-4 with an RBI in the losing effort.

Phillies outfield prospect Mickey Moniak went 2-for-13 with a steal in the three-game series. 

The IronPigs return to action on Friday night at home as they'll need to win three straight from S/WB to advance to the IL finals.

Also in action at home on Friday night will be the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, who need to win one more game in order to advance to the South Atlantic League finals.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Phils affiliates lose two of three playoff contests on Wednesday

In minor league playoff action on Wednesday night, Lakewood was the lone Phillies affiliate to come out victorious out of three teams that played.

In their Class A South Atlantic League divisional series opener, the Lakewood BlueClaws recorded a 4-2 victory by plating a run on a wild pitch and another on a clutch single by infielder Jose Antequera in the 9th inning to break a 2-2 tie at Kannapolis.

Righty reliever James McArthur tossed two scoreless frames to notch the win.  Zach Warren struck out the side to record a save.

Lakewood will return home needing a win to lock down the best-of-three series on Friday with a trip to the SAL championship series on the line.  Game three is slated for Saturday night, if necessary.

Class A Advanced Clearwater, needing a win to lock down a divisional series clinch, after winning game 1 on Tuesday, fell on the road at Daytona by a score of 6-5.

Despite take a 4-0 lead in the top of the 1st inning, thanks to RBI hits from catcher Henri Lartigue, third baseman Luke Williams, designated hitter Edgar Cabral and a sacrifice fly by left fielder Grenny Cumana, the Threshers still fell.

Clearwater starting pitcher Alejandro Requena was chased from the contest in the second inning, after he was tagged for six runs (three earned) in just 1 1/3 innings.

The Phillies' 2016 top overall draft pick Mickey Moniak is 1-for-9 with an RBI in the series thus far. 

The Threshers' bullpen (Alberto Tirado, Jonathan Hennigan, J.D. Hammer and Jakob Hernandez combined to allow just three hits and no runs over 6 2/3 innings.

The deciding game three is set for Thursday in Daytona.

At the Triple-A level, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs fell to Scranton-Wilkes Barre by a score of 3-2 on a walk-off homer in the 9th. 

Starter Enyel De Los Santos went six innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on seven hits while striking out six and walking one.

Tyler Gilbert took the loss when SWB left fielder Mark Peyton struck the deciding blast.

Designated hitter Trevor Plouffe paced the IronPigs' offense with two hits and an RBI.

Game 2 of the best-of-five International League division series takes place at SWB on Thursday.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

BlueClaws ready as postseason set to start in Kannaplois

Matt Vierling, image- Jay Floyd

LAKEWOOD, NJ-- For the BlueClaws club that won the first and second half South Atlantic League Northern division titles, the destination for their bus following the season finale on Monday didn't make a difference.

Confidence among this bunch has been high all season long, which is no surprise considering the Class A Lakewood team notched the most wins in their franchise's history and sported the league's best record at 87-51.

It came down to the last day of the regular season to determine where the Class A BlueClaws would open the 2018 postseason. For West Virginia (Pirates affiliate), it was a "win and get in" scenario.  A win on Monday would lock them in as the dvision's Wild Card entrant.  However, a WV loss opened the door for Kannapolis (White Sox affiliate) to sneak in with a victory of their own.

Thus the journey to Kannapolis, NC for the opening round of the Sally League playoffs got rolling on Sunday evening.

Prior to their opponent being decided, the excitement level in the Lakewood locker room was way up.

"We put in a lot of hard work for this season and, especially since I joined this team in the second half, I've seen what we can do and where ever we're going after this, we're going to go down there and give it everything we got," said Matt Vierling, the Phillies' 5th round draft pick this year.

The 21-year-old righty hitting outfielder has been a considerable contributor to the BlueClaws' lineup throughout the second half, posting a .291 batting average with six homers and 25 RBI in 50 games.

Another new addition to the team for the second half of the season is first baseman Madison Stokes, who batted .260 with a homer and 11 RBI in 27 games with Lakewood after joining the team from short-season Class A Williamsport.

Madison Stokes, image- Jay Floyd
Despite being with the BlueClaws for a rather short period compared to some of the other players on the roster, the righty batting Stokes who was proudly wearing his Second Half Division Champions t-shirt before Monday's final game of the regular season, feels the impact the BlueClaws have had on the league is hugrly important.

"It's exciting to be here my first year in pro ball and be able to make history with the BlueClaws and make a playoff run.

"For us to finish it, which we have a great opportunity to go all the way, then that'd be extremely special, especially for my first year in pro ball," Stokes asserted.

The BlueClaws will open the best-of-three divisional round on Wednesday evening at 7:05PM at Intimidators Stadium.  Games two and three (if necessary) are slated to be played on Friday and Saturday at 7:05PM at Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park.

More 'Claws notes...

Lakewood manager Marty Malloy with go with the following starting pitchers for the three-game series: RHP Andrew Brown (6-3 record, 2.10 ERA), RHP Spencer Howard (9-8 record, 3.71 ERA), LHP Damon Jones (10-7 record, 3.41 ERA).

Lefty Will Stewart (8-1 record, 2.06 ERA in 113 2/3 IP over 20 starts), who was the ace of the team's pitching staff through much of the season and started the Sally League All-Star Game for the Northern division, will not pitch in the postseason, after he recently reached an organization imposed innings limit and was shut down for the year.

Stewart along with OF/1b/3b Jake Scheiner, manager Marty Malloy and pitching coach Brad Bergesen were named last week to the South Atlantic League post-season All-Star team.

The BlueClaws have won three leagues titles in their history- 2006, 2009 and 2010.  

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Pujols enjoying success with improved approach

Jose Pujols, image- Jay Floyd
Following a pair of up and down years, Phillies outfield prospect Jose Pujols has taken strides to improve his approach as well as his outlook and the positive results have been apparent.  

Two seasons ago he looked like a promising slugger who made improvements. Last year he moved up a level and appeared to struggle. This year he’s returned to resembling a talented player on the rise and he's focus on staying on that path.

Pujols, signed as an international free agent at the age of 16 in 2012, was always promising, but showed he could be a powerhouse during his first year of full-season baseball in 2016. As a member, then, of the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, the six-foot-three 175-pounder set that club’s single-season home run record at the time with a mark of 24. Overall in 128 games in the South Atlantic League that year, Pujols tallied a .241 batting average with 82 runs batted in.

He would move up to Class A Advanced Clearwater last year and his offense looked troubling. He batted .194 with just eight home runs and 29 RBI in 90 games for the Clearwater Threshers.

His manager, Shawn Williams, who had coached Pujols at three different levels, earning promotions along with him from Class A short-season Williamsport, to Lakewood and then to Clearwater, never saw his opinion of Pujols take a slip.

“He always told me, ‘You are a leader and don’t forget that!’,” Pujols shared. “He has always been around me and reminding me of the type of player that I am and the type of player that I can become.”

Asked if he feels like a leader around his peers and teammates, the right-handed batter describes leading by example.

“It’s like something that you feel. I just want to always see my teammates playing hard. I will always be there for them. Maybe one time you’re not hitting well, but there’s always something you can do to help your team stay in the game. There’s always something you can do. Maybe a good play, or maybe a good cut off and a relay, or a diving catch, or base running. There’s always going to be something you can do to help them out,” Pujols said.

This year, opening the season repeating the Florida State League, Pujols really turned things around. In 95 games with the Threshers he recorded a .301 average, blasted 18 home runs and drove in 58.

The outstanding production earned him a promotion to Double-A Reading, where he’s posted a .274 average with four homers and 18 RBI through 24 contests in the Eastern League.

The improvement this year is something that Pujols credits partly to an adjustment with his hands and where he holds the bat, but he feels that his statistical rebound was more between his ears. He describes having a better plan and a more solid approach at the plate being critical to his development. Understanding more of what the opposing pitcher is trying to accomplish as well supports his goals at the plate.

Striking out a considerable amount has become something that Pujols, like many power hitters, is known for. This is evident with strike out percentages in recent years: 32.6% in 2016 with Lakewood, 42.6% last year in Clearwater and 33.1% at the combined two levels this season. Though, he doesn't focus on this particular result

"I don’t think about the strike outs at all. I just think about (sticking) with my plan because when you have a plan good things can happen," Pujols stated. "When you have a plan you’ve got a better chance to put a ball in play and you know what you’re trying to do.'

In his first three years of pro ball as a teenager, Pujols played short-season leagues, combining for a .221 average with 15 home runs and 81 RBI over 168 games, part of that time with Williams, the son of former big league manager Jimy Williams, in Williamsport.

Pujols looks at Williams as a father figure and credits him for remaining a believer and a supporter in his abilities.

When the pair first met, Pujols didn't know how to play pepper, a common drill or game that helps players develop hand-eye coordination. Williams mentions that instance to Pujols on occasion as a reminder of how far the young man has come in the game.

A father himself, Pujols has a toddler son in the Dominican Republic. For Pujols, the past couple of seasons as a parent have been difficult. He does his best to communicate with his son often and values every moment he can with his child. Pujols looks forward to a lasting career in baseball that will allow him to bring his son to the United States.

It's his love for the game, as well as his son, that drives him. The boy is named after Yankees great Derek Jeter. Jose and his brother Cristopher, a minor leaguer in the Mets organization, admired the future Hall of Famer so much that they had an agreement during childhood that the first of them to have a son would name him after Yankees all-time hits leader.

What stood out to Pujols so much about Jeter was his respect for the game. A respect that Pujols holds with considerable regard on the field every day, even including umpires in his focus and approach to the game.

"Everything between the lines is one thing," Pujols expressed. "Sometimes (I may want to express displeasure to an umpire) when I feel mad about something, but I just let it go, because after all they are people and they can make mistakes and there is no way that people doesn’t make mistakes. You’re all going to make mistakes once in a while. So, I just let it go and go back to my game and have fun."

With that kind of consideration and outlook, Pujols seems to have the makings of a very good dad. Furthermore, the more he can influence those around him, prevail on the diamond and pepper the opposition, the more fun and success Pujols is bound to enjoy in the Phillies developmental system.