Monday, September 16, 2019

Phillies move on from foursome of developmental coaches

Micucci (right) with Luis Garcia in August, image- Jay Floyd
Early on Monday, I tweeted a bit of a teaser about Phillies minor league staffing moves I had learned about from a pair of sources.  Unclear when the personnel had learned of their fates, I did not want to report the news until all parties had time to address the news in their own ways.

As has been reported by at least another outlet to this point, I am able to confirm that 2019 Class A Lakewood manager Mike Micucci will not be returning to the organization.  Additionally, base running and bunting coordinator Rob Ducey, Gulf Coast League coach Charlie Hayes and Triple-A pitching coach Steve Schrenk are also done in the Phils system.

Micucci was a north Jersey native in his youth and had been hired by the organization less than a year ago.  He worked with Phillies general manager Matt Klentak in Anaheim, which makes his termination even more surprising.

Players that saw action for the BlueClaws this year loved Micucci.  Also, from personal experience, I'd say that, genuinely, Mike could not have been more nice to me each time I encountered him at Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park this year.

Multiple people that I have spoke with feel that another "new hire" that's still under a year into his tenure, Phillies director of player development Josh Bonifay, may be looking to open positions for individuals who are more focused on analytics.

One Phillies minor leaguer who was surprised by the moves expressed concern that with many teams likely going about the same approach, there may not be enough "good analytics guys" to go around.

However, the same player expressed confidence in the current regime, stating that he knows the front office has things under control and will make the right additions.

Hayes had just completed his third season coaching in the Phillies farm system.  He previously played in the big leagues for the Phils, among other teams.  

Ducey, another former Phillies player, had been a coach in the system dating back to 2014.  Schrenk also pitched for the Phils in his playing days and coached in the organization since 2004. 

Additionally, I have heard a rumor that 2019 Clearwater skipper Marty Malloy may be on deck to fill the void left by Ducey.  This transition would leave both full-season Class A teams with vacancies in their managerial positions. 

PhoulBallz Interview: Reading LHP Jonathan Hennigan

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Jonathan Hennigan, image- Jay Floyd
It was a solid campaign in 2019 for lefty pitcher Jonathan Hennigan.  He opened the season with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers and earned a promotion to Double-A Reading in May.

As Clearwater's closer, Hennigan tallied a 0-1 record with seven saves, a 2.25 ERA and a .178 batting average against in 14 appearances.  After joining the Fightin Phils, the 25-year-old was a key contributor in the bullpen, notching a 3-4 record with two saves, a 4.47 ERA and a .275 batting average against.  Overall, the six-foot-four 190-pounder sported a 9.5 K/9 mark and averaged 4.6 BB/9.

Prior to the end of the minor league season, I talked with Hennigan, a 21st round draft pick by the Phillies in 2016, about his season, his goals, his family's lineage in baseball as his grandfather Phil Hennigan pitched in the majors and more.  Read ahead for that complete interview.


-Thanks for taking the time.  It's been a good season for you, man.

Yeah, it's going good.

-Talk about your 2019, because you've garnered some recognition, earned a promotion.

It's been good.  The biggest thing for me has been being able to repeat and stay consistent.  I think that's what I've been able to do lately and it's worked out for me.

-What type of feedback have you gotten this year from coaches as far as where you've gotten compared to where you've been and where things are headed for you?

I think the main thing that's I've gotten (from them) was just stay in my delivery and keep doing what I'm doing.  I feel like as long as I stay down in the zone and do what I can do, then everything is-- success comes.  That's the biggest thing for me, is to not get out of it, not overdo it and not do too much.

-What's you repertoire like now?  Were there any additions or subtractions this year?

No, I don't think so.  It's just me, myself staying into it and finishing strong.

-What's on the pitch menu for you? What's the strength right now?

Right now, it's the curve ball and just repeating my delivery and my sinker, not trying to do too much.  Sometimes I try to be too fine with my sinker and it stays up and it goes side to side versus actually sinking but I think that's really the big thing is to get ahead and stick with my strengths.

-As far as your achievements this year, is this kind of a goal that you set for yourself, reaching the Double-A level?

Yeah, for sure.  I think that's like, when you grow up, you're like, "That guy's in Double-A."  Spring training, the younger guys-- I remember my first year in spring training, you see the Double-A guys and you're like, "Those guys are RIGHT THERE!"  And this is literally like, you're right there.  You're a phone call away (from the big leagues).  It's a good thing to be here.  You've just got to stay strong and not get too caught up in the moment.  

-What's the family support like for you?  Do you get a lot of support?

Oh, yeah!  My family's a big time baseball family.  My fiancee's a professional softball player.  She's a pitcher as well, and my grandpa played in the big leagues, so my dad's been around baseball for a long time.  So, it's heavy in my family.

-Tell me more about the lineage and your lady.

My fiancee is Randi Rupp.  She just finished her second year with the Cleveland Comets.  She got drafted in the first round.  And then my grandpa played with the Mets and Indians from '67 to '73 as a right-handed picher, so it's in the family.  It's gonna stay there for a while.  

-Excellent.  Does that drive you to try to achieve more and reach that level, because it's in the family?

I mean, I love the game.  Don't get me wrong.  It would be cool to continue it, you know what I mean?  I would say it would.  It does.  But you've got to love this game.  If you don't love the game, you're not going to make it far.  

-How about your pitching coach Aaron Fultz?  What's it like playing for him?

He's the man.  He's been in the big leagues for eight-plus, nine years he played.  Left-handed pitcher.  And he always tells me, "I didn't have the best stuff, but I pitched."  And that's the biggest thing.  You ain't gotta be perfect. That's what I take from him.  You don't have to be too fine.  He's really strong on the mental game and when he sees something, he lets you know and it clicks.  That's what I really get out of him.  That's what I take from him.

-Any differences you've noticed with a newer regime over the past couple years, are there differences you can see related to analytics?

Yeah, it's a plus.  Having the numbers and the stats is a plus.  I think everybody sees how the shifts work and I think the biggest thing is understanding your hitters.  And we get that like every other team gets that.  And it's all out there.  You can go look at every big leaguer right now on the internet.  All their stuff is out there and everybody knows about it.  Everybody knows who you are.  It's like you go out and pitch, everybody's got your number, so you just have to pitch.  I think more times than not stats say that pitchers win.  A great hitter's .300?  .280?  You win 73 percent of the time, so stick to your strengths and nothing else will beat that. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Reading Eagle survey ranks top Phils prospects

Alec Bohm, image- Jay Floyd
Mike Drago, who covers the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils for the Reading Eagle, is back with his annual prospect survey.

Each August, Mike surveys a collection of writers, broadcasters and media types that cover the Phillies minor league levels closely to collect each person's list of ranked Phillies prospects. Using a point system, awarding points based on rank, he will tally out a complete list of all the organization's best developmental talents.

Per Mike, third baseman/first baseman Alec Bohm was listed as the top prospect on two-thirds of the submissions.

Here is a sample of the list, the top 10, right from the Reading Eagle piece.

1. Alec Bohm: Batted .367 at Lakewood. Scored a .395 on-base percentage at Clearwater. Slugged .500 at Reading. Pretty good for his first full season as a pro. Charlie Manuel gives him high marks for his approach as a hitter and thinks he could hit 40 bombs in the big leagues some day. What's not to like?


2. Spencer Howard: Pro scouts treated him like he was invisible in high school. He walked on at college, blossomed, and was drafted in the second round. Now he's got a 98 mph fastball and a fearless demeanor on the mound. Top-of-rotation potential.


3. Mickey Moniak: Takes a ton of abuse on social media because fans expect a No. 1 overall pick to look like Joe Mauer or Bryce Harper. Moniak's not those guys but he'll be a productive big leaguer. Showed at 21 he can compete at a high level.


4. Bryson Stott: The 14th overall pick in June out of UNLV has an impressive hit tool but the jury remains out on his defense. Not everyone's sure he has the arm for shortstop. Batted .274 with .370 on-base average in pro debut at rookie-level Williamsport.


5. Adonis Medina: Showed flashes in his Double-A debut but overall was inconsistent and finished with 4.94 ERA and unimpressive strikeout numbers. Entered season as top pitching prospect in system before Howard blew past him.


6. Francisco Morales: Won just once in 15 starts for Lakewood but at 19 he was young for the league and showed progress, posting a 3.29 ERA in the second half. Averaged 12.0 strikeouts per nine.


7. Simon Muzziotti: Impressive showing in Florida State League for the 20-year-old outfielder, who earned an All-Star nod and finished strong, batting .295 in the second half.


8. Damon Jones: Left-hander sizzled in Clearwater (1.54 ERA) and Reading (0.82) but struggled, like others, with slick major league ball at Triple-A. Hard thrower with bullpen potential.


9. Erik Miller: Fourth-round pick in June out of Stanford pitched at three levels and finished with some strong starts at Lakewood. Right-hander with 97 mph heater.


10. Connor Seabold: A strained oblique cost the former third-round pick most of his season but he was terrific after arriving in Reading in late July, with a 2.25 ERA over seven starts.

The complete top 30 for the survey looked like this...
2019 Phillies prospect list
(with position, highest minor league level)
1. Alec Bohm, 3B, Reading 
2. Spencer Howard, P, Reading 
3. Mickey Moniak, OF, Reading 
4. Bryson Stott, SS, Williamsport 
5. Adonis Medina, P, Reading 
6. Francisco Morales, P, Lakewood 
7. Simon Muzzioti, OF, Clearwater 
8. Damon Jones, P, Lehigh Valley 
9. Erik Miller, P, Lakewood 
10. Connor Seabold, P, Reading 
11. Deivy Grullon, C, Lehigh Valley 
12. JoJo Romero, P, Lehigh Valley 
13. Rafael Marchan, C, Clearwater 
14. Enyel De Los Santos, P, Lehigh Valley 
15. Luis Garcia, SS, Lakewood 
16. David Parkinson, P, Reading 
17. Nick Maton, 2B, Reading 
18. Connor Brogdon, P, Lehigh Valley 
19. Jhailyn Ortiz, OF, Clearwater 
20. Mauricio Llovera, P, Reading 
21. Kyle Glogoski, P, Clearwater 
22. Cole Irvin, P, Lehigh Valley 
23. Kyle Dohy, P, Lehigh Valley 
24. Colton Eastman, P, Reading
25. Edgar Garcia, P, Lehigh Valley
26. Darick Hall, 1B, Reading
27. Austi Listi, 3B, Lehigh Valley
28. Kendall Simmons, SS, Williamsport
29. Johan Rojas, OF, Williamsport 
30. Josh Stephen, OF, Reading


Remarkably, the two players that were honored last week by the Phillies as the organization's top minor league performers, Bohm and pitcher Ethan Lindow, had very different results in the survey.  The 23-year-old righty batter, who was the Phils' 1st round pick last year, clearly came in ranked as the top guy while the lefty pitching 20-year-old missed the list completely.

Friday, September 13, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview: LHP Zach Warren talks 2019 campaign, AFL, Phillies fandom

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Warren w/ Lakewood in 2018, image- J. Floyd
Lefty pitcher Zach Warren is fresh off another solid season in the Phillies' developmental ranks and is headed to the prestigious Arizona Fall League this off-season to work on his craft.

In 40 contests this year with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, Warren had a 1-3 record with seven saves, a 3.30 ERA and a 12.0 K/9 mark.  Last year he was a force at Class A Lakewood where he notched a 3-2 record with 15 saves, a 1.91 ERA and a 15.9 K/9 mark.

Warren, a Vineland, NJ native, was selected by the Phillies in the 14th round of the 2017 draft out of Tennessee.

Last week I chatted on the phone with Zach about his 2019 season, his pitch repertoire, his anticipation for AFL action, growing up as a Phillies fan and plenty more.  Read ahead for that interview.

-I feel like you started to grab attention with Lakewood last year.  You had a great season there and continue with some nice output this year in the Florida State League.  Can you talk about your 2019?

Yeah.  2019 was definitely a different year than Lakewood.  I feel like in Lakewood I had to feel around and find my way in the very beginning of the season but once I found it, I just kind of took off and ran away with it.  And really didn't look back and kept running.  2019 was a little bit different. I had to feel around again in the beginning of the season and make some adjustments and got on a few good stretches, but had hiccups in the middle.  I think it was a more challenging year, mentally, more than anything.  Just kind of finding out more and more about who I am as a pitcher and how to overcome when things aren't exactly going my way.  So, I think I learned a lot about adversity this year and how to make adjustments.  Other than that it was a good year.  We contended for the playoffs in both halves.  I met a lot of good guys, new guys that were called up and I made a lot of good friendships and it was a good time.

-Very cool.  With the transactions that occur- and this is every year- with guys going up, getting promoted and moving around, some people looking at you and your numbers, an argument could be made that, "Hey, here's a guy that could or should be in Double-A".  I'm not looking for you to dog the team for not putting you there, but do you feel like that's a challenge that you were ready for?

Um, I think anybody who starts out at a full season affiliate and breaks with a team after spring training thinks that they definitely have the ability to compete at the next level and it's something that they strive for.  Obviously, it's not in our control as players.  It's not really something that we can worry about because if it is something that you start to worry about on a daily basis, they it's definitely going to affect your play.  I definitely do think that I have the ability and the talent to compete at the next level and the next level and in the big leagues.  But I'm definitely trusting the guys that are in charge of the minor league system and that every move they make with every player is the best move for the organization and for that player.  So, I learned a lot by staying in Clearwater the whole year. But, I'm looking forward to hopefully having the challenge of Double-A coming up next season.

-I learned recently that you're going to the Arizona Fall League.  Is that something you can speak on?

Yeah, definitely.  Just started to get some logistics in order, getting my living arrangements together, getting my travel plans together.  I'm excited to just head out there after having a decent year in High A, just having the opportunity to go out there and be submerged in a ton of talent from the minor leagues with all these organizations' top prospects.  I'm excited to see how I match up against them.  I'm excited to learn more about myself as a pitcher.  Hopefully, encounter some challenges and make  adjustments and overcome just like I did this past year and see what it's like to be competing at the highest level I have competed at so far.

-I'll always have guys tell me they recognize the prestige that surrounds the league and they feel that it's an honor to go there.  Is that the case for you and were you surprised to be selected to go there?

Absolutely, yeah.  I had spoken with the Clearwater manager, Marty Malloy, and Josh Bonifay, our director of minor leagues.  And I spoke to them a week, maybe, prior about the possibility of going to play some winter ball and if I was interested in that if they wanted to set me up.  So, a week after that the manager called me in his office and I thought it was going to be something about winter ball placement and Josh let me know he had picked me to go to the fall league along with the other six guys we had chosen and I was definitely a little surprised, but also excited about it.  

I know it's a huge honor.  A lot of prestigious accolades come along with being selected for something like this and some really great players have gone to this league and I'm looking forward to continuing that type of legacy there, I guess you could say, just by going there, competing and doing my best.

-You talked about going there with the other players, JoJo (Romero) and the guys from Reading.  If you don't know, that's fine, but when that news of those names comes out, was there a reason your name was sort of a delayed addition or announcement?

I would say I don't know for sure.  I think they just take their time with decisions and make sure it's the right one.  I know that was a lot of guys that had really stellar years this year that they were probably considered to (send).  But for whatever reason maybe their personal choice or I don't know.  I'm speculating.  It just worked out in my favor that I'm the one selected to do this and if it's because they want to see me continue to perform after a pretty good year and see what I can do with some higher level talent around me then that's great and I'm excited to show them what I can do.  And if it just worked out situationally for me, then I'm happy that it worked out for me.

-What's the repertoire for you at this stage? Any additions or updates this year with the Threshers?

There was a little bit of both.  Over the off-season I tried to add a bit of a cut fastball which played really good in spring training for me.  I had a really good spring training.  And then in the beginning of the regular season, I kind of got into trouble with walks and we figured that the new cutter may have been the origin for some of the problem.  So they kind of let me know that they thought it would be best if I went with my three main pitches from the year prior.  Just a fastball, breaking ball and a change up.  So I used that for most of the year.  Toward the very end of the year, when I felt like I had gotten everything down and kind of felt like myself again, I started to play around with the cutter a little bit more, just to see how it fell out of my hand and it still feels good.  I haven't used it in a game since, I'd say, April.  It's definitely something I'll keep my options open to.  Especially now, getting the opportunity to go play winter ball and continuing to work on stuff and develop, I think it's a good time to do it.  But, as far as game ready stuff right now, it's just the four-seam fastball, the change up and the breaking ball.

-The breaker, is that a curve ball, slider or a combination of the two?

It's kind of a combo, I'd say.  It's kind of pretty much in the middle of both.

-From the way you referenced it, that seemed to be what it implies.  I'm sitting here, I've got your stat line from this season in front of me.  40 games, 60 innings, 80 K's.  Nice even numbers there.  Batting average against is under .200. Is there any part of your game that you take the most pride in?

I think it kind of started in Lakewood with my strike out rate.  Being where it was and experiencing the success that I had there.  I would say when I'm at my best I'm missing barrels, missing bats in general, getting swings-and-misses and strike outs.   That would definitely be the part of my game that I take the most pride in.  It's always good to not give up hits, but when you have the ability to go out there and make guys miss the ball, you can give up-- on a rough day-- you can give up one or two hits in an inning and still make your way out of it without giving up any runs and get through an inning, help the team and be closer to a win.  So that's something that I put a lot of emphasis on.  

I know that in the beginning of the year, I was getting a ton of strike outs and I was really happy with the rate that I was striking guys out at, but what was hurting me was walks.  Toward the middle and the end of the year, I got things under control with that but the strike outs weren't there at the rate that I want to see them, personally.  Definitely something I can work on out in Arizona for these six weeks.

-Zach, I know you've got New Jersey roots.  Did you grow up as a Phillies fan?

Yes.  Grew up as a Phillies fan my whole life.  I drive pretty close to an hour every day in the off-season over to Pennsylvania to work out and right on the right as I pass all the bridges you can see center city Philadelphia and it's just a really cool feeling being in this minor league system and having the possibility to maybe make it up there one day and be really close to home where all my family and friends can come watch a game whenever they feel like it.  I try not to think about it too much, but it's an exciting thought.

-Probably 99 percent of players I talk to come from families that didn't have interest in the Phillies before they played for them.  Is it more fun and easier for you to have a family that is interested in baseball and not have to convert them to a whole new team?

I definitely think so, yeah.  I think it's great for my family and friends to get behind it and they don't have to go out and purchase any merchandise.  They've already been stocked up with Philly sports teams' gear their whole lives.  So I'm excited that I'm kind of playing for my hometown team here.

-What type of memories to you have from childhood of the Phillies?  Because 10 and 11 years ago, they're in the World Series, but you're a pre-teen then, probably.  What are some of your early memories of growing up as a Phils fan?

Well, I've got a ton.  I went to a game and saw Roy Halladay pitch live.  I remember finishing, maybe I was 12 or 13 and finished a baseball travel game in the summer and then going out with my grandparents after and they had the Phillies game on and Halladay was pitching and I watched his perfect game in Florida.  I watched it from start to finish, so that was a good memory.  My favorite pitcher growing up, the whole time, was Cole Hamels.  I got to go to a couple of his charity camps that he had around the Philadelphia area and meet him.  And then it's funny I actually met him at his camps as a young kid and then in the off-season at my gym, he comes through, every now and again I can see him now as a pro and I got to say hi to him and talk with him a little bit.  So, it's a pretty cool perspective for me to meet my childhood hero like that and talk with him almost as equals in the same profession.  And then another great one for me was in high school I went to a game and saw Cliff Lee strike out 16 in a pretty good game he had once.  So, those are some of my highlights.

-Excellent. You mentioned the family not needing to buy new hats and merchandise and stuff once you sign with the Phillies.  How much stuff do YOU have from your youth and early Phils fandom and how much have you added to your family's collection of stuff?

I definitely have a good amount left over from childhood.  We have a ton of Ryan Howard jerseys around the house and we have a hat signed by Jamie Moyer. I got a ball signed by Cole Hamels and Stars and Stripes hats from back in the day. But I have probably doubled or tripled the amount of gear since getting drafted.  Just tons of t-shirts and hats, baseball cards and things like that.  There's a ton laying around here now.  My mom likes to save them all and they all have a place here.  

-I know you work with the Ballengee Group.  I don't normally talk to guys about their agencies and things like that, but what can you share about how they take care of you and what they handle for you?

Well, they are a great agency.  I've had a pretty long lasting relationship with my agent Jeff Randazzo since I was in high school.  They take great care of me.  Whenever I need anything, you know, on the field, equipment wise, during the season, they hook me up.  It's a really first class group of guys there.  A lot of the guys I work out with during the off-season are in the agency and it helps to provide a good environment of guys to work out with and to get better working out with guys that are professional baseball players and being in some type of competitive atmosphere throughout the off-season.  I think it helps a lot, so I can't say enough good things about them.  I love everything they've done for me and I'm thankful for everything they've helped me with. 



You can follow Zach on Twitter by clicking here.

Monday, September 9, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview: Josh Stephen answers Nine Silly-ass Questions

Josh Stephen, image- Jay Floyd
Last week I sat down with Double-A Reading outfielder Josh Stephen to have some fun.  Right in the visiting dugout at Trenton's ARM & HAMMER Park, the 21-year-old lefty batter took on the topics of music, his favorite thing about New Jersey, career mementos, his coolest teammate and plenty more.

To hear the complete interview with Stephen, head on over to Patreon.com/PhoulBallz to support my work, become a patron and gain access to a whole lot of exclusive content plus gain early access to other articles as well. 

The post there will feature a bit of news about Josh that hasn't been announced elsewhere.  You can be among the first to know.

Also, recently, I wrote a feature on Josh's contributions to Reading's success this season.  You can read that separate piece by clicking this link.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Randolph taking strides toward the big leagues

C. Randolph, image- Jay Floyd
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Cornelius Randolph doesn't need prospect rankings, fans' attention or media buzz to do his job.

The 22-year-old entered the season as part of a Reading Fightin' Phils' outfield that was made up of three different Phillies top draft picks.  Plenty of excitement, focus and photo opportunities came along with the start of the players' Double-A season.

None of those things mattered to Randolph, who goes simply by the nickname "C".

"Me, Haseley and Mickey, we just wanted to come out here and play, enjoy the game and have fun," said Randolph outside the visitors locker room in Trenton.

Randolph was selected 10th overall in the 2015 draft while Mickey Moniak was the number one overall pick in 2016 and Adam Haseley was taken with the 8th pick in the 2017 draft.

Early in the 2019 campaign, Randolph would miss roughly two weeks with a hamstring strain.  He later spent another stint on the injured list with a wrist/hand ailment that was officially described as tendinitis.

In 102 total games with Reading this season, the 22-year-old lefty batter tallied a .247 average with 15 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs, 44 RBI and nine stolen bases. 

Offensive production has picked up considerably in the second half for Randolph thanks to some adjustments to his stance and swing.

A collaborative effort of hitting coach Tyler Henson, as well as hitting coordinators Jason Ochart and Russ Steinhorn along with the player, himself.

"You can see where he has his bat now, where he starts, which I think has really helped him," explained Reading manager Shawn Williams.  "It gets him going a little bit earlier.  He's been really consistent since he started doing that."

With a .675 OPS in the first half, Randolph notched an .844 OPS following the Eastern League's All-Star break.

Randolph points out that he is confident that his game has improved in all aspects in his two seasons at Reading.  Coaches agree.  He doubled his homer total from last season while seeing his OPS increase by 77 points.  He's also proven to contribute on defense and can flash a little speed on the bases.

After two seasons at the Double-A level, it would seem Randolph should be targeted for a 2020 campaign at Triple-A.

"I feel ready for any challenges put in my way, but it's not up to me," Randolph said.

The level at which he plays is also not a factor for the five-foot-11 205-pounder.  Where ever it is Randolph takes the field, he's simply focused on doing what he can do to prepare himself to help the big league Phillies win some day.

"There's only two levels, the minor leagues and the big leagues," Randolph asserted.  "So, where ever you are in the minor leagues, you go there to play and to figure out what works for you, so when you do get to the big leagues, you're ready to go." 

The Fightins are in the midst of the best-of-five EL Division Series which they trail two games to none.  Game three is slated to be played Friday night at 7PM at Trenton's ARM & HAMMER Park.


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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

OF Stephen a surprise contributor for Reading playoff club

Josh Stephen, image- Jay Floyd
Josh Stephen has capitalized on unexpected opportunities all season long.

A surprise to open the 2019 campaign at the Double-A level with Reading, the 21-year-old outfielder completely skipped the Class A Advanced Florida State League after spending last season with Class A Lakewood.

An 11th round draft selection by the Phillies in 2016, Stephen contributed steadily last year as a predominantly part-time player for the BlueClaws team that won their division in both halves of the season. Stephen would notch a .242 batting average with 17 doubles, two triples, four home runs and 25 RBI in 99 games for Lakewood in 2018.

Projected to be a fourth outfielder this year on a team that opened the season with three first round picks set to man the outfield spots, Stephen impressed enough in the spring exhibition season to earn an assignment to Reading behind Adam Haseley, Mickey Moniak and Cornelius Randolph.

"I jumped two levels and I wasn't starting right away, so I really had nothing to lose at that point," Stephen shared in the visitors dugout at Trenton's ARM & HAMMER Park over the weekend.  I told myself, 'When you get your opportunity, play hard, play excited, play with confidence.'"

Haseley would see a promotion out of the Reading lineup by late May, which allowed Stephen to get more time in the lineup.

This year, Stephen notched a .271 average with 29 doubles, six triples, 12 home runs and 47 RBI in 113 regular season games.  The output is something that the California native is very pleased with.

"I feel great about (my season)," Stephen asserted.  "I came in with no expectations about what to expect or what was going to happen this year, but I'm super proud of how the season went."

The contributions of the six-foot 185-pounder aren't lost on the team's manager, Shawn Williams.  The Reading skipper feels that Stephen has played a huge role, with clutch hitting and exceptional at bats, to help the Fightins reach the postseason.

"He has earned his way to playing everyday and has taken full advantage of it," Williams asserted.  "I mean he is a big reason why we're at where we're at.  The amount of big hits he's gotten, how he's been pinch hitting wise, obviously what he's doing when he's playing regularly.  He's had a heck of a year."

With the Eastern League playoffs set to get underway on Wednesday, with a best-of-five series opening in Reading for two contests before the remainder of the set moves to Trenton, Stephen is considerably excited, as he feels the chance to do something great as a unit will ultimately be the most rewarding thing about 2019.

The end result of the postseason, according to the talented youngster, won't be a surprise.  At least to Stephen. 

"I'm looking forward to getting a ring."


Additional quotes from some of Reading's other key contributors on the upcoming playoff series...

Jonathan Hennigan:

It's exciting, especially when all us guys are realized that we got the team to do it.  This is a really good team.  We hit the ball, great pitching staff and we're all feeding off each other and are ready to get it going.

Spencer Howard commented on closing out the regular season with a four-game set at Trenton, then opening the postseason with the same opponent:

I think it's going to be interesting playing this team nine games in a row, or possibly playing them nine games in a row.  But, I like it here.  Love it at home.  So, it should be fun.

Cornelius Randolph:

It's gonna be great.  I'm ready to go!  It'll be fun and I'm trying to go chase a ring.

Mickey Moniak:

I'm very excited.  With this group of guys, we came through the system together almost at every level and at every level we've won.  At Lakewood we made a push for the postseason and missed it by a technicality or last year, in Clearwater, getting to go to the postseason and coming up short in the first series.  But knowing this group of guys that has played together throughout the organization and won and now getting to do it at the Double-A level it's something that's really special.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Former Phillies catching prospect Chace Numata passes away

Gone too soon; Chace Numata (left) w/ the late Roy Halladay, image- Jay Floyd
In extremely sad news, catcher Chace Numata succumbed on Monday to injuries sustained in an apparent skateboarding accident last week.

Numata, a switch-hitting Hawaii native, was originally a 14th round draft selection by the Phillies in 2010.  He was named an All-Star with Class A Lakewood in 2013 and with Class A Advanced Clearwater in 2016.  He would play in the Phils organization through the 2017 and left to free agency, later playing in the Yankees system and then this year with the Tigers organization.

In 77 combined games this season at Triple-A and Double-A, the 27-year-old has tallied a .244 average with four home runs and 28 RBI.

Per a release from the Erie Seawolves, Numata's family issued the following statement: It is with deep sorrow that the Numata Ohana announces that Chace Kekoa Kenji Numata, our beloved son, brother, and a friend to all, has passed away on September 2nd, 2019. Chace was a 27 year old, switch-hitting catcher from Pearl City, Hawaii that was blessed with the opportunity to professionally play the sport he loved for the Phillies, Yankees, and Tigers organizations for over ten seasons. Everyone who was around Chace knew there was never a stranger in the room when he was there. It didn't matter if you were a professional athlete or young child, he made sure to make everyone feel comfortable and welcomed. His smile was contagious, unrelenting, and never ending, while his personality could light up any environment he would be in. Our family would like to say Mahalo nui loa to everyone who prayed for, thought of, and acknowledged Chace during this difficult time. We heard you and we appreciate you all from the bottom of our hearts! #FORNUMI

During my time covering Chace, I know that the men lucky enough to be his teammates were very fond of him.  I feel that in dealing with me, he was always among the most respectful guys I would talk with.

I exchanged text messages with Chace's manager with Lakewood, former Phillies All-Star Mickey Morandini.  On Chace, Morandini had the following to say:  Great kid.  Hard worker.  We thought he has a chance to be a big league catcher. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see him play much due to injuries.

I also heard from one of Chace's many battery mates, Phils minor league pitcher Tyler Viza, who shared this: He genuinely lived the life he wanted to live. He loved everybody he came across on and off the field and he was the best teammate to have in the clubhouse. I’m incredibly saddened that he has passed away but he certainly has left his mark with me and will always be a part of my life.


Numata (center), embraces Tyler Viza, image- Jay Floyd

The ballpark was always a better place to be because of Chace. 


Chace Numata will be missed.      

To read a 2017 interview I did with Chace where he talks about leading the Phillies in batting average during spring training and the time he caught the late Roy Halladay in a rehab appearance, click this link and check out the media player below for video of a chat I had with Chace when he and the BlueClaws hosted the 2013 Sally League All-Star Game.


















Saturday, August 31, 2019

Seven Phils prospects headed to prestigious Arizona Fall League

Mickey Moniak, image- Jay Floyd
Arizona Fall League rosters were announced this week and the Scottsdale roster is slated to feature some of the Phillies' most exciting prospects.

Set to represent the Phils in the prestigious off-season league that is operated by Major League Baseball are outfielder Mickey Moniak, right-handed pitchers Spencer Howard and Connor Seabold, corner infielder Alec Bohm, shortstop Nick Maton along with left-handed hurler JoJo Romero.

A previously unannounced representative from the Phillies organization that is set to see action with the Scorpions is lefty reliever Zach Warren.

Howard, who was ranked by this outlet as the Phils' top prospect headed into this season, has reached Double A Reading and will likely start game one of the Eastern League divisional playoffs this coming Wednesday.  He missed time earlier this season with a shoulder strain.  In 13 combined regular season starts with Class A Advanced Clearwater and Reading, the 23-year-old has tallied a 3-1 record with a 1.78 ERA and an 11.8 K/9 mark.

Howard, the Phils' 2nd round pick in 2017 is ready for the opportunity to shine even brighter and is pleased to get the chance to do so beside six teammates from his own organization.

"It kind of feels like college summer ball," said Howard after the Fightin Phils clinched the Eastern League's Eastern Division second half title on Friday.  "It does feel more like home when you know you've got a group of guys that you're going with.  I'm excited."

Moniak, who was the top overall selection in the 2016 draft, has made an impact for Reading as well.  The 21-year-old lefty batter sports a .252/.302/.440 slash line in 117 games this season.  Moniak is tops in the league in triples with 13 and is also among the league leaders in RBI, runs as well as hits.

The talented center fielder welcomes the chance to play in a league where many of the elite names in the game sharpened their skills on their paths to the top level of the sport.

"It's a huge honor and just getting selected to be a part of the guys that the Phillies send is something that's really special for me," Moniak stated.  "And having guys like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, (Ronald) Acuna, (Pete) Alonso and seeing guys go through that league and make a big impact at the big league level a very short period of time after they go through that whole experience of playing in Arizona is definitely something that's exciting and I'm just looking to go out there and continuing my development into becoming the best baseball player that I can be and just getting ready to help out the Phillies as soon as possible."

Seabold, the Phillies' 3rd round pick from 2017, opened the season on the disabled list, missing time with an apparent oblique issue.  In eight combined appearances with Clearwater and Reading, the 23-year-old sports a 3-1 record with a 1.93 ERA and an 8.8 K/9 mark.

Bohm opened the season with Class A Lakewood, was promoted to Clearwater before the end of April and joined Reading's roster in June. In 122 combined games the Phils' top draft pick from 2018 has posted a .306 average with 20 home runs and 77 RBI.

Maton, the Phils' 7th round draft choice in 2017, has split his time this year with Clearwater and Reading also.  In 112 games, the 22-year-old is batting .267 with seven homers, 50 RBI and 12 stolen bases.  

Romero has had an up and down season, figuratively and literally, opening his 2019 campaign with Triple-A Lehigh Valley and moving down to Reading after some struggles, then earning a promotion back to Lehigh Valley once he corrected some concerns.  The 22-year-old has a 7-9 record with a 5.82 ERA and a 7.4 K/9 mark in 24 total starts.

Warren, who was a 14th rounder in 2017, has spent the entire campaign with Clearwater this year.  The Vineland, NJ native has tallied a 1-3 record with seven saves, a 3.30 ERA and a .199 batting average against. 

Phillies prospects will be joined by players from the Mets, Braves, Blue Jays and Giants to make up the Scorpions roster.  The AFL opens play on September 18th.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Hurricane Dorian forces cancellation of two leagues' playoffs

With the impending bad weather on its way toward Florida, both the remaining schedules and postseasons for the rookie level Gulf Coast League and the Class A Advanced Florida State League have been cancelled.

Per a press release from Minor League Baseball, Tim Brunswick, the organization's senior vice president of baseball and business operations, said the following: "In an effort to ensure that all players, coaches and staff members have a chance to evacuate and prepare for the storm, we have decided to cancel the final two regular season games, as well as the playoffs."

Forecasts have Hurricane Dorian set to make landfall over the weekend and it is classified as a Category 3 storm with the potential to worsen to a Category 4 by Monday.

As a result of the expected impact the storm will have, all of Florida has been placed under a state of emergency.  The hurricane is expected to be a multi-day event.

The Phillies West team was set to compete in the GCL playoffs in the coming days while the Phils' affiliate Clearwater had already been eliminated from postseason contention. 

The bad weather will also impact traveling foreign players on teams from other areas of the United States. Many Dominican and Venezuelan born players expect to have their travel plans disrupted, with connecting flights scheduled to land in Florida on their routes home following many leagues' regular season early next week.

PhoulBallz Interview: First round pick Bryson Stott

Bryson Stott, image- Jay Floyd

Shortstop Bryson Stott, the Phillies' first round draft selection this year, has enjoyed a successful initial pro campaign.  En route to being recognized as an All-Star for the Class A short-season Williamsport Crosscutters the 21-year-old UNLV product has tallied a .295 average with six home runs and 25 RBI in 45 minor league contests.

Last week I spoke with the lefty hitting Stott to discuss his transition to professional baseball, joining the Phillies organization and plenty more.  Read ahead for that interview. 



-Obviously, your performance and the production on the field is going well, but how do you feel you have adapted to the pro life?

It feels good.  You hear about the everyday grind, but you don't really believe it till you feel it. I would say that's the difference between college and the pros, is you're not practicing, you're playing games every day.  I would say that's the biggest difference.  But I'm getting used to it and I'm having a blast. 

-How did the draft go for you? Were you surprised by the Phillies selecting you where they did or were they among the teams you expected could be calling your name?

Yeah.  I mean, before the draft I heard a couple teams' (names), but I had a really good meeting with the Phillies in the fall and the winter and they were always a team that I thought was very interested and I thought was a good fit leaving those meetings and for it to actually happen was a blessing. 

-Coming up as a young guy, what team did you follow and who were you a fan of?

I always followed Derek Jeter.  He was my favorite player growing up and Bryce (Harper), being from Vegas, I'd always follow him and all those Vegas guys.  I never had a favorite team.  I would just follow the players.  Just to be able to follow them and their careers was what I did.

-What was your knowledge of the Phillies before being part of the organization?

I really didn't have a whole lot of knowledge (about them) until Bryce (Harper) went over there and then I really started paying attention to what they have going on and it was awesome.  Of course, the World Series team from a few years back and of course Ryan Howard and Utley and those big names that everyone in the baseball world knows, obviously, you know those names, so I'd say recently it's been a whole lot of information and a whole lot of good information.

-You talked about the World Series team and Jeter and you probably watched them in '09.  How old were you when all that was going on and those big names were so big?

I would have been in elementary school 10 years ago. And I met Jimmy Rollins when I was in Philadelphia.  So, to see some of those guys was unbelievable.

-You mention stopping through the stadium in Philly and getting an introduction to the team, the media and such...I recall while you were there, hearing some discussion of a connection with you and Bryce Harper from out there in Vegas.  You guys are pretty close, right?

Yeah, we talk all the time.  Having someone like that, especially now in this organization is good for me because if there's ever anything I need, if my swing goes off, he's always a call away and he can help me with all that stuff.  And, like I said, him being here and me being in the same organization as well, it's very rare I'd say that it actually happened this way and I'm very grateful for it.

-What are your thoughts on Pat Borders as your skipper?

He's awesome.  He's not that cookie-cutter manager that makes everyone be the same.  If I need one thing and Kendall (Simmons) needs to do something and (Logan) O'Hoppe needs to do something then it's always different and what we need and our needs instead of "We're going to do it this way, my way, or else it's not going to happen."  Having a manager like that that's so understanding of what your personal needs are and how to make you have fun and the team have fun, 'cause that's what he's really about is enjoying time out there and knowing that it's a game still and we should really enjoy it.


For the rest of this interview, head on over to Patreon.com/PhoulBallz to support my work and get access to loads of exclusive material.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

PhoulBall Interview: Rookie reporter asks the tough questions of the rookie hurler

Rookie reporter and second generation PhoulBallz correspondent Evan Floyd took his first day on the job very seriously as he sat down with Lakewood pitcher Albertus Barber to talk about the hard-hitting topics.  Included in their chat were exchanges about each of the young men's favorite dinosaurs, their favorite super heroes and most importantly their favorite baseball players plus plenty more.

Barber, a 23-year-old Oklahoma native, was an undrafted free agent signed by the Phillies for a bonus of $1,000 this summer.

In 15 appearances in the minors this year, the right-hander sports a 4-0 record with a 0.96 ERA, a .227 batting average against as well as a 0.87 WHIP.

Check out the media player below to see these two dynamic young men hash out the important matters.



HELP SUPPORT CONTENT LIKE THIS AND KEEP IT COMING ALL SEASON LONG BY BECOMING A PATRON!  Get early access to posts like this, EXCLUSIVE interviews and bonus quotes from Kendall Simmons in the Patreon version of this piece- https://www.patreon.com/phoulballz

PhoulBallz Interview: Williamsport All-Star Corbin Williams

Corbin Williams, image- Jay Floyd
Corbin Williams was the Phillies' 24th round draft selection in 2018. A year into his professional career, the 21-year-old became an All-Star in the Class A short-season Williamsport Crosscutters.



Through 53 games, the righty batting Williams has tallied a .222 batting average with three doubles, a triple, six RBI and 28 stolen bases.



Last week I talked with Corbin about his All-Star nod, his trip to New York for the game, sneakers, competing for the league lead in steals and more!



This interview is available exclusively for Patreon members. Head on over to Patreon.com/PhoulBallz to support my work and gain access to loads of material unseen and unavailable any place else.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Williamsport's Simmons surging thanks to those around him

HELP SUPPORT CONTENT LIKE THIS AND KEEP IT COMING ALL SEASON LONG BY BECOMING A PATRON!  Get early access to articles like this, EXCLUSIVE interviews and bonus quotes from Kendall Simmons in the Patreon version of this piece- https://www.patreon.com/phoulballz

Simmons (center) w/ Bryson Stott (left) & Corbin Williams (right)
The 26th of July stands out as a date that Kendall Simmons thinks he’ll remember for the rest of his playing career. It was on that day that his coaching staff offered some guidance that made a difference and helped the young infielder turn his season around.

On that day, the talented 19-year-old was batting .169 with two home runs and nine RBI through 21 disappointing games with Class A short-season Williamsport. It was a funk that Simmons couldn’t shake until a reality check from a pair of former big leaguers allowed some things to start clicking for the second baseman/shortstop/third baseman.

Crosscutters manager Pat Borders, a World Series MVP in 1992, and former Phillies farmhand, a current coach with the Crosscutters, Greg Brodzinski, shared valuable insight with Simmons about his potential.

“Basically they told me, ‘You have the best tools out here, by far. Without a doubt. And you can be the guy that has all the tools and never figures it out or you could turn a switch on today and compete on every at bat and don’t give up,’” Simmons said in the visiting team’s dugout at Richmond County Bank Ballpark this week, prior to the New York-Penn League All-Star Game.

The duo also cited concerns about the athletic righty hitter’s body language. Borders and “Bull” told Simmons that it was evident that he was down on himself, as a result of the offensive struggles. With a smile and an approachable attitude that is infectious, Simmons knew that wasn’t his nature.

“That really hit home and that’s the spark that I needed,” shared Simmons.

The ceiling that his professional mentors see for Simmons is the same sort of heights that Simmons’s older brothers have been talking about to him for years. Austin, 24, and Blake, 21, would motivate Kendall in his teenage years, whenever he felt tired or needed a swift kick in the pants, encouraging him to get to the baseball field and continue on his path to what they feel is greatness.

Austin played collegiate ball at Kennesaw State while Blake plays at Georgia Southern.  They bring the best out of Kendall.

"They push me to be the best that I can be," Simmons shared.  "Since I was little they always knew what my potential was growing up and no matter what, they always push me."

With the insight of two more experienced players in the same home, the youngest brother says Austin and Blake know, not only, a lot about the game, but also a lot about him.  Kendall can still go to them for advice and says they virtually raised him on a baseball field.

Kendall recalls an assertion Blake made to him years ago, that he would be a big league player some day.  Kendall, barely on any scout's radar at the time, didn't think that could be a reality.  Now, though, the more success he enjoys, the more Kendall has begun to believe in the evaluation that Blake made note of.

Another individual that the Georgia native credits with helping his progress is his roommate, Crosscutters catcher Logan O'Hoppe.

"I just try to be a pair of ears for him," said O'Hoppe.  "Whether he likes it or not, I'll give him my opinion.  But I just try to help him go into every day with a clear head."

Kendall Simmons, image- Jay Floyd
Simmons described advice he got from O'Hoppe as being a specific focus in batting practice.  Trying to drive the ball to the opposite field has allowed him to stay in the zone longer and, according to Simmons, it has changed the game for him.

O'Hoppe, who was also a New York Penn League All-Star, credits Simmons with using all outlets available to him in order to put together an exceptional approach and enhance the cerebral side of his game.

"He just took certain information and made it his own and he's done a great job with it, obviously." O'Hoppe stated.

Since the chat with Borders and Luzinski merged with the lessons he got from his blood brothers and his road brother to strap a rocket onto his skill set, Simmons is batting .343 with nine homers and 21 RBI in 21 games.

The pitfalls of professional baseball have proved to help Simmons triumph and he's grateful for every single moment to date.

"I’m learning from it, taking every day for what it’s worth, not leaving anything behind."

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Greg Brodzinski as former Phillies great Greg Luzinski.   This site apologizes for the error.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Cutters Quotables: Williamsport foursome discusses being honored as All-Stars

Simmons, Stott, O'Hoppe and Williams/ Image- Jay Floyd
This week four Phillies prospects participated in the Class A short-season New York-Penn League All-Star Game and each of them were excited to have begun making their marks in professional baseball.

Catcher Logan O'Hoppe, outfielder Corbin Williams, infielder Kendall Simmons as well as shortstop Bryson Stott represented the Williamsport Crosscutters and were part of the victorious Blue Team in Staten Island, NY, home of the Yankees affiliate, on Wednesday night.

O'Hoppe (pronounced Oh-HOP-ee), is a local guy who hails from nearby West Islip.  The 19-year-old, said the game was attended by approximately 100 friends and family members.

The righty batting O'Hoppe was a 23rd round draft selection last year.  In 44 games this year for Williamsport, he has tallied a .217 average with five home runs and 26 RBI.

Williams, who grew up in Philadelphia, is batting .224 with three doubles, three RBI and a league-leading 28 steals thus far in 49 regular season games for the Cutters. The 21-year-old right-handed hitter was a 24th round draft choice by the Phils last year.

Simmons, the Phillies' 6th round draft pick last year, has notched a .267 batting average with 11 homers and 30 RBI in 39 games this season.  The 19-year-old righty batter has played second base, shortstop and third base for Williamsport.

Stott was the Phillies' first round draft pick this year.  The 21-year-old UNLV product has posted a .294 batting average with five home runs and 20 RBI in 33 games since joining the Crosscutters.  The lefty hitter also played in four rookie level Gulf Coast League games upon debuting as a pro this year. 

I talked with each of the Crosscutters' top performers prior to the exhibition.  Read ahead for their remarks about being honored as All-Stars.


O'Hoppe:

It's been great.  It's been everything I could ask for.   This has been on the schedule for a while and it was definitely a goal of mine to get here because of that reason, because of the family and because of the people.  It's gonna be a good time.


It's so great to have that support system come to life because I mean you're away from home and you're texting people and (make) phone calls and stuff like that, but yeah, it's good to have them here in person and it's pretty overwhelming. But, I'm very blessed and lucky to have all those people in my corner and it's good to finally have them out here and see what I've been talking about.

Williams:

It's crazy.  (laughs)  I know this might sound crazy, but I didn't come into the season thinking that I could be an All-Star.  It's a blessing.

You just go out there and try to play everyday.  (Becoming an All-Star) was not my main focus.   It's not like, "I've got to get a hit today to make it to the All-Star game!"  I'm trying to just develop into the best player that I can be and the fact that I got chosen, it's like I'm doing something right, so keep doing it. 

Simmons:

It's truly a blessing. At the beginning of the year, I never thought I would be an All-Star.  It's crazy how you mature as a baseball player throughout the year.  It seems like I've been in pro ball for a minute now and just last year I was in high school, so I think it's an awesome experience.  It's my first time in New York and this is the way I want to spend my first trip to New York.

I take in every bit of it.  I mean, God blessed me with this opportunity, not only to be a pro, but just to be a part of something like this and to have friends and family that support me in everything I do and that's huge for me.

Stott:

It's really awesome especially being able to experience it with my three other teammates.  And this being my first pro season, and to be an All-Star I think it's very cool.  It's cool for everybody and to be here and experience it-- I played with some of  these guys in college too, so to see some of them again is really cool.

The one I'm closest to is Nic Ready.  He went to Air Force, so I played him a bunch of times throughout college and our schools were really close, so I know him really well.  There's a couple guys from Houston in there that I played against and a few others.  So, it's pretty cool to see their careers are moving forward too.

NYPL All-Star Game goes off with hitches

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Simmons, Williams & Stott/Image- Jay Floyd
In what was a mess of an event, the New York-Penn League All-Star Game was won on Wednesday night by the Blue Team, which included four Phillies prospects, over the Red team, which featured representatives from the home club, the Yankees' Staten Island squad.

The score at the ballpark, shown on the scoreboards and announced to those in attendance upon completion of the contest was 7-3.  This conflicted with the account reported by multiple media outlets and the score that appeared on minor league baseball's online box score, 7-4.

The start of the annual exhibition was delayed by rain, which came as a deluge during a pre-game Home Run Derby, that led to an apparent cancellation of the aforementioned competition, though that wasn't announced to the fans in attendance.

There were multiple innings during the game that ended abruptly, adding to the confusion of those present.  Unclear if there was a reversed call or potentially some sort of mercy rule acted on due to a hurler's pitch count, fans watched the sides seem to change twice when an inning was going at length.

And let's not forget the pregame ceremony set to honor new NYPL Hall of Fame inductees during which the grandfather of late State College Spikes coach Josiah Viera, Dave Bohner, heard his name announced multiple times as though it was pronounced like a slang term for an erection instead of the proper way, which rhymes with honor.  Oh, and the time an incompletely edited rap song was played over the Richmond County Bank Ballpark speakers was quite noteworthy also.

In the game, Williamsport's offensive standout Kendall Simmons started for the Blue team, going 1-for-2 with an RBI.  The 19-year-old played second base and committed a field error.

The Phillies' first round pick from this year's draft Bryson Stott entered the game as a substitution.  The talented shortstop went 0-for-1 with a walk.

Speedy center field Corbin Williams, who leads the NYPL in stolen bases, played center field and went 0-for-3.

Catcher Logan O'Hoppe, a native New Yorker, was 0-for-1 in the exhibition.

The Crosscutters (26-37, 5th place in the Pinckney Division) return to regular season action on Thursday as they open a three-game series at home against Mahoning Valley.