Friday, September 27, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview: Jimmy Smith Answers Nine Silly-ass Questions

Jimmy Smith, image- Jay Floyd
Jimmy Smith was an outfielder in the Phillies organization during the during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. A Central Washington product, the righty batting Smith wassigned by the Phils as an undrafted free agent.

In 65 combined games in the Gulf Coast League and with Class A Lakewood, the 24-year-old notched a .250 average with four home runs and 27 RBI.

After dealing with an injury and difficulties improving on offense this year, Smith was released. However, prior to his departure from the Phillies organization, I spent some time with Jimmy talking about hip hop music, television, liking the Eagles and Allen Iverson and some more.

This is one of my favorite interviews I have done in a while as Jimmy and I had a good time. I was initially saving this for a different outlet, but I can't hold it back any longer. I have posted this audio as an exclusive for Patreon members.  You can support my work by heading over to Patreon.com/PhoulBallz and gain access to interviews and other content that are unavailable anyplace else. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview: Nick Maton talks AFL and more

Nick Maton, image- Jay Floyd
A few weeks ago I talked with infielder Nick Maton about his 2019 regular season, his assignment to head out and get extra work in the Arizona Fall League and more.

The 22-year-old was the Phillies' 7th round draft selection in 2017.  The lefty batting Maton opened the year with Class A Advanced Clearwater.  In 93 games for the Threshers, he notched a .276 batting average with 14 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 45 RBI.

Promoted to Double-A Reading in early August, Maton would post a .210 average with three doubles, a pair of round-trippers and six RBI in 21 games for the Fightin Phils.

Primarily a shortstop, Maton also saw action at second base and third base this year.

For complete audio of my interview with Maton, please head on over the Patreon.com/PhoulBallz and support my work.  Patreon members get exclusive content and early access to other posts.  You won't be disappointed.



Friday, September 20, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview Excerpts: Reading manager Shawn Williams

Arquimedes Gamboa, image- Jay Floyd
Prior to the end of the regular season, I spoke with Double-A Reading manager Shawn Williams about several topics including outfielders Cornelius Randolph and Josh Stephen (click each of those individuals' names for those features).  Among other things the team's skipper discussed with me were the assignment of several of his players going to the Arizona Fall League this month, what he saw from infielder Arquimedes Gamboa despite a lackluster offensive stat line as well as the progress of top prospects Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard.  Read ahead for those quotes.


-Your team has several guys going to the Arizona Fall League.  I just wanted to get your opinion of how that can help their development.

It definitely does.  It's a really competitive league.  You've got all the best players, pretty much, from all the organizations.  I was fortunate enough to be out there two years ago.  I think it's a lot of fun for them.  It's, like I said, there's a lot of good players, just the competition-- I'm not gonna say it's laid back, but kind of the way that it is, it's kind of like showcasing everybody's skills.  And it's a great honor for the guys we have that are going and for everybody.


The remainder of this post is available exclusively for Patreon supporters.  You can help support my work and help me continue to bring content like this all throughout the year by heading over to Patreon.com/PhoulBallz.  Members get exclusive content, early access to my material and more.

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.