Monday, December 30, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview: OF Matt Vierling Off-season Check In

Vierling w/ Lakewood in 2018, image- Jay Floyd
Outfield prospect Matt Vierling took some time recently to offer some thoughts on his off-season.

The 23-year-old was a 5th round draft selection by the Phillies in 2018.  This year, in his first full season in professional baseball, the Notre Dame product posted a .232 average with five home runs, 41 RBI and 22 stolen bases in 118 games with Class A Advanced Clearwater.

Last week I asked Matt, a Missouri native, to offer some details on his workout routine in the fall and winter months, his thoughts on Major League Baseball's proposed elimination of certain affiliated minor league teams and plenty more.  Read ahead for that interview.

- How much down time do you allow yourself before you get back to picking up a bat and/or taking swings?
I try to give myself at least one to two months off from swinging. This year I was on the longer end because I was coming off of my first full year and felt like I needed the break. That’s what’s nice about having a long off-season.

- Did you attend any of the camps or seminars in Clearwater this off-season? 
I did not attend any of the camps or seminars that they held. Because I wasn’t doing them, I went and finished up a semester of school back at Notre Dame.

- Do you have any key goals for this winter like adding muscle, adding speed, improving your Spanish, those types of things?
I want to add about five to 10 pounds of muscle and obviously improve my speed on a day-to-day basis. I try to set goals at the beginning of the off-season so that I have something to work towards. Some of those goals include strength and speed gains along with eating healthy and keeping my body in shape.

- What facility do you work out at in the fall and winter and who do you work with as far as coaches or other players?
I was up at Notre Dame working out from September until December. They have great facilities and I have access to almost everything up there so that was super beneficial. Back in St. Louis I work out at P3. It’s mainly a pitching performance facility but I’ve been working with Josh Kessel and Steffen Simmons, the strength coaches there, since I was in high school. Having people around that know me in regards to lifting and running is super valuable. There are a lot of pro ball players that work out in there, so it’s a great atmosphere to be apart of on a daily basis. I’m going to be hitting with Bobby Wernes who's a Phillies hitting coach back in St. Louis, which will also helpful.

- What was your best takeaway from the 2019 season? Was there something you took the biggest strides with or was their a big lesson you learned?

There were a lot of takeaways for me with regards to the 2019 season. But the main takeaway would be my body. Going through a full season for the first time, while also being in the Florida State League, made me learn how to handle my body on a daily basis. There were times when I could’ve treated my body better with the food I ate or how I stretched, so learning from that will help me in the future.

The remainder of this interview is available exclusively for Patreon members. You can support my work and get access to content at Patreon.com/PhoulBallz.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Frosty Phillies Favorites: 2019 Christmas Survey

Kevin Gowdy, image- Jay Floyd
Season's greetings to all!  Around here, we surely adore the holidays and, of course, baseball players are no exception. Every year at Christmas time, I survey a group of Phillies prospects about what they get excited for during the holiday season.

Players taking part in this year's TENTH annual Christmas favorites survey are pitchers Albertus Barber, Tyler Carr, Keylan Killgore, Kevin Gowdy, Connor Hinchliffe and Jonathan Hennigan.  Additionally, outfielder Matt Vierling took time to share his thoughts as well.

Inquiries and responses regarding each player's holly jolly favorites lie ahead...

-What is your favorite Christmas song?

Barber- It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas. Big fan of the song.
Hinchliffe- ​All I Want for Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey.
Gowdy- My favorite Christmas song is Mele Kalikimaka by Jimmy Buffett. My parents have always been huge Jimmy Buffett fans, so it was always on during the holidays when I was growing up. Also I love it because it’s a tropical Hawaiian Christmas song, and being from Santa Barbara we’ve never had a white Christmas or anything like that. It’s always been sunny and nice out during Christmas time.
Killgore- My favorite Christmas song is kind of unusual, because to be honest I'm not a huge fa of Christmas music. My favorite Christmas song is "The Christmas Shoes" by Newsong.
Vierling- My favorite Christmas song is All I Want For Christmas is You by Mariah Carey.
Hennigan- The Christmas Shoes. What’s better than a song about helping the needy and talking about Jesus?
Carr- I might be the wrong guy to ask this question. I don't really listen to Christmas music.

-What is your favorite holiday movie or TV special?

Barber- Favorite movie to me seems like a given. Elf to me is an absolute masterpiece. Will Ferrell has a special place in my heart.
Hinchliffe- National Lampoons Christmas Vacation because it’s hard to beat Clark Griswold and crazy Uncle Eddie.
Gowdy- My favorite Christmas movies are Home Alone and Elf. Will Ferrell is the man!
Killgore- Definitely "Home Alone: Lost in New York". I can watch the Home Alone movies all year around, they never get old.
Vierling- My favorite Christmas movie is Elf with Will Ferrell. He's hilarious, especially in that.
Hennigan- Favorite Christmas movie or TV special would be Home Alone 1 and 2.
Carr- I think Elf takes the cake for sure. Will Ferrell, I think he fits that role perfectly.

-What's your favorite thing to eat at Christmas time and who makes it?

Barber- Favorite food item would have to be the special Christmas sugar cookies we leave out for “Santa” that are really just an excuse for your dad to get some extra calories in that day. Mother and me used to make them.
Hinchliffe- I don’t think I can point out a single Christmas food but I love everything my mother makes during the holidays… and no I wasn’t forced to say that!
Gowdy- My favorite thing to eat during the holidays is the cinnamon rolls that my mom makes every year. She makes a good amount of them for Christmas morning, but they never seem to last through the day.
Killgore- It is kind of a tradition in my house that we have Breakfast Casserole on Christmas morning and usually my parents make it. It's just a bunch of cheese and sausage and eggs. It's incredible and I need to learn how to make it.
Vierling- My family always gets a Christmas ham, so that's up there as my favorite I would say since we do that every year.
Hennigan- Papa Dale's ham. That baby would melt in your mouth.
Carr- There's some good stuff. My mom makes a lot of sweets. I'm gonna have to go with her cookies. Sugar cookies, chocolate chip, all of the above. And my dad making the meal...ham and turkey. Whatever we have, it's all really good. That's what I look forward to,

-What is your most memorable gift from childhood?

Barber- Most memorable childhood gift I got was definitely my Nintendo 64. I’ll never forget how amazed I was when I laid eyes on that thing, man. I’m a big nerd about video games, and that was where it all started.
Hinchliff- A memorable Christmas gift from my childhood that sticks out was my brother and I getting custom baseball gloves when we were in little league.
Gowdy- One of my favorite Christmas gifts I’ve gotten has to be when my parents surprised my sister and I with bikes in the garage. I was a lot younger and must’ve been eight or nine, but I absolutely loved it and rode it all the time.
Killgore- I will always remember when my brother, sister and I got a trampoline for Christmas. I can't remember how old I was, but I remember finding a note on the fireplace saying that a gift was left outside. We spent the rest of that Christmas begging to put it together, rather than worry about what else we got.
Vierling- We don't have a specific family tradition that we always do, but my family gets together with both sides of our family. It's great to see both sides and catch up with them at the family parties.
Hennigan- I would say bicycles because we thought we were some type of dare devil stunt men as kids.
Carr- This might sound a little country, but my brother and I got matching rifles back in the day when we were younger. We were trying to find out what our parents got us and we looked all around the house in their closet and other places. Come to find out they hit them in our own closet. In our closet they hid both of them in there! This had to have been when I was probably 15 or 16. We do a lot of hunting and fishing down here. So that's probably the best gift.

-Does your family have a Phillies ornament on the Christmas tree?

Hinchliffe- ​Not sure if we did last year but this year (we'll have one) for sure.

-What's your favorite ornament on your Christmas tree?

Barber- My favorite ornament isn’t really specific, but my grandmother, the sweetest lady ever, will always go find an ornament that reminds us of her, or her of us, and give it to us every year to hang on the tree. She’s done this for over 20 years. Amazing.
Gowdy- My favorite ornament on the Christmas tree has got to be this little toy solider with my name on it. For some reason I just loved it when I was younger, so I’ve always made sure to hang it up on the front of the tree haha.
Killgore- My Grandma used to hide a pickle ornament in the tree and whoever finds it opens the first gift. We haven't done that in a couple years but my brother and I bring it up almost every year.
Hennigan- Probably me and my wife’s first Christmas ornament together.
Carr- To be honest I don't think so. I used to help decorate when I was a kid, but now that's all my mom. I don't think I have anything.

-Do you recall finding out the real deal about Santa Claus and is there a story that goes along with that?

Barber- I found out Santa wasn’t real when I was awake one night at about 9 or 10. Might’ve been younger. Anyways, I was sneaking around trying to see if I could find Santa and catch him. That year my parents had the brilliant idea of not wrapping the presents up until around 1 AM, like they didn’t have weeks before that time, and while doing my recon I heard wrapping paper and my mom yell “HONEY CAN YOU BRING ME THE SCISSORS?” At that point I knew. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t mad, I just realized that all holiday characters were fake and went on my happy way accepting gifts from them anyways. If your boy needed to act like Santa was real to get presents from him, then you could call me Leonardo DiCaprio.
Gowdy- Honestly, I can’t really remember how I found out about Santa, even though it sounded a little fishy to me as I started getting older. I wish I had a great story for you though!
Killgore- I can't remember to be honest. If I had to guess, one of my older siblings probably broke the news to me and I would imagine it wasn't a soft let down.
Vierling- I found out when my brother and I got a ping pong table for Christmas. My mom had actually forgotten to give it to us and it was sitting in our garage until the middle of January. One day my brother and I went out there to get something in the garage and found the ping pong table we had asked for. That's when we found out the truth.
Hennigan- My cousin told me the bad news! I hit him as soon as he told me, then I thought about it for a second and realized the truth.

-Does your family have any traditions that are a big deal around Christmas?

Barber- One of our standout traditions would always be that we used to all wear the same sweaters that our grandma would get us for a Christmas picture. So here’s 15 to 20 of us all lined up in these absolutely brutal turtleneck sweaters from Dollar General. Hilarious to go back and look at those pictures.
Hinchliffe- One thing that we have done since my brother and I were little is finding a hidden pickle in the Christmas tree to decide who gets to open the first present. I’ve only ever heard of a few people who know of this tradition. The novelty has sort of worn out since we’re older but we still do it for the laughs.
Gowdy- One of my favorite traditions growing up was Christmas Eve going to look at Christmas lights with my dad and sister. I later found out that was how my mom would get some last minute work done for “Santa” getting the stockings ready. Pretty funny.
Killgore- Really the only tradition we have, is we always spend Christmas Eve at my Grandparents' house with our whole family. We usually have a ton of food and everyone stands around in the kitchen talking or the kids go outside and play football.
Vierling- We don't have a specific family tradition that we always do, but my family gets together with both sides of our family. It's great to see both sides and catch up with them at the family parties.
Hennigan- We just go look at Christmas lights.
Carr- A lot of my family members are in law enforcement or the medical field, so sometimes we have to celebrate a day early or a day late. This year we're going to have to do it on Christmas Eve because my brother and his wife are working on Christmas day and it's just small things. We can't ever really have anything set in stone.


Previous editions of this survey include answers from Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Adam Haseley, Scott Kingery and loads of others.  

Those editions of this delightful Christmas questionnaire can be viewed at the following links- 2018 holiday survey, 2017 survey, 2016 survey, 2015 survey, 2014 survey, 2013 edition, 2012 edition, 2011 edition and the 2010 edition

Thursday, December 19, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview: Tyler Carr off-season check in

Tyler Carr, image- Jay Floyd

Please head on over the Patreon.com/PhoulBallz to support my work and get access to interviews like this one early as well as other exclusive content you can't get anywhere else.  

Righty pitcher Tyler Carr had an outstanding season in the minor leagues this year. The 23-year-old opened the season with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, where he notched a 0.51 ERA in 11 relief appearances before earning a promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater. As a member of the Threshers' bullpen, Carr sported a 1.54 ERA in 27 outings, including being part of a combined no-hitter in June. Carr was then promoted Double-A Reading, in time for that club's playoff run.

Overall in 39 regular season contests last season, Carr tallied a 5-4 record with six saves, a .180 batting average against along with a 9.8 K/9 mark.

The talented hurler was selected by the Phillies in round 31 of the 2018 draft out of South Alabama.

This week I talked with Tyler about his off-season routine, declining to pitch in off-season ball, his takeaways from 2019 and more. Read ahead for that complete interview.


-Did you attend instructs or was there any winter ball leagues on the table for you to participate in?

I didn't go to instructs. I got asked if I wanted to go play in Australia, in one of the winter ball leagues. I turned it down just because I thought I threw enough innings and just felt good still. I wanted to get back home because you have to get a real job and make money to be able to support yourself and live in the off-season. 'Cause, as you know, you don't get paid a ton and you need to hold up the roof, so...

-I know we spoke and you mentioned you're doing pitching lessons with young players. What age group are your working with, what facility are you using and are you doing anything else work wise?

So, I do give pitching lessons. I live in a real small town, so I don't have access to a big facility. I have some connections at the local public baseball fields, so I have a nice turf mound set up and we work at different distances. I work with mostly nine to 10 (year olds), most of the kids. I do give a couple high schoolers some lessons. But, when I'm not giving lessons, I'm working for a citrus company. One of my best friend's dad, he owns a citrus company and that's just all orange trees and stuff. And I do a lot of care taking in the orange groves and I work 49 hours a week. So, after I get off work- I work from seven to five- and once I get off of work at five, from 5:30 to 6:30, I do a lesson. I do one lesson every day of the week.

-That's pretty awesome. Does working with people that you know and friends of the family, does that make the main gig more enjoyable?

Absolutely, it makes it easier being surrounded by great people at the workplace. The environment's great, so I enjoy it there. And, of course, I like seeing the kids get better as the lessons go by. You see what their flaws are and you work on it and you see them go up hill. That's awesome.

-I wouldn't expect you to have any regrets about choosing to stay stateside and earn some income with the two jobs that you've got, but over these past couple months, are you seeing any posts online from guys like Logan O'Hoppe, Ben Aklinski and the other Phillies guys that are over there living the good life in the summer, down under, and do you have any jealousy for not being there?

(Laughs) No, no. We play enough games for me. But, it's good seeing them. They're over there, having a good time. I've talked to some of the guys and they're actually on the same team as my old-- my junior year, my roommate was from Australia and they're on the same team right now. But I'm good friends with him and he called me and we Facetimed a couple times and he was with some of the guys and Logan and Aklinski and some of those guys.

-What is the Aussie teammate's name?

Jason Lott.

-Great.  Are there any goals or anything you're working on specifically, like adding muscle or weight, this off-season?

You know, last year I tried to gain weight. I put on, like, 10 pounds in the off-season and wanted to see if I weighed more if I'd throw harder and that didn't necessarily work for me. About the 175 range is where I felt the best and I weighed 185 when I came in, but I felt the best at about 175 and I threw my hardest this year at about that weight. The only thing I really need-- and I'm still working out and stuff-- is not so much packing on the pounds, it's more reps and that kind of thing. 

My main goal is to get my slider as consistent as my change up. That's really it. I like where I'm at velocity wise. Change up is my best pitch, but I want to get my slider on the change up level and I'll be excited about that.

-I know this year you had a couple big moments. You pitched in a combined no-hitter with Clearwater and you earned a promotion to Double-A Reading. Was there a big takeaway or lesson from your 2019 season for you?

Not only did I meet so many great people and build so many great relationships around the organization this year, but it was super cool to be part of a no-hitter-- that was awesome for sure. I learned a lot baseball wise. You can't name every single thing, but playing 140 games, even if you're not playing, in the bullpen you learn a lot. I think I learned the game of baseball better. I learned how to approach different batters and I wrapped my head around that as best I could and I think I took a big step in the knowledge area. I think I got a lot smarter baseball wise.

-Communication is a big deal with pitchers and catchers. Some guys will work on that during the off-season. Where's your Espanol currently and is it where you want it to be?

No. I could improve on that. I haven't had a Spanish class yet. I have a lot of friends from the Dominican and places like that and we make it work. You understand each other. You find a way, even if you can't speak each other's languages, you figure it out.

-Is it the case for the battery mates, the words you'll use for pitches are universal, so that helps things?

I mean it's a little bit of everything. It's both. They learn some English and you learn some Spanish and you don't forget. You can use your hands and you can do all kinds of stuff to make it work. And especially being around people that speak another language, being around them for six months, you pick up a lot and learn some stuff.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

PhoulBallz Interview: Off-season Check In with RHP Kevin Gowdy

Kevin Gowdy, image- Jay Floyd
Righty hurler Kevin Gowdy has a successful season as a member of the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws this year. After missing two full seasons following UCL surgery, the 2016 second round draft pick finally made it through a year totally healthy.

In 24 games with the Claws, the California native posted a 0-6 record with a 4.68 ERA and a .281 batting average against.

Recently, I talked with the 22-year-old about his off-season, his progress during the regular season and more. Read ahead for that complete interview.

-What have you been up to since the season wrapped up as far as baseball work?

So after the season wrapped up September 2nd, I went to instructs for two weeks to work on pitch design, I was out in Florida for another two weeks for strength camp and have also had some much-enjoyed time with friends and family.

-How long do you rest and avoid picking up a baseball? And during that time are you doing any conditioning or other sorts of work outs?

Once I’m done with baseball completely for the year, I take about a week off of everything and just hang out by the beach or with friends to really just unwind and get my mind right before getting back to work. After that week, I start getting back into strength training and arm care. I also take about a month of throwing completely, and after that I start playing light catch a couple times a week just to get my arm moving.

-What facility do you have access to use for training purposes?

This off-season I’ve trained at a place called BSTI which is in Aliso Viejo, California and ran through my agent. I’ve also been up at Driveline Baseball in Seattle which has been incredible so far.

-What would you say was your biggest takeaway from 2019? Any major lessons or improvements?

2019 was honestly an awesome year for me. Towards the beginning of the season and even into the summer I had a ton of ups and downs, especially with my command, velocity and my off-speed stuff, but I think a lot of that was to be expected coming back from Tommy John Surgery.

I was frustrated at times but going through such a grueling rehab process really taught me patience and mental toughness when I’m struggling. In a way I’m almost thankful I went through that surgery because it taught me so much about myself as a competitor and as a person. But once I started getting close to that two years post operation date, it all started to come together. My velocity started climbing back up into the mid 90’s, I started throwing my off-speed stuff where I wanted to and I cut down my walk rate by a lot.

This year was all about staying healthy, and I was able to do that. I don’t pay much attention to Twitter, but it was always funny to me when I’d see posts about how I haven’t returned from surgery or how I’ll never be the same pitcher, when, like I said, this year was all about staying healthy and by the end of the year, I was an even better version of myself pre-surgery.

I learned so much this year and am so fired up to get out there and compete next year.

-Do you have any big plans remaining for the off-season? Any vacations or anything else?

I don’t have too many big plans for this off-season, but I’ve had a few little trips here and there. One of them was to my buddy Jonathon Hennigan's wedding in Center, Texas back in October and I had an absolute blast with a bunch of the guys from the organization.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Phillies 2019 Rule 5 Draft Primer

One part of this week's MLB Winter Meetings that typically grabs interest related to the minor leagues is the annual Rule 5 Draft.

Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft when they are not on their major league organization's 40 man roster and 1) were signed to a contract at age 19 or older and have been in that organization for four years, OR 2) were signed at age 18 or younger and have been in that organization for five years.

Once a player is chosen in the Rule 5 Draft, that player is automatically assigned to his new organization's 40-man roster.

A Rule 5 player must remain on the selecting team's 25-man big league roster for the entire next season, or be offered back to his original team.


Draft order lists the Phillies 15th in this year's Rule 5 Draft. Four of the teams set to pick ahead of the Phils do not currently have room on their 40-man roster, thus they would not get to pick. The Phils head into it this week's Winter Meetings with 38 individuals on their 40-man roster. 
 
For loads of additional details about Phillies players that are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, historical successes from this process and more information, please consider visiting and supporting my Patreon page located online at Patreon.com/PhoulBallz.  Patrons get exclusive content, early access to select posts and interviews with team personnel all throughout the year.  Your backing will help me continue to cover the Phillies developmental ranks like no one else does.  Thank you.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Winners and losers of this off-season's MiLB rebrand frenzy

It's that special time of year when, in the midst of holidays and MLB hot stove, minor league teams have been launching new initiatives to spark interest and sell merchandise.

We've seen new colors, new nicknames, new uniforms and impending relocations getting the complete press release attention throughout the month of "Logovember" and beyond.

Let's take a look at some of the winners and losers of this off-season's newest brands and goods.

Some teams with local ties supplemented their current logos with updated colorways.  Reading went black while Lehigh Valley has gone gold.

Per a press release from the Triple-A Phillies affiliate, the IronPigs: "These uniforms represent what we as an organization think of our fans -- the 'Gold Standard' in Minor League Baseball," said Kurt Landes, President and General Manager of the IronPigs.



And via a release from the organization's Double-A affiliate, the Fightin' Phils shared: The Reading Fightin Phils announced the return of the R-Phils Black R-Train uniforms to be worn as part of Throwback Thursdays for the 2020 season...The black jerseys and hats were worn as an alternate home uniform during the early 2000's. Notable players to have worn these jerseys include Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz.



I surveyed the ultimate media/fan hybrid known as "Kram" from renowned Lehigh Valley focused sports blog Noise Nation for his thoughts on the two Phils affiliates' barrage of merchandise and he offered the following remarks: "I love when the teams try new things and keep things fresh. It was a good idea to come out with this gear prior to the holidays, for gift-giving reasons. It's good that the organizations do this without sacrificing their 'brand identity'. I'll reserve judgement on the merits of the individual releases until I see them on the field--I was completely wrong about the 2019 R-Train R-Phils throwback until I saw it on the field."

Reading, of course, re-launched their former Reading Phillies "R-Phils" uniforms last season after a complete rebrand to the name Fightin' Phils back in 2012.

My thoughts are simply that these offerings look appealing.  The IronPigs are always superior with their logos, branding and merchandise at every turn, with the exception of their full blackout uniform from 2014 that, thankfully, has gone away and did not last very long.  Reading, when they stay away from food items like pretzels, wieners and Whoopie Pies, typically take the field with wonderful looks.

Thus far my favorite logo release of this off-season belongs to Reading, which also updated its Copa de la Diversion concept, which celebrates Hispanic heritage.  The design, which features a Mexican pro wrestling or luchador mask, jumps out to me, a long-time choreographed combat sport fanatic.



Outside of the Phillies organization, another favorite of mine this off-season would be the Tigers Class A short-season team the Norwich Sea Unicorns.  The logos feature a narwhal outfitted as a sea captain with an anchor and a bat-harpoon.  The navy blue and gold colors look remarkable and I immediately gave these logos and hats my approval. 


The Twins' Class A Advanced team in Ft. Myers, FL updated their Miracle name to the Mighty Mussels.  While the colors and logos strike me as having allure, the Mussels' physical mascot may very well leaving children running and hiding due to his scary appearance.



The primary loser is the Boston Red Sox's relocating Triple-A squad announcing a change to the nickname "Woo Sox".  While a name that abbreviates similarly to BoSox isn't the problematic issue, their logos are considerably weak and disappointing in a landscape where business and sales are the primary focus of minor league clubs.  The explanation I read about this logo choice was that the team's future home, Worcester, is the place where the smiley face was invented.  Okay.  If that's what your town is known for and that is your region's primary claim to fame, you've got it pretty tough and additional insights from me here would likely just be putting salt in the wound. 



Another update that strikes me as inadequate is the Marlins' Triple-A affiliate, the Wichita Wind Surge.  So many questions arise and, seemingly, fans hate the name.  Per the team's assistant general manager, some guy, "Wichita is the air capital of the world, and we're paying homage to the wind.  It's a might force."  Stop it right now, some guy!  Air capital?  Just stop making complete fools of everyone with ties to that team.



Other notable brand announcements from the current off-season are the Missouola PaddleHeads as well as the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers.  Both of those are pretty decent.

While many of the updates and designs are handled by the same company, Brandiose, there are certainly hits and misses with the launch of fresh gear and modernized identities.  One remark from my friend Tug Haines really summed it up either way.  As he stated on Twitter this week, "Off-season minor league team Twitter is the try-hardiest."  It surely is.  Nobody tries harder and that's certainly an endearing quality of minor league baseball.