Tuesday, June 30, 2020

2020 Minor League Season Officially Cancelled


On Tuesday, Minor League Baseball announced that its 2020 season would be cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For me, it's worth mentioning that supporters of my work through Patreon got that news six weeks ago.

Per a press release from the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, team general manager Kurt Landes had this to say:

It’s with great disappointment and sadness to inform you that the IronPigs 2020 season has been officially cancelled. Earlier today, Major League Baseball informed Minor League Baseball that it will not be providing its Minor League affiliates with players for the 2020 season. As such, there will not be a 2020 Minor League season.

On behalf of the entire IronPigs organization, I promise that when the 2021 season arrives it will be our best season ever. More promotions, more fun and more entertainment. We’ll honor our front-line heroes, recognize our essential workers and heal together – all while taking in our national pastime.

From a press release, Class A Lakewood BlueClaws president Joe Ricciutti shared, "This is news that we had hoped we wouldn’t have to share, but unfortunately we will not be playing baseball at the Jersey Shore this summer."

2020 was set to be the 20th season in Lakewood. The team has stated that many of their planned 20th season celebrations will be rescheduled for 2021.

The Double-A Reading Fightin Phils offered this feedback in their statement on the cancellation:

We miss seeing all of our Phillies Double A players – working hard toward their dream of making the big leagues. We know how much those players are missing baseball right now and we are excited to see them play again next season. And most of all, we miss all of you, our fans, for you are the reason that we all love working here – throwing 70 baseball parties for our fans each season is what drives us to be great. But we will work through this together and focus on better days ahead when we can all return to America’s Classic Ballpark for an R-Phils ball game. 

Despite the lack of a regular season for Phils prospects this year, keep it locked here and on my Twitter feed for updates, interviews and exclusives on the future of the Phillies organization all year round.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Phillies announce 60-man player pool

As was announced last week, Major League Baseball is set to return from hiatus in July with each team permitted to designate a player pool of up to 60 individuals that can play in games.

Via Twitter on Sunday night, the Phillies announced their collection of talent that will be able to take the field in red pinstripes this year.


Included on the Phils' list of player that will be in the big leagues or on the club's taxi squad, are the top two prospects in the organization, righty hurler Spencer Howard and corner infielder Alec Bohm.

Spencer Howard, image- Jay Floyd
Howard, who is known for his fastball that reaches triple digits pitched last year in the Arizona Fall League, where he faced many of baseball's top minor league talents. In six appearances for Scottsdale, the 23-year-old notched a 1-1 record with a 2.11 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. Additionally, he struck out 27 batters in 21 1/3 innings of work.

Bohm, 23, looked great prior to the pandemic pause to spring training. The Phils' 1st round pick from 2018 posted a .409 average in 13 games.

Other key prospects included on the Phillies' on-field probables list are pitchers Connor Seabold, JoJo Romero, Ramon Rosso, Damon Jones, Connor Brogdon, Addison Russ and Mauricio Llovera along with familiar faces such as catcher Deivy Grullon as well as hurlers Cole Irvin, Enyel De Los Santos and Blake Parker.

The Phillies' announced list has just 53 total names.  This leaves the club with the ability to add players at a later date via free agency, via trade or from within the organization. 

Reported here on this site recently, the Phillies are expected to have their players that aren't active on the big league roster using the Allentown's Coca-Cola Park, home of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, as their primary facility.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

PhoulBallz Interview: IronPigs' Mike Ventola

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Mike Ventola, image- Jay Floyd
Mike Ventola has spent nearly a decade broadcasting in the developmental ranks for the Phillies organization.  He's also worked for the Southern Illinois Miners, the Augusta Greenjackets, New Jersey Institute of Technology calling women's basketball and the Danny Bonaduce Morning Show.

Currently the Manager of Media Relations for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Ventola previously called games for five seasons with the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils.

Recently, "Mikey V." took time to answer interview questions for me and offered some insight on his career path, the appeal of broadcasting, his current role with the IronPigs, what he's missing most this year during the baseball hiatus and more.

Read ahead for that full interview.


-Do you recall your earliest memories of sports broadcasting and what about it appealed to you?

I remember when I was a little boy watching Yankees games on TV with my dad and brother. I was enamored with the announcers describing the action (especially listening to games on the radio in the car). I was not good enough to play baseball like my older brother, so I felt this was an avenue for me being involved in sports.

-Growing up with a focus on the Yankees, certainly there are some legendary voices associated with that team. Can you talk about any impressions those individuals may have left on you?

I am New Jersey born but Pennsylvania raised – with that said, being a Yankees fan was mandatory in the Ventola household. I grew up listening to Michael Kay and John Sterling. I really enjoyed their style, especially John Sterling’s home run call: that ball is high, it is far, it is GONE! His home run call has had an affect on me to this day because I have one of my own.

-What were some of your earliest broadcasting gigs and how valuable were those experiences?

I was in college when I first started to broadcast sports. I first started doing public address but transitioned to play-by-play when the university I attended implemented internet webcasts. I did play-by-play for field hockey, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. I did not start doing baseball play-by-play until my first internship in minor league baseball. What I took away was the ability to make a ton of mistakes, hone my craft and learn how to inject my personality into the broadcast. I learned a lot from my early years behind the microphone.

-When I first met you, you were the most welcoming team staffer (or a close second place to Greg Giombarrese in Lakewood) that I have ever encountered, as a member of the IronPigs crew. Describe your initial role there and how that helped you move forward with future assignments.

Thank you, Jay. Greg G in Lakewood is the Gold Standard, so I would be happy to take second place behind him. Latching on with the IronPigs has brought me on a little bit of a different journey than my prior stops. I am not as present on the radio as I used to be when I was with the Reading Fightin Phils, but I do a lot with the television side of the broadcasts. I am stronger on the Media Relations side now, allowing me to develop stronger relationships with the media and players/coaches. It has opened up doors for me to meet with various people in the area and businesses. I have also been fortunate to do a lot of work for the local cable company that televises all the IronPigs home games.

-Can you share some details about the role of media relations manager/media relations director that fans might not know about?

Outside of being a face and voice of the team you work for; I have to do a lot behind the scenes for the organization. I help come up with creative ideas and implement digital content for our social media pages and website. It’s more than just writing press releases and preparing game notes!

-What would you say is your most memorable game called in the Phils system? Would there be a non-Phils related game that gives that Phils organization game a run for its money?

It is hard to pinpoint one memorable game during my time in the Phillies system. I will say the overall home run chase between Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins in 2016 was truly special. That season started off with the exhibition game at FirstEnergy Stadium between the Phillies prospects and Phillies. It was such a fun season but fell short in the end when they got eliminated by Trenton in the first round of the playoffs. I’ve only called one no-hitter in my career and it was on July 11, 2015 when the Fightins’ played a double-header against Akron at Canal Park. Ryan Merritt for Akron threw a no-hitter in game one against Reading. It was by far the most memorable game I called when seeing an opponent get the best of your team, even if it was seven innings.

-Best parks to call a game in for both the Double-A Eastern League and Triple-A International League? If your answers are the home parks...which road ones stand out for you?

Best park to call a game in the Eastern League – I love Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine. The ballpark is awesome, and they always had good crowds when we went. I don’t travel much in my role with the IronPigs, so I have to say I’ve only been to PNC Field in Moosic, PA (home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders). It is a nice ballpark and always has a good crowd.

-What advice would you share with people that would hope to get into broadcasting? And is there any advice you have been given along the way that really made a difference in your career?

Start now and do not worry about making mistakes. Get as much experience as you possibly can be it through internships or talking into a recorder in your living room. Once you get in the door – build a network. You need people to go to bat for you. A strong network will help you get opportunities down the road. The old saying is true: it is not what you know, but who you know.

-What do you miss most about calling games right now?

As silly as this may sound, but what I miss most about calling games is the roar of the crowd. There is nothing like it when the lights are shining down on the field, the stadium is packed, and crowd is in every moment of the game. It gives me goosebumps. It is what makes baseball so special. A cheer for when the home team does well and a boo when the road team does well. Man, do I miss it.

Big league baseball set for return with rule changes

The following  post originally appeared on my Patreon page, https://www.patreon.com/phoulballz.  In order to get breaking news, exclusive interviews, early access and other content, please consider supporting my work there for just $5 per month.

The long awaited announcement of a return for Major League Baseball came on Tuesday, as the league and the players have come to terms on a 60-game regular season schedule set to begin on either July 23rd or July 24th.

The announcement comes on the heels of months-long negotiations between the two sides, as they struggled to agree on a way to safely come back from the Coronavirus related hiatus.

With some rule tweaks, MLB will proceed despite considerable rises in COVID-19 cases in Arizona, Texas and Florida, where many games will be played.

Rule changes include:

The National League will use the designated hitter.

The trading deadline will be August 31st.

Much like the method used in the minor leagues in recent years, each frame in extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.

Rosters will open at 30 players for the opening two weeks of the season, move down to 28 for the following two weeks, then reduce to 26 players for the remainder of the regular season.

Teams will utilize a taxi squad, which will allow the clubs to have as many as 60 players available to play in big league contests. 

On that taxi squad rule, those reserve players will train together at a separate site.  Intrasquad games will be permitted in order for players to stay game-ready.  Per a source, the Phillies will use Allentown's Coca-Cola Park, home of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs as the facility for their backup personnel.  Additionally, minor league players have begun to receive calls about reporting to be part of this taxi squad. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Talking Phils draft & no minor league season on Hittin' Season Podcast

I mentioned in my recent draft picks post that I'd be publishing the latest Hittin' Season podcast, in which I chat about the Phillies' draft results and the lack of a minor league season this year, after it became available.  I wasn't having luck with getting the embedded player for just that episode posted on the site here.  So, below, you'll find a description of the episode as well as a link to be able to stream the show, hosted by John Stolnis.  I hope you dig it.

On Episode 390 of Hittin' Season, host John Stolnis breaks down the much-shorter 2020 MLB Draft for the Phillies with Jay Floyd of  PhoulBallz.com. Also, comments by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred about the March 26 agreement raise eyebrows and ESPN's Karl Ravech pushes back about the negotiations, and another edition of This Week in Phillies  History! 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Former Phils prospect Cozens stops looters in AZ

Dylan Cozens, image- Jay Floyd
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Last week, as he rang in his 26th birthday, Dylan Cozens wasn't celebrating.  Instead, he took to the streets in the midst of rioting to protect local businesses in his native Scottsdale, AZ.

After 1:00 AM, Cozens, a former Phillies outfield prospect and current Rays minor leaguer, caught a glimpse of some rowdy happening on Facebook Live.  Posts showed violence and thievery and the former second round draft selection wasn't going to let it continue. 

"When I saw what they were doing and the reason behind it, I decided to try and stop it because it wasn't right. It had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter.  It was a hate crime to go and try to destroy businesses and loot and hurt people," Cozens said on Monday. 

Explaining that individuals he encountered out, in the middle or the night, weren't holding signs, and weren't peacefully protesting for a good cause, Cozens stated they were people only present to commit crimes.  

Armed with a flash light and a pair of hand cuffs, the six-foot-six 235-pound Cozens and his friend, Ryan Fisher, who is an equally imposing fitness athlete, swiftly set out for the local businesses they'd seen at risk of being destroyed and crippled.

Physical altercations did not occur, as the appearance of Cozens, who documented some of the action on his Instagram account, and his partner in fighting crime was enough to deter evil doers. 


"Ryan basically looked like a SWAT agent, so I think having him there, for sure, scared people," Cozens shared.  "But we didn't touch anyone.  (We) just basically told them to stop and get out and put the stuff down."

Cozens stands firmly against racism and, as a young American, is in disbelief at the fact that it's still a major issue in America today.  

"I don't know what the key to ending the systemic racism but I will always support black communities because there is an issue and the more people that can realize that the better," said Cozens.  "I think it's been going on for far too long and people that act racist need to be held accountable by everyone. There is no place in this world for that."

The Double-A Eastern League Most Valuable Player in 2016 when he slashed .276/.350/.591 and slammed 40 home runs for the Reading Fightin Phils, Cozens has not enjoyed much success in a couple brief stints in the big leagues.  In 27 major leagues games to date, he notched a .154 average with a home run and two RBI.  

Released by the Phillies in August last season, he was quickly signed by the Tampa Bay Rays.  He was slated as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training this year and appeared in 12 games prior to the baseball schedule being halted due to the Coronavirus pandemic.   

Cozens is staying busy during the baseball hiatus with his new business.  Over the off-season, he became a licensed contractor and currently does all the basics such as flooring, painting, frame work and masonry.  

"My dad was a successful builder back in the day, so I figured it would be a great thing, (post-baseball), to do," Cozens explained.  "You don't need a degree and can make a good living and it's always good to have a back up plan. I eventually would love to start building custom homes and apartment complexes."

As for the 2020 season, when asked if he has a preference for how things should proceed in the midst of a pandemic, Cozens kept it simple. 

"I would just love to play," Cozens said.

And we'd love to see the concrete layin', home run sprayin' powerhouse back on the diamond as well.  Be kind and play ball!

Phils wrap up unique draft with some promising selections

The 2020 MLB amateur draft is complete and the Phillies selected a nice collection of talent.

In the face of the global pandemic, Major League Baseball chose to shorten this year's draft, as a cost-cutting measure, from 40 to five rounds.  Despite the abbreviated draft this year, there is plenty to be excited about.

Following the first round on Wednesday, in which the Phils selected high school hurler Mick Abel, the team waited until the third round to make their next selection.  They had to surrender their second round selection after signing qualified free agent Zack Wheeler last off-season.

On Thursday with their third round pick the Phils chose college junior shortstop Casey Martin.  Projected as a borderline first rounder, the righty hitting 21-year-old notched a .311/.393/.545 slash line with 30 homers, 24 steals and 112 RBI in 143 games through his college career at Arkansas.  A super talent, Martin was a collegiate freshman All-American two years ago.  He's projected as a guy that could change positions and land as a second baseman or a center fielder as he moves through the pro ranks.

In the fourth round, the Phillies selected right-handed pitcher Carson Ragsdale out of the University of South Florida.  The 22-year-old stands six-feet-eight and is listed at 225 pounds.  A likely reliever, Ragsdale throws a mid-90's fastball, with an excellent curve ball and a fair change up.  In four starts this year, Ragsdale notched a 1-0 record with a 2.84 ERA while striking out 37 and issuing seven walks in 19 innings of work.  There is plenty to like about this guy's upside.

Outfielder Baron Radcliff was tabbed as the Phils' fifth round draft choice.  The Georgia Tech junior is projected as a big power guy.  In 16 games this year, the 21-year-old lefty batter posted a .259 batting average with three home runs and 17 RBI.  His father Vic was a 4th round draft pick of the Royals back in 1995 and he played five seasons in the minor leagues.  Radcliff could be a stereotypical big power guy that slugs and strikes out a lot.  Other well known Phillies fifth rounders include Ryan Howard, Rhys Hoskins and Mickey Morandini.

I will be joining John Stolnis on his podcast to speak more about the Phillies' draft, the 2020 minor league season, or lack there of, and more.  That episode is due out on Friday and I'll post the show when it's available. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Phillies take high school pitcher Abel with first round pick

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With the 15th overall selection in the 2002 MLB Amateur Draft, the Phillies chose right-handed pitcher Mick Abel out of Jesuit High School in Oregon.  The 18-year-old was widely ranked as the top high school pitcher in this year's draft.

Per MLB.com, based on his build, arm strength and repertoire, he's drawn comparisons to Stephen Strasburg and Mike Soroka.

Abel is the first high school pitcher from Oregon taken in the first round since the 1994 draft when the Kansas City chose Matt Smith.

Due to the global Coronavirus pandemic, Abel did not pitch competitively in school this year.  However, he has been throwing bullpen session to Orioles prospect and last year's top overall draft pick Adley Rutschman, a former Oregon State backstop.  The elder battery member noted to Baseball America that he couldn't believe the offerings he caught from Abel were thrown by a high schooler.

Last year in his junior season, Abel, an Oregon State commit, sported a 1.26 ERA and a 13.8 K/9 mark in 72 1/3 innings of work while helping his school lock down a state championship.

The pitch menu for Abel includes a low-to-mid-90's fastball, an effective slider with good movement, a quality curve ball and a change up that earns raves and features sink.

There will not be a second round pick for the Phillies this year, as the team forfeited their selection after signing qualified free agent pitcher Zack Wheeler.  Their next pick will come at 87th overall in the third round.

Round two through five of this year's draft take place on Thursday, beginning at 5pm Eastern.  MLB announced last month that this year's draft would be reduced to just five rounds as a cost-cutting measure in the face of the pandemic and a 2020 season that remains on hold.

The Phils took shortstop Bryson Stott with the 14th overall pick a year ago.  The UNLV product notched a .295 average with six homers and 27 RBI in 48 games mostly with Class A short-season Williamsport as a 21-year-old.  Stott was honored as a New York-Penn League All-Star for his efforts.

Twenty years ago this week, the Phillies selected second baseman Chase Utley out of UCLA in precisely the same spot in the draft.

Videos of Mick Abel can be viewed in the embedded media players below.





Friday, June 5, 2020

LHP Brown speaks on recent release and his future

Aaron Brown, image- Jay Floyd
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Aaron Brown was released last Friday after nearly six years in the Phillies organization.

Brown, the Phils' 3rd round draft selection in 2014 out of Pepperdine, was primarily an outfielder after turning pro.  A two-way player in college, Brown switched to pitching in 2017 after struggling on offense (.224/.313/.360) at the Double-A level.

A dominant hurler in college, Brown posted a 13-1 record along with a 1.95 ERA in 17 starts in 2014. 

A solid performer on the minor league mound as well, the California native notched a 5-4 record with a pair of saves, a 3.82 ERA along with an 11.0 K/9 mark in 45 relief appearances for the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils last season.

With free agency on the horizon for Brown in September and the 2020 minor league season likely not taking place due to the global pandemic, the Phillies included Brown when they decided to cut more than two dozen players prior to next week's MLB amateur draft.

Despite having his career derailed for now, Brown, who always keeps a positive mindset, is focused on continuing to prosper on the diamond.

"Being released is never a thrilling experience for any player," Brown shared.  "However, I know that when one door closes another door opens.

"I now have a lot of options and I will play this year, whether it is here in the States or overseas.  The other thing I know is that wherever I do play I know I’ll be ready to go there and perform."

The main reason Brown is confident he'll be ready at any given point is because he's working hard to keep himself prepared for game action.  In doing so, he's putting together videos and posting them online to help other athletes and baseball players increase their knowledge.  He wants to help other players be better prepared and has established a YouTube channel known as Athlete Life. 

"The YouTube channel I created is for one purpose and one purpose only," Brown explained of his video endeavor.  "It is to bring information to young players around the world who share the same dream as I do…to play in the show!  I want to help them learn about what to expect once they reach that next level.  

"The future of baseball depends on the future talent.  It is my hope to help that future talent be better equipped once their time comes."

Brown had long desired to create his own YouTube channel.  He scratched that creative itch and is now writing, recording, editing and producing his own content, giving other athletes insight on working harder, working smarter and taking practice seriously. 

Published videos on Brown's channel have featured other professional pitchers, including Angel Rodriguez (former Rays) and Jonny Deluca (Dodgers).

His release last Friday struck Brown by surprise, though he understands baseball is a business and gets that those decisions happen.   

Expressing his appreciation and fondness of his experiences and his journey in the Phillies system, Brown wishes everyone the best and holds absolutely zero hard feelings.  

"The Phillies are an amazing organization and they go about their business the right way.  It would be an honor to reunite with the Phillies and play for them down the road if given the chance.  I have become so close with so many of their players, staff, managers and scouts.  It’s like a big family there," Brown stated.

Checking out his channel can certainly benefit players and give fans more insight into the preparation side of the game and I don't think it's farfetched to think it's possible we'll see some of Brown's Phillies family members popping up on there with him in the future.


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Possible plans for expanded fall league

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It has been multiple weeks since I reported on my Patreon page that a cancellation of the 2020 minor league season is likely as a result of the global pandemic.

Despite that, some minor leaguers staying active will be necessary in order to keep players ready in order to supplement each big league roster as needs and injuries arise.  That "taxi squad" could possibly travel with the team and play against the big league opponents' minor leaguers or they could remain stationed at a single location in order to play intrasquad games.

This week, Baseball America has reported that in order to make up for the lost playing time, a plan being considered is to allow each of the 30 organizations to send a roster of their own prospects to play at spring training venues in Arizona and Florida. Discussions of having a second, lower level team for each organization has happened.

Traditionally, the Arizona Fall League, a prestigious exhibition league for some of the top prospects in the game, allows each organization to send seven or eight players to participate in a one-month competitive schedule.

Things are in the talking stages, so there's nothing firm in place regarding an expanded fall league quite yet.  However, once it's announced that the 2020 regular season is lost for minor leaguers, look for an alternate plan for prospects to get more development time to become more clear.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Phillies release minor leaguers ahead of amateur draft

Leibrandt w/ Reading in 2017, image-Jay Floyd
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On Monday I learned that roughly two dozen Phillies minor leaguers were released over the weekend as the organization prepares for this year's amateur draft.

Via sources, I quickly confirmed a few of the individuals, namely righty hitting outfielder Ben Aklinski along with lefty pitcher Brandon Leibrandt.  I also communicated with lefty reliever Aaron Brown, who confirmed to be that he had been released by the organization.

Aklinski, 23, with the Phils' 32nd round draft pick in 2018.  He notched a .560 OPS last year with Class A Advanced Clearwater.  

Leibrandt had been out of action since July of 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  The 27-year-old was a 6th round pick in 2014.  In five pro seasons, Leibrandt tallied a 2.88 ERA with a .235 batting average against and a 7.0 K/9 mark.

Brown was a 3rd round pick in 2014 and had reached Double-A as an outfielder before converting to pitching.  He posted a 3.82 ERA and an 11.0 K/9 mark in 45 relief outings with Double-A Reading last season.  Brown was set to be a free agent following the 2020 season.

As the evening rolled in on Monday, a complete list of 26 minor leaguers released by the Phillies became available.

In addition to Brown, Aklinski and Leibrandt, the Phils also parted ways with LHP Junior Tejada, 3B Ali Castillo, 3B T.J. Rivera, RHP Carlos Bustamante, RHP Sandro Rosario,  RHP Tyler Hallead, C Willie Estrada, RHP Waylon Richardson, RHP Michael Gomez, SS Raul Rivas, 2B Hunter Stovall,  RHP  Brian Auerbach, C Juan Mendez, OF Jordan McArdle, RHP Joan Hernandez, SS  Raibently Mercalina, RHP Cristofer Adames, LHP Daivin Perez, LHP  Alberto Torres, LHP Nathanael Bido, LHP Camilo Hinestroza, RHP Jason Lott and RHP Raul Mendoza.

Gomez, an undrafted right-handed pitcher, notched a 1.15 ERA, a .174 batting average against and a 9.8 K/9 mark in 18 professional games across three levels last year.  The 23-year-old wrapped up his season with Class A Advanced Clearwater last year.

Stovall, a 23-year-old infielder, was acquired by the Phils in April 2019 as part of a trade with the Rockies.  Stovall posted a .663 OPS in 89 Class A games last year.

Lott, an Australia native, was signed by the Phillies in March this year as an international free agent.  The 25-year-old did not pitch in a single regular season game for the Phils.