Down On The Farm
There’s been a lot written lately about the Phillies farm system, and rightly so. For many years the cupboard was raided in an attempt to win now. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that and, really, no prospect the Phillies traded away has done anything of substance. The larger problem was poor drafting of players. More recently, the Phillies have restocked the system by trading away Cole Hamels and Ken Giles, among others. At the same time, some of the players they have drafted are getting noticed, such as Dylan Cozens, Rhys Hoskins and J.P. Crawford. Others who arrived though the trades are already here making a difference like Zach Eflin and Jerad Eickoff. MLB.com rated the Phillies system as 7th best in baseball even before some of the prospects began having breakout years. Minorleagueball.com had them at number 10 , and Baseball Prospectus had the Phillies in the 4th spot. I haven’t written on this blog in quite some time; I’ve been busier than I expected I would be this summer. I thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of the prospects and give them a rating.
I am not going to go through every prospect obviously, but some of the ones that have been in the news lately. The following rating system will be used: 4= MLB All-Star 3= above average 2= average 1= bench player. For pitchers, the system will be: 4= Legitimate ace 3= number 2/3 in rotation 2= 4/5 in rotation 1= bullpen piece.
Let’s start of with J.P. Crawford. I am giving him a 4, I believe he will be an all-star one day in the Major Leagues. Of course, I am not going out on a limb as he is ranked the number 3 prospect in all of baseball right now by MLB.com. The main reason why I think he will be an all-star is because of his plate discipline. It is so rare for a young player to have such good discipline. At every level he has walked about the same amount of times that he has struck out. During his time at double A, he actually walked more than he’s struck out. AAA has been a little different story, but he has not been there the whole season, plus it should be kept in mind that he is 5.6 years younger than the average AAA player, a good number of whom have Major League experience. Some knocks on Crawford have been his defense, having only a .956 career minor league fielding percentage. He has played good defense in 2016, however. At the same time however, his range factor per game is quite good. He does not hit for a whole lot of power, with a career slugging percentage of .400. However, he is a shortstop, so power would be a bonus (and he did hit 11 home runs one year, so he could develop into a guy who could hit 10-15 home runs a year with a good number of other extra base hits) and he does make up for it by getting on base at a nice rate- .378 career. I have no doubt that if Crawford continues to do well that he will be a September call-up.
Next up let’s take a look at Jake Thompson, who’s been on an amazing roll over the last few weeks after a rough start to the season. Originally a second round pick by the Tigers, the Phillies picked him up in the Hamels trade. Thompson is also young, just 22 and is knocking on the door to the big leagues. He’s had a successful career in the minors with an ERA of 3.06 and a WHIP of 1.209. This year he has an excellent 2.42 ERA (over his last 9 starts he’s only surrendered three earned runs) and a WHIP of 1.101. He strikeouts per nine innings average is a little lower than one would like at 6.2, but he’s certainly getting the job done. There’s not much more Thompson can prove at AAA and will be up as soon as there is an opening in the rotation. I’d give Thompson a rating of 3.
Another guy at AAA that some people have talked about, and not always for good reasons is Nick Williams. Williams is another player who came from Texas in the Hamels trade. Williams is one of a few up-and-coming outfielders that Phillies have. Like Thompson and Crawford, Williams is also young for AAA, but after a slow start is having a good year. His slash line is .290/.324/.470 which is around his career minor league average. Williams has shown some power, twice hitting 17 home runs in a year, and can swipe a few bases, too. He strikes out too much, but hopefully he can cut down on that as he matures as a hitter. He could also stand to walk more, too. The biggest knock on Williams is that he’s been benched twice for not running out hits which is not what you want to see from a young prospect. Williams could probably stand to be spoken to by more than just a manager, but by a veteran player who’s had success in the major leagues. If I am the Phillies, I would not bring Williams up in September so as to send a message that he needs to tighten up his game more. Williams is a bit of a wild card but I will give him a 3.
The last AAA player we will look at is Andrew Knapp, a catcher who was a 2nd round pick in 2013. Knapp had a fairly average minor league career until he was promoted to AA Reading last year and responded by hitting .360/.419/.631. Those numbers made a lot of people take notice, and for good reason. At Lehigh Valley this year, his numbers have really come back to earth and are probably a better picture of what he is capable of. Knapp certainly is not ready to be promoted and with another, better catching prospect at AA, Knapp will probably be moved to another position at some point. Or, he may just be a backup; it really depends on how well he can hit. It may help to bring back the AA mustache again. I think Knapp will be a 2. His great season last year seems to have been a bit of an aberration.
The AA guys are obviously a little tougher to project, but let’s give it a shot. Let’s start off with their very exciting catching prospect, Jorge Alfaro. Alfaro came over to the Phillies from Texas for Hamels and impressed during spring training this year mostly due to his arm strength. Pete Mackanin, who’s been in the game a long time, said it’s probably the best he’s seen. Vincent Velasquez also spoke highly about him as well after his rehab stint in the minors this year. Alfaro has thrown out an impressive 42% of base runners this season. Alfaro has good pop in his bat, but rarely walks. In 69 games this year, he’s only walked 16 times. He just won’t have success in the majors with that kind of walk rate. At this point Knapp seems to be the odd-catcher out and Alfaro will eventually be a catcher with the Phillies. Cameron Rupp has had an excellent season this year (and the Phillies should not look to trade him) so Alfaro will most likely start as a backup, maybe late next year or 2018. I’ll give Alfaro a 3.
The Phillies have a few good prospects in Reading- Roman Quinn, Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens. Quinn would probably be knocking on the door to the big leagues by now, but has been plagued by injuries throughout his career. Quinn has excellent speed, and was having a very nice year (.288/.361/.420 25 SB in 50 games) when he got hurt. He only recently returned to the field. If he can stay healthy, I like Quinn to be in the Phillies outfield in 2018. I’ll give Quinn a 2.5.
Rhys Hoskins was a 5th round pick two years ago and has shown excellent power his whole time in the minors, especially this year. Hoskins, a first baseman, has 29 home runs so far along with a very solid .285/.356 BA/OBP line. Reading is known as a hitters park, and Darin Ruf had a even more impressive total a few years ago and never really made an impact in Philly, so the number should be taken with a grain of salt. He’s hit about twice as many home runs in Reading than away. He will no doubt be in AAA next year, so it will be interesting to see how he does there. The Phillies first base situation is definitely not settled, although Tommy Joseph has performed well enough to be the presumptive starter next year for now. Joseph really needs to get on base more, though. It’s tough to judge, but I will give Hoskins a 3.
Lastly, we have Dylan Cozens, a right fielder who is also have a monster year at Reading with 25 home runs and a .279/.366 line. The two have very similar stats and there have been quite a few news reports featuring both these guys. Cozens has walked more this year, but he’s also struck out more. Cozens is a really big guy at 6′ 6″ and 235 pounds, but is quick, with 17 stolen bases so far. He’s also hitting a lot of home runs in hitter-friendly Reading, so that should be a consideration, too. Of his 25 home runs, 20 have been hit at home, which is an even more extreme split than Hoskins. The Phillies have quite a few outfield prospects to sort through, so it will be interesting to see over the next two years who are for real and who are just mediocre players. I think I will give Cozens a 2, although he may come through as a 3. Hoskins has shown a better ability to get on base and that just is so important at the major league level.
So there you have it folks, so armchair scouting for you. I think it’s a pretty safe bet we will see Thompson in Philly soon (it really seems Jeremy Hellickson will be traded). I also think we will see JP Crawford up in September. Nick Williams is also a possibility, but I’d hold off on that as I mentioned above. Also, keep an eye on Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery, two players recently promoted up the ladder. There really is a lot to look forward to as a Phillies fan. The Phillies could very well be in a good position to spend a lot of money over the next few years in free agency thanks to salaries coming off the books and the Comcast contract kicking in.