Thursday, June 12, 2008
I have a couple of topics I want to touch on briefly today. They are ...
1. Chase Utley: MVP? Well, right now Utley is the run-away leader in the National League voting for second base, so he'll definitely be starting at the 2008 All-Star Game for the National League. The triple crown is a long stop for him (his .311 batting average is thirteenth in the N.L.), but his 21 home runs lead the N.L. and his 56 RBI tie him for second in the N.L., just one behind Adrian Gonzalez. He's fourth in the N.L. in Runs Created per 27 Outs at 9.56, and his Isolated Power at the plate (BA - SLG = ISO, basically your slugging percentage without singles) is third in the N.L. at .339. Utley is also playing terrific defense: he's second in the N.L. amongst second basemen in Range Factor (((Put-Outs + Assists) * 9) / IP). If Chase sustains this level of production he could end up with 45-50 home runs, 40-45 doubles, 130-140 RBI, and 12-15 stolen bases.
2. Sports Illustrated's Bizarro-world cover from two weeks ago really didn't touch on everything that is so topsy-turvey about this baseball season. (Click here for the article by Tom Verducci.) Focused mainly on the Tampa Bay Rays sitting at the top of the standings while the Yankees mire in mediocrity, the article really didn't get into back I find shocking about this baseball season: the screwed up nature of the A.L. Central race, which finds the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers with losing records, fighting to stay ahead of the Kansas City Royals. The Royals. The Tigers are a total mess, having shipped Dontrelle Willis to Single-A Lakeland to rehab, while the rest of their lineup groans and creaks towards a fourth-place finish. I'm tempted to blame the struggles of the Tigers on their age, but youngsters Chris Granderson has an OBP of just .297, and Jason Verlander is 3-9 with a 4.65 ERA. Gary Sheffield has just three home runs and twelve RBI.
The Indians have issues too: Victor Martinez has zero home runs and Travis Hafner has barely played as well. The Indians pitching staff, which I actually felt was the best in the American League, has two of its three starters getting rocked: C.C. Sabathia picked an awful time to struggle (4-8, 4.34 ERA), when millions of dollars in free agency money are at stake, and Paul Byrd (3-6, 4.89 ERA) has been bad too. To me the Tigers and Indians struggles are much, much bigger surprises than the Yankees and Rays respective situations.
3. The Phillies recent two-game losing streak to the Marlins has clipped the Phillies lead in the N.L. East from 4 games to 2 games. The Braves and Mets sit six and a half games back. Oh yeah, the Mets. I harken back to all of the mocking attacks Mets fans launched on me back in spring about my belief that Johan Santana's acquisition changed nothing. (Click here for some abject stupidity.) I was skeptical about the Mets rotation but they've actually been o.k. John Maine has been good (okay, Mets fans were right about him), but Oliver Perez has stunk. On offense, Carlos Delgado has been terrible and the Mets supporting cast hasn't protected Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran or David Wright.
We'll have more on the Mets struggles later.
Labels: Odds 'n Ends
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The Phillies begin a three-game series tonight in Florida. Brett Myers vs. some guy I've never heard of. Let's turn to the minors.
As I mentioned yesterday, the minor league system consists of a number of steps that players have to pass through in order to make their way to the major leagues. The Double-A Reading Phillies and Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs are the final two stops players have to pass through in order to make the big leagues in Philadelphia. The two teams we are going to talk about today, the Advanced Single-A Clearwater Threshers and Single-A Lakewood Blue Claws, are the teams that currently hold players taken in the '06 and '07 Drafts. These players are a few years away from being MLB-ready. Guys like Adrian Cardenas won't have a shot at making the move to Philadelphia until '10. Let's start with ...
Clearwater Threshers. Current record: 26-33. Standings: 6th of 6 teams in in the Florida State League's Western Division, thirteen and one-half games back of the Ft. Meyers Miracles. Players of note: Adrian Cardenas (2B/SS), Quintin Berry (OF), Joe Savery (P) and Kyle Drabek (P).
The crown jewels of the Phillies 2006 and 2007 Drafts - first-rounders Kyle Drabek and Joe Savery, as well as Supplemental first-rounder Adrian Cardenas - are currently sunning themselves in Clearwater, Florida, waiting to move up to Reading and join the Reading Phillies. Kyle Drabek is still recovering from an arm injury and will hopefully rejoin the team shortly. Before his injury last season he was 5-1 with a 4.33 ERA in Lakewood. After a so-so start with the GCL Phillies in '06, Drabek really seemed to have put things together in Lakewood (7.66 K/9). I'd like to see what he'll do in Clearwater. The jury is still out on him.
Adrian Cardenas, who was picked after Drabek in the sandwich round in '06, is off to a terrific start. It is stunning that a player so talented fell to the Phillies in the sandwich round that season. At the moment Cardenas has an OPS of .909, which would rank him second in the entire FSL behind Daniel Valencia of the Ft. Myers Miracles (.938). Cardenas is also fifth in the FSL in OBP at .397. While Cardenas' has just four home runs and twelve RBIs, remember that the FSL is a very pitching-oriented league. Two things that impress me about him: in addition to the power at the plate, Cardenas is quick (4 for 4 in steals this season, 20 of 27 last season; five triples in '06 and '07 combined) and he shows good bat control (17 walks to 21 K's this season). Add in Cardenas defensive abilities ... Cardenas' skills are limitless. He's easily the best position player the Phillies have in the minors and probably their second-best prospect after Carlos Carrasco.
Phillies fans are finally getting their first extended look at Joe Savery. The Phillies first pick in '07, he played sparringly in Williamsport last season, posting a 2-3 record with an impressive 2.73 ERA. The Phillies high command liked what they saw enough to jump Savery over Single-A Lakewood to Clearwater. So far he's off to a solid start, not that you could tell with his 2-7 record and 4.61 ERA, but his numbers are far more impressive. His strikeout rate is 7.54 per nine innings and he owns a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Unlike Carrasco and Outman, two players the Phillies have elected to move along slowly, Savery appears to be MLB ready sooner rather than later. I could see the Phillies jumping Savery to Reading before the end of this season and giving him a chance at making the Phillies roster in '10.
Finally, Quintin Berry is really catching my eye in Clearwater. Currently he is second in the FSL in stolen bases at 19 (in 24 tries). If he could improve his ability to get on base (he currently has a .335 OBP), he'd be deadly. Let's move to the Jersey Shore and scope out the ...
Lakewood Blue Claws. Current record: 33-26. Standings: 3rd of 8 teams in in the South Atlantic League's Northern Division, two games behind of the Lake County Captains. Players of note: Dominic Brown (OF), D'Arby Myers (OF), Freddy Galvis (SS), Karl Bolt (1B), Travis Mattair (3B), and Drew Naylor (P).
Here is something that I just realized. The Blue Claws are the only Phillies affiliate right now with the winning record and not in last place. That's pretty sad.
Now, this is just a personal opinion, but I think the Phillies 2007 Draft was pretty good and yielded a lot of talent. While the '06 Draft yielded a clear superstar in Cardenas (the jury is still out on Drabek), I think the '07 Draft will yield a greater dividend of talent in terms of depth as opposed to quality. I can't see Naylor, Savery or Mattair making the kind of contribution that Cardenas will, but each will contribute to the Phillies roster as role players or fourth and fifth starters. In the end that depth will be as important as Cardenas will be. (Can you tell I think this guy is pretty good?)
Let's start with Dominic Brown. Brown is a player who really impresses me. Last season in Williamsport he stole 14 bases in 21 tries and posted an impressive .356 OBP while hitting 5 triples. This season he's surprised me by hitting five home runs (curiously, no triples, but 12 doubles) with an OBP of .362 and 11 steals in 12 tries. Brown is fast and shows good instinicts. I like the fact that in his last ten games he's walked 7 times and struckout just once. Discipline at the plate and speed. Brown could make a very effective leadoff hitter one day.
Airforce grad Karl Bolt and Travis Mattair man each end of the Phillies corner infield. Bolt, a first baseman, got off to an impressive start in the GCL with 8 home runs, 4 triples and 10 doubles and 31 RBI in just 57 games, an impressive feat given how pitcher-friendly the league is. He's off to a less-powerful start in Lakewood, with three home runs and seven doubles. So far Bolt is striking out way too much: 31 times in 37 games. Add in that he draws just 7 walks and you've got a recipe for disaster. Mattair, who played with Bolt in the GCL last season, is also struggling in Lakewood. His On-Base Percentage is an abysmal .322 and he has just one home run and 21 RBI in 52 games. Like Bolt, Mattair has wiffed a lot: 51 times in 52 games.
D'Arby Myers, who played in Williamsport in '07 and in the GCL in '06, is really struggling right now. His batting average is a beyond awful .189 and he's struckout 45 times in 50 games. Myers has speed to burn: 7 of 8 steals this season, 11 of 17 last season, but he's going to get few chances to showcase it unless he improves the OBP of .243 he has this season and the .286 he had last.
So who is the best position player in Lakewood? Say hello to Mr. Freddy Galvis. Ignore Galvis' .288 OBP in Lakewood and his .255 OBP in Williamsport. Galvis is a defensive superstar and has a lot of speed to burn: 9 steals in 10 tries in '08, 9 steals in 13 tries in '07. Galvis's defensive abilities are so impressive that when the team talked about what to do when Jimmy Rollins went down, Galvis' name was floated around by some members of the organization. A player this talented and this raw is still figuring things out at the plate. He'll improve and become a steady MLBer.
Finally we come to Drew Naylor. The Brisbane, Australia, native was the Phillies best hurler in Williamsport: 8-6, 3.28 ERA, 9.35 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 3.46 K/BB ratio, 1.14 WHIP. Those are exceptional numbers and it will be interesting to see if Naylor can sustain those numbers in the long haul. So far this season he's burning up the South Atlantic League: 5-2, 2.61 ERA, 9.91 K/9, 2.18 BB/9, 4.55 K/BB ratio, 0.97 WHIP. Wow. If Naylor can keep that up, he's going to become a dominant MLB pitcher.
So in the end, I think that the current group of players at Lakewood will produce several talents who could play important supporting roles on the Phillies. Brown and Naylor are near-locks to make it to the majors, while Galvis ought to, and between Mattair, Bolt and Myers, one of the three ought to make it to the majors. That should be four major leaguers right there. While these guys might not contribute as dramatically as I expect Cardenas to do (I expect Cardenas to be a consistent, 25-30 home run, 100 RBI, 40-50 double type of player), they will perform important roles with the Phillies in the future.
So that's the Farm Report as I see it this first week of June, 2008. Enjoy your day. Tomorrow, I think I'll talk a little about Shane Victorino.
Monday, June 09, 2008
So as the smoke clears from the weekend, the Phillies find themselves sitting in first place, 3 & 1/2 games ahead of the Marlins at 39-26, their best record at this time of the year since '95 and probably their finest start since the '93 team went 40-25 to start the season. The Phillies also hold the second-best record in the N.L. after the Cubs and sit 6 & 1/2 games ahead of the Braves and 7 & 1/2 games ahead of the Mets.
Hey Mets fans, reind me again: wasn't some guy supposed to gaurantee you a division title? I forget.
The Farm Report Returns ... Inspired by the 2008 MLB Draft on Thursday and Friday, I decided that I'd revisit the Phillies minor leagues today and tomorrow with quick looks at how the Phillies minor league teams are doing and how some of our favorite players ("Phuture Phillies"?) are faring.
First, a word on how the minors work. Looking for the players the Phillies just drafted in Lakewood and Clearwater and Reading this summer? Don't. Draftees into the Phillies system will be sent to either Clearwater to play with the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Phillies or to Williamsport to play with the Short-Season Single-A Crosscutters in the New York - Penn League (NYPL). Typically high schoolers go to the GCL while college grads go to the NYPL. So expect to see Anthony Hewitt, Zach Collier, Anthony Grose and Jason Knapp in Clearwater while guys like Vance Worley head off to Williamsport. The minors are structured as follows:
Rookie League (e.g. GCL Phillies) - typical entry point for High School draftees.
Short-Season Single-A (e.g. the NYPL's Crosscutters) - typical entry point for College draftees.
Single-A (for the Phillies, the South Atlantic League's Lakewood Blue Claws) - usually the first full season in the minors for the players who survive the GCL or NYPL.
Advanced Single-A (for the Phillies, the Florida State League's Clearwater Threshers) - usually the second full season in the minors for the Phillies prospects.
Double-A (for the Phillies, the Eastern League's Reading Phillies) - usually the third full season in the minors for the Phillies prospects, although some players can advance here from Single-A or some are held back for development.
Triple-A (for the Phillies, the International League's Lehigh Valley IronPigs) - usually the fourth and final full year in the minors for the Phillies prospects, although oftentimes players spend extra time here developing or they advance here quickly.
Players like Hewitt and Collier and Grose and Knapp will probably start around July 1 with the GCL Phillies and play sixty or so games until the start of September. Some in need of further development might play winter ball somewhere. In 2009 Hewitt, et al., will graduate to the Jersey Shore and play with the Blue Claws in Lakewood. Given that these guys are all high schoolers, the Phillies will bring them along slowly, sending them to Clearwater in '10, followed by Reading in '11 or '12 and Lehigh Valley in '12 or '13. That's why people like ESPN's Keith Law forecast a looong development investment for guys like Hewitt. Opening Day, 2014, might be the first time we see Anthony Hewitt or any of the others wear the Red Pinstripes.
More advanced college players like Pedro Alvarez, the Vanderbilt third baseman who the Pittsburgh Pirates took with the #2 pick of the draft, in contrast will have a quicker path through the system: likely beginning at the State College Spikes in the NYPL, followed by the Single-A Hickory Crawdads in '09, skipping to the Double-A Altoona Curve in '10, then finishing in Triple-A Indianapolis in '11 and starting at third base for the Pirates in late '11 or early '12. That's the difference between the approaches teams that need MLB-ready talent now like the Pirates and the Phillies, who can afford to take time developing talent.
So let's start with the Phillies MLB-ready talent factory in Allentown with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Current record: 21-41. Standings: 6th of 6 teams in in the International League's Northern Division, seventeen games back of the Scranton / Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Players of note: Jason Jamarillo (C), T.J. Bohn (OF), Travis Blackley (P), and J.A. Happ (P).
The IronPigs, the Phillies brand-spanking new Triple-A affiliate in the Lehigh Valley area, got off to a less than auspicious 6-30 start this season and have clawed their way back to ... well, not respectability. Let's try "mediocrity" ... with a 15-11 record since mid-May. The IronPigs are awful and it is pretty clear that there is little MLB-ready talent currently in Allentown. Jason Jamarillo, the IronPigs catcher, is making little argument for the job of Chris Coste, with his meager .667 OPS and three home runs and seventeen RBI this season. Jamarillo is the most highly touted catching prospect in the Phillies system, but he's really struggling at the plate while Coste, a player who scouts routinely passed on and paid little attention to, continues to play well in Philly. As long as Jamarillo struggles through this season, Coste and Carlos Ruiz are set in Philadelphia. T.J. Bohn played briefly with the Phillies at the end of May but recently rejoined the team. His .522 OPS is a testament to how little talent is actually located on the IronPigs roster.
Pitcher Travis Blackley, whom the Phillies took in the Rule 5 Draft last season from the San Francisco Giants farm system, didn't make the Phillies roster but found his way to Triple-A to develop. Blackley is 1-3 with a 5.65 ERA and has struckout 30 hitters (7.36 K/9) and walked 22 (5.4 BB/9) in thirty-six and two-thirds of an inning. Blackley has talent but needs to figure out how to control his stuff. If you can't keep hitters from walking in the International League, you won't be able to do that in the National League.
Far and away the Phillies best player on the IronPigs roster is J.A. Happ. Happ's pedestrian 3-5 record masks an impressive 3.86 ERA (impressively low and doubley impressive given how little help Happ gets) and some nice stats. Happ has 81 strikeouts in 77 innings of work (9.47 K/9) and he allowed 30 walks (2.70 K/BB ratio). If anyone from the Phillies rotation goes down or if Adam Eaton needs to be pulled in August and September, Happ is the guy to take his spot.
Reading Phillies. Current record: 22-34. Standings: 6th of 6 teams in in the Eastern League's Southern Division, eleven games back of Harrisburg. Players of note: Jason Donald (SS), Greg Golson (OF), Jeremy Slayden (OF), Andrew Carpenter (P), Carlos Carrasco (P), and Josh Outman (P).
There is a lot of talent on the Reading Phillies roster and I think that the '09 Lehigh Valley IronPigs are going to be a pretty decent team. I'm pretty bullish on the arms that the Phillies have coming up through their system and Reading is where the talent is at. Carpenter is just 2-7 with a 6.94 ERA but he is pitching better than that. It is also worth remembering that Carpenter pitched very well in Clearwater in '07: 17-6, 3.20 ERA, 6.40 K/9, 2.93 BB/9.
After Carpenter, the Phillies have two other terrific talents: Carrasco and Outman. Let's start with Carrasco, who has been rated as the best prospect in the Phillies system. Currently Carrasco has been blowing away the opposition in Reading. His 4-4 record and 3.91 ERA masks some scary numbers: 72 strikeouts in 73 & 2/3 innings, or 8.80 K/9. He also possesses a 2.57 K/BB ratio. Carrasco has an exceptional arm and is clearly destined to take the place of Jamie Moyer or Adam Eaton in Philadelphia in 2009. He might actually be major-league ready right now.
Outman is a curious case of someone who posts numbers equally good, if not better than Carrasco, and yet doesn't earn the same respect. Outman's issue right now is control: he has a 2-6 record and a 3.61 ERA but he's getting a lot of strikeouts and a lot of walks. How many players strikeout over ten batters per nine innings of work? Outman does: 10.3 K/9 (53 Ks in 46 & 1/3 innings). How many can find success despite allowing over five walks an inning? Outman does: 5.05 BB/9 (26 walks). Once Outman gains control he'll return to being the pitcher who matched Carrasco stride-for-stride in '06 and '07. I predict seeing Outman in Philadelphia in '10.
The Reading Phillies position players are an interesting bunch. First there is Greg Golson, the talented former high schooler from Texas that the Phillies are trying to make into a major leaguer and might yet succeed, but for Golson's inability to avoid striking out again and again and again. Golson is a strikeout artist and has K'd a whopping 73 times so far this year. Sadly, the strikeouts detract from the fact that Golson is fast (16 steals in 19 tries) and has power (13 doubles and 7 home runs in just 57 games).
Then these is Jeremy Slayden, the slow-footed slugging rightfielder from Georgia Tech who tore up the Florida State League last season. This season Slayden has struggled a little with good competition, but he's generally played well. His 5 home runs and 40 RBI aren't that impressive, but when coupled with his .355 OBP, they make a strong argument for Slayden to advance to the IronPigs in '09.
Finally, Jason Donald. The talented shortstop from the University of Arizona is the big surprise of the Phillies system. More of a defensively oriented player, Donald has an impressive .399 OBP and has displayed a lot of speed (7 for 9 in steals, 3 triples) and power (4 home runs, 10 doubles, and a .444 slugging percentage). He's a terrific player and could be backing up Jimmy Rollins next year.
Tomorrow: Clearwater and Lakewood. Today is an off-day for the Phillies.