Pharm Watch: The Top Prospects in the Phillies Farm System

Pharm Watch: The Top Prospects in the Phillies Farm System

Introducing a guest feature by James M., Founder and Executive Editor of PhuturePhillies.com. We've enjoyed James' work at PhuturePhillies and The Fightins, and we're happy to have him as a contributor this season.

As the Phillies get set to open their big league campaign in search of
their 6th straight division title, their minor league affiliates also
prepare to open up what should be a very interesting season for the
organization. As the big league club has ascended to the top of the MLB
mountain, claiming division title after division title, as well as a
World Series and a Pennant in the last 5 years, the minor league
affiliates have served as a great source of young talent both for the
big league club and through trades. Due to the shear volume of trades in
the last 4 seasons, the Phillies system is no longer overflowing with
elite talent.

However, one look at various top prospect lists shows just
how good the Phillies have been at scouting and developing talent,
despite not paying the huge premiums that many teams have chosen to pay
in recent drafts. Names such as Travis D'Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Jon
Singleton were not given much fanfare on draft day, but turned in to
extremely valuable bargaining chips allowing the Phillies to acquire Roy
Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence, among others. While many of the
prospects in the system may not be on your radar just yet, they should
be there by the end of this season. I will be contributing articles to The700Level this year, as long as they'll have me, and my hope is to
help keep you informed about the workings and status of the farm. Of
course, for more detailed features and daily writeups, you can check out
my site, phuturephillies.com.

Just as MLB players are competing for jobs in spring
training, minor leaguers are looking to make an impression on the
Phillies brass and coaches to try and get themselves a more advanced
assignment, or in the case of guys who were just drafted last June, an
assignment to a full season league. For those who are unaware, the
Phillies have 4 full season minor league affiliates. Triple A Lehigh
Valley is the highest level and closest to the majors, followed by
Double A Reading, Advanced A Clearwater, and Low A Lakewood.
Additionally, the Phillies have 2 half-season affiliates, one at
Williamsport in the New York Penn League (which predominantly features
college players just drafted) and the rookie level Gulf Coast League
Phillies. Both of these leagues start in June, and I'll have more on
them as we get closer to the draft. In an ideal world, each prospect
would advance at least 1 level per year. Thus, if you ended 2011 in
Advanced A, you want to start in AA. As of right now, minor league
rosters have not been finalized, but we have some idea where certain
guys will start. My first article here will highlight some of the key
guys to watch, and my guess as to where they will start in 2012. Of
course this is subject to change.

AAA - Lehigh Valley

Phillippe Aumont, RHP - Aumont was
considered the prize of the Cliff Lee deal, and that is probably still
the case. The Phillies moved him to the starting rotation in 2010 for a
number of reasons. Starters are generally more valuable than relievers,
and because of health issues, Aumont had not thrown a lot of innings
after being drafted in the first round in 2007. The Phillies wanted to
get him innings and give him a chance to work on his secondary pitches.
The results on the stat sheet were not pretty, but when they moved him
back to the bullpen in 2011, he seemed to make great strides. His bread
and butter, as you may have seen in spring training,
is a mid 90s fastball with very heavy sink. It looks like a 2 seam
fastball due to its horizontal movement. He also features a very hard
curveball with solid life and break. He has been working on a
splitter/changeup hybrid pitch, and when he finishes the pitch, its a
true swing and miss offering that will help him against lefties.
However, he doesn't fully trust the pitch yet and will need to work on
it more this season. He probably has an outside shot to make the bullpen
out of ST, but like Mike Stutes last year, he will probably head to AAA
at the beginning of the season and be one of the first guys to get
called up.

Joe Savery, LHP - Savery's career has been quite an odyssey. After
his freshman year at Rice, he looked like a star in the making. Injuries
derailed his college career, and then threatened to end his minor
league career as his arm strength never bounced back, leading him to
switch to hitting full time at the beginning of 2011. He performed well,
but then started to pitch again and his velocity came back, as he sat
90-93 at the end of the year, including his brief big league stint. Like
Aumont, he may have a chance to crack the big league bullpen out of ST,
especially with the departure of the D-Train, but the more likely
option is he heads to Lehigh Valley and comes up sometime this summer
when/if the Phillies decide they need a 2nd LHP.

Michael Schwimer, RHP - Schwimer got his first taste of the majors
last year and held his own. He's a smart pitcher who always has a
gameplan and works to generate weak contact while also generating swings
and misses with his deceptive delivery and plus slider. While he lacks
the pure arm strength of Aumont or the lefthandedness of Savery, he has
the smarts and ability to pitch key innings for the Phillies in 2012 if
needed.

Jake Diekman, LHP - Diekman was a traditional LHP early in his
career, but after stalling out in the low minors he decided to alter his
delivery, shifting to more of a pure side arm slinging motion.
The results have been excellent, as he is basically death to lefties.
Diekman's big issue is command, as he's struggled to harness his raw
stuff from the low arm slot. His fastball can touch 93 and his slider
shows promise, but throwing strikes will be critical for him. Rich Dubee
has taken a liking to him, and his emergence probably also weighed in
to the Phillies decision to cut the cord on Willis this early in the
spring. Like everyone mentioned before him, he has a shot to make the
team now, but the more likely result will be a turn in AAA before
getting the call.

Justin De Fratus, RHP - As you can see, the LHV bullpen should be an
obvious strength. De Fratus has put up excellent numbers throughout his
minor league career, and has as much or more upside than most everyone
on this list. His fastball doesn't have the raw strength or movement of
Aumont's, but he locates it better and can move it around the zone
efficiently. His slider and changeup have both made excellent progress.
Some minor elbow soreness derailed his spring early on, but he should be
fine and the Phillies are obviously playing it safe. That will likely
take him out of the running for a bullpen spot at the onset, but he
should get his turn in 2012.

Austin Hyatt, RHP - Hyatt is the Phillies best MLB ready SP
prospect, and will look to build on a nice 2011, which saw him make a
number of big improvements in the 2nd half of the season. He throws one
of the best changeups in the system, which helps him compensate for only
an average fastball and a fringy breaking ball. He doesn't have the
upside of a #1 or 2 starter, but if given the chance, he should be a
reliable, solid #4/5 SP. He's posted excellent strikeout rates
throughout his minor league career and he made improvements in limiting
the longball in the 2nd half of the season last year.

AA - Reading

Sebastian Valle, C - Valle has been
anointed the Phillies catcher of the future, partly because he has very
little competition for the spot right now. Valle's game has improved
since signing, as he was very crude defensively and thought of as an
offense first guy who may have to switch positions. His arm strength is a
few ticks above average, and he's improved in calling games and
blocking pitches, though that aspect of his game still needs work. At
the plate, his approach is....well, lets call it sub-optimal. He likes
to grip and rip early. He has very strong hands and wrists, which should
allow him to hit for power as he matures and improves. He didn't hit
for much power at all in 2011, but part of that may have been the very
pitcher friendly Florida State League. Valle will need to make
improvements, but he is young and has time, as Chooch does not appear to
be going anywhere any time soon.

Trevor May, RHP - May is one of the Phillies two best prospects, and
after struggling at Clearwater in 2010, he repeated the level in 2011
and took a number of big steps forward. May has a power arsenal,
starting with a 90-95mph fastball that he can elevate in the zone to get
swings and misses. He also has a solid curveball and changeup. His
strikeout numbers have been extremely impressive, and he made solid
gains with his command and control last year. However, Reading's
ballpark will be much less forgiving than the spacious fields in
Florida, and if May does not locate better, he may struggle a bit in his
first taste of AA. He's still young enough and the Phillies do not have
to rush him, but he appears to be the next key guy to watch, both for
the big league club or in a trade, as everyone will be asking for him in
a potential blockbuster.

Tyson Gillies, OF - Another key piece in the Cliff Lee deal, Gillies
has struggled to stay healthy and on the field in the last 2 years, but
still shows tantalizing ability. If all goes well, Gillies has the
chance to hit between .280-.300, steal 30-40 bases, and play gold glove
caliber defense in CF. Of course he's still shaking off the substantial
rust that has accumulated the last few seasons, and with leg/hamstring
injuries, the worry for aggravating the injury is always there. Gillies
needs to stay healthy in 2012 and play a full year, and will likely
spend most of it at AA Reading.

Jon Pettibone, RHP - Pettibone has pitched well since being drafted,
but took a step forward in 2011 as he added a few miles per hour to his
fastball. He now regularly pitches in the 91-94 range, and he locates
his fastball as well as anyone in the system. His secondary offerings
still need refining, and he should strike out more guys than he has, but
he's young and he's making steady progress.

A+ - Clearwater

Jesse Biddle, LHP - I'm in the
minority, but I consider Biddle the Phillies top prospect. He is
lefthanded, a few years younger than Trevor May, and now only 1 level
behind. He does have adjustments to make, but he has everything you want
to see in a potential mid-front of the rotation pitcher. He's a big
dude (6'5/225) and despite that, he's shown aptitude in repeating his
delivery and showing above average secondary offerings. He throws a big
curveball as well as a solid changeup. His velocity fluctuated quite a
bit in 2011, not uncommon for a prep pitcher in his first full pro
season, but as he develops a solid workout plan and grows accustomed to
logging 150-160 IP per year, he should consistently pitch in the 90-94
range from the left side. May struggled in his first taste of A+, and it
will be interesting to see how Biddle fares.

Lisalberto Bonilla, RHP - An under the radar signing out of Latin
America, Bonilla showed flashes of brilliance last year at Lakewood. He
has a solid average fastball along with an excellent changeup and a
developing breaking ball. He has a chance to really elevate his status
in 2012 with a solid season.

Austin Wright, LHP - Wright was one of the biggest surprises of the
Phillies 2011 draft. After a so-so college career, his stuff ticked up
after being drafted, as he was consistently pitching in the 92-94 range
at Lakewood with a sharp slider. The longer college track record says
that it may have been just a flash, but if he can piece things together
he has a chance to settle in as a potential middle of the rotation
starter.

A - Lakewood

It's tough to say who will end up at
Lakewood, as some guys who performed in the GCL and at Williamsport last
year may be ready, but they may be held back in extended spring
training for the first month of the season. Larry Greene Jr, OF and
Roman Quinn, SS are two guys with a shot at starting at Lakewood, and
2011 draftees Tyler Greene, SS and Mitchell Walding, 3B, are also
potentials. Harold Martinez, also drafted in 2011, saw time at
Williamsport and could move to Lakewood, or the Phillies could be
aggressive and push him straight to Clearwater. Another name to watch
for, if not at the beginning of the season than mid-season, is Kenny
Giles. Drafted and signed out of junior college last year, Giles has
premium arm strength and is capable of dialing his fastball up to 99 in
short bursts. As a starter, he could pitch in the 94-96 range. His
command/control and secondary offerings will determine his assignment
and how quickly he moves. We should have a better idea of what the
Lakewood roster will look like at the end of spring training.

This season figures to be an exciting one for the Phillies minor
league affiliates. Most places that get paid to write about and rank
prospects are down on the Phillies system, highlighting all the trades
that have stripped much of the talent from the system. However, the
Phillies have continually shown that they do a fantastic job in the
draft, and that guys who were under the radar suddenly pop up and thrust
their way in to the prospect discussion. The Phillies have a mix of MLB
ready bullpen arms, but also a bunch of excellent athletes in the low
minors who could be primed for breakout seasons. With so many teams to
watch and so many guys to pay attention to, this should be a fantastic
minor league season, and I'll be happy to provide you periodic updates
here at the 700 level. Thanks for reading, and I'll be back again in a
few weeks.

And many thanks to James of PhuturePhillies for dropping his major minors knowledge on us. You'll find more from here periodically throughout the season.

Photos by US Presswire

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Nationals have acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates for Melancon, who supplants Jonathan Papelbon as Washington's closer.

Melancon, a 31-year-old right-hander, has 30 saves and a 1.51 ERA this season. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft (see full story).

GIANTS: Pence back after 48-game absence
SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants right fielder Hunter Pence was activated Saturday and in the starting lineup against the Nationals after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

San Francisco hopes Pence will bring some much-needed life to a club that had lost 11 of 13 since the All-Star break.

Newly acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez made his first start since joining the team in a trade from Minnesota on Thursday and having his first at-bat Friday. Nunez was playing shortstop Saturday because Brandon Crawford, who lined into a bases-loaded triple play during Friday's 4-1 loss, had a sore left hand from a swing early in the game.

Center fielder Denard Span also was out of the lineup because of a tender quadriceps from a collision at home plate Friday.

The Giants designated for assignment infielder Ramiro Pena to clear roster room for Pence's return.  

MARINERS: Karns to DL, Martin recalled
CHICAGO -- The Seattle Mariners have placed right-hander Nathan Karns on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain a day after he was roughed up in a relief appearance.

Right-hander Cody Martin was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma before Saturday's game against the Cubs.

Chicago scored five runs in two innings off Karns in Friday's 12-1 romp. He gave up three hits, walked three and allowed a home run to David Ross.

Karns began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen in June. He has a 5.15 ERA.

Martin has appeared in two games and thrown four innings for Seattle this season, allowing one run and five hits.

Brian Dawkins excited for scout role with Eagles, hopes it leads to something 'bigger'

Brian Dawkins excited for scout role with Eagles, hopes it leads to something 'bigger'

This is how much of a kinship Brian Dawkins has with the game of football.

And it won’t surprise anybody.

“I was in Orlando with my family and we’re passing by a football field, me and my brother in law, to go to the gym,” Dawkins said. “There’s nobody in the stadium. But as I passed by, there’s a certain comfort I have when I see football fields.”

That connection, that bond, to the game he loves and the team he loves has ultimately brought Dawkins back to Philadelphia, where from 1996 through 2008 he firmly established himself as one of the greatest Eagles of all-time.

The Eagles announced Saturday morning that eight years after he was allowed to leave for Denver as a free agent, Dawkins has rejoined the franchise to work in the scouting department (see story).

Dawkins’ initially joins the Eagles' scouting team as part of the NFL’s Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, a new program aimed at introducing former players to the world of player personnel and the duties of an NFL scout.

As of now, Dawkins is committed to working with the Eagles through the draft in April.

But both Dawkins and Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said this relationship could evolve into a permanent one. And a very important one.

“I’m very excited about this opportunity, I really am,” Dawkins said. “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and it just so happened we were able to talk about it and get something done with it.”

Dawkins retired after the 2011 season, his third year in Denver. He worked for ESPN from the fall of 2012 through this past football season. He said ESPN did not renew his contract after last year, which opened up the door for him to explore a return to the NFL.

“I enjoyed my time there, I really did,” he said. “But it was one of those things where everything fell into place for me to have more freedom to do other things, and this was that opportunity and it presented itself and I jumped on it and we’re rolling with a fluid situation.

“This is something that I’ve been thinking for a while. I didn’t know it would come to fruition this fast, but here it is. And sometimes, you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone to really see what you can achieve. And so this is something that I’m really looking forward to, to see if this will move to something even bigger.”

Dawkins is with the Eagles at training camp this week, but he will be based for the time being in Denver, where he’s lived since signing with the Broncos and where his daughter is still in high school.

Roseman, very interestingly, revealed on Saturday morning that he has used Dawkins as an informal player personnel consultant, both when he was general manager through 2014 and again since being re-instated in a similar role with a new title by owner Jeff Lurie after Chip Kelly’s firing.

“I’ve (been) always trying to get him here because he’s got such a bright future, he’s got such a great football mind and a great presence and leadership ability, which translates to the front office,” Roseman said Saturday.

“I always think about (Hall of Fame tight end and Ravens general manager) Ozzie Newsome and how he made that transition, and then talking to (Dawkins) during the coaching search, as we were going into the offseason about the team.

“And then he did more evaluations this year for the draft and (we) continued to try to find the right role for him that he felt comfortable with and when this came along it was a perfect transition for him, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him in the building and helping us as we move forward here.”

Dawkins was a first-team all-pro four times and a Pro Bowler seven times with the Eagles. He made two more Pro Bowls with the Broncos.

It's interesting that the Eagles’ safeties the last time they won a playoff game – 2008 – are now back with the team.

Quintin Mikell, who spent the 2003 through 2010 seasons with the Eagles and made the Pro Bowl in 2009, was a coaching intern last year and currently serves as director of player engagement.

Dawkins said evaluating players comes naturally to him.

“I love it,” he said. “When you get up there in age playing the game, you see young guys come in and you’re hoping they can help the team win that year, so you start to evaluate, even back then.

“So now that I’m out of the game I just take those things that I learned then and apply them now. Evaluating guys and seeing if they can help this team going forward.”

Asked what he wants to accomplish in this role, Dawkins looked up at the NovaCare Complex 50 feet away and spoke in that hyper-intense Dawk whisper we all know so well.

“To bring this place back to someplace when we played, when I played here,” he said. “The energy was completely different. There were expectations every year with what we were going to do, and I’m pretty sure the players would tell you the exact same thing. They want to get this thing back there as well.

“This is a place I feel comfortable. Not just this organization, but the football field, watching tape, having those conversations, I feel comfortable doing those things.”

But Dawkins said he ultimately doesn’t want to limit himself to scouting.

“I’m trying to grasp the whole gamut of football operations, how a team is run,” he said. “So I’m learning about the scouting part of it, but sometimes it’s either you have an eye or you don’t, and I’ve been blessed to have an eye to be able to see talent, so if I can help in that respect I’d love to that, but I also want to learn everything I can about running a football team.”

Roseman and Dawkins both hinted at a major role for Dawkins in the organization moving forward.

Could he one day be the general manager? A team vice president?

Don’t bet against it.

“He’s going to start with scouting and work with Joe (Douglas, vice president of player personnel) and his guys because he’s done that and he’s written evaluations for us,” Roseman said.

“But we don’t want to limit him to that. His ability to communicate to the players … everything that we’re doing that’s different than when he was a player from a strength and conditioning standpoint, from a sports science standpoint, his observations on the team as a whole.

“We’re really going to drop him into a bunch of areas that he’s interested in, but it starts with the scouting department.”

Beyond his individual accomplishments, Dawk played for the Eagles during the most successful period in modern franchise history.

The Eagles have won 19 playoff games, and Dawkins was on the field for 10 of them.

More than half.

“He’s been part of championship-caliber teams, so he understands about what that looks like and the energy and enthusiasm that that has, and he’s been in a defense simiar to this, so he knows the responsibilities,” Roseman said.

“He’s also looking at it from a guy who played the position. When he’s watching DBs … when you sit with him and watch him watch safety play, he’s looking for different things than maybe we are maybe as a scouting staff or guys who maybe never played the position.

“He’s able to come into the meetings and impart what he saw, and that helps all of us as we’re evlauating guys and that’s the biggest part of it for all of us. To be able to pick his brain.”

Where will this ultimately lead? Dawkins just smiles and says he has big plans. Bigger than just working in scouring.

“Bigger is bigger,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “Bigger is bigger. I don’t know what bigger is. I just know bigger is not where I’m standing right now.

“So whatever bigger is, that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard back in the lineup, batting cleanup

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard back in the lineup, batting cleanup

After scoring just once on Friday night, the Phillies are sticking with nearly the same lineup on Saturday.

Ryan Howard moves into the cleanup spot, replacing Tommy Joseph at first base. Other than Howard, the lineup stays the same with Cesar Hernandez leading off.

Howard pinch hit in the ninth inning on Friday and hit a double, giving him a little momentum into Saturday. He last started on May 26 vs. the Marlins. He's looked more like his normal self in July, batting .257 with a .543 slugging percentage in 35 at-bats for the month. The veteran has raised his average from a paltry .151 to start the month to a slightly less worse .167. 

He has three home runs in July and two career home runs off Julio Teheran, the Braves' starter steeped in trade rumors (see Game Notes)

Aaron Altherr makes his third start in as many days since coming off the disabled list. He went 0 for 4 on Friday after a three-hit season debut on Thursday. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco take their same spots in the lineup, batting second and third, respectively. 

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P