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

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."