NHL Trade Deadline Marks a Crossroads for Flyers' Season: Where Do They Go From Here?

NHL Trade Deadline Marks a Crossroads for Flyers' Season: Where Do They Go From Here?

The trade deadline is rarely if ever a quiet time in the NHL, and the Flyers are usually among the names involved in multiple rumors and eventually a few actual deals. Counting the annual start of free agency, I've probably typed some variation of that sentence a dozen times or so. In part that's due to my lack of creativity in composing ledes, but it also comes with the territory of following a team that is remarkably consistent in its patterns, whether they be strengths or weaknesses.  

So far, the Flyers have traded for a pair of veteran defensemen ahead of the frenzy, and while they aren't currently linked to any big fish, there's still buzz that they aren't done yet. For a variety of reasons, the question as to whether they should make a significant move this time around remains a difficult one to answer.

With the deadline coming at 3PM today, we'll take a look at those factors below.

ARE THEY CONTENDERS?
In the month or so leading up to the deadline, teams must first evaluate where they are on the Buyer-Seller spectrum. This decision doesn't always directly correlate to the degree to which they are true contenders, but that's certainly among the biggest factors. Since the day the Flyers made their flurry of major off-season moves, fans and media alike have wondered the degree to which they were better, worse, or about the same in terms of ability to challenge for Stanley Cup.

On record alone, the team is short of its mark from the same point last season. Through 61 games, the Flyers sit at 34-20-7; last year, they were 40-15-6. Of course, this was also around the point at which a season with great potential began falling apart for the previous group. Exactly a year ago Sunday, they lost their first of four games in a row, and they'd win consecutive games only once more the rest of the season. While this team hasn't won as many games as it had last year, none of that matters if they can experience the opposite of the trend that sunk that team.

This year's team is very different in terms of the personnel that makes it up, but even after 61 games, it's hard to say whether they're currently better. They too have been unable to string together consecutive wins for weeks, dating all the way back to a pair of victories in Carolina and Long Island in mid-January. They haven't been able to beat the top team in the conference even once this season, and they've had trouble with other contending teams lately. But, there is still time for that to change. Without a move, will it?

That's the big question for Paul Holmgren et al as the deadline approaches and the market, in all likelihood, explodes.

The safe bet is, given the current market's relative paucity of elite talent availability, the Flyers likely believe they are close enough to being true contenders that they'll try to improve incrementally as the season moves on, hoping along with the rest of the field that they'll be the team that puts it all together just in time. Wasn't long ago we saw the club do just that, barely making the playoffs before running all the way to game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Ilya Bryzgalov suddenly snapping into form could go a long way to making that a reality, but it seems increasingly unrealistic to expect dominance from him this season. It isn't out of the question though. A few great starts in a row could ramp up his confidence, and a locked in goalie makes this a much different team.

Or Maybe Next Year?
With youth and talent in abundance in their forward ranks and less than a season since the roster overhaul, there is also belief among some outside the organization (fans and media, not NHL sources, which I don't pretend to have) that this Flyers team is built to win next year and thereafter, that expecting more this season is foolish. We'll see. That rarely fits the Flyers' MO.

HEALTH
A sudden injury or a series of blows to the overall health of a contending team can derail even the brightest postseason hopes. Accordingly, teams lacking in depth will deal for it, and teams that have lost a key player might even overpay for it.
 
Obviously, the Flyers are among the NHL clubs most affected by a significant injury this season, having lost their top blue liner, quite possibly for the remainder of his career. However, after already upgrading the defense corps with two mid-range trades, a move for another defenseman would appear less likely. Neither Nicklas Grossman nor Pavel Kubina will be confused with a Chris Pronger replacement, and both are currently only short-term solutions to a long-term blue line need. But, neither required the Flyers to overpay, and the defense is more likely to improve as this group gels than it was before the deals were made.

The key forwards are all essentially healthy right now. If any changes are made up front, it will be change for the sake of wanting something different, not seeking forward depth or an injury replacement. The Flyers forward lines are as deep and healthy as any unit in the league.

LOGJAMS AND DEARTHS
Too Many Forwards, Not Enough Pucks
Of course, depth and good health can work both ways when it comes to trade motivations. While the Flyers don't need to trade for a forward, they could seek to deal from the depth they have in order to upgrade on defense or even up front. They proved to themselves and others that they can replace scoring with a combination of their fast-paced attacking system and some effective personnel decisions. After all the summer moves, it was assumed the Flyers would need to keep more goals out of their own net, because they couldn't possibly score more than they did last year. Instead, they're first in the league in goal-scoring, and 26th in goals allowed.

But, the Flyers don't currently have enough offensive ice time to go around—a great problem to have, but also a reason they may be looking to make a deal. If the right match isn't there, they'll be well served with having depth as injuries set in over the final months of the season and into the playoffs.

However, James van Riemsdyk's name is among those most linked to a handful of possible relocations, and betting site Bovada.lv is giving 2/1 odds that he'll be moved. JVR has had some injury woes, but overall he has not performed at the level most hoped for when the team appeared to be placed in his and Claude Giroux's hands, another chapter in an up-and-down career with the Flyers that started not long after he was drafted. Does their relationship end on Monday? With the emergence of the team's talented group of rookies, JVR is more expendable now than he would have seemed at the start of the season, but it would still be a major surprise to see him traded. Due to his injuries and performance so far, the Flyers would be selling low despite what most still consider to be a promising career ahead.

Rear Guardian Project
Defensively, the injury to Pronger created a void they haven't been able to fill. Just as was the case in 2010-2011, they are not the same team without Pronger. If there's one thing they could really use, it's an elite blueliner. Unfortunately, there don't appear to be any currently available, so the Flyers will likely have to wait until free agency opens, but they'll need some help in the salary cap area to do it. Pronger's uncertain prognosis also makes longer-term decision making difficult.
Still, it's certainly possible they package one of their current d-men with a forward in order to upgrade, though it'd be tough to find another side willing to part with anyone who would be considered an upgrade from their current group unless they give up someone with a with a pretty bright future.

It Ain't the Flyers if There's No Goalie Drama
One of the goals of the Flyers' off-season overhaul was to improve their goaltending to the point where it could be considered a consistent strength on par with the elite teams the Flyers will meet in the playoffs. So far, that hasn't been the case. Bryzgalov has not come close to meeting expectations, and the team is financially committed to his being the starter. In Sergei Bobrovsky's starts, he hasn't forced their hand, if that is even possible after the mega-deal Bryz was signed to. Because this is Philadelphia, there's gonna be some discussion of bringing in another goalie.

But, there are a variety of reasons that a deal for a goalie is unlikely, unless there's a need to replace Bobrovsky if he is traded. The biggest, most obvious reason is, the team is wed to Bryzgalov for the foreseeable future. They need him to improve and gain confidence, which are less likely to happen as a result of bringing in a competitor for starts. I think they'd be far too wary of making his season setback permanent, and anyway, goaltending isn't the only reason for the Flyers' struggles.

Still, as usual, the brass can't be happy with their goaltending, and as they showed in the off-season, no deal is completely "off limits," and considering people's feelings is for girls. At least one outlet, The Fourth Period, is reporting that the Flyers are actively trying to trade for a goalie. The report is fairly loose, with speculative names in abundance rather than a solid link to one target. If you haven't seen it already, TFP says the Flyers are eyeing Nikolai Khabibulin, who was out with injury when they were in Edmonton, JS Giguere, who Bryz backed up during the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup run, and Ondrej Pavelec, whose performance was stellar despite taking on five goals in an eventual overtime loss to the Flyers. Said to be on the table are Bob and JVR.

CHARACTER / PLAYOFF LEADERSHIP
Teams as young as the Flyers often try to add one of the more sought after and readily available trade deadline commodities—a veteran presence that can provide leadership as the season wears on and the playoffs begin. Because this commodity is often in greater abundance than elite positional talent, and consistency has been a problem for the Flyers again this season, this could be a target area. However, two questions stand in the way. First, they already have a few of the types of players they'd be targeting. Pavel Kubina matches that description, as does Jaromir Jagr. Kimmo Timonen clearly fits the bill, as does Max Talbot, and Danny Briere once the playoffs roll around. Scott Hartnell has also stepped up in this regard. If these guys aren't enough to provide the needed character or leadership, will a rental player be? The other is, where would you put this player? They're full up at every position right now, so a rostered player would have to go.

The Flyers could also look to add some toughness, but again, Hartnell, Talbot, and Simmonds all fit that bill, as does the newcomer Kubina. Zac Rinaldo is an instant energy injection when needed, but the cost of any associated penalties increases along with the stakes. With the way the PK has been going lately, adding potential PIM might not be on the ticket.

Kris Versteeg seemed a good addition last year, but it did not prove fruitful, and he was dealt away at the start of free agency. Will that experience have Homer a little wary this time around?

YOUR PREDICTION TIME
Given all of the above, your agreements or disagreements acknowledged, what do you see the Flyers trying to do at the deadline? Fully standing pat? Adding one of the commodities in particular? Building for this postseason, or the future?

Although it may seem like this post points to it being unlikely the Flyers are movers and shakers at the deadline, their organizational history of making moves at trade deadlines and in free agency is hard to overlook. They don't currently scream "true contender," and if there's a move that Homer thinks will get them any closer, this year or next, he's going to make it. I don't think there will be a major deal, but there will more than likely be an exchange or two to round out specialty areas the Flyers feel they have.

Your thoughts?

Feel free to discuss the trades of the day here.

Flyers Stay or Go Part 5: R.J. Umberger to Ryan White

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Flyers Stay or Go Part 5: R.J. Umberger to Ryan White

In the final installment of our five-part offseason series examining the future of the Flyers, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster. We go alphabetically. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. Today, we begin with R.J. Umberger.

R.J. Umberger
2015-16 stats: 39 GP, 2 G, 9 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $4.6 mm cap hit

Dougherty: At the end-of-the-season media availability, Umberger said he expects to be bought out. And he will, unless general manager Ron Hextall can work some magic. He’s a goner.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Umberger expects to be bought out. It seems imminent at this point. Either way, the Flyers need to move on from Umberger.

Verdict: GO

Paone: To his credit, Umberger was a total pro as he went through his immense struggles this season. But to say the writing is on the wall for Umberger in Philadelphia is an understatement. It's like he sees a skywriter spelling it out in the clouds above him everywhere he goes. He even said himself that he expects the final year of his contract to be bought out sooner rather than later. His premonition will come true and the Flyers will take the $1.6 million cap hit that comes with it for next season.

Verdict: GO

Chris VandeVelde
2015-16 stats: 79 GP, 2 G, 12 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $712,500 cap hit

Dougherty: VandeVelde is a Dave Hakstol disciple. He played for him at North Dakota and he played for him here. He was a cog on the fourth line, playing with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan White all season long. But while VandeVelde kills penalties, he doesn’t do anything else. He has no offensive ability and, simply stated, is an AHL player playing in the NHL. The Flyers want to add scoring and to do that, someone has to go. And VandeVelde should be that guy.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Debating a fourth-liner’s status shouldn’t be one of the harder decisions, but it is in this case. That’s because Dave Hakstol adored his final unit of VandeVelde, Ryan White and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. However, the Flyers need better depth and VandeVelde is super cheap, so sending him to the AHL to clear a roster spot wouldn’t be a stomach-churning move. With a tiny cap hit, even an offseason trade is conceivable.

Verdict: GO

Paone: This is a tougher call than one would think for a role player of VandeVelde's ilk. On one hand, he, Ryan White and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare formed one of the most effective fourth lines in the entire league this season and an effective fourth line can be such a valuable weapon in today's NHL. There's chemistry there that you shouldn't want to mess with. On the other hand, VandeVelde is probably the most expendable and interchangeable of that trio. And with the Flyers needing as many roster spots as they can create, another younger and more effective player may be able to fit in there (Scott Laughton to start, possibly). That's why I lean toward saying VandeVelde won't be with the big club to start the season, despite his longstanding ties to Dave Hakstol. Roster spots are becoming more and more valuable in Philadelphia.

Verdict: GO

Jakub Voracek
2015-16 stats: 73 GP, 11 G, 44 A; Contract: Signed through 2023-24, $8.25 mm cap hit

Dougherty: This is a no-brainer. He signed an eight-year contract extension last summer, and that kicks in July 1. He had confidence issues this season and battled injury, but there’s nothing of concern there. He should be healthy and back to his productive self next season.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Obviously, this isn’t really a question. What is, though, are Voracek’s health and rebound.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: It's no secret the Flyers' star winger struggled with both production and injury this season, a year removed from his spectacular 81-point campaign that earned him a massive eight-year, $66 million extension. That extension just so happens to kick in this year, by the way. You're crazy if you don't think a motivated Voracek will be back in orange and black next season.

Verdict: STAY

Jordan Weal
2015-16 stats: 14 GP, 0 G, 0 A; Contract: Restricted free agent

Dougherty: Weal was basically a throw-in in the Vinny Lecavalier trade. Los Angeles didn’t want him because there was no room for him on its NHL roster, but the Kings would have lost him for nothing had they placed him on waivers. He came to Philly and didn’t do anything to impress. He’s a restricted free agent. He’ll probably get qualified, but shouldn’t. Let him go.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Ron Hextall knows a lot about Weal. The 24-year-old was often the first player on the ice for extra work before practice. I think there was more than one reason why Weal was included in the trade that sent Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Kings. I say he’s back at a minimum rate but will head to the minors.

Verdict: GO

Paone: What exactly is Weal capable of at the NHL level? That's a really good question and one we don't have an answer to considering his lack of playing time with in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia this season. His injury after becoming a Flyer did him no favors, either. As I mentioned above when talking about VandeVelde, roster spots in Philadelphia are becoming more and more precious as the influx of talented prospects begins. Weal is really going to have to prove himself during camp to earn one of those spots. But, for right now, starting the season with the big club is a hazy picture for him.

Verdict: GO

Ryan White
2015-16 stats: 73 GP, 11 G, 5 A; Contract: Unrestricted free agent

Dougherty: White is everything the Flyers thought Zac Rinaldo would be. He brings energy, he’s physical and he can even score. He displayed the ability to play on the power play, which is a plus with a player in a fourth-line role. White should be back at least for another season.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: White epitomizes what you want. He cares more about the Flyers than money. He’s a terrific teammate willing to do anything. And he’s understanding more and more how to score ugly. A perfect fourth-liner for the Flyers who will be re-signed.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: You want to talk about an almost-perfect fit? That's what White has been with the Flyers over the last season and a half. In 107 games as a Flyer, White has recorded 17 goals and 11 assists for 28 points. In his first five seasons in the league with Montreal, the 28-year-old forward had just five goals and 12 assists for 17 points in 117 games. Even in a mostly fourth-line role, he's made an impact to the point he's earned Hakstol's trust enough to be the net-front presence on the Flyers' second power-play unit. He's a UFA who'll be due a bit of a raise, but White just meshes way too well to not bring back. He knows it, too, saying in his end-of-season media availability that money is necessarily the determining factor in negotiations with the Flyers. He'll be back in his familiar roles next season.

Verdict: STAY

Chase Utley: Still the Man (just in Los Angeles)

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USA Today Sports

Chase Utley: Still the Man (just in Los Angeles)

It's been a while since we checked in with everyone's favorite former Phillie, Chase Utley. And let's be honest: it's not good to go too long without a little Chase in our lives.

Utley was traded from Philadelphia to Los Angeles last summer and it took the Philly faithful a while to get used to seeing Chase wear Dodger blue. That said, I think there were plenty of Phillies fans who oddly found themselves rooting for Utley in last year's postseason, specifically against the New York Mets.

It's Utley's return to New York this weekend that brings him back up on our radar, thanks in large part to a nice article in the L.A. Times by Andy McCullough about Chase returning CitiField where he will play the familiar role of villain, this time for breaking Ruben Tejada's leg last October.

Phillies fans may still get nostalgic about Chase, but Utley himself is no nostaglia act for the Dodgers. After signing a one-year deal to return to L.A. this season, he's leading the Dodgers with a .379 on-base-percentage hitting out of the leadoff spot and is absolutely loved in his clubhouse. The latter is certainly no surprise.

Phillies fans likely remember Roy Halladay writing an ode to Chase last summer which ended with the former ace suggesting people tell their kids to model their play after Utley. Chase hasn't even been in L.A. the equivalent of a full season, but he's having the same sort of influence there.

“Even people who give him credit don’t realize how much he brings to this team,” third-base coach Chris Woodward said.

Utley inspires hyperbole all around. Clayton Kershaw suggested if he had a son, he would instruct his child to study Utley to learn how to play baseball. Utley, he explained, “is always doing the right thing.” Bench coach Bob Geren, a member of the Mets coaching staff last October, offered Utley his version of the ultimate compliment.

“I’m trying to think, in all my years, if I know anybody I’ve ever either played with or coached or managed that’s a better baseball player,” Geren said. “I can’t think of one.”

There's also some fun -- and not at all surprising -- tidbits of how Utley pretty much bends the rules as far as possible to get every single edge he can while playing.

Utley hunts for the tiniest edge. One day last week, he struck out on a pitch that bounced away from the catcher. Utley dropped his bat in between the catcher and the baseball, so the catcher had to make a more difficult play while stepping over the lumber.

“I’m in the dugout like, ‘Did you see that?’” Geren said. “It’s the littlest thing. But that’s who he is.”

Miss you and your dirt, Chase.

>>After The Slide, Chase Utley returns to New York prepared to face the vitriol of Mets fans [L.A. Times]

 

Future Phillies Report: Power from Alfaro, Cozens; Crawford settles in at AAA

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Tug Haines, Don Holohan/Reading Fightin Phils

Future Phillies Report: Power from Alfaro, Cozens; Crawford settles in at AAA

J.P. Crawford is settling in at Triple A, Jorge Alfaro and Dylan Cozens continue to show power, and Zach Eflin threw seven more shutout innings for the IronPigs.

All of that and more in this week's Future Phillies Report:

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
The home run Alfaro hit Monday in Reading was such a no-doubter that Erie centerfielder JaCoby Jones didn't even turn around. Alfaro's blast landed on the top of the hill in center at FirstEnergy Stadium, his third of the season.

The hard-hitting catcher continues to impress at Double A. He's gone 11 for 29 (.379) with a homer and five RBIs since our last check-up, posting four multi-hit games in his last seven. Alfaro is up to .353 on the season with an .897 OPS that would be higher if he had walked more than twice on the year. 

Alfaro has never been the most patient hitter. He has one goal at the plate and that's to do damage, and so far this season he's been Reading's top run producer. Alfaro has 11 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs in 24 games.

He also continues to stand out behind the plate. Alfaro has thrown out three more base-stealers over the last week to make him 8 for 18 on the season.

Alfaro finds himself in a tricky situation. He's hitting enough to warrant a call-up to Triple A, but the Phillies aren't going to promote him and create a logjam behind the plate at Lehigh Valley with Andrew Knapp. And even if Knapp may eventually have to switch positions, it's in the Phils' best interest to keep developing both players as catchers in the meantime.

Instead, look for Alfaro to stay at Double A, where the Phillies will hope he can stay healthy and build confidence by continuing to torch Eastern League pitching.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Six games into his Triple A career, the Phillies' top prospect is 6 for 20 (.300) and has walked four times. Of course he has. Crawford's walked nearly once a game this season, with 34 in 42 games, one every 5.6 plate appearances.

He's converted all 20 defensive chances in his first week with the IronPigs.

Crawford earned the promotion last Friday after hitting .265 with a .398 on-base percentage for Double A Reading. This is his last stop before the majors, which Crawford figures to get a taste of this September. From there, you could see him battle for the Phillies' opening day shortstop job next spring.

Crawford has been batting second for the IronPigs, a lineup spot he figures to occupy once he sticks in the majors. Crawford doesn't have a ton of speed, but his ability to work counts, make contact and reach base at a high clip make him a prototypical No. 2 hitter.

He's faced some solid pitching prospects so far at Triple A. Crawford went 3 for 4 Friday in a game started by lefty Henry Owens (Red Sox). Earlier in the series against Pawtucket he faced left-handers Eduardo Rodriguez and Roenis Elias (Red Sox). Crawford went 1 for 2 with two walks over the weekend against Toledo's Daniel Norris (Tigers). 

RHP Zach Eflin (AAA)
Ho-hum, another dominant start from the Phillies' 22-year-old right-hander speeding toward The Show. Seven more shutout innings from Eflin Tuesday at Pawtucket improved him to 5-0 with a 2.05 ERA in eight starts. He's struck out 45 and walked eight in 52⅔ innings and held his opponents to a .182 batting average. 

Lefties are hitting just .191 against Eflin with one extra-base hit in 71 plate appearances. In fact, he's allowed just seven extra-base hits all season, or one every 28.3 plate appearances. 

Eflin's 0.80 WHIP leads the International League.

The 6-6 sinkerballer just continues to go deep into games and pitch low-stress innings. In his last three starts, Eflin has pitched 21 innings and allowed one run on just 10 hits. He's walked one batter each game and struck out 17. He's been very efficient, averaging 14.7 pitches per inning.

Eflin is six months younger than Aaron Nola, who debuted with the Phillies last season a month after turning 22. Eflin could follow suit this summer. If he keeps rattling off performances like this, he could eventually crack the Phillies' rotation. A spot would open if a pitcher is injured, if Jeremy Hellickson is traded, if Adam Morgan struggles or if the Phillies limit Vince Velasquez's innings.

RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson gave up three home runs last Friday and another on Thursday, but all were solos. He followed an eight-inning, three-run, eight-strikeout performance last Friday by allowing three runs in 5⅔ innings Thursday.

After allowing 13 earned runs in his first four starts, Thompson has given up just seven in his last five. He has a 1.93 ERA and a .193 opponents' batting average over that span, and his groundball rate has risen from 35 percent to 48 percent.

The homers Thompson allowed last Friday were to Casey McGehee, Tyler Collins and Chad Huffman. The one he allowed Thursday was to Rusney Castillo. All have played in the big leagues at some point.

Thompson was not sharp early on Thursday but eventually settled in, as he did last week, jamming lefties in and utilizing a two-seam fastball that broke down and in to righties.

In nine starts with Lehigh Valley, Thompson is 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.7 walks.

RHP Mark Appel (AAA)
Though Appel was having some early-season success in his first year in the Phillies' system, the number of men he was putting on base and stranding foretold some eventual regression and that's been the case his last four starts. Appel recorded just two outs on Sunday before exiting for Lehigh Valley.

Appel's velocity was down to the 88 to 90 mph range, which is problematic given the relative flatness of his fastball. If he's sitting in that range he is going to get hit around, period. 

The trouble began when he walked Anthony Gose on a full count to start the game. Dixon Machado followed with a double down the left-field line on a high, 88 mph fastball. After a groundout, Appel hung a curveball that was nearly hit out of the park by Huffman for an RBI double. Three of the next four batters reached and Appel was removed for Severino Gonzalez, having allowed four runs on four hits and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning. 

There was just nothing special about Appel's stuff. His velocity early in games had been 93 to 95 mph, which helped him avoid allowing any runs in the first inning prior to last weekend. But if you were to just arrive at the ballpark Sunday and watch Appel without knowing his name, you'd have never guessed he was a former first overall pick. Is it fair to mention his draft status after each start? Probably not, but that's part of the deal when you get taken first overall and make all that money before reaching the bigs. Appel is aware of that and doesn't fight it — he's learned to accept it.

Through eight starts with Lehigh Valley, Appel is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, and he's trending in the wrong direction. Let's put it this way: It's no fluke that he's put 60 men on base in 38⅓ innings.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams went 0 for 7 with four strikeouts in a 15-inning game for the IronPigs earlier in the week but has hit in all five games since, going 8 for 18 with three doubles and a homer. Good to see him finally striking the ball with authority. Prior to the last four nights, Williams had just one extra-base hit in his previous 33 plate appearances.

The 22-year-old is hitting .276/.311/.428 this season with seven doubles, two triples, four home runs, 20 RBIs, eight walks and 38 strikeouts. 

He's holding his own against righties, batting .295 with an .807 OPS, but the left-handed hitting Williams was just 8 for 44 (.182) with one walk and 14 K's against lefties prior to Thursday. That continued a theme from last year, when Williams hit .330 against righties and .210 against lefties.

That's why his game Thursday was so promising. Williams went 3 for 3 with a double, a walk and a hit by pitch, reaching base five times against three different left-handers.

OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
From Williams we go to Cozens, who will not stop crushing the baseball. Since having his 11-game hit streak snapped last Thursday, Cozens has gone 6 for 23 (.261) with three doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in his last six games. 

The season numbers for the giant lefty are startling: 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 39 RBIs and a .938 OPS in 45 games. Cozens leads the Eastern League in homers and slugging percentage (.587) and is second in doubles and OPS.

Cozens is just 21, but he's powering himself up to Triple A. His success is adding intrigue to the Phillies' future outfield picture.

C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
Knapp is settling back in after a two-week slump, going 6 for 17 with three doubles and a homer in his last five games. The homer came against Tigers lefty prospect Matt Boyd, who went to Detroit from Toronto along with Norris in last summer's David Price trade.

It's pretty apparent that Knapp is going to hit his way up at some point. He has a hit in 12 of his last 13 games, and over the last two seasons is batting .321 with a .574 slugging percentage and 77 RBIs in 90 games combined between Double A and Triple A. 

Knapp is working every day behind the plate to get better defensively. Reading manager Dusty Wathan has said his blocking has improved faster than his throwing. Base stealers are 15 for 18 this season against Knapp, who had Tommy John surgery in 2013.

RHPs Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta (AA)
Lively, the 24-year-old pitcher the Phillies acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, followed up his 12-strikeout effort with a quality start and win on Sunday. He allowed three runs on four hits over six innings to improve to 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA. He's struck out 49 batters in 53 innings and allowed just one home run.

Pivetta, 23, is 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in nine starts for Reading with 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Lively and Pivetta, who was acquired from the Nationals last summer for Jonathan Papelbon, have flown under the radar the first two months because of how many other top prospects the Phils have acquired. But they add to the organization's list of capable young right-handed pitchers.

At some point in the next few years, some of these guys could be shifted to the bullpen. The Phillies won't have enough room in the rotation if most or all of their right-handers pan out.