Buy or sell? Amaro deep in preparations

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Buy or sell? Amaro deep in preparations

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has spent the week consulting with his major-league staff and top advisers -- Pat Gillick was in town for meetings on Thursday -- as he plots strategy for the nearly three weeks that remain before the non-waiver trade deadline.

As he stood on the field during batting practice before Thursday night’s game, Amaro was neither a buyer nor a seller. He could go either way, depending on how his club plays in the 12-game stretch from Friday’s series opener against the White Sox to the July 28 series finale at Detroit.

“If tomorrow was July 31, we’d be buying,” Amaro said. “We’re 6½ out of the wild card. No one is running away with it. No one is invincible.”

Amaro straddled a similar line last July and ultimately traded away Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence.

Four days before the all-star break, the Phillies are in better shape this year than last. Last year, they were 13 games under .500, 14 back in the division and 10 back in the wild-card race at the all-star break. Entering play Thursday, they were two under .500, 7½ back in the division and 6½ back in the wild-card race.

“I considered us less of a contender last year,” Amaro said. “We’re in a better spot this year.”

Even as they plot strategy for the next few weeks, Phillies officials are planning multiple scenarios based on whether they add or subtract, stay in the race or wave the white flag and plan for the future. That means communication with other teams.

“Tons of calls,” Amaro said. “It’s all I do is take calls. Things are very active. It’s that time of year, man. Nothing different than any other July.”

There is plenty of interest in Phillies players. You know the names -- Jonathan Papelbon, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Michael Young. It’s possible that one or all could go if the Phillies sell.

Young, the Phillies’ third baseman, could go either way. According to sources, the Phils have heard from a handful of teams that have interest in the versatile infielder. Some of those teams like the fact that Young can play some second base. The Toronto Blue Jays have scouted the Phillies this week. The Jays like Utley, but it’s believed his contract allows him to block a deal to Toronto. The Jays are talking about moving Brett Lawrie from third to second. That could add up to them taking a peek at Young for third base. Young, however, has a full no-trade clause and would probably only approve a deal to more of a legitimate contender. Baltimore might be an interesting fit for Young as a utility man and bat. Young has a good history with Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who values the type of winning veteran intangibles that Young can bring.

Young would be expendable because the Phillies have some options at third base, including Freddy Galvis, Kevin Frandsen and possibly Cody Asche. He’s also 36 and on an expiring contract. Amaro is reluctant to trade away young talent.

“I don’t really want to move young talent,” Amaro said. “If we have to [make a trade] we’ll figure something out. With the way our club is and with our age -- it’s a young man’s game. We want to try to keep as many young guys as we can.”

Amaro continues to list bullpen help as the Phils’ No. 1 need. He was asked how much financial flexibility he has to take on talent.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “But my boss has always allowed the sensible thing.”

If the Phils get in the race in the second half, Amaro hopes to have Roy Halladay back in the rotation in September.

“It’s possible,” Amaro said. “We have to see how he feels. If he’s pitching by September, I’ll be ecstatic.”

Future Phillies Report: Armed with motivation, J.P. Crawford hitting for power

Future Phillies Report: Armed with motivation, J.P. Crawford hitting for power

It took the better part of three months but J.P. Crawford is finally on a hot streak. 

Whether it's a result of warmer weather, the ups and downs of a long baseball season, motivation from the national outlets which have soured on him, or all of the above, Crawford is finally hitting the ball with authority.

This week's Future Phillies Report begins with him:

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Crawford has hit .262 in July with a .357 on-base percentage, but the most impressive part of his month has been the power. Ten of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases (two doubles, two triples and six homers). Crawford is pulling the ball more and generating loft with his swing.

It's an interesting development given the recent criticism from Baseball America's John Manuel and ESPN's Keith Law that Crawford has gotten homer-happy of late. Law wrote in a chat that accompanied his midseason prospect rankings that Crawford had lost his great control of the strike zone because of it.

But the J.P. staples are still there — his on-base percentage is 113 points higher than his batting average this season, and he has 52 walks with 59 strikeouts. 

Crawford has never been a big power guy. These eight home runs are three shy of his career high set in 2014. As Manuel noted on Jim Salisbury's "At the Yard" podcast last week, a player needs to show some pop in order for major-league pitchers to respect his bat and stay away from the middle of the plate. If he doesn't, or if he can't, then that walk total won't be as high once he debuts.

For now, though, Crawford seems to be in a good place, and the Phillies are hoping it continues for another month or so. He still has enough time to turn his 2017 season around and make a push toward next year's opening-day roster.

RHP Sixto Sanchez (Class A Lakewood)
Sanchez is gaining more and more steam nationally as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Law wrote on Wednesday, after seeing Sanchez pitch last week, that he has "perhaps the best" fastball of any starting pitcher in the minors.

The Phillies have been very cautious with Sanchez, who turns 19 on July 29. He has yet to throw more than 80 pitches in any game this season, and his six innings last Wednesday matched his season high.

He's having a stellar year against Single A competition — .199 opponents' batting average, 54 strikeouts, six walks, one home run allowed in 56⅓ innings.

Sanchez still has some things to work on, notably his breaking ball. Even a pitcher with the best of fastballs needs to be able to throw his slider or curveball effectively for strikes to succeed in the majors. 

As Sanchez progresses through the Phillies' minor-league system, these pristine strikeout-walk numbers may regress. His control is excellent and his command is advanced but no 19-year-old has mastered fastball command. In the South Atlantic League, he's been able to keep hitters off balance even when he makes mistakes.

Baseball America ranked Sanchez 47th in its Midseason Top 100, a spot behind Mickey Moniak.

RHP Adonis Medina (Class A Lakewood)
From one young Dominican right-hander to another, Medina is having a very impressive year for the BlueClaws. In 15 starts, he has a 3.32 ERA with 97 strikeouts and 29 walks in 81⅓ innings.

Medina has never before missed bats at this clip. It's his fourth year in the Phillies' system and from 2014-16 he struck out 6.0 batters per nine innings. This season, he's struck out 10.7 per nine.

Medina, 20, gets his fastball up to the mid-90s and has shown an impressive curveball and changeup this season. 

The Phillies feel good about that young pitching staff at Lakewood, which also includes Nick Fanti, who was involved in his second no-hitter of the season earlier this week.

2B Scott Kingery (AAA)
Kingery has hit safely in 16 of 19 games since being promoted to Lehigh Valley and has reached base in 18 of 19. 

He's swung and missed more often with the IronPigs — his strikeout rate is 23.5 percent at Triple A compared to 16 percent at Double A. But he's still playing well and sparking his team's lineup. 

In his 19 games at Triple A, Kingery has four homers, three doubles and seven steals in as many attempts. Overall this season, he's hit .306/.364/.579 with 21 doubles, 22 homers, 54 RBIs, 26 steals in 29 attempts and 74 runs scored.

And he's done all of this while playing excellent second-base defense. Kingery's speed, defense and contact ability should make him a starting second baseman in the majors soon. His floor seems to be Cesar Hernandez with a bit less plate selection but better defense and baserunning. His ceiling is all of that with the added element of power.

1B Rhys Hoskins (AAA)
For the first time this season, Hoskins is in a cold spell. He's just 9 for 54 with three extra-base hits in July and down to a still-impressive .281/.376/.550 on the season.

Hoskins' call-up will likely occur soon, but the Phillies will first want to him to get back to swinging well and comfortably working deep counts. 

The organization knows it can't keep both Hoskins and Tommy Joseph because both look like everyday first basemen and neither can play another position. The problem is, it doesn't look like the Phils will be able to trade Joseph for much ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.

The only two potential contenders who could use a first baseman were the Yankees and Mariners, but the right-handed heavy Yankees never made a ton of sense for Joseph and can be crossed off after Tuesday's acquisition of Todd Frazier. The Yankees will likely use Frazier and Chase Headley at the infield corners.

The Phils would be wise to hold on to Joseph and try to trade him this winter when more teams are likely to express interest. Even if that's the case, though, they can still call up Hoskins and play him regularly. Joseph is not some seasoned veteran the Phillies should feel locked in to starting. He's a league-average offensive first baseman with a below-average glove. He has some value but it shouldn't come at the expense of finding out what you have in Hoskins.

OF Dylan Cozens (AAA)
It's a shame Cozens is back to striking out so much because Aaron Altherr's hamstring injury might have created an opportunity for him. Altherr is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks but the Phillies will likely stem the tide with Daniel Nava and Cameron Perkins before welcoming Howie Kendrick back.

In Cozens' last 100 at-bats, he's hit .230 with six homers and 45 strikeouts. Overall, he's whiffed 126 times in 386 plate appearances. That's an even higher strikeout rate than he had last season when he punched out 186 times.

Opinions of Cozens are mixed. Some question whether he'll make enough contact to ever be a valuable player. Some question his attitude. Most question his defense.

Cozens has 62 homers in 972 plate appearances the last two seasons at Double A and Triple A but his value is tied almost entirely to that raw power. Will a front office that clearly values consistency, a solid hit tool and thoughtful approach at the plate be able to live with Cozens' streakiness?

He turned 23 at the end of May so he's still not yet at that non-prospect age. But Cozens requires further seasoning and is no lock to be in the majors next spring.

C Jorge Alfaro (AAA)
These final two months are crucial for Alfaro, who has had a down year at Triple A. Through 75 games, he's hit .246/.300/.360 with six homers, 40 RBIs, 16 walks and 96 strikeouts.

Alfaro will be up in the bigs next season — he's out of options after this year — so the need for him to show improvement and more consistency has heightened. 

Over his last seven games, Alfaro is 4 for 27 with no extra-base hits, one walk and 12 strikeouts. The Phillies would be right to wonder whether weeks like that will be frequent once he's in the majors. It's tough to live with a starting catcher who doesn't walk, strikes out a lot, isn't hitting for power and isn't a great receiver.

That last part is very important. Catchers are no longer judged mostly by their throwing arm but instead their ability to frame pitches and block balls in the dirt. Alfaro can also be a bit jumpy behind the plate; teams seek stillness from their catcher as soon as the target is set.

Alfaro has a long way to go but he has the tools and the upside. He just hasn't squared the ball up enough this season, fouling off or swinging through hittable pitches. The Phillies won't enter the offseason feeling confident about their catching situation, short term, if he has a second half like his first.

OF Adam Haseley (Short-Season Class A Williamsport)
The Phillies' first-round pick has had a hot start to his pro career, hitting .342/.437/.479 with seven extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. 

Haseley's teammates at Williamsport rave about his work ethic, and there are believers in the Phillies' organization that he will someday be a 25-home run guy.

Haseley's intensity and focus have stuck out to Williamsport manager (and former MLB catcher) Pat Borders, who noted how locked-in and committed to his plan Haseley is during batting practice. 

Haseley's lone home run with Williamsport was an opposite-field shot down the left-field line. He uses the opposite field quite a bit. Borders remarked that once Haseley starts pulling the ball with authority, he'll be a real problem.

"The sky's the limit for him because he can repeat his swing so well and drive the ball," Borders said on this week's Phillies Clubhouse, which will air after Postgame Live Saturday night. "He hit a home run to straight left field the other day, which is a remarkable feat for anybody hitting the ball the other way but especially for somebody his age (21). He's not a super big kid but he's got power going the other way. When he learns to pull the ball with power also, he's going to be a dangerous, dangerous hitter."

OF Mickey Moniak (Class A Lakewood)
Moniak has had some growing pains in his first full pro season. Through 355 plate appearances, he's hit .263/.317/.379 with 22 walks and 72 strikeouts.

He's struggled with breaking balls, struggled against lefties and hasn't hit for much power. He was picked off last night, the sixth time he's been caught stealing in 15 attempts.

Perhaps Moniak wasn't as advanced as the Phillies thought when they selected him first overall in 2016. But that doesn't mean the shine has worn off — he's still just 19 years old. 

One interesting note from Manuel last week was that some scouts have opined that as Moniak has gained muscle, he's lost some of the quick-twitch ability that had made him such a polished, gap-to-gap hitter.

LF Cornelius Randolph (High-A Clearwater)
Randolph is in the midst of his best month in the Phillies' organization. The 2015 first-round pick has hit .397 over his last 18 games with five doubles, a triple, three homers and 15 walks.

He's hitting .258/.358/.407 this season with nine homers and 38 RBIs. The Phillies are happy to see the double-digit power because Randolph, whose value is tied entirely to his bat, entered 2017 with three home runs in 503 pro plate appearances.

At 20 years old, Randolph is nearly three years younger than the Florida State League average. The Phillies were aggressive in moving him up to Clearwater this season but he's made the necessary adjustments as the season has gone on.

RHP Jesen Therrien (AAA)
Therrien could soon be up in the majors after the expected trades of Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit. The 24-year-old relief prospect has had success at both Double A and Triple A this season, posting a combined 1.49 ERA and 0.81 WHIP with 62 strikeouts and just seven walks in 54⅓ innings.

The Neshek and Benoit trades would create an opening for Therrien to slide in as a seventh-inning guy. In that scenario, the Phils would likely use Luis Garcia in the eighth and Hector Neris in the ninth. 

It would be nice for the Phils to promote at least one legitimate relief prospect before the season ends so they enter the offseason feeling somewhat comfortable about their future bullpen. Therrien's progress could, in a way, cancel out the steps back taken by Edubray Ramos.

Other tidbits
Zach Eflin pitched well Wednesday night, allowing one run over seven innings for the IronPigs. He missed nearly all of June with a sore elbow but has a 2.22 ERA in five games since returning.

Jake Thompson continues to struggle. He followed a seven-inning start on July 6 by lasting just 4⅔ innings his last time out. He walked four and threw 101 pitches. In 17 starts at Triple A this season, Thompson is 3-11 with a 5.59 ERA and 1.60 WHIP.

Mark Appel was placed on the DL last week with more shoulder problems.

• In 24 games since his promotion to Triple A, outfielder Andrew Pullin has hit .198 with six doubles and two homers.

Nick Williams giving Phillies missing ingredient — a feared hitter — early in career

Nick Williams giving Phillies missing ingredient — a feared hitter — early in career

MIAMI -- Nick Williams has been a major-leaguer less than three weeks and his progress has accelerated so swiftly that the Phillies are already trying to pump the breaks.

“I’m not going to say a whole lot about him right now,” manager Pete Mackanin said of his 23-year-old rookie right fielder. “I don’t want to jinx myself.”

Williams, elevated to the three-hole in the batting order on Tuesday, is batting .316 with four doubles, three triples and two homers — including one grand slam — in just 16 games.

In the past six games, Williams has 11 RBIs. And he is one of just four Phillies in more than 100 years to produce multiple RBIs and multiple hits in four straight games, a list that includes Greg Luzinski (1977); Chuck Klein (1932) and Lefty O’Doul (1929).

Williams is also one of just three Phillies with an OPS north of .800. Williams leads the team in OPS at .963. He is followed by Aaron Altherr (.898), who figures to be out multiple weeks due to a hamstring injury; and Howie Kendrick (.879), who is on an injury rehab assignment at Double-A Reading.

Kendrick, who is in the last year of his contract, will likely be gone soon, perhaps by the July 31 trading deadline, if he can prove he is healthy enough to contribute to a playoff contender.

Meanwhile, Altherr and Williams have both played right field this year. Assuming Williams continues to play well, Mackanin will have to sort it out, and, presumably, one of those two players shifts to left.

For now, the Phillies need the quiet Williams to continue making noise with his bat because this is a team that ranks second-to-last in the majors with 365 runs scored.

And that’s after taking two out of three games from the Miami Marlins this week in a breakout offensive performance by the entire team. The Phillies scored 20 runs in the series, their second-best showing in a three-game set all year.

The Phillies had five players come through with multi-hit games in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Marlins. Seven players turned that trick in Wednesday’s 10-3 victory in which the Phillies set a season high with 20 hits (see story).

“Hitting is contagious,” Williams said in advance of Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, which starts a 10-game homestand. “When you see so many guys do it, I always think of it as, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ ”

Mackanin this week talked up Maikel Franco, who has been used as the cleanup batter 38 times this year and has hit fifth and sixth 20 times each.

Franco, according to Mackanin, leveled off his swing in a productive batting-practice session on Tuesday, and the manager predicts a big second half from him.

Perhaps Franco can settle in as the full-time cleanup hitter.

Perhaps Franco can provide quality protection for Williams in the three-hole.

Perhaps this can become a thing, Williams and Franco.

Fact is, age-wise, they are well-positioned to grow together with the Phillies. Franco is 24 — he just seems older because he broke into the majors in 2014 — and Williams is 23.

And although Williams is younger, he seems mature. These thrilling three weeks do not appear to have fazed him. He is not, for example, trying to pull everything.

“Growing up,” said Williams, who is from Galveston, Texas, “I always heard, ‘Hit it where it’s pitched.’

“If (pitchers throw) away, hit it that way. If they come in, pull it. … I just trust my hands.”

At 32-61, the Phillies are miles away from contention, and further still from their 2008 team that won the World Series.

Progress has been slow, but finding some hitters that will strike fear in the hearts and minds of opposing pitchers and managers will be a fine start.

Intentional walks are often a show of respect. Right now, no one on the Phillies has drawn more than four intentional passes.

If you look back at the ’08 Phillies, Ryan Howard was walked intentionally 17 times. Chase Utley was walked intentionally 14 times.

That’s what happens when you hit 48 homers like Howard did that year.

That’s what happens when you hit 41 doubles like Utley did that year.

That’s what happens when you’re dangerous.

The Phillies are hoping that Williams, a former second-round pick and part of the package received from the Texas Rangers in the 2015 Cole Hamels trade, can be anywhere near that dangerous one day.

For now, though, Mackanin would prefer less talking and more hitting.

“I just want to watch him continue to play,” Mackanin said, “(continue to) be aggressive at the plate.”