Despite Joseph's year, Phils have catching hope

tommy-joseph-slide-ap.jpg

Despite Joseph's year, Phils have catching hope

On the surface, 2013 looks to have been a bad year for Phillies’ catching prospects.

Tommy Joseph, the most advanced of the group, lost a year of development after suffering his third concussion since becoming a pro in 2010.

So much for him pushing for a big-league roster spot in 2014.

Sebastian Valle had a poor season as his slide from prospect status continued.

But a deeper look at the Phils’ minor-league catching situation shows this wasn’t such a bad season after all, at least from a long-range standpoint.

Burly Cameron Rupp rose from Double A to Triple A and is now in the majors. The 24-year-old former Texas Longhorn projects as a player who could stay there, play solid defense and hit some home runs.

Down below, there is quite a bit of promise as the Phils look to groom Carlos Ruiz’s long-range replacement (see story).

Logan Moore, a ninth-round draft pick in 2011, was a Florida State League All-Star. Moore recently turned 23. He does not hit much, but is a top-shelf defender.

“He’s as good a defensive catcher as we have,” said Joe Jordan, the Phillies director of player development.

The bat will be an issue, but Moore projects as a big-leaguer in some role behind the plate.

The Phils’ two most exciting catching prospects are in the low minors.

Andrew Knapp was the team’s second-round pick out of the University of California in June. The 21-year-old switch-hitter hit .253 with four homers, 23 RBIs and a .340 on-base percentage in 62 games for Williamsport in the New York-Penn League this summer.

He could be poised to make a jump to the Florida State League next year.

“He’s going to be a hell of a good player,” Jordan said. “He’s going to be a hitter. He’s a switch-hitter with an above-average arm. He just needs to improve a couple of little things defensively and we can help him there. He’s got a chance a year from now to be one of our better guys.”

Jordan is a former scouting director for the Baltimore Orioles.

“I did the scouting thing for 15 years,” he said. “Let me tell you, Knapp was a hell of a pick in the second round. I don’t know how a college catcher with that kind of offensive ability gets to the second round. It was a really good pick. I think he has a chance to come quickly.”

Often, the best appraisal of a player comes from a different organization. A rival scout who is familiar with the Phillies' system was recently asked for a keep-an-eye-on prospect in the organization

The rival scout did not hesitate.

“Grullon,” he said enthusiastically.

Deivi Grullon is a 17-year-old from the Dominican Republic who played in the Gulf Coast League this summer. The Phillies signed him last summer for $575,000. He’s 5-11 and 180 pounds. He has drawn comparisons to Carlos Ruiz. Grullon shows gap-power potential and as the scout said, “He has a hose for an arm. I really like him.”

A smile crossed Jordan’s face at the mention of Grullon’s name.

“He’s very young,” Jordan said. “But if he puts it all together, it’s every-day, All-Star type ability. Deivi has made as good progress as anyone this year behind the plate.”

Phillies officials will watch all of these catchers in the Florida instructional league later this month.

Joseph, who began 2013 at Triple A and suffered a concussion a month into the season, will report to instructional league and resume catching. Club officials are hopeful that he has recovered from his most recent concussion and can stay at the position instead of moving to first base. The 22-year-old Arizonan was a second-round pick of the Giants in 2009. The Phillies acquired him for Hunter Pence.

“Tommy was at the top of our list when the season started, so it’s a setback not only for us but for him,” Jordan said. “He’s coming to instructional league and he’s going to go behind the plate. We’ve got to take a look and see what we want to do. We’re hoping for the best.”

Tonight's lineup: WIth only RHP left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: WIth only RHP left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies (70-86) at Braves (63-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

After losing by three possessions on Sunday and getting an off day Monday to think about it, the Phillies are back in action Tuesday night to begin their final road series of 2016.

Let's take a look:

1. The finish line nears
Forty-nine down, two to go. The Phillies have just two series left this season, a three-gamer in Atlanta and then a set with the Mets at home to close it out. 

The Phils have a series record of 18-25-6. They have just six series wins in 21 tries since the All-Star break (6-12-3). 

The Phillies and Braves have played seven times in the second half and the Phils are 2-5 — they split a four-game series July 28-31 in Atlanta and were swept at home Sept. 2-4.

With 70 wins, the Phillies have already beaten their over-under by four victories. If they manage to split these final six games, they'll finish 10 games better than they did in 2015.

The Braves, meanwhile, will avoid 100 losses. That didn't look possible when they were 33-66 and on pace for 109 losses. But Atlanta has been much better the last six weeks, especially offensively.

2. Freeman's monstrous year
Whether it was the addition of Matt Kemp or just regression to his true talent level, Freddie Freeman has been a force of nature this summer.

Freeman started slowly. Through June 12, he was hitting .242 with a .750 OPS in 61 games. Since then? He's hit .347/.445/.673 with 33 doubles, five triples, 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 91 games. The Braves are just three games under .500 over that span at 44-47.

It's pretty amazing that Freeman has had an MVP-caliber season in a lineup that offers so little protection. This has been the best year of his seven-year career. In 669 plate appearances, he's hit .305/.402/.570 with 43 doubles, six triples, 32 homers and 87 RBIs. He's also walked 86 times. 

Freeman's best work this year has come against the Phillies. In 16 games, he's gone 22 for 60 (.367) with a .449 OBP, five doubles, five homers and 10 RBIs.

3. The push toward 200
Jerad Eickhoff makes his 32nd start of the season tonight and will likely have one more on the final day. He enters tonight's game with 187⅓ innings pitched, 12⅔ shy of the 200-inning benchmark every pitcher seeks.

Eickhoff said early in the summer that 200 innings would be meaningful to him and acknowledged it just sounds different than 195. It's taken health, stamina and consistency for Eickhoff to get to this point at age 26 in his first full big-league season.

Eickhoff (11-14, 3.75 ERA) has made six consecutive quality starts. He's steadied the Phillies' rotation for four months now. Since May 22, Eickhoff is 10-8 with a 3.52 ERA, but if you remove the one dreadful outing at hitter-friendly Coors Field, his ERA over that span is 3.13. He very well could be the opening day starter in 2017.

Eickhoff has faced the Braves five times in his career and gone 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. 

Freeman is 5 for 14 against him with a double and a homer, but all other active Braves have hit a combined .209 with no extra-base hits in more than 75 plate appearances.

Eickhoff won't have to deal with Kemp, who has been hot lately but is out of Tuesday's lineup.

4. Last look at Teheran
The Phillies take on talented Braves right-hander Julio Teheran for the third time this season and 15th time in his six-year career.

Could it be their last time seeing him in an Atlanta uniform? That's always a possibility for the rebuilding Braves with Teheran, who has long been an intriguing trade candidate. A 25-year-old with a 3.37 career ERA and one of the more team-friendly contracts in baseball, Teheran figures to have immense trade value this offseason. He's due $31 million over the next three seasons in a sport where pitchers half as talented now earn similar average annual salaries.

If Teheran is eventually dealt for a package of prospects, the Phillies won't be sad to see him go. He's 7-4 with a 2.31 ERA and has allowed just five home runs to them in 89⅔ career innings. His starts against the Phillies the last three years have been even better: 6-2, 1.39 ERA, 56 strikeouts, 13 walks, one homer allowed in 71 innings.

His last time out, Teheran allowed just one run over seven innings to the Mets but struck out only one batter. He hasn't missed many bats lately, generating just three swings-and-misses in his last start and six two outings before that.

Teheran has five pitches but mostly uses a four-seam fastball/slider combination. When he last faced the Phillies on Sept. 4, 90 of his 119 pitches were four-seamers or sliders.

Current Phillies have hit .219 collectively against Teheran in 169 at-bats. Freddy Galvis has seen him the best, going 7 for 18 (all singles) with three walks. Ryan Howard has two doubles and two solo homers off Teheran in 26 ABs.

5. This and that
• File this one under stats nobody would have predicted: The Braves have the highest on-base percentage in the majors since the All-Star break at .346. The Phillies are fifth-worst at .306.

• In 50 games with Atlanta, Kemp has hit .287/.341/.508 with 13 doubles, 10 homers and 35 RBIs. He had 16 walks in 100 games with the Padres and has 18 in half as many games with the Braves. His poor defense has still made him a net negative player this season (if you believe in WAR), but the Braves are 26-24 since acquiring him.

• If the season ended today, the Phillies would have the ninth pick in next June's draft. Based on the records of the teams around them, they are a near lock to pick either 8th, 9th or 10th.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule.