Despite Joseph's year, Phils have catching hope

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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.”

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Whit Merrifield hit a two-run, two-out double that capped a four-run rally in the ninth inning, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 on Friday night to reach .500 for the first time since April.

With their 10th win in 12 games, the Royals improved to 36-36. They were 6-6 before play on April 20, then went on a nine-game losing streak that night and dropped as low as 10-20, seven games out of first place. They trail AL Central-leading Cleveland by three games.

Toronto took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and extended it when Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak hit RBI singles off Joakim Soria (4-2) (see full recap).

Dodgers cruise past Rockies for 8th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig homered and left-hander Alex Wood kept his record perfect as the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the NL West rival Colorado Rockies 6-1 on Friday night for their eighth consecutive victory.

The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 games. They have scored at least six runs in seven consecutive games.

Wood (8-0) allowed one run in six innings. He gave up only three hits and walked two, retiring his last 10 batters.

The Dodgers have homered in 15 consecutive games, tied for fourth-longest streak in club history. The last time they managed it was in 1977. Their record is 24 consecutive games with a home run.

Rookie left-hander Kyle Freeman (8-4) allowed five runs and a career-high 10 hits and three walks in six innings (see full recap).

Torreyes hits walk-off single to lift Yanks over Rangers
NEW YORK -- Ronald Torreyes hit a game-winning single with two outs in the 10th inning after midnight, and the New York Yankees edged the Texas Rangers 2-1 on a rainy Friday night for just their second win in 10 games.

Brett Gardner lined a tying home run with one out in the New York ninth off closer Matt Bush. After Chasen Shreve (2-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th, Torreyes kept the Yankees atop the AL East.

Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka kept it scoreless into the late innings in the first major league meeting between the Japanese stars (see full recap).

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX -- The clubhouse was beginning to clear and still the star of the game had not yet emerged from the shower.

"He's in there cleaning the guacamole and mayo out of his hair," Cameron Rupp said with a laugh.

Eventually Mark Leiter Jr. made it out of the shower and over to his locker where equipment man Phil Sheridan presented him with three game balls, souvenirs from not only his first big-league start but his first big-league win, as well.

"It's something I'll never forget," the 26-year-old right-hander from Toms River, N.J., said pitching six shutout innings to backbone the Phillies' 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

"I’ll be honest, I was probably more excited for this than I was for my major-league debut. To go out there and contribute to a win is what I was hoping to do."

Leiter, a 22nd-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2013, had never made it onto the 40-man roster until the Phils needed a reliever in mid-April and gave him a shot after he'd gotten off to a good start at Triple A. He spent six weeks in the majors and made 12 relief appearances before being sent back to Triple A the first weekend of June.

Leiter worked as a starter during his time back at Triple A. He pitched six shutout innings against Syracuse in his last start and got the call to come back up when Jerad Eickhoff went on the disabled list with a back strain earlier this week.

Leiter's return assignment was not easy: The Diamondbacks are one of the best hitting clubs in the majors and the best on their home turf. They entered the game scoring 6.48 runs per game at home and with an .886 OPS, both major-league bests.

None of that fazed Leiter.

"In my opinion, this is the big leagues and it doesn’t matter who the lineup is," he said. "They all have the ability to hit and hit well. They’re all big-leaguers and they've earned their right to be big-leaguers. I was just trying to pitch to the team you're facing that day."

Leiter trusted his low-90s fastball and commanded it well. He mixed in his secondary stuff and kept the D-backs off-balance with his splitter. He scattered three hits, walked one and struck out five. He showed no fear.

"Great performance," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He made it look easy. He made a lot of good hitters look bad with his split. For him to come up and do that to a real good hitting team was outstanding."

Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998. He made the trip in from New Jersey to watch his son's first big-league start.

"I guess they found him on TV," Leiter said. "That's what they were telling me. I'm sure he wasn't too pleased they found him because he was probably stressed out. But I think it was probably worth him coming out here. He's probably happy."

How could he not be?

Leiter's teammates were definitely happy.

They treated Leiter to a raucous postgame dousing that included as many different condiments as could be found in the clubhouse dining room. One laughing player had a bottle of ketchup in his hands. Another had a squeeze bottle of honey.

And then there was the guacamole and mayo that Rupp mentioned.

"In his first major-league start, to come up here and do that in what is known as a good hitters’ park - that proves Mark is pretty strong between the ears," Tommy Joseph said. "He's been one of those under-the-radar guys that people have doubted, but his mentality and ability to prepare are second to none."

Joseph played a big role in the win, smacking a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Phillies some breathing room. Maikel Franco also had a big home run and Freddy Galvis contributed an important triple that led to a Phillies' run in the first inning.

The Phils still have the worst record in the majors at 24-48, but they've won two in a row, both on the back of good starting pitching performances. Aaron Nola pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on Thursday.

And Leiter delivered on Friday.

"It's good to see those back-to-back," Mackanin said.