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.”

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."