Future Phillies Report: J.P. Crawford makes more sense at 3B than Scott Kingery

Future Phillies Report: J.P. Crawford makes more sense at 3B than Scott Kingery

The Future Phillies Report takes on a different look as September approaches. So many of the key players we've focused on this season — Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Pivetta, Jesen Therrien — are now firmly entrenched with the big-league club.

At Triple A, Lehigh Valley's lineup has taken some hits as the aforementioned position players have been promoted, which was a reason Carlos Tocci was promoted to the IronPigs last week.

Sunday saw another interesting development with J.P. Crawford making his first start in the Phillies' organization at a defensive position other than shortstop (see story). We've explored this idea in recent weeks given the steps forward Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis have taken and the continued struggles of Maikel Franco.

So we'll start with the top prospect left at Triple A.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
It's not how you start, it's how you finish, right? Well, Crawford is finishing this season strong.

Since July 1, Crawford has hit .306/.397/.595 with nine doubles, four triples, 11 homers, 25 walks and 37 strikeouts in 199 plate appearances.

It's gotten his season numbers back to a respectable place — Crawford is hitting .246/.352/.408 for an OPS 72 points higher than he had last season. Crawford had another multi-hit game Sunday, his seventh in his last 15 games. He's also been more sound in the field, committing just one error in his last 23 games. 

It makes a lot of sense to try Crawford out at third base at Triple A over the next few weeks and then potentially see what he's got at the hot corner in the majors in September. Franco just continues to show little improvement at the plate — and it's not as if we're looking merely at results, it's Franco's approach too. Franco is down to .224 with a .277 OBP on the season, and in only one month this season has Franco hit higher than .224 or had an OBP higher than .284.

Crawford would make more sense than Scott Kingery as a third baseman (at least while Galvis is still around) since Kingery's defense at second base is above average. Kingery has one error in his last 43 games.

Hernandez remains an offseason trade candidate, one who could probably fetch the Phillies a starting pitcher who can help.

2B Scott Kingery (AAA)
Kingery is 48 games into his stay at Triple A and is hitting .315/.347/.502.

He hit .313/.379/.608 with Double A Reading.

He's done it all — hit for power, hit for average, play great defense and run the bases well. In total, Kingery has 26 doubles, eight triples, 26 homers, 63 RBIs, 98 runs and 27 steals in 117 games this season.

This feels like a repeat of the Rhys Hoskins situation — the minor-leaguer is ready for the majors, just has no everyday spot.

For Kingery, the best avenues to everyday playing time early next season are either a trade of Hernandez, a trade of Franco or an injury to one of them. Hernandez should have trade value this winter as a leadoff hitter with on-base skills, speed and improving defense. With Franco, the Phillies would be selling low unless they deem that this is just who he is.

RHP Tom Eshelman (AAA)
After allowing eight runs in his return from the DL on Aug. 4, Eshelman has twirled two gems, allowing just one run and 11 baserunners in 13 innings.

Overall this season, Eshelman is 11-3 with a 2.70 ERA in 20 starts (five with Reading, 15 with Lehigh Valley). His trademark control has never been better — Eshelman has walked just 17 batters in 130 innings this season.

The Phillies face some tough starting pitching decisions this winter. Do they add a few veterans to improve the team and make Philly a more worthwhile destination for that star-studded 2018 free-agent class? Do they give Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson another half-season to stick in the rotation? None of those three has answered doubts or pushed his way into the Phillies' future plans yet.

Whatever the Phils do, Eshelman isn't far from the majors or far down the organizational depth chart.

Another reason you'll likely see Eshelman early in 2018 is that the Phillies are going to want to see some fruits of the Ken Giles trade. Velasquez hasn't panned out as a starting pitcher so far, nor has Mark Appel, and a trade that looked smart and promising at the time has been a win for the Astros and a loss for the Phillies two seasons later.

OF Dylan Cozens (AAA)
Perhaps if Cozens was hitting, he would have gotten the call to join the Phillies for a few days on the West Coast with Odubel Herrera injured. Instead, the Phillies chose to add Pedro Florimon to the 40-man roster last week rather than call up Cozens or Brock Stassi.

Cozens has not had a good year in his first taste of Triple A. After hitting .276/.350/.591 with 40 homers at Double A last season, he's hit .214/.302/.411 with 23 homers this season. He's on pace to strike out even more than he did last season, when he whiffed 186 times. He's already at 171 this season.

The guy is just in an awful slump. Since July 20, Cozens is 10 for 91 (.110) with 45 strikeouts and two extra-base hits. Add in some shaky defense and you get a player who needs more seasoning, or could maybe be used as a trade chip with the Phillies' outfield well set up for 2018 with Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams.

RHP Sixto Sanchez (High A Clearwater)
Sanchez, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, has made three starts with Clearwater since being promoted at the end of July and each has been better than the last.

• 6 innings, 10 hits (career high), 5 runs (career high), 0 walks, 3 strikeouts

• 6 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts

• 6 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts (season-high 84 pitches)

It's interesting that with Sanchez's blazing fastball and above-average command, his strikeout total isn't very high. He's whiffed 77 batters in 85⅓ innings, a respectable rate of 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but a rate lower than you typically see from a pitcher who throws as hard as he does. Some of that is because he locates well early in counts and gets soft contact. Can't argue with efficiency.

Sanchez has pitched 85⅓ innings this season and is starting once a week at this point. The Phillies will be cautious with him and likely cap him right around 100 to 110 innings.

CF Mickey Moniak (Class A Lakewood)
Moniak's numbers continue to slide as he's enduring a brutal month of August. He's 8 for 59 (.136) this month and hasn't walked nearly enough to offset the offensive difficulties.

Moniak this season has hit .241/.292/.343 with an extra-base hit every 15.5 plate appearances. He has 27 walks and 98 strikeouts. 

Moniak, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, was recently joined at Lakewood by Adam Haseley, the Phillies' first-round pick in June. Haseley has been playing left field and batting a spot ahead of Moniak in the batting order. 

Keep in mind with both of these guys that this is by far the most baseball they've ever played in a calendar year so it's not surprising they're fading as the summer wears on. Moniak is one year removed from a high school schedule, while Haseley has already played 104 games in 2017 between the University of Virginia and the Phillies' system. With the Cavaliers, the most games he played in a season was 68.

RHP Seranthony Dominguez (High A Clearwater)
Dominguez had a 2.02 ERA in his first seven starts this season before experiencing shoulder soreness that kept him out two months. Since returning to Clearwater, he's allowed 12 runs, 24 hits and 14 walks in 19 innings.

Still, Dominguez has put himself on the map this season as an intriguing, 22-year-old pitching prospect with a high strikeout rate (74 K's in 60 innings).

LHP McKenzie Mills (High A Clearwater)
The Phillies' return in the Howie Kendrick trade, Mills has made three starts for Clearwater. The first two were very good — he followed five innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts and three runs over six innings — but he was shelled his last time out, allowing 11 hits and four runs in 4⅔ innings.

Mills' opponents have hit .356 over his last two starts, but he's been missing bats at a high rate (16 percent). Overall this season, he has a solid whiff rate of 14 percent; the league average is around 10 percent.

Mills' control continues to be outstanding. He hasn't walked a batter in four starts. Overall this season, he has 134 K's and 22 walks in 120⅓ innings.

Mills could potentially factor into the Phillies' pitching plans in a few years the way Nick Pivetta has this season, but the Nationals are much happier so far with how this trade turned out. Jonathan Papelbon was a disaster in Washington, but Kendrick's bat has kept the Nats afloat through a bunch of injuries lately.

LHP Nick Fanti (Class A Lakewood)
Another lefty with a sparkling K/BB ratio, Fanti is 7-2 with a 2.65 ERA, 108 strikeouts and 22 walks in 108⅔ innings this season. That includes his no-hitter on July 17 and his 8⅔ innings of no-hit ball on May 6. 

It's not like Fanti has had only a few great outings, either — he's allowed zero or one earned run(s) in 12 of 19 starts this season. Not bad for a 31st-round pick.

Fanti would probably be at Clearwater already if the Threshers' rotation wasn't so crowded with Sanchez, Dominguez, Mills, JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez.

LHP JoJo Romero (High A Clearwater)
The 20-year-old has already moved pretty fast through the Phillies' system and if he keeps up his current pace, he'll likely be at Reading early in 2018.

Romero, the Phils' fourth-round pick in 2016, has adjusted seamlessly to High A. In seven starts with Clearwater, he's 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA, 38 strikeouts and 12 walks in 40⅓ innings. Those numbers are pretty close to what he was doing at Lakewood.

With a good sinker, Romero has gotten a lot of quick outs this season, which has enabled him to go deeper into games than some of his counterparts. Since arriving at Clearwater, he's held his opponent to 1, 0, 2, 0, 1 and 3 runs. In his lone poor outing, he gave up seven runs (five earned) on 12 hits in four innings.

Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

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Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's time for the 2017 Cleveland Indians to be introduced to the one and only 1884 Providence Grays.

They share some unlikely history, the two teams, which played a mere 141 years apart, are the only two clubs to have ever won 27 out of 28 games.

The Indians joined the Grays on Thursday when Francisco Lindor's three-run homer led Cleveland to a 4-1 victory and three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Grays ended up winning 28 of 29, leaving the Indians one game shy of matching the record (see full recap).

Cubs rally in 9th, beat Brewers to open big series
MILWAUKEE -- Javier Baez grounded a tying single with two outs in the ninth inning, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Chicago Cubs widened their NL Central lead over Milwaukee, beating the Brewers 5-3 Thursday night.

The Cubs now are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers after winning the opener of a four-game series.

Milwaukee was in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. But Wade Davis (4-1) struck out Domingo Santana and then, after falling behind 3-1 in the count to Orlando Arcia, came back to retire him on an easy comebacker on a full-count pitch.

The Cubs trailed 3-2 when Ian Happ led off the ninth by hitting a grounder that first baseman Neil Walker fielded wide of the bag. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress covered first and Happ was called safe in a close play, a ruling upheld on replay (see full recap).

Twins rout Tigers, lead AL wild card by 2½ games
DETROIT -- With a postseason berth tantalizingly close, the Minnesota Twins snapped out of their mini-slump in emphatic fashion.

Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each, and the Twins extended their lead for the American League's second wild card by beating the Detroit Tigers 12-1 on Thursday night. Minnesota is 2 games ahead of the Angels in the race for the AL's final postseason spot. Los Angeles lost earlier in the day to Cleveland .

The Twins had lost five of six coming into the night, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, but they routed a depleted Detroit team that is 4-17 in September after trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton.

"As a whole in this season, it's been pretty impressive," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "Staying away from the long losing streaks, coming back from some tough losses and some tough stretches and getting back to playing winning baseball, for the most part,” (see full recap).

Fowler delivers again as Cardinals beat Reds
CINCINNATI -- The St. Louis Cardinals rinsed the bad taste of being swept by the Chicago Cubs the best way they could -- sweeping the Cincinnati Reds.

Dexter Fowler delivered again, hitting two doubles and a single as St. Louis overcame Scott Schebler's two home runs to beat the Reds 8-5 Thursday night.

The Cardinals began the day 2 games behind Colorado for the second NL wild-card spot and five games behind the Central-leading Cubs.

Fowler drove in two runs. He went 7 for 13 with two home runs and six RBIs in the three-game series (see full recap).

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

BOX SCORE

In the end, things reverted to form: The Dodgers won and the Phillies lost.

The Dodgers are headed to the playoffs, the Phillies to who-knows-where.

Los Angeles scored twice in the seventh inning Thursday afternoon to beat the Phils, 5-4, and salvage the finale of a four-game series (see observations).

The Dodgers, the majors’ best team at 97-56, lowered their magic number to one for clinching a fifth straight NL West championship. The Phils, baseball’s second-worst team at 61-92, were left with a lovely parting gift: hope.

“I think it’s a good lesson,” J.P. Crawford, the rookie shortstop-turned-third baseman, said of the series as a whole. “It showed us, or showed me, we can compete with the best teams in the league. Just can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.”

Crawford, the 16th overall pick in 2013, drew three walks in four plate appearances and fielded eight chances flawlessly, at least four of which could be described as moderately difficult.

In addition, Mark Leiter Jr. pitched six strong innings, Rhys Hoskins did another Rhys Hoskins thing — i.e., hit a two-run double in the fifth — and Nick Williams launched a two-run homer.

So it was that the Phillies finished the homestand with a 7-3 record. They have won eight of their last 12, and are 32-34 since the All-Star break, after going 29-58 beforehand.

There are those who question how much it means for an also-ran to excel in September, when the pressure is off. It would appear that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is not among those people. He mentioned in particular how valuable it is for his young relievers to face teams in the thick of the race.

“To get this kind of experience is worth a lot,” he said. “It’s a big part of this year.”

One of those relievers, Ricardo Pinto, faltered Thursday, allowing those two seventh-inning runs to take the loss. But Leiter, who had pitched to a 9.39 ERA in three previous September starts, allowed just one earned run on five hits over his six innings of work. He struck out three and walked one.

So it’s one for his résumé going forward. And he said a strong finish to the season — the Phils have nine games left — is “important for everybody.”

“I don't know if it's more important for us than other teams,” he said, “but you want to finish strong and start strong. Those are the goals. That's baseball. You're going to have some ups and downs, and to take a series is a good thing.”

Crawford, called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sept. 5, hit .200 without a walk in his first six major-league games. In his last nine, he is slashing .296/.474/.481, with 10 walks and seven strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.

“Just a matter of getting my feet settled down,” he said, “and just being comfortable in the box.”

“It’s good to see,” Mackanin said. “He was advertised as someone who controls the strike zone and he’s proven that he can do that. Walk’s as good as a hit — the old saying. He keeps innings alive and he doesn’t expand the strike zone, he makes the pitcher get him out and he’ll take a walk, which is important.”

Speaking generally about such an approach (and not about Crawford in particular), Mackanin had only one small reservation.

“One of the problems with a guy who walks too often is you’d like him to be a little more aggressive at times,” he said, “but in general it’s good to see.”

Crawford made his eighth start at third base, and while he doesn’t possess the power bat normally required of someone who plays the position, he certainly looks like he can hold his own with the glove.

“There’s not really much transition,” he said. “I’m just going over there, reacting, catching the ball, throwing the ball.”

If nothing else, he gives the Phillies a possible alternative to Maikel Franco, who has struggled all year.

And if nothing else, the team as a whole has shown there is some reason for hope.