Future Phillies Report: Nick Williams working on the 'finishing touches'

Future Phillies Report: Nick Williams working on the 'finishing touches'

There are just under 100 games left in the season but the Phillies are already in the driver's seat to "land" the No. 1 pick in the draft for the second time in three years. 

Apathy is beginning to set in, which is never a good sign this early in the summer. Some of that is because the Phils are losing and losing and losing, but the other part of it is fan unrest over the lack of call-ups of top position player prospects.

Phils GM Matt Klentak addressed those concerns earlier in the week, again saying that he's not going to call up a young player before he's ready just because the major-league offense is struggling (see story)

It wasn't the answer most wanted to hear, but there is some validity to it because the individual development of these prospects is paramount. The question then becomes, what is the definition of "ready?" Is an organization ever truly 100 percent certain a prospect is ready?

"Some players come up and do well and it could be the platform they need, a confidence-building move that allows their career to take off," Klentak said. 

"For others ... a lot of the best minor-league players have not faced failure in their entire lives. They were the best player on their Little League teams, their high school team, their college team and in the minor leagues. So if they come up to the big leagues and that's the first time they taste failure, for some players it can have a negative effect. That's not true of everybody. Part of player development is understanding those players and who's better equipped to handle things than others."

This week's Future Phillies Report begins with a player the Phillies don't think is ready yet but who would have an opportunity for playing time right now.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
With Cesar Hernandez out through late July, the Phillies have shifted Howie Kendrick to second base and been playing Daniel Nava in left field, with a little Michael Saunders sprinkled in.

Some look at this and question the logic. Why is a team 20-plus games under .500 giving everyday playing time to Nava, a 34-year-old outfielder with little trade value?

Before getting to Williams, it's important to note how productive Nava has been this season. He's hit .310 with a .422 on-base percentage and nearly as many walks (15) as strikeouts (18). He's contributed as a starter and pinch-hitter and given the Phillies quality at-bats. For a team scuffling offensively, it's hard to bench a player with an .886 OPS, no matter how short-term a solution he is.

Williams hasn't yet been promoted and tested in the majors, but it could happen soon if Nava goes into a slump. The Phillies might just be waiting for the right time as Williams puts the "finishing touches" on his game, as Klentak said.

Williams went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts on Thursday night but was in a groove prior to that. From May 17 through June 13, he hit .323 with 11 home runs, 28 RBIs and a 1.057 OPS in 103 plate appearances. It was the best stretch, power-wise, of his pro career.

"I would tell you that Nick is more ready today than he was a month ago," Klentak said. "Nick has been really good for a month. He's come into his own offensively. But he's not a finished product. As you have heard me say before, we'd like that when players come up here, they have a decent chance of staying and that's the thing. There's some finishing touches for Nick that he's working on and he knows what he's working on. I think Nick has been a success story for the last month to six weeks. He's been really good."

On the season, Williams is hitting .274/.307/.504 with 13 homers, 40 RBIs, eight walks and 75 strikeouts. Those last two numbers really jump out at you. It's highly unlikely Williams is ever going to have a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio. It's just not his game, he's months from turning 24, and he's been able to have success in the minors without controlling the strike zone like Rhys Hoskins or J.P. Crawford. 

With Williams, he kind of just is what he is — an outfielder who could potentially hit .280 with a .315 on-base percentage, 35 doubles and 20 homers. But because he barely walks, he's going to need to hit for power to be a valuable major-leaguer. 

When the Phillies acquired Williams from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade, they were deciding between him and fellow outfield prospect Lewis Brinson. The Rangers ended up trading Brinson last summer to the Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. After Brinson hit .312 with a .900 OPS at Triple A Colorado Springs this season, the Brewers called him up last week.

Another outfield prospect, the Astros' Derek Fisher, was called up this week. Fisher, you'll remember, was in the first iteration of the Ken Giles trade until the Phillies' concerns over Vince Velasquez's medicals led them to rework the deal to involve more pitching. 

Fisher is three weeks older than Williams. Brinson is about nine months younger. They're all different players, but they were deemed ready by their teams, who are both in much more of a win-now mode than the Phillies.

2B Scott Kingery (AA)
Kingery keeps saying he's not trying to hit home runs and he hasn't changed his approach, but the results this season have been startling. He's hit .302/.376/.609 with 18 home runs, 14 doubles and four triples for Double A Reading. He's also stolen 16 bases.

Kingery was not drafted for his power. He was drafted because he's a speedy second baseman with gap-to-gap power and the ability to contribute in various ways offensively. But as he's added strength, he's added power. 

Kingery is 23 years old, so it's not like we're talking about a prospect far away from the majors. And it's not super rare for a team to promote a player from Double A straight to the majors — even the Phillies did it late last season with Roman Quinn and Jorge Alfaro.

Klentak said Wednesday that Kingery will soon be promoted to Triple A because of how well he's handled Double A. Once there, he'll likely bat first or second for the IronPigs, and it will be interesting to see how he and Crawford work together as a double-play tandem.

There's an opening for Kingery right now with Hernandez out, but the Phillies want him to spend at least a little more time in the minors. He's played only 98 games above Single A.

Kingery is not on the Phillies' 40-man roster, but that probably won't be an issue because there are a few fringy players they could cut ties with, and if Kingery has a legit chance to battle for a major-league roster spot next spring, they'd have to add him to the 40 then anyway.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Crawford is dealing with a nagging groin strain that has kept him out since June 10 but it's not thought to be a long-term issue.

He did have two hits in his last game but is still south of .200. On the year, Crawford is hitting .194 with a .313 OBP.

He's still walking (36) just about as much as he's striking out (42), but that can't be the only offensive skill Crawford displays. Having an on-base percentage 100 points higher than your batting average can make up for a low average, but it's not as meaningful when both numbers are this low. Crawford was thought to be more of a .270/.370 guy.

"Am I concerned? Not really," Klentak said of Crawford this week. "His defense is still good. He still controls the strike zone. Obviously, he's hitting .200. That will need to improve. But I think it will. He doesn't strike out. He doesn't chase. He's been a victim of BABIP (batting average on balls in play) a little bit this year. 

"He's still 22. He may not be quite on the fast track that he had been publicly anointed over the last few years. But as far as a long-term concern for his ability to contribute to this club, we are not concerned."

1B Rhys Hoskins (AAA)
In terms of major-league readiness, Hoskins appears to be there. For him, it's a matter of being blocked by Tommy Joseph.

Hoskins has hit .291/.387/.577 in 66 games at Triple A this season with 17 doubles, 14 homers, 49 RBIs, 35 walks and 41 strikeouts. Interesting how similar Hoskins' walk-strikeout numbers are to Crawford's given how much more power Hoskins has.

Hoskins has hit at every level since the Phillies drafted in the fifth round out of Cal State Sacramento in 2014. In nearly 1,700 minor-league plate appearances, he's hit .288 with an .899 OPS.

The Phillies must figure out this first-base situation either this summer or in the offseason. It would make no sense and benefit neither player to have both Joseph and Hoskins in the organization next spring. Hoskins is ready for the majors, and Joseph has proven to be about a league-average first baseman. 

Through 578 plate appearances with the Phillies, Joseph has hit .260/.311/.488 with 27 doubles, 31 homers and 79 RBIs. He'll have some trade value and the Phillies will likely explore it. There aren't a ton of teams out there with a first-base need, but watch for clubs like the Mariners, Rangers, Cardinals and Giants. Some have said the Yankees but I don't see it.

Asked about Hoskins earlier this week, Klentak said this: 

"Rhys Hoskins, really from the day he got into pro ball, he was really good at Lakewood, really good at Clearwater, really good at Reading and he's been really good this year at Triple A. He's doing the things we want him to do — he controls the strike zone, he hits for power, he uses all fields. We like everything he does, but the major-league-readiness of a player's performance has to align with a major-league opportunity. That's certainly a factor for Rhys."

In other words, if not for Joseph, Hoskins would be up now.

OF Dylan Cozens (AAA)
Cozens has been striking out significantly less lately. He whiffed in 44 percent of his plate appearances in April, 26 percent in May and 20 percent in June.

On the year, he's hitting .243/.304/.478 with 14 homers, 46 RBIs, 20 walks and 80 strikeouts.

He still has a long way to go against left-handed pitchers but he's at least hit for power against them this season, with six homers, two doubles and a triple. He's slugging .490 against righties and .460 against lefties. That's a key development considering Cozens hit just .197 with five home runs all season against lefties during his huge 2016.

RHP Jesen Therrien (AAA)
The Phillies' surprising relief prospect is not far from the majors at this point. 

After posting a 1.26 ERA and 0.59 WHIP with 39 strikeouts and three walks in 28⅔ innings at Double A, Therrien was promoted to Triple A at the beginning of June.

His success has continued with Lehigh Valley. In four appearances, he's allowed just one earned run and six baserunners in 8⅓ innings. His opponents have gone 4 for 29 (.138).

Therrien is not on the 40-man roster but if he keeps this up it won't be long until he's added to it and called up. The Phillies' bullpen has been disappointing all year, and two spots could open up in late July if/when Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit are traded.

OF Andrew Pullin (AA)
The Phillies' supply of young outfielders has grown to be pretty impressive — Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, Williams, Cozens, injured Roman Quinn, Pullin, and then the last three first-round picks, Cornelius Randolph, Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley.

An organizational weakness a few years ago has turned into a strength.

Pullin has kept pace with Kingery most of the year at Double A, hitting .310/.374/.559 with 20 doubles, 13 homers and 41 RBIs. On CSN's Phillies Clubhouse last week, Kingery joked that every time he comes up with a big hit, Pullin immediately steals his thunder with a key knock of his own.

Pullin is a left-handed hitter with a very quiet batting stance and a quick swing, the type of approach that should translate to the majors as long as he's able to adapt to more experienced pitching.

Pullin is not on the 40. He went unprotected in this past year's Rule 5 draft but nobody claimed him. He must be added this offseason or else he'll again be exposed, and this time around he's much more likely to be selected.

RHP Sixto Sanchez (Class A Lakewood)
The Phillies' highest-upside pitching prospect returned Sunday after missing a month with a sore neck. 

The 18-year-old flamethrower picked up where he left off, pitching five shutout innings and putting just one man on base.

In six starts this season, Sanchez has a 3.07 ERA with 32 strikeouts and three walks in 29⅓ innings. His opponents have hit .189, and he's still yet to allow a home run in 109 pro innings.

The Phillies will be very cautious with Sanchez, who's expected to spend most or all of this season in the Sally League before jumping up to Clearwater.

C Jorge Alfaro (AAA)
The problem with never walking is that when you're running into bad luck offensively or are in a bit of a slump, the contributions are nonexistent.

That's what happened with Alfaro the last two months. Since May 1, he's hit .231 with just two homers, three walks and 47 strikeouts.

Both of those home runs came in his last three games, so perhaps he's breaking out of the lengthy skid that saw him go 141 plate appearances without a dinger.

On the year, Alfaro has hit .267/.300/.403 with nine doubles, two triples, five homers, 31 RBIs, five walks and 66 strikeouts. 

There's a genuine concern with having Williams and Alfaro in the same lineup a year or two from now because of the glaringly low OBPs. Combined this season, they have 13 walks and 141 strikeouts.

Defensively, Alfaro has struggled a bit as well. He's allowed seven passed balls in 47 games, equaling his total from last year in 95 games. He's thrown out 11 of 32 base stealers, a slightly above-average rate.

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Josh Reddick homered and scored four runs, Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez each went deep and the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 12-9 on Thursday.

The major league-leading Astros completed a four-game sweep with their 10th straight victory in Oakland and their 15th win in 16 games against the A's overall. They've won 12 of their last 14 road games. Their 27-8 record away from home is the best in the majors.

Reddick also doubled, tripled and drew a walk, and Marisnick and Gonzalez each drove in three runs.

David Paulino (2-0) struck out six and gave up three runs, seven hits and two walks. The 23-year-old rookie right-hander struck out five of his first six batters in his sixth career start.

Astros center fielder George Springer left with a left hand contusion after being struck by a fastball from Jesse Hahn (3-5) leading off the game. The ball also grazed Springer's left shoulder. Springer is tied for second in the AL with 21 home runs. His status is day-to-day (see full recap).

Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks blast Rockies
DENVER -- Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings hit three-run homers, Zack Godley threw well into the eighth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Thursday.

Goldschmidt finished with three hits and four RBIs to increase his season total to 64, tops in the majors.

Arizona took two of three in the NL West matchup and is now tied with Colorado for second place in the division behind the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks have won 12 of 14 and are a season-high 19 games above .500.

Godley gave up a home run to Charlie Blackmon to lead off the first inning, but shut down the Rockies from there.

Blackmon drew a walk in the third, then Godley erased him with a double-play ball to end the inning. He didn't allow a hit after Nolan Arenado's one-out single in the first and retired 19 of the next 20 batters before Raimel Tapia and Pat Valaika singled and doubled to lead off the eighth.

Godley (3-1) allowed three runs on four hits and struck out eight in seven-plus innings. He also helped himself with an RBI single in the eighth.

The Diamondbacks hit a Colorado rookie pitcher hard for the second straight night. Wednesday they scored 10 runs in the fourth off Jeff Hoffman, and Thursday they battered right-hander Antonio Senzatela (9-3) for nine runs in five innings.

Owings' homer in the third, his ninth, made it 5-1, and Goldschmidt hit his 18th to cap a four-run fourth to make it 9-1 (see full recap).

Knebel sets strikeout mark as Brewers top Pirates
MILWAUKEE -- Corey Knebel broke Arodlis Chapman's modern-era record for most consecutive games by a reliever with a strikeout at a season's start, fanning a batter for the 38th straight game and closing out the Milwaukee Brewers' 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.

Knebel struck out Josh Bell on a foul tip leading off the ninth. The 25-year-old right-hander retired Elias Diaz and Andrew McCutchen on popouts, finishing a four-hitter for his 12th save in 15 chances.

Chapman had set the mark since 1900 as part of a streak of 49 games for Cincinnati that began in August 2013 and ended the following August.

Travis Shaw drove in three runs with a homer and two doubles, and he came within inches of a second home run.

Chase Anderson (6-2) allowed two runs and two hits in six innings (see full recap).

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Odubel Herrera’s return to the dugout was so slow that home plate umpire Nic Lentz had to clap to speed him along. Herrera obliged, accelerating to an effortless jog until he left Lentz’s sight. Then he went back to a hung head and a crawling pace as he reached the steps. Boos met his ears through it all. 

Herrera was picked off third base by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for the second out of the fourth inning on Thursday. It didn’t matter much as the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), guided by Aaron Nola’s the best outing in a long time (see story)

However, Herrera made a base-running blunder at the same spot Wednesday night, when he blew through a Juan Samuel stop sign and was out by a mile at home plate to make the final out in the ninth inning of a tie game. And later on Thursday, while on second during a running count and Maikel Franco behind him at first, Herrera didn’t run on the pitch.

These are mistakes any big-leaguer should avoid. And when he’s the only player a team has signed to a long-term deal, which is supposed to last into a new era that involves winning games, the mistakes sting a bit more. 

“I’m not pleased about it,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. 

Had Wednesday night’s gaffe been avoided, maybe the Phillies could have gone on to win. Thursday’s was more embarrassing than damaging. While displeased, Mackanin, who said he thought about giving Herrera Thursday off, understood what happened this time around.

“He was running contact. And when you’re running contact, you’re susceptible to getting picked off by a catcher, especially with a left-handed hitter up,” Mackanin said. “You have to be aware of that. They’re taught to be aware of that. He just didn’t take that first hard step back. And that deters the catcher from throwing to third base. It happened.” 

The Phillies have been picked off eight times this season. Entering Thursday, only four teams had been picked off more. 

The Phillies own a run scoring percentage (percentage of base runners that eventually score) of 28.0, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. While much of that can be attributed to bad bats, mistakes like Herrera’s are not helping the cause. 

At 25, Herrera is still figuring this whole thing out. But he was the Phillies’ only All-Star last year and is supposed to be a consistent presence in the lineup. 

Andres Blanco, on the opposite end of the spectrum, first saw major-league action in 2004, and should be providing a consistent presence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Yet on Thursday, starting at second base instead of Howie Kendrick, Blanco made a veteran play on the base paths, which felt like the remedy to Herrera’s mental lapses.

In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs and Blanco on second base, Freddy Galvis grounded a ball up the middle. Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz sent an errant flip to second to get the final out, and Blanco was smart enough to round third and score after the ball got loose in the infield. Mackanin called it a heads-up play. 

“That’s the kind of players you’re looking for, the guys that are going to look for those kinds of things to happen,” Mackanin said, “and they don't assume a play is going to be made and assume they might be able to take an extra base.

“He’s a veteran. I’m glad he paid attention.”