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.

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.

For Rhys Hoskins, it all started with that first home run

For Rhys Hoskins, it all started with that first home run

SAN FRANCISCO — All Rhys Hoskins needed was to get the first one.
 
That's the way power hitters are.
 
They will tell you they don't think about hitting home runs.
 
But they do.
 
"As much as I want to say I wasn't trying to get the first one out of the way, I think it's probably pretty obvious that's what it was," Hoskins said after the Phillies beat the San Francisco Giants, 5-2, Sunday (see game story).
 
He was referring to his first 12 big-league at-bats during the Phillies' last homestand. He went hitless in those at-bats before reaching base on a single in his 13th at-bat and heading to his native California for seven games on his first big-league road trip.
 
Hoskins delivered. He went 8 for 25 with eight RBIs on the seven-game trip. He homered twice in the first game of the trip and three more times before it ended, including on Saturday and Sunday in the Phillies' only two wins of the trip.
 
"I feel like I'm getting into better counts and the results showed this week," the 24-year-old said.
 
Manager Pete Mackanin said he was never worried about Hoskins being over his head.
 
"You know how that goes," he said. "You can't jump to conclusions after 20 at-bats. You might say he's hitting .220 (actually .237), but we can tell from his at-bats he's a much better hitter than that."
 
Hoskins hit 38 homers at Double A Reading last season and 29 more at Triple A Lehigh Valley before coming up earlier this month. After 11 games — and five homers — he feels more like himself.
 
"I just wanted to settle in the box and feel more comfortable in the box and realize it really is the same game, 60 feet, six inches, they still have to throw the ball over the plate," he said. "I think that has a lot to do with it."
 
Hoskins had two hits in Sunday's win, including a home run. He played first base, his natural position. Jorge Alfaro played there Saturday night as manager Pete Mackanin held slumping Tommy Joseph out of the lineup two days in a row. Joseph is hitting just .185 against left-handed pitching this season and Mackanin kept him away from lefties Ty Blach and Madison Bumgarner.
 
With a doubleheader Tuesday against Miami, and two righties pitching for the Marlins, Mackanin is sure to use Joseph in at least one of those games.
 
But how about beyond that? Alfaro has produced at the plate over the last two days and the team officials want to continue to see him. He was already slated to get time behind the plate, but first base has also become a place for him to get occasional at-bats, as it is for Hoskins, as well.
 
How is this all going to shake out?
 
Mackanin said Hoskins "most likely" would continue to get most of his reps in left field, where he's been OK, despite a couple of bad reads, for a relative newcomer to the position.
 
Then Mackanin added: "Let me have the day off (Monday) to think about it. We'll see how we can make this all work."