Future Phillies Report: When to expect call-ups from top prospects on the cusp

Future Phillies Report: When to expect call-ups from top prospects on the cusp

With the Minor League Baseball season kicking off over the weekend, it's time for our first Future Phillies Report of 2017.

Several of the players who made Double A Reading such an exciting team last summer have moved up to Triple A Lehigh Valley, which is the club to watch all season long.

Today, we'll focus on the Triple A guys. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the rest.

But first, a refresher course on some roster matters:

Who graduated
Andrew Knapp and Brock Stassi made the Phillies' 25-man roster out of camp, answering the question of who would be the first Phillies farmhand(s) to make the jump to the majors, even though neither was regarded as a top prospect.

Knapp made the team as much for roster reasons as performance. The Phillies have a 40-man roster crunch (more on that later), so one of the non-roster catchers in camp (Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday, Logan Moore) would've needed to have a huge spring to entice the Phillies to take someone off the 40 for them.

Instead, the Phils went with Knapp. After Cameron Rupp and Knapp, the only other catcher on the Phillies' 40-man roster is Jorge Alfaro. Remember that if Rupp or Knapp is injured at some point this season and the Phillies need another catcher. As long as Alfaro is hitting at Triple A, it figures to be him.

Which prospects are on the 40?
This is important because it means that the Phillies wouldn't need to designate someone for assignment to call one of these prospects up.

Phillies prospects already on the 40-man roster are, in alphabetical order:

C Jorge Alfaro
RHP Drew Anderson
RHP Mark Appel
OF Dylan Cozens
RHP Ben Lively
OF Roman Quinn
RHP Jake Thompson
2B Jesmuel Valentin
OF Nick Williams

Which prospects are not on the 40?

SS J.P. Crawford*
1B Rhys Hoskins*
2B Scott Kingery 
OF Mickey Moniak
OF Andrew Pullin*
OF Cornelius Randolph
RHP Tom Eshelman
RHP Tyler Viza
RHP Shane Watson
RHP Frankyln Kilome
RHP Sixto Sanchez

*Crawford, Hoskins and Pullin will need to be added to the 40-man roster after this season to avoid being exposed in the Rule 5 draft. (Pullin was exposed this past winter but went undrafted.) Why does this matter? Because it increases the likelihood the Phillies call Crawford up at some point this season.

Crawford would be a logical September call-up at the very least, and if Freddy Galvis gets hurt at some point in '17, it would be realistic for the Phillies to DFA someone, add Crawford to the 40, call him up and give their top prospect his first taste of The Show.

(In case you're unfamiliar with the Rule 5 protection process: A player signed at 18 or younger becomes eligible to be plucked away in the Rule 5 draft if he's not on the 40-man roster five years after signing. Same goes four years after signing for a player who signed at 19 or older. Crawford signed in 2013 out of high school so he needs to be added this winter. Hoskins signed in 2014 out of college at 21 so he needs to be added as well.)

. . .

The Triple A bats

SS J.P. Crawford (22 years old)
Crawford returns to Lehigh Valley, where he hit .244/.328/.318 in 385 plate appearances last season.

It's an important year for Crawford offensively. He still walked a lot at Triple A but the hits weren't plentiful. He was 5.6 years younger than the average Triple A player last season.

"He's grown defensively," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan told Jim Salisbury on last week's At The Yard podcast. "I have tremendous confidence in him at shortstop. Offensively, he knows exactly what he needs to do. ... He got caught up a little bit in some things at Reading and then he took some bad habits to Triple A that he never got past. But J.P. knows what he needs to do. He just needs to go hit. He's gonna have a very good year, I really believe that."

Crawford batted second for the IronPigs over the weekend and got off to a slow start, going 1 for 15 with six strikeouts.

OF Nick Williams (23)
Williams also returns to Triple A, where he hit a disappointing .258/.287/.427 in 125 games last season. The extra-base hits were there -- 33 doubles, six triples, 13 homers -- but Williams' ratio of 19 walks and 136 strikeouts was unsightly. The lack of walks is something Williams has been asked about since he arrived in the Cole Hamels trade but he hasn't been able to turn a corner. It was an issue the entire organization was well aware of last summer, and from July 14 through the end of the season, Williams had one walk and 54 strikeouts.

There are still reasons to believe in him, though. He has the tools, most notably the bat speed. 

Williams was 2 for 10 over the weekend with a pair of singles and a stolen base.

C Jorge Alfaro (23)
Alfaro had a very brief cup of coffee in the majors last September but it wasn't indicative of his skill set. I've written it before in this space but Alfaro has the chance to be the most impactful of all of these Phillies prospects because of his two-way ability. He has an incredible arm behind the plate that could allow him to control a running game, and when he makes contact it's usually loud contact. He hit 15 homers and 21 doubles in a hitter-friendly park at Reading last season. Those numbers belie the power in that bat of his.

The entire middle of Reading's order in 2016 -- Alfaro, Dylan Cozens and Hoskins -- is now at Lehigh Valley.

Alfaro got off to the fastest start of that trio, going 6 for 11 with three RBIs in his first two games. His two-run single in the season opener was an example of how hard his contact usually is -- Alfaro rocketed a line drive single just past the diving Pawtucket shortstop to plate two.

OF Dylan Cozens (22)
Cozens has the most power of anyone in the Phillies' farm system. His 40 home runs and 38 doubles last season tell one half of the story. His 186 strikeouts and .197 batting average vs. lefties tell the rest of it.

We'll see this season just how much Reading's wind-fueled bandbox aided Cozens' power surge. He hit 29 of his 40 home runs at home and slugged 303 points higher (.744 vs. 441) at home in 2016.

"Coz, I think he's still developing," Jordan said. "He's got more power than any of them. He's still developing as a hitter. I think the challenge at Triple A, the biggest difference is the pitching at Triple A, they're smart enough that if you get yourself out, they'll let you."

Cozens gained some national attention last season as we got a glimpse of his ceiling. This season, particularly how Cozens adjusts to pitchers with major-league experience at Triple A, will help show us how realistic it is that he reaches that ceiling.

Cozens' solo homer over the weekend was his only hit (1 for 12), but he also had three walks and just one strikeout. That's a positive.

1B Rhys Hoskins (24)
The man pushing Tommy Joseph.

Hoskins' 2016 was in some ways more impressive than Cozens'. He hit .281/.377/.566 at Double A with 38 homers and 116 RBIs. He walked 71 times, and he struck out 60 fewer times than Cozens.

Everything seemed to slow down for Hoskins down the stretch at Reading. Over his last 34 games, he had 30 walks and 24 strikeouts. It's rare you see a big 6-foot-4 power hitter maintain his power while learning to control the strike zone like that.

There's a ton of talent around Hoskins, but Jordan paid him a pretty nice compliment before the season began.

"Rhys is, for me, the smartest hitter on that (Lehigh Valley) team," Jordan said. "He's got a plan that he commits to. He's not afraid to swing and miss, and he's got power. You make a mistake up in the zone, he can hurt you. I think he's a hitter first."

Hoskins had a great day Sunday in Lehigh Valley's doubleheader, going 4 for 6 with a double and a homer.

OF Roman Quinn (23)
Unlike Alfaro, Quinn received regular playing time when he was called up last September. He showed some flashes, reaching on three infield hits and a bunt single, throwing a runner out at home from center field and displaying impressive speed and instincts defensively. 

Quinn begins the year leading off at Triple A, where he's never been before. If the Phils suffer an outfield injury and Quinn is hitting and healthy, he could be the first one up. 

He's gotten off to a strong start, just as he has each of the last two seasons. Quinn went 5 for 15 with three RBIs over the weekend. He was caught stealing on his only attempt, and six of those 10 outs were strikeouts.

2B Jesmuel Valentin (22)
Pete Mackanin got a good look at Valentin in spring training as the infielder nearly made the team. It came down to Valentin, Stassi and Daniel Nava for the Phillies' final two bench spots.

The Phillies acquired Valentin in August 2014 from the Dodgers in exchange for a half-season of journeyman Roberto Hernandez. Getting literally anything out of that trade makes it a win for the Phils.

A switch-hitter, Valentin hit .269/.341/.395 in 511 plate appearances last season at Double A and Triple A. He impressed in spring training, going 15 for 41 (.366) with six doubles and four walks.

He's probably the next backup infielder the Phillies will utilize. If Andres Blanco (a free agent after the season, but a guy the Phillies keep bringing back on one-year deals) goes down at some point this season, Valentin is the logical call-up.

Valentin doesn't have huge upside but he looks like a serviceable utility infielder.

He's Lehigh Valley's hottest hitter in the early going. Valentin's first four games: 2 for 4, 2 for 4, 1 for 2, 3 for 3.

. . .

The Triple A arms

RHP Jake Thompson (23)
Thompson was absolutely shelled in Lehigh Valley's season opener against the Pawtucket Red Sox. He was given a 4-1 lead after two innings but gave it all back, allowing nine runs on eight hits and three walks over 2 1/3 innings.

Thompson just couldn't command his pitches. He had a walk in all three innings, allowed a run on a wild pitch, and we saw last season in the majors that when Thompson falls behind in counts he typically doesn't have the stuff to keep himself out of harm's way.

It was a troublesome first start for Thompson, but it's only one game. He'd probably be the first starting pitcher called up in case of injury, but his command must improve. 

Thompson was a strikeout pitcher early in his minor-league career but his repertoire has changed over the years to include more two-seam fastballs, which last season at Triple A resulted in a high rate of groundballs and double plays. That was the fuel for his 2.50 ERA in 130 innings with Lehigh Valley in 2016.

Thompson's perceived upside isn't as high as it once was, but if he gets back into a groove and recaptures the ability to consistently keep the ball low, he could be a decent fourth starter.

RHP Mark Appel (25)
Make or break year for Appel, the 2013 No. 1 overall pick whose draft status is a major reason for his even being on the 40-man roster. 

Appel went 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA in eight starts with LHV last season before requiring season-ending elbow surgery. It was an ignominious first year in the Phillies' system for Appel after he came over from Houston in the Ken Giles trade.

Appel's first four starts last year went well (1.64 ERA), but there were some smoke and mirrors there. He walked nine and threw just 63 percent of his pitches for strikes. Over his next four starts, the rate of strikes dropped down to 58 percent as he allowed 18 runs in 16 1/3 innings.

Appel doesn't seem to trust his stuff fully, which is often an issue for a young pitcher who hasn't sped through the minors. He needs to work inside more -- a pitcher can't simply live on the outside corner unless he has top-notch command -- and avoid the constant nibbling that has led to many a walk.

If Appel doesn't have a bounce-back season, he could be a candidate to be removed from the 40-man roster after the season to make room for someone else.

RHP Ben Lively (25)
Also on the 40, Lively's stuff isn't as enticing as someone like Anderson's. Lively sits in the high-80s with his fastball, topping out in the low 90s. He's had plenty of minor-league success, going 18-5 with a 2.69 ERA last season at Double A and Triple A, and 10-1 with a 2.28 ERA at the Reds' High-A affiliate in 2014. Results do matter.

Lively's first result Sunday was a good one: six innings, three hits, one run, no walks, five strikeouts and the win. 

Lively, though, seems to be a classic case of a pitcher whose stuff might not translate to the game's highest level. Remember Tyler Cloyd?

Tomorrow: A look at the Phillies' remaining prospects below Triple A.

Instant Replay: Dodgers 6, Phillies 5

Instant Replay: Dodgers 6, Phillies 5

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES — The Phillies suffered a gut-wrenching 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night.

The Phillies took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning but the Dodgers tied the game on three straight, no-out solo homers against Hector Neris.

The Dodgers got two more hits in the inning before Adrian Gonzalez won it with a two-out RBI infield hit against Joely Rodriguez.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin stacked his lineup with lefty hitters and it paid off as Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Andrew Knapp accounted for five RBIs. But they all went by the wayside in one quick, disastrous inning.

The Phils have lost two in a row.

And this one was bad.

Starting pitching report
Zach Eflin held the Dodgers to four hits and two runs over seven walk-free innings. Both of the runs came on solo homers, one in the first inning and one in the seventh. Otherwise, Eflin retired 11 hitters by groundout and four by strikeout.

Eflin has given up just four earned runs in 19 innings over three starts this season. He has walked just three.

Brandon McCarthy gave up a season-high four runs on eight hits and a walk.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit struck out Yasmani Grandal, the potential tying run, with two men on base to end the eighth inning.

Neris blew the save and took the loss.

At the plate
Stassi's second homer of the season, a three-run shot to left-center off McCarthy in the fourth, gave the Phils a 3-1 lead. He started at first in place of slumping Tommy Joseph.

Knapp started at catcher in place of Cameron Rupp. He responded with a single, double and home run. The homer was his first in the majors.

Andrew Toles led off the bottom of the first with a solo homer for the Dodgers. Rookie Cody Bellinger added a homer in the seventh.

Yasiel Puig, Bellinger and Justin Turner hit consecutive solo homers with no outs in the ninth to tie the game.

In the field
Odubel Herrera made a long run and a terrific lunging catch to take away extra bases from Puig in the fourth.

Chase Utley made an error at second base for the Dodgers.

Health check
Aaron Nola's back is still an issue. Howie Kendrick remains on the DL with an oblique injury, but he could be an option at first base when he returns if Joseph's bat continues to slumber (see story).

Up next
The three-game series concludes on Sunday afternoon. Nick Pivetta will make his major-league debut for the Phillies. He will face Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (0-4, 4.64).

The Phillies acquired Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington in July 2015. He was 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 24 strikeouts and just two walks in three starts at Triple A before being called up.

Reliever Luis Garcia was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley after Saturday night's game to make room for Pivetta.

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

LOS ANGELES — Aaron Nola is eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday, but that's not going to happen.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Saturday indicated that the pitcher's recovery from a lower back strain was not going as smoothly as hoped.

Did Nola experience a setback?

"If you want to call it that," Mackanin said.

Nola threw a bullpen session on Friday and, according to Mackanin, did not bounce back as well as hoped.

"After he completed it, he had some symptoms, some soreness or tightness, I guess," Mackanin said. "It was decided he will not make his start on Monday. He will be reevaluated to determine his next bullpen.

"A couple of days ago he said he felt great and then [Friday] not so great. He's improving but he's not 100 percent. There's something bugging him. We're just going to take it day to day. We're being cautious with him this early in the season."

Nola experienced soreness in his lower back after his last start, April 20 against the Mets. The Phils have been filling the opening on their pitching staff with reliever Mark Leiter Jr. Nick Pivetta will be activated on Sunday and make his major-league debut with a start against the Dodgers.

Kendrick works at first base
First baseman Tommy Joseph and catcher Cameron Rupp, both hitting under .200, were not in the starting lineup on Saturday night as Mackanin went heavy on lefty hitters against Dodgers' righty Brandon McCarthy.

Mackanin stressed that he doesn't like to make judgments on hitters until they get around the 100 at-bat mark — Joseph has 63; Rupp 50 — but it's worth noting that first baseman Rhys Hoskins and catcher Jorge Alfaro are both off to hot starts at Triple A and could be eventual replacements if the club looks for more production.

There also could be another option brewing at first base.

Howie Kendrick has worked at first base during batting practice the last two days. On Friday, he merely tracked balls off the bat and worked on first-step breaks. He did so with a regular fielder's glove.

But on Saturday, Kendrick brought his first baseman's mitt to the field. He took some groundballs and throws from across the diamond.

This stuff doesn't happen just by accident.

Over an 11-season career, Kendrick has played in 89 games at first base. He opened the season as the Phillies' leftfielder and hit .333 (13 for 39) with an .883 OPS before suffering an oblique injury two weeks ago in Washington. Kendrick probably needs at least another week of recovery time before coming off the disabled list, but it's now reasonable to wonder if he will go back to left field or get time at first base when he returns. Using Kendrick at first would allow the Phillies to keep Aaron Altherr's bat in the lineup in left field.

Joseph can have a say in all this if he gets his bat going. He is hitting .190 (12 for 63) with just a .505 OPS.

Last May, it was Joseph who earned his way to the majors after his hot start in Triple A coincided with Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf struggling in the majors. Joseph got 347 plate appearances in the majors last season and hit .257 with 21 homers, 47 RBIs and a .813 OPS.