Phillies focus on experience in MLB draft

aprhyshoskins.jpg

Phillies focus on experience in MLB draft

Following the second day of the 2014 Major League Baseball draft, one thing has become clear …

The Phillies have put a premium on experienced players.

Of the 10 picks the Phillies made in the draft, nine college players were selected (see Phillies' pick tracker). Though some are juniors and may have a year of eligibility remaining, the team’s ability to sign its draft picks is very high.

That notion even extends to the lone high school player selected by the Phillies. Sam McWilliams, a 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher from Beech High School in Hendersonville, Tennessee, is signed to play college ball at Tennessee Tech. However, based on a Twitter post from the coach at the school, it seems as if McWilliams is interested in signing with the Phillies.

Meanwhile, six of the 10 players drafted are pitchers and another, Aaron Brown, doubled as a pitcher for Pepperdine University. Primarily an outfielder, the third-round pick batted .313 with 12 homers in 57 games.

But as a pitcher, the lefty Brown went 12-1 with a 2.07 ERA. He throws a sinking fastball in the low-90s with a slider and a changeup. Brown sounds a lot like another two-way Pepperdine star drafted by the Phillies in Randy Wolf.

Unlike with Wolf, the Phillies prefer Brown as a power-hitting centerfielder.

Another power hitter selected by the Phillies was Rhys Hoskins from Sacramento State. Taken in the fifth round, Hoskins played first base in college, but dabbled in the outfield during summer league. He hit 12 homers with 18 doubles in 56 games in 2014 and cut down his strikeouts from 42 to 29.

The other hitters selected by the Phillies are Emmanuel Marrero, a slick-fielding shortstop from Alabama State and Matt Shortall, an outfielder from the University of Texas-Arlington. Marrero is a defensive whiz, but could be a project as a hitter. Shortall batted .353 over his last two years in college, though he didn’t draw high marks from the scouts for his patience at the plate.

Additionally, in the fourth round the Phillies took hard-throwing right-hander Chris Oliver from the University of Arkansas. At 6-foot-4, Oliver’s fastball is nasty. He also has a decent slider and a changeup that needs some fine-tuning.

Two familiar names selected by the Phillies are Brandon Leibrandt, the son of 14-year major leaguer Charlie Leibrandt, and Matt Hockenberry, a righty from Temple University.

Leibrandt played for college baseball power Florida State where he displayed a knowledge for pitching well beyond his years. Though he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, Leibrandt knows how to pitch and as a sixth-round pick, projects to be a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Hockenberry went 13-17 with a 5.06 ERA in four years at Temple. However, his numbers improved a lot in his senior year and he tossed two complete games.

After two days of the draft, here are the Phillies' picks:

Round 1, pick 7: RHP Aaron Nola, LSU (R/R, 6-2/200)
Round 2, pick 47: LHP Matt Imhof, Cal Poly (L/L, 6-5/220)
Round 3, pick 81: CF Aaron Brown, Pepperdine (L/L, 6-2/220)
Round 4, pick 112: RHP Chris Oliver, Arkansas (R/R, 6-4/185)
Round 5, pick 142: 1B Rhys Hoskins, Sacramento State (R/R, 6-4/225)
Round 6, pick 172: LHP Brandon Leibrandt, Florida State (L/L, 6-4/205)
Round 7, pick 202: SS Emmanuel Marrero, Alabama State (S/R, 6-0/180)
Round 8, pick 232: RHP Sam McWilliams, Beech High School (Tenn.) (R/R, 6-7/190)
Round 9, pick 262: RHP Matt Hockenberry, Temple (R/R, 6-3/220)
Round 10, pick 292: OF Matt Shortall, Texas-Arlington (R/R, 6-3/215)

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

usa-giovanny-urshela.jpg
USA Today Images

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.