Phillies send three big prospects -- Crawford, Williams, Alfaro -- to Triple A

Phillies send three big prospects -- Crawford, Williams, Alfaro -- to Triple A

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Scary.
 
That was the word Nick Williams used Friday morning when he was asked how good he believed the Phillies' Triple A Lehigh Valley team could be this season.
 
"Scary," he said. "It's going to be a talented outfield, infield, all around. There's going to be a lot of young guys, athletic guys, just guys that are full of energy."
 
"It's going to be a fun time," J.P. Crawford added. "I feel like we could take it all."
 
Williams and Crawford, two of the Phillies' top prospects, were among a handful of players who were sent off to minor-league camp on Friday. Catching prospect Jorge Alfaro was also among the group.
 
All three players offer hope for the future in Philadelphia. But their immediate future lies at the top rung of the minor leagues, where they hope to make the improvements needed to make the jump to the big leagues later this season.
 
"They want to get me ready," Crawford said. "They want me to start playing a lot more innings with a lot more at-bats so I can be ready for the season."
 
Crawford, 22, was the Phillies' top draft pick in 2013 and is widely considered the organization's top prospect, a smooth-fielding shortstop who hits from the left side and has strong on-base skills. Though he did not have a standout performance in big-league camp -- he hit just .207 with a .281 on-base percentage -- he was pleased with the experience he gained.
 
And he's confident.
 
"I feel like I can compete with all of these guys," he said. "I can't wait for the season to get going."
 
Crawford has made a steady climb in the Phillies' system, recording an impressive .372 on-base percentage on the way up. He jumped to Triple A late last May and experienced some growing pains, hitting just .244 in 87 games. The struggles should not be alarming, though. Not only did Crawford jump a level in competition, he played the whole season at age 21 and was one of the youngest players in the International League.
 
The 2017 season will offer a better test of Crawford's readiness and he is prepared for it. He added some muscle to his rangy, 6-2 frame over the winter.
 
"I feel stronger on the field," he said.
 
Crawford is widely considered the Phillies' shortstop of the future. For now, that position is manned by Freddy Galvis, who does not intend on giving it up easily. With Galvis, Crawford and second basemen Cesar Hernandez, Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery, the Phils have built some solid middle-infield depth. How will it all shake out? Time will tell. Galvis could end up at second if Crawford is ready next season. That could allow the Phils to cash in on Hernandez' value in a trade. These matters will play out over time. For now, the Phillies simply need Crawford to continue to improve.
 
Ditto for Williams and Alfaro, both 23.
 
Both came to the Phillies in the July 2015 trade that sent Cole Hamels to Texas.
 
Alfaro, whose biggest tools are his power bat and power arm, could be the Phillies' catcher of the future, but he has plenty to polish up on, both offensively and defensively.
 
Williams has mesmerizing athleticism in the outfield and power in his bat. The Phillies had hoped he'd play himself to the big leagues last season, but he struggled mightily in the second half at Lehigh Valley and did not earn a September promotion. Plate discipline is an issue for Williams -- he walked just twice in his final 66 games last season, registering a .236 on-base percentage over that span.
 
Improving his plate discipline and selectivity is No. 1 on Williams' to-do list this season. He worked on that with hitting coach Matt Stairs during his time in big-league camp and drew five walks in exhibition play while hitting .286 (8 for 28) with a double, a homer, five RBIs and a wall-climbing home-run-robbery catch in the outfield.
 
"This spring made me feel like I can play here," Williams said. "Whenever that time is, I have no idea. But going through this spring made me truly believe I can play here."
 
In addition to Williams, Crawford and Alfaro, the Lehigh Valley team will feature prospects at first base (Rhys Hoskins), second base (Valentin) and in the outfield (Roman Quinn and Dylan Cozens). The starting rotation will also be deep in prospects with Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta.
 
The Phillies need some of these players to be impact big-leaguers if the team's rebuild is going lead to contention.
 
Crawford pays attention to the big picture and believes the Phillies are getting close.
 
"Oh, yeah, definitely," he said. "All of our guys that are there, I've grown up playing with them at Triple A. We're all here. I feel like we're all just one step away to finally go for it, go for it all and get a World Series. It's going to start here, in Double A and Triple A. It'll pay off then."

Instant Replay: Phillies 6, Diamondbacks 1

Instant Replay: Phillies 6, Diamondbacks 1

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX — Mark Leiter Jr.'s first big-league start was a memorable one. The 26-year-old right-hander from Tom's River, New Jersey, pitched six shutout innings to lead the Phillies to a 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night.

The win was the Phillies' second in a row and just their third in the last 16 games. It came against an Arizona club that entered the day in second place in the NL West. The D-backs are 46-28 and have the best home offense in the majors, averaging 6.48 runs per game in their ballpark.

But Leiter, called up to replace injured Jerad Eickhoff, held off that lineup for his first big-league win. He also had his first big-league hit.

The Phillies are 24-48, worst in the majors.

Starting pitching report
Leiter held one of baseball's best offenses scoreless for six innings. He gave up three hits, walked just one and struck out five. The right-hander had one trouble spot. It came in the fourth when he allowed a one-out double to David Peralta then walked Paul Goldschmidt to put runners on first and second. Leiter then retired Jake Lamb and Chris Owings to get out of the inning. He punched his glove with excitement as he left the field. Leiter retired the final six batters he faced and left with a 1-0 lead.

Arizona's Patrick Corbin pitched one-run ball over 6 2/3 innings.

Bullpen report
Pat Neshek pitched a scoreless seventh inning to protect a one-run lead. Neshek, the subject of some controversy in recent days (see story), has allowed just two runs in 29 2/3 innings this season.

Joaquin Benoit allowed a run in the eighth, but got the final two outs with the tying run at third.

Hector Neris pitched a scoreless ninth inning.

Arizona's bullpen gave up five runs in the final two innings.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis tripled with one out in the first inning and scored on a groundout.

Maikel Franco put the Phils up, 2-0, on a solo homer in the top of the eighth. He got the green light on 3-0 and hammered a liner over the right-field wall.

The Phillies were clinging to a 2-1 lead when they erupted for four runs in the top of the ninth, highlighted by Tommy Joseph's two-run homer. Cameron Rupp and Howie Kendrick (pinch-hitter) also had important hits in the ninth.

The D-backs got on the board on an infield single by Rey Fuentes and a triple by Daniel Descalso in the eighth.

In the field
Odubel Herrera had an adventurous night in center field. He misplayed a ball into a double in the third inning then promptly gunned down the runner at third as he tried to advance on a fly ball.

Galvis made a tremendous snag on a hard liner by Peralta for the second out of the eighth inning. Galvis made the play up on the grass with the potential tying run on third.

Health check
Kendrick was scratched from the starting lineup with left hamstring tightness. Andres Blanco started at second base. Kendrick had a pinch-hit double in the ninth.

Up next
The series continues Saturday night with Ben Lively (1-1, 3.33) pitching against Arizona lefty Robbie Ray (7-3, 2.87).

For Pat Neshek and Pete Mackanin, goal is same: Contribute without risking injury

For Pat Neshek and Pete Mackanin, goal is same: Contribute without risking injury

PHOENIX -- Pete Mackanin and Pat Neshek talked on Friday.

"We're good," Mackanin said. "If there was some miscommunication, I'll put it on me."

"Yeah," Neshek confirmed. "I think it's just miscommunication. There's really no story. We laughed about it. We were like, 'This is kind of a stupid issue.' There's really nothing."

A mini-drama evolved over Neshek's availability to pitch the last few days. On Wednesday, the right-handed reliever was a no-go in a close game. Afterward Mackanin said he checked in with Neshek before the game and the pitcher had indicated he was sore. Neshek took some issue with that, saying he was told by Mackanin that he was getting a day off even before his condition was discussed.

In Thursday's 5-1 win over St. Louis, Neshek got two outs on five pitches in the eighth inning. It was his seventh appearance in 11 games. After the game, reporters asked Mackanin if he considered having Neshek, the team's best reliever, stay on for the ninth inning. Mackanin said he had but Neshek told him after the inning that he'd had enough. After the game, Neshek said the conversation never occurred, which was technically true because he had spoken to pitching coach Bob McClure, not Mackanin.

While the events of the last few days have been kind of silly, they have underscored something everyone already knew: The Phillies are going to be careful with Neshek and watch his workload closely. And Neshek is going to do the same. As he said Friday, he's a Tommy John surgery survivor and will protect himself.

Entering Friday, Neshek had allowed just 18 hits and two runs in 28 2/3 innings, many in high-leverage situations. That excellent work could make him an attractive trade chip for the Phillies in the coming weeks. This has put Mackanin on a tightrope as he looks to get contributions from Neshek without jeopardizing the 36-year-old pitcher's health and trade value.

Does that make Neshek just a one-inning reliever?

"I wouldn’t say he is," Mackanin said. "You know what? Let’s put it this way: I don’t want to upset or lose something that’s really working for us. If I push him, I’d hate for him to come up with something wrong with his arm. Last year, I don’t think he pitched a lot of full innings. He was pretty much a situational right-hander. I’m more cautious with him than he would be with himself."

Neshek pitched just 47 innings with Houston last year, mostly in medium- and low-leverage situations. The Astros were a contending team with a good bullpen. These Phillies are the worst team in the majors with a poor bullpen. Because of that, Neshek has been asked to pitch in more high-leverage situations and there could be a temptation to overextend him, to ask him to go more than an inning.

"I could do that," Neshek said Friday.

"I don't know about tonight," he added with a laugh.

"When you have a good bullpen, you usually don't need guys to do that kind of stuff," Neshek added. "I mean, a lot of guys, you know, kind of have been struggling here, so you're going to have to pick it up if that’s the case. But I mean, when you have a bullpen that's fully functional you'll never see that. In Houston we never had that problem, so I never did that. In St. Louis, a couple times we had that problem. But, I mean when you’re pitching middle relief you'll see a lot of 1 1/3 and stuff like that. … It's not an issue, man. If it's the playoffs, yeah, you're going out two innings. When you're down 30 games in the standings and I'm tired. … Yeah, I've been through Tommy John surgery. It's not any fun and I don't ever want to have to go through that again, so I'm going to protect myself."