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."

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera could soon return to the lineup after being sidelined by back stiffness.

Cabrera has been out since leaving the Dominican Republic's game last Saturday in the World Baseball Classic.

Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said Cabrera might play Friday against Atlanta.

"Just not going to rush it," Ausmus said before Wednesday's game against Toronto. "There's no reason to rush it. He's got plenty of at-bats. We'll see how he is on Friday."

Cabrera hit .316 with 38 homers and 108 RBIs last season.

Outfielder J.D. Martinez, who sprained his right foot making a shoestring catch Saturday, is scheduled to be re-examined Friday.

Martinez hit .307 last year with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Blue Jays: Bautista says he is over lower back stiffness
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista says the lower back stiffness that prevented him from playing for the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic last weekend is no longer an issue.

Bautista was in the original lineup for Wednesday's spring training game against Detroit. But with an off-day Thursday, it was determined to have him play Friday instead.

"I'm feeling great," Bautista said. "I talked to the staff and it makes no sense to just kind of crank it up. Just take a day off."

Bautista is hopeful that his strong start, hitting .563 with two homers and six RBIs in six games before leaving for the WBC, will continue.

"I'm seeing the ball well and feeling good at the plate," Bautista said. "Just excited to be back in the swing of things with the guys, and looking forward to getting ready for the season” (see full story).

Twins: May has Tommy John surgery
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins right-hander Trevor May has undergone Tommy John elbow surgery that will keep him off the mound this season.

The Twins announced on Wednesday that the replacement of May's torn ulnar collateral ligament was successful. The 27-year-old was transitioning back to starting, following a move to the bullpen halfway through the 2015 season.

With May's injury and their release on Tuesday of veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, the Twins are down to Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey and Adalberto Mejia in the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation.

May was placed on the 60-day disabled list, making room for the Twins to add left-hander Craig Breslow to the 40-man roster. The 36-year-old Breslow is among the finalists for a middle relief role.

Cardinals: Martinez to pitch on opening night
JUPITER, Fla. -- The St. Louis Cardinals have picked Carlos Martinez to start on opening night against the World Series champion Chicago Cubs.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Martinez about the choice before he pitched Wednesday in an exhibition game against Washington.

The Cardinals host the NL Central rival Cubs on April 2.

Adam Wainwright had started the past four openers for the Cardinals. Matheny said Wainwright took the news well about Martinez getting the assignment this year.

The 25-year-old Martinez was an All-Star in 2015. He went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year.

Yankees 7, Phillies 3: Long balls hurt Vince Velasquez; Daniel Nava auditions at first base

Yankees 7, Phillies 3: Long balls hurt Vince Velasquez; Daniel Nava auditions at first base


CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin got right to the point after this one.

"Well, I wish Joe Girardi didn't bring Bird along," he said after the Phillies' 7-3 loss to the Yankees. "It would have been a different ballgame if he didn't show up."

Mackanin was referring to Greg Bird, the Yankees first baseman and owner of a sweet lefty swing that has produced six home runs this spring, including a pair on Wednesday.

Both of the home runs came on down-and-in fastballs from Vince Velasquez. On one of them, Velasquez missed his spot badly.

"Velasquez pitched better than what he gave up," Mackanin said. "He had a good fastball. He got his pitch count up and he got through six innings. We're happy about that."

Velasquez lines up to pitch the home opener on April 7.

Nava auditions at first 
Daniel Nava, fighting to make the club as a non-roster player, played the entire game at first base. He had a walk, drove in a run and made a nifty play with the glove at first.

The Phillies have a serious roster crunch. If Andrew Knapp makes the club as the backup catcher -- a strong possibility because he is already on the 40-man roster -- then Nava could be battling with Chris Coghlan and Brock Stassi for one of the final two spots on the bench. Nava and Stassi are similar in that they both play first base and outfield, so it could come down to one or the other. Both have swung the bat well this spring (see 25-man roster projection).

"I could go out there and do everything right and they could go in a different direction, and I could do everything wrong and they could want me," Nava said. "I've been in this spot numerous times so I'm just trying to control things that I can control. That's a classic cliché or phrase, but there's a reason it's a phrase because there's a lot of truth to it. I just don't look into that stuff because it's out of my control.

"They could go a lot of different ways and that's actually good because it's so far out of your control you can't worry about it.

"We have a bunch of guys here who are good players. We'll see what happens."

Up next
The Phillies host the Twins on Thursday (1:05 p.m./TCN). Aaron Nola will start.