Phillies

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.

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

uspresswire-cubs-javier-baez.jpg
USA Today Images

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (see full recap).

Tanaka, Yankees blank Astros to take ALCS lead
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans (see full recap).

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

uspresswire-yankess-castro-judge.jpg
USA Today Images

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored on Gary Sanchez's go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit -- they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth, and New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday and rematch of the opener, won by the Astros 2-1 (see full recap).

Dodgers on brink of World Series after shutout
CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip -- on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. The lineup is patient and pesky and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline (see full recap).