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

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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

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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).