Phillies

Phillies have arms (and names) coming

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Phillies have arms (and names) coming

The Phillies have a growing number of pitching prospects and along with good arms they have some colorful first names.

It might not be long before you hear Dan Baker shriek, "And tonight's starting pitcher is JoJo Romero."

Or maybe it will be Ranger Suarez getting the start (and the win) with a save going to Seranthony Dominguez.

And, of course, you've already heard about Sixto Sanchez. Who hasn't? The power-armed, strike-throwing 19-year-old phenom is one of the game's hottest prospects and a target of every general manager who tries to play Let's Make a Deal with Matt Klentak.

The Phillies are hosting their annual prospect education seminar this week at Citizens Bank Park and Romero, Suarez and Dominguez are all in town for the event. All three could be right back in Eastern Pennsylvania in April. They will all report to spring training in February with a chance to win a spot on the Double A Reading roster. Franklyn Kilome, another top pitching prospect in town this week, figures to open the season back in Reading, as well.

The Phillies went through the 2017 season without using a left-handed starting pitcher for the first time since 1918 and don't project to open the new season with one — unless Klentak, who is actively looking to add a pitcher, brings in a lefty before then.

Not too far down the road, if all continues to go well in the development process, the Phillies will have some choices from the left side. Cole Irvin, another prospect in town this week, could be ready for the Triple A rotation in April. The University of Oregon product, who will turn 24 later this month, is a lefty. And behind him is the lefty duo of Romero and Suarez.

Romero, 21, is a native of Oxnard, California. He pitched at the University of Nevada as a freshman and moved on to Yavapai College (Curt Schilling and Ken Giles are products of that program) in Arizona for his sophomore season in 2016. He was drafted by the Phillies in the fourth round that year. In his first full season of pro ball in 2017, Romero posted a 2.16 ERA in 23 starts at Lakewood and Clearwater. He gave up 104 hits, struck out 128 and walked 36 in 129 innings.

"He had a great year developmentally," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said. "He really figured out what he had and how to use it."

Romero throws a sinker and a four-seam fastball up to 95 mph. He complements that with an off-speed repertoire highlighted by a good changeup. He was born Joseph Romero, but JoJo evolved into his baseball name over the years and he's sticking with it.

"I like it," he said with a smile in the Phillies' clubhouse Wednesday.

Suarez, a 22-year-old from Venezuela, posted numbers similar to Romero's in 2017. He also pitched at Lakewood and Clearwater and registered a 2.27 ERA in 22 starts. He gave up 95 hits and struck out 128 while walking just 35 in 122 2/3 innings.

On Wednesday, Suarez was asked about his goals for 2018.

"Grandes ligas," he said.

He smiled and explained himself to Diego Ettedgui, the Phillies' Spanish language translator.

"The goal of every baseball player is to make it to the big leagues," Suarez said.

The Phillies signed Suarez for $25,000 in 2012. He has two brothers, Rayner and Rosmer, and a sister, Rangerlin.

"We have a family tradition that every name starts with the letter R," he said.

Dominguez, a 23-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic, is often asked about his unique first name. He said it was something his parents heard on television.

On the diamond, Dominguez's arm stands out more than his name.

"Ninety-eight, 99," he said when asked how hard he throws.

The Phillies will begin converting him from starter to reliever this spring. He has future closer written all over him.

"He has a chance to really dominate in the late innings," Jordan said.

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

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Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

It's not clear whether the Phillies will add a starting pitcher before opening day, but surely they would like to.

General manager Matt Klentak “is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective,” manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation.”

Klentak has kept a close eye on the trade market, but has found the prices (i.e., the young talent that must be surrendered) for top, controllable starters to be prohibitive.

He has kept a close eye on the free-agent market, but the length of contracts that top pitchers are looking for has given him pause.

For months, the Phillies have distanced themselves from speculation that has connected them to elite level free-agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

But with spring training less than a month away and both pitchers still unsigned, the Phillies would at least have to consider both pitchers if their asking prices experience a January thaw.

Six or seven years? No way.

Three years? Hmmm. Let's talk.

The Phillies are hosting a number of their young players this week. Rhys Hoskins, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter and Nick Williams were all in town on Tuesday.

Williams has set his sights on making the National League All-Star team in 2018.

“That's what I'm shooting for,” he said at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. “I think I had a pretty good year last year. I'm shooting for more now. I don't think being an All-Star is shooting too high.”

Williams, 24, hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 83 games, mostly in right field, with the big club as a rookie last season.

To give himself the best chance of surpassing those numbers — and achieving his goal of making the All-Star team — Williams has spent the offseason in Austin, Texas, working with personal trainer Jeremy Hills, a former University of Texas football player.

Williams is working hard on agility, which will help him in the outfield and on the base paths.

And guess who one of his daily workout partners is?

Free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Back in Austin, between reps and protein shakes, Williams has occasionally talked up Philadelphia as a potential landing spot to Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner who will turn 32 in March.

“He loves it here,” Williams said of Arrieta, who, as a free agent and a Scott Boras client, is astute enough not to rule out any team, particularly one as deep-pocketed as the Phillies. “He has told me he likes working with young guys. I'm like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I'm not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I'm not really in his position.”

Williams smiled.

“I hope to be one day,” he said.

Williams marveled at Arrieta's work ethic in the gym.

And he expressed gratitude for the kindness and generosity Arrieta has showed him.

“He's bought a lot of my protein shakes,” Williams said.

Time will tell if the Phillies add a starting pitcher to the group that already consists of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and other youngsters. The hunch is they will, though it's unclear what the magnitude of that talent will be. Klentak's search for an arm likely won't stop with the addition of one pitcher and it will likely continue through July. And beyond. The quest to build a championship-caliber staff never stops.

“The pursuit is very real,” Kapler said of Klentak's search for pitching. “I have a lot of trust that we'll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we're better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”

Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

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Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

For a couple of weeks in August, Rhys Hoskins might have been Philadelphia's most popular athlete. Fans marveled at the nightly power display that the young slugger put on in the middle of the Phillies' batting order. Carson Wentz and the Eagles had not yet begun their magnificent season. Hoskins was the man in town.

It hit him one night after a game. He stopped in Center City for some late-night eats. A man and his young son approached. They offered their congratulations and asked for an autograph.

"That's when I was like, 'OK, this might be something that's about to be part of my life,' " Hoskins said. "But it was cool because I used to be that kid."

Hoskins was back in the area Monday night for the 114th Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Dinner. He was honored with a special achievement award for a torrid major league debut in which he clubbed 18 homers and drove in 48 runs in just 50 games last season.

Hoskins was raised in Sacramento, California but moved to San Diego this offseason. His 18 homers in 2017 were the most ever hit by a player who did not make his season debut until after Aug. 1. Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who hit 13 homers after returning from the Korean War in 1953, was the previous record holder.

Williams was a San Diego native.

"Surreal," Hoskins said of that 50-game stretch last season and the buzz that has followed him into the offseason. "Indescribable."

He is now a recognizable face, a signature talent, in a sports-crazy town.

And he's ready for it.

"Enjoy it," he said. "Take it by storm and enjoy it. It's supposed to be fun and that's probably the best approach to take. I think my thought is what happened may never happen again. Tomorrow something might happen. Tomorrow I might never be able to step on a baseball field again. So I think you have to take it by storm and enjoy it.

"If you had asked me a year ago if I would be walking down the streets of Philadelphia and would people recognize me I'd probably laugh at you. But that’s where we are now.

"It's just a testament to how passionate the people of Philadelphia are and how much they love their sports."

Hoskins will report to Clearwater for spring training at the end of this month. He wants to get a head start so he can ramp up his workouts in left field. A first baseman by trade, he began playing the position occasionally last season. He will move there full-time in 2018 as newly signed Carlos Santana takes over at first base.

Hoskins got a 30-game taste of left field last year. He is OK with the move.

"Having Carlos is exciting for the city and exciting for the team," Hoskins said. "We add a guy who has proven himself in this league for five or six years at a very high level so to kind of insert that into the lineup and into the clubhouse, especially with such a young team — I think we're going to feel that exponentially throughout the year.

"Left field is a challenge. It's a challenge that I'm definitely excited about. I started to feel more comfortable out there toward the end of the year.

"I think I can be just fine out there. I'm not necessarily going to be a Gold Glover. I just don’t have the speed that some guys out there do, especially in today's game. But I think I'll be just fine and contribute to the team defensively as much as I can and make the plays that I'm supposed to."

Hoskins will turn 25 on March 17. He projects to bat cleanup in new manager Gabe Kapler's lineup.

"He's energized, intense and thorough," Hoskins said of the new skipper. "He can captivate a room. I'm curious to see how that dynamic works in the clubhouse. I think he's going to be a pretty exciting guy to work with."