joe jordan

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.

Future Phillies Report: When to expect call-ups from top prospects on the cusp

Future Phillies Report: When to expect call-ups from top prospects on the cusp

With the Minor League Baseball season kicking off over the weekend, it's time for our first Future Phillies Report of 2017.

Several of the players who made Double A Reading such an exciting team last summer have moved up to Triple A Lehigh Valley, which is the club to watch all season long.

Today, we'll focus on the Triple A guys. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the rest.

But first, a refresher course on some roster matters:

Who graduated
Andrew Knapp and Brock Stassi made the Phillies' 25-man roster out of camp, answering the question of who would be the first Phillies farmhand(s) to make the jump to the majors, even though neither was regarded as a top prospect.

Knapp made the team as much for roster reasons as performance. The Phillies have a 40-man roster crunch (more on that later), so one of the non-roster catchers in camp (Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday, Logan Moore) would've needed to have a huge spring to entice the Phillies to take someone off the 40 for them.

Instead, the Phils went with Knapp. After Cameron Rupp and Knapp, the only other catcher on the Phillies' 40-man roster is Jorge Alfaro. Remember that if Rupp or Knapp is injured at some point this season and the Phillies need another catcher. As long as Alfaro is hitting at Triple A, it figures to be him.

Which prospects are on the 40?
This is important because it means that the Phillies wouldn't need to designate someone for assignment to call one of these prospects up.

Phillies prospects already on the 40-man roster are, in alphabetical order:

C Jorge Alfaro
RHP Drew Anderson
RHP Mark Appel
OF Dylan Cozens
RHP Ben Lively
OF Roman Quinn
RHP Jake Thompson
2B Jesmuel Valentin
OF Nick Williams

Which prospects are not on the 40?

SS J.P. Crawford*
1B Rhys Hoskins*
2B Scott Kingery 
OF Mickey Moniak
OF Andrew Pullin*
OF Cornelius Randolph
RHP Tom Eshelman
RHP Tyler Viza
RHP Shane Watson
RHP Frankyln Kilome
RHP Sixto Sanchez

*Crawford, Hoskins and Pullin will need to be added to the 40-man roster after this season to avoid being exposed in the Rule 5 draft. (Pullin was exposed this past winter but went undrafted.) Why does this matter? Because it increases the likelihood the Phillies call Crawford up at some point this season.

Crawford would be a logical September call-up at the very least, and if Freddy Galvis gets hurt at some point in '17, it would be realistic for the Phillies to DFA someone, add Crawford to the 40, call him up and give their top prospect his first taste of The Show.

(In case you're unfamiliar with the Rule 5 protection process: A player signed at 18 or younger becomes eligible to be plucked away in the Rule 5 draft if he's not on the 40-man roster five years after signing. Same goes four years after signing for a player who signed at 19 or older. Crawford signed in 2013 out of high school so he needs to be added this winter. Hoskins signed in 2014 out of college at 21 so he needs to be added as well.)

. . .

The Triple A bats

SS J.P. Crawford (22 years old)
Crawford returns to Lehigh Valley, where he hit .244/.328/.318 in 385 plate appearances last season.

It's an important year for Crawford offensively. He still walked a lot at Triple A but the hits weren't plentiful. He was 5.6 years younger than the average Triple A player last season.

"He's grown defensively," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan told Jim Salisbury on last week's At The Yard podcast. "I have tremendous confidence in him at shortstop. Offensively, he knows exactly what he needs to do. ... He got caught up a little bit in some things at Reading and then he took some bad habits to Triple A that he never got past. But J.P. knows what he needs to do. He just needs to go hit. He's gonna have a very good year, I really believe that."

Crawford batted second for the IronPigs over the weekend and got off to a slow start, going 1 for 15 with six strikeouts.

OF Nick Williams (23)
Williams also returns to Triple A, where he hit a disappointing .258/.287/.427 in 125 games last season. The extra-base hits were there -- 33 doubles, six triples, 13 homers -- but Williams' ratio of 19 walks and 136 strikeouts was unsightly. The lack of walks is something Williams has been asked about since he arrived in the Cole Hamels trade but he hasn't been able to turn a corner. It was an issue the entire organization was well aware of last summer, and from July 14 through the end of the season, Williams had one walk and 54 strikeouts.

There are still reasons to believe in him, though. He has the tools, most notably the bat speed. 

Williams was 2 for 10 over the weekend with a pair of singles and a stolen base.

C Jorge Alfaro (23)
Alfaro had a very brief cup of coffee in the majors last September but it wasn't indicative of his skill set. I've written it before in this space but Alfaro has the chance to be the most impactful of all of these Phillies prospects because of his two-way ability. He has an incredible arm behind the plate that could allow him to control a running game, and when he makes contact it's usually loud contact. He hit 15 homers and 21 doubles in a hitter-friendly park at Reading last season. Those numbers belie the power in that bat of his.

The entire middle of Reading's order in 2016 -- Alfaro, Dylan Cozens and Hoskins -- is now at Lehigh Valley.

Alfaro got off to the fastest start of that trio, going 6 for 11 with three RBIs in his first two games. His two-run single in the season opener was an example of how hard his contact usually is -- Alfaro rocketed a line drive single just past the diving Pawtucket shortstop to plate two.

OF Dylan Cozens (22)
Cozens has the most power of anyone in the Phillies' farm system. His 40 home runs and 38 doubles last season tell one half of the story. His 186 strikeouts and .197 batting average vs. lefties tell the rest of it.

We'll see this season just how much Reading's wind-fueled bandbox aided Cozens' power surge. He hit 29 of his 40 home runs at home and slugged 303 points higher (.744 vs. 441) at home in 2016.

"Coz, I think he's still developing," Jordan said. "He's got more power than any of them. He's still developing as a hitter. I think the challenge at Triple A, the biggest difference is the pitching at Triple A, they're smart enough that if you get yourself out, they'll let you."

Cozens gained some national attention last season as we got a glimpse of his ceiling. This season, particularly how Cozens adjusts to pitchers with major-league experience at Triple A, will help show us how realistic it is that he reaches that ceiling.

Cozens' solo homer over the weekend was his only hit (1 for 12), but he also had three walks and just one strikeout. That's a positive.

1B Rhys Hoskins (24)
The man pushing Tommy Joseph.

Hoskins' 2016 was in some ways more impressive than Cozens'. He hit .281/.377/.566 at Double A with 38 homers and 116 RBIs. He walked 71 times, and he struck out 60 fewer times than Cozens.

Everything seemed to slow down for Hoskins down the stretch at Reading. Over his last 34 games, he had 30 walks and 24 strikeouts. It's rare you see a big 6-foot-4 power hitter maintain his power while learning to control the strike zone like that.

There's a ton of talent around Hoskins, but Jordan paid him a pretty nice compliment before the season began.

"Rhys is, for me, the smartest hitter on that (Lehigh Valley) team," Jordan said. "He's got a plan that he commits to. He's not afraid to swing and miss, and he's got power. You make a mistake up in the zone, he can hurt you. I think he's a hitter first."

Hoskins had a great day Sunday in Lehigh Valley's doubleheader, going 4 for 6 with a double and a homer.

OF Roman Quinn (23)
Unlike Alfaro, Quinn received regular playing time when he was called up last September. He showed some flashes, reaching on three infield hits and a bunt single, throwing a runner out at home from center field and displaying impressive speed and instincts defensively. 

Quinn begins the year leading off at Triple A, where he's never been before. If the Phils suffer an outfield injury and Quinn is hitting and healthy, he could be the first one up. 

He's gotten off to a strong start, just as he has each of the last two seasons. Quinn went 5 for 15 with three RBIs over the weekend. He was caught stealing on his only attempt, and six of those 10 outs were strikeouts.

2B Jesmuel Valentin (22)
Pete Mackanin got a good look at Valentin in spring training as the infielder nearly made the team. It came down to Valentin, Stassi and Daniel Nava for the Phillies' final two bench spots.

The Phillies acquired Valentin in August 2014 from the Dodgers in exchange for a half-season of journeyman Roberto Hernandez. Getting literally anything out of that trade makes it a win for the Phils.

A switch-hitter, Valentin hit .269/.341/.395 in 511 plate appearances last season at Double A and Triple A. He impressed in spring training, going 15 for 41 (.366) with six doubles and four walks.

He's probably the next backup infielder the Phillies will utilize. If Andres Blanco (a free agent after the season, but a guy the Phillies keep bringing back on one-year deals) goes down at some point this season, Valentin is the logical call-up.

Valentin doesn't have huge upside but he looks like a serviceable utility infielder.

He's Lehigh Valley's hottest hitter in the early going. Valentin's first four games: 2 for 4, 2 for 4, 1 for 2, 3 for 3.

. . .

The Triple A arms

RHP Jake Thompson (23)
Thompson was absolutely shelled in Lehigh Valley's season opener against the Pawtucket Red Sox. He was given a 4-1 lead after two innings but gave it all back, allowing nine runs on eight hits and three walks over 2 1/3 innings.

Thompson just couldn't command his pitches. He had a walk in all three innings, allowed a run on a wild pitch, and we saw last season in the majors that when Thompson falls behind in counts he typically doesn't have the stuff to keep himself out of harm's way.

It was a troublesome first start for Thompson, but it's only one game. He'd probably be the first starting pitcher called up in case of injury, but his command must improve. 

Thompson was a strikeout pitcher early in his minor-league career but his repertoire has changed over the years to include more two-seam fastballs, which last season at Triple A resulted in a high rate of groundballs and double plays. That was the fuel for his 2.50 ERA in 130 innings with Lehigh Valley in 2016.

Thompson's perceived upside isn't as high as it once was, but if he gets back into a groove and recaptures the ability to consistently keep the ball low, he could be a decent fourth starter.

RHP Mark Appel (25)
Make or break year for Appel, the 2013 No. 1 overall pick whose draft status is a major reason for his even being on the 40-man roster. 

Appel went 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA in eight starts with LHV last season before requiring season-ending elbow surgery. It was an ignominious first year in the Phillies' system for Appel after he came over from Houston in the Ken Giles trade.

Appel's first four starts last year went well (1.64 ERA), but there were some smoke and mirrors there. He walked nine and threw just 63 percent of his pitches for strikes. Over his next four starts, the rate of strikes dropped down to 58 percent as he allowed 18 runs in 16 1/3 innings.

Appel doesn't seem to trust his stuff fully, which is often an issue for a young pitcher who hasn't sped through the minors. He needs to work inside more -- a pitcher can't simply live on the outside corner unless he has top-notch command -- and avoid the constant nibbling that has led to many a walk.

If Appel doesn't have a bounce-back season, he could be a candidate to be removed from the 40-man roster after the season to make room for someone else.

RHP Ben Lively (25)
Also on the 40, Lively's stuff isn't as enticing as someone like Anderson's. Lively sits in the high-80s with his fastball, topping out in the low 90s. He's had plenty of minor-league success, going 18-5 with a 2.69 ERA last season at Double A and Triple A, and 10-1 with a 2.28 ERA at the Reds' High-A affiliate in 2014. Results do matter.

Lively's first result Sunday was a good one: six innings, three hits, one run, no walks, five strikeouts and the win. 

Lively, though, seems to be a classic case of a pitcher whose stuff might not translate to the game's highest level. Remember Tyler Cloyd?

Tomorrow: A look at the Phillies' remaining prospects below Triple A.

Drew Anderson has emerged as one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects

Drew Anderson has emerged as one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Drew Anderson remembers his telephone ringing in November. He remembers hearing Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan congratulate him and tell him that he'd been placed on the team's 40-man roster.

Anderson was elated.

"It was awesome," the right-handed pitcher said the other day.

So awesome that Anderson celebrated in an unusual way.

"I busted out 50 pushups," he said. "I had so much adrenaline."

The internal discussions that teams have when considering which players to protect on the 40-man roster and which ones to risk losing in the Rule 5 draft are often long and detailed and decisions are not always reached easily.

But in Anderson's case ...

"It was not a long conversation," Jordan said. "The feeling was, 'Put him on the roster. Don't lose him. Let's talk about the next guy.'"

"Across the board," minor-league pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves said. "And that's not common for a kid that pitched in A-ball."

Anderson, who turns 23 on March 22, will get his first taste of Double A ball in April.

Clearly, the Phillies are high on him.

But how high?

"We've got scouts who will tell you that he might be our best pitching prospect," Jordan said.

Given some of the power arms that the Phils have collected in the low minors, that's quite a statement.

If it seems as if Anderson has flown below the radar since being drafted by the Phillies in 2012 it's because, well, he's done just that.

For a while.

He received little interest from four-year colleges coming out of Galena High School in Reno, Nevada, and was headed to Mesa Community College in Arizona before the Phillies selected him in the 21st round that year.

"My name never really got out there," he said. "Really only the Phillies looked at me. (Area scout) Joey Davis saw me and he said he liked that I had a fluid arm and he liked the way the ball jumped out of my hand. He saw me as a sleeper pick. I just wanted to play ball so I said, 'Yeah, I'll give it a shot.'"

Jordan recalled seeing Anderson pitch at Single A Lakewood early in the 2014 season. Anderson had added strength to his 6-foot-3 frame and his fastball velocity had jumped from 90-92 mph to 93-95 mph.

"It was just a matter of physical maturity, his body getting stronger, and we were really excited," Jordan said.

Anderson did not make it through that season, however. He came down with an elbow injury and the following spring became a statistic — a pitcher who needed Tommy John surgery.

Anderson missed the 2015 season. He came back in May of last year and made 15 starts between Lakewood and Clearwater. At Clearwater, the Phillies' advanced Single A stop, Anderson posted a 1.93 ERA in 32 2/3 innings. He struck out 37 and walked 10.

The rehabilitation process after Tommy John surgery focuses on more than just the elbow. Special attention is paid to the shoulder and the legs. Working under Joe Rauch, the Phillies' minor-league rehab specialist, Anderson gained much strength in those areas and it showed in his fastball velocity last summer.

He got it up to 97 mph.

He also has a good breaking ball and an improving changeup to go with a classic pitcher's body. He has long arms and weighs 205 pounds.

"We just felt some team out there would have taken him even if they had to stash him in the bullpen," said Jordan, expounding on the Phils' decision to add Anderson to the 40-man roster in November. "He's too big an asset."

Anderson is excited about making the jump to Reading this season. He's never pitched more than 76 innings as a pro and now that he's healthy needs to start racking up mound time and experience.

Anderson mentioned how hard he worked this offseason to get ready for his first trip to big-league camp and what lies beyond when he heads to Double A.

The hard work started with those 50 pushups that he busted out upon learning that he'd been placed on the 40-man roster.

"After hearing that, it was time to kick it in gear," he said. "I was like, 'Let's do this.'

"I've had some ups and downs, but I feel like I'm on track now."