Future Phillies Report: Nick Williams remains hot; rave reviews for Jorge Alfaro

Future Phillies Report: Nick Williams remains hot; rave reviews for Jorge Alfaro

Nick Williams' two-day benching didn't stop his hot streak, and it's with him where this week's Future Phillies Report begins:

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams was benched two games by manager Dave Brundage on June 15-16 for not running out a flyball that was eventually dropped. It wasn't some severe punishment, but rather a way to teach a top young prospect a tough lesson about the focus and effort required to be a pro.

Williams, who went 1 for 2 with three walks in the game before his benching, has hit in seven straight games since returning to the IronPigs' lineup. He's gone 11 for 33 during an eight-game hit streak with six doubles, a triple, two RBIs and five walks. 

The run extends beyond that, though. Over his last calendar month of games, May 22 to June 22, Williams has hit .333/.397/.593 in 121 plate appearances with 12 doubles, two triples, four homers, 15 RBIs and 25 runs in 27 games.

The power which was absent from Williams' bat in April and for some of May has returned, another sign that his standout bat speed should allow him to be successful as he continues to face stiffer competition. Williams has 13 extra-base hits in his last 17 games.

For the season, Williams is hitting .289 with a .335 on-base percentage and .472 slugging percentage. He has an extra-base hit in exactly 10 percent of his plate appearances this season, which is right in line with last summer's 11 percent rate with Reading.

Williams has played all three outfield spots for Lehigh Valley, with 26 games in center and 18 apiece in right and left.

Williams is still striking out more than the Phillies would like — 68 in 270 plate appearances. On a positive note, he's been much better against lefties, hitting .275 with a .719 OPS. At Double A last season in the Rangers' and Phillies' systems, Williams hit just .210 with a .602 OPS against lefties.

Don't expect Williams' month-long hot streak to result in his promotion to the bigs just yet, but it's a welcome sign for an organization that could call him up in September, give him a taste of The Show and then allow him to compete for a major-league outfield job next spring.

RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
The way Thompson is pitching for Lehigh Valley, he might not be separated from Zach Eflin much longer.

Thompson pitched another gem on Tuesday, allowing two runs in his second straight eight-inning performance. Over his last four starts, Thompson is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA. He's allowed just three runs in 29 innings and held his opponents to 21 for 99 (.212). He has only 11 strikeouts in his last three starts, but Thompson has generated 37 groundballs in 23 innings over that span.

A few more swings-and-misses per game would be nice, but Thompson has gotten himself out of many jams lately by living low in the zone with his fastball. He induced five double plays in his last start and has nine in his last four starts.

If you extend it further, Thompson is 5-2 with a 2.20 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and .222 opponents' batting average in his last 10 starts.

He's looked again this season like the pitching centerpiece of the Cole Hamels trade. Thompson is 6-5 with a 3.09 ERA overall this season and is 11-6 with a 2.64 ERA in 21 combined starts with Reading and Lehigh Valley since coming over from the Rangers.

It looks like Vince Velasquez will replace Adam Morgan in the Phillies' rotation when he's ready to return. From there, Thompson could be the next man up if another pitcher is injured or Jeremy Hellickson is traded by the Aug. 1 deadline.

RHP Tom Eshelman (AA)
It's the first appearance of the season in the Future Phillies Report for Tom Eshelman, one of the pitchers who came over from Houston in the Ken Giles trade.

Eshelman, 22, was recently promoted from High A Clearwater to Double A Reading and had a solid first start with the Fightin Phils, allowing one run over five innings with five strikeouts. He was 4-2 with a 3.34 ERA with Clearwater, with 69 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 64⅓ innings.

Impeccable control was Eshelman's calling card in college. As a freshman at Cal State Fullerton, he set the NCAA record for lowest walk rate in a single season (0.23) by walking just three batters in 115⅔ innings. He finished his college career with 18 walks in 376⅓ innings. You just don't see walk numbers like that from any pitcher at any level. It speaks to Eshelman's penchant for attacking the zone.

But as he progresses, Eshelman will learn that sometimes you have to miss. There is something to effective wildness. It creates uncertainty in the batter's head and prevents him from just looking out over the plate and feasting on whatever comes.

"When you're around the plate, guys get more aggressive because they know you’re going to be around the plate more," Clearwater pitching coach Aaron Fultz told earlier this season. "Sometimes you have to learn to pitch out of the zone a bit.

"[Eshelman's] stuff is good, but it's not dominating, so he has to command the ball. When he faces good hitters and goes down 2-0, 3-1 in the count, they can do some damage. His control is really good, but I want to see him be more aggressive earlier in the count.

"He's good enough to where I can see him pitch to corners instead of halves of the plate. It’s just developing that and being more consistent."

RHP Ben Lively (AAA)
If Eshelman can develop, he could find himself on a Ben Lively-like path. Lively, another command-based righty who doesn't have overpowering stuff, has been a solid starting pitcher in the Phillies' farm system since coming over from Cincinnati in the Marlon Byrd trade before the 2015 season. Lively has progressed all the way to Triple A and is yet another young arm the Phils could turn to at some point this season or next.

Lively was very good again on Wednesday, allowing one run over seven innings for the IronPigs. He's 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in six starts since being promoted to Triple A. His opponents are 20 for 139 (.144).

Overall this season, Lively is 10-0 with a 2.12 ERA in 15 starts split between Reading and LHV. He's struck out 7.2 batters per nine, walked 2.5, held righties to a .178 batting average and lefties to .156.

Again, Lively does not have dominant stuff. He doesn't throw nearly as hard as Eflin or Thompson, usually sitting in the 88 to 90 mph range with his fastball. His season is reminiscent of Tyler Cloyd's (remember him?) in 2012. Cloyd went 15-1 with a 2.26 ERA at Double A and Triple A that season, relying mostly on pinpoint command.

This kind of success is nothing new for Lively, however. In 2014, he went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 151 innings at High A and Double A in Cincinnati's farm system en route to being named the Reds' Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
It's hard to look past Alfaro's ratio of 43 strikeouts to four walks this season, but he does everything else well. The powerful catcher is hitting .301 with a .485 slugging percentage for Double A Reading with 11 doubles, two triples, seven homers and 38 RBIs in 46 games.

He's also been stellar defensively, throwing out 20 of 45 would-be base stealers. That's a 44 percent caught stealing rate, an elite mark you rarely see in the minors. Alfaro again showed off his arm strength Wednesday when catching Velasquez in his rehab start, throwing out a runner at second on a curveball that bounced in the dirt. After Velasquez exited, he gushed about Alfaro's defense and game-calling, saying they clicked almost instantly despite never having worked together. Velasquez called that rare. Alfaro's talent sure seems rare.

Alfaro has slowed down offensively but still hits some of the hardest line drives you'll see. If there was an exit velocity leaderboard for minor leaguers, Alfaro would likely be toward the top of it.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
As Phillies GM Matt Klentak said earlier this week, Crawford was productive at Triple A even during his initial struggles because he was controlling the strike zone and walking a good amount. He was also playing error-free defense and that has mostly continued, with Crawford committing just one error in 275 innings at Lehigh Valley.

Now, his bat is heating up. Crawford has hit safely in 10 of his last 12 games, going 15 for 50 (.300) over that span. He's finally over the Mendoza line at Triple A, hitting .213 with a .302 on-base percentage.

Klentak, who reiterated this week that he thinks Crawford will be an "impact shortstop," said the pitch recognition Crawford has shown throughout his minor-league career is a valuable skill, one that is rare for a player who was 4.5 years younger than the average age at Double A last year and 5.6 years younger than the average at Triple A this year.

OF Dylan Cozens, 1B Rhys Hoskins (AA)
Cozens is in a slump for the first time all season, going 0 for 20 over his last six games with 11 strikeouts. This was going to happen at some point. Cozens hasn't homered since June 11, which must feel like an eternity for a player who had 19 home runs in 59 games from April 10 to June 11.

Hoskins, meanwhile, has homered in consecutive games to tie his teammate with 19. It's been a remarkable month of June for Hoskins, who's hit .351 with 10 homers and 23 RBIs in his last 19 games. The right-handed hitting first baseman has slugged .650 this season against lefties but also has 13 homers off righties.

RHP Edubray Ramos (AAA)
You could see Ramos added to the Phillies' bullpen pretty soon. The 23-year-old, who is already on the 40-man roster, seems to have little left to prove in the minors. He has a 1.16 ERA in 26 appearances this season with 41 strikeouts and just four walks in 38⅔ innings. 

(Update: Ramos was called up by the Phillies Friday afternoon.)

Ramos, a Venezuela native, has been even better than that since getting the promotion from Reading to Lehigh Valley. In 15 appearances at Triple A, Ramos has allowed one run in 23⅔ innings with 26 K's. Eight of those appearances lasted two innings.

Ramos, who could be a future closer for the Phillies, has a fastball in the 93 to 95 mph range and an above-average breaking ball.

2B Jesmuel Valentin (AA)
It is truly amazing the Phillies got anything at all from the Dodgers in the 2014 Roberto Hernandez trade. But in Valentin, they may have unearthed a future big-league utilityman.

The 22-year-old has hit .283/.348/.417 for Reading this season with 12 doubles, four triples, four home runs and 33 RBIs in 271 plate appearances. He's played 59 of his 63 games at second base, but has been all over the place in his minor-league career: second, third, short, left field and right field. 

The son of longtime major-league shortstop Jose Valentin (249 career HR), Jesmuel was a first-round pick by the Dodgers in 2012 out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, where he was the double play partner of some guy named Carlos Correa.

A switch-hitter, Valentin has been much better against right-handed pitchers this season, batting .289 with a .799 OPS. Given that 74.5 percent of starting pitchers in the majors this season are right-handers, that's the side you'd like a player to be better from.

It's possible that Valentin doesn't pan out. It's possible his ceiling is as a utility infielder. It's possible his career takes a path similar to Cesar Hernandez's. But again, the Phillies got him for Roberto Hernandez. What else needs to be said?

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news


At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies