Phillies

Phillies

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The Phillies feel they have a hot prospect in Cornelius Randolph, a smooth-swinging outfielder for the Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League (FSL).

Randolph was a first-round selection (10th overall) from a strong 2015 draft that has already placed four picks in front of him in MLB — Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson (23 years old), Houston’s Alex Bregman (23), Boston’s Andrew Benintendi (22) and the White Sox’s Carson Fulmer (23).

Randolph? He’s just 19.

“It’s not been an issue,” said Randolph of his young age as the Threshers began a three-game series with the St. Lucie Mets last weekend. “I’ve always played against older guys. Ever since I was young, I’ve always played up (in age).”

Ranked the No. 15 Phillies prospect by Baseball America, Randolph suits up with the Threshers each game as the FSL’s youngest player. The outfielder, who won’t turn 20 until June 2, is almost six months younger than the Florida Fire Frogs' (Atlanta affiliate) dynamic Venezuelan outfielder Ronald Acuna, the next youngest.

And age can be a quirky issue in the FSL.

St. Lucie prized shortstop Amed Rosario, ranked No. 1 in the Mets’ farm system and considered the best talent to come through the organization in a decade, is waiting in the wings to replace Asdrubal Cabrera at Citi Field. Like Randolph, Rosario played his first FSL season at 19, though Rosario was five months older than the Clearwater player is now.

 

Yet a team like the Lakeland Tigers is an example of the other extreme. The Detroit affiliate’s roster is speckled with players over 25 years old, and starting left fielder Quincy Latimore checks in at 28 – not quite AARP-ready, but well above the average player’s age in Florida’s High A baseball.

Randolph paused after noting he had always played against older competition in higher levels, then added, “Not this much up, of course. But it’s still pretty much the same thing and the same game. Baseball is still baseball.”

Clearwater manager Shawn Williams said he often forgets how young his upstart left fielder is.

“The most impressive thing to me is you often forget he’s only 19 because of how he acts and carries himself. That’s why I can’t wait to see what he’ll be like in a couple of years,” the first-year Threshers skipper said.

“He’s a very good learner and he listens well. (Hitting coach) Rob Ducey this year and Nelson Prado last year have been great working with him. He takes in everything and applies it right away. That’s what I like to see because he takes it in right away and makes adjustments quickly.”

Randolph is a native of Griffin, Georgia, a city 40 miles south of Atlanta, which has become baseball’s fertile ground of talent, producing current big leaguers like Swanson, Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler, Tampa Bay shortstop Tim Beckham, Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis, St. Louis outfielder Dexter Fowler and a few others, with many likely on the way.

Randolph is often compared to Beckham, who shares the same hometown and high school with the Phils' farmhand. Beckham, 27, who is making a case to stay with the Rays this season, was the 2008 draft’s No. 1 overall pick, but scouting reports of Randolph claimed the Phils' 2015 first-rounder had a better and a more impactful bat than Beckham at the time of being selected out of Griffin High School.

A former Clemson commitment, Randoph gave a glimpse of those accolades in his first FSL starts, a four-game, home-and-home set with North Division rival the Dunedin Blue Jays.

He went just 3 for 17 against the Blue Jays, but after going hitless on opening day, he set the bar high by producing a homer in each of the next three games, drove in six runs and scored four times. One of Randolph's homers was off highly regarded Toronto southpaw Angel Perdomo.

“I started off well, but you’ve got to keep it rolling,” Randolph said.

The series in St. Lucie was a tough one for Randolph, who batted second all three games. He went just 1 for 13 and watched his average dip to .203, still with three homers and up to 8 RBIs; meanwhile, Clearwater — owners of the FSL’s best record — lost two of three to the last-place Mets.

“Mostly, I’m just not worrying too much about numbers,” Randolph said of his approach in his second full pro season. “Last year I worried a lot about them and tried to make a big impression. That happens, of course, in your first full season.

 

“This year I’m just trying to make sure I’m on the field every day, stay healthy, try to play hard and barrel up the balls. The more I barrel, the more hits I’m going to get.”

He has spent time studying the pitchers in the FSL, too. Hurlers firing mid-90s fastballs are fairly common from Clearwater to Port St. Lucie, so Randolph has to have a plan at the plate.

“Everybody seems to throw 96 or 97. Guys from the bullpen, you can just expect them to be 95 to 98. If you go up there without a plan, you’re pretty much in trouble. I didn’t have much of an approach last year,” said Randolph, who hit .274 with Lakewood last year in the Low A South Atlantic League.

“In your first AB (in the FSL), you might get that fastball over the plate first pitch, then breaking ball/change-up, then breaking ball, and that first AB’s over with. You’re like, ‘What just happened?’,” he said with a laugh.

Added Williams: “He likes challenges. It’s a great challenge for him to be in this league this year. It’s good for him and will help him develop quicker.”