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.

If you're waiting for Gabe Kapler to pitch a fit, keep waiting – ‘I won’t be a character’

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If you're waiting for Gabe Kapler to pitch a fit, keep waiting – ‘I won’t be a character’

DENVER — After falling flat on their faces, losing four straight games and being officially eliminated from postseason contention, the Phillies arrived in Coors Field for the first of four games with the Rockies on Monday night.

The Phils were hammered, 10-1. The defeat marked their 30th loss in 45 games and dropped them to the .500 mark for the first time since April 10 when the season was just 10 games.

An embarrassing loss like Monday night’s — coming on top of a steady wave of losses — might have caused some managers to give the boys a good ol' butt-chewing after the game. Some managers might have kicked over a chair in the clubhouse or gone off on an umpire. Anything to ramp up the urgency and send a message that what’s happening is not acceptable.

Gabe Kapler did none of this.

It’s not him. He prefers his conversations with players to be private and not for show.

“For me, the way that I personally operate, I need more than ‘sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work,’“ he said Tuesday. “That’s just my personality. I’m not flipping a coin. I’m not throwing (crap) against the wall to see what sticks. I just don’t do that. I want a reason. If I’m going to get the group together and have a conversation, I want a reason for it. I want to be very confident that it’s going to be helpful.”

Would it be?

“I don’t know,” he said.

Kapler is an amazingly aware guy. He’s plugged-in, connected, never far away from his iPad. He is social-media savvy. He knows people think he’s too positive. He knows fans want to see him pull a Larry Bowa or a Dallas Green or even a Charlie Manuel.

Not happening.

“I think, honestly, people have a hard time with it,” he said. “They want me to be that character. It’s hard. It’s not who I am. However, I think one of the things that’s been missed in this season is that I feel what people feel. I suffer with people. I am extremely, extremely competitive. I (bleeping) hate to lose. So all these things I share in common. People don’t tend to really read it on me. And I think that’s confusing for people. That’s OK.

“I read everything. I know what people think of me. I know how people are responding to me. Some of it I can do something about and I will. There are other things … First, I’m not willing to compromise my integrity to be a character. My job is to help the Philadelphia Phillies win baseball games. It’s not to be a persona. But that doesn’t mean I don’t (bleeping) feel. Yes, I promise I get mad. Yes, I promise there are conversations that get loud. I promise I pound my fist from time to time. I’m not going to do it for who. It’s not who I am.”

Kapler mentioned two of his managerial mentors, Terry Francona and Joe Maddon. He played for Francona in 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series. Francona never held a team meeting that season.

“I think there’s something to my experience in that clubhouse that leads me to lead this clubhouse in a similar fashion,” Kapler said. “That’s who he was. He let the players police the clubhouse. He had some veterans that were very good at it. And when he spoke, he spoke to guys individually. That doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to do it.”

But it’s Kapler’s way.

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5 main reasons Phillies' offense fell apart

5 main reasons Phillies' offense fell apart

With the Phillies eliminated from playoff contention, we'll take a look back this week at the five main reasons why the Phils fell apart in the second half and how they can correct each issue moving forward.

Today, it's offense. 

1. Rhys Hoskins slumped for too much of the second half

Hoskins did not have a bad year. He has 33 homers, 94 RBI and an .845 OPS.

He just spent too much of the most important part of the season in a cold spell.

Hoskins surged out of the All-Star break, hitting .357 with eight homers and seven doubles in his first 14 games. He credited the Home Run Derby for the return of his aggressiveness and pull power.

But from Aug. 4 on — the entirety of the Phils' downward phase — Hoskins hit .195 with a .294 OBP and drove in less than a run every two games.

The 2018 Phillies were to set up to be carried by Hoskins, a difficult task for a player who entered the season with less than a full year of big-league service time. The Phils were basically asking him to be Freddie Freeman, which he's not. Nobody else is.

2. Odubel Herrera regressed hard

Herrera set career highs this season in homers (22) and RBI (68). That was pretty much it, in terms of positives.

Herrera's approach was off all year. He hit 25 points lower than he did a year ago. He's stopped walking. He hit .246 against right-handed pitching. 

It wouldn't be at all surprising to see the Phils move on from Herrera this offseason, despite the three guaranteed years remaining on his contract.

Herrera just isn't a Gabe Kapler or Matt Klentak style of player. He doesn't have a sound, consistently thoughtful approach in the box. He kind of just goes up there and does whatever. It seems like the front office is at the point in its cycle where it's getting rid of the holdovers of the previous regime and bringing in its own guys.

If the Phillies can flip Herrera for a starting pitcher or decent reliever, they probably will.

3. Batting average does still matter

On-base percentage is the more important figure, but you still need players who, ya know, hit. For much of the second half of the season, the Phillies' leading hitter was Maikel Franco at .268. That is a major problem. You do not win a division with only one or two players getting a hit more than once every four at-bats.

A team can win with Hoskins and Carlos Santana seeing as many pitches as they do in important lineup spots. But you also need a few guys who can at least hit between .280 and .290. A player like D.J. LeMahieu, who hits a ton of singles but doesn't walk much, does still have value. There are multiple ways to skin a cat.

The Phillies were home run-reliant all season because they lacked athleticism from several lineup spots and were a station-to-station offense. Not much single, single, runners on the corners to begin an inning.

4. Never got enough offense from SS

Scott Kingery was the least productive everyday position player in the majors in the first half, and Asdrubal Cabrera didn't provide enough in the second half, hitting .228/.286/.392. 

Kingery may be playing 2B next season, and the Phillies by their actions do not feel J.P. Crawford is an everyday shortstop yet (or perhaps ever). Even when both were healthy, Kingery got the reps at short with Crawford at third.

The Phillies could bring in a veteran shortstop this offseason.

5. Santana didn't turn it around until it was too late

Santana had a great month of May, hitting .281/.373/.594 with 22 RBI in 26 games.

He was good in June, hitting .235/.417/.435.

And during the Phillies' worst period in August, he seemed to be the only one hitting. But for far too long this summer, he didn't hit for average or power. 

Santana is seven walks away from a career high. But he's hit .229, a career low in his nine seasons. 

Compared to the Brewers' big offseason moves (Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain), the Phillies got very little out of Santana and Jake Arrieta.

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