Phillies

Phillies scouting director Johnny Almaraz steps down, will assume new role with club

Phillies scouting director Johnny Almaraz steps down, will assume new role with club

CINCINNATI — Johnny Almaraz, the Phillies director of amateur scouting since October 2014, is stepping down from the role, the club announced on Tuesday.

Almaraz will remain with the club as a special assistant in scouting and player development.

Almaraz's change in role is voluntary. He sought the change for personal reasons.

“Johnny has had an enormously successful career in baseball,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “He has been instrumental in the signing and development of many quality big league players. We’re grateful for the five years that he spent leading our scouting department, and we feel very fortunate that he will continue to have an impact on our scouting and player development efforts in a new role.”

The Phillies will fill the scouting director opening in the coming weeks. Greg Schilz is the club’s assistant scouting director. He joined the organization after Klentak came aboard as GM in October 2015. Almaraz was hired during Ruben Amaro Jr.’s time as GM.

Almaraz came from the Braves organization. He ran the team’s international scouting operation and oversaw the signing of young stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.

Almaraz oversaw five amateur drafts with the Phillies. His top picks, in order, were outfielder Cornelius Randolph (2015), outfielder Mickey Moniak (2016), outfielder Adam Haseley (2017), third baseman Alec Bohm (2018) and shortstop Bryson Stott (2019). Haseley is a rookie in the majors and Randolph, Moniak and Bohm played at Double A this season. 

Bohm projects to be in the picture in Philadelphia sometime next season after hitting .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS in 125 games at the Single A and Double A level in 2019. He and Moniak are slated to play in the Arizona Fall League.

Under Almarez’s watch, the Phillies also selected Scott Kingery in the second round in 2015 and pitcher Spencer Howard in the second round in 2017. Kingery has become a regular in the majors and Howard is the team’s top pitching prospect and could be in the starting rotation as soon as next season.

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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.



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

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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



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