Matt Klentak

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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Phillies GM Matt Klentak forecasts more aggressiveness this offseason

Phillies GM Matt Klentak forecasts more aggressiveness this offseason

The Phillies' initial wave of September call-ups wasn't all that exciting.

Deivy Grullon, a 23-year-old catcher with offensive promise, headlined the group, which also included veteran right-handed reliever Nick Vincent, rookie lefty Cole Irvin and utilityman Phil Gosselin.

As these four players got the call, two Phillies pitchers had their seasons officially end on Sunday. Adam Morgan (flexor strain) and Jerad Eickhoff (blister) were transferred to the 60-day injured list.

You can never have enough arms, and the additions of Vincent, Irvin and Nick Pivetta (on Tuesday) will help. But the sad reality is that the Phillies' pitching staff is in such shambles that it would require so much more for the team to piece together a consistently competitive rotation and bullpen.

The Phillies have had 10 relievers injured this season, most in the majors. Eight of the 10 are still on the injured list. Based on each player's per-day earnings, the Phillies have spent $20,156,277 this season just on injured relievers, according to Spotrac.

"You have that many injuries concentrated in one area — in this case the bullpen — to say that it tests your depth is an understatement," GM Matt Klentak said Sunday. "No organization has enough depth to replace as many guys as we’ve lost.

"... We talked all offseason and in spring training that a big part of our run-prevention efforts was going to be a deep and quality bullpen supporting our rotation. That meant whether we were winning the game or losing the game, whether it was the fifth inning or the eighth inning, whether it was a righty or a lefty, we were going to be able to bring in quality arms at any given moment. The injuries have certainly tested that.

"The other part was an improved defense and that has happened, but the number of injuries and the seriousness of the injuries has really been a challenge for us."

The Phillies will enter this offseason in need of at least four starting pitchers and arguably as many relievers. They do not have enough in the way of internal reinforcements, not at a point in their organizational cycle when the goal every day is to win the game.

Klentak said Sunday the Phillies can be aggressive again this offseason, even after spending upwards of $400 million on Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson and on the remaining contracts of J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Juan Nicasio last winter.

The Phillies have no choice but to be aggressive this offseason. If last winter was about putting together a lineup, this winter will certainly be about putting together a competent pitching staff. A pitching staff that gives the Phillies a strong chance to win more than twice or three times every 10 days.

"All of these players are going to be here for some time," Klentak said. "Harper, Realmuto, Segura — these guys are in their 20s, still in their prime years. And with all that said, we still have a lot of flexibility this coming winter to address other areas. Now, I don’t know that we have another $330 million contract up our sleeve, but we certainly have the flexibility to be aggressive and make additions.

"We’ve talked for years about opening a window that extends for a longer period of time, not just a spike for a single year and then restart or rebuild. That has never been the goal. The goal has been to be competitive for a long stretch."

One pitcher the Phillies just faced on Friday, Zack Wheeler, is a name to remember. An impending free agent, Wheeler's contract will not come close to what Gerrit Cole commands, and it could also trail the yearly salary Madison Bumgarner finds. Wheeler has faced the Phillies five times this season and pitched very well in four them. On Friday, he showed again that on a given night, he can be just as effective as Nola. Wheeler throws a free and easy 96-98 mph fastball and when his breaking balls are working, he has near-elite-level stuff. His issue has been doing it on a consistent basis.

Wheeler will be only 29 when next season begins. He fits the Phillies' window and would be an ideal addition — a mid-rotation piece at worst, a No. 2 starter at best.

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Charlie Manuel is back to do what he does best: Break tension and build confidence — can it save a team?

Charlie Manuel is back to do what he does best: Break tension and build confidence — can it save a team?

Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, the day after the Phillies got just three hits in a loss to the Giants, and three days after they were one-hit by the Giants, Gabe Kapler offered that his team’s hitters that day would alter their approach at the plate.

“We’re going into the game with the approach of we’re not providing much information today,” Kapler said. “We’re just going to be athletes. We’re going to go out there and let our natural athleticism take over. We know that when we’re loose and relaxed, we produce our best swings, so it’s about being easy. With runners in scoring position, or in other big situations, nobody is trying to take anyone deep. Simple approach to take the pressure off.”

Loose. Relaxed. Clear minded. Tension free.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to Charlie Manuel talk hitting, you’ve heard all of these buzz words.

Now, you’re going to be hearing more of them.

And so are Phillies hitters.

The 75-year-old batting cage rat is the Phillies new hitting coach. The team turned to him Tuesday in a desperate attempt to save a season of high expectations, a desperate attempt to end a seven-year playoff drought. The Phillies have not played postseason ball since Manuel’s 102-win 2011 team had a bad week at the worst possible time and was eliminated in the division series. Back then Manuel was in the midst of the most successful run ever enjoyed by a Phillies skipper — five division titles, two National League pennants and a World Series title. His legacy as the most successful skipper in Phillies history is secure. Now, he’s trying to do the organization a solid by helping it get to a place it hasn’t gotten to since he was in charge.

Manuel is not leaving his role as a front office adviser to run the ballclub. That’s Gabe Kapler’s job, but how long it remains Gabe Kapler’s job — i.e., will he return next season? — could come down to how successful Manuel is at waking up this slumbering offense over the final 43 games of the season. (It would help if Big Chuck could find three starting pitchers who can go seven innings, but that’s not his job and it’s too late for that anyway. At least for now. But next season — hoo boy.)

Slumbering is a fitting word to describe the Phillies’ offense. Pressing might be a better word. Certainly it seems as if these guys are putting way too much pressure on themselves and that’s no way to hit.

Rhys Hoskins, who takes seriously his role as a team leader, is coming off a 2-for-24 road trip. He has one RBI this month. He wants to be a great Phillie, on and off the field. There are nights when you can almost see him turning the bat handle into saw dust, trying to do too much, trying to please too many.

Bryce Harper has looked that way all season as he tries to hit 800-foot home runs when paint scrapers, or line drives in the gap, will do.

J.T. Realmuto has also looked that way all season as he plays to show a team and a city he was worth a high price in prospects.  

This is all right in Manuel’s wheelhouse. Pressing hitters. Hitters who lose their natural reactive skill because they think too much. Hitters lacking confidence.

This is Manuel’s specialty. He’s not going to come in and rip apart swings. He’s going to come in and preach what he always has — get a good ball to hit, catch it out front, be ready to hit, be aggressive in the zone. He’s going to tell his hitters that home runs are nice, that home runs are great — no one loves them more than Chuck — but home runs are things that happen when you get a good ball to hit, execute a good swing and catch the ball out front. Manuel will keep it simple for these guys — just like Kapler was saying Sunday in San Francisco when the heat was getting turned up.

Manuel’s simple approach is embodied in something he likes to say: If you’re not hitting .300, you have a problem. He knows that not everybody is capable of hitting .300. But that should be the goal of every hitter. And if you’re strong and have some pop and catch that good ball to hit well, that well-struck fly ball just might end up over the fence for a home run. And when you hit that home run, or get that runner home, you’ll hear it from Manuel in a reassuring tone that will build confidence. That’s another Manuel strength — building confidence, and confidence is baseball’s magic potion.

Manuel has some work to do. The Phillies offense has been inconsistent all season. Since the All-Star break, the offense has been particularly bad. Entering Tuesday, it ranked 27th in the majors in runs, 27th in batting average, 26th in OPS and 28th in extra-base hits since the break.

And it ranked 28th in the majors with a .211 batting average with runners in scoring position since the break.

That’s a sign of a pressing team.

Charlie Manuel has always said a hitter needs to be tension-free and confident to succeed.

He’s coming in to work on those intangibles.

And if he can work his magic, the results should be better and maybe, just maybe, the Phillies can live to breathe a little October air for the first time since he was skipper.

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