Phillies prospects

Beyond Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard, Phillies Top 30 prospects list highlights a couple bad misses

Beyond Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard, Phillies Top 30 prospects list highlights a couple bad misses

The main reason why the Phillies' farm system is widely perceived to be in the bottom third of baseball heading into 2020 is that they have only two prospects — Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard — who project as soon-to-be-ready impact players.

Those two are knocking on the door but much of the farm system depth beyond them is in the lower levels of the minor leagues.

MLB.com released its Phillies Top 30 prospects list on Monday and after Bohm at 1 and Howard at 2, the Top 10 was rounded out by six players who haven't yet reached Double A and two currently on the Phils' 40-man roster: Adonis Medina (5) and Enyel De Los Santos (8).

1. Alec Bohm, 3B (23)
2. Spencer Howard, RHP (23)
3. Bryson Stott, SS (22)
4. Francisco Morales, RHP (20)
5. Adonis Medina, RHP (23)
6. Luis Garcia, SS (19)
7. Rafael Marchan, C (21)
8. Enyel De Los Santos, RHP (24)
9. Erik Miller, LHP (22)
10. Simon Muzziotti, OF (21)

Mickey Moniak was 11th. Lefties JoJo Romero (13), Damon Jones (14) and Cristopher Sanchez (17) were in the teens. Jhailyn Ortiz was 18. Jones made the biggest jump between last year's list from MLB.com and this year's.

Phillies fans would love to see Bohm here as soon as possible but he has only 270 plate appearances above the Single A level so far. He is likely to open at Triple A and as long as he hits, it would be a surprise to not see him up with the Phillies by the middle of the summer. The Phils' positional flexibility with Scott Kingery means that if they suffer an injury in any outfield spot, second base, shortstop or third base, Bohm could be the next man up.

Bohm has the potential to be a really interesting hitter. He's not just a big guy with power. He also has a good idea of the strike zone and there isn't a ton of swing-and-miss in his game. He's struck out only 96 times in 698 minor-league plate appearances. Bohm might never be as good as Kris Bryant, but could he come close to replicating the offensive output of a Justin Turner, who's hit .297/.378/.508 the last five seasons?

The Phillies have been cautious in camp with Howard, who suffered a minor knee tweak on Feb. 9. He hasn't appeared yet in a Grapefruit League game in his first big-league camp. His development will be tracked closely this year. He's expected to open at Triple A and if that transition is as smooth as the ones preceding it, he could quickly find himself in the Phils' rotation. The Phillies have a shaky 3-4-5 and a mostly unproven bullpen so they won't be in a position to turn down the contributions Howard could bring.

It's disappointing for everyone involved that Moniak is lingering around 10th on these lists four years after being drafted first overall by the Phillies. Baseball America had him 9th and MLB.com 11th. He hasn't yet put together an entire season. His best offensive year was this past one at Reading when he hit .252/.303/.439 with 11 homers. 

The Phillies have given him a taste of big-league camp two years in a row. There is still time. He's not even 22 yet. Plenty of players find the right piece of advice or the right adjustment and change their trajectory in their early-20s. But it's just hard to envision a high ceiling at this point. The Phillies would be in a much different place if they made the right pick the one chance they had during their rebuild to draft first overall. Almost the entire first round in 2016 has been mediocre so far, with the Dodgers making the best pick at 20 in shortstop Gavin Lux. Lux is one of the top prospects in baseball and should play a meaningful role with L.A. in 2020. If the Phillies had a young player his caliber, they could have used him to acquire a superstar or had the makings of an exciting young nucleus to build around Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Aaron Nola. Alas.

Marchan has made a little bit of a name for himself in this camp by impressing manager Joe Girardi with his defense. We might see Marchan here as the backup catcher in a couple years. 

Jones and Sanchez are lefties with big strikeout potential who could provide the bullpen a boost at some point in 2020.

Ortiz, whom the Phillies signed for $4 million in the same international class that included Juan Soto and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., graded out as the Phillies prospect with the most raw power, being given a 60 by MLB.com on the 20-80 scouting scale. Soto signed with Washington for one-third as much as Ortiz and Guerrero Jr. signed with the Blue Jays for just about the same amount as Ortiz. Ouch.

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Phillies prospect Darick Hall uses interesting tool to improve plate discipline

Phillies prospect Darick Hall uses interesting tool to improve plate discipline

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies prospect Darick Hall comes into his fifth season of pro ball with one big goal.

“Good plate discipline,” the 24-year-old slugging first baseman said. “I want to add that to my tool shed.”

Hall isn’t just giving the idea lip service.

He’s giving it eye service.

Literally.

Since reporting to his first major-league spring training camp last month, Hall has been using an eye-training product from a company called Slow The Game Down.

“I think it’s helped me,” Hall said. “It seems my eyes are ahead of schedule. I don’t think I’ve swung at more than two pitches outside the strike zone since I started using it.”

The eye-training tool that Hall is using isn’t some big, bulky machine tucked off in a corner of the weight room. And it certainly isn’t the lit candle that Shoeless Joe Jackson used to stare at to improve his vision. It’s actually just a rectangular white sticker on the handle of the bat he uses for batting practice. On the sticker are two black dots that look like eyes and some red and black lines that look like bullseye targets. 

 

In the Phillies’ Grapefruit League opener Feb. 22 against the Tigers in Lakeland, Hall entered the game in the sixth inning as a defensive replacement for Rhys Hoskins. In the eighth inning, he smashed an RBI triple to deep center field. In another spring training park in Florida, it probably would have been a homer. Joker Marchand Stadium in Lakeland measures 420 feet to center field and the wind was blowing in that day.

Minor-league prospects like Hall who are in their first big-league camps often don’t get into games until the late innings. While sitting in the dugout, Hall will often grab his practice bat, lock in on the sticker on his bat and do some vision exercises. That’s how he kept his eyes sharp that day in Lakeland. He also has an app on his phone that allows him to do the exercises before bed.

“I can even do them when I’m on the bus because sometimes your eyes get lazy on the bus,” Hall said.

The exercises help with convergence, which is something the eyes naturally do when a hitter tracks a pitched ball, and focus.

“It gets your eyes ready to go,” Hall said. “If you talk to hitters, sometimes you hear them say they’re just not seeing it well. Some days, I think our eyes don’t work as good as other days so this is just a way to get your eyes warmed up in a way.”

Eye-training tools aren’t for everyone. Nick Maton, another young prospect in big-league camp, sits at the locker next to Hall’s in the Phillies’ clubhouse. He looked over at the sticker on Hall’s bat and said he’d tried it but ultimately it wasn’t for him.

Slow The Game Down has a long history in the game and counts Hall of Famer George Brett among the list of players that it has helped.

It can be difficult to quantify exactly how much impact any training device has on a player, but in a game like baseball, and with a skill like hitting, you can bet that a player is going to continue dedicating himself to a training practice if he has success with it. The mental aspect of sports, particularly confidence and the way it is built, is fascinating and real. Sometimes the mind leads the body and if it takes a bullseye-looking sticker on a bat handle to get a player feeling like he’s on top of his game — bring it on.

Hall started using the sticker and the app on the advice of Dan Heefner, his coach at Dallas Baptist University.

“It gets my mind and eyes ready,” Hall said. “Your mind and your eyes are connected.”

Hall, who hails from southeastern Arizona, was selected by the Phillies in the 14th round of the 2016 draft. He has an intriguing baseball background. His grandfather, Bo Hall, played in the Giants system and is in the Arizona Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. His uncle, Shane Hall, played in the Red Sox organization, and another uncle, Ladd Hall, played at Arizona State and was drafted by Seattle, Montreal and Houston but did not sign.

What makes Darick Hall intriguing is his power bat. He’s 6-foot-4, 248 pounds and swings from the left side. Over the last three seasons in the Phillies system, he’s hit 75 homers. He was the South Atlantic League MVP in 2017 and an Eastern League All-Star last season at Double A Reading. He led the league with 38 doubles and 59 extra-base hits and was second in the league with 20 homers.

Hall will likely get to Triple A this season and will go as far as his bat will take him. To get where he wants to go — the big leagues — he needs to become a better overall hitter and that starts with improved selectivity and plate discipline. He hit just .235 last season and struck out 134 times, but he walked 60 times, nearly double his total from the previous season.

“Elite hitters have great swings, but they also swing at good pitches,” Hall said. “You have to know the strike zone. When you hit in the middle of the order, there are times they won’t pitch to you and you can’t help them by swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.

“I feel like I improved on that last season and now I want to take it a step further. It’s something I’m really dedicated to doing.”

The sticker on his bat is proof of that dedication.

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Meet new Phillies scouting boss Brian Barber, a man who can shape the team’s future

Meet new Phillies scouting boss Brian Barber, a man who can shape the team’s future

The Phillies open spring training next week. The team will be counting on four recent staff hires to make a difference long- and short-term. This week, we will profile all four.

The series began yesterday with Joe Dillon and continues today with the Phils' new scouting director.

Brian Barber's first successful taste of scouting came when he was a freshman pitcher at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Florida. An older teammate named James Damon brought his younger brother to practice one day. The kid was only in eighth grade but already Barber had him pegged.

"The first time you saw him, you knew he was going to be really good," Barber said of young Johnny Damon. "He was an easy one. Like Bryce Harper, the first time you saw him. He was just more talented and better than everyone else."

Barber and Damon would both eventually become first-round picks a year apart in the Major League Baseball draft, but while Damon would go on to stroke 2,769 hits and win two World Series rings in an 18-year big-league career, Barber was limited to just 26 games in the majors because of a series of arm injuries. 

By spring training 2001, it became clear to Barber that his arm would not allow him to continue to pitch professionally, but the tug of the game was too strong to simply let go. He considered coaching. Someone suggested scouting and that sounded interesting. He attended scouting school in the fall of 2001, liked it, impressed the right people and by the next spring was a full-time area scout for the New York Yankees. His territory was the mid-Atlantic region and the job required frequent stops in the greater Philadelphia area.

Some 18 years later, Barber is back in Philadelphia. In the fall, the Phillies hired him to the vital position of director of amateur scouting. With the college season about to kick into gear, Barber and his staff are already on the road, full force, trying to find, well, maybe the next Johnny Damon.

"I love what I do," Barber said. "Every day I wake up wanting to find a player that one day is going to help the Phillies."

• • •

Barber, 46, succeeds Johnny Almaraz, who stepped down as scouting director in September for personal family reasons. Almaraz, who presided over five drafts for the Phillies, remains with the club in a scouting/player development role.

Phillies officials interviewed candidates from inside and outside the organization before focusing on Barber, who had spent 18 seasons in the Yankees' scouting department, eventually rising to the role of national crosschecker under highly regarded Yankees scouting boss Damon Oppenheimer. Word in baseball circles is that Phillies president Andy MacPhail, who is close with Yankees executive Jim Hendry, did a lot of homework on Barber and liked the scouting reports he received.

"It's a tough loss for us," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "Brian was Damon's right-hand man. We viewed him as a scouting director who just so happened to be a crosschecker. When he put his evaluations down, it was something you had to pay attention to because you knew he was going to get the player right.

"We were hopeful that he would give us a chance to keep him, but it's one of 30 chairs and it's a great opportunity, so I understand. Actually, I'm surprised it took so long for another team to pluck him."

Barber said he'd previously received interest from other clubs offering advancement, but after several conversations with a number of Phillies officials, the job just felt right.

"I like this group of people first and foremost," he said. "No matter what happens with regard to ideas and process, it's still the people that drive an organization. That's why this became a reality."

There was also one other factor in Barber's decision to leave the storied organization from the Bronx. 

Deep down inside, he yearned for a chance to oversee his own draft.

He was ready.

"Damon gave me responsibility and freedom beyond what anyone could ask and I'm so grateful for that," Barber said. "But when it came time to pick, the ultimate decision was still his — as it should be. You were part of it, but it wasn't all the way yours. So that did have some pull. I thought one day I'd like to do that, gather all the information, get all the recommendations and make the decision. It had some pull."

• • •

Scouting young amateur players is an inexact science. A bit of proof lies over the bridge from Philadelphia where Mike Trout, who will go down as one of greatest players in the history of the game, was passed over by 21 teams before being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft. (The Phillies did not have a first-round pick that year.) Despite the difficulty of projecting how an 18-year-old boy will perform against the best players in the world as a 25-year-old man, scouts and scouting departments are judged on an unforgiving public scale that ranges from genius to dunce. Hit on a guy — like the Yankees with Barber championing the cause — did on Aaron Judge with the 32nd overall pick in the 2013 draft, and you're a genius. Miss on a high pick and you're a dunce. It's a tough business.

The Phillies' 2008 World Series championship team was built on a foundation of good scouting and drafting. Cole Hamels and Chase Utley were first-round picks that other clubs had questions about. (Hamels was a health question and Utley had defensive issues.) Jimmy Rollins came in the second round, Ryan Howard in the fifth and bullpen difference-maker Ryan Madson in the ninth. In subsequent years, the Phillies have not drafted nearly as well. Success in the standings, which lowered draft position, hurt. So did the loss of several high-round picks, forfeited for signing free agents. But there have also been a number of high-round whiffs. All of these factors have impacted the Phillies' farm system (it ranks in the bottom third among major league teams, according to multiple outlets) and place in the standings.

Using the WAR statistic, Baseball America recently ranked every team's work in a decade of drafts from 2010 to 2019. The Phillies came in at No. 26, the Yankees at No. 28.

Now, these ratings are far from final and the Phillies' WAR number for the last decade could still improve significantly based on the evolving careers of Scott Kingery, Rhys Hoskins, Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm.

"Ultimately, we're all judged by the number of players we're able to produce and the impact they have once they're in the big leagues," Barber said.

Though Baseball America's rankings are not perfect — heck, WAR as a stat in itself is imperfect — they do indicate that the Phils need to improve their drafts. It is key to the sustainability of the franchise because every hole cannot be filled with a $330 million signing like Harper or even a $118 million signing like Zack Wheeler.

Barber's philosophy of drafting is to take the best player available, regardless of need at the big-league level. Like all scouts, he and his staff will place an emphasis on tools before zeroing in on baseball skill. Bat speed and power can make a hitter attractive. The ability to recognize pitches makes him even more attractive. Velocity is a key factor in a pitcher's ability to generate swings and misses. Control and command make that power arm even more attractive.

"There is no secret sauce," Barber said. "You break the tools down and try to build up to what the ideal big-leaguer has."

Identifying a player's intangibles is a difficult but hugely important part of the process.

A player's character, competitiveness, toughness, drive, smarts and instincts — all of these fall under the baseball heading of "makeup" — are important.

"It's definitely a point of emphasis," Barber said. "Baseball is a hard game and we want our players to be hard."

Analytics is another important ingredient in the sauce that Barber and his staff will use to identify prospects. The Yankees are an analytics powerhouse. The Phillies' analytics department has grown in number and significance under general manager Matt Klentak. The impact of analytics can be seen in the Phillies' last three first-round picks. Outfielder Adam Haseley, third baseman Bohm and shortstop Bryson Stott are all players that stood out analytically for their ability to control the strike zone.

"Analytics are part of the game now, part of the process," Barber said. "To ignore it and say, 'We're scouts, we don't worry about that.' Those days are gone. This is information that can aid us in finding a better player and to think we won't use it is farfetched."

• • •

In three months on the job, Barber has made some changes in the Phillies' scouting operation. No one has been let go, he said, though some assignments have changed. He has made several hires, most notably David Crowson to a high-ranking national position. Crowson formerly worked for the Miami Marlins and was influential in identifying Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and a guy named J.T. Realmuto as top draft prospects.

"He was a guy I really wanted to have and I'm happy we got him," Barber said of Crowson.

The Phillies have the 15th overall pick in this year's draft and you can hear the excitement in Barber's voice as he talks about preparing for it.

"There's no consensus at the top, no Harper or (Stephen) Strasburg," Barber said. "But it's a very deep draft with a lot of pitching, a lot of good arms. We're going to be able to find velocity throughout the draft.

"Our job is hard and we're going to be wrong sometimes. It's the nature of the business. But hopefully, we'll be wrong less often and right more often by going through processes we're trying to build here because there's no better feeling than scouting, drafting and seeing a player get to the big leagues."

On Thursday, we profile new Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price.

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