“In this game, if you’re not getting better every day, then you’re falling behind.”
Welcome to the middle of the IronPigs season. After 73 games, the Bacon USA squad finds itself 42-31 and in third place in the IL North, behind both Rochester and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. At 11 games above .500, it’s the highest they’ve been “above water” since 7/19/2012 when they were 55-44. Indeed, in any other division, the IronPigs would easily be the leader. Instead, it will be a battle–with plenty of head-to-head games left–for the North division crown and/or the lone wild card spot.
The Pigs won their third straight–all by one run–to start their second southern road swing. They’ll go for the sweep at Harbor Park today at noon (weather permitting), before heading to Durham for the weekend.
I’ve noticed that as the Phillies have begun returning to earth–losing games like we all predicted they would–the Philly media has begun casting their eye towards the IronPigs and Fightins for an answer. They’ve couched their articles, but they can’t resist the click-bait titles urging the big club to call up the next fresh face to magically and immediately improve whatever ails the Phillies on any particular day.
But since the Phillies aren’t going anywhere, anyway. I say the front office should take their time. I think they should keep these top-level groups together for a while, and let them experience success and win some games rather than throwing them to the wolves in The Show just yet. I’m not saying to hold guys back who are demanding a promotion with their play; I’m just saying to look at it objectively and observe that there are still things to be worked on and mistakes being made. As an example, but not picking on him, I’ll point out that if you want some help in the Phillies outfield–both offensively and defensively–pushing Nick Williams up might not be the immediate solution you think it is. He’s doing fine, and getting better every day. But he’s also getting out-played by Darin Ruf and Cedric Hunter right now. Oh, “They already failed,” you say. Right. So how is Nick going to be the savior? I’m not saying he couldn’t handle it; I’m saying he shouldn’t have to.
“But Kram, you’re just being greedy. You just want these guys for your IronPigs and Phillies be damned,” one guy says to me.
Maybe–I won’t deny my desire for playoff baseball in Bacon, USA. But I will say that I’ll apply the same thinking to the Reading Fightins. [Editor’s note: Kram also has season tickets to the team in Reading. Just sayin’.] I’m not ready to push Dylan Cozens or Rhys Hoskins or Jorge Alfaro to the IronPigs, while they still have some work to do at AA. You could make a case for any number of guys up and down the Reading lineup. What I’m saying is, as long as these guys have stuff to work on, keep them together and let them play. Let them win. Look at these core roster groups:
Lehigh Valley: Knapp, Stassi, Sweeney, Crawford, Perkins, Williams, Thompson and Lively.
Reading: Alfaro, Hoskins, Valentin, Mora, Martinez, Brown, Cozens, Quinn, Pivetta, and Pinto.
And then even down to Clearwater:
Green, Kingery, Canelo, Pullin, Tocci, Garcia, Hockenberry, Martin, Morris, Richy, Rios, Therrien, and Walding.
[Editor’s note: Pullin was promoted to Reading today. Speculation is that Roman Quinn will be out for some time with both hamstring and oblique injuries.]
You can make a case–for some stronger than others, obviously–that any or all of these guys should be moved up here at the mid-way point. But I don’t see any that don’t have holes in their games right now, and stuff they can be improving. Why not just do it together and keep these teams playing together? Ultimately, some will succeed and some will fail, and the best will reach the big club and contribute. But it doesn’t have to be today–and it won’t be–so let’s use caution when clicking on the bait spewed forth from the Philadelphia media.
I promised I wouldn’t try to put a grade on players mid-season, and I told you why. However, I will share a couple thoughts on each player as I peruse our mid-season roster:
Carlos Alonso: It’s hard to find playing time for him, but he’s done well both at the plate and in the field when given the opportunity. He deserves to be here (AAA) and I hope we have him for a while.
Mark Appel: As you know, he’s one of my favorites this season. His shoulder is not damaged, reportedly, and he’s been slowly and carefully rehabbing in Clearwater under the watchful eye of our old friend Ray Burris (I’m told). I look forward to his return, but I haven’t heard a time table. “Mid-July” was the last thing I read. Being careful is a good idea. I’d love to have him for the stretch run.
David Buchanan: It seems like he hasn’t been as good this season. A lot has to do with some big innings he’s given up. He recovers well, so just trying to avoid those crooked numbers might be all he needs to do to get his shot in the MLB rotation again this season.
Emmanuel Burriss: His play was quite dreadful for the Phillies, but he’s been grinding hard for the IronPigs hitting .302 for us over a small sample, and trying to get to every ball he can. He’s been testing out third base, as well, and hasn’t been horrible. I wasn’t optimistic, but for now I’m fine having the 31-year old around.
Jimmy Cordero: He’s been on our DL all season. No word about his throwing program, ETA, or medical condition of his shoulder and/or arm. I’m fearful for the 103 MPH fireballer. Here’s hoping he makes it back to pitch this season. There have been whispers of a mid-July return for him.
JP Crawford: He’s getting there. He had his first error in last night’s 2-1 win in Norfolk, but he also singled in the game winner. He’s a pro, and he’ll get there. The fielding, the hitting, the presence–It’s all there. But he’s 21 and still a neophyte at AAA. Let’s give him some time. Also, read below about the effect he’s having on Nick Williams.
Taylor Featherston: Junior calls him “Bird.” I had forgotten that he was a Rule-5 pick of the Angels last season, which explains his service time somewhat. And like a lot of things they’ve messed up, the Angels probably blew it by not giving him some more consistent playing time. It’s an error the Phillies avoided with Odubel, and will attempt to avoid with Goeddel. What’s been haunting Bird this season is errors. He’s really not solid enough to be at 3B or SS for any length of time. He says 2B is his best position, so look for Brundy to get him some time there whenever he can so that the Phillies can decide whether the 27-year old is worth keeping on the books. In the mean time, you’ll see Burriss, Alonso, and now Sweeney, rotate at the hot corner. Bird can hit, though, and has shown surprising power. He reminds me a bit of Kevin Frandsen. [Editor’s note: Did Franny retire? It looks like he’s not playing this season…]
Luis Garcia: He can still chuck it. I’m just never certain the catcher will be able to catch it. He’ll look to improve consistency through the second half. I’m not sure how much the Phillies trust him, either, at this point. You’ll see, based on if he gets recalled again soon or not.
Frank Herrmann: I’ve been impressed with the 32-year old Harvard product. He’s not stretched out enough to spot start for us, but has had some solid innings, and I wouldn’t be against giving him the 8th-inning spot if the current guy gets called up soon.
Mario Hollands: I feel like he’s starting to find his range, now having strung together a few good outings. The question is, do the Phillies see him as a standard LHP reliever? Do they want him to be a long guy? A starter? A LOOGY? It’s not clear. His last couple, good, outings have been of the shorter variety. He’s one to watch in the second half, and perhaps a key guy for our playoff run.
Cedric Hunter: I like me some Cedric Hunter. I hope he gets another shot at the next level, but for now I’m enjoying having him in the outfield almost every day. If we’re matching up guys with that 2011 squad, I feel like he’s our Brandon Moss. OK, that comp falls flat on several levels, but it’s still how I feel, OK?
Phil Klein: Big giant guy from Ohio by way of Texas. I’m optimistic, but we haven’t seen him pitch yet.
Andrew Knapp: He’s had some big moments, and is still improving behind the plate. I feel like he needs to strike out less, and continue to work behind the plate. He’s part of the core of this team that I’d like to see stay together and move to the Majors at approximately the same time.
Ben Lively: I kinda feel like he’s the “Nobody Believes in Me” guy. I read “scouts” and others writing him off all the time, but he just keeps getting guys out. He’ll do it all the way to the Majors. He and Thompson are the keys to our rotation right now. I had my doubts before this season started, but he’s proved me wrong and converted me. Let’s see if he can do that with the rest, as well.
David Lough: He did reasonably well for the Phillies in 30 games, and has been solid for us in 16. Could he be the “Rich Thompson” in the 2011 comp? I don’t know, but for now he’s still having trouble getting in the lineup everyday, although not really his fault. Here’s hoping he forces his way into the lineup and perhaps even back to the bigs, with his play. It will only help the team and set the tone for the young guys.
Michael Mariot: He’s had a bunch of good 1-inning outings, and a couple duds. There have been a couple instances of more than one inning. He’s on the 40-man roster, so the Phillies could bring him up and use him any time.
Yoervis Medina: He’s been on the DL all season. I don’t know what to expect, but when you hear he’s been activated, you’ll be familiar with his name. He does have 146 games of MLB experience.
Logan Moore: He’s been so solid, defensively and offensively, as a replacement for Knapp. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s the guy if the Phillies need a catcher right now.
Edward Mujica: “The Chief” leads the IL in saves, and is not on the 40. I feel like he might be a candidate for the Phillies at some point, or they might be just as likely to leave him with us. I’m sure that doesn’t make “The Chief” happy. I also feel like his saves are always an adventure, to some degree. But he gets it done, and for that I’m thankful.
Colton Murray: He’s still listed on the 40-man, but the roster update I got said he’d been outrighted. We’ll see, because that will have a significant bearing on whether or not he goes back up. His max-effort should help the ‘Pigs in spots, and he may get some shots at the 8th and 9th innings later in the summer.
Cam Perkins: We love Cam! He has fun playing the game, and it shows. Perhaps he’s our Richie T in the 2011 comp? I hope he gets his shot this season, at some point.
Edubray Ramos: He has had to pitch around some difficulty recently. And, he’s been successful. That’s why I think he’ll be in Philly and not return, sooner rather than later.
Darin Ruf: He’s been kicking butts and taking names since he returned to AAA this season. I don’t remember him ever hitting like this for us before. He did have a nice average in his rehab last season, but a minuscule SLG. He slugged pretty well in 2013, but his average was only .247. Maybe it’s the homers–he’s hit more for us this season than any other, including 2013 when he played in almost three times more games. He’s found his groove, I think, if the Phillies want him back. But they might need to keep playing him and not bury him on the bench. Can you bench Tommy Joseph? I don’t know, but I’ve got no problem keeping Ruf around here. He’s one of the veterans in the clubhouse at this point.
James Russell: What a job this guy has done since stepping into the rotation. It doesn’t always look pretty, but he’s been put in some bad spots, too. He gives the team a chance to win every time out, and that’s all I ask.
Brock Stassi: He was the Eastern League MVP last season at AA, and a leader on that team. The soon-to-be 27-year-old is becoming that for the IronPigs as well. He’s been solid–walking at a fair clip to somewhat cancel out the K’s, adding a homer here and there, playing good defense. I’m not sure he’ll get a shot this season, but I’m all for keeping him around as long as he wants. I see a little bit of Andy Tracy in him if I squint my eyes, do you?
Darnell Sweeney: He’s not putting up the same numbers in AAA in the IL as he did with OKC in the PCL last season, but the 25-year old is still doing work. He hits a homer here and there, and has made some nice plays at second. He’s also made some errors, but overall I think he’s played some solid defense. He’s at third base today, which is also interesting. Will he be a Phillie again one day? I’m not sure, but for now he’s a contributor here, and I’m fine with that.
Jake Thompson: He’s starting to show the consistency that he needs to make it to the next level. I don’t know if he’s the “next man up” or not at this point, as Eflin or Morgan might be coming back, but it’s getting close. He’s our ‘ace’ right now, as far as I’m concerned. It’s fun to watch and I feel good when it’s his day to pitch.
Nick Williams: Since JP Crawford arrived at AAA, Nick is hitting .330. Is that friendly competition or the comfort of having JP around? Nope, I think it’s the luxury of having JP bat in front of him. Crawford has such good at-bats and sees so many pitches, and gets on base even when he’s not hitting–that’s allowing Nick to see more good pitches and put himself in a position to hit them. Brundy says that Nick is still giving some at-bats away. Williams is still young. He’s still fine-tuning his game, and while he’s talented enough to make the jump, he’s not the savior right now. Ruf and Hunter are hitting better right now, so why rush? Nick is a major league talent, but for now, let’s just keep the band together and feel the success.
It was just my thoughts on the roster going forward. Leave your own in the comments if you like. To repeat, I’m not for holding anyone back based on these rosters, but if there’s still stuff to work on I’m not for rushing anybody either. Let’s get used to winning around here.
“I look at the standings more than my stats, because I want to win every game.”
-Cam Perkins 6/22/2016
See you in the playoffs,