Everybody rips everybody off. And, even if you don’t, ESPN might fire you anyway. So, as long as I’m ripping somebody off I’ll at least acknowledge it.
Today, I’m ripping off all the nice guys and gals over at Crashburn Alley. GO HERE to read their excellent post about the Phillies, with entertaining and thoughtful takes on the 2017 season thus far.
So here’s my version–but not about the Phillies because they already did that, plus it’s not my thing. My thing is IronPigs and Fightins so I’ll follow the same format and let you know what I think thus far this season about the two upper-level teams in the Phillies minor league system. The standard caveat applies throughout: It’s early in the season. Oh, and it’s not a round table because I’m the only one here. Yeah, let’s face it–I’m probably sitting at a bar.
The IronPigs are 10-8, the Fightins 8-7. Both are back to winning records, and it’s early, but neither are as dominant as expected. Has your outlook on these teams changed at all?
Kram: Despite the talent level of the IronPigs, I knew there might be some growing pains. No way would I have predicted the early struggles of JP Crawford and Jake Thompson–both guys who were at AAA last season–but I knew that experienced and talented AAA rosters would be able to compete. Reading has the youngest AA roster in the nation, if I recall a stat I read recently. Watching a game in Baseballtown recently I was concerned about how they might perform–before I remembered that other teams have struggling AA players as well.
At the end of the day, they’re both about where I thought they’d be. I expect more winning than losing going forward, but continued roster changes–the norm in the minor leagues–will be a challenge all season long.
Zach Eflin and Nick Pivetta both have spots in the Phillies rotation right now. Ben Lively, Mark Leiter, and Luis Garcia have already had promotions. Is this how you thought it would go? What promotions do you see coming next?
Kram: The names aren’t the ones I would have predicted, but I certainly didn’t think the rotation of Thompson, Eflin, Lively, Pivetta, Appel would hold for more than a couple cycles. As I wrote yesterday, the system depth for the Phillies might be just fine with all these young, talented pitchers on the 40-man, but there is the potential for the IronPigs (or, eventually, the Fightins) to get squeezed here. The injury to Buchholtz and the horse steroids of Elniery Garcia have opened up a couple 40-man spots to give the Phillies some flexibility for relievers who may need to come and go, such as Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, and Mark Leiter.
For the immediate future, any promotion will probably come via injury–so that’s certainly not something I want to be in the business of predicting. As far as players “forcing” their way to the big leagues, I think we’ll need to wait until at least the third week of May to see that regardless of how well they’re doing. As far as the candidates? Jorge Alfaro seems to be at the forefront, but remember that his defensive role is just as important as his role at the plate. I think they’ll wait a bit for that, as well as give Andrew Knapp some increased playing time on the big team early this season before making a move. Rhys Hoskins may be a slightly different story. As the Phillies showed last season when Tommy Joseph was raking into the first part of May, first base is a position where the bat needs to be working all the time. Like behind the plate, though, I’d expect to see some more frequent appearances by Brock Stassi before a Rhys Hoskins promotion, although it does appear that both Tommy Joseph and Brock have options (by memory, Tommy doesn’t. But an internet source says otherwise). It was May 13 when Tommy went up last season, if you want to use that to set your timetable at all. Although, they might not be as quick to cut Tommy’s playing time as they were with the lame duck Howard contract.
There’s a bit of a logjam in the outfield. Slugger Dylan Cozens is still adjusting to AAA pitching, while Roman Quinn is trying to be more consistent both at the plate and on the base-paths. Cam Perkins is playing very well, so if there was a need on the big team and a 40-man spot could be made available, he could be the guy. He got another look at 1B in a game the other day, as well, to try to enhance his positional flexibility. So we’re down to Nick Williams. He started slow, but has been heating up lately. I think they’d like to see him do it more consistently and force his way, but he could be the choice if Quinn is struggling.
Any promotion–most likely need-based at the moment–from the outfield would likely result in the promotion of Andrew Pullin from Reading, to Lehigh Valley. He’s been just as hot as Alfaro, but hasn’t completed a full season in Reading yet and has nowhere to play in Allentown. Carlos Tocci has been doing a good job in Reading but will likely remain there for the season, as will Aaron Brown–although the latter does look much better this season than last. Jiandido Tromp should also remain in Reading for the foreseeable future, continuing to remind me of one of my departed favorites, Leandro Castro.
In the infield, Jesmuel Valentin has been doing very well at second base for the IronPigs. Lost and forgotten at the bottom of the lineup at times, he’s absolutely been doing well. If a promotion for depth is being considered, I’d expect to see him start popping up at other positions before heading to the Majors. That may happen out of necessity, too, because in Reading, Scott Kingery, almost as much as Pullin, is showing that he could soon use the challenge of AAA.
Who or what has been the biggest surprise thus far, at AAA and AA?
Kram: Good surprises? I never thought Alfaro would hit this well, this soon. Ricardo Pinto is pitching better now than anything I saw from him last season in Reading. In Reading, Pullin has exceeded my expectations as has LHP Brandon Leibrandt.
Bad surprises? Like everyone, I never thought I’d see these numbers from JP Crawford. I thought Mark Appel would look better–but that might have been wishful thinking. I don’t think Chace Numata looks particularly good behind the plate.
Given the construction of the teams at AA and AAA currently, what will be their downfall, if any, and why?
Kram: As I mentioned before, I think the starting pitching for the IronPigs, while an initial strength, could be tested as the season goes on. I don’t think there are a ton of possibilities in Reading for promotion right away, and even if so, that team will get squeezed unless guys in Clearwater are really ready. There may also be times this season when the bull-pen strength is really tested and games are lost because of it. The Phillies will not be in a hurry to promote players before they are ready.
In Reading, the relative youth of that team could challenge them as the season goes on. They also don’t have the power hitters they’re used to from recent seasons.
See you at the park,
cover photo of Andrew Pullin by Cheryl Pursell