What is “Taxi Ball” Anyway?
The Phillies, as with the other Major League teams, have a pool of extra players stashed at “alternate sites” from which they can pull or send to, as their 28-man MLB active roster demands. They’ve been here in Allentown since the season started. These players are fully tested, scanned, and quarantined as best possible, to keep them free of the dreaded virus. Officially, there can be 60 players in the total pool, so with 28 active that could mean a maximum of 32 at the “alternate site.” However, it doesn’t totally work out that way, as the MLB club desires the flexibility to have extra spots for trades and further additions as we speed on towards the end of September. The players and coaches are social distanced as much as possible from each other: Those not playing are wearing face coverings and I imagine that they are using both clubhouses, which are really right near each other on the third-base side of the stadium despite the location of the visiting dugout (which is not in use.)
What Do They Do There, Then?
The players have workouts, individual instruction, and then often play an intra-squad scrimmage at some point during the days that the Phillies have games–so that their schedule matches the big team as closely as possible. Their mission is three parts staying in shape and being ready, and one part development and improving. Add in one part of rehabilitation, too, where that applies, as Injured List players have been shuttled through to get extra work where it has been necessary.
So, Who’s There For The Phillies?
Right now, the extra 40-man guys are there, who are healthy, as well as a few “Spring Training Invitees” who were signed to minor league deals prior to Spring Training last winter. In addition, there are a few “top prospects” who are not really candidates to join the Phillies this season, but who the Phillies want to keep close by and monitor their development personally. Other teams have approached that aspect more aggressively, or less, depending on their druthers and their farm system construction. Remember, there are no Minor League games or seasons for these players to play in. Here’s what I’ve got for the players in Allentown right now for “Taxi Ball:”
64 Victor Arano, RHP*
75 Connor Brogdon, RHP*
66 Garrett Cleavinger, LHP*
54 Austin Davis, LHP (DFA: Not Available)
51 Enyel De Los Santos, RHP (DFA: cleared)
23 Kyle Garlick, OF*
73 Deivy Grullon, C*
65 JD Hammer, RHP
47 Cole Irvin, LHP*
68 Damon Jones, LHP
76 Austin Listi, INF
63 Mauricio Llovera, RHP*
16 Mikie Mahtook, OF
85 Rafael Marchan, C (Switch Hitter)
31 Nick Martini, OF (LHB)
90 Nick Maton, INF (LHB)
77 Adonis Medina, RHP*
86 Logan O’Hoppe, C
30 David Robinson, RHP (I.L.)* (below)
60 Ramon Rosso, RHP*
61 Christopher Sanchez, LHP*
10 Bryson Stott, SS (LHB)
55 Ranger Suarez, LHP (I.L.)* (above)
74 Ronald Torreyes, INF
* Denotes on the 40-man roster
With 23 active players available on the alternate site roster (TV said 24–and it changes quickly), there is some room to add additional players as the season goes on. Once we get to September, might we see some other “top” prospects such as RHP Francisco Morales, SS Kendall Simmons, OF Johan Rojas, OF Mickey Moniak, OF Simon Muzziotti, LHP Erik Miller, OF Matt Vierling, RHP Ethan Lindow, or OF Josh Stephen? Could be. They are very pitcher heavy now, of course, due to the potential need for arms to support the big team. Other position players to watch for might be 1B Derrick Hall, SS Arquimedes Gamboa and 2B Daniel Brito. There are other arms and other younger prospects, too, who may get some additional instruction in some sort of “Fall Intructs” in Clearwater, or should the teams organize a larger, two-site “Arizona Fall League” which might have a group of teams in Florida playing in order to have more development opportunities. Stay tuned on that front if you’re interested in the player development side.
Can We See These Games?
Yup! Most of them are televised by our friends at Service Electric, on TV-2 Sports (502 HD). I believe the Phillies are the only team having their scrimmages on TV, which does allow for some additional exposure when it comes to trades–but also makes it harder to hide anything. I’m only guessing, but I’d figure figure Service Electric has a contract to televise any and all events at Coca Cola Park as per their partnership with the IronPigs.
Remember, these don’t look like regular baseball games in many ways. There are usually only four or five batters for every lineup. In the field, there are only so many fielders to go around, so you might see an all-time shortstop or coaches and trainers playing in the field (not bad if it’s our old friend Tyler Henson!). Sometimes there’s umpires and sometimes not. Sometimes they go four outs and sometimes 2–depending on the needs of the pitcher. Sometimes base-runners will start at different locations in order to set up situational hitting. It’s a glorified practice and they all wear the same uniforms! Still, it’s baseball, though. And guys are getting their work in, with the short lineups most get 3-5 plate appearances per game.
The IronPigs have been in the process of inviting Season Ticket Members who are paid for the 2021 season to come and watch the scrimmages. I’ve already been. The seating is very, very limited as they’re limited to sections 106 to 101, and only every third row, and only 4 per row-half. Limited food and beverage are available, but must be ordered by app and either delivered or picked up at a table at the top of the section. This is done to limit lines and fan interaction. Face coverings are necessary when not eating or drinking. The seating bowl limit is to keep fans away from the players. I don’t believe you are allowed to keep foul balls, and there’s certainly no autographs. Yesterday marked the introduction of walk-up music and piped-in crowd noise, so perhaps the “games” will feel a little more real now. Go ahead and go if you have the opportunity! The tickets were complimentary for me, as a club level ticket member, but I’m not sure the policy going forward. Food and drink were not free. In speaking with General Manger Kurt Landes, he was not sure if they’d be able to get to every season ticket member at every level to a game, but that they’d try–and he was hoping perhaps they’d be able to expand the seating somewhat if the rules allow.
Who Has Looked Good?
It has been hard to tell, you know? First, I haven’t been able to see all the games–although the Service Electric crew has been keeping unofficial stats, which has been helpful. Secondly, remember that these batters and pitchers are facing each other–the same opponent–every single time out. That introduces a lot of adjustments which may not be “real.” Finally, the pitchers are de-incentivized to pitch inside and risk hurting a teammate. So, that lets the batters relax and tee off a bit, right?
But I will say this: I’ve really, really liked the look of the young catchers, Marchan and O’Hoppe, neither of whom I’d even seen at Reading yet. Both have looked good, played hard, and not looked over-matched. The prospect Stott has been settling in as well, looking a bit wide-eyed in his first couple games where he was even allowed to bat, but now looking much more confident.
On the pitching side, I thought David Robertson’s initial public throwing looked pretty good yesterday. He’ll need some additional time to get sharp to help the MLB club, but it should come barring a setback. LHP Ranger Suarez could take JoJo Romero’s spot as the second lefty, a little sooner, pending the performance of both and possibly the health of Alvarez. Suarez’ slider looked really good to me yesterday. As I write this, JD Hammer, who didn’t even start the abbreviated season at the alternate site, is looking really sharp. He was DFA’d in the Spring. It’s hard to tell without a radar gun, but De Los Santos looked really good today, too, and seems to be throwing hard like a reliever. Torreyes is the 4-A guy who could come up and play multiple infield spots if needed, and he’s reportedly hitting over .300, which you’d really hope for under these circumstances.
Of course, I’ve been trying to follow the Phillies, what with no local baseball to attend to. It’s been tough, man! Without going too deep, I think they need to give the new-look bull-pen a chance, stay the course with the core pieces and buckle down in the short time that’s left. Even if it doesn’t work out, they should try to set the tone for next season, and yeah, sign J.T. How about a strong finish instead of a late-season collapse, huh?
See you…..online, because yeah. Follow @Kram207 on Twitter for updates.