The IronPigs arrive at the mid-way point in their ultimately scheduled 120-game season* (*more on this in a bit) with a 26-33 record, with one game versus Worcester to make up. That .441 clip is good enough for 4th place out of 6 in the AAA-East/Northeast Division. It would also be fourth or fifth in East/Southeast or East/Midwest.
The ‘Pigs arrive at this juncture playing .500 ball over the last 10 games, 5-5. They just took the rain-shortened series from the Woo-Sox 3-2, having won two in a row to close the first “half.”
How did we get here?
It goes without saying, that the middling record means middling play. But what are the reasons for that?
- Poor roster construction and planning. The Phillies organization could not know in January or February, when these things usually get decided, how many minor league games there would be, when they would start, and how many players they would need. They decided early on that if they needed to move players to fill spots they’d do it internally until they were forced to sign outside players, minor league free agents.
- New MLB rules. New restrictions on minor league rosters have a cap on the overall number of players under minor league contract. A cost-saving move, to be sure, despite the low pay minor leaguers get. In this case, signing a bunch of free agents for AA and AAA might mean having to cut your own lower level players. In this case the Phillies were playing correctly.
- Needs of the big league team. As always, we serve at the pleasure of the Phillies. Injuries and COVID test results have forced many players to the big league team over the course of the first half. I cannot say that I think it will get much better, but they have settled in to some roles for some guys like Mickey Moniak, Scott Kingery, and Spencer Howard.
- Injuries Injuries didn’t just impact the IronPigs via the Phillies; they had a direct effect as well. Adonis Medina, Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley, Cornelius Randolph, CJ Catham and others, have and will miss significant time. Haseley is on rehab assignment in Florida for his groin right now. Randolph has been back with the team recently, and I’m more hopeful than before about the prognosis of his elbow. Catham’s broken hand will heal eventually. So, there might be some players coming back not only from the Phillies but also directly to our own roster, as we look forward to the second half.
You know, it’s not all doom and gloom and COVID restrictions. We did see some good play here, and some good players who are now contributing on the next level–which is the ultimate raison d’être around here, right? Let’s take a look at some of the players we saw, at one time or another as roster members, and put them into a “dream” lineup:
Travis Janikowski DH
Ronald Torreyes SS
Adam Haseley LF
Cornelius Randolph RF
Luke Wiliams 3B
Nick Maton 2B
Mickey Moniak CF
Matt Vierling 1B
Rafael Marchan C
So that’s a team that can be competitive while remaining interesting! No disrespect to he Charlie Tilsons and Ryan Cordells of the world. Those guys are fine players. But, all those players in my lineup above have helped the Phillies or the IronPigs or both, win games this season. And I’m not even including some valuable relievers who have contributed on both levels as well.
What’s in Reading?
Sometimes players have been moving–especially between Jersey Shore, Reading and Allentown–based on the need for a guy to field a position. And this is despite such player being ready for such a move or prepared to fully compete at the level. We discussed this some above. So we might see a guy or four come up from Reading from time to time just based on need. But, who’s down there who might be ready for the next developmental step on the way to The Show?
- SS Bryson Stott The top Phillies pick in the 2019 draft started the season at Jersey Shore but quickly earned his advancement to AA Reading. He’s currently slashing .239/.328/.393 over 31 games with 4 HR, 16 BB, 36 K. It’s not a sure thing that he makes AAA in 2021, but with the season going until October and the possible need for him in the Major Leagues in 2022, I think it’s likely.
- 2B Daniel Brito Brito was an intriguing prospect to me, coming out of rookie ball a few years back. However, he never quite lived up to the hype or the high prospect rank he was given at the time. Seeing him for the first time this season, I expected a diminutive Cesar Hernandez-type, but Brito looks bigger and stronger than that. He’s hitting .300/.366/.460 with 4 HR, 35K, and 20BB over 55 games in Reading. I think he might be ready for his next challenge.
- OF Josh Stephen Josh won’t appear on many prospect lists, but all he does is hit. He was added to AA Reading as a place-holder in 2019 but hit so well that he was never sent back to Clearwater. But he’s been heating up lately, and has smacked 5 HR. He didn’t do much in a quick add to the ‘Pigs earlier, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him added later if Reading gets OFs from Jersey Shore. To me, he’s a Steve Susdorf kind of guy.
- OF Jorge Bonifacio Bonifacio is a veteran with MLB experience, and while his numbers have fallen off since earlier in the season, like Stephen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in AAA later this season if Reading gets OF prospects from Jersey.
- RHP Francisco Morales “Big Franky” has all the tools to be a front-line starting pitcher in the big leagues, but is working on putting things together. You see flashes of it, and if the consistency is there, don’t be surprised if the Phillies move one of their top pitching prospects to the IronPigs by the end of the season.
You could also see some relief prospects get moved up, and tried out, and stay if they look good. I can’t think of anyone who has been dominant, but the return of Kyle Dohy is a distinct possibility when it comes to merit-based promotions.
What to look for at the park
- Lager Up This next Saturday is Lager Night with a jersey auction and a sponsorship from Yuengling. I’m looking forward to it.
- New Gear There are some gorgeous new hats coming in the second half. I’ve been asked very nicely not to post pictures of them yet. Some of this stuff will cease after this season, when every single jersey and hat has to be approved by MLB. How much impact will we notice? Not sure.
There are many more premium giveaways planned as the IronPigs back-loaded the promotional schedule with an eye towards bigger crowds later on. Watch the preview posts right here, before each home-stand, where I’ll detail the what and when. There will also be some jersey and cap auctions, too, which we haven’t had much of, yet.
But Wait, There’s More! (Playoffs?!?!)
“Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs! Are you kidding me? Playoffs?! I’m just hoping we can win a game, another game!” -Jim Mora
Minor League Baseball announced a playoff schedule and format for the lower levels recently. I’m not sure Reading has to worry about it, based on their record. But, they are in third place, so I guess you never know. For AAA, they’re adding two weeks to the end of the season, originally scheduled to end on Saturday, September 19. The last two weeks, one home and one away, will be 5-game series instead of six. While not officially announced, I’m anticipating the IronPigs going to Trenton to face the Toronto/Buffalo franchise from Wednesday September 22 to Sunday September 26. Coca Cola Park will be hosting the “Nitro Circus” during that time. Then, the 2021 IronPigs will finally close things out from Wednesday September 29 to Sunday October 3. The opponent hasn’t been determined, but I’d guess it will also be “Buffalo” just from a travel and standings standpoint. The division champion will be determined by winning percentage. Since we don’t play outside the division, I can’t see any kind of AAA-East or AAA-Overall champion.
What To Watch In The Second Half
- Watch to see how the lineup changes as guys get healthy and rejoin the team. Perhaps some players return from Philadelphia.
- Watch to see if anyone gets traded. It could be a negative for us, but could provide the player with a better opportunity and ultimately improve the Phillies.
- Watch to see if any of those players get promoted from Reading. There are others, too, in Reading and now that we’ve had the MLB Draft, players could be on the move.
- I’m not hopeful that this team will go on a run and make their way towards the top of the standings. But crazier things have happened. Stay tuned and check the previews in this space regularly and I’ll keep you updated.
- Watch for a preview before each 6-game home-stand for all the latest details about the team and what’s going on at the park
What To Look Forward To Next Season
- Cash-Free: I think it’s here to stay. In my opinion space in the preview column the other day, I outlined the business advantage of remaining cash-free. Then again, it could come down to some post-season accounting and evaluation of the policy.
- Schedule: I think we’ll be back to 140 games, 70 each home and away, beginning in April and ending in early September. I’m not sure the six-game series return, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the schedule extend more in to September in order to make sure the players get an off-day every 6-10 days or so. I’m hoping to see some of the other AAA-East teams, even if we don’t get to see the furthest ones–Jacksonville and St. Paul and Iowa and Nashville–every single year. We can split home and away every year to three years, would be OK with me. I haven’t tired of the divisional teams yet; I just miss getting to see some of the other squads and their players/prospects/coaches.
- Jersey Auctions: We might not get many in the future, depending on how hard it is to get things approved by MLB. They’ll have their hands in more of the minor league operations going forward, so it’s not entirely clear that impacts everything from ticket prices to concessions to merchandise.
- Stadium Renovations: I’ll update you on what’s going on in Reading, coming up. But I’m thinking the IronPigs may have some MLB-mandated renovations coming up as well–albeit not nearly as extensive. Look for minor construction or articles about financing going forward.
- Non-baseball activities. The local organization already puts on beer and wine tastings, special fireworks shows, food trucks, and other sundry get-togethers. As MLB exerts even more control over the baseball-connected profit centers, do not be surprised to see even more events and perhaps concerts and the like throughout the year.
See you in the second half!
PS: Big thanks to Jack, Cheryl and Steven for the use of their images and photographic talent!