3/30/23 : Spring Camp Notes & Observations - Part Three of Three
A three part series on this year’s Phillies spring training, this is part three - minor league position players who stood out. If you missed part one here is a link - https://www.philliesbaseballfan.com/post/3-28-23-today-in-spring-training-camp
Here’s a link to part two - https://www.philliesbaseballfan.com/post/3-29-23-spring-camp-notes-observations-part-two-of-three
Our camp coverage started in January with the big league camp early arrivals activities concurrent to Minor League Mini Camp. We were afforded multiple opportunities throughout the past couple of months to interact and chat baseball with many Phillies folks, always appreciative of the chances to learn more about the game.
Position Players :
1B/OF Carlos De La Cruz - - 23 years old - Birthdate : 10/6/99 - signed 8/23/17 as an un -drafted free agent - Yonkers, New York - When we first saw him hit on the backfields in 2017 we remarked how the ball jumped off his bat - it makes that special baseball sound that results from the barreling of the ball on the sweet spot. He can drive baseballs high and deep into the sky. He had a breakout season last year which concluded with being part of a championship team in the Arizona Fall League. This spring he continued to impress and got big league staff exposure (appeared in ten Grapefruit League games). On the backfields he earned the 2023 Larry Rojas award, Carlos is 6’8” and very athletic, he’s capable of playing all three outfield positions and is a very good defender, runs well and has a plus arm. When the need arose last season at Jersey Shore he also began playing first base which continued in the AFL and then thru this year’s training camps. While he’s still learning the first base position he has made a great deal of progress compared to when we first saw him there in regards to footwork at the bag, fielding ground balls and adjusting his arm slot on infield throws. What’s next - a return to Reading where he will be a middle of the order presence and see time at both 1B and the outfield.
IF Hao Yu Lee - 20 years old - 2B/SS/3B - Birthdate : 2/3/03 - signed as an international free agent 6/15/21 - New Taipei, Taiwan - He is a fun player to watch, his baseball instincts and IQ are very good and he can flat out rake (right handed hitter), we first saw Lee in 2021 FCL action - he’s got a quick swing that also generates plenty of bat speed to drive the baseball. The young man from Taiwan has a competitive fire and passion for the game that shines thru. He displays a lot of joy playing and from what we’ve observed has the skill set to continue the climb upwards. Lee attended Fall Instructs, High Performance Camp and Mini Camp before continuing thru spring training, it’s easy to see that he loves playing baseball and has a competitive fire that fuels his desire to excel and win. We noted that once more in yesterday’s game when during an AB the umpire rang him up on what seemed to be a pitch below the zone - it bugged Lee that he lost an AB to a call however he didn’t carry it with him defensively the next half inning, was an example of his understanding to not let things linger. In many folks minds the young man is the best hitter in the system, I can attest to his plate coverage and skill set from multiple observations - he is very good. What’s next - should continue to rise in 2023 - Reading is certainly within reach, will start with Jersey Shore and see extensive time at second base along with innings on the left side of the diamond as well.
OF Justin Crawford - 19 years old - Birthdate : 1/13/04 - 2022 1st round draft selection - Bishop Gorman High School, Las Vegas, NV -a big time burner 💨 - Can flat out fly - strong bat to ball skills and an ability to square up line drives - is lean but will grow into his body and add muscle with continuing strength and conditioning work. Defensively is very skilled - runs good routes, gets quick jumps and has a very strong arm which we’ve seen on display both in drills and game action. We’ve found him to be pleasant and interactive. Has the toolset to advance high up the chain and from what we’ve seen has on a strong character - solid baseline for success. Speed is his initial calling card both offensively and in the field, has an elite skill in that regard, we can also see an offensive projection where he will begin to drive the ball with more authority, has a quick and easy swing that when coupled with his ability to run bodes well, the saying goes that speed doesn’t go into slumps 🤓 - from what we’ve observed Justin has a very good chance to become a top of the order presence. What’s next - will be the center fielder for Clearwater on opening day, likely plays most if not all the season as a Thresher given his age and this being his first full year as a pro.
OF Johan Rojas - 22 years old - OF - Birthdate : 8/14/00 - signed as an international free agent - 1/18/18 - San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic - the mercurial young man swiped 75 bases last season between High A Jersey Shore , AA Reading and the Arizona Fall League - was caught only 5 times. Johan is also an outstanding defender, there’s seemingly no fly ball he can’t get to and he also has an exceptional throwing arm. Routes and reads off the bat are top drawer, showed that on multiple occasions this spring in Grapefruit League games as well as on the backfields. Offensively he generally makes hard contact and has shown the ability to drive the ball, the improvement focus is on more plate discipline and better pitch selection - his outstanding eye to hand coordination allows him to get his bat on pitches most cannot which is both a blessing and hindrance as he’s ultra aggressive and sometimes gets himself out going after poor pitches to hit. Turns singles into doubles with his wheels. He generally plays with an unbridled passion and flare - something ( the flare ) that may not be as welcomed by “traditional” baseball folks. He brings an energy to the field, to me that’s a great thing to have on any team. Was added to the 40 man roster on 11/15/22 - can be a special player, we felt that the first time we saw him play in the GCL at the complex and had our initial chat - very pleasant and likable young man. What’s next - returns to Reading to start the season as the everyday center fielder and likely lead off hitter. Will be a big leaguer at some point.
OF Cade Fergus - 22 years old - Birthdate : 8/22/00 - 2022 13th round draft selection - George Washington University -
One scout who saw him play in college said that Cade was the best defensive center fielder that he saw on the 2022 college circuit. Speed (prevailing thing with our outfielders) is his asset along with offensive pull side power that we’ve seen multiple times this spring, we witnessed over and again that he can turn on the best of fastballs, hit a grand slam against the Tigers in Grapefruit League action on 3/16/23. Has tools to reach the top rung and a winner’s attitude - gets after it even when no one is watching except folks like myself and the coaches - evidenced that this spring in practices, drills and back field games. He’s a smart player who does the little things that win games, an example was a play where he backed up a fielding partner, jumped on an errant ball in play and nailed a runner attempting to advance an extra bag, heady ball player. What’s next - likely to begin the year with the Threshers with a path to promotion in view.
OF Jordan Viars - 19 years old - Birthdate : 7/18/03 - 2021 3rd round draft selection - Reedy High School , Frisco, TX - quick bat and easy power. Attacks the baseball. He’s a powerfully built young man that plays the game as if his hair is on fire - all out all the time. Patience is a work in progress as he pushes himself to excel, he’s intense - in a live BP this spring he crushed a baseball well beyond the right field fence on Schmidt Field, an instructor chided him that it was ok to smile after hitting one that far which brought a wide smile. Very like-able young man. The hit tool is his ticket - he caught fire in the minor league spring training games this past week, coming off a 4 for 4 game on 3/29 he’s posted a .600 batting average (12 for 20) with two home runs in those contests. Defensively he has better speed than one might think - once he’s going he’s like a very fast tank approaching - we’ve seen him in the corner outfield spots and at first base - there’s a bit of rawness at both but that will be refined - has athleticism to develop into a decent defender. What’s next - will be with the Clearwater Threshers on opening day with opportunities to continue to mash the baseball.
OF Leandro Pineda - 20 years old - Birthdate : 6/4/02 - signed as an international free agent - 7/6/18 - Valencia, Venezuela
Left handed hitter and thrower - has good speed, corner defender. Angular build - 6’1” frame - has had a very solid spring camp including going 2 for 3 in five Grapefruit League games with a home run. On the backfields he’s stood out in both practices and games, has the look and approach of someone who will succeed, another player that you can tell truly loves playing the game and gets after it. Quick hands and a buggy whip swing that drives the baseball - good plate coverage and pitch recognition for such a young player. Turns on inside fastballs with ease. Has a chance to be a very productive player at the upper levels and in the show. What’s next - begins the year with Jersey Shore as a lineup regular - one to watch this season, could be a special one.
SS Pedro Martinez - 22 years old - Birthdate : 1/28/01 - selected in minor league rule five draft on 12/7/22 from Tampa Rays organization - Porlamar, Venezuela -originally signed with the Cubs in the 2017-2018 international signing period. Known for an outstanding attitude and a good balanced swing - he’s a switch hitter with noted bat to ball skills. That’s been evident this spring, very engaging teammate that has impressed with his take charge approach in the field. He appeared in eleven Grapefruit League games. Defensively he’s been sporadic this spring however we believe that a skill set is there which can play, strong arm and good instincts. Offensively we’ve seen a line drive center of the field approach, looks like a player. What’s next - likely breaks camp as a member of the AA level Reading middle infield crew, should see action at both second base and shortstop.
SS Bryan Rincon - 19 years old - SS - Birthdate : 2/8/04 - 2022 14th round draft selection - Shaler Area High School, Pittsburgh, PA - we first saw him on the backfields last summer in FCL games and were impressed by his ability to hit the baseball beyond the fences of the expansive complex fields, the stats didn’t jump out but the abilities sure did. This year he has had a great spring camp all around - in the minor league spring training games he’s went 12 for 23 (.522) with 4 doubles and a triple. He’s a switch hitter, has great baseball instincts, quick hands - the ability to drive the baseball is impressive - generates a lot of bat speed - baseball jumps off the bat. Defensively he’s smooth and is well schooled at shortstop - arm strength, range and throwing accuracy has stood out. What’s next - from our view he’s earned a starting role to begin the season with the Clearwater Threshers.
OF Ethan Wilson - 23 years old - Birthdate : 11/7/99 - 2021 2nd round draft selection - South Alabama -He’s a good all around baseball player who posts everyday - when he barrels the ball it flys, has power however also has shown an ability to drive the ball to all fields and get on base. I see a glimpse of Matt Carpenter in his swing as a left handed hitter. Hard worker and coachable. Defensively is capable of playing either corner spot - will get to most balls - average thrower. The hit tool is his ticket - was red hot in both High Performance and Mini Camp as well as early on in spring training, he hit a grand slam in the opening Grapefruit League game on 2/26/23. He’s had a very solid spring camp, we feel he’s ready to role into the regular season and have a very strong season. What’s next - returns to Reading as a lineup regular.
1B Chad Castillo - 22 years old - 1B/OF - Birthdate : 4/19/00 - 2022 9th round draft selection - California Baptist - had a tremendous minor league spring training game on 3/29/23 against the Yankees going 3 for 4 with 2 home runs and 8 RBIs! Chad has posted a .421 batting average (8 for 19) in ST minor league games this year with 11 RBIs. He’s a solid left handed bat who has big pop, we like watching his BP sessions as he’s got a very balanced swing - there’s something about lefty hitters with simple thru the ball approaches that get baseball folks excited. Defensively he has transformed into a first baseman after playing corner outfield in college. He just seems like a good all around baseball player - what I’ve referred to in times past as a “cardinals type player” - knows how to play, makes very few mistakes and wins games. What’s next - seems likely to open the year as the regular first baseman at Clearwater.
OF Gabriel Rincones Jr - 21 years old - Birthdate : 3/3/01 - 2022 3rd round draft selection - Florida Atlantic University - has big time left handed power - hit a long home run in a Grapefruit League game on 3/17/23 against the Blue Jays. In minor league spring training games thus far he’s 6 for 20 (.300) with a home run. Defensively he’s an adequate outfielder but that’s not his calling card, the power swing definitely is. Gabriel went on the IL after signing last summer - played with a torn labrum his last season in college and still pounded 17 doubles and 19 home runs with a .346 average and .451 OBP in 288 PA’s. We saw him in BP for the first time in Fall Camp - ball absolutely flies off the bat with easy power - left handed hitter who drove multiple baseballs over the right field fence on Roberts Field and some into the tree line before the hill bank that leads up to Route 19. We approached him thereafter and told him it was both fun and exciting to watch - what we saw is a pure hitter - can drive the ball to any field - does so with authority repeatedly. What’s next - begins with Clearwater as a lineup regular - should be a fun team to watch, potentially very strong strong club offensively.
1B/3B/OF Felix Reyes - 22 years old - Birthdate : 3/26/01 - signed as an international free agent - 2/22/20 - Bani, Dominican Republic - has went 10 for 14 (.714) in Minor League Spring Training games thus far while learning a new defensive position (third base) - right handed hitter - enormous strength and power - when he connects the ball moves like a rocket. The primary development needs are consistent contact & pitch recognition. Felix, like most power bats, tends to get long in his swing and stride - he’s a big fella at 6’4”, physical tools are imposing - has a decent arm in the outfield but foot speed is a challenge in regards to range. It’s just that sound when a powerful hitter squares the ball up that gets ya off your feet to see how far it went that remains the intrigue - key question is can he be taught to use those tools to become a consistent threat. Can’t teach the strength he possesses. What’s next - could continue to work on learning third base in extended spring else join the Threshers for opening day.
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Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️
Bryan Rincon, Jordan Viars and Chad Castillo ( photos by Cheryl Pursell & Mark Wylie )