6/23/23 : Second Half Re-Start
Updated: Jun 24
Minor league baseball leagues divide their seasons into halves for playoff qualifying both to maintain fan interest and to account for the roster changes that are often quite frequent during a season. It’s highly unlikely that the first half of the season team composition is the end of season group that participates in the post season competition. The second half of the season is a re-set where each club starts anew with a fresh chance of gaining a playoff berth. If the team that won the first half of the season, like the Clearwater Threshers did this year in the Florida State League, also wins the second half title the a second team still qualifies with the team with the next best overall season record making the playoffs as their divisional playoff counterpart.
For the four Phillies affiliates the second half of the season starts at different times, the class A level Jersey Shore BlueClaws and Clearwater Threshers commence the split season today on June 23rd while the Triple A (Lehigh Valley) and Double A (Reading) clubs begin the second half on June 28th.
In the midst of the second half the annual MLB amateur draft will take place from July 9th to July 11th which will also be followed by multiple amateur free agent signings of players who didn’t get drafted. All of these new players are excluded from the Minor League under control limits (180 players) until 15 days have elapsed from the date of their contract signing or when the player has first appeared in a season game, whichever occurs first. The new signees will take part in a mini camp at the Clearwater complex in mid to late July during their roster grace period and then will be dispatched accordingly to finish out the 2023 regular season, some of whom will likely appear in the Florida State League playoffs the Threshers have already qualified for.
And then there’s the MLB trade deadline which occurs on August 1st. The Phillies may be looking to add to the big club which means that our minor league players will continue to be closely monitored by scouts from other organizations and it’s likely a few will move to new opportunities elsewhere. From my perspective as a Phillies minor league advocate and writer I’m happy for the fellas to get chances to advance in other organizations that perhaps they may not get here, it’s all part of the business.
Here’s an update from my last review in mid May on where the affiliates stand and which players continue to shine and thus might become trade pieces.
AAA Lehigh Valley :
The Iron Pigs have hovered around the .500 mark most of the first half, even their run differential of plus nine is relatively even. Two players have significantly stood out offensively, outfielder Simon Muzziotti is second in the International League in hitting (to qualify, a player must have 2.7 plate appearances per team game played) with a .355 batting average in 234 AB’s and is second in hits (83). It’s by far the best season the 24 year old Venezuelan has had in his seven year career. Simon doesn’t walk or strikeout much, he puts the ball in play, really good hand-eye coordination. He can drive the baseball and has 19 extra base hits this season. Very good defender as well who hits exclusively from the left side of the dish. Big league skills, at the least a fourth outfielder at the next level and in the right situation a top of the order contributor.
Jake Cave has been the consummate pro, he posted three hits on April 29th for the Phillies against Houston and was optioned a couple days later, didn’t sulk, just went about his business. The 30 year old has put up stellar numbers at LHV, leading the league with a .384 batting average and has a .458 OBP, a league leading slugging percentage (.750) and OPS (1.208) in 190 plate appearances with 27 doubles (leads league), 11 home runs and 40 RBIs. He’s better than what some term a “Quad A” player but finding a niche with a big league club hasn’t afforded itself into an extended stay to date. His attitude, approach and demeanor are exemplary, has been a very deserving lineup regular with the IronPigs who when/if afforded a chance once again at the major league level brings a whole lot of intangibles to a team that correlate to winning ways.
Darick Hall and Rafael Marchan were recently taken off the 60 day IL and added to the LHV roster, both bring major league skills to the equation and will appear as lineup regulars. Darick, in my opinion, is a better option at first base for the Phillies than what they have now because he can generate power and is a run producer (has been throughout his career). After he gets in a rhythm with more AB’s under his belt it’s gonna be tough to deny him a big league role. That could even come elsewhere as a potential trade piece.
The remaining position player depth at the AAA level is built well, infielders Scott Kingery, Weston Wilson, Drew Ellis and Esteban Quiroz provide capable play as do outfielders Jordan Quiroz, Dustin Peterson and Cal Stevenson. Aramis Garcia and John Hicks do so at the catching position.
Starting pitching hasn’t been a team strength in the first half however Bailey Falter continues to work towards returning to form and Nick Nelson is back from injury. The bullpen has pitchers who have performed at the big league level before and could do so again, it’s been a relative strength for the Phillies thus far else pitchers such as Andrew Bellatti, Connor Brogdon, Jeremy Walker, Luis Ortiz and Trey Cobb might already be in the show, add in additional veterans such as Jacob Barnes, Ben Bowden and Jesus Cruz along with home grown products Taylor Lehman and recently returned Francisco Morales and the bullpen depth is pretty strong.
AA Reading :
The first half for Reading has been one of strong offensive performance as the team leads the Eastern League in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS, they also have posted more hits than any other league team. A slow start to the season along with pitching inconsistency, especially in holding leads, has been the primary reason the club has played below .500 baseball. They recorded a 6-14 record in April and have gone 21-24 since. There’s plenty of talent which draws the attention of rival scouts, this is a club that could produce a complete turnaround in the second half and be very much in the mix for a playoff spot.
Center fielder Johan Rojas has had a great season thus far, he’s hitting .326 (2nd in the league) in 267 AB’s and leads the league in hits (87), runs (tied with teammate Carlos De La Cruz with 48), triples (4) and is 5th in stolen bases with 24. Some may still be skeptical about his offensive prowess however for those of us that watch daily we can attest that all those numbers are legit, as we’ve stated since we first saw him on the backfields he’s a big league talent, especially defensively, simply put he’s elite as a center field defender. In this writer’s opinion Rojas can be a very good everyday player in the major leagues, he’s just 22 years old and has a very bright future ahead of him, whether that’s with the Phillies or elsewhere remains to be seen.
Carlos De La Cruz is currently riding a 36 game on base streak. He’s posted a .299 batting average in 264 AB’s and .367 OBP to date in 294 plate appearances with 12 doubles, 14 home runs and 37 RBIs. Carlos has split time defensively in the outfield and at first base, at 6’8” I’m reminiscent of a comparison to former Phillie John Mayberry Jr however I think Carlos is more athletic and possesses more power than big John displayed. Carlos is a very good defensive outfielder and has gotten better at first base with more reps there, he’s played himself into “prospect” consideration and certainly warrants consideration for promotion, he’s 23 years old.
Matt Kroon suffered a season ending knee injury last year and spent the year rehabbing. He’s always shown the ability to hit the baseball, turned heads in that regard during 2022 spring training camp when he spent time in big league camp. This season he’s hitting .320 with a .394 OBP in 236 plate appearances, he hit .301 at Reading with a .361 OBP in 2021 in 181 PA’s.
Others who’ve been solid offensively this season for Reading include infielders Oliver Dunn, Madison Stokes and Nick Podkul and outfielder Ethan Wilson. Shortstop Casey Martin was recently promoted from Jersey Shore where he recorded his best numbers to date. Baron Radcliff has returned from an early season shoulder injury, he brings a power bat to the equation as does Jhailyn Ortiz who was transferred from Lehigh Valley last week to learn a new position, first base. Scoring runs for this group should continue to be a strong suit going forward.
On the pitching side there’s plenty to like even though the numbers don’t reflect that. Starters Mick Abel, Tyler Phillips and Griff McGarry all possess big league skill sets. It’s a matter of finding consistency for each, they’ve had great outings but then not so great ones as well. Phillips, for example, in his last two outings has pitched 12 innings allowing just one run on five hits with thirteen strikeouts. The same can be said for the bullpen, big arms such as Andrew Baker, Brett Schulze, Andrew Schultz and Max Kuhns have shown flashes of dominance but have been very inconsistent. I’m confident they will find it and when they do watch out, can be very good. There are two relievers that have posted very good numbers, Cristian Hernandez has a 2.36 ERA in 18 appearances (26 2/3 IP) with 31 K’s and 8 walks while Tyler McKay has taken over the closer’s role with a 2.70 ERA in 20 appearances (23 1/3 IP) with 28 K’s and 10 walks.
High A Jersey Shore :
The BlueClaws ended the first half with a winning record of 35-30 and similar to Lehigh Valley have been relatively even in run differential currently standing at plus five. They are second in the South Atlantic League as a team in OBP and in walks, getting runners on base hasn’t been an issue, scoring them has. Pitching has at times been excellent however consistency has been a collective struggle.
Lefty starters Matt Osterberg and Jordan Fowler have both pitched well. Osterberg went seven innings in each of his last two games yielding just three runs and Fowler has a 2.83 ERA in eleven starts (54 IP). Orion Kerkering has been outstanding out of the bullpen, he’s got a 1.65 ERA for the BlueClaws in 14 games (16 1/3 IP) with 25 K’s and just six walks, a major league level slider and fastball for the 22 year old right hander, both put away pitches. Tommy McCollum also has a big league mix (upper 90’s FB & splitter) as a backend reliever, he’s a strikeout machine (42 K’s in 24 1/3 IP) who just needs to harness control to advance. I’ve always like both Carlos Francisco and Jordi Martinez in regards to their stuff, each has performed well this season in reliever roles. Others out of the pen whom we feel have the goods to advance include Tristan Garnett, Matt Russell, Jason Ruffcorn, Cam Wynne and Rodolfo Sanchez. Coming into this season I felt the bullpen would be a strength for Jersey Shore and for the most part it has, added to the mix recently were Wesley Moore and Jack Dallas who both excelled at Clearwater, makes the group even stronger for the second half.
Reserve infielder Wilfredo Flores has always hit well when given the chance to play, he’s posted a .321 batting average in 131 AB’s and can play multiple defensive positions including the outfield. Wilfredo has a career .299 batting average in 820 AB’s. First baseman Rixon Wingrove has had a solid year with a .274 batting average and .350 OBP in 246 PA’s with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs, the fun loving Aussie basically plays baseball year around and can hit the ball as far as anyone when he connects. Marcus Lee Sang has played outstanding defense in the outfield (left & center) and has good offensive numbers to boot, he generates big time bat speed and has displayed a patient approach drawing 43 walks posting a .398 OBP, he can sting it when the pitch is in the zone as well and possesses good speed to boot. Nick Ward has been a team leader in on base percentage with a .397 mark in 254 PA’s drawing 42 walks and posting 50 hits. Hao Yu Lee recently returned from injury rehab and hopefully Kendall Simmons will soon follow - both have offensive skill sets that can take them to the top of the rung, just need to accumulate reps. Gabriel Rincones Jr and Erick Brito are recent promotions from Clearwater where they stood out, each has the capability to continue that. Jared Carr and Leandro Pineda don’t have big numbers but we’ve seen flashes of what they each can do. Catchers Caleb Ricketts and Anthony Quirion are presently on rehab assignment but should return soon for the second half, both are team leaders who can also put up offensive numbers.
Low A Clearwater :
Clearwater ran away with the first half Florida State League Western Division title posting a 44-21 record (.677 winning percentage). Each game it seemed a different player stepped to the forefront and delivered. The pitching has been very good as the staff led the league in lowest batting average against (.226) and fewest hits allowed. Offensively they’ve stood out leading the league in hits, runs, RBIs, stolen bases, batting average and OBP. Just a very strong collective group and first half performance. Four players were promoted to Jersey Shore after the first half was clinched (Gabriel Rincones Jr, Erick Brito, Wesley Moore and Jack Dallas) with Orion Kerkering and Caleb Ricketts having been previously promoted.
Outfielder Justin Crawford leads the Florida State League in batting average, (to qualify, a player must have 2.7 plate appearances per team game played), with a .345 mark in 174 AB’s, he’s second in the league in stolen bases with 31 and has a .398 OBP. The mercurial 19 year old has also played great defensively in center field and has certainly performed at the level a team number one draft pick is expected to. A very dynamic player who as he adds strength will get even better at driving the ball. Fellow 19 year old outfielder Emaarion Boyd leads the league and the organization with 36 stolen bases and has posted a .388 OBP in 197 PA’s, he’s also shown strong defensive prowess playing mostly left field with occasional time in center, great speed and throwing arm, both he and Justin are slender young men but have already added muscle since we first saw them and with continued work with the excellent Phillies training staff will fill out their frames, two exciting young players to see continue develop who’ve already had good success in just their first full year of pro ball.
There’s plenty of other young talent on the Threshers roster, recently 18 year old infielder William Bergolla was added and he’s gotten off to a fast start hitting .314 in his first 35 AB’s. Shortstop Bryan Rincon (19 yrs old), Catcher Jordan Dissin (21 yrs old) and outfielder Jordan Viars (19 yrs old) are all lineup regulars and have had their shining moments. Infielder Otto Kemp had a long on base streak and has played solid baseball during the first half. Felix Reyes was promoted from the FCL Phillies and has posted a .300 batting average with three home runs and 20 RBIs in his first 90 AB’s. Outfielder Cade Fergus has also had standout moments in the first half.
On the pitching side there’s plenty to like. Lefty starter Samuel Aldegheri has been solid with a 3.83 ERA in eleven appearances (47 IP). power arm Alex McFarlane continues to hone his craft as a starter and has posted a 3.68 ERA in his eleven starts (44 IP), he’s got elite stuff, just needs innings and experience. Estibenzon Jimenez, Jonathan Petit, Gabriel Cotto, Braeden Fausnaught and Jean Cabrera have all shown flashes of their skill sets as starters, working to build consistency which is what we do in the minor leagues. Wen Hui Pan (1.64 ERA in 14 appearances, 36 K’s, 11 walks) has been outstanding as a bulk reliever, the 20 year old has big time velocity and is working on refining his secondaries, in particular a splitter. Jonh Henriquez has also pitched very well as a multi inning reliever in his 17 appearances (3.43 ERA in 39 1/3 IP), he’s got great movement on his pitches as witnessed by his 36 K’s but needs to reel in control. Andrew Walling is a power arm lefty reliever that has caught scouts eyes, he’s posted a 2.20 ERA in 20 appearances (28 2/3 IP) with 38 K’s, he too sometimes battles control however the stuff is dominant.
Continued success in the second half for this group seems likely.
FCL Phillies :
The past few times I was at the complex for games there were multiple scouts in attendance, it’s especially the case when the Threshers are at home and they can watch the FCL guys mid day and the Threshers squad that evening. Two position players of note that have generated a bit of interest - both nineteen year olds. Nineteen year old outfielder Raylin Heredia has a complete toolset of skills and has posted very good numbers to date, he was well known to scouts already as he was the Dominican Summer League playoff MVP last season for the league champion Phillies White squad. Leonardo Rondon is also 19 years old and has displayed strong bat to ball skills coupled with defensive versatility (1B,2B,3B,C), his baseball savvy, field presence and all out commitment stand out, he’s a winning player with skills, who wouldn’t like that! On the pitching side young arms like Mavis Graves, Enrique Segura, Daniel Mejia and Jose Pena Jr draw interest.
Phillies League Leaders :
AAA International League :
Jake Cave - First in Batting Average, OBP, Slugging Pct., OPS, Doubles
Simon Muzziotti - 2nd in Batting Average
AA Eastern League :
Johan Rojas - First in Hits, Runs, Triples, second in Batting Average
Carlos De La Cruz - tied for 1st in Runs
Mick Abel - 2nd in lowest batting average against
High A :
Nick Ward - second in Runs, 4th in walks, 7th in OBP
Rixon Wingrove - second in HR, third in RBIs
Marcus Lee Sang - second in walks, 6th in OBP
Low A :
Justin Crawford - First in Batting Average, second in stolen bases, 5th in triples
Emaarion Boyd - First in stolen bases
Jonh Henriquez - First in Wins
Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️
Photos by Cheryl Pursell, George Youngs Jr, Michael Dolcemascolo, Mark Wylie, Casey Burns and Rebecca Alexander
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