This year’s Phillies contingent will be part of the Surprise Saguaros combining with members of the Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers. Each team normally has the opportunity to send seven players - four pitchers and three position players.
Last year the Phillies contingent comprised of pitchers Damon Jones, Hans Crouse, James McArthur and Erik Miller alongside position players Logan O’Hoppe, Bryson Stott and Simon Muzziotti.
This year’s group will be pitchers Brett Schulze, Francisco Morales, Taylor Lehman & Cristian Hernandez with position players Carlos De La Cruz, Johan Rojas & Jhailyn Ortiz. Dalton Guthrie was also selected to go but that seemingly will be pending the Phillies end of season and potential playoff roster.
The league starts on October 3rd with the regular season ending on November 10th.
Here’s a look at this year’s pitchers - will write up the position players and post later as part two of the series :
RH Francisco Morales - 22 years old - signed as an international free agent on 7/2/16 - no one doubts the quality of the pitch repertoire that Francisco possesses, his slider is truly a major league weapon and capabilities of fastball velocity in the upper nineties are what make the well liked young man so intriguing. The club moved him exclusively to the bullpen this season so that he could focus primarily on the slider and it got him to the big leagues in May.
The primarily issues that Francisco has battled throughout his career are both control and command related. Even when we first saw him on the backfields and marveled at the “stuff” he often was inconsistent in his ability to throw strikes. This year the player development emphasis in pitching has been on trusting your stuff and letting pitch movement override necessarily “pitching to spots” which for Francisco is a great approach however struggles still have continued.
From my perspective it’s not been an arm slot issue as much for him as it has been remaining consistent with his follow thru to the plate, from what I’ve seen he tends to either fall off glove side else flatten and remain high arm side when he struggles, it’s a “uncompetitive ball out of the hand” dilemma that we see. When he remains “square to the catcher” and pushes thru on plain he’s very effective. Also knowing and trusting both the slider and heater as equals is a necessity, in our opinion, to success.
The hope is that the AFL will provide a challenge to Francisco, his personality is that he responds well to those. Perhaps being surrounded by other pitchers with similar abilities will unlock the potential we all see is there. He’s very capable of getting any hitter he faces out - there’s been runs in his career to date that’s shown that. At just 22 years of age the baseball future can be very bright when that light bulb goes off and continues to shine.
Francisco Morales - photo by Cheryl Pursell
LH Taylor Lehman - 26 years old - signed as an un-drafted free agent 6/18/18 - Taylor had Tommy John surgery in June of 2021, he returned to game action in July of 2022 initially with the FCL Phillies eventually working his way back to Reading where he’s appeared in 14 games ( 4 as an opener ) and has posted a 3.66 ERA in 19 2/3 IP - however that number is inflated by one bad outing on August 27th when he was touched for six runs in 2/3 IP - in the other 13 appearances his ERA is a minuscule 0.95.
When he was at the complex earlier this year his velocity had ticked up on his fastball to the 93 to 95 mph range and he was developing a slider to go along with a curve and change up. Since his return he’s worked out of the bullpen making spot starts as an opener and usually going two innings - back before the surgery he had pitched both as a starter and reliever.
At 6’8” - using his length as a strength - and being left handed there’s a path to the show - the AFL assignment is a testament to the Player Development organizational belief that he can. It’s also a chance to extend his innings accumulation for the season. He’s Rule 5 draft eligible this off-season so a look in the AFL will help determine the decision to protect or expose Taylor to the draft.
Taylor Lehman - photo by George Youngs Jr
RH Brett Schulze - 24 years old - 2019 seventh round draft selection - University of Minnesota - Brett also had Tommy John surgery, he missed the entirety of the 2021 season and in fact hadn’t appeared in a pro game since pitching for Williamsport in 2019. We saw multiple bullpens and live BP sessions this spring before he returned to game action on July 2nd with the FCL Phillies.
He’s a power pitcher with his fastball sitting in the mid nineties and he has shown the ability to reach the upper ranges - he’s tightened up his initial secondary offering to being more of a hard slider than slurve but still has a curve ball in reserve to use against lefties. Brett has pitched very well during his return - since August 1st he’s been particularly strong - a 1.72 ERA in 15 2/3 IP between Jersey Shore and Reading. During the recovery period he also spent a good bit of time in the weight room, he’s no longer the lean youngster we saw arrive at the Complex back in 2019.
His choice for the AFL roster is two-fold, one to continue to build up innings and more importantly to see how he performs against multiple future major league candidates. With a strong showing a spring invite to big league camp should be in the offing.
Brett Schulze - photo by Mark Wylie
RH Cristian Hernandez - 21 years old - signed as an international free agent 7/9/17 - we just saw Cristian at the complex on Friday and didn’t realize he was selected for the AFL until later. This year has been a bit unusual for him, in spring training he struggled to find consistency and pitches we saw were flatter than what we’ve witnessed in times past. He opened the year with Jersey Shore as part of the starting rotation but wasn’t effective prompting a move to the pen initially as a bulk reliever.
The role change resulted in success as he posted a 1.54 ERA in six July appearances ( 11 2/3 IP ) with a focus on simplicity in both approach and mix. Over the course of the remaining season Cristian yielded no runs in 15 of his 19 relief appearances.
He has a three pitch mix with the fastball when it’s right generally sitting 94-95 along with a curve and changeup. All three have been quality pitches for him and he’s normally got both good control and command. Cristian is just 21 years old but will be Rule 5 eligible this off-season, he’s likely the designated starting pitcher in the Phillies AFL contingent ( each club has to to send at least one starter ). Up until this season he’s always been a starter and given his youth that’s certainly could be in his future as well.
Seeing how he performs in the AFL will help guide the Rule 5 decision in November, there’s a capability here to develop into a viable big league hurler. He will get after it - not one who lets a situation become overwhelming - should be fun to watch.
Cristian Hernandez - photo by Michael Dolcemascolo
Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️