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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

9/19/22 : Arizona Fall League - Part Two - Position Players

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 the second part of the series on position players - if ya missed part one on the pitchers, here’s the link -

Position Players :

OF Johan Rojas - 22 years old - signed as an international free agent 1/18/18 - RH hitter - the mercurial young man from San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic has swiped 62 bases this season between High A Jersey Shore and AA Reading.  Johan is an outstanding defender in center field, 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.  Offensively he generally makes hard contact and has shown the ability to drive the ball however hitting is the part of his game that is the improvement focus.

Johan is not a punch hitter as I’ve heard some describe by any stretch of the imagination.  We’ve seen him club the ball and send it for distance.  With his running abilities any ball in the outfield gap has a chance to become a triple and any grounder presents a chance to be legged out for a single.  There’s not a lot of patience in his current approach as he’s a very aggressive hitter which has been a hindrance for a more consistent on base percentage but also is an asset from the perspective that he’s all out hustle all the time.   His swing can get long at times and he’s been prone to off speed deliveries down and out of the hitting zone but with more experience and coaching the talent as a hitter is there to be very productive.

He plays with an unbridled passion and flare - something ( the flare ) that may not be as welcomed by “traditional” baseball folks.  He has fun playing the game and brings an energy to the field just with his presence, to me that’s a great thing to have on any team.  This off season he will become Rule 5 eligible for the first time in his career, there’s no doubt that he would be selected  if exposed to the draft.   The AFL is an opportunity for Johan to showcase his abilities, there may be some struggles but I expect the shining moments to outweigh them.

Johan Rojas - photo by George Youngs Jr

OF/1B Carlos De La Cruz - 22 years old - signed as an un-drafted free agent 8/23/17 - RH hitter - Carlos is having easily his best season as he’s posted 22 doubles, 17 home runs and 47 RBIs in 102 games between Jersey Shore and Reading.  Just last year we saw him in Extended Spring Training awaiting an opportunity and opening with a full season squad.   Even this season plate appearances were limited in April and May but when the opportunity for more playing time presented itself in June and July he took off - especially in July when he won the system’s Player of the Month Award.

Carlos is 6’8” and very athletic.  He’s played all three outfield positions in his brief pro career to date and recently added first base to the mix.  It’s expected that 1B will be where he’s gonna see most of his action in the AFL.  When we first saw him hit on the backfields multiple folks remarked how the ball jumps off his bat - it makes that special baseball loud sound that results from the barreling of the ball on the sweet spot.  He can drive baseballs high and deep into the sky.

While we saw the power we also saw a tendency for a longer swing and when he struggled it was usually as a result of being tied up from our view.  This season he’s gotten much quicker and has developed a shorter swing that pushes the ball where it’s pitched albeit we’ve seen inside out flares to right field as well that in our opinion he couldn’t deliver in years past.  On one of his home runs this year that we observed he took an outside pitch the opposite way over the right field fence with a limited extension - pushed thru the ball and it jumped out of the yard on a line - indicative of how strong this young man is.

I’d imagine that there have been prior discussions when he’s not produced numbers on what his future may be but this season Carlos has not only put himself in the positive limelight he’s also stepped up chatter as to what role he might play in the future show.  He’s also Rule 5 eligible - how he plays in the AFL will help determine draft status this off-season.  The young man works hard and we’re very happy for his success this season - good people deserve good things to happen for them.

Carlos De La Cruz - photo by George Youngs Jr

OF Jhailyn Ortiz - 23 years old - signed 7/10/15 as an international free agent from Dominican Republic - Jhailyn has followed up a 23 home run output in 2021 with 19 dingers this season.  It’s also his first full year at the AA level and as a member of the 40 man roster.  He’s produced more doubles this season ( 25 ) than in any prior year in his career but also also reverted to incurring more strikeouts than he did in 2021 - often times on chases outside of the zone on breaking pitches.

Pitch recognition and reaction has been a limitation to date for Jhailyn in his career, initially a vision issue hampered him but that’s been corrected, now it’s a matter of adjustment.  He can crush fastballs and has prestigious power - that’s always been evident from our early days of watching him soar long drives into the trees beyond the left field fence on Roberts Field.

Defensively he’s got a big league arm, can throw the ball extremely well and loves the challenge to show it off.  He moves quite well for a big fella and can play all three outfield positions however center field is not a likely higher level position.  We’ve seen more fielding errors from Jhailyn this year than before - especially on misplayed grounders that have gotten by him.

We think the assignment to the AFL is a chance to re-focus and bring to light the upside potential, the tools are there - can be a good defensive player and certainly has the power bat to shine - we’ve seen the ability to be disciplined in approach before so know that it’s there - perhaps that can come to fruition again in Arizona.

Jhailyn Ortiz - photo by George Youngs Jr

UTL Dalton Guthrie - 26 years old - 2017 6th round draft choice - University of Florida - Dalton is currently on the major league roster and made a spectacular play in the recent Atlanta series when he ran 124 feet to chase down a fly ball in foul territory along the right field line from his defensive position in right field.  It was symbolic of what we’ve seen from him all season and for that matter his entire career for those who’ve watched - an all out effort, never give up approach - his attitude is exemplary.

We’ve had the good fortune of chatting with Dalton on multiple occasions at the complex, he’s always had a great focus on succeeding even in the down times when we saw him at times in rehab work from injuries.  Offensively things started to turn for him during July of 2021 shortly after being promoted to the AAA level for the first time - he posted a .354 batting average in 79 AB’s but then lost time to injury ( oblique ) and didn’t return to Lehigh Valley till late August.

This spring training he volunteered for a different role with the Iron Pigs with a concerted effort to transition to the outfield.  He played sparingly in April but still posted a .395 average in 38 AB’s - as the season progressed so did his playing time and he excelled.  He had a system leading 27 doubles and .302 batting average when he was promoted to the major leagues for the first time on September 4th.  Thus far in the show he’s 5 for 9 in five games played.

Dalton was chosen for the AFL assignment before his big league promotion and it’s seemingly uncertain whether he will participate as the big club continues to battle for a playoff spot.  Instead he may remain on the major league active roster to finish the season and perhaps remain with the club should they make the playoffs.  In either case we will see the same positive battle to the end and leave nothing behind approach we’ve witnessed since he’s arrived in the organization - the never give up attitude and play like your hair is on fire work ethic is contagious - he’s a big leaguer and always knew it.

Dalton Guthrie - photo by Cheryl Pursell

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