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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

9/2/23 : 2023 Paul Owens Award Nominations

Since 1986 the Phillies have honored the annual top player and pitcher in their minor league system. The award is named in memory of Paul Owens, a Phillies legend who spent  48 years in the Phillies organization as a scout, farm director, general manager, manager and senior advisor.  Last year 1B Darick Hall & RHP Andrew Painter were the award recipients.

The Phillies have just two regular season home stands remaining (9/8 to 9/13 and 9/21 to 9/28) and the award winners are usually brought to CBP along with their families to receive the prize.  The Single A teams end their regular season on 9/10, AA Reading concludes on 9/17 and AAA Lehigh Valley on 9/24.

I’ve been writing about Phillies Player Development since the beginning of 2015,(nine years 😳), during that time amongst the fifteen recipients of the award ten have or are currently playing in the major leagues - eight award winners from those years are still members of the Phillies organization (Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, David Parkinson, Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott, Jean Cabrera, Darick Hall and Andrew Painter).

Here’s my somewhat early nominations (just seven/eight games left in the lower levels regular season and less than a month left in AAA) for this year’s Paul Owens Awards.

Pitcher of the Year :

RH Orion Kerkering - 22 years old, 5th round draft selection (2022) from South Florida - pitched at three levels as a shut the door back end reliever with Clearwater, Jersey Shore and Reading.  Has two plus pitches, an upper nineties fastball and a wipeout slider.  Dominated the A levels, in thirty and two-third innings (twenty-seven games) posted a 1.17 ERA with forty-five strikeouts and just seven walks, a WHIP of 0.717.  He has continued to excel at Reading where in sixteen games (sixteen IP) he’s recorded a 2.81 ERA along with twenty-three strikeouts and just five walks.  Has definitely put himself in a position for a big league spring training invitation next year and potentially becoming a major league contributor in 2024.

LH Wesley Moore - 23 years old, signed as an un-drafted free agent 11/9/22 - Kansas State - from Surrey, Canada - attended and played for Vauxhall High School in Vauxhall, Alberta, Canada as well as the Team Canada Junior National Team, pitched in the 18U World Cup.  Wesley dominated Low A batters at Clearwater posting a 0.72 ERA in seventeen games (twenty five innings pitched) with thirty-nine strikeouts and twelve walks, a 1.04 WHIP.  Was promoted to Jersey Shore on 6/13/23 and has continued to excel - a 1.91 ERA in twenty-five games (twenty-eight and one-third innings) with forty strikeouts and fifteen walks.  Opponents are hitting a collective .177 against him for the season.  He features a plus changeup that he will throw at any point in the count, it’s swing and miss quality.  Sinking fastball generally is in the 91 to 94 mph range and he also will throw a slider/curve.  Pitched in the collegiate West Coast League in 2022 where former Phillies minor league pitching coordinator and legend Carlos Arroyo was a coach.  The young man tackles each situation head on and usually delivers in the clutch from what we’ve heard from folks who witnessed him pitch as an amateur, we saw the same this season, his first as a pro.  Many foresee a future major league contributor.

LH Tristan Garnett - 25 years old, signed as an un-drafted free agent 7/20/21 - Cal State Dominguez Hills - put away pitch is his changeup, excellent deception and vertical movement. Tristan hails from the Portland, Oregon area and was a starter in both high school and college however has made an outstanding transition to a multi inning reliever.  His release point comes on a downhill plane, he’s 6’6” - his changeup exits from the same arm slot as the heater and shows no slowing of his arm motion.  We’ve seen the fastball up to 94 mph this summer, generally in the 91 to 93 mph range, with a differential of over ten mph on the change it’s more than enough to be successful at the upper levels.  Tristan will also throw a curve and slider to keep batters honest.  This season at Jersey Shore he recorded a 2.39 ERA in thirty-four appearances, thirty-seven and two-third innings with thirty-six strikeouts and fifteen walks, a 1.06 WHIP and .191 batting average against. Was promoted to Reading on 8/4/23 and has excelled to date, a 0.84 ERA in nine appearances (ten and two-thirds innings) with sixteen strikeouts and just two walks, a 0.66 WHIP and .135 batting average against.  Similar mix and projection as Wesley Moore - can see a big league future contributor.

RH Tyler McKay - 25 years old - 2018 16th round draft selection - Howard JC, Howard JC, TX -  In 2022 spring training Tyler converted from a starting pitcher to a reliever and hasn’t looked back. This year he began at Reading where he posted a 2.54 ERA in twenty-five  appearances in twenty-eight and one-third innings converting six of eight saves, he was promoted to Lehigh Valley on July 14th and has posted a 2.41 ERA in sixteen games (eighteen and two-thirds innings) with fourteen strikeouts. Tyler has a riding two seam sinker (92-94 mph), a sweeping slider and a heavy tumbling change up to go along with a cutter that he will primarily use against left handed hitters.  He is generally a strike thrower who attacks the zone, reminds me a lot of Connor Brogdon both in build and approach, I’ve always thought of him as a major league candidate ever since I first saw a side bullpen session back in 2018, we’ve witnessed that there’s more velocity there if he needs it but the movement he gets on his pitches, especially the changeup and slider, give him an arsenal that doesn’t necessarily require it to get hitters out at any level.  Fun fact - he spent time this year with the big club pitching to Bryce Harper when he was going thru his rehab BP’s.

RH Jack Dallas - 24 years old - signed as an un-drafted free agent - 8/1/22 - Lamar University - excelled at Clearwater earlier this year recording a 0.60 ERA in nineteen appearances (thirty IP) with thirty-one strikeouts and twelve walks.  Was promoted to Jersey Shore on 6/13/23 and has continued to do well with a 3.13 ERA in twenty-one games (thirty-one and two-third innings) with thirty-four strikeouts and ten walks, a 1.07 WHIP, opponents are hitting a collective .216 against him. Jack is often deployed in inherited runner situations as he’s a strike thrower who gets after the hitters.  He’s no stranger to high pressure game spots as he graduated from Lamar as their all-time leader in saves and appearances.  His fastball, a sinker, generally is in the 91 to 93 mph range and he also features a cutter, slider, curve and change up. He gets tremendous spin on his fastball and curve in particular, above the big league average.  The movement on those pitches makes it very difficult for hitters to square them up which is reflected in the batting average against him this season. Has the mix, savvy and dogginess to pitch at the upper levels going forward and continue to make his way to becoming a potential contributor in the show.

Position Player of the Year :

OF Justin Crawford - 19 years old - 2022 1st round draft selection - Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas, NV - posted a .344 batting average and .399 OBP in 308 plate appearances with Clearwater in sixty-nine games, he stole forty bases, hit sixteen doubles, six triples, three home runs and had sixty RBIs.  Was promoted to Jersey Shore on 8/15/23 and has continued to produce, in ten games with the BlueClaws he’s hitting .350 in forty AB’s and has a .409 OBP, has also stolen four bags which brings his season total to forty four.  Justin has elite speed which he uses to excel both on offense and defense, he’s a very good center fielder who also possesses an outstanding arm, first time we saw that was in spring training drills, put the ball on the plate on fly balls to relatively deep center field.  He’s a hard worker, wants to succeed, is coachable and a well liked teammate.  He’s a slender young man at present but has a frame that will add strength as he grows into his body, can become a complete player at the highest level.  His hand-eye coordination is outstanding which coupled with a quick bat and short stroke at the plate leads to numbers like he has put up this season.  Is going to be a major leaguer at some point.

UTL Matt Kroon - 26 years old - 2018 18th round draft selection - Oklahoma State University - .319 batting average in 298 AB’s, twenty four doubles, eight home runs, forty-four RBIs, twenty-two stolen bases, .387 OBP in 344 PA’s at Reading, was promoted to Lehigh Valley on 8/7/23 where he went six for nine (.667) in two games with three doubles and a home run before sustaining a hamstring injury, was put on the IL 8/11.  This spring he broke camp as Reading’s primary third baseman while also seeing time in all the outfield positions. Matt has above average speed, a short swing and has shown the ability to play multiple positions, we’ve seen him play at every position except catcher.  He’s a diligent worker who is a baseball rat, gets after it and loves to play.  Returned to action on rehab assignment with Jersey Shore on 8/29.  Scouts I’ve chatted with about him project Matt in a multi position role (due to his defensive versatility) in the big leagues, we believe that he can hit in the show and contribute to a winning club.

IF/OF Weston Wilson - 28 years old, signed as a minor league free agent 1/11/23 from the Brewers organization - Has had a career year at Lehigh Valley posting sixteen doubles, two triples, twenty-seven home runs and seventy-two RBIs in 110 games and 396 AB’s.  He made his major league debut on 8/9/23 playing in four games and hitting his first major league home run, he went two for six with five walks for a .636 OBP in eleven PA’s yet was optioned back to Lehigh Valley on 8/21/23.  He told me earlier this summer that “I think I put a lot of pressure on myself in 2022 to come back and repeat what I did in 2021. This year I had a fresh slate with new eyes on me and just got back to what I did before I had my blood clot/surgery.  Really just trusted myself and my abilities and I have had a great group of teammates and coaches that allowed me to be myself and brought the best out. I think everything that the organization has done (their communication along with the opportunities given to me) since I got to spring training on day one has given me confidence to just play.”  We think he’s proven worthy of another big league opportunity at some point for sure.

OF Simon Muzziotti - 24 years old - signed as an international free agent 7/5/16 - Cumana, Venezuela - has had his best professional season to date with Lehigh Valley this year posting a .320 batting average in 415 AB’s with twenty doubles, four triples, seven home runs and fifty-eight RBIs, he’s also stolen twenty-four bases and has a .380 OBP in 461 PA’s.  Simon has played primarily left field this season defensively and has performed at a very high standard, he’s a glider who gets great reads and jumps on the ball, also is an excellent center fielder.  His plus bat to ball skills have stood out even more so this year and he’s shown the ability to drive the baseball for extra bases and out of the yard.  Is a strong thrower as an outfielder as well.  He’s certainly proven worthy of a shot at a big league job next spring, is in the top ten in the International League in hits, stolen bases and batting average.

OF Johan Rojas - 23 years old - signed as an international free agent 1/18/18 - San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic - made his major league debut on July 15th and has shown the big league audience the outstanding skill set we’ve been preaching about since the first time we saw him play on Roberts Field in April of 2019.  He’s an elite defender, gets reads on balls off the bat like no other and has speed to run down fly balls most cannot, also possesses a plus throwing arm.  This season at Reading he put up his best offensive numbers to date hitting .306 in 320 AB’s with twenty doubles, five triples, nine home runs and forty-five RBIs. He also stole thirty bases.  Plays with a confidence and passion that shows no fear of any situation and with a skill set that will only improve as an offensive player, as you’ve all seen he’s already there as a defensive stalwart in center field.

1B/OF Carlos De La Cruz - 23 years old - signed 8/23/17 as an un -drafted free agent - Yonkers, New York - Carlos is 6’9” and very athletic. When we first saw him hit on the backfields in 2017 multiple folks remarked how the ball jumps off his bat - it makes that special loud sound that results from the barreling of the ball on the sweet spot.  He can drive baseballs high and deep into the sky.  Last season was a breakout year and he’s followed that up with another strong performance at Reading with career high marks in hits (127), total bases (219), doubles (24), home runs (22), walks (46) and RBIs (60) while posting a solid OBP of .345 in 536 PA’s.  He leads the Eastern League in hits and is in the top ten in multiple offensive categories.  Carlos is a solid defender who plays all three outfield positions well and has also adapted to first base.  Just an all-around very good and promising year, one that should get him at the least a big league spring invite next year somewhere, he’s a minor league free agent this off-season if not re-signed by the Phillies.

INF Oliver Dunn - 25 years old - selected in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft on 12/7/22 from the New York Yankees organization - was the Yankee’s 2019 11th round draft selection from the University of Utah.  The left handed hitter has had a career year this season posting twenty-five doubles, four triples, twenty-one home runs and seventy-seven RBIs.  He’s also drawn seventy-three walks and has a slash line of .277/.399/.529 with an .928 OPS.  He’s played in the most games (108) this summer in his five year career and is amongst the Eastern League leaders in multiple categories.   His manager with the Yankees last season was Dan Fiorito who was quoted as saying this about him in an article written on 5/24/22 by Mike Ashmore, a correspondent covering the Somerset Patriots  - “He’s just a really smart baseball player, he’s really knowledgeable. Every pitcher that we face, he has a great plan and I know he helps all of his teammates, even in games when he’s not in the lineup.  He helps everybody in there, and guys gravitate towards him.”  That’s followed thru this season with Reading as he’s been a key contributor both on and off the field. I asked Oliver if he was surprised about being chosen in the Rule five draft and what’s stood out for him this season. “Yes, I was totally surprised. I wasn’t even following the draft when it happened actually. I think the main thing is just getting consistent at bats. That opportunity has really helped me figure out what I do well as a hitter and where I need to improve, and then allowed me to work on it.”  Oliver has played primarily second base however has seen some time in left field and third base as well which bodes well for his future advancement, the more defensive versatility a player can display obviously the better.  One to watch as a potential big league contributor next season.

Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️

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