9/24/23 : That’s a Wrap - The 2023 Phillies Minor League Season
With today’s regular season finale rained out for Lehigh Valley the 2023 Phillies minor league season comes to an end. It was a very eventful and successful year, the combination of the seven affiliates went a combined 390-315 which equates to the second best minor league winning percentage (.553) for the thirty MLB organizations. Last year the Phillies finished 20th in that regards so a marked improvement, actually it’s the biggest year to year jump from 2022 to 2023 of all.
We saw three teams qualify for their league playoffs (DSL Phillies White, Clearwater Threshers and Jersey Shore BlueClaws) with others staying in the hunt during the summer. Beginning with High Performance Camp last fall as the new season kickoff (which in my view is of tremendous value to the players as they are trained, conditioned and prepared for the long grind of a professional season) to the last day of Dominican Fall Instructs yesterday we watched multiple players grow in spirit, maturity, strength and skill set along with team and organizational camaraderie build. As a daily observer the changes are often subtle however the cumulative effect is evident.
Spring training is a somewhat hectic time for me as I attempt to cover multiple daily practices and games and chronicle what I see and hear. It’s also a fun time though as the complex is in it’s most alive timeframe with action usually on every field. When camp breaks and the affiliate teams are stocked for the season we remain on the backfields of the complex to watch extended spring. This season’s extended squad had a few fellas breakout over the course of the summer. Felix Reyes is a young man we’ve watched the past few years, he’s shown flashes of tremendous power - this year after being assigned to the Threshers on May 23rd he went on to become an RBI machine posting 62 RBIs in 67 games which earned a promotion to Jersey Shore on 8/25/23. He hit what perhaps was the biggest home run of the regular season for the BlueClaws on 9/2/23 in the final regular season home game, a walk off three run home run that turned a deficit into a win and helped propel the team into a final playoff push. In the subsequent playoff series deciding game against Hudson Valley it was big Felix who shined for the BlueClaws going three for three with a double and triple which earned such respect that he was intentionally walked in his last plate appearance. Good stuff! Raylin Heredia tore it up in extended spring and the Florida Complex League action which earned the young man a promotion to the Threshers on August 14th. The nineteen year old has a lot of tools to work with and a very bright future. No one crushed home runs on the backfields more than Dakota Kotowski - he hit 15 bombs in just 42 FCL games.
In the Dominican Summer League another young talent emerged with a strong year, seventeen year old catcher Eduardo Tait was a league All-Star selection as he posted robust offensive numbers in just his first professional season. Another teenager - seventeen year old shortstop Starlyn Caba also shined before his season ended with injury, he’s now hard at work on the rehab path. The Phillies White team played at a .764 winning clip during the regular season and won their third consecutive division crown. They pitched two no hitters during the summer. Although the club fell in the playoffs the talent base at the Dominican Academy continues to expand both in position players and promising young pitchers.
The Clearwater Complex serves as the hub of player development, that includes the rehab team whose charter is to return injured players back to action thru a guided regiment of recovery and training. It’s an excellent group of coaches, trainers and medical staff that gets after it. Every player I’ve talked to that’s been thru the rehab process has said nothing but good things about the effort and staff, that’s huge. This year we saw RHP Christian McGowan return as a key example from prior year’s TJ surgery and perform very well at both Jersey Shore and Lehigh Valley, he’s now headed to the Arizona Fall League.
We saw new players arrive at the complex in July from the 2023 draft and also the signing of un-drafted free agents. We’ve introduced ourselves to most and are eager to see how these young men progress. I’ve already told first round draft selection Aidan Miller how much his approach to the game reminds me of Bryson Stott, displays a baseball player mentality with smarts and skills. There’s a bunch of very exciting players to watch going forward in this group.
The Clearwater Threshers had a tremendous season, Justin Crawford won the Florida State League MVP award with a standout year in his first full pro season. “Thresherville” became “Pressureville” as the take no prisoners full onslaught style of play not only produced a first half division title and post-season championship series appearance for Clearwater but a second half division title for Jersey Shore in the South Atlantic League as well when many of the opening day Threshers roster advanced to the BlueClaws either just before or during the second half. Jersey Shore’s relief pitching was excellent, from July 21st on the bullpen had the third best ERA in all of Minor League Baseball (Greg Giombarrese). Reading got standout years from Carlos De La Cruz, Matt Kroon (promoted to Lehigh Valley in August) and Oliver Dunn offensively with Mick Abel finishing the season strong on the mound. Weston Wilson set the single season franchise home run record for Lehigh Valley and became the first ever IronPig to hit 30 or more home runs and steal 30 or more bases in a season.
Speaking of stolen bases, Emaarion Boyd was one of only seven minor league players to steal 60 bases or more during the year, he stole 56 during the regular season for Clearwater and another 4 during the playoffs. I told coach Gary Catchcart at the end of spring training that Crawford would steal sixty bases - I had the number right - just the wrong fella 🤓. The Phillies system had eighteen players with twenty or more stolen bases, three (Wilson, Johan Rojas and Gabriel Rincones Jr) had thirty or more while Justin Crawford had forty seven and Boyd posted sixty. Speed rules!
Orion Kerkering and Johan Rojas won the Paul Owens Awards as the system’s top pitcher and player of the year. Rojas got called to the big leagues in July and continues to show the elite skills he possesses, we’ve known it all along 😎. Kerkering becomes the first modern era drafted player in Phillies history to play at every full season level during the same year and also be promoted to the major leagues in that season. That’s never occurred since the official High A designation was made in 1990.
Nine players head to Arizona along with skipper Marty Malloy for the Arizona Fall League which begins in October.
Fall Instructs this year were held at the Dominican Academy and just concluded. Phillies Manager of Player Development Edwin Soto said that many players benefited from the experience and were able to showcase their promise and improvement. Over sixty players participated in the camp. Next on the agenda will be High Performance camps both at the Dominican Academy and the Clearwater Complex in October building towards next season.
There’s so much more to “write home about”, especially about each player we saw this year, but for now I will leave it at that. I truly enjoy getting to know the people in the Player Development division of the organization, it’s a very interesting part of the puzzle to me and when folks choose to interact it’s even more enlightening and intriguing.
This year, as in the past, we provided coverage each and every game day for every affiliate that played along with feature articles, statistics and tidbits. While I admittedly sometimes get a bit long in the postings it was the consistency of format and the attempt to provide more fact than opinion that hopefully came thru. It’s sometimes a grind akin to the season itself but I do like setting up my multiple iPads and flipping on the TV each night to watch the Phillies major league broadcast in tandem with the minor league games after spending parts of the day at the complex taking in baseball activities there. Writing about what I witness in the minor league contests and practices keeps the attention focused and hopefully has provided a spotlight on the young players as they develop. It’s always my intent to highlight the players and the development process. I’m sometimes chided about my “positive” reflections when I do offer opinion but hey I’d rather talk about upside than bemoan criticism, from my perspective development can only happen if strengths can be made stronger and weaknesses improved, positivity has impact. When I retired from Pfizer my staff gave me a Louisville Slugger with the inscription on the bat “Coach, it’s hard to beat the person who never gives up - thanks for believing in us.” That’s just how I look at things, at least for others.
This is my eighth season writing about the Phillies player development system and process which includes the previous publications of six Phillies minor league digests. I’d like to thank Preston Mattingly, Edwin Soto, Jake Primack and Landon Dombrowski specifically along with all the front office folks, administrators, managers, coaches, scouts, players, trainers, support staff, broadcasters, security personnel, my photography partners and friends and family members for their input, guidance and assistance. Much appreciated.
Like I say after each year I’m not sure how much longer this writing hobby of mine continues (maybe I’ll turn pro 🤓) but it’s been very enjoyable this go round once again. Good stuff!
Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️