Phillies Minors’ Managers Make a Major Difference

The Philadelphia Phillies are in classic rebuilding mode. Over the next few years the organization has committed to trying to accumulate as much young prospect talent as possible through trade, free agent signings, and the Draft.

As these youngsters come in to the Phillies system, they will be placed at various levels in the minor leagues. Many of them will pass through multiple levels of that system. 
At each stop, the person with the greatest influence over their progressive development will be the manager at those stops.
Let’s take a look at the half-dozen men who are currently guiding each of the Phillies six minor league affiliates at AAA-Lehigh Valley, AA-Reading, High A-Clearwater, Low A-Lakewood, Short Season Williamsport, and at the Rookie level GCL Phillies.

ROOKIE – GULF COAST LEAGUE (GCL) PHILLIES
Phillies Minors Roly de Armas
Longtime organization man Roly de Armas guides the Rookie level GCL Phillies
While 63-year old ROLY DE ARMAS never reached the major leagues, he was a catcher in the Phillies minor league system from 1973-77.
On retiring, de Armas became a minor league manager in 1979 for the Phillies, guiding Helena to a 1st place finish. It was the first of 14 straight seasons managing in the Phils system for the Florida native, and he has been working in baseball at numerous levels since.
He had a few stints as a coach in the major leagues, including with both the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, and in the Phillies 2008 World Series-winning season even spent some time with the big club as the interim bullpen coach.
The coming 2015 season in the GCL will mark his 29th season as a minor league manager or coach, with the vast majority of those in the Phillies system. It will be his 9th straight season managing the Phillies rookie level team in the Gulf Coast League.
SHORT SEASON – WILLIAMSPORT CROSSCUTTERS
New to the organization for 2015, 51-year old PAT BORDERS brings a wealth of invaluable experience in the game. The 1992 World Series MVP as the Toronto Blue Jays catcher, Borders played parts of 17 big league seasons.
Generally out of baseball for the last 9 years, Borders has the respect of Phillies club President Pat Gillick, who was the Jays’ GM during those 1992-93 World Series-winning years and knows him as a winner.
He hit 15 homers in 1990, 13 for that 1992 squad, and was the regular starting catcher for both of the Jays back-to-back World Series clubs in the 1992-93 season, including that 1993 team that beat the ‘Macho Row’ Phillies in 1993 on Joe Carter‘s dramatic homerun.
From 1992-94 he led all American League catchers in Assists, and in 1988 led the league when he threw out 47.25 of attempted base stealers.
Borders was the classic field general as a backstop, and if anyone can be gone from the game that long and step right back in, it will be him. 
LOW A – LAKEWOOD BLUECLAWS
Phillies Minors Shawn Williams
Shawn Williams moves up from Williamsport to the Low A Lakewood BlueClaws (Photo: MiLB.com)
SHAWN WILLIAMS is being promoted this season to Lakewood, New Jersey and the Phillies Low A level squad.
To say that he grew up in the game is an understatement. Williams’ father, Jimmy, was not only the Phillies bench coach, but also was a big league manager with Toronto, Boston, and Houston. His brother, Brady, is a manager in the Tampa Bay Rays system at the AA level.
Williams went to spring training as a player with the Phils just two years ago, was offered an opportunity to enter the coaching ranks, and jumped at it. He was the manager at short season Williamsport last season, guiding that club to a 33-43 record.
Just 31-years old, Williams is clearly being groomed to play a major role with the club at some point. At the very least he is building a resume that will put him into position to be considered for MLB managing or coaching jobs in the next few years.
HIGH A – CLEARWATER THRESHERS
Now 54-years old, Greg Legg actually played for the Phillies, getting cups of coffee in both 1986 and 1987. That means he was a teammate of Mike Schmidt in the big leagues. With just 14 games and 22 plate appearances, he can still brag of a .409 career MLB batting average.
A 22nd round pick of the club in the 1982 MLB Draft, Legg spent 13 seasons in the Phils system, registering 1,094 hits. He joined the Phils minor league system as a coach for 1994, and got his first shot managing in the system in 1997.
He has been a coach and/or manager at all levels of the Phils minor league system up to AA, and was the hitting coach for the back-to-back South Atlantic League champion Lakewood squad in 2009-10. Last season, as the BlueClaws manager, he guided the club to a 53-84 mark, and is being moved up this season for a shot in Clearwater.
AA – READING PHILLIES
The Reading Phillies are likely to feature one of the best pitching staffs in all of minor league baseball during the 2015 season, including top Phils mound prospects Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin.
To guide these players, as well as top overall prospect shortstop J.P. Crawford, the Phillies are calling upon Dusty Wathan. He reached the major leagues as a player with the 2002 Kansas City Royals, making him a 2nd generation big leaguer. His dad John Wathan both played and managed in the majors.
Dusty spent each of his final two playing season in 2006-07 in the Phils organization, and got into coaching immediately afterwards. This will be his 4th season (204-222) at the helm of the R-Phils for the man universally considered as one of the top managers in minor league baseball. The 41-year old is sure to be on the short list of managerial candidates for big league openings over the next few years.

AAA – LEHIGH VALLEY IRON PIGS

Phillies Minors Dave Brundage
Dave Brundage is back for his 3rd season at helm of Phils top minor league club. (Photo: lehighvalleylive.com)
This will be the 3rd straight season for Dave Brundage as the manager of the Phillies top farm club in Lehigh Valley. Prior to that, Brundage was the manager of the Atlanta Braves top farm club at AAA for 4 consecutive seasons.

A 4th round pick of the Phils in the 1984 MLB Draft, Brundage played two seasons in the clubs minor league system among 10 overall years in the minors.

He quickly reached the minor league managerial level upon retiring, and has spent much of the last 20 years as a minor league skipper, including winning the 2007 International League championship with the Richmond Braves. He has won over 1,200 games as a minor league manager overall.

Time Running Out on Chase Utley

Phillies 2nd baseman Chase Utley turned 36 years old last month. In this day and age, where players are no longer capable of extending their careers and/or enhancing their performance with the help of substances, that is old age in baseball years.
Not only is Utley battling Father Time, he is also battling his own body. He has been playing for the last few years on a pair of balky knees, dealing with both patella tendonitis and Chrondromalacia patella.
After suffering through a physically painful 2012 season, Utley learned to rest more, stretch better, and generally strengthen the muscles around his knee for more support. 
The result was an improved 2013 and 2014 performance, and a return to near the top of production among MLB 2nd basemen.
In 2013 at age 34, Utley banged out 18 homers and 25 doubles, his highest totals in those power categories since 2009. He also tied a career high with 6 triples. 
In 2014, while his homers fell to 11, he again reach a half-dozen triples, raised his doubles total to 36, and thus raised his extra-base total from 49 to 53.
Chase will never return to his 2005-09 prime years, when he was not only the premier offensive 2nd basemen in the game but also one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, period. But the production that he has given the Phillies over the last two years is certainly acceptable.
The problem is that age. While he has fought back against the bad knees and managed his conditions well enough to stay effective, that is sure to continue to get harder with each passing year. 
It is a sure thing that one of these years, Utley simply will break down, and likely for good. That could come at any time, including this coming 2015 season.
The 2015 season is the final guaranteed year in Utley’s contract. He is due to make $10 million this time around, and needs to reach the 500 plate appearances mark in order to guarantee a $15 million contract for 2016.
That will be the case each year. He will need to keep reaching that mark to guarantee that salary through 2018. As recently as 2011 and 2012, Utley was unable to reach that mark due to his battles with various injuries, including those knees.
Phillies fans need to enjoy every game that Chase plays at this point. Time is running out for ‘The Man’ who has played 2nd base more than any other player in franchise history, and it is probably a 50-50 proposition that this coming season will be the last we hear “Kashmir” play as this fan favorite walks to the plate in red pinstripes.

1971 Phillies: My First Team

I was just 9 years old when a then-modern sports cathedral known as Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, otherwise known as Veteran’s Stadium, or more simply “The Vet”, opened virtually in my South Philly back yard. 
And it was the 1971 Phillies team, the first to play on the new Astroturf surface, that became the first Phillies team I ever followed.
My friends and I were fans of The Vet even before the place officially opened. We would ride our bikes to the stadium on the nice March days prior to it’s opening, and on many days even once it did open. 
We rode our bikes around the concourse, picking up speed, and then would hit the long, sloping pedestrian access ramps at full speed. The effect would be like putting our bikes on turbo-powered boosters.
My dad took my brother, Mike, and I to a Phillies formal “Opening Day” event for The Vet. This was not an actual game, but took place prior to that first game. We had seats somewhere in the upper deck, probably around what was the 600 level.
1971 Phillies
Veteran’s Stadium opened for that 1971 Phillies season
I clearly remember being in awe of the place. Everything was shiny and new at that point. The gleaming white concrete outer pillars. The surreal-looking green Astroturf artificial playing surface. The brown dirt of the base cutouts. 
There were dancing fountains of green water in center field. A giant, 13-star Colonial era flag unfurling above them. Revolutionary War characters Phil and Phillis shooting off a cannon along the outfield walls. And what seemed like a massive computerized scoreboard.
I had never been to old Connie Mack Stadium (something that I still jokingly “hold against” my dad.) The neighborhood of that old ballpark had become so dilapidated during the late-60’s, when I was a kid who would have been old enough to appreciate a trip there, that my dad just felt it was too unsafe to take us. And besides, in reality he was not a big baseball fan. Golf and basketball were his sports.
But here we were at The Vet for this special Opening Day, because it was new, and it was an event that was close to our home. 
For that 9-year old me, it was love at first sight. I was in love, and I had still never seen a baseball game in real life. It would be a love that would last to this very day.
The Phillies began playing at the stadium just days later, and that 1971 Phillies team would become the very first that I would follow in my lifetime. 
In the true Opening Game, on April 10th, 1971, the Master of Ceremonies for pre-game festivities and introductions was a new broadcaster in town by the name of Harry Kalas. 
The Phils defeated the expansion Montreal Expos by a 4-1 score, with future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning getting the win, and all-time Phillies player/coach great Larry Bowa registering the first hit at The Vet.
1971 Phillies Montanez
Centerfielder Willie Montanez banged 30 homers and finished 2nd in 1971 NL Rookie of the Year vote.
The 25-year old Bowa would eventually grow to become one of my favorites, but that first year my actual favorite players were a little 2nd baseman named Denny Doyle, and a hotdog centerfielder named Willie Montanez
Doyle was a scrappy 26-year old, playing his 2nd season in the big leagues and as Bowa’s doubleplay partner. Montanez was an exciting 23-year old who hit 30 homeruns and finished 2nd in NL Rookie of the Year voting that season.
The manager of those Phillies was Frank Lucchesi, a little olive-skinned Italian who fit right in with South Philly. Unfortunately the 2nd year skipper would only last until halfway through the following season. 
In that first year at The Vet, Lucchesi had a mixture of veterans and kids to call upon in both his lineup and on his pitching staff.
The lineup was led by 32-year old veteran 1st baseman Deron Johnson who would bang out 34 homeruns and register 95 rbi, and 29-year old catcher Tim McCarver, who would later become a famed broadcaster. 
Otherwise this was a young team. Besides Bowa, Doyle, and Montanez there was 23-year old 3rd baseman John Vukovich, 21-year old left fielder Oscar Gamble, and 25-year old right fielder Roger Freed.
The Phillies bench was also pretty young, with only 35-year old fan favorite infielder Tony Taylor having much experience. 
It included 24-year old infielder Don Money (who hit the very first homerun in Vet Stadium history), 27-year old infielder Terry Harmon, 28-year old outfielder Ron Stone, 29-year old catcher Mike Ryan, 24-year old outfielder Larry Hisle, a good-looking 20-year old outfielder named Mike Anderson, and a September call-up by a prodigous 20-year old slugger named Greg Luzinski.
The pitching rotation was led by Bunning, who was then 39-years old in the final season of his Hall of Fame career. He would make just 16 starts that 1971 season, the last a horrible appearance at the Astrodome in mid-July in which he would yield 4 earned runs on 7 hits in lasting just a single inning. 
Bunning also made 13 relief appearances, and it was as a reliever that he wrapped his career with a 2-inning stint at The Vet on September 3rd against the New York Mets.
Another veteran in that rotation was lefty Chris ShortA decade earlier, Bunning and Short had nearly helped lead the Phillies to an NL Pennant. Now they were both aging and in decline. Short was now 33-years old, and would go 7-14 across 26 starts in what would be his final year as a regular starting pitcher.
Also in the rotation for the 1971 Phillies was their real stud, a 25-year old righty named Rick Wise. He would win 17 games for a team that won just 65, and would be traded after the season for a left-hander named Steve Carlton.
Filling out the rotation were Barry Lersch and Ken Reynolds, both of whom were back-end starters by today’s lingo. Veteran Woodie Fryman was strong as a swingman who both started and relieved. 
Joe Hoerner was an effective lefty closer for that Phillies team. The bullpen also had a quintet of good-looking 20-somethings in Bill ChampionDick SelmaBill Wilson, and Wayne Twitchell.
Those were my first Phillies. I watched them as much as I could on TV in those days, though not many games were broadcast other than on Sunday afternoons. 
More often, I listened that summer for the first time to the excellent work being done from the radio booth by the team of veteran By Saam, former player Richie Ashburn, and the newbie Kalas.
My Dad got us out to The Vet for a couple of games before the end of that 65-97 season. But the record really didn’t matter to me at that point. I had been introduced to a new game, a new stadium, a new team, a new love. 
In just a few years, they would start to win at The Vet. Players named Carlton and Schmidt and Boone would join Luzinski and Bowa from the minor leagues. It all began for me with those 1971 Philadelphia Phillies, and the opening of Veteran’s Stadium.

Phillies Management Change is No Change

There was an announcement of “change” in the Phillies front office yesterday. But the fact of the matter is, though some titles were shuffled, in the end there was no change at all of any consequence.
In the “new” structure, Pat Gillick has the “interim” tag removed, and is now formally the Phillies club President. David Montgomery is returning to work, but now as the team Chairman. And co-owner Bill Giles receives a title as Chairman Emeritus.
There are no new names in the Phillies hierarchy. These are the exact same men who, along with General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr., have been at the helm as the Phils ship began to take on water a few years ago, and then slowly sank into the sea of despair where the wreck now rests.
While many fans of the team have found Amaro an easy target against whom to take out their frustrations, I suggested just last month that the Phillies real problem may be Pat Gillick
While it’s true that Gillick was GM when the team won the 2008 World Series, and Amaro has been the GM during the decline, it is also true that Gillick won with a core largely assembled prior to his arrival.
You can click in to the link in the previous paragraph if you want to read the December article and rehash the woeful history of Phillies drafts under Gillick’s watch. But this has been his history wherever he has gone. 
As David Murphy wrote today at Philly.com, “His last 10 drafts have produced exactly two everyday major leaguers, neither of whom matured into said everyday player with the organization for whom Gillick drafted him.
As Murphy correctly pointed out, Gillick’s previous successes, the ones that got him into the Baseball Hall of Fame, came as a finisher. He is most adept at looking over a roster, and then figuring out how to add the final pieces to make it a contender. Building a team, or as in this case, overseeing a complete rebuild is nothing that he has ever been asked to accomplish. 
As organizations all around them look for any way to gain even the slightest edge in an increasingly competitive business, hiring young talents to guide their front offices and embracing statistical and sabermetric tools to increase their odds, the Phillies plod along as if it were 1975 instead of 2015. The effect can be seen simply by looking at that slow, steady decline over the years since 2008.
A few months back, it was suggested by local sports reporter Howard Eskin that Montgomery would not return as the team President. For all the grief that he justly takes at times, the fact is that Eskin had it right here. Eskin further speculated that there might be an even bigger picture regime change coming to the Phillies at some point. Will he be right regarding ownership as well? And what effect will that have on management?
Also last month, less than two weeks after my Gillick piece, I wrote on the state of the Phillies ownership group, speculating that John Middleton could be strategizing a way to move into a majority stake in the team and the subsequent ultimate control that would bring. 

His last 10 drafts have produced exactly two everyday major leaguers” David Murphy, on Pat Gillick

It is my belief that if nothing changes regarding Phillies ownership, if the current situation remains as status quo, or if some Giles-Montgomery faction takes over, then we will be looking at a long, disastrous period in Phils franchise history.
The best thing that could happen for Phillies fans is to have Middleton figure out a way to quickly take control, and put both Gillick and Amaro on the unemployment line. The Phillies need a sea change in attitude. They need to get younger and bolder, and the faster the better.
Despite yesterday’s announcement, there has been no change in the Phils front office, no change in philosophy. 
To quote a San Francisco-area radio host back in 1985 when the Giants were considering refurbishing Candlestick Park rather than build the team a new ballpark “That would be like putting lipstick on a pig.” The Phillies just put lipstick on a pig. 

PECOTA Not Kind to 2015 Phillies

The Baseball Prospectus PECOTA ratings were released this afternoon, and the player forecasting system was none too kind to the upcoming 2015 Philadelphia Phillies.
For the unwashed, PECOTA is what is known as a backronym, standing for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. In short, it is a sabermetric system to forecast MLB player performance.
The system was developed by Nate Silver back in 2002 and introduced by Baseball Prospectus in 2003. In short, while as admittedly imperfect as any purely statistical history-based system will always be, the system has proven uncannily reliable as an evaluation tool.
Before we take a look at what PECOTA has to say about the 2015 Phillies, let’s get a few assumptions out of the way first. Each MLB team ideally has 8 starting position players, at least 4-5 starting pitchers, and another 3-4 key relief pitchers. 
On offense, each of 30 teams has 8 starting positions to fill. To even be a representative team, the 8 players who you factor as your projected starters should fall among the top 240 players in the game. 
Your 5 starting pitchers should be among the top 150. Your 3-4 best relievers among the top 270 (PECOTA doesn’t distinguish starters from relievers.)
Based on the PECOTA projections, the Phillies show 7 of their projected 8 starting position players falling within the acceptable top 240. 
Only at 1st base do the Phils have no one, with Ryan Howard ranked just 442nd. For our purposes, we are calling Darin Ruf a leftfielder.
PECOTA Howard
Ryan Howard is barely a blip on the PECOTA projections radar. (Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
The Phillies position players rank overall at the following slots: Chase Utley (25), Carlos Ruiz (79), Ben Revere (152), Ruf (179), Freddy Galvis (211), Cody Asche (220), and Domonic Brown (239).
You can see the problem right away. While the bulk of the offense is “representative”, they are completely missing a position (1st base) where many teams receive tremendous offensive contributions. 
And also, 5 of the 7 fall in the lower half of the projections for minimum starter-caliber players.
In short, the Phillies projected offensive leaders are a pair of 36-year olds in Utley and Ruiz, the former with a pair of deteriorating knees, the latter at the always draining catching position. There is a strong likelihood that this group finishes near the bottom of the National League in runs scored this season.
The Phillies projected current rotation ranks at: Cliff Lee (12), Cole Hamels (19), and then, well, it gets pretty ugly. Frankly, it’s not really even worth mentioning how low guys like Aaron HarangJerome Williams, and David Buchanan rank.
Miguel Gonzalez at 525 is the 3rd highest rated Phils pitcher who has a likelihood of starting. If Lee turns out to be unhealthy, or worse yet, finished, and Hamels is dealt? You don’t even want to imagine how bad that will reflect on the 2015 win-loss record.
In the bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon (61), Ken Giles (152), Justin DeFratus (266), and Jake Diekman (267) keep the Phillies representative as a group. But that assumes Papelbon remains. 
If Papelbon goes in a trade, as expected, Giles could be a very valuable option as the closer. But someone would then need to step up in a setup or 7th inning role.
PECOTA is also used by Baseball Prospectus to project win-loss records and final standings
The Phillies are currently projected to finish in last place in the NL East with a 70-92 record, which is also the worst projected record in the entire National League, tied for the worst in baseball with the Minnesota Twins. Fact is, the actual record could end up worse than that.
The bottom line for Phillies fans is that, at least based on the PECOTA rankings, the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies are going to be an awful team. 
And if a significant number of the more talented group from among Hamels, Lee, Utley, Ruiz, and Papelbon is dealt away and/or injured we’ll be faced with the worst team in Citizens Bank Park history.