MLB Power Ranking: Memorial Day 2016

A month ago when the first Power Ranking was released the surprising Philadelphia Phillies were in the #9 slot.
Unfortunately, a recent stretch of losing baseball in which the club has dropped three straight series has left them off the latest ranking.
Frankly, I would be surprised to see them return to the Top 10 teams in Major League Baseball again this season. 
But then, I would never have anticipated when the year began that we would have seen them on it at all in 2016.
The 10-6 spots this time around are listed here, and the Top 5 presented in the slideshow by clicking on the link at the bottom of this piece. That is the format that I will use to present each Power Ranking for the rest of the season.

Here are the teams in my 10-6 slots on this Memorial Day:

10. TORONTO BLUE JAYS: at 26-26 the Jays are in 3rd place in the AL East, five games back of the front-runners. They may be heating up, however. The Jays had a four game win streak, and won 7 of 9, before dropping yesterday’s decision to Boston.
9. SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS: the Cards have just a pair of winning streaks all season, and have fallen 9.5 games back in the NL Central race. However, they are just 3 back in the NL Wildcard battle. The key for the Redbirds will be putting a legitimate run of victories together.
8. PITTSBURGH PIRATES: the Bucs are tied as an NL Wildcard team, 3 ahead of the Cards. But they are 6.5 behind the division leaders. It looks as if the Bucs will have to settle for one of those Wildcards once again, which means another single elimination win-or-go-home game in early October, assuming they get there.
7. BOSTON RED SOX: the Bosox have bolted out to the American League’s best record, third best in baseball, and lead the AL East by one game. Boston is just 6-6 over their last dozen games, however, and just yesterday put an end to their first losing streak since mid-April.
6. CLEVELAND INDIANS: the Tribe were swept in Philly, and following the third of those defeats sat at 10-12 on May 1st. But a hot month blasted them up the AL Central standings. They now sit at 26-22, just a half game back, going 16-10 over the last four weeks.
READ ORIGINAL article at That Ball’s Outta Here for full Power Ranking story

Adam Morgan on Borrowed Time

When he was called up from the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs back in late April to take the place of the injured Charlie Morton in the starting rotation, Adam Morgan became the only left-hander in that rotation.
It seemed like a good development. Not the Morton injury, of course, but that the Phillies could reach into their minor league system and replace him with somehow who not only could fill the role competitively, but who also provided that lefty option in a rotation stocked with right-handers.
A year ago, Morgan finally made his big league debut after battling injuries through parts of five minor league seasons after the Phillies had made him their 3rd round selection in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Alabama.
In his minor league time, Morgan went 14-29 with a 3.54 ERA, allowing 369 hits over 376.2 innings with a 322/110 K:BB ratio.
With the addition of Morton and Jeremy Hellickson to the rotation this past off-season, and with young incumbents Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff virtually penned into the 2016 rotation, Morgan appeared to be battling Brett Oberholtzer for the lone left-handed starter role back in spring training.
However, both were passed by newcomer Vincent Velasquez, who dominated the Grapefruit League, sending Oberholtzer to the bullpen due to the fact that he had no minor league options left.
Morgan on the other hand did have options, and so was sent back to Lehigh Valley. There he went 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA, allowing 19 hits over 17.2 innings with a 20/4 K:BB ratio.
When Morton went down, Morgan was the logical choice to replace him, and frankly had earned the opportunity.
Flash forward a full month, and Morgan is blowing that golden opportunity to solidify a place in the Phillies rebuilding future, at least as a regular in the big league rotation.
Morgan simply cannot seem to put together strong consecutive outings. Since striking out seven and allowing five hits over five solid innings in his first start of the season, he has failed to reach the 5th inning in every other alternating start.
He lasted just four innings in his next outing at Saint Louis, allowing three earned runs on six hits and two walks. Morgan followed that up with his best start, allowing one earned on just four hits over a seven inning effort at Atlanta.
The very next start, Morgan was bombed for seven earned runs on eight hits and three walks over just 3.2 innings at home against the Reds. That was followed by a six inning outing in which he yielded just two earned and four hits against the Braves.
Then came yesterday, and his shelling at the hands of the Chicago Cubs. Morgan allowed six earned on eight hits over just four innings. Up, down. Up, down. That is now developing as the Morgan pattern. Consistently inconsistent.
Perhaps a year ago, the Phillies could have lived with this, and given the now 26-year old a much longer leash. However, we are a year further along in the club’s rebuilding plan. There are other options now, and they are coming fast.
22-year old righty Zach Eflin is now 5-0 with a 2.05 ERA at AAA, and looking more dominant with each outing. He has allowed just 34 hits over 52.2 innings across eight starts with a 45/8 K:BB ratio.
The club’s top-ranked pitching prospect is another 22-year old right-hander, Jake Thompson. He is 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA and has allowed 44 hits over 51.2 innings with a 40/16 K:BB and has been looking better with each start.
24-year old Ben Lively began the season by dominating at AA Reading, and has just earned a promotion to Lehigh Valley where he was strong in his first AAA start just last night. He is going to be ready for his shot in Philly soon if these types of outings continue.
Alec Asher, a 24-year old righty who looked entirely overmatched in a cameo with the Phillies at the end of last season, has been born again hard back in the minors.
Asher began the year with AA Reading, pitched well, and was promoted to Lehigh Valley. He has a combined 4-2 mark with a 2.30 ERA, allowing just 39 hits over 54.2 innings and could be the first to get an opportunity.
There is an even more interesting option, should the Phillies choose to exercise it at some point. Former reliever James Russell is being given an opportunity to start. The lefty allowed just one hit in four shutout innings, striking out four and walking no one in his first start a week ago.
The point is that the Phillies have good options ready to step up and take advantage of their own opportunity when called upon.
Morgan would be scheduled to take the mound next on Wednesday at home against the division-rival Washington Nationals. The odds are that he gets to make that start.
He is a starter, that much appears certain for now. He has the repertoire, and he has the experience. He could re-emerge as a lefty relief option, but it is probably too soon to go in that direction.
The club has other options in the pen, including a nearly ready lefty reliever in the rehabbing Mario Hollands
If demoted, Morgan is going to have to return to AAA and either re-establish himself as a consistent starter, waiting for another shot, or re-invent himself as a valuable lefty relief option.
But the odds are strong that, barring a sudden run of consistently solid performances, Morgan is living on borrowed big league time, at least as a starting pitcher.

Phils Fans Back Odubel Herrera Benching

It was the top of the 7th inning in Monday night’s Interleague series opener between the visiting Phillies and the host Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
The score was knotted at 4-4 between the two clubs, but the Phillies were threatening thanks to some shoddy Detroit defense.
Leadoff man Peter Bourjos had reached 1st base thanks to an error by Tigers’ 3rd baseman Nick Castellanos.
That brought the Phils’ hot leadoff hitter, center fielder Odubel Herrera, to the plate. Bourjos then advanced to 2nd base thanks to a wild pitch thrown by Tigers’ relief pitcher Justin Wilson.
So the Phillies had the go-ahead runner at 2nd base with nobody out. On a 1-2 pitch, “El Torito’ bounced a grounder weakly back at Wilson.
Herrera started down the line towards 1st base, but clearly frustrated at his inability to produce in the clutch situation, he shut it down, half-heartedly plodding the rest of the way to the bag.
As Herrera did so, it turns out that Wilson double-clutched his throw to 1st base. Herrera would have almost certainly have been safe as a result, had he only ran the ball out at normal full speed.
The lack of hustle meant that instead of runners on 1st and 2nd and nobody out, the Phils had the runner at 2nd with one out.
On his return to the dugout, Herrera was approached by veteran Ryan Howard regarding that failure to hustle. Manager Pete Mackanin also got involved in calling out his 24-year old center fielder.
The Phillies would fail to score in the inning, and when the team took the field for the bottom of the 7th, Herrera was no longer in the lineup.
Immediately there was speculation ringing out from the radio waves, where announcer Scott Franzke mentioned an incident earlier in the game where Herrera might have been signaling to 3rd base coach Juan Samuel that he had suffered some type of injury to his back.
Across social media the reaction was swift: Herrera had clearly dogged it. If it was a lack of hustle and nothing more, that was one thing. If it turned out to be an injury, and the team knew he was hurt, then why was he still in the game? The Tigers would win the game by a single run, 5-4.
Quickly following the game, Mackanin dispelled any though of an injury. “He didn’t run, said the skipper per’s Kyle Beery.

One of the ingredients to our success, to this point, is the fact that these guys play with energy, they play hard. We’re training them, basically, to play the game the right way, and not running is not the right way.” ~ Mackanin

Mackanin went on to point out that he has seen this from Herrera on other occasions: “I’ve seen it in the past, and it’s been trickling in, and I just didn’t like it, and I just made the decision,” he said per Beery.
So at Twitter, I chose to poll the Phillies fans who are TBOH followers, asking whether those fans supported the pulling of Herrera from the lineup in such a public way as a disciplinary measure.
The results have proven conclusive. After more than 2,500 “impressions”, 120 total “engagements”, and 95 actual votes as of 5:25pm on Tuesday, 75% of the fans voting supported the disciplinary benching.
Mackanin has a young team on his hands, and even younger players on the way as the Phillies rebuilding program continues.
Earlier in the game, starting pitcher Vincent Velasquez had exhibited his own petulant attitude. Mackanin has to drill it into his young charges heads that they have to play the game not only with passion, but also with hustle and pride, never taking anything for granted.

You’ve got to keep going. I know it’s not the at-bat he wanted, or whatever, but look at me, I’m still grinding,” Howard said per Beery. “You never know on a ball like that, he might mess up because you’re running hard.

Wilson did indeed mess up, and Herrera’s failure to hustle may have cost the Phillies a key game at the start of what looks to be a difficult road trip.
Even if you don’t buy into that play being a game decider, you have to agree that a lackadaisical attitude is nothing that Mackanin can allow to continue. Three out of four of our voting followers would then agree with you.
Herrera knows he was wrong. As quoted at CSN Philly:

“I was frustrated. I respect his decision. I know that I did wrong. I have to learn from my mistakes, and it won’t happen again. I didn’t think he was going to bench me. I understand why. I can’t argue.

Mackanin believes the message is sent, and Herrera will be back in the Phillies’ starting lineup on Wednesday night.

Pharm Report: AA Reading Fightins

The Phillies ‘AA’ level minor league club, the Reading Fightin’ Phils, have bolted out to a first place lead in the Eastern Division of the Eastern League.
The Fightin’ Phils are 29-14, on a four game winning streak which has them 2.5 games up on the Hartford Yard Goats farm team of the Colorado Rockies organization.
This is the 50th anniversary of the Phillies relationship with the city of Reading, Pennsylvania, and the franchise is celebrating all year long with various events and giveaway items.
The timing couldn’t be better for the fans pouring into FirstEnergy Stadium. The Fightin’ Phils have a talented ball club with some exciting prospects.
Manager Dusty Wathan‘s squad just suffered a personnel loss, the type which minor league affiliate clubs are all too familiar with.
The Phillies top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, began his season with Reading. Crawford was hitting .265 with a .398 on-base percentage, 23 runs scored, and five stolen bases when he was promoted over the weekend to the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Remaining at Reading to lead the offense are a trio of interesting hitters, the best of whom is catcher Jorge Alfaro.
The soon-to-be 23-year old Alfaro got off to a torrid start, but then missed a few weeks early on with an oblique injury. Since returning a couple of weeks ago he has continued to rake.
Over at TBOH we ranked Alfaro as the Phillies #6 prospect back in the preseason. He is hitting for a .348/.366/.517 slash line with seven doubles and 19 RBI in just 89 at-bats.
Right fielder Dylan Cozens will turn 22 years of age next week, and is having a true breakout season. He currently carries a .277/.350/.560 slash line, leads the club with 11 homers and 33 RBI, and is tied for the team lead with 29 runs scored.
23-year old 1st baseman Rhys Hoskins is hitting for a .272 average, seven home runs, and 26 RBI as he tries to show that he can be a legitimate piece of the Phillies rebuilding future plans.
Center field belongs to Roman Quinn, who came into the season as one of my personal favorite Phillies prospects. He possesses legitimately game-changing speed, and the thought of him roaming center at Citizens Bank Park and atop the Phils’ batting order had me salivating.
Quinn is hitting .255 with a .343 on-base percentage, and is tied for the team lead with 29 runs scored. His 19 stolen bases make him the club’s biggest baserunning threat by a wide margin.
A new element with the Fightin’ Phils, at least for a short time, will be rehabbing Phillies player Cody Asche, who just moved up after beginning his season with High-A Lakewood.
Big right-hander Ben Lively has been the leader of the Reading pitching staff. In his second season with the Phillies organization after coming over in trade from the Cincinnati Reds for Marlon Byrd.
Lively has been the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week, and was named to Baseball America’s April All-Prospect Team. The 24-year old is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA. He has allowed just 35 hits over 53 innings, with a 49/15 K:BB ratio.
Nick Pivetta is a 23-year old right-hander who came to the Phillies last year in the Jonathan Papelbon trade, and is really starting to come on strong.
Pivetta is 4-2 and has allowed just 36 hits over 44 innings with a 44/15 K:BB ratio. Over his last three starts, Pivetta has been white hot, winning all three with a 1.47 ERA and 20 strikeouts.
Anthony Vasquez is 6-2 with a 1.82 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. The 29-year old veteran has appeared in seven big league games, all back in 2011 with the Seattle Mariners.
Ricardo Pinto has allowed 43 hits over 45.1 innings with a 25/13 K:BB ratio. At 22 years of age, Pinto is highly considered by some in the organization, and is an arm to watch as the season moves along.
Severino Gonzalez is a 23-year old who made seven starts for the Phillies a year ago. He is being used exclusively out of the bullpen now, and has allowed nine hits in 10.2 innings with a 9/2 K:BB.
Another intriguing arm at Reading is 24-year old left-hander Tom Windle, who was another favorite of mine entering the season.
Windle came to the organization along with Zach Eflin in the Jimmy Rollins deal with the Dodgers back in the summer of 2014. The southpaw is struggling, however, having allowed 21 hits over 14 innings with a 16/6 K:BB.
FirstEnergy Stadium is located about 75-80 miles northwest of Philadelphia, and is about an hour and a half ride out I-76, just off PA Route 12. It is a gorgeous ballpark, and well worth the trip to watch some talented future Phillies perform.

Pharm Report: High-A Clearwater Threshers

The Phillies ‘High-A’ level minor league club, the Clearwater Threshers, currently find themselves in first place in the Florida State (FSL) League standings in the North Division.
The Threshers are 26-16, which has them a half-game up on the Tampa Yankees at the top of the standings, though the club has lost their last two games.
Manager Greg Legg was drafted as a player by the Phillies in the 22nd round of the 1982 MLB Amateur Draft out of Oklahoma State University.
Legg made 22 plate appearances in the big leagues with the Phils across eight games as a utility infielder in the 1986 and 1987 seasons, so he is very familiar with the dreams of his young charges.
The Threshers recently got a bump in their lineup with the injury rehabilitation of Phillies’ utility player veteran Cody Asche, who is working his way back from an oblique injury.
Asche has hit just .167 over his first 18 at-bats while playing exclusively in left field. Jordan Hall with quoted Asche just this past Monday on his position switch last year from 3rd base to the outfield.

“As I’ve gone through this process, I’ve learned a lot about myself, a lot about myself as a player,” Asche said. “I know wholeheartedly that the organization has my best interest in mind.

The Threshers drive to the top of the standings has featured one of the players mentioned in our TBOH Phillies Top 10 prospects features earlier this spring, 2nd baseman Scott Kingery.
The 22-year old Kingery is hitting for a .263/.345/.408 slash line and leads the club with 14 doubles, 10 steals, and 26 runs scored. contributor Bill Whitehead quoted Legg on Kingery just yesterday.

He brings a lot of energy. He’s real solid defensively, good at turning the double plays and doesn’t really miss much,” Legg said. “He’s got good range and speed on the bases. He’s been a nice igniter of our offense as far as getting on base and scoring runs. He’s got a spark plug-type attitude and he’s a tough kid, so we’ve got a good player right there.”

Also featured in the Clearwater lineup are 22-year old 1st baseman Zach Green, 23-year old 3rd baseman Mitch Walding, 23-year old 1st baseman Kyle Martin, 21-year old shortstop Malquin Canelo, 21-year old outfielder Cord Sandberg, and 20-year old outfielder Carlos Tocci.
21-year old right-hander Tom Eshelman is one of the team’s starting pitchers. He came over to the Phillies organization as part of the big package from the Houston Astros for closer Ken Giles.
Eshelman has allowed 36 hits over 39.2 innings with an outstanding 39/9 K:BB ratio. 21-year old lefty Elneiry Garcia has allowed just 31 hits over 41.2 innings with a 35/11 K:BB ratio and has an excellent 2.38 ERA.
Also pitching well at Clearwater are 21-year old righty Tyler Vizza, who has a 38/7 K:BB ratio and a tidy 2.87 ERA over 37.2 innings and who has tossed the staff’s lone complete game.
23-year old Ranfi Casimiro is a 6’8″ Dominican right-hander who is 5-2 with a 3.35 ERA. He has allowed just 32 hits in 37.2 innings with a 40/10 K:BB ratio and is likely to see a promotion to AA Reading soon.
Matt Imhof is a 22-year old lefty who was the Phillies 2nd round pick at 47th overall in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft. He has allowed 30 hits in 37.2 innings, but has had big time command issues, walking 27 batters against 28 strikeouts.
A pair of 21-year old right-handed relievers are having solid seasons and bear watching. Victor Arano has allowed 18 hits over 21.1 innings with a 22/9 K:BB, and Alexis Rivero has yielded just 12 hits in 19.1 innings with a strong 24/5 K:BB ratio.
The Threshers play their home games at a ball park very familiar to most Phillies fans, Bright House Field in Clearwater, the Phils’ spring training home.
Bright House Field is located on the west side of U.S. highway 19 along Florida’s Gulf Coast, and is one of the most fan-friendly and simply gorgeous places to watch a baseball game in the nation.