Tag Archives: Arizona Fall League

Time for Phillies to give Alec Bohm a full shot to start in 2020

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It is only a matter of time before Bohm’s powerful bat is impacting the Phillies lineup

 

The Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series and are now playing in their third consecutive American League Championship Series. They won 107 games this season, most in Major League Baseball.

Whether they ultimately capture another title this year or not, Houston is the current model organization in MLB. The folks who run their ball club clearly know what they are doing.

Shortstop Carlos Correa was the first overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft. He became a big-league starter in 2015 at age 20.

Third baseman Alex Bregman was the second overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. He became a big-league starter by the following July at age 22.

Second baseman Jose Altuve was signed by Houston as a free agent out of Venezuela at age 16 in 2007. By July of 2011 at age 21 he was a big-league regular.

Yordan Alvarez spent his rookie season in MLB this year as the Astros primary Designated Hitter. He blasted 27 home runs while slashing .313/.412/.655 at age 22.

The point? There is no reason that talented ball players aged 20-22 should be held back from their Major League Baseball debut simply due to their birth date.

In fact, more than ever, professional baseball is a game for players in their 20’s. Getting as many of those years as possible out of your best players is becoming more and more important.

The old way of MLB teams holding young players back in order to gain more years of contractual control should be considered as antiquated thinking.

If a young player demonstrates that he is going to be valuable to your organization, the strategy should be to buy them out of a few free agent years by paying them more at a younger age, as the Phillies have done with Scott Kingery.

In 2018, the Phillies made third baseman Alec Bohm their choice at third overall in the MLB Draft. He was billed as an advanced college bat whose hitting ability and maturity could allow him to quickly reach the big-leagues.

When spring training opens at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida four months from now, there is absolutely no reason that a 23-year-old Bohm should not be the Phillies annointed starter at the hot corner.

Not waiting until May or June after receiving six, eight, ten weeks of experience against Triple-A pitching. Not later in the summer. Not next September when rosters expand. Right away, in Clearwater.

During his first full professional season this year, Bohm demonstrated the hitting ability that had made him such a high pick. He slashed .305/.378/.518 with 21 home runs and 55 extra-base hits across 540 plate appearances while rising through three minor league levels.

No more authoritative hitting expert than former Phillies World Series winning manager Charlie Manuel had this to say regarding Bohm’s hitting ability earlier this year:

He’s going to hit. He’s going to be a line-drive hitter with power. He’s going to be an RBI guy. He’s a tough out. I liked him in college and like him even more now.

One question mark regarding Bohm’s status at the time of his selection was defense. Would he ever become a good enough defender at third base to stick at the position at the MLB level?

This past May, Bohm was named as the Phillies organization minor league defense player of the month. In late June, Mike Drago of The Reading Eagle quoted him regarding his work at the position:

I worked a lot at third base, and on defense (in the offseason), not to prove anybody wrong, but to be the best player I can be. It’s paid off.

Drago also noted that when Philadelphia Inquirer’s Bob Brookover brought up the fact that some had questioned his defensive chops at the time of his draft selection, Bohm responded: “Those guys don’t know what they’re talking about.

The Phillies minor league infield coordinator Chris Truby, whose four big-league seasons in the early-2000’s included playing in 242 games at the hot corner himself, had this to say per Drago regarding Bohm’s commitment to defense:

I don’t know that he’s ever taken defense as seriously as he is now. He has made tremendous strides since Instructional League (in September 2018). He’s taking this defense thing personally.

By July, Manuel was absolutely gushing about Bohm’s offensive ability. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia quoted the hitting guru on the club’s prospect:

I think when it’s all said and done and his career balances out where it should be, I’m looking at a guy who is going to hit anywhere from .285 to .300 and hit anywhere from 25 to 30 to 40 home runs. It depends on how many he happens to catch that season.”

For his strong 2019 performance, Bohm was named as the Phillies minor league player of the year. In late August for Baseball America, Salisbury quoted Phillies director of player development Josh Bonifay:

Day in and day out, he’s continued to show why the organization believed in him. His ability to command the strike zone and do damage on pitches is impressive. You make a mistake, whether it’s on the heater or a breaking ball, and he’ll hit it hard somewhere. He’s a line-drive hitter who drives the ball with carry. He uses the whole field. He’s fun to watch.”

The Phillies sent Bohm to the Arizona Fall League in September where he became a starter in the annual Fall Stars Game. Josh Norris of Baseball America opined the following after watching Bohm’s performance in the AFL:

Gifted with the tools to become a classic corner-infield masher, Bohm’s .390 average places him third in the AFL through games of October 8.

MLB Pipeline now ranks Bohm as the top third base prospect in the game. But Jim Callis of MLB.com, while praising Bohm’s bat, still has questions on the defense when he wrote the following:

To get to the big leagues, Bohm will need to continue refining his defense at the hot corner. He has enough arm strength for the position, but his range is fringy and he lacks consistency. He made a wide throw on a seventh-inning grounder Sunday, his third error in six AFL games in the field after making 12 miscues in 83 regular-season contests.”

First base is not available in Philadelphia. Rhys Hoskins turns 27-years-old in March, just beginning the prime of this career. Hoskins is not scheduled to become a free agent until after the 2023 season.

Hoskins is a relatively inexpensive and powerful bat for an organization that already has spent a lot of money in free agency and is likely to spend a lot more in the next couple of years.

Incumbent third baseman Maikel Franco has legitimate 25-30 home run power and will spend much of the 2020 season still at just age 26. But his overall ceiling is nowhere near as high as Bohm, and Franco will likely be used as trade bait this coming winter.

The Phillies have a reputation as being notoriously slow in giving their top prospects a shot at the big leagues. But that reputation is beginning to fall by the way side.

Aaron Nola was the Phillies first round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft at seventh overall as an advanced college pitcher. He debuted in the big-leagues the following summer and was a regular member of the starting rotation at age 23 in 2016.

Adam Haseley was the Phillies top pick at eighth overall in the 2017 MLB Draft. He appeared in 67 games and was playing regularly by the end of the 2019 season at age 23. While a better outfield defender than Bohm will be in the infield, Haseley’s bat is nowhere near as advanced or impactful.

The Phillies need these types of exciting, inexpensive, homegrown talents to begin impacting their lineup as soon as possible. Bohm is plenty old enough and appears mature enough to handle the big-league lifestyle. His confidence and talent are undeniable.

Bottom line, there is no reason that Alec Bohm should not be the Philadelphia Phillies starter at third base right out of the gate in the 2020 season.

Sixto Sanchez pulled from Arizona Fall League by Phillies

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Play gets underway today in the Arizona Fall League, the annual fall showcase event for some of the top prospects from each organization in Major League Baseball.
The Philadelphia Phillies were scheduled to send eight players to participate in the AFL with the Scottsdale Scorpions squad: first baseman Darick Hall, third baseman Luke Williams, shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa, outfielder Austin Listi, and pitchers Luke LeftwichSeth McGarryTyler Viza, and Sixto Sanchez.
However, just yesterday the Phillies announced that Sanchez, the club’s top prospect, was being pulled out of the league. The move appears to be largely cautionary in nature.
Sanchez turned 20-years-old at the end of July. He went 4-3 with a 2.51 ERA and 1.071 WHIP this past season with the High-A Clearwater Threshers. The right-hander allowed 39 hits over 46.2 innings across eight starts with a 45/11 K:BB ratio.
He was really beginning to heat up when the Phillies shut him down due to elbow discomfort following a start on June 3. In his previous four outings, Sanchez had gone 3-1 while allowing just 15 hits over 25.2 innings with a 29/4 K:BB ratio.
Sanchez would never return, and the AFL stint was going to give him a chance to get some more innings of work in before taking a break for the winter.
Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia described the circumstances of his removal from the Arizona Fall League as follows:

“Sanchez was firmly on the road to recovery and getting work in the Florida Instructional League when he recently came down with soreness in his right collarbone. Team medical officials are not alarmed by the issue and they are confident that Sanchez will be fully healthy and ready to go for spring training. However, the setback cut into Sanchez’s preparation time in Florida so the team has decided to err on the side of caution and hold him out of the AFL.”

The other seven Phillies prospects will open their Fall season tonight against the Mesa Solar Sox in Scottsdale, Arizona. The six teams of the AFL are divided into two divisions. Each is scheduled to play a 30-game schedule which ends on November 15, with a championship game scheduled between the two division leaders on November 17.
When healthy, Sanchez combines a 70-grade fastball with fantastic control and improving curveball and changeup offerings that have led to his being rated not only the Phillies top prospect, but also one of the most exciting arms in the entire sport.
He is currently ranked as the 21st overall prospect by MLB, and the #6 right-handed pitching prospect in the game. Assuming he is healthy in the spring, you should expect Sanchez to reach Double-A next season.
Again, given health, by spring training of 2020 when he will still be just 21-years-old it is likely that he will push for a spot in the Phillies starting rotation.

Ian Happ Shines in AFL Fall Stars Game

The Chicago Cubs have experienced quite the year in 2016. The big league club won the World Series for the first time since 1908, ending the ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’ and freeing Steve Bartman from exile.
There were many individual accolades for the players in the organization as well. Ben Zobrist was the World Series MVP, while Javier Baez and Jon Lester shared the NLCS Most Valuable Player honors.
Kris Bryant was named as the National League Most Valuable Player. Bryant also won the Hank Aaron Award as the top all-around hitter in the National League.
Right fielder Jason Heyward won a National League Gold Glove Award, as did first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Rizzo was further honored as the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at first base, and he also won a Silver Slugger Award.
Kyle Hendricks was honored by his peers with the Players Choice Award as Outstanding National League Pitcher.

HAPP TAKES OVER THE AFL TITLE GAME

Tremendous performances didn’t end at the big league level. On Thursday night, Cubs prospect Ian Happ led the Mesa Solar Sox to the Arizona Fall League championship, homering twice in a 6-1 win over the host Surprise Saguaros.
Happ went 4-4 in the game, with the versatile switch-hitter’s two home runs coming from each side of the plate.
“First time in my whole life I’ve done that from both sides,” said Happ per MLB.com’s Mike Rosenbaum“I’m normally hacking when I hit from the left side and then go righty, but that was awesome.”

SCOUTING REPORTS ON HAPP

MLB Pipeline ranks Happ, the ninth overall pick in the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Cincinnati, as the top prospect in the Cubs farm system.
Happ is also ranked as the 21st best prospect in all of baseball. His MLB scouting report reads as follows:
“There isn’t much that Happ can’t do offensively. A switch-hitter, he exhibits a quick stroke and good balance from both sides of the plate, and he owns deceptive strength and solid speed. Happ should post high batting averages and on-base percentages, and he has the upside of a 20-20 player.
Happ is a good athlete with a strong arm, and Chicago will try to maximize his value by playing him at second base in 2016 after he spent instructional league there. He played mostly second base as a college freshman, but he lacked smooth infield actions and shifted to the outfield, and he also saw action at all three outfield spots in his pro debut. As with Schwarber, the Cubs will have to balance expediting Happ’s impact bat to the big leagues with developing him at a more challenging position.”
Happ turned 22-years old back in August. He split the 2016 season evenly between High-A Myrtle Beach and AAA Tennessee.
Combined between the two stops, the Pittsburgh, PA native hit for a .279/.365/.445 slash line with 15 homers, 30 doubles, 73 RBI, 72 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases in 567 plate appearances over 134 games.
Happ’s versatility has demonstrated with solid showings at both second base and in left field. He played in 92 games at the keystone in 2016 and another 13 out in left.
“He’s a special hitter as he showed today, and the fact that he’s been able to step in and play left field for us the last couple days was good to see — he made a great play out there today,” said Ryan Christenson, Happ’s fall league manager at Mesa.
In looking to the future, the Cubs will surely find a place for him when he is fully ready. The team already has Baez, who is about to turn 24 years old, at second base. 24-year old Jorge Solerand 22-year old Albert Almora probably have left and center fields tied up in the short-term.
There is an old adage that these things tend to work themselves out. Trades and injuries sometimes open a path. Sometimes a player simply outperforms another.
Happ will open the 2017 season with a trip to spring training, and will likely begin the year at AAA Iowa, where he will hone his game while the Cubs try to make a final determination on his best regular position.
One thing appears certain. Whenever Ian Happ is ready, the world champion Chicago Cubs will make a place for him. Just one more jewel in a treasure chest of embarrassing riches for the organization.

Phillies Prospect Scott Kingery Heating Up in the Arizona Fall League

The Philadelphia Phillies’ top second base prospect is playing in the Arizona Fall League and is heating up after a slow start.

The Philadelphia Phillies have been considering their future at the Keystone position ever since the greatest player in franchise history at the position began to decline in recent years. 
That player, Chase Utley, was the starter at second base for the better part of a dozen seasons from 2004-15, providing All-Star caliber production for the majority of that time.
In the wake of Utley’s trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August of 2015, Cesar Hernandez took over at the position. 
Hernandez provided a solid batting average and some speed in the Phillies lineup, but he is an inconsistent player who is prone to maddening mistakes.
In the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft, the Phillies selected Scott Kingery out of the University of Arizona with their second round selection, the 48th player chosen overall. 
Kingery has hit for a .271/.328/.372 slash line with eight homers, 58 extra-base hits, 67 RBI, 119 runs scored, and 41 stolen bases in 49 attempts during his first two minor league seasons.

Kingery was sent to the Arizona Fall League this year for the first time. Playing there with the Phillies contingent assigned to the Scottsdale Scorpions, he got off to a very slow start.
However, the now 22-year-old Kingery has picked it up over the last 10 games for the Scorpions by hitting for a .324/.381.459 slash line over his last 37 at-bats.
Kingery is the lone Phillies player selected for the league’s Fall Stars Game, which takes place tonight in Scottsdale. The game will be broadcast beginning at 8:00 PM at MLB.com and on the MLB Network.
In early August, his manager at AA Reading, Dusty Wathan, was asked about Kingery by CSNPhilly’s Andrew Kulp:
“He’s an exciting player. A lot of energy, runs well, really good range at second base, good arm, turns a good double play, has been a nice bat to put in the top of our lineup. It’s exciting that a guy can get here as quick as he has from last year’s draft. He’s got a bright a future. I like to watch him.”
Kingery now ranks as the Phillies’ #13 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, which comments on his future as follows:
“Kingery is the type of advanced college bat who might not take that much time to be big league ready. Imagining a middle infield of top prospect J.P. Crawford and Kingery at Citizens Bank Park in the future is not far-fetched.”
Kingery should begin the 2017 season back at Reading. With normal progression he will move on to AAA Lehigh Valley at some point next summer, and could push for a cameo with the Phillies by September.
“My goal is just to reach base any way I can,” Kingery said per Kulp. “If that’s a hit, a walk, a hit by pitch or an error, I’m just trying to get on base and get myself into scoring position, then let the middle of the order drive me in.”

The Phillies and their fans hope that by no later than the start of the 2018 season, Kingery is getting into scoring position in front of the middle of the order at Citizens Bank Park as the true heir apparent to Utley.

Bryce Harper’s Coming Out Party

In writing up my final MLB Power Ranking last week, I finished up the Washington Nationals comments with this line: “I believe that this postseason could very well be Bryce Harper’s true launching pad to on-field stardom.

The Nats finished 2nd in the Power Ranking and were the team that I believed were best positioned to win the World Series. The San Francisco Giants killed that possibility by dumping Washington in four games in one of the National League Division Series.

But the postseason performance of Harper, limited to those four games as it was, may indeed have been that launching pad. Harper launched a few himself, blasting 3 homeruns. He also scored 4 runs and knocked in 4. He hit .294, registering a .368 on-base percentage, an .882 slugging percentage, and had an OPS of 1.251 as well.

Harper began his assault on Giants pitching in the bottom of the 7th inning of Game 1 with the Nats trailing 3-0. Against reliever Hunter Strickland, Harper led off and absolutely crushed a titanic shot into the right field upper deck at Nationals Park to get the Nats on the board.

Harper, who appears to thrive under pressure in dramatic situations, sensed the importance of getting the Nats crowd back into the game: “Get some runs on the board, get this crowd back into it. Getting them going was very exciting.” It wouldn’t ultimately be enough, as San Fran held on to win 3-2, going up 1-0 in the series.

Game 2 would prove to be historic, the longest postseason game by time in MLB history, tied for the longest by innings.
The affair wasn’t ended until Brandon Belt’s 18th inning homerun gave the Giants a 2-1 victory. Harper was conspicuous by his absence in the game, going 0-7, striking out twice and leaving a pair in scoring position.

With their backs to the wall as Game 3 headed out west to AT&T Park in San Francisco, the Nationals staved off elimination with a 4-1 victory. Harper was the centerpiece player. He scored all the way from 1st base on a throwing error by Madison Bumgarner in the top of the 7th, part of a 3-run rally that broke a scoreless tie.

Then, in the top of the 9th, Harper blasted a pitch from reliever Jean Machi over the right-centerfield fence to extend the lead out to 4-0 in what would end up as a 4-1 win, keeping the Nationals alive and moving them within a game of evening up the best-of-five NLDS.

Harper’s HR into McCovey Cove tied Game 4 of the NLDS

In yesterday’s game 4, again needing to win to stay alive, the Nats fell behind again, the Giants taking a 2-1 lead into the top of the 7th inning. With one out and Strickland, his Game 1 victim, again on in relief, Harper crushed a pitch well over the right field wall and out into McCovey Cove to tie the game.

Ultimately the Giants would again prevail in a 1-run game, winning the series 3 games to 1, all of their victories coming by that single-run margin. Except for his collar in Game 2, when most of the Nats failed to produce, Bryce Harper was producing the entire series. Great defensive plays, hustling on the bases, blasting homeruns.

Even since appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated in June of 2009 as a 16-year old, Harper has been a marked man to some. Back then, SI’s highly respected baseball writer Tom Verducci called him the most exciting sports prodigy “since Lebron (James)” and commented that he “has faster bat speed than Mark McGwire in his prime.

Harper’s 2009 SI cover at age 16

Harper became the 2010 winner of the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the best amateur baseball player in the United States. He was then taken that year by the Nationals with the 1st overall pick in the MLB Draft. Thereafter he was consistently rated as one of the top 3 prospects in the game.

In the fall of 2010, Harper was selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League, a showcase league for many of the game’s top prospects. There he hit .343 and helped his Scottsdale Scorpions win the league championship. In 2011 at midseason, he was selected to play for the United States in the All-Star Futures Game, another top prospect showcase.

After rising through two levels in the minors over the last couple seasons, Harper was finally called up to the Majors on the same exact date as another phenom, Mike Trout, on April 27th, 2012, and made his much-anticipated MLB debut the following day. Ever since, Harper has routinely and unfairly been compared to Trout, a far different type player and personality.

Harper & Trout both called up to Majors on same day

Both Harper and Trout became MLB All-Star Game participants in their first year, and at season’s end it was Bryce Harper winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award, with Trout taking the honors in the American League.

Ever since that strong debut season, while Trout has become a regular AL MVP contender and a smiling future face of the game, Harper has battled injuries and perceptions by fans in road cities that he is spoiled at best, petulant and ornery at worst. Though snake-bitten by the injury bug, he has proven not spoiled and petulant, but simply one of the game’s great, all-out, hard-driving competitors.

On the injury front, early in the 2013 season he crashed into the outfield wall at Nationals Park on both April 29th and May 13th, injuring his ribcage in the first collision and his left knee in the second. He would aggravate the knee in a headfirst slide at the end of May. Likely compensating for the injured knee, Harper began to feel discomfort in his left hip, and the combination of all these injuries directly led to decreased production.

His one highlight was being elected to the MLB All-Star Game, and being selected to participate in the Homerun Derby. Despite battling his injuries, Harper advanced all the way to the Finals, where he was edged out by Yoenis Cespedes by 9-8. Harper is the youngest player to ever advance to the Derby Finals. In the off-season, he had surgery to remove a bursa sac from the left knee.

Hoping to put it all behind him and get a full, healthy 2014 season under his belt, Harper again suffered a debilitating injury, tearing a ligament in his left thumb while sliding headfirst into 3rd base in late April. He would miss 57 games, more than 1/3 of the season, and wouldn’t regain his full power stroke until the late stages.

While I am calling the 2014 MLB postseason the Bryce Harper coming-out party, he actually started bashing before the playoffs even began. As the 2nd half of 2014 moved along and the Nats pulled away to an easy NL East crown, Harper hit .305 with 9 homers after August 12th.

Based on his performances in MLB when healthy, it is clear that Bryce Harper is a special talent. He is still just 21 years old, turning 22 in the middle of next week. He has never, in college, the minor leagues, or the Majors, faced a pitcher who was younger than him.

Off the field, Harper became engaged this past spring to his hometown Las Vegas girlfriend, Kayla Varner. She is a soccer player at Ohio State University now, after transferring from Brigham Young. Both Harper and Varner are Mormons, with strong faith and family principles guiding their lives.

Harper and fiancee’ Kayla Varner

There is no doubt that Bryce Harper has been immature at times. Remember fans, he is 21 years old. Tell me about how mature you were at that age. There is also no doubt that Harper is one of the hardest working players on the field, in the batting cage, and in the workout room.

Bryce Harper still has some growth and maturity to add to his game. As he ages and settles down in his personal life, that is likely to come naturally. He also needs to find a way to stay healthy, which may require nothing more than simple fortune smiling on him for a change.

I believe that given health, the baseball world is about to be treated to the real Bryce Harper. He will become one of the game’s great all-around players, a regular contender for home run crowns, Gold Glove awards, and Most Valuable Player awards.

When we read back and look over what I believe will be his great career, for many of us it will be the titanic blasts struck in the 2014 NLDS that we will remember as the young man’s true coming out party to the larger baseball world. Bryce Harper is excitement. Bryce Harper is hustle. Bryce Harper is baseball.