Before we jump into talking about players why don’t you introduce yourself to those that haven’t already read your work and where people can find your writing?
I am Jim Peyton. I started reporting for Phuture Phillies in Spring Training 2014. I began by covering the players invited to the major league camp. I attended a few of the games at Bright House but spent most of my time at the Carpenter Complex following the young prospects. I continued to follow them through XST while covering the Threshers. When XST broke, I followed the GCL and the draft picks who were assigned to the Clearwater teams. I am just now beginning to attend the Instructional League games. In fact, after sending this to Matt, I’ll be heading over to watch an intra-squad game.
In the first half of the year the Threshers were possibly the worst team in affiliated baseball both in terms of on field performance and prospect talent. They weren’t stellar in the second half but much improved, can you sum the season as a whole?
The first half was depressing to cover. Thankfully, a few rehab players were around to give us someone to watch. Darin Ruf and Cole Hamels were here in April. And Charlie Manuel was here to watch them. Sadly, those were some of the highlights during the first month. The original roster was a disappointment. In 2013, we had Franco and Dugan. Later Perkins, Milner, and Altherr put together fine seasons. In 2014, there were no prospects on the roster at the start. Pete Lavin had a strong first half and finally was promoted to Reading. He patrolled centerfield and recorded 14 outfield assists while hitting .292 out of the three-hole. Harold Martinez was pressed into service as their clean up hitter. He was more aggressive in that batting position swinging early in the count in most at bats and hardly ever saw enough pitches to work a walk. The pitching staff provided hope early on, but Colin Kleven seemed to pitch into some hard luck situations and Ethan Stewart had difficulty keeping his walk rate down. The bullpen was inconsistent, too. Lino Martinez also had problems with walks and closer (and the closest thing to a prospect on the initial roster) Dan Child got roughed up in several outings. Finally, Roman Quinn came off the DL and we had a real prospect to watch.
The second half saw the arrival of Aaron Nola and promotion of J.P. Crawford. With the departures of Justin Parr and Willie Carmona, Brian Pointer started getting more frequent starts in the outfield and more at bats. He was able to pull his average up to .246 and provided stability after Lavin’s promotion with his 15 home runs and .755 OPS. Art Charles led the team with 19 home runs and he and Pointer led the team with 54 and 53 RBIs. Charles took over the clean up position in the second half. With Quinn and Crawford wreaking some havoc at the top of the order, the Threshers were able to get early runs and take some pressure off their pitchers. Nola was only here a short time, but he looked very good. Kleven and Miguel Nunez rebounded well in the second half and had some real good outings. Cody Forsythe was promoted and pitched well out of the pen.
At one point this year the Threshers had both of the Phillies top two prospects in J.P. Crawford and Aaron Nola on the roster. Both are important parts of the Phillies future, what were your impressions of them this year?
I was real impressed with Crawford. The first time I saw him in the 2013 GCL, I could see that he and not Quinn would be our shortstop of the future. His quick rise to Clearwater is an indication of how talented he is. The Threshers’ lead radio announcer, Kirsten Karbach, asked him in an interview after his first series after his promotion what he thought of the FSL pitchers and would the promotion affect his approach. His reply was something like this – He respected how much better the competition was at this level and yes it would affect him at the plate. He liked swinging early in the count in Lakewood, but would be more selective in Clearwater. Well, that was one of the first things I noticed. He sees a lot of pitches in his at bats. So far he is showing the discipline to wait for his pitch and not help the pitcher early in the count. On top of that, he slashed .275/.352/.407/.759 with 8 home runs. Not bad for a 19-year old whose calling card is supposed to be his glove. Now that was a little bit of a surprise, the 17 errors he committed. Few if any were throwing errors. He has nice range, a strong arm, great footwork, and he always positions himself well to receive the ball. He’s real smooth. The errors are correctable. He says he’s in Clearwater to work on his backhand, so he knows he needs work. Mature. I think he’ll get the errors in check.
Aaron Nola is around the strike zone on most pitches. When he misses, you get the impression it was a purpose pitch. He didn’t fall behind in the count very often. He rarely worked deep into counts. It was refreshing watching or listening to him every 6th day. I found that interesting. They went to a 6-man rotation when he joined the team. I guess that was to ease him out of his Friday night rotation from LSU. This is an unfair comp, but he is around the zone like Cliff Lee was before his injury. Nola didn’t get a lot of strike outs like Lee, but he didn’t walk many.
Who was the top hitter you saw for the Threshers this year outside of Crawford?
Pete Lavin, but most of my readers would quickly point out that he is not age appropriate for Advanced A. Brian Pointer and Harold Martinez had good numbers in the month of July.
Who was the top pitcher on the team for you outside of Nola?
Starter – Colin Kleven. He was among the league leaders in fewest walks per nine innings. Reliever – Cody Forsythe – I think he made 13 appearances before he finally walked a batter. Manager Nelson Prada brought him along nicely from low leverage to increasingly high leverages situations pretty quickly. He responded well.
All season the Clearwater roster had a high turnover as prospects were promoted, demoted, released, signed, traded for, and even made cameos from the GCL. Was there any guy you fell like was lost in the shuffle and should be getting more attention?
Herlis Rodriguez. In 2013, his second year in the GCL, he wasn’t getting much playing time. When they finally put him in, he hit .389 in 28 games before being promoted to Williamsport. This year he got 17 at bats (.176) in Williamsport and then 9 at bats (.111) in Lakewood before riding the pine in Clearwater. He had 4 hits in 28 at bats (.143) in very sporadic playing time. Finally he got starts in 6 of the last 10 days of the season and went 12 for 23 and finished at .314. He probably projects to a fifth outfielder, if they are even projecting him at all. But I like watching him play. He’s smart at the plate. He’ll bunt if that’s available, he’s strong enough to jerk the ball over the first baseman’s head into the corner. He plays all 3 outfield positions. He has a remarkable arm. I’ve seen him make a throw while lying on his chest in left center and from his back along the left field foul line to double up runners off second base.
Jesus Posso. He played in 3 games and only got 2 hits in his 8 at bats, but they were a double and a home run onto the right field berm.
Mark Leiter looks like he knows how to pitch.. It remains to be seen if he has the stuff to move up, but he threw 64.2 innings in 11 starts and only walked 15 while striking out 56.
Colton Murray pitched well early in the season and was promoted to Reading. I think he pitched well there too.
In addition to the Threshers you covered Extended Spring Training, Gulf Coast League, and now Fall Instructional Leagues. Who was the guy who stood out for you on those lower leagues this year?
Denton Keys pitched well enough to break camp and go to Williamsport. Keys continued to pitch well even after the disappointment of not going north. GCL pitchers Franklyn Kilome and Elniery Garcia also pitched well.
Who are you most excited to see in Instructional Leagues?
Based on how little Martelo and Encarnacion played last year, I don’t expect to see very much of the four 16-year old international signees. I would say, Crawford’s double play partner. The past 2 years, they have played them in platoons. The same 8 play every other game. I think that if this holds true this year, it will be interesting to see which second baseman gets paired with Crawford. Especially with Valentin and Pullin both on the roster.
Among the pitchers, other than Nola, there was an UDFA named Josh Taylor who was hitting 95 on the radar gun against the GCL Blue Jays. Thirteen Ks in 9 innings. I want to see that again, too.
Photo by Tom Hagerty