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?
Well, I am employed by Phillies Nation as their minor league insider. In that role, I provide coverage for the PN website and appear occasionally on their weekly TV show as a panelist and sometimes producing features on key Phillies prospects to know. I also contribute to The Shore Sports Network, covering the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws.
Lakewood this year had a bunch of known prospects on offense this year, but from the outside it looked like the pitching doomed them. Was that the narrative that you saw play out in the standings?
Pitching was lacking. They stuck with some hurlers longer than they should have. There wasn’t enough consistency on that staff at all, but youth and inexperience was the overall theme for Lakewood this year. Throughout the season, it was rare to find a position player with any college experience, meaning the lineup, top to bottom, was made up of high school draft picks and foreign signees under 21 years of age. Certainly, there are teams at Class A levels that can succeed without college players, but it’s rare.
As the season went on, the addition of last year’s 2nd round pick Andrew Knapp really helped the younger players. Still recovering from Tommy John surgery when he was added to the roster in June, the switch-hitting backstop couldn’t play defense initially. Until he was ready to play D, Knapp would spend time during defensive half innings positioning himself between the team’s coaches in an effort to absorb more about the game. He studied the game and his work ethic was exemplary. Those types of instances when a more mature player maximizes his opportunities and sets a great example for the more green youngsters were key and would have been welcome in greater quantity from more leader types.
Who was the top hitter you saw for the Blueclaws this year?
Ceiling wise it was absolutely Dylan Cozens. The 2nd round pick from 2012 is well put together and was playing in his second full year focused exclusively on baseball (he’s a former two-sport guy). He progressed very well throughout the year and showed a lot of power with speed on the bases. I like how the lefty hitting Cozens developed a plan at the plate and became more patient. Coaches love the strides he took from spring training till the end of the season. As a bonus, he’s excellent on defense in the outfield.
Who was the top pitcher on the team for you?
The easy answer is lefty starter Yoel Mecias, who already has a big league ready change up and spent the year working his way back to 100% with his stamina and velocity after missing a year to Tommy John surgery. I really think he’ll be a buzz name among Florida State League prospects next year.
I look forward to seeing how right-hander Yacksel Rios progresses. He was tough to determine a ceiling for, but has a solid frame and already throws 91-92 with potential to add more velocity. Secondary pitches (slider, change) looked very nice and he really attacks the opposition.
Lakewood is a big development step as players participate in their first full season of pro-ball, and this can lead to some players stepping forward and other stepping back. What player who was off your radar to start the year should Phillies fans be aware of?
You obviously cover more than just the Blueclaws so I wanted to give you a chance to talk about another player or two who really stood out in the Phillies system for you this year.
A name I knew from previous seasons’ box scores who really stood out this season was Willians Astudillo. I, like many, didn’t have any level of expectations for Willians and he ended up being such a delight to watch and cover throughout the year. I had a pitcher drafted out of college tell me that Willians has the best hands he’d ever seen. The guy is confident and just goes and gets pitches. He’s a bright ballplayer that absolutely loves the game. There is not a player I’ve covered in my six years doing this that enjoys himself more than Willians Astudillo and it translates into his results.
One of the hallmarks of your coverage of the Phillies system has been in depth interviews with players, coaches, and Phillies management. What has been the most rewarding part of really getting to know the people involved in the process?
I have never really thought of what I would consider rewarding. before From time to time I’ll get a kind note on Twitter from a colleague, like you, that expresses appreciation. That always means a lot. The feedback and thanks I get from players and an occasional loved one of a player is definitely meaningful also.
I definitely have great rapports with several players. Building trust with some guys virtually from their teen years till they reach the upper levels allows me to obtain feedback and insight from time to time that might never see the light of day without that specific relationship being in place. Knowing I am trusted by players is something that stands out in that regard as well.
Has there been any difficulties to what you do that have stemmed from having good personal relations with people you are reporting on?
I prefer to not dish out hate. As a result, there have been occasions when PN commenters critiqued something I’ve written as being fluff. Stats will speak for themselves. If I know that Larry Greene Jr. is struggling, I don’t need to be fired up and aggressively assert that he was the wrong person to pick with a top draft pick. But, I’ll damn sure ask him about the output and what he’s working on to improve. Writing something along the lines of, “Larry Greene knows what is expected of a top pick and is working hard to make that type of impact” isn’t vicious enough for some frustrated Phillies fans. That’s fine. Phils fans can keep being Phils fans and I’ll keep being me.
Photo by Ted Kerwin