Throughout the season I am interacting with many people watching Phillies’ prospects everyday and this series was my way of bringing that to all of you. Mitch Rupert and Ian Catherine have been my go to people on the Williamsport Crosscutters everyone of the three years I have covered the system. They combine a near unprecedented level of broadcasting, journalism, and baseball knowledge that has been invaluable to me in my writing. Combined in these interviews they mention nearly every player on the Crosscutters roster in detail, from top prospects to guys who may not reach AA.
Introduce yourselves and where people can listen to you or read your work?
Ian: My name is Ian Catherine. I’ve been covering Williamsport Crosscutters baseball for the last four seasons on ESPN Radio Williamsport.
Mitch: My name is Mitch Rupert and I cover the Williamsport Crosscutters for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette newspaper. This was my seventh season covering the team. I’ve covered 15 of the players currently on the Phillies’ 40-man roster. You can following me on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert. I also post most of my stories on my blog at http://sungazette.com/page/
There was no disputing who the top prospect on the team was, tell the people about why they should be excited about Franklyn Kilome?
Ian: I think the biggest reason everyone is going to get excited about Kilome is the fastball. Anytime you see the radar gun light up in the triple digits, it is something to behold, and when someone as young as Kilome is doing it, then it is even more special. Outside of the plus fastball, which does need to be controlled a little better (not an uncommon problem with young, power pitchers), I think his work ethic and personality are going to let him be extremely successful down the road. To me, he never seemed like he was bigger than anyone around him in the clubhouse and wasn’t against listening to Les Lancaster or Pat Borders throughout the year. I think another solid attribute was his body control. Being as tall and lanky as he is, it can sometimes be tough for someone of his age to control. As he develops, don’t forget about that spike curve he has. That was a pretty solid out pitch near the end of the season.
Mitch: His stuff speaks for itself. There are any number of glowing reviews out there about his stuff. But to me, what separates him from other good, young pitchers I’ve seen come through here was the way he processed the game. He understood his own mechanics, his own stuff, and the corrections pitching coach Les Lancaster was trying to make so well. He’s an extremely coachable kid. I think he knows how good he has the potential to be, and wants to maximize that potential, so he absorbs everything the coaches and instructors talk to him about, and then he takes it to the mound. He’s very good at putting his last start behind him and starting fresh with each start.
From a stuff standpoint, Kilome is easily the best prospect I’ve seen come through Williamsport in 7 seasons. Early in the season he would sit 94-95 and touch 96-97 with the fastball, and it’s got some heavy sink to it running in on right-handers and away from left-handers. Just take a look at his groundball to fly ball ratio, or his pitching heat map and you’ll see how heavy that fastball can be. Late in the season he tended to sit more at 92-94, touching 95. I think he found a bit better command that way, because at times he would look like he was trying to throw the ball through a brick wall and would pull it way across his body. The curveball flashes as a plus pitch, but needs a bit of refinement. He likes to throw it harder, in the 82-84 range to bury it in the dirt. It makes me believe that if he wanted, he could add a slider to his arsenal, but that’s a story for down the road. The change-up is still a work in progress. He just found a grip this year that finally makes sense to him, so it’s going to take some time for it to develop.
Lastly, I feel like there’s more velocity in his frame still. He’s got more room to fill out, and I still don’t think he uses his lower half as well as he possibly can. His arm action is loose, the velocity is easy. There is absolutely nothing about this kid that shouldn’t have people absolutely giddy about his future.
The NYPL is the first stop for most draftees, and while the top picks weren’t there (Tyler Gilbert – 6th round was highest pick), there was no shortage of draftees this year. Outside of Josh Tobias (more on him later) who stood out as having a major league future?
Ian: I think there are maybe two or three guys on this roster that have a legit shot at making it to the Major Leagues. Tobias being one of them. But for now, I would have to say that Rob Tasin has the ability to make it to the Major Leagues. Though he may not be to biggest guy in the bullpen, he has some really good stuff. Mid to high 90’s fastball with a ton of movement generated by is lower arm slot and release point. His slider was devastating at times against both right and left handed batters. Also, he isn’t afraid to go after any hitter, in any situation. Big reason he set the Crosscutters record for saves this eason. If he progresses well, I don’t see why he doesn’t make it to the bigs.
Brendan Hayden would be another guy that I could see making it to the major leagues. I think both he and us as media members and fans got robbed of watching a full season of Hayden play. In all honesty, the ailments that forced him to miss the most time was as freak as they come and I don’t see injuries being a constant issue. Hayden, a big bodied and strong bat from the left side is a great combination for success. He handled the bat extremely well all season long, and had it not been for some big parks in the NYPL, he may have had for or five more home runs than he did. Along with being a big target at 1st base, he is extremely athletic for his size. Has a large range to get throws and stay on the bag. Displayed strong hands on numerous picks and had some solid footwork that will continue to prosper as his career continues.
Mitch: Four names immediately stand out to me as guys who should be around a while and make a run at the big leagues. First, I absolutely love what I saw from Austin Bossart. Being drafted where he was as a college senior, I initially thought of him as a senior sign and maybe an organizational guy kind of like Tuffy Gosewisch was in the system. But the more and more he played, the more and more I think he could have a back-up catcher profile. His handling of a pitching staff is phenomenal, and the entire staff raved about throwing to him. His ability to call the game was paramount, where one pitcher said to me, “If you shake him off, you’re probably making a mistake.” His ability to know when to make mound visits and how to calm down the guy on the mound got rave reviews from manager Pat Borders. And as a hitter, he won’t wow you, but he’s got a short, quick stroke which generates good gap pop, and the bat stays in the hitting zone a long time with a level, but slightly, uppercut swing. His ability to find the barrel was second to none.
Second, I’d say Kenny Koplove. He’s got the most upside of anyone in a really good Cutters bullpen. He has three pitches which flashed at times as potentially big league pitches. The fastball has great arm-side run coming from a sidearm arm angle, and will sit in the low-90s. What makes the fastball even better is a change-up which comes from the same arm angle with the same kind of arm-side run. The two pitches together are a lethal combination. And his third-pitch, a curveball which is a little slurvish, gives him a great option as something to run away from right-handers and in to left-handers. He has a very slight build and there appears to be some room to fill out and find a tick or two more on the velocity. Between college and the pros, he’s only got something like 60 innings of pitching because he was primarily a shortstop at Duke, so he’s a project, but the upside is legit.
Third, Skylar Hunter‘s stuff was an eye-opener from the first time I saw him pitch. A good, hard fastball that sat consistently at 94 with a very solid breaking ball to boot. He’s got to clean up the control and command, but he’s got the stuff to go right to Clearwater next year and get on the fast track.
Lastly, I really like Zach Coppola‘s game. He must get stronger, something he has already acknowledged, and something he said he and the Phillies have already discussed. He’s a consistently sub-4 second runner to first base from the left side. He seemed to tire out toward the end of the season, but through the first 40-50 games was in the discussion as potentially the team MVP. He’s an above average defender in center field with an above average arm. If he can get a little stronger, you’ll see more line drives from him, but he must get stronger. It’s an intriguing profile to start with.
Now is later. Josh Tobias made BA’s Top 20 NYPL Top 20, after being a senior sign in the 10th round. He already has had very split opinions in early research for offseason rankings, how is his bat, and more importantly how does his glove look?
Ian: When watching players at any level, I keep one saying in mind, “do they make it look effortless?” In the case of Josh Tobias, he makes it look effortless at the plate. And not just from one side. Being a college guy, he has had some time to develop his swings from both sides of the plate, and both are a lot of fun to watch. The biggest thing that stood out to me, and I think everyone else, was his hands, which are very quick and fluid throughout the swing. He isn’t afraid to let the pitch get deep and he can generate some serious pop with those quick hands.
Let’s not forget, that Josh Tobias is a straight up athlete. His transition to 2nd base had a couple bumps along the way this past season, but there wasn’t anything that I saw that couldn’t be ironed out with more experience and repetitions at the position. Showed great range laterally and vertically and has a strong arm that I think could see him play on the left side of the infield if need be.
Mitch: The bat was clearly too advanced to be in the New York-Penn League, and truth be told, when he gets to Lakewood next year it’s going to probably be too advanced for the South Atlantic League. Dude can hit. He’s got a tremendous feel for the strike zone and for his own personal strike zone. He likes to attack pitches early and will take advantage of mistakes. But when he doesn’t get the pitch he wants, he’ll work counts, often 4 and 5 pitches deep. He’s got pop from both sides of the plate, but will never be a power hitter.
He made tremendous strides as a second baseman, but still has a long way to go. He’s really quick and fast, covers a ton of ground, and gets to balls most guys might not get to. In turn, his errors are up. He sometimes fields the ball to close to his body instead of getting it out front, especially when he’s moving laterally, and he tends to bobble the ball when on the move. His footwork around second base is pretty good. He’s fluid in getting off the bag and out of the way of the runner and makes a good, clean transition. He’s not yet an average defender, but he can get to a point where he’s an average defender, and as an average defender, he’s a hell of a player.
The lack of HS draft picks last year (RHP Sam McWilliams was only pick that signed) gave a lot of roster space to Latin players. Jose Pujols is the household name, but he was far from the only guy. Speak to Pujols’ ability, but also who else should fans be paying attention to?
Ian: When it comes to Jose Pujols, there is a lot of hype and there should be. There is a lot of raw talent there, from the power to his arm. But there is also a lot of room for development for Pujols. In the outfield, he was a little bit of a liability this past season. Didn’t take the greatest routes (fly balls and ground balls) which led to balls being misplayed. His arm is very strong, but lacks accuracy, which led to missing cuts and base runners taking an extra 90 feet.
At the plate, he is fun to watch, during batting practice. The kid can hit tape measure shots during BP, but it took him over a calendar year between his last GCL home run and his first NYPL home run. Granted, that is a mixture of numerous things. A couple things that stood out to me this past season, where discipline and pitch recognition based. The book came out of Pujols early, that he will chase anything down and away and that was where he was struck out a great number of times. Also, he would give up on inside breaking balls too early. Resulting in the hands going up and out while the body went back and the pitch ran across the inside corner for strike three.
Should Pujols be able to correct those things, and fill out [physically, then there is a possibility he finds himself living up to his hype.
Other Latin players that fans should really be keeping an eye on would include guys like Jesus Posso, Feliberto Sanchez and William Cuicas. Posso, in my opinion, was the biggest power threat on the club in 2015. Handles the bat extremely well for a power hitter, and really didn’t have a bunch of mechanical flaws. Posso also has, what could be, the strongest hands I’ve ever seen. Let’s put it this way, during BP, Pat Borders looked at me and asked “have you ever shook Posso’s hand?” To answer that, yes, yes I had and it was impressive. Let’s not forget that he is a pretty good athlete. Made an almost seamless transition from behind the plate to 1st base and did a hell of a job. Very soft hands and good range. Footwork came along rather quickly. I asked Posso which position he preferred, and he wasted no time in pointing behind home plate and smiling.
Feliberto Sanchez is an interesting case. One of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, no questioning his naming of fan favorite. He struggled as a starter in 2014 in Williamsport, but there were some positives. He took the transition to the bullpen with an open mind and by seasons end, he was a solid contributor in the middle innings. Granted he had a rough outing here and there, but during the stretch towards the playoffs, he pitched very well, which I don’t think can be over looked, especially for a bullpen guy. That seven strikeout performance at West Virginia in early September was one of the most dominant outings I’ve seen from anyone.
William Cuicas may not be the first choice for anyone on this list, but it’s what I saw off the field is what makes me like this kid. There have have been some fun shortstops in Williasmport over the past couple years and Cuicas definitely fit that mold in my opinion. But listening to him talk to Pat Boarders and Eddie Dennis about what he needs to do to advance and then watching him take there advice and put it to work is pretty cool in it’s own right. He may not make it to the bigs, but if he continues to grind wit that work ethic, then by all means, he will be a fun one for the fans to watch.
Mitch: Pujols gives you reasons to dream on a player purely because of the power. The natural, raw power in his swing, to me, is unparalleled in the system. And it’s that one tool alone which should make people sit up and take notice. I know the complaints though, he only hit four home runs this season. He strikes out way too much. There’s times it doesn’t look like he recognizes breaking balls. Pujols is a case where I believe watching him over a long haul is critical because the Jose Pujols you see on Monday is often vastly different than the one you’ll see on Tuesday. But the growth he showed between the end of last season and this year is incredible. Last year he was the player swinging at the microwave if you threw it up to the plate. He was more under control this year with both his approach and his swing. He understands the concept of using the middle of the field and going the other way. His hot start to the season told that story very well, and his struggles really hit home when he got away from that approach. I truly believe he recognizes breaking balls out of the hand, or recognizes spin. I saw him spit on way too many good breaking balls that were good pitches but not strikes this summer to believe he’s clueless on breaking balls. Can he be better? Absolutely. But we have to remember he’s still only 19. I won’t speak to what I believe is the hitch in his swing because Matt has already chronicled this, and from talking with hitting instructor Andy Tracy, he seems to have a plan in place to approach this issue. My only other issue with him as a hitter is I may like to see him get off the plate a little bit in the box. He’s so long and lanky in the arms and legs that pitchers absolutely busted him in with fastballs that are hittable. But because he’s hanging over the plate, he’s jack-knifing out of the way on driveable pitches. So I think moving off the plate would be a benefit.
As a defender he still struggles with routes at times. He struggles going back on the ball more than coming in, and he doesn’t get particularly good first steps on the ball, so he’s got a lot of work to do there. He’s got the best outfield arm I’ve covered in Williamsport in 7 years, but it needs to be harnessed. Andy Abad worked relentlessly with him on making accurate throws to the cut-off man and not trying to airmail everything. With an arm as strong as his, he wants to show it off, but when he tries to show it off, he tends to throw worm-burners. In his case with throwing the ball, less is probably more. But again, he’s 19.
Bottom line is his bat is going to carry him, and when he learns to hit and learns who he is as a hitter. Watch out.
The Latin pitchers I was most impressed with were Alejandro Arteaga and Jose Taveras. Ismael Cabrera is another story and I’ll get into him later on. I saw two distinct breaking balls from Arteaga this year to go with a good fastball. In his two years in Williamsport, he’s been searching for a put-away pitch because batters will run up his pitch count with foul ball after foul ball. The fastball is good, but maybe not good enough to be a put-away pitch. The slider is good, but Arteaga was kind of a one-trick pony with it running it away from right-handed hitters. He flashed a decent curveball to right-handers late in the season which he would front-door for called strikes and late in the count. It seemed to give him an extra look which kept batters off-balance even more. His command is vastly improved. While I don’t have him as a sleeper or a breakout guy, per se, it’s more wait-and-see with him because I think there’s something serviceable there.
Taveras is so interesting because I know so little about him even after watching him for a season. Nothing he does is overwhelming. His stuff isn’t particularly overpowering, and he’s older than most of the Latin pitchers who come through Williamsport. But he got outs, and he was consistent in getting those outs. It’s probably time to challenge him next year to really see what you have. I probably need to see him against better competition to get a better feel for what he is, but he’s worth paying attention to.
I’m all aboard the Carlos Duran bandwagon. He’s a plus defender with so many of the same characteristics Aaron Altherr had in his two stops in Williamsport. He glides to the baseball in the outfield and has a natural flair for the spot. He’s got an average arm at best from what I’ve seen, definitely behind Pujols, Coppola and Venn Biter, but those are three legitimate plus arms. He’s got a little pop in his bat, but I don’t think he’ll hit for the kind of power it appears Altherr is capable of, but there’s plenty of room there to drive the ball. He’s got a very good up-the-middle approach, but at times I would like to see him be more authoritative with his swing. His bat speed isn’t bad, but sometimes I think he’s guiding the bat through the zone instead of attacking the baseball. He’s a legit top-of-the-order hitter to me.
It’s no secret Jan Hernandez is one of my favorite players. He’s just a good kid who wants to play the game and will play hard for you. He became only the sixth player in Crosscutters history to hit 10 home runs in a season this year, which should speak to the legitimacy of his power. But obviously he has his warts. His pitch recognition was much-improved this year, but still not up to par. But to me, seeing improvement is as important as anything at this level, it means there’s a plan up there, it’s a matter of execution. He’s a very mentally tough kid who doesn’t seem to get rattled. He’s very inconsistent defensively. He’s got the athletic ability and arm strength to be a plus defender at third base, but he plays, at times, below average defense. I think he has to get more consistent and diligent in his preparation to be a consistent defender.
Luis Espiritu really caught my eye toward the end of the season much in the same way Malquin Canelo did toward the end of his season here a couple years ago. Defensively he’s capable of playing second, third and short at an above average level, but is obviously suited best for the middle infield. The bat is intriguing at this point in that he puts together very good at-bats and seemed to find the barrel quite a bit. I wouldn’t want to make a judgment on him at this point because I have seen so very little, but having just turned 19, I’m really interested in his growth potential. He’s going to be overshadowed by other, younger middle infield prospects in the GCL, but if he gets the everyday gig at short or second in Williamsport next year, it wouldn’t surprise me. He’s intriguing.
And lastly, Jesus Posso. Dude is very surprisingly athletic with a bad body, but he very much held his own playing first base this year with Gregori Rivero and Austin Bossart taking up all the catching time. He must catch for the bat to play, and he’s an athletic catcher who gets good carry on throws to second base. I’d say second-best raw power on the team behind Pujols, and he’s a step or two ahead of Jan Hernandez in that department. He moves well behind the plate and seems to receive the ball well, but I didn’t see nearly enough of him to comment on how he calls a game. He’s a light-hearted kid who is fun to have around and a good player.
Last year I asked about sleepers and Mitch raved about Ricardo Pinto and Edubray Ramos. Who are you betting on this year?
Ian: I would have to say that I would have three sleepers, but the one that really sticks out in my mind is Austin Bossart. To me, this kid really came out of nowhere and did a fantastic job both at the plate and behind it. Talk about a guy with a willingness to learn. Bossart didn’t call games while at the University of Penn, so he had to learn that art here in Williamsport. He had a great tutor in Pat Borders and he used that to his advantage. By the end of the season, it was tough to believe that he was the third catcher on the opening day roster. At the plate, he was very impressive. May not be a power threat at any time in his career, but he has a solid line drive swing. Very Albert Pujols like with a wider stance, high hands that cut through the zone and generate a ton of back spin.
Mitch: This is where we get to Ismael Cabrera. Had very little info on him when he got called up other than stats and a couple velo reports. But from the first pitch he threw, it was easy to see there is something legitimately there. The ball absolutely jumps out of his hand. There’s good effort to his delivery, but a mid-90s fastball is legit for him. It wasn’t until the third or fourth time I saw him that I finally saw him throw a breaking ball. He was able to dominate hitters with a good, hard fastball which is what Borders wanted him to do. He’ll have to show a good breaking ball more often, though. I don’t think he’s quite ready for an Edubray Ramos kind of run through the system, but he’s filled with potential.
The pitcher I think could turn some heads next year is Luke Leftwich. Pat Borders lauded him with praise toward the end of the season the way he hadn’t with any other player this year. He talked about there being natural carry to his fastball and something that you just can’t teach to a pitcher. I thought Leftwich was a little inconsistent at times with his mechanics, but that’s something that’s easily fixable. I’d like to see a tick or two more on the fastball, but being consistently 90-93 gives him a chance. But 92-95 would open eyes. And I always wonder what an offseason of just rest will do for the velo of college guys.
Lastly, the more Tyler Gilbert threw, the more I though the kid was legit. Obviously that he’s left-handed is important. But his stuff is good and that’s more important. A groin injury took his last couple starts away from him, but once he got his own rotation spot, he may have been as consistent as any pitcher Williamsport had. There was good arm-side run to his fastball, and he seems to think he can get consistently to 92-94 with an off-season of weight-lifting like he did last winter before going to USC. He’s another wait-and-see guy, but a guy who I’ll make sure to search out in box scores next spring.
Is there anyone else that hasn’t been mentioned that we should be paying attention to either because they are going to be a major leaguer or because they are going to be fun to watch in the minors?
Ian: Too be honest, with this 2015 club, you could really look at all of these guys and say that they are all going to be fun to watch throughput their minor league careers. Mainly because there are a handful that have the ability to make it to the major leagues. So, to pick out a couple is actually pretty hard for me.
Mitch: I still love Grenny Cumana‘s defense. He made a ton of mistakes as I think he is still learning how to harness his gift as a defender. But he made some absolutely impossible plays look way too easy, and at times made some way too easy plays look difficult. He’s got range measured by a globe to both sides and a strong enough arm to stick at short. He’s got great hand-eye coordination at the plate and I believe was the hardest player to strike out in the New York-Penn League this year. He’s so small, both from a height and strength standpoint, that’s he’s going to have to find some mass to be a legitimate potential big leaguer, but his defense will keep him in the system for years to come.
I still don’t know what to make of Venn Biter. He does a lot of things very well, but really does nothing great except throw the ball. He was a menace for opposing baserunners with a strong, accurate arm. If Jose Pujols had Biter’s throwing accuracy, it may be the best outfield arm we’ve ever seen. Biter can hit home runs. He can drive the ball to the gaps. He can run and steal bases. He covers ground in the outfield. He’s a very solid player, but there’s no one carrying tool for him. He’s going to hang around a while because he’s a very competent player, but he needs to find something to distinguish himself from everyone else.
It was the first year for Pat Borders as manager and it seemed like the Crosscutters played at a frenetic high energy pace all year for him. How did his first year go?
Ian: For his first year as a professional manager, I thought he did an outstanding job with the guys. He had a great group of players and coaches to work with and was easily approachable. He had a sense of keeping things in perspective throughout the whole season. I know when I would ask him some questions down the stretch towards the playoffs, he would quickly turn to the present and not get to up on things a a game or two down the road. That trickled down to his players, who seemed to focus on the here and now and not what was down the road. It was fun at times, because we would be standing around the shell, and he would bring up non-baseball related topics to talk about, just to break it up. Made it feel refreshing at times to turn your attention away from baseball. I think that helped a lot of the first year guys to not get overwhelmed by the game. I honestly think he would be great at the next level, but wouldn’t mind being able to work with him again in Williamsport next season.
Mitch: For a guy who made his Major League debut before anyone on his team was born, he had a great rapport with his entire team. Obviously being a two-time World Series champion and World Series MVP gives you the respect you need to be listened to. But I think what he did best of all was communicate with the players. When he spoke, they listened. He wasn’t a yeller or a screamer. Everything he did was very calm and under control. There was never panic. That even-keep attitude you want from a manager is ever present with Pat Borders. He allowed the players to go on the field and figure out what their God-given abilities will allow them to do. He understood failure was a part of the process to success. He understood how important it was for the kids to realize what they were capable of and let them fail or succeed on their own. He preached an active, aggressive style of offense. He wanted aggressive approaches at the plate which probably hurt them at times, especially down the stretch. The Cutters had 84 stolen bases, and 56 caught stealings this year. He encouraged his kids to run and it created an exciting brand of baseball which put a lot of pressure on defenses. I think baseball is coming back to this style a little bit, and it’s good to see a manager who embraces it.
Williamsport might be the most out of the way affiliate for many fans (at least among the northern ones), why should fans come out to the ballpark next year?
Ian: With the new ownership, there seems to be a sense of progression when you go to the ballpark. Simple additions to the ballpark that provide a new aspect to the fan experience while not taking away from the historical feel of the park. Also, it seems like there is a lot of promise with the Phillies farm system, especially with the players in the GCL and the success that they had this season. I know I’m already looking forward to some of those players playing in Williamsport next year and I think the fans are going to really enjoy what they bring to the ballpark every night. Plus, with some new management in the Phillies front office, we’ll see what kind of draft they put together, and go with the product they put on the field next June.
Mitch: Bowman Field is an old-school ballpark. There are no bells or whistles. You come to Bowman Field to watch baseball, and if you’re a baseball die-hard like I am, like Matt is and like most of you reading this are, it’s worth making a trip to Bowman Field to see what it’s all about. You can’t ignore the history of a ballpark which is 90 years old. And I’m sure the wrap-up Matt will present from the Gulf Coast League will give you plenty of reasons from a baseball standpoint to come watch games here.