The past year has seen a lot of changes in the Phillies system; as the major league club transitions into a rebuilding phase, more and more emphasis is being put on the farm system. A criticism often levied against the Phillies system is that it lacks impact and near term help. As for the impact, I understand this argument, as this list does drop off after the first three names. However, J.P. Crawford is one of the best prospects in baseball, and both Nola and Franco should be very good players for the Phillies. In terms of help for the big league club, 7 of these guys will start the year in AA or AAA, and while they won’t help the 2015 club, one should expect to see many of them helping out in 2016. On a whole, the Phillies system has taken a step forward since last year, and this list is almost unrecognizable from the first Top 30 I wrote up following the 2012 season. I wish I could tell you there is another championship run of prospects ready to go right now. What I can tell you is that the front office has mobilized resources in many different areas of talent acquisition. This gives the farm system plenty of depth and a good mix of upside and safety, providing a good start to a solid recovery for the franchise.
1. J.P. Crawford – SS (Profile)
DOB: January 11, 1995 (20)
H/W: 6’2″ 180lb
Acquired: Drafted in the 1st round (#16 overall) in the 2013 draft by the Phillies ($2,299,300 bonus)
Role: First Division Regular, occasional All-Star
Risk: Medium – Crawford still has yet to face upper minors pitching, but his defensive tools give him a high floor, even if the bat doesn’t fully develop.
Summary: No Phillies prospect had a bigger breakout year than J.P. Crawford. The 2013 first round pick has cemented himself as one of the top prospects in the game. The best way to describe Crawford in the field is smooth. His glove could be plus or better once he cleans up some minor flaws, but his range is great, and his actions are solid. Crawford has plus arm strength, but he does not always get everything out of it. All this makes him natural defender at shortstop, and I have no questions about his ability to stick at the position and be very good there. On offense, Crawford has a good feel for contact, but more impressively his plate discipline has been incredible as a pro (so far in his career he has 97 walks and 109 strikeouts in 766 plate appearances). Right now, Crawford’s power is below average and only to his pull side, but in batting practice he shows the possibility for more once he adds some more strength. It is still unlikely that Crawford will hit more than 20 home runs in a year, because his swing is more geared for line drives than fly balls, however more strength will mean plenty of doubles to the gaps. Crawford has plus raw speed, but between starts and instincts, he has not been a good base stealer so far. All of this sounds rather good, but not great. However, here are 2014’s three best batting lines (by wRC+) by players who will be playing SS in 2015:
The offensive bar at shortstop is fairly low, and Crawford should be able to hit for a good average, draw plenty of walks, and hit for a decent amount of power. Put it all together, and you have a player who could be one of the better offensive shortstops in the game. If he can add that to plus defense, he could become a borderline All-Star and franchise player. Crawford should open the year in AA and would be fine to spend the whole year in Reading before a possible 2016 arrival in the majors.
Previous Rank: 3
2. Aaron Nola – RHP (Profile)
DOB: June 4, 1993 (21)
H/W: 6’1″ 195lb
Acquired: Drafted in the 1st round (#7 overall) in the 2014 draft by the Phillies ($3,300,900 bonus)
Role: #2/#3 Starter
Risk: Low – Nola is major league ready right now. However, he could use some time in the minors to continue to polish his control and secondary pitches.
Summary: Nola has been described as “safe” and “polished”, words that may give some the impression that he lacks impact as a pitching prospect. Nola’s fastball sits 90-93 and routinely touches 95, and in college he was able to get to 97 in a big showdown with Tyler Beede. The discussion of his velocity overshadows the explosive late life on his fastball, though this movement was less present late in the season as he tired. The more advanced of Nola’s secondary pitches is his breaking ball, which is really a curveball but Nola’s arm slot makes it look like a slider, that he can spot in the zone and use it as a chase pitch. The general consensus is that it has plus potential if he gains consistency. Nola also has a changeup that flashes plus potential, but Nola does not use it as confidently as the fastball or curveball. On top of the three plus pitches, Nola has good control, is developing solid command, and has an impressive feel for pitching. On an individual basis, Nola’s stuff is only solid, but the full collection makes for an impressive arsenal. The likely outcome for Nola is as a mid-rotation starter who could get there fairly quickly. However, Nola’s feel for pitching could see continued growth in his secondary pitches, as well as results that are above his individual pitch grades. Nola will start 2015 in the minors, and he should make the majors at some point in the second half of the 2015 season.
Previous Rank: N/A
3. Maikel Franco – 3B (Profile)
DOB: August 26, 1992 (22)
H/W: 6’1″ 180lb
Acquired: Signed as an international free agent on January 13, 2010 by the Phillies ($100,000 bonus)
Role: First Division Regular
Risk: Medium – Despite the fact that he has already made the major leagues, Franco still has to make some adjustments to his approach in order to get reach his ceiling.
Summary: In many ways, Franco’s 2014 was not a step backwards; it was just another adjustment along the developmental path. For many of us, the hype on Maikel Franco a year ago was a bit premature; he still had big problems with his approach at the plate that he needed to work through. Many of those problems still remain, as Franco still has the bat speed and hand eye coordination to put the bat on the ball, but unfortunately his pitch recognition and approach make these swings ill advised. Franco still has plus or better raw power, mostly to his pull side. The swing can get a bit long at times, which forces him to have to make decisions on pitches earlier than he can recognize them. He should hit for a decent average, with a low walk rate and a fairly low strikeout rate. The real question is whether he can get the approach to a place where he makes enough quality contact to have the power show up in games. The biggest strides that Franco made in 2014 were on defense. Range is still going to be a problem for him at third, but his arm is very strong, and his actions are pretty good. With a commitment to keeping himself in shape and limber, Franco could be an average defender at third base for the foreseeable future. Franco’s game has its flaws, but very few players have his combination of power, bat speed, and hand eye coordination. He should start the year in AAA in order to get another year of team control (and allow the Phillies time to evaluate Cody Asche) but he remains the Phillies’ third baseman of the future.
Previous Rank: 1
4. Yoel Mecias – LHP (Profile)
DOB: October 11, 1993 (21)
H/W: 6’2″ 160lb
Acquired: Signed as an international free agent on December 20, 2010 by the Phillies ($50,000 bonus)
Role: #2/#3 Starter
Risk: High – Not all of Mecias’ pitches have returned to pre-surgery levels. Additionally, he still needs to add some strength and velocity for his arsenal to come together.
Summary: Mecias exploded onto the prospect scene in early 2013, but just as he was becoming an established name, he blew out his elbow and was forced to have Tommy John surgery. Mecias reemerged this summer, and it was a gradual comeback as the Phillies eased him back into pitching. Mecias’ arsenal revolves around his changeup. At its best, his changeup has good deception and late arm side run. Before the injury, the pitch was generally referred to being in the plus to plus plus range, and it has returned for the most part after the injury, but still shows rust. Mecias’ fastball is mostly 89-92, but has gotten to 95. The Phillies have been working with him this offseason to add muscle, and most evaluators think that he can sit with plus fastball velocity with the added strength. Mecias has experimented with both a slider and curveball, and they can blend together, but most people think there is an average pitch in there. He can throw strikes, but does not have command yet. The changeup alone gives Mecias a lot of upside, and with just an average fastball/breaking ball combo, he could be a back end starter. If everything comes back from surgery and he can add some velocity, Mecias could be a dominant starter. Mecias should be far enough from surgery in 2015 that the Phillies won’t have many limitations on him. He should open 2015 in the Clearwater rotation.
Previous Rank: 11
5. Zach Eflin – RHP (Profile)
DOB: April 8, 1994 (20)
H/W: 6’4″ 200lb
Acquired: Drafted in the 1.5 round (#33 overall) in the 2012 draft by the Padres ($1,200,000 bonus). Traded on December 18, 2014 to the Dodgers along with C Yasmani Grandal and RHP Joe Wieland for OF Matt Kemp and C Tim Federowicz. Traded on December 19, 2014 to the Phillies with LHP Tom Windle for SS Jimmy Rollins.
Role: #3 Starter
Risk: Medium – Eflin’s pitches give him a fairly high floor, but he will need to continue his success against more advanced hitters and work to develop an average breaking ball.
Summary: Eflin represents the best chance for an impact prospect among the Phillies’ trade returns. Eflin has a large frame, and he uses it to bring a fastball at 92-93, touching 94, however he touched as high as 97 in a start this year (h/t to Ronit Shah). The frame and the velocity spike have made some speculate that Eflin could sit at a higher velocity. He complements the 4-seam fastball with a 2 seam fastball at 89-91 that he uses to generate ground balls. Eflin’s best pitch is his plus changeup that combines good late fade with solid deception. His slider is still a work in progress and has average potential, but it lacks good break. Eflin has good control of his pitches, but has been more successful at generating weak contact than missing bats. If everything stays static, then Eflin is more of a back end, innings eating starter. If he can make the slider consistent and mix it in with the other two pitches, while polishing up his command, he could be a low end mid-rotation starter. The pipe dream is that the fastball will tick up more to 93-95, that he will start missing bats. Eflin will open the year in Reading, in what should be a stacked starting rotation.
Previous Rank: N/A
6. Jesse Biddle – LHP (Profile)
DOB: October 22, 1991 (23)
H/W: 6’5″ 220lb
Acquired: Drafted in the 1st round (#27 overall) in the 2010 draft by the Phillies ($1,160,000 bonus)
Role: #3/#4 Starter
Risk: High – Despite the non-baseball injury setbacks, Biddle still needs to make strides in both his control and delivery consistency.
Summary: Biddle is one of the most divisive prospects in the Phillies system. His critics point to his numbers of the past two seasons and see a player who should not be anywhere near a top 10. But whichever side you fall on, the consensus is that Biddle has been very unlucky of late. In addition to some more “normal” injuries, Biddle was hit on the head with a grapefruit sized piece of hail, and the resulting concussion greatly affected the middle of his season. In the starts following the concussion, his fastball was 89-91, his curveball sailed, his changeup disappeared, and he had no control of any of his pitches. Over the time period (22 innings), Biddle allowed 6 HRs and 16 walks. If we separate those 5 starts out, here is Biddle’s season:
|Outside of Injury||14||72.1||2.99||7.0||0.7||4.4||9.6|
The results are a bit more in line with what we expected from Biddle, especially since he walked 3 in his last inning of the year after injuring his quad. When healthy, Biddle’s fastball was 91-93, touching 94, and he was able to stay on top of the curveball and changeup. This gives him three pitches in the above average range, with the potential that all of them can get towards plus. There is still plenty of work he needs to do in terms of commanding his pitches, but being healthy and comfortable in his delivery will help his consistency. I am not worried about him mentally, and he is one of the hardest workers in the Phillies system. Given the AA depth and his disastrous trips there, I could see the Phillies starting him in Lehigh Valley this year. He is already on the 40 man roster, so he could see a late season appearance in Philadelphia if it all goes well.
Previous Rank: 2
7. Roman Quinn – CF (Profile)
DOB: May 14, 1993 (21)
H/W: 5’10” 170lb
Acquired: Drafted in 2nd round (#66 overall) in the 2011 draft by the Phillies ($775,000 bonus)
Role: Solid Regular
Risk: Medium – A lot of evaluators question the impact of Quinn’s bat due to a light hit tool. However, the defense in center field could be impactful on its own, and he will open the year in AA, only a short trip away from the majors.
Summary: After missing the end of 2013 due to a wrist injury and then tearing his Achilles, Quinn’s prospect status was teetering a year ago. It has been quite a comeback for Quinn. A move to center field has left Quinn more relaxed, and his offense has responded. Quinn’s 80 grade speed is almost all the way back, and it aids him in the outfield where he can cover lots of ground. At the plate, scouts continue to like his left handed swing more than his right handed swing (despite numeric results to the opposite). A lot of scouts wonder if the hit tool is only below average. Quinn does have sneaky power due to good strength, but the lack of plane to his swing might not get him enough loft. Quinn went to the AFL with the goal of working on his approach, and the initial results were very good. The defensive transition has reshaped the narrative on Quinn; at shortstop the question was whether his bat could overcome his defensive deficiencies, yet in center field the question is more whether the glove can overcome the concerns with the bat. Quinn will go to Reading in 2015, and I am looking for his bat to take another step forward.
Previous Rank: 7
8. Kelly Dugan – RF (Profile)
DOB: September 18, 1990 (24)
H/W: 6’3″ 215lb
Acquired: Drafted in the 2nd round (#75 overall) in the 2009 draft by the Phillies ($485,000 bonus)
Role: Solid Regular
Risk: Medium – The largest worry with Dugan is whether he can actually stay healthy for a full year, something he has been unable to do. He has hit at every level and continues to make large strides with the bat.
Summary: In 2013 Dugan put together his the best statistical season of his career, but a 2.2% BB% after reaching AA was a glaring problem. Dugan answered the questions about the low walk rate in 2014 with a 9.7% BB% while seeing his strikeout rate drop to its lowest percentage since 2011. His power numbers did drop off in 2014 as the Phillies focused on removing some of the uppercut in his swing, adding the ability to line the ball to all fields. The results show up in the numbers in terms of contact type and location of balls hit:
Dugan should be able to add this all-fields approach to his ability to hit for power, making him a more complete player. Outside of hitting, Dugan is a solid right fielder with good route running and a plus arm. I really like Dugan’s ability to make contact, and while none of his tools are flashy, he does a lot of things very well. Dugan should start the year in AAA, and he is already on the 40 man roster, so a midseason call-up is possible, with a September call-up almost definite.
Previous Rank: 5
9. Deivi Grullon – C (Profile)
DOB: February 17, 1996 (19)
H/W: 6’1″ 180lb
Acquired: Signed as an international free agent on July 2, 2012 by the Phillies ($575,000 bonus)
Role: First Division Regular
Risk: High – Grullon’s defensive profile could carry him to the majors, but his bat is going to need to advance in order for him to be an impact major leaguer.
Summary: Grullon is an important reminder that stats don’t make prospect status. In 2014, Grullon had more games behind the plate than any 18 year old and was second in games caught among all players 19 or younger. That is an incredible workload for a young player, and Grullon’s bat really took a hit. Behind the plate, Grullon brings an absolute cannon 80 grade arm, and he might be too aggressive with it. Grullon will attempt to pick off and throw out any base runner who flinches, and he was deadly with back picks to first. The aggression causes some harm to his receiving, but everything should slow down as he matures. In the end, he could pair an 80 arm with a 60 glove; add that to his great onfield leadership, and it should be enough to carry him to the majors. At the plate, Grullon’s profile is more quiet, and his bat could be average with below average power, but it does lagging developmentally behind the glove. Grullon will be asked to shoulder a full load again next year for Lakewood, where the bat might not shine. Ultimately, whether Grullon is just good or special will come down to the bat, but the glove could carry him far.
Previous Rank: 8
10. Carlos Tocci – CF (Profile)
DOB: August 23, 1995 (19)
H/W: 6’2″ 160lb
Acquired: Signed as an international free agent on August 23, 2011 by the Phillies ($759,000 bonus).
Role: First Division Regular
Risk: High – Despite some steps forward in his power and strength in 2014, Tocci has the same problems as the past. Tocci is a very good defender in center field, but he needs to add more strength for his bat to work as in the majors.
Summary: On the surface, the numbers continue to look poor for Tocci, but 2014 saw him double his ISO and hit his first two professional home runs. In July, Tocci put up his most impressive month as a pro, hitting .293/.339/.448 over 28 games, before cratering in August as he got tired. The Phillies are working with Tocci to add more muscle this offseason, and if Tocci can make some incremental improvements, his natural feel for hitting will show up more in his stats.
Unlike other players who lack power, Tocci has some loft to his swing, so when he starts to hit the ball harder it will carry to the gaps. Adding more strength will help more than just Tocci’s hitting; he has plus plus raw speed, but he does not have the lower body strength right now to accelerate quickly, causing his stolen base numbers to be low. In the outfield, Tocci continues to be an outstanding center fielder with good routes and range, and his plus arm is a weapon. It is still going to be a slow developmental road for Tocci, but he should move to Clearwater in 2015. Tocci’s defense can carry him most of the way to the majors, but he is going to need to hit at some point before he can get there.
Previous Rank: 4
Thank you to everyone that stuck along during this journey. I do want to take the opportunity to thank my girlfriend who spent days editing and talking through this list with me, I couldn’t have done it without her. I also want to dedicate this to my mom who has always supported me and has helped me to be the person that I am.