The minor league season may have wrapped up two months ago, but it is never too late to take a look around at the events of the 2017 season in the Phillies’ system.
The 2016 Lakewood BlueClaws went on a late season run fueled by elite pitching to reach the South Atlantic League championship series. That 2016 team plus a couple of additions from Williamsport formed the core of the 2017 Clearwater Threshers. For half of the season the team was able to overcome injuries and use its pitching to hang around the playoff race. Ultimately, the Threshers’ lack of offensive talent caught up with them in the second half.
Final Record: 67-71 (First Half: 38-32, 1 GB FSL North, Second Half: 29-39, 18.5 GB FSL North)
Clearwater nearly made the playoffs with a strong first half. Their rotation was led by Franklyn Kilome, Cole Irvin and Jose Taveras, and they got some early dominant starts from Seranthony Dominguez. No one is going to call Damek Tomscha or Zach Coppola a dynamic star prospect, but both hit over .300 before ending up in Reading. While JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez helped blunt the blow of Irvin and Taveras’ promotions, the help from Lakewood just never came on offense. Jose Pujols, Jan Hernandez, Carlos Duran, Grenny Cumana, and Zach Green dragged the offense down all year. Ultimately a vaunted starting rotation only gave them the fourth best team ERA in the league, and that wasn’t enough to overcome an offense that scored the 3rd fewest runs in the league.
This site would not function without the contributions of Jeff Israel. This summer Jeff crisscrossed the Phillies’ northern affiliates. For this series he has contributed a player who caught his interest at each level.
The Threshers had a number of talented starters pitch on their squad throughout the season (JoJo Romero, Seranthony Dominguez, Franklyn Kilome, Ranger Suarez). The guy I want to highlight though was a key figure for a number of young arms between Lakewood and Clearwater who were on an innings limit this year in Harold Arauz. Arauz, who came in the Ken Giles trade a couple of years ago had an excellent start to the year making eight relief appearances for Lakewood allowing five ER in 22.2 innings along with 16/3 K/BB. He would remain in Clearwater for the remainder of the season (minus one 2.1 scoreless relief appearance in Reading in June) where initially he would split time making 14 relief appearances and six starts:
Clearwater as Reliever: 14 G, 35.2 IP, 1.26 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, .186 opp AVG, 40/6 K/BB
Clearwater as a Starter: 6 G, 35.1 IP, 2.80 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .195 opp AVG, 34/5 K/BB
He would make five of his starts in his last six appearances and outside of six run outing he dominated the FSL as a starter in short stretch. Twice he would go seven plus innings while striking out ten, including a seven-inning no-hitter in a doubleheader on July 30. Arauz finished throwing 96 innings in 29 appearances (six starts) striking out 96 and walking 16. Stuff wise he mainly threw 89-94 back in April showing an average looking slider in the low 80s. While he is 22 years old, there might be a bit of room to grow left where he could hit the mid 90s as a reliever. Arauz will be a minor league free agent this offseason (next offseason), so it will be interesting to see if he gets an opportunity elsewhere, but my hunch is the Phillies will find a way to bring him back after his strong season. If so he will probably enter next year with a chance to start at Reading, though with the number of talented starters that could begin at that level as well, he could end up in the role he played throughout this past season. He might be an intriguing swingman to watch in the future.
The View From the Ground
I wanted as part of this series of recaps to bring in some outside voices, so what better way than to talk to some people who are there nearly everyday. Returning to a Florida team it seems fitting to also return to Phuture Phillies’ Jim Peyton. Jim is one of the most knowledgeable people on the Phillies’ prospects in Florida who is not currently employed by a baseball team.
The strength of the team all year was the starting pitching. Is there one thing that made them especially successful?
It sounds overly simple, but when the Thresher starters were “on” they attacked the strike zone, minimized walks, amassed strike outs. That’s not to say that all their starters were successful at this, but many were.
The opening day rotation was Jose Taveras, Franklyn Kilome, Cole Irvin, Alberto Tirado, Blake Quinn, and Seranthony Dominguez. (A rehabbing Zach Eflin actually pitched the opener.)
Cole Irvin and his 1.5 BB/9, 7.2 K/9, and 1.11 WHIP were promoted to Reading on June 21st after 11 starts.
A month later, Jose Taveras (2.0, 8.7, 1.05) was promoted on July 16th.
Just over a week later, Jake Waguespack (2.1, 9.2, 1.17) was promoted on July 26th. He had joined the rotation when Blake Quinn was moved to the bullpen (I assume because of his high HR rate).
Franklyn Kilome (3.4, 7.7, 1.37) was promoted on August 4th.
Alberto Tirado went to the bullpen, his 5.5 BB/9 ending his starter experiment.
Seranthony Dominguez was on track to a promotion when he suffered a shoulder injury in May. He returned in July and struggled with his control. His upper 90s velocity remained, but he wasn’t able to maintain consistency in the strike zone. I think he returned too soon, that since his velocity was okay, he was permitted to work on his control in FSL games rather than GCL games. If I’m right, I don’t have a problem with that.
The rest of the rotation at the end of the year was:
Ranger Suarez (2.6, 9.1, 1.43),
Edgar Garcia (3.2, 8.4, 1.36),
Harold Arauz (1.3, 8.7, 0.85),
Sixto Sanchez (2.9, 6.5, 1.30), and
JoJo Romero (2.6, 8.4, 1.11).
Garcia and Arauz moved to the rotation from the bullpen. Suarez, Sanchez, and Romero earned promotions from Lakewood.
Ultimately the Threshers appear to have been doomed by a lack of offensive talent. What can you say about the one major hitting prospect they had in Cornelius Randolph?
I know that most fans are probably disappointed in Randolph‘s season. I am not. I saw Randolph in the GCL in 2015 before the Phillies began rebuilding his swing in Instructs later that year. Randolph arrived as an advanced hitter who would “go with the pitch”. His approach reminded many observers of Tony Gwynn.
Randolph has (and had) a stocky build. Most pitchers pitched him away, so he hit most of his balls to left center. He displayed power to the gaps, but mostly doubles type power. Ironically, the only home run he hit that season was a dead pull to right.
His rebuild has included driving the ball to his pull-side more often. It was evident in spring training this season. What was also evident was that he was wearing glasses at the start of spring training. I asked him about it and learned that he had never worn glasses while playing ball before, but he had an eye infection that prevented him from wearing his contact lenses.
Randolph had become such a pull hitter that opponents actually employed a shift against him. He hit a lot of hard outs to the right side, but he also hit a career high 13 home runs.
I can see the improvement. He actually got better each month from April thru July before tailing off in August. I understand the profile for a corner outfielder, but, boy do I miss his sweet, GCL swing.
You got a first hand look at a couple of trade acquisitions in J.D. Hammer, Seth McGarry, Jose Gomez, and McKenzie Mills. What impressed you about any of them in your brief look?
Let me preface this with this, my “look” was very brief, at best amounting to a SSS.
Gomez – I saw his two games with the GCL before the Phillies jumped him over Lakewood to Clearwater and was very impressed with his at bats. It wasn’t that he hit .500 (which he did), but that he looked like he had a plan when he went to the plate and was able to execute. He found that more difficult against the advanced pitchers he saw in the FSL, but still looked good.
Mills – Made just 3 starts with Clearwater, only one at home on August 16th. He arrived with over 100 innings pitched and was shut down after this start, arguably his worst start of his season. He had accumulated 120 IP after only 53 IP in 2016. He’s a big, imposing pitcher. But, he may have tired. I’m not prepared to render an impression on one bad start. He gave up almost half (20) of his 43 ER in his last 6 starts (of 21), 33.2 IP (innings 86.2. Thru 120.1). He did not walk a batter in his 15.2 Clearwater innings.
So, even though tiring, he maintained control of his pitches.
McGarry – Arrived with a pristine 1.34 ERA and 14 saves in 15 opportunities for Bradenton in the FSL. The North Division must be tougher. He blew a save and took a loss in his first appearance and went on to a record of 0-4, a 5.14 ERA, and 5 saves in 7 save opportunities and 13 appearances.. His 3.9 BB/9 is a little large, but he had a 10.9 K/9.
Hammer – He came to Clearwater with impressive credentials, but was not used in a closer’s role. He had 13 saves in 14 opportunities at two levels in the Rockies’ system. But, he was used as a set up man by the Threshers. He performed well, had a 0.57 ER, 1.1 BB/9, and 11.5 K/9.
Going off Phillies, who was the most impressive player you saw on another team this year?
I focus on our players during games. I’m aware of the top guys on the other teams, but I look to see if/how we shut them down more than who does well against us.
That said, Tampa’s Jorge Mateo ran wild against us in 2016 (22-68, 3 HR, 7/11 SB). This year, he went 9-21 with 2 HR but only stole one base. He wasn’t the top of the order threat against our pitchers that he was in 2016.
On July 2nd, Tampa’s Dillon Tate pitched 7.0 shutout innings allowing 6 hits, 0 walks, and striking out 11. He threw 87 pitches, 68 for strikes. The Yankees got the 2015 first round pick from the Rangers in the Beltran trade.
I was impressed with the mania that followed Tim Tebow into Spectrum Field. In a curious way. Like when you drive past an accident and have to slow down and look. Tebow went 1-16 with 3 walks and 6 strike outs. The biggest cheer in the 4-game series came when he scored a run. After a rough game in LF in the first game of the series (his 30th birthday), I believe he spent the next 3 games as DH. I’ve softened my opinion of Tebow. He seems a genuinely nice person. The mania around him is brought on by his fans. I bet he could run for political office in Florida and win.
I only mention the Tebow series, because it led to my paying attention to one of his teammates. Before the series started, I spoke with our Dalton Guthrie who was rehabbing at the Carpenter Complex. I asked if he was going to Tebow’s birthday party (the first game of the series) since there would be a lot of Gator supporters in attendance. He said he hoped to get to a game, but not to see Tebow. He wanted to see his Gator teammate Peter Alonso. (BTW, the Threshers drew about 12,000 more people to the 4 games than they normally would, and their second, third, fourth, and sixth largest crowds of the season.)
Peter Alonso performed well in front of perhaps the biggest crowds he faced all season. He went 6-18 with 1 HR, 2 BB, and 6 K. His HR was crushed to right center field.
The Dunedin Blue Jays sported a line up that contained the sons of 3 former major leaguers – Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vlad Guerrero. Biggio was a 2013, 29th round pick by the Phillies who put up pedestrian number in his second pro season. Bichette is hitting the cover off the ball. The kid hits for average with some pop. Our pitchers held him in check: 5-25, 3B, HR, BB, 9 K, 1 CS. Vlad Guerrero is a beast, built in his father’s image. Another guy hitting for average with pop. I got to watch him in XST and Instructs prior to this season. He’s an impressive prospect, even though we handled him pretty well: 6-23, HR, 5 BB , 5 K, 1-2 SB.
Prospects to Watch:
(Austin Davis, Jacob Waguespack, Jose Taveras, and Zach Coppola to appear on Reading and Lehigh Valley reviews)
- Ranger Suarez: Suarez’s name first came up when he obliterated the Venezuelan summer league a few years ago. Since then Suarez has gone from sitting 86-88 to siting 91-94, touching 95. His changeup and slider are good pitches, but neither is a putaway weapon. He is probably a back end starter along the lines of Elniery Garcia before him.
- JoJo Romero: The Phillies gave Romero an overslot bonus in the 4th round in 2016, and so far that investment looks to be a good one. Romero has seen his velocity sit in the upper range of his college days, sitting 89-94, and reportedly touching up to 96. Romero’s calling card is a future plus changeup with good fade. He throws a pair of average breaking balls, with his curveball being the better of the two pitches. Romero has improved his control, but he doesn’t have the command to paint the zone. It will take a command improvement for Romero to be more than a #4 starter, but he has the upside to be a mid rotation arm. He should move quickly and has an outside chance to reach the majors in 2018.
- McKenzie Mills: The Phillies acquired Mills in the trade that sent Howie Kendrick to Washington and he made three starts for the Threshers to close out the year. Mills has a good frame for a left handed starter, and with a fastball that sits 88-92 touching up to 94 he has a good starting place. This season he took a big step forward with his control, walking 22 batters in 120 innings, including none with Clearwater. The reviews on his secondary pitches are mixed, with some preferring his changeup and others his curveball, but the reviews on both indicate a lot of work is needed. Despite having just finished his 4th pro season, Mills still is a bit of a project. If he can’t find consistent secondary pitches, his fastball command and the pit of deception in his delivery could send him to bullpen role with major league upside.
- Franklyn Kilome: After stumbling to start the 2016 season, Kilome looked to be putting it all together. The 2017 season was a bit of a step back as Kilome worked to become a more complete pitcher. The Phillies limited his plus curveball while focusing on his fastball command and changeup development. The consequence was less strikeouts and a much less dominant year. Kilome still has not synced up his delivery enough to have consistent command, and right now that is the biggest impediment to him remaining a starter. With his fastball-curveball combination, Kilome has #3 starter or better upside, but there still is a lot of danger that he is a reliever.
- Edgar Garcia: With other young Dominican pitchers getting the press, Edgar Garcia has flown a bit under the radar. The small righty sits 91 to 95, and can touch 96. He pairs his fastball with a devastating slider and an average changeup. For the second year in a row Garcia made a midseason move the rotation. He had more success this time, around, but still struggled at times. Garcia’s future is probably in the bullpen, but at just 21 years old it is worth figuring out whether he can hold up as a starter.
- J.D. Hammer: The legend of J.D. Hammer has grown since coming over in trade from Colorado. His combination of name and bespectacled looks have made him a crowd favorite. This year, Hammer has seen his stuff improve enough to be a real relief prospect. Like many low minors relievers, Hammer has some major flaws. His offspeed pitches need work, and his fastball command can be shaky at times. If it all works he could be 7th/8th inning reliever, or he could just flame out.
- Seth McGarry: McGarry’s struggles after coming over from the Pirates for Joaquin Benoit, which has caused him to be lost in the shuffle. McGarry is a bit of a one trick pony as an undersized righty reliever with a mid 90s sinker. If McGarry can keep his ground ball rate up he has a chance to contribute to a major league team.
- Seranthony Dominguez: For the first month of the season Dominguez looked to be on the path to be one of the best prospects in the system. An arm injury cost him time in the middle of the season and then even more time as he knocked the rust off. At his best Dominguez sits 94-99, touching 99, with heavy life. He also has a plus slider, and potential above average to plus changeup. He has flashed above average control and potential average command. The biggest concern for Dominguez has become his inability to stay on the field, and so far he has yet to pitch a full season. Dominguez has #2 starter upside, but there is a good chance he is a reliever if he can’t handle a full workload.
- Jeff Singer: The Phillies signed Singer as an undrafted free agent in 2015, and then he rocketed through the system in 2016. Singer stalled a bit in 2017 as his command was shaky for much of the year. He still is a left handed reliever with a mid 90s fastball and interesting slider.
- Deivi Grullon: Grullon has long had a reputation as a great defensive catcher, and despite some early season questions, that seems to still be true. However, it is becoming clear he just isn’t going to hit at a reasonable level. His approach numbers remain poor, and while he has some power it is hard to see him being a positive at the plate.
- Cornelius Randolph: Randolph is a weird prospect. A HS shortstop, he is now a left field prospect with questions about whether he can stick in left field. He was a plus hitter with poor power coming into this season. This year, Randolph’s power jumped from poor to average, but his strikeout rate spiked and he became pull heavy. It still isn’t a profile that really works in left field, but Randolph is also only 20 years old, and won’t turn 21 until June of next year. Randolph still has a long way to go, but in the second half he hit .272/.363/.446.
- Jan Hernandez: The Phillies took Hernandez in the 3rd round of the 2013 draft. So far in his career he has shown good raw power, but a bad approach at the plate. In an effort to mix things up and defensive versatility, the Phillies moved Hernandez from 3B to RF late in the year. Hernandez took quickly to the outfield and his arm has proven to be a huge weapon. Even if he now has a different defensive home, Hernandez still has big offensive problems. One place where there might be some hope is that he hit .309/.391/.556 with reasonable walk and strikeout rates vs left handed pitchers. Hernandez will be 23 next year, so time is running out.