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. First up is the Gulf Coast League Phillies.
It would be obvious to say that the Gulf Coast League is the farthest thing from the majors, but it isn’t just the years of struggle ahead of prospects, or the low level of competition that separates it. Games are played at noon in Florida summer. They have free admission, but the crowd is mostly just friends and family. It is also the first real introduction to professional baseball for some of the youngest members of the Phillies organization. For the second year in a row, the GCL Phillies were able to take their division, though this time they did it with a lot less star power.
Final Record: 36-22 (Lost in Semi-finals)
The 2016 GCL Phillies had power, both on the mound and in the field, the 2017 version had much less of both. On the mound, their only power arm was 17 year old Francisco Morales. In the field, their only consistent power threat was Florida State senior sign Quincy Nieporte, who paced the team with 5 home runs. What they did do was put the ball in play a ton. The Phillies led the GCL in hits and were second in doubles, and more impressively, they struck out 47 less times than the second best team. All of that together allowed them to score the most runs in the Gulf Coast League. On the mound, they weren’t the best at striking batters out, nor were they the best at keeping runners off the bases. They did have the second lowest ERA thanks to young lefty starters Manual Silva and Jhordany Mezquita, and lefty reliever Anton Kuznetsov. Ultimately, the offense wasn’t able to get going in the playoff game and the Phillies lost 4-0.
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. There is no better person to talk to about the goings on in Clearwater than Jim Peyton. You can find Jim’s work and reporting on Phuture Phillies, but today Jim was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
The GCL team lacked in star power this year, but still made the playoffs. What allowed this group to match last year’s star studded group?
The hitters a posted a league best .267 AVG, .378 SLG, .718 OPS, 310 runs, 517 hits, and struck out a league low 313 times. The pitching staff posted the league’s second best team ERA (3.05), and allowed the fewest runs/earned runs (205/166). Manuel Silva tied for the league lead in wins with 6 and Ben Pelletier was third in the league with a .333 batting average. And a shout out for Yahir Gurrola who also hit .333 but didn’t have enough at bats to qualify (he was promoted to Williamsport mid-season).
Man for man, I believe they were just better than the opposition. The Phillies don’t really ride a hot hand. They employ a platoon system, and stick to it. Most position players know that if they play today, they are off tomorrow except for Jonathan Guzman and Brayan Gonzalez who got about 60% of the starts at SS and 2B.
There was no Sixto Sanchez, or maybe even Adonis Medina or Franklyn Kilome this year, but Francisco Morales, Manuel Silva, and Jhordany Mezquita impressed. What are your thoughts on them going forward?
Manuel Silva quietly put together a nice season. The slightly built lefty throws in the low 90s. He’s a skinny 18-year old and will likely be part of the Phillies weight program this fall, although he doesn’t look like he has the frame to hold the necessary weight/muscle. He spent Instructs on crutches. I wouldn’t be surprised if he repeats Rookie ball next season. Lakewood seems a reach.
Francisco Morales, on the other hand, has the body scouts long to see. He’s got the size already, and the frame to handle more weight/muscle. He turns 18 later this month and already has a mid-90s fastball. He had some control issues, walking 4.4/9 innings. But he struck out 9.6/9. He’ll move as quickly as he learns and improves his off speed pitches that will support his FB. Short-season again next season. No need to push the youngster yet, there are plenty of pitchers blocking him right now.
Jhordany Mezquita was the Phillies’ surprise 8th round pick in the 2017 draft. He signed for the same $50K contract that he had signed and the league office had voided a few months earlier, saving the Phillies some slot money. He’s a 19-year old with no baseball background who can really pitch. He finished the season with a mid-90s FB. The lefty has a good baseball body, but with no apparent history seems likely to repeat Rookie ball. I don’t really expect him to go to full season ball in Lakewood after less than 40 innings in the GCL. But, he looks capable of such a jump.
The GCL is the first big step stateside for many Latin players. This year was the much anticipated US debuts of Jonathan Guzman, Brayan Gonzalez, and Simon Muzziotti. What are you looking for from teenagers in their stateside debuts?
Most of these kids have already begun their indoctrination into professional baseball at the Phillies’ Dominican Academy whether or not they were on one of the Phillies’ DSL rosters. So they are used to the daily grind of workouts, drills, and classes that are provided there. But, they still have to adjust to a language barrier and a difference in diet. For instance, our diet contains way more beef and potatoes than theirs which contains a lot of chicken, pork, beans, and rice.
These kids arrive with little or no money. Even those who sign large bonuses leave it behind in the hands of their buscones and families. And what little money they earn here is sent back to their families. They rely on the meals the Phillies provide from local restaurants for breakfast and lunch. A local restaurant (the one that provides the breakfast) that isn’t open for dinner provides the evening meal for those players who show up at their door. I have driven past this restaurant and seen the large group of our players standing outside for the meal.
When they make their debuts in Instructs or XST, I look for kids who look like they can grow into athletic bodies. I look for confidence. Among position players, I watch to see who plays the position best, and observe who is moved to a different position. Among hitters, I look to see a kid’s approach at the plate, see if he works the count, attacks the first strike, goes with the pitch, is willing to give himself up. And among pitchers, while a high velocity fastball garners quick attention, I look for the ones who throw strikes and are down in the zone. At their young ages, any semblance of an off speed pitch is a plus, but not expected.
Not everyone gets a long run in the GCL, who is one player you only got a brief glimpse of that you are looking forward to seeing more of?
Carlos De La Cruz. The 6’8, 210 lb, 17-year old outfielder showed up at the Complex during the GCL season. At first I thought he was a pitcher from the DSL (we had a Jonas De La Cruz on DSL White). Carlos was signed by our scout up in New York. He found him in a summer league. I watched him during Instructs, trying to implement the changes to his swing. He looked awkward. I saw him the next day, he looked more at ease with his new swing, and hit the only 2 balls over the LF fence in his group that day.
Among others –
Dalton Guthrie. He was drafted out of Florida and was a key part of their CWS victory. He was limited to a handful of games due to injury, but looks sharp on the field. His bat will dictate how quick he moves through the organization. I had a brief talk with Johnny Almarez where I told him I liked the kid. Mr. Almarez spoke effusively about his future. Except for ST, I don’t expect to see Guthrie until he passes through Clearwater again with the Threshers.
Jakob Hernandez. A 2017 draft pick who has a killer curve ball. He was learning a change up during Instructs. I am looking forward to following his career until he returns to Clearwater.
I’m also looking forward to seeing Ethan Lindow, Ben Brown, Jake Holmes, D.J. Stewart, Anton Kuznetsov, Luis Garcia, Leonel Aponte, Alfonzo Puello, and Victor Vargas. Except for Kuznetsov, they are all first year professionals either drafted out of high school in 2017 or signed during the international free agent signing period.
Prospects to Watch:
- Francisco Morales – Morales was considered the best 16 year old pitcher available in the 2016 July 2 market and it is easy to see why. The 17 year old has good size and a fastball up to 96. He still needs more polish and control, but his slider looks like a weapon and he is showing feel for a changeup. He is far away, but he is plenty of upside.
- Manual Silva – Silva is a slightly build lefty with a solid fastball and feel for pitching. He has room to get bigger and shows feel for secondary pitches.
- Jhordany Mezquita – Mezquita is another lefty with a low 90s fastball. He has less projection than Silva, but he has more advanced secondary pitches. His ceiling is probably back end starter, but he dominated in his first taste of pro-ball.
- Anton Kuznetsov – The Phillies signed Kuznetsov out of Russia, and the young lefty showed impressive feel given his background. His fastball was only in the high-80s as a reliever so he will need to add strength to be more than a LOOGY, but there are some who don’t think he has it in his frame.
- Ben Pelletier – The Phillies drafted Pelletier in 2015 as a 16 year old out of Canada, and he didn’t turn 19 until late in the season. He has a prototypical corner outfielder frame and the tools to go with it. His approach can be shaky from at bat to at bat, but he is everyday regular upside.
- Brayan Gonzalez – Gonzalez was the Phillies’ top signing last year, and they sent him stateside for his debut at 17 years old. Gonzalez moved to second in deference for Jonathan Guzman, but he should be able to handle shortstop if needed. Gonzalez has sneaky pop and is a great defender at second.
- Jonathan Guzman – Guzman was the breakout player of the Phillies 2016 DSL Phillies. Guzman played most of his second pro year at age 17, and needs a lot more development physically. However, he has a great feel for contact and is a great shortstop defender.
- Jake Holmes – The Phillies drafted Holmes as a shortstop out of high school with a large overslot bonus (11th round), and he was in the SS mix for the GCL Phillies before moving over to third base in Instructs. He is athletic with plus speed and a frame that should add power with time.
- Keudy Bocio – Bocio showed an impressive approach and plus speed in the DSL last year, while primarily playing second base. With second occupied in the GCL, he started at third, where he had the arm, but not the bat. Injuries opened up a spot in center field for Bocio late in the season and he looked good in the outfield. He will need to hit to be a regular in center, but he might have a future as a utility player.
- Simon Muzziotti – Muzziotti is going to get Carlos Tocci comps because he is a lanky Venezuelan center fielder. Muzziotti is also a plus runner with a good glove in center field, but he has a bit more power than Tocci. Muzziotti barely struck out in his GCL season, and likely has the contact abilities for an aggressive assignment to Lakewood.
- Rafael Marchan – The Phillies gave Marchan a big bonus in 2015 as a converted infielder. He has a big arm and has made the positional transition successfully so far. He makes a lot of contact, but has yet to make a lot of impact with his swings.
Picture of Francisco Morales by Baseball Betsy