2017 Reading Fightin Phils Season Recap

The minor league season may have wrapped up three 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 Phillies’ rebuild loaded up the upper minors of the system with top prospects, and for the past two seasons Reading has been the beneficiary of that bounty. This year the team looked to be down from the start with Scott Kingery and Thomas Eshelman as the two big prospects for the Fightins. With little help on the way, it was up to an unheralded group to try and lead Reading to the playoffs.

Final Record: 72-68 (3rd in Eastern Division)
Reading got off to a good start thanks to Kingery’s breakout year and Andrew Pullin plowing through the Eastern League. Mitch Walding had a breakout power year and Jiandido Tromp and Carlos Tocci provided support. Late in the year, the loss of Pullin, Kingery, Tocci, Eshelman, and it’s dynamic reliever pair of Jesen Therrien and Yacksel Rios was too much to overcome, especially not when Walding went down with injury. Late in the year, Reading saw the arrival of Cole Irvin, Jacob Waguespack, and Franklyn Kilome to shore up the rotation, but it was too late and Reading missed the playoffs by a tiebreaker in the Wild Card.

Jeff’s Guy:

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.

Drew Anderson
I watched Anderson twice with completely different results. On July 22, he lasted seven batters, allowed five runs and recorded one out before throwing behind a hitter leading to an ejection. In his final appearance of 2017 on September 1, he made his AAA debut, allowing two runs (one earned) while striking out seven over 6.2 innings. In between all of that he made two MLB relief appearances (allowed six ER in 2.1 IP) in August when the big club desperately needed fresh arms for an exhausted bullpen. While Anderson had a solid run prevention season (3.46 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, .207 opp AVG), his walks increased (2.8 to 3.3 BB/9) and his strikeouts took a big dip (10 to 7.3 K/9). His fastball also went from 95-98 mph last year to more in the 92-95 range this season. He elevated a lot of pitches as his fly ball rate went up this season. He’s clearly more effective when he keeps the ball down as he showed in his AAA debut and when he hits his spots, his mid-70s curveball shines more. I still think Anderson has plenty of upside, even at 24 years old at the start of 2018. He has the potential mid-rotation starter with a pretty good two-pitch combo and a developing change-up and slider, but he has major league stuff to bottom out as a reliever.

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. Mark (KRAM) and the crew at the Horn and Bell blog cover Reading and Lehigh Valley better than anyone not paid to write about the Phillies high minors. With season tickets to AA and AAA, Mark sees an enviable amount of baseball each year.

After a couple of years of powerhouse teams, Reading ran out of gas this year. What was the feeling like in Baseballtown this year?

Baseballtown has such history that the regulars don’t sweat the up and down years as much as they might in Allentown or even the Majors with Philadelphia.  The general feeling was mostly that of squandered opportunity:  They realized what they had the past two seasons and lamented the lack of a championship to show for it.  Right or wrong, among the fans in the stands in Reading, Dusty Wathan takes some heat for that—that he was given the talent to win playoff games but couldn’t when it mattered most.

The Baseballtown regulars don’t gaze longingly towards the Clearwater roster like I do with the Reading roster when I’m looking for new IronPigs.  I don’t think they realize the pitching they’re about to get when Sixto, Seranthony, Adonis, JoJo, and Ranger—among others—are ready for AA.  There’s been talk that Cornelius Randolph will start with Reading in the spring and that Haseley will be in Clearwater and on a fast track.  We’ll have to see how that goes, too.  Among the press and the bloggers, there’s excitement for next season.  The regulars just take it all in stride.

Every year Reading amplifies a player or two.  How much are you buying into Scott Kingery, Jiandido Tromp, and Mitch Walding?  How do you try and separate the park from the talent?

From the outside, I think you start to look at batting average a little more than you might consider it these days.  I think you look at walks and doubles and try not to get caught up in the dingers and slugging. Excess strikeouts in AA can be a red flag; there are plenty of fastballs to hit in AA, so an inflated K-rate could be a problem. From the stands at America’s Classic Ballpark, you just enjoy the show.

Scott Kingery will run into his fair share of home runs, but he certainly benefited from the friendly confines at Baseballtown early this season.  Looking deeper into the stat lines makes me worry about Tromp and Walding and if either of them could be successful at AAA, let alone further.

Reading’s starting pitching was a mess all year, who is a guy who you think might be going under the radar because of the constant shuffle?

You’ve got a wave of starters at AAA who have had some opportunities and are pushing to get a foothold with the big team:  Eflin, Thompson, Pivetta, and Lively.  You can probably put Eshelman in that group in the spring.

Then you have another very highly regarded group in single-A, with top prospects such as Sixto, Medina, Seranthony, as well as lefties like Ranger and JoJo.  You can probably add Kilome to that group.

But in between there’s another wave with less fanfare.  In any of these waves, there are no guarantees that every pitcher will reach his potential.  In fact, it’s almost certain that not all of them will.  The AA-wave may have as much potential as any to produce an MLB-contributing talent or two.  I think this whole group is going under the radar.  Consider:

RHP Jose Taveras spent very little time at AA after arriving from Clearwater, and did nothing but come to AAA and hold his own.  There were times when he got hit around a little bit, but if he can maintain his control at a high level he might be able to contribute as a back-end starter in the majors.

RHP Drew Anderson appears on a lot of prospect lists, but remained in Reading for most of this past season.  He got a sip of coffee with the big team, and held his own during the playoff stretch-run for the IronPigs.  Could the AAAA wave be holding him back?

LHP Cole Irvin had some tremendous outings this past season but also showed some inconsistency.  With a dearth of left-handed arms at the upper levels, he’ll have an opportunity if he can seize it.

LHP Elniery Garcia might be under the radar with some people after missing a big chunk of the season with a suspension and an injury.  It’s hard to say what he is right now as a healthy, non-PED-aided player.  I was among the highest on him this past winter in the prospect rankings, so I’m looking forward to hearing how he does in the Arizona Fall League and perhaps elsewhere over the winter.  If his stuff is for real, he’ll have every opportunity as a southpaw just like Irvin.

RHP Jacob Waguespack might be under everybody’s radar.  The 2012 37th-round pick of the Pirates out of Ole Miss ended up signing as a free agent with the Phillies in 2015.  I’ll admit that I’d not even heard his name before he was promoted to Reading this past season.  The native of Waco, TX will be 24 soon, but pitched well for the IronPigs in the AAA playoffs yielding only one run and three hits over seven innings on the road in Moosic, PA as the IronPigs were eliminated by a 1-0 score.  His season stats may not look gaudy, but he continued to improve throughout the season.  I look forward to seeing more of what he can do at either AA or AAA in April.

The Phillies have a lot of minor league free agents that went through Reading this year, Rios and Therrien reached the 40 man roster, which of the rest would you like to see back (Miguel Nunez, Carlos Tocci, Jiandido Tromp, Mitch Walding, Chace Numata, Harold Arauz, Herlis Rodriguez, Harold Martinez, and Ranfi Casimiro)?

(Editor’s Note: I was off in who were minor league free agents, Carlos Tocci, Jiandido Tromp, and Harold Arauz were all not minor league free agents)

Mitch Walding has already re-signed with the organization, so we’ll have him back at third base either in Reading or Allentown in April.  As we write this, Casimiro will be back as well.  If he’s a pure reliever now, perhaps you have him sink or swim in Allentown, but maybe not right away.

I have to admit that I became a Carlos Tocci believer this past season, watching him play every day in Reading.  I saw him hit doubles and triples, play some outstanding outfield, and make a couple really nice throws to the plate.  He’s still only 22 and the .189 over 53 games at AAA doesn’t really scare me yet.  A spot for Tocci on the 40-man probably means I can’t find a spot for Tromp or Herlis and there may be some redundancy there.  I’d welcome Numata or Martinez back if system depth is needed, but otherwise I think I’ve seen enough there and neither were shoving their way towards AAA per se.

On the pitching side, you’ve got to decide if you want to keep Rios and Therrien on the 40-man I suppose.  I had good confidence in seeing them pitch in both Reading and Allentown in 2017.  I did not have the same confidence in Arauz and Nunez at any point, although they had their moments.

To conclude, Walding and Casimiro are already back and Tocci is the only one I feel strongly about.  From there it’s about if the Phillies see something they want to develop or if they need the players for the organization.


Prospects to Watch:

  • Jiandido Tromp – It wasn’t really a breakout year for Tromp, who had more of that last year in Lakewood, but it was a very good year after an aggressive promotion to AA. Tromp has some power, he has some speed, and he can fake center field if needed. He is 24 and doesn’t walk very often meaning his ceiling is somewhere between AAAA OF and major league 5th outfielder.
  • Malquin Canelo – Canelo peaked in early 2015 where he showed a good hit tool and solid approach on his way to a mid season promotion to Clearwater. Since then he has struck out at a high rate, not walked, and shown few other offensive skills. He still has a good glove at short meaning there is a chance he is a major league bench bat, but right now his major league dreams are fading fast.
  • Zach Coppola – Zach Coppola is a player of extremes. He is very reminiscent of Ben Revere with a good hit tool, good speed, and absolutely no power. Coppola is a solid center fielder, but not elite. His speed is a grade or two below Revere’s and his not as good base runner as the former Phillie. He also has a better throwing arm in the outfield. The big difference is that Coppola doesn’t quite have Revere’s feel for contact and might have even less power.
  • Tyler Viza – Last year Viza had a breakout year in Clearwater before stumbling in Reading. He shows the potential for 3 average pitches, but he lacked an out pitch. Outside of a 9 earned run performance on 8/19, Viza had a solid second half as he limited hard contact a bit more. Viza could still bounce back as a #5 starter in the majors, but right now he is on the wrong side of that tightrope.
  • Drew Anderson – Anderson was a popular break out candidate last offseason. He had come back from Tommy John surgery with a bit of a vengence. He dominated both levels of A-ball and showed a fastball now reaching 97. This year Anderson’s fastball was down more in the low 90s reaching up to 95. He had a solid run in Reading as he showed to be a more complete pitcher, but his runs of success were interrupted by promotions to the majors. He looks to be more of a back end starter than a mid rotation starter, but he stayed healthy all year and that was the most important milestone for him.
  • Austin Davis – Finally healthy, and now in a bullpen role, Austin Davis took off in Clearwater. The big lefty showed velocity up to 98, but was more in the 90s. After a promotion to Reading, Davis’ command faltered, but he showed enough stuff that he should be a major league contributor in a bullpen. He still needs polish and secondary pitch improvement, and should get that time in AAA this year.
  • Victor Arano – Victor Arano entered the year as the best relief prospect in the Phillies system. His velocity had taken off in the bullpen and his breaking ball had hardened into more of a slider. An early arm injury derailed Arano and he never fully recovered his velocity. By the end of the year his command had returned enough that the Phillies had enough confidence to have him in their major league bullpen where he had a nice little run of success.
  • Yacksel Rios – Yacksel Rios has been in the Phillies system since 2011, and has had his ups and downs over the year, but 2017 was the first season that the fastball, slider, and control all came together. Rios was routinely touching 97-98 while sitting mostly 93-96 with his fastball. His slider was becoming a bat missing plus pitch, and while he wasn’t precise, he did fill the strike zone. An injury delayed his major league arrival until after Jesen Therrien, but Rios did eventually reach the majors where he had mixed success. Rios still needs more seasoning in AAA to open the year.
  • Jacob Waguespack – After the Clearwater rotation was hit with injuries the Phillies moved Waguespack to the rotation. Waguespack is a big (6’6”) skinny righty with a fastball that sits 90-94 as a starter (can reach 96 as a reliever). His changeup and slider flash promise as average pitches, but neither is a great pitch yet (slider is the better of the two). His delivery has a lot of moving parts with a stab in the back and some drop and drive. He throws strikes, but doesn’t have great command. He is probably a reliever long term, but his size gives him some intrigue in the rotation.
  • Cole Irvin – Irvin was a bit of a mystery coming into the year. The Phillies reported a different pre-draft velocity than most other sources, and then he was a bit all over the place after signing in pro-ball. Irvin has settled into 88-93 range, reaching up to 95 at times. He has a changeup, slider, and curveball with all being solid, but unspectacular. He has good command and control, so despite the lack of overpowering stuff, Irvin projects as a #4 starter and could contribute in late 2018 or early 2019 if the Phillies need him.
  • Shane Watson – The Phillies moved the former first round pick full time to the bullpen in 2017. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90s with some cutting action. He has a loopy curveball. He had big control problems and failed to miss bats. So while he remains intriguing, his ceiling is probably up and down reliever.
  • Elniery Garcia – Late in 2017, Garcia flashed big velocity gains, touching 97 in the AA playoffs. It took his profile from #5 starter to potential #3/#4 starter. This spring he received an 80 game suspension for performance enhancing drugs while also suffering an arm injury. By the time he came back his velocity was back in the 89-91 range with a long loopy curveball and ok changeup. His struggles caused him to be outrighted off of the 40 man roster. He looks more like LOOGY, but maybe a healthy offseason could see him rebound.
  • Mitch Walding – Much like Rios, Walding has been around the organization since 2011. He built on his 2016 power output with a career high 25 home runs taking advantage of the Reading park. Walding strikes out a ton, but also walks at a good rate. His defense at third is an asset, and he theoretically can play both LF and 1B. Walding will be 25 next season and will go to AAA with his best path the majors being as a platoon bench bat.

Photo: Steven Kiebach

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman

Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.

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