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.
If the GCL is where careers begin for the youth, the Williamsport is where the elder statesmen of the draft get their start. This season, Williamsport played host to the Phillies first 4 picks in the draft and a host of other college signees. Joining them in Williamsport were the high dollar players of the 2016 draft in third baseman Cole Stobbe and outfielder Josh Stephen. However, the star of the show was 18 year old slugger Jhailyn Ortiz, who lived up to his hype. Ultimately, the Crosscutters weren’t able to put together sustained success in 2017.
Final Record: 37-37
The 2017 Williamsport Crosscutters were a flawed team. With the Phillies aggressively pushing their teenagers to Lakewood, the only big name destined for Williamsport was Jhailyn Ortiz. The Crosscutters got some reinforcements from the draft, but Adam Haseley, Spencer Howard, and Connor Seabold were all limited in some way. Their hitters flashed some power, but ultimately the ability to consistently get on base, and an injury to Ortiz doomed their chances.
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.
Ortiz was named Williamsport’s MVP and probably was one of the best performers in the New York Penn League. Ortiz finished hitting .302/.401/.560. His .560 slugging and .961 OPS ranked first and second, respectively among hitters with 150 PA in the NYPL. He also finished top seven in XBH, 2B, HR, HBP, OBP and AVG. Ortiz would improve his BB% (8.6% to 9.6%) and lower his K% (26.9% to 25.1%). He also showed he could play a pretty good RF, even if the position might be questionable as he grows into his body. What was encouraging to me was the improvement of his consistency from last season to this year. He played well in his first 20 games both years, but take a look at his last 27 games each year.
2016) 1st 20 games: 89 PA, .312/.404/.623, 6 HR, 11 XBH, 17 RBI, 21/7 K/BB; final 27 games: 108 PA, .167/.259/.281, 2 HR, 7 XBH, 10 RBI, 32/10 K/BB
2017) 1st 20 games: 87 PA, .290/.437/.565, 4 HR, 10 XBH, 17 RBI, 18/11 K/BB; final 27 games: 100 PA, .311/.370/.556, 4 HR, 14 XBH, 13 RBI, 29/7 K/BB
While the discipline vs. breaking balls is still a work in progress, particularly as teams saw him more, he actually improved his batting average and continued to hit for power to all fields down the stretch before suffering a hamstring injury at season’s end. Before Alfaro and Hoskins arrived to the big leagues, I already had him in my midseason top 10. He’ll be firmly entrenched their when we enter the spring. Ortiz turns 19 in November and I honestly would not be surprised if we are talking about him being one of baseball’s best power prospects at this same point next year.
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. If you follow the Phillies minor league system, the first person you think of when Williamsport is mentioned is the Williamsport Sun Gazette’s beat writer Mitch Rupert.
Adam Haseley is the first 1st round pick to go to Williamsport since Mitch Gueller, what were your first impressions?
Well my first impression is that he wouldn’t be here three years like Mitch was. You could tell from the first day he was here that he was just different than everybody else. Not only did his skillset match someone of a pick that high, but his work ethic was even better. His first day here he was doing tee work in the cage early in the afternoon when another player walked by and mentioned it wasn’t Adam’s day to do extra work. Adam said I know, and kept going about his business. Another day, I was standing by the batting cage taking photo bursts of his swing trying to show how well his head stayed down on the ball. He walked by, asked for my phone, and started scrolling through the shots in between rounds in the cage so he could make adjustments. I know there’s no gyms in baseball, but this guy is a gym rat if there ever was one. He has such a keen understanding of both his own swing and his own strike zone. Often times, his understanding of the strike zone was much better than that of the understanding of the umpires in the New York-Penn League.
As for his skills, I love the mechanics of his swing. He clearly wants to work middle of the field to opposite field just based on how his swing works. Pitchers figured out after his hot start they could bust him inside and he’s not quite adept on turning on those pitches just yet. He was constantly working on it, and as he learns to turn on the baseball I think you’ll see more power numbers from him because he already has plenty enough power to hit the ball out to the opposite field. Even though there’s a ton of lower-half movement in his swing, he does a nice job of keeping his hands and head still, which is part of the reason he’s able to track the ball so well and let it travel deep to hit it hard the other way. But he’s so spread out in his stance that I think the Phillies eventually either lower his leg kick or shorten the width of his stance to make him quicker on stuff on the inner half. I don’t know if I ever see him having above average raw power, but guys who make hard contact as consistently as he does tends to have their power play up a little more than you’d think.
He was an adequate center fielder for this level. But there were a number of times I thought he didn’t get particularly good breaks or reads on the ball which let it fall. I think the Phillies want him to stick in center field because that’s where his value will lie, but I can’t imagine he’s a better defensive center fielder than Mickey Moniak, and I’d argue he may have only been the third-best defensive center fielder on this Cutters team behind Juan Luis and Malvin Matos. But I think he’d be strong defensively in a corner outfield spot, it’s just a matter of if he’d have the power to have value there. For a former pitcher, I expected a much stronger arm with better carry on his throws, very similar to how Aaron Brown was as an outfielder. But I think he was also very measured in his throwing, and I don’t know that I ever really saw him let loose with a throw.
Bottom line is he was a very different prospect than anyone I’ve seen come through here in 9 years. He was polished like nobody I’ve seen play with the Cutters before. He’s not a guy whose tools you had to dream on. He was a legit player from the start with a great baseball mind and an insatiable work ethic. Give me a guy who has a lot of talent with that kind of mindset and I’ll show you a hell of a player.
Each year the Phillies take a bunch of college pitchers and send them to Williamsport as relievers. Who are a couple of players to keep an eye on?
Immediately two names came to mind: David Parkinson and Connor Brogdan. Now part of this is cheating because Parkinson, who was a starter at Ole Miss, eventually moved into the rotation. But I like David Parkinson because he was a left-hander who was up around 92 with his fastball, and it feels like there’s more velocity in him as he adjusts to using his lower half a little bit more. Averaged better than a strikeout per inning, including a 10-strikeout effort in five innings against Batavia late in the season. If nothing else, he’s an interesting left-hander to watch for a system which didn’t have many to watch before the last couple seasons.
The more I saw of Brogdan later in the season, the more I liked. He quietly had one of the best seasons out of the bullpen. The 10th-round pick out of Lewis-Clark state allowed runs in just four of his 16 outings. He allowed fewer hits than innings pitched (22 in 34 2/3) and struck out 45. Has quality control, but struggles with command sometimes. And he’ll often run into times where he just loses the zone altogether. He’s every bit of 6-foot-6, but he’s also every bit of the 185 pounds he’s listed at. He was up consistently to 94 late in the season and pitching coach Hector Berrios was adamant there was more velocity in his frame. Brogdon always pitched with guts, never shied away from a big spot and always pitched with confidence. One of those kinds of guys where if his velo increases could see a quick run through the system.
How does Jhailyn Ortiz compare to previous Williamsport sluggers like Dylan Cozens, Domingo Santana, Luis Encarnacion, and Jose Pujols?
The only person on that list I’d put in Ortiz’s league is Domingo Santana. Cozens, Encarnacion and Pujols were all, and still are, major projects. Ortiz and Santana are and were remarkably polished for as young as they were when they were here. What makes Ortiz different than guys like Cozens, Encarnacion and Pujols is there isn’t the glaring weakness of pitch recognition. Sure, at 18 years old he still made mistakes you’d expect players to make at 18 years old. He got too aggressive at times, he swung out of his shoes at times, he tried to do too much. But the base of what Ortiz was working with was really exciting. He had a strong understanding of his own strike zone. There wasn’t a fastball which overpowered him. There wasn’t a place on the field to which he couldn’t drive the baseball. His rounds of batting practice illicited more incredulous head shakes from Phillies personnel than anyone I’ve seen. The truth is, his raw power probably isn’t what Cozens’ or Pujols’ was when they were here, but it’s pretty damn good. There’s a road which runs out behind the left-field fence at Bowman Field which is between 420 and 430 feet from home plate, and Ortiz put some dents in that road during batting practice.
What also separates him is his defensive ability. I kept hearing coming into the season how he wouldn’t be able to stick in the outfield and how he was destined for a life at first base. Maybe somewhere down the road that is what’s in store for Ortiz, but in the short term he’s going to be just fine in right field. He’s super athletic, far more so than you’d expect from someone who is 230 pounds. He runs like a deer … A really big deer, but a deer nonetheless. His throwing arm is unreal. He’s got an arm strength which is better than those other players listed with the accuracy to match it. On one play this year where he threw out a runner at the plate on a fly ball, he started running off the field after releasing the baseball because he knew he had the out.
He has a world of confidence, tremendous bat to ball skills, unreal power, ability to hit any pitch, speed to steal a few bases, and a gregarious smile which just invites you into his world. Pat Borders doesn’t gush about individual players, it’s just not in his nature. He gushed about Ortiz often and kept referencing how special he has the potential to be. That’s a pretty solid endorsement.
Williamsport is often the first professional step for players. What are your expectations for players? What is the organization’s expectation for new players?
I try not to have expectations for players when they come in, but that can be difficult, especially with highly-touted prospects. The biggest thing I want to see is skills which wouldn’t be out of place on a big league field. So you take that one skill and then build around it to see what kind of potentially complete player you can have. As for pitchers, velocity is always good, but I want to see a usable second pitch and the ability to think through a game, and make sure there was a plan to what they were doing on the mound. You just want to see some fundamental building blocks in which good players can thrive on.
As for the organization, I think their expectations for college players coming right out of the draft are just to play every day. They understand there’s a level of fatigue which is going to set in as they learn to not only play every day, but practice every day. They don’t want to make big mechanical adjustments until the offseason. The truth is, and people don’t always want to hear this, results don’t particularly matter. They want to see the players buy in to the program, do the things they’re asked, play hard, and make adjustments. It’s that first full season in the system in which results start to matter.
Prospects to Watch:
- Jake Scheiner – When the Phillies took Scheiner in the 4th round it was seen as a bit of a reach. He had little track record entering the year, but he put massive numbers in the first half of the college season. Scheiner has some power, he has some speed, but his approach still needs more work. However, it is not his bat that will determine his future. A shortstop in college, Scheiner played second and third in Williamsport, and the early reports up the middle were positive. If he can stay at second there will be less pressure on his bat to perform, because he will need hit his offensive ceiling to stick at third.
- Nick Maton – The Phillies took Maton out of the junior college ranks in the 2017 draft. He is at shortstop now, but some people think he is ultimately destined for second base. Maton has some projection left in his frame, but he is never going to hit for much power. He showed a decent approach and feel for contact. Without a sudden power surge, his future is probably as a bench infielder.
- Greg Pickett – Pickett missed all of the 2016 season due to injury, and the hulking lefty is now at first base and not left field. Pickett has big raw power, but struggled to consistently tap into it. His swing can get a bit long and stiff, and he has a tendency to strike out frequently. Pickett is intriguing because of the power, but he is going to need to actualize it to continue to be on radars.
- Cole Stobbe – The Phillies were able to shift money from Mickey Moniak to Kevin Gowdy and Cole Stobbe, and so far the investment has not worked out. Stobbe showed good power this year, but his approach devolved and he couldn’t handle offspeed pitches. Stobbe has the talent to be an everyday third baseman, but he will need to put together a better plan at the plate.
- Malvin Matos – Matos flew under the radar in Williamsport, but he has the tools to pay attention to. He can handle center field, but probably ends up in a corner. He has some power and a decent approach. He struggled against right handed pitchers, but mashed lefties. He might not make it past Lakewood, but he could also make a leap next year.
- Jhailyn Ortiz – It is hard to not be very excited about the Phillies $4M man. Ortiz destroyed the NYPL and was only slowed by an injury. Ortiz still has normal struggles for an 18 year old, and he can be prone to chasing breaking balls away. Ortiz’s calling card is easy power, and he can hit the ball out to all fields. He is more athletic than he looks, and he made some great plays in right field, and his arm is a weapon in the outfield. Some evaluators think he ultimately ends up at first base because of his body, but he has done a great job of keeping himself in great shape since signing.
- Adam Haseley – The #8 overall pick in the 2017 draft was solid, but unimpressive in his pro debut. He probably isn’t a center fielder long term, but he should be able to handle right field once his arm recovers from pitching. He was one of the most polished hitters in college baseball last season, and the Phillies think that time off after a long season and a full time move to hitting will yield better power and impact at the plate.
- Rodolfo Duran – It is easy to overlook Rodolfo Duran, literally. The tiny catcher has some feel for hitting, but his glove and arm are what drew praise for him this season. He might not hit enough to be an everyday player, but his glove could carry him through the system.
- Kyle Young – It seemed hard to believe that Kyle Young could get taller, but the lefty entered the year at 7’0” tall. Young added a small bit of velocity, touching up to 92 with his fastball this year, but for the most part he sat in the high 80s. Young’s secondary pitches showed promise this season, but they still need more work, including turning his breaking ball into a true slider or curve and less of a slurve. Despite his size, Young is very athletic and is able to repeat his delivery well and throw strikes. He doesn’t use his frame to get a ton of plane, but he does get great extension on his pitches, seemingly delivering the baseball while halfway to home plate. There is room for Young to add more velocity, but it might be a slow process as there is plenty of frame to fill out.
- Will Stewart – young when he was drafted, Stewart was 19 going into his 3rd season of pro-ball. The lefty from Alabama has filled out some, and it shows in a fastball that could touch 93. He isn’t overpowering, nor are his secondary pitches anything to write home about. What Stewart did do this year was generate a ton of ground balls this season. His strange delivery and lack of strikeout stuff probably make him a reliever long term.
- Spencer Howard – The Phillies calling Spencer Howard the best right handed pitcher in the draft was a bit of an exaggeration, but the big righty has plenty of promise. His fastball has good life and sat 91-95, touching 96, for the Crosscutters. His changeup is the best of his secondary pitches, and he backs it up with a slider and curveball. He doesn’t have front line potential, but he should be able to cleanup his control enough to have a #3/#4 starter ceiling.
- Ramon Rosso – Ramon Rosso was more of a DSL pitcher than a Williamsport pitcher this season, but he finished his dominant run for the Crosscutters. Rosso was signed at age 21 by the Phillies (he was released by the Dodgers in 2016). Rosso has good size and good fastball command. His velocity is not over powering (88-92 T94) and his best secondary pitch is an ok slider. Rosso’s rise is reminiscent of Jose Taveras, but he has more projection than his fellow Dominican (though less offspeed pitches). He will need to be perfect to have a future, but it is a good first impression.
- Luis Carrasco – Luis Carrasco is a project. He is already 23 and does not strike out batters at a high rate. What he does have is a fastball that touches 97 with wicked movement. He is still learning how to pitch, but he is far enough behind that he is probably a reliever. If he can harness is fastball, he could move quickly in a bullpen role.