You guys came up big with questions and in an effort to get this out to you quicker I have split this mailbag into two parts. Part 2 should come in the next day or two. But enough of that, on to your questions.
Not really. Pitching is pitching. The only place being RH heavy is going to hurt you is in the playoffs if you draw a LH heavy lineup. That being said Zach Eflin, Aaron Nola, and Ricardo Pinto all have plus changeups which should help neutralize left handed batters. It would feel a little better if one of the guys was the same pedigree and left handed, but this team needs talent and you can’t worry too much about how it comes (in a similar vein it is why there is no point worrying that J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, and Odubel Herrera all bat LH).
Herrera really has had an incredible season. I recently went back to what I wrote to start the year, and I wanted to post it here because it really forms a good way of framing Herrera going forward:
It is really hard to rank Herrera in the Phillies’ system. The Rule 5 pick lacks a real set position; his numbers seem to outstrip his tools, and he is about to be thrust into the major leagues. Herrera was a bit of a sleeper in a Rangers system that is full of Latin middle infielders. In 2014 he won the Texas League (AA) batting title before going to the Venezuela Winter League, where he won the batting title and put up a blistering .372/.432/.556 line in the regular season. Herrera is passable at second base, but the glove and arm are more towards fringe average, possibly reaching average. However, he has taken to the outfield this winter, first in left field and now center field. There have not been any reports on how good the defense has been in winter league, but it has been positive enough that the outfield is where the Phillies see him getting the most time. Herrera has made good strides toward a better approach and saw a big jump in his walk rate in 2014. Despite his showing in winter ball, Herrera has yet to show anything above 30 power potential previously, and while he has plus speed, he has not been a productive base runner up to this point. Herrera has a good feel for contact and scouts love his hit tool. It looks like the Phillies are committed to working Herrera into the 2015 team. The big question for Herrera is whether he can actually play the outfield. If he can, the fall back is a utility role. If he can’t then he is going to be on the tough road of hitting at second base. Given how Herrera has outhit his tools so far, there is a chance he will outhit the second division label I have above and can carve out a career as a major league regular.
The biggest part of Herrera that is now different is his defense. My biggest problem with Herrera was that his bat didn’t work in LF (and we didn’t even know if he could play LF) and if all he could play was a poor second base then it was a really risky profile. Instead it all clicked in center field and he has gotten better and better over the course of the season and it is not unrealistic to say that he could be a plus defender in the long term. This is entirely sustainable. The next new thing is the power. Herrera showed solid power in the VWL last offseason, but up to this point his power was quite poor with a career ISO of .083, back in hi-A in 2012. As we have seen this year, the power is real, Herrera does not hit cheap home runs and while he won’t hit a ton out, he should be in the 7-12 range a year as he matures. His potential growth place is the speed. He has plus speed, but his instincts are poor and he runs into too many outs on the bases. If he can grow his instincts, he could add another 1-3 runs of baserunning value in the future.
This brings us to the unsustainable part, his batting average. Right now Odubel Herrera is batting .299 with a .383 BABIP on the year. He is probably more of a .330 to .340 BABIP guy because he has speed and can hit the ball hard to all fields. We have seen in the second half that Herrera has made big strides in walking more, and cutting his strikeout rate some. So even if the BABIP normalizes he should still be a guy who can hit .270-.280 with a decent OBP. Overall there are a lot of things to really like about Herrera and there is certainly signs he could be a 3ish win a year player even as his stats regress some. The downside on Herrera is that he is a 4th outfielder on a good team in the mold of Ben Revere.
From a pure prospect standpoint the most interesting level will be AAA and it won’t be very close. That being said it won’t be the most interesting to me just because for most part they are known quantities (there will always be check in on growth of course). But like most years the most interesting team will be Lakewood. The first year of full season is a big test for everyone and is a place for guys to really explode. We know that it will have Franklyn Kilome and Cornelius Randolph, so there will be star power. But what intrigues me are the guys who could be there like Jose Pujols, Juan Luis, Jonathan Arauz, Sam McWilliams, Adonis Medina, Bailey Falter, Jose Taveras, Jan Hernandez, and Felix Paulino. Now obviously not all of them will be there, but there are a lot of guys who could be apart of the top group in the future.
As for playoff teams I don’t see any real weak spots in the org, so everyone should be in contention. I think 3 sounds right though because the GCL and SAL are big enough you can miss with a good record. Add in the constant uncertainty of short season and the chance promotions hurt AAA next year. So a lot of things could go many ways.
I wouldn’t move Knapp to first base unless he stalls out and fails at catcher and fails in an attempt at left field. Knapp’s bat plays great at catcher, but it becomes a lot more questionable at first base. Right now Knapp is a plus hitter with fringe average power, that means on average you would expect somewhere in the .280 range with 12-15 home runs and a lot of doubles. Those are borderline all-star numbers at catcher, but he would barely crack the top 30 with that at first base. For example Rhys Hoskins is an average to slightly above hitter with above average power, so .270 ish with 20 home runs (and Hoskins has better on base skills). Hoskins is outside the top 15 prospects in the system, and Knapp at first base would slot behind him. Left field is a different story, maybe the bat could play there and I would certainly give him a shot there if catcher doesn’t work out.
For winter ball it is the guys on the fringes. So can guys like Gabriel Lino or Angelo Mora prove they have a spot in the organization? But for the most to gain it has to be second baseman Jesmuel Valentin. We are all well aware why Valentin missed time this year, but he still needs to make up for that lost time. He was great since he came back so he is off to a good start. He played all over the place last year in Puerto Rico and I would imagine he does the same this year. His best spot for being a major league regular is second base, but he has the ability to be a utility player who can play 7 positions for you and that kind of ability can get you a spot on a major league bench.
There are two positions in the high minors that I wouldn’t trade lightly, catcher and pitcher. Both positions are high risk and prone to flameouts, which means that you can easily find yourself with an insurmountable hole. It is especially true with Knapp and Alfaro because their is a lock to stick defensively. I probably wouldn’t make a trade from the catcher depth until some is established at the position, or at least established to the extent that you trust them to play the position defensively. Once that happens I would look to either move the other immediately or at least switch their position. It would also move Deivi Grullon to the top of the line of attractive trade assets, but that might be years off.
Going to mash the two questions together because the Phillies have a good problem here. Jonathan Arauz is the most advanced of the group and has a ton of upside, Arquimedez Gamboa has the most upside and great defense, but struggled this year, and we really don’t know what the Phillies have in Daniel Brito who feels a lot like Carlos Tocci in that he has instincts but is underdeveloped physically. Brito is the easy one here because I can’t see them sending him anywhere beyond the GCL next year. It would not surprise me if the Philles send Gamboa back to the GCL as well, but with a good winter and spring, he could see Williamsport. The interesting one here is Jonathan Arauz because he has the instincts and physicality to make the jump to Lakewood next year. He will only be 17 so I could see them holding him back for Williamsport while letting Grenny Cumana, William Cuicas, and Jose Antequerra handle second base and shortstop at Lakewood. In terms of defensive position, Gamboa is the best defender, but Arauz can certainly handle shortstop and we wouldn’t question his defense if the other players weren’t there. Brito might have to move off short in the long term. I think if they share a level we will see them swap them between second and short to build flexibility and keep their bats in the lineup.
In the offseason I had them ranked Gamboa, Arauz, Brito. Arauz has separated himself from that pack and there is another gap to Brito. But we don’t really know what Brito is because he has been out of the spotlight.
Andrew Knapp. That give Alfaro the everyday job in AA. I am not sure Astudillo is in the org next year (his best path is catcher, he is a free agent, and he is way down the catcher depth chart here), which means it would be Chace Numata joining Alfaro in AA. Knapp probably gets the first crack at the catcher job despite Alfaro being on the 40 man roster, and that could happen by midseason next year.
Nick Williams is definitely going to AAA where he is going to need to adjust to junk ballers, sitting in Reading is not going to help him. I think Quinn goes to AAA as well if he shows positive signs this winter. He missed some time, but not a ton and he will be on the 40 man roster putting him in line for a call up if needed. That would leave Reading with the first half Clearwater outfield with Andrew Pullin, Aaron Brown, and Dylan Cozens left to right. Lehigh Valley should be stacked.
This might be the most depressing question on the list because there is room to dream here, but it might be a bit early for that reality. I think at this point I am comfortable calling Aaron Nola, Adam Morgan, and Jerad Eickhoff all locks if healthy. I think they add a free agent, though without knowing the GM it is hard to say whether that free agent will be an ace type or a #3/#4 type stabilizer. After that I think it is going to be a competition between David Buchanan, Alec Asher, Severino Gonzalez, and probably a minor league free agent. Either way that last spot is just going to be a place holder for whichever of Zach Eflin or Jake Thompson makes the majors first.