The Leftovers Roll Onward: A AAA Playoff Preview

Lost now in the jubilation of J.P. Crawford’s callup to the majors was that the Lehigh Valley IronPigs had overcome a late season slump to win 6 straight games, including 4 against rival Scranton-Wilkes Barre to win the International League Wild Card. The IronPigs opened the year as a bit of a juggernaut, but that is not the team that will take on SWB in a best of 5 series. Here is the opening day lineup with where they are now.

CF Roman Quinn (DL)
SS J.P. Crawford (MLB)
C Jorge Alfaro (MLB)
RF Dylan Cozens (AAA)
1B Rhys Hoskins (MLB)
LF Nick Williams (MLB)
DH Cam Perkins (MLB)
3B Hector Gomez (AAA)
2B Jesmuel Valentin (DL)

SP Jake Tompson (MLB)

In addition to that crew, the IronPigs had Mark Appel (DL),  Nick Pivetta (MLB), Ricardo Pinto (MLB), Ben Lively (MLB), Mark Leiter Jr. (MLB), Luis Garcia (MLB), Taylor Featherston (somewhere in Tampa org), and Hoby Milner (MLB) on the opening day roster. In addition to that group, Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan, Zach Eflin, Jesen Therrien, and Yacksel Rios spend time with the IronPigs during the season.

So who is left to make a push for the title?

Catcher:

Logan Moore, Nick Rickles

Both catchers for the Pigs aren’t going to hit very much, but they are good defenders and game managers and collectively have 800 games of minor league experience

Infield:

Brock Stassi, Scott Kingery, Angelo Mora, Hector Gomez, Matt Williams

Brock Stassi may not be a very good major league player, but he has the talent to be a solid AAA contributor, even if the numbers don’t bear it out. He is also a sure handed defender at first. Scott Kingery has not been the same level of player he was in AA, but he is capable of going on a run and carrying the team, his glove is also an asset. Angelo Mora hit well in AA this year, and probably is the fill in at SS with Crawford in the majors, but he is not an impact hitter. Hector Gomez struggled this year for the Pigs and hasn’t played since October 26 and only sparingly before that. It is a similar story to Gomez for Williams who only has 50 ABs in 19 games for the IronPigs.

Outfield:

Dylan Cozens, Christian Marrero, Andrew Pullin, Herlis Rodriguez, Carlos Tocci

It has been an extremely rough year for Dylan Cozens who has racked up 194 strikeouts in 135 games. He is stumbling to the finish line, but he drew 5 walks in the SWB series and his home run in the first game was the difference. He doesn’t need to dominate the series, but the IronPigs will need a homer or two from him to win. Marrero in a minor league journeyman who came up for the SWB series. He won’t hit for much power, but he is great at getting on base and could function as the Pigs’ DH. Andrew Pullin is only hitting .231 in AAA this year, but his 66 extra base hits in 134 games show that he has the bat to swing a game. Herlis Rodriguez has really struggle in AAA after essentially skipping Reading, he has functioned mostly as a bench bat. Carlos Tocci is only hitting ,189 with 1 extra base hit in 17 AAA games, but his glove might be good enough that they just roll with him in center and hope he finds his AA contact stroke.

Rotation:

Thomas Eshelman, Drew Anderson, Brandon Leibrandt, Jose Taveras, Henderson Alvarez

If the IronPigs are going to win, it will be these 5 guys that do it. In their last trip through the rotation they allowed 3 earned runs in 32.1 innings. No one on the staff is a dominant strikeout pitcher, but collectively they don’t make many mistakes. The ace is probably Eshelman who put up a 2.23 ERA in AAA which was the second best in the International League. He is nearing his innings limit for the year, but in his last 5 starts he pitched 33 innings and allowed 2 ER, 2 BB, and 20 strikeouts. New arrival Drew Anderson had a good AAA debut in the first game of the SWB series. He matches an above average fastball with a solid curveball. He has had some clunkers this year, but when on he can carry a team through a game. Jose Taveras lead the Phillies system in strikeouts thanks to a system high 154.1 innings. He only pitched 2 games in AA due to roster issues, but he has more than held his own in AAA with a 1.32 ERA over 7 starts. He won’t overpower batters, but he throws strikes and mixes up his pitches well. Leibrandt is the soft tosser of the group and the only lefty. He survives mainly on craftiness and has struggled to strikeout batters in his recent outings, but a 3.94 ERA makes him a solid #4 AAA starter. Henderson Alvarez is the wild card here. He has a 2.84 ERA in 3 starts since signing, but he also has 6 walks and only 8 strikeouts in his 19 innings. His defense will need to be up to the task with him on the mound.

Bullpen:

Pedro Beato, Joey DeNato, Michael Mariot, Colton Murray, Cesar Ramos, Alexis Rivero, Pat Venditte

Outside of Beato who lead the IL in saves and posted a AAA ERA of 2.75, it is rough. DeNato is a pickoff artist and LOOGY who has walked more batters than he has struck out. Mariot and Murray have been bad despite major league experience. Cesar Ramos can go multiple innings, but has allowed a run in 7 of his last 10 appearances. Rivero has allowed 14 hits and 7 earned runs in 9 AAA innings. Pat Venditte may be able to throw with both hands, but he is really only effective against lefties.

Reinforcements:

The AA season is over and the IronPigs are hurting so who could help fill some holes?

Mitch Walding: Walding missed time with a scary face injury, but had a bit of a breakout season hitting .236/.327/.516 with a career high 25 home runs. He has a good glove at third and would fill the biggest hole on the IronPigs roster.

Damek Tomscha: If the Phillies wanted to go in a different direction at third or promote a 3B platoon, Damek Tomscha in some ways is a more defensively versatile version of Marrero. He won’t slug you to victory, but he will get on base and he has enough pop to occasionally give a team a big boost.

Jiandido Tromp: The IronPigs are mostly set in the outfield corners, but they could put Cozens or Pullin at DH and bring up Tromp who hit .285/.329/.485 for Reading. Tromp has some power and this year has managed to maintain a high contact rate. He might also make a good bat off the bench.

Victor Arano/Tom Windle: A pair of relievers who have seen better days. They might have enough in the tank to get hot for a series and be a better option than what the IronPigs have.

A Prediction:

Scranton Wilkes-Barre is also hurting from call ups and just lost Tyler Austin to the Yankees. They still have Miguel Andujar, Jake Cave, Ji-Man Choi, and Billy McKinney who are dangerous at this level. The pitching is thin, but unlike the IronPigs they are stretched more in the rotation and the bullpen. The bats of SWB are a bit better and that could swing the series, especially if they chase an IronPigs starter early (or if the Pigs starters are limited by innings limits) and get into the bullpen. A hot Pullin, Kingery, or Cozens could carry the IronPigs, but I don’t know if that magic is left this year. I think the Pigs fall in 5 as they lose the Leibrandt start and the pen blows one of the other 3 before the Railriders get to Alvarez in Game 5. I hope I am wrong, but I really worry about the bullpen’s ability to hold the lead late.

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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