It is list writing season and right now I am in the middle of writing my Top 50 Phillies prospects. Part of the process is thinking about the next season and where players fit into the organization. As you go through this process it is hard to not start putting together future rosters. It is not a revelation that the Phillies are going to have some loaded rosters in 2017. Their farm system is deep and they are coming off a year where they were dominant at most levels of the system. The most loaded of these rosters is almost certainly going to be AAA Lehigh Valley which should be headlined by Crawford, Alfaro, Williams, Pivetta, Hoskins, Cozens, Lively, and Appel with possible appearances by Quinn, Kingery, Knapp, Pinto, Pullin, Valentin, and Arano during the season, to go with any major leaguers who don’t make the Phillies opening day roster. But what is much more fun to dream about is the 2017 Lakewood BlueClaws.
Now I approached this exercise from a much more aggressive point of view than I would expect the Phillies to approach this, but why not, this is all speculation, so let’s have some fun position by position.
This is easily the weakest position on the roster prospect wise as it might be time for Deivi Grullon to go to Clearwater. That leaves returning backstop Edgar Cabral and, Williamsport catchers Henri Lartigue, Brett Barbier, and Gregori Rivero. Barbier and Rivero hit fairly well last year and Lartigue was just a 7th round pick. It is possible the whole Williamsport group just moves up.
Luis Encarnacion was bad enough in 2016 that his age 19 season almost certainly begins back in Extended Spring Training, which means this is a pretty easy spot to fill with Williamsport’s Darick Hall who hit .282/.372/.518 in the New York-Penn League with 9 home runs. His walk rate is not great but he kept up a good OBP by getting hit by a lot of pitches. He has plus or better raw power which might help him survive the Lakewood ballpark.
The conservative approach says that this spot belongs to Luis Espiritu or one of the undrafted free agents in Chandler Hall or Evan Rogers. The aggressive choice is pushing up GCL second baseman Daniel Brito. Brito has the hit tool, approach, and glove to handle full season ball at second base. He still needs to get more physical and that could see his power numbers suffer in full season ball, but he is the best second baseman the Phillies have at this level and he has the profile to take the aggressive jump.
It is a slightly different situation at shortstop where the aggressive decision is to send the Williamsport shortstop to full season ball, and that is because Arquimedes Gamboa was aggressively sent to Williamsport where he struggled but adapted. Other than Gamboa the Phillies options are using one of the minor league free agents or aggressively promoting Cole Stobbe (more on him in a second) or Raul Rivas. Ideally the Phillies reunite the 2014 July 2 signings with Brito and Gamboa up the middle.
Now this is an interesting quandary. Williamsport’s third baseman was 2015 3rd round pick Luke Williams, 2016 3rd round pick Cole Stobbe played SS in the GCL but is almost certainly going to 3B long term, and then there is Danny Zardon hanging out as the “veteran”. For as much as the Phillies invested in Williams, he was not good in 2016 and Stobbe looks to be the better prospect. Unless the Phillies don’t think Stobbe can handle the defensive transition this might be his job to lose.
Unless something goes horribly wrong it is Mickey Moniak in center field. Unless something goes amazingly right, Jhailyn Ortiz is probably not joining him. That leaves 11th round pick Josh Stephen and the Williamsport outfielders as companions for Moniak. There are big believers in David Martinelli even though he struggled in his debut, and Juan Luis oozes potential even if his work effort just can’t seem to get him there.
Now it gets really fun. Bailey Falter and Adonis Medina move up from Williamsport. By all indications Sixto Sanchez is more than ready to make the jump. That leaves 3 spots for Ranger Suarez, JoJo Romero, Felix Paulino, Kevin Gowdy, and Mauricio Llovera. Romero might be polished enough for Clearwater, but there might not be room. Gowdy was the most polished high school pitcher in the draft, and without his injury him starting in Lakewood is probably not a question. Suarez is a good innings eating back end starter, Paulino is probably a reliever, and Llovera could easily go anchor the Williamsport bullpen. That leaves a pitching staff that could look like Sanchez, Medina, Gowdy, Romero, Falter, Suarez which is pretty good for the low A level.
This would give us a lineup something like this:
SP: Sanchez/Medina/Gowdy /Falter/Romero/Suarez
The offense lacks in power outside of Hall, but there is a lot of contact and speed (especially from the outfield). The place where this team really would shine is on pitching and defense. That is a very very good pitching staff with 3 potential aces at the front. To back them up Brito/Gamboa is a strong double play combination up the middle and the outfield features three center fielders all with plus arms.
This is not a team that is as deep as the 2016 GCL Phillies, but a team with Moniak, Sanchez, Gowdy, and Medina has 4 Top 10 prospects in the Phillies system and in Brito, Gamboa, Falter, and Stobbe potentially 4 of the players with the biggest breakout potential in the system. Put it all together and Lakewood next year could be the most interesting affiliate to follow in the Phillies system.