Philadelphia Phillies Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. The book has been delayed by my head injury, but it will come out eventually. Thank you for your patience and we still need pre-orders!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Maikel Franco, 3B, Grade A-: Posted .926 OPS in Double-A at age 20 with a low strikeout rate, 31 homers on the season, 36 doubles with just 70 whiffs in 581 PA. Despite impeccable performance at young age, some observers still critique his swing and overall approach. Usually serious swing problems show up with an elevated strikeout rate and/or serious production slippage in the high minors, but so far that hasn’t occurred. We’ll see what happens in Triple-A, but overall I can’t see how Franco is anything but an elite prospect.
2) J.P. Crawford, SS, Grade B+: Very impressed with his pro debut, looks like he’ll stick at shortstop and his bat looks more advanced than expected, should hit for average and get on base. I suspect he may surprise us with some power eventually.
3) Jesse Biddle, LHP, Grade B+: Borderline B. Needs to get the walks down and sharpen command. If that happens I still see a mid-rotation arm. Pitched through whooping cough last year, which likely had a negative effect of some kind. That can leave you weakened for months.
4) Roman Quinn, SS, Grade B-: Blazing speed, ’13 season cut short by broken wrist. Crawford likely moves him to another position, will need to improve OBP abilities to project as a genuine leadoff type.
5) Carlos Tocci, OF, Grade B-: The good: all tools solid or better, very good fielder, sweet swing. The bad: his actual production was dismal: .209/.261/.249 in 421 at-bats. The mitigating factor: he was the second-youngest player in the Sally League and really had no business at that level. The questions: will this Social Darwinist player development approach help or hinder Tocci’s progress? It didn’t seem to hurt his confidence. He has the upside of an All-Star outfielder but that assumes he adds strength to his frame, and that said strength translates into production. Long-term project.
6) Aaron Altherr, OF, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Super-athletic outfielder (a Phillies theme for several years) hit .275/.337/.455 in Florida State League with 12 homers, 23 steals. Has added strength to his frame (pay attention Carlos), driving the ball more readily. Excellent glove. Plate discipline and OBP abilities remain highly questionable and Double-A transition will be illuminating.
7) Kelly Dugan, OF, Grade C+: Another tools outfielder, hit .291/.352/.506 with 20 homers between High-A and Double-A at age 22. Caveat: a poor 29/114 K/BB ratio. Made clear and genuine progress turning his strength into production but needs to get strike zone locked in if he wants to come close to duplicating this in the majors.
8) Dylan Cozens, OF, Grade C+: Second round pick in 2012 showed excellent power in New York-Penn League (.265/.343/.469 is quite good in that league). Like many of the young Phillies hitters he has superior power potential but will have to show that his hitting approach will work at higher levels.
9) Cord Sandberg, OF, Grade C+: 2013 third round pick with first round tools. Hit poorly in rookie ball (.207/.313/.272) with mysterious lack of power despite projections to the contrary. Everyone knew he was raw when drafted so this was not unexpected. High ceiling but needs lots of time. Will they be aggressive with him?
10) Ken Giles, RHP, Grade C+: Hard-throwing relief prospect upwards of 100 MPH. Erratic track record due to control problems and injuries but he’s looked very good this spring and could advance quickly to big league pen.
11) Miguel Gonzalez, RHP, Grade C+: Cuban defector, age 27, is hard to rate, on disabled list with shoulder issues. I don’t know what they have here but I have to slot him somewhere.
12) Ethan Martin, RHP, Grade C+: Another guy with shoulder problems, if healthy I’d have him at nine or 10. I’ve liked him in the past, being impressed enough with his stuff to be patient about his command troubles, but on hold at the moment. More reliever than starter in the end.
13) Cesar Hernandez, INF-OF, Grade C+: I expect a long career as a utility player, should hit for a decent (although possibly empty) batting average, steal some bases, provide defensive versatility.
14) Severino Gonzalez, RHP, Grade C+: Tough to rate, although for the opposite reason of many Phillies prospects: he is all production, no tools, as opposed to many of the others who are all tools and no production. 2.00 ERA with 119/22 K/BB in 104 innings at three levels last year, showing superior command of average fastball and average secondary pitches. Thin frame may move him to bullpen eventually. I like him but would like more higher-level data before buying in completely.
15) Zach Green, 3B, Grade C+: Third round pick in 2012 slugged 13 homers in NY-P. Has contact issues (sounds familiar) but just 20 years old, has time to resolve it. Has made three errors in five games already this year but pre-season reviews on his defensive potential were optimistic. Keep in mind the perils of sample size.
16) Shane Watson, RHP, Grade C+: Supplemental first-round pick from 2012 had mediocre season in Low-A (4.75 ERA, 53/28 K/BB in 72 innings), currently laid up recovering from shoulder issues.
17) Cameron Rupp, C, Grade C+: Former University of Texas catcher has good defensive skills and some power in his bat, should see majors later this year. Older prospect at age 25 and likely a finished product, but has some sleeper potential for fantasy owners.
18) Tommy Joseph, C, Grade C+: 2013 season ruined by concussion problems. I sympathize. Projects to develop into a power hitter with good defense, but with questionable batting average and OBP.
19) Mario Hollands, LHP, Grade C: Unheralded lefty earned spot in big league bullpen this spring. Gets fastball into the 90s, unusual delivery adds deception, should be a nice relief asset, could be more than just a LOOGY with his starter background.
20) Luis Encarnacion, OF, Grade C: $1,000,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic last year, no pro data yet, high-ceiling power hitter who fits the Phillies mold. You could slot most of the guys listed below in this position if you wanted.
OTHERS: Zach Collier, OF; Deivi Grullon, C; Mitch Gueller, RHP; Jan Hernandez, 3B; Samuel Hiciano, OF; Andrew Knapp, C; Gabriel Lino, C; Yoel Mecias, LHP; Hoby Milner, LHP; Adam Morgan, LHP; Cam Perkins, OF; Jose Pujols, OF; Andrew Pullin, 2B; Austin Wright, LHP.
This isn’t an elite system but there is some upside, particularly among young power hitters, which seems an obvious theme for the Phillies in their drafting and international acquisition strategies.
Franco, Sandberg, Dugan, Cozens, Green, Altherr, Jose Pujols, Encarnacion. . .that could develop into one hell of a murderer’s row. It could also fail dismally if the younger guys have trouble making contact against better pitching. Franco is the only one without red flags in the performance metrics, yet as I mentioned above some people still have doubts about him.
Tocci is a really interesting test case; the numbers are terrible, but he was extremely young for the league and scouts seem unanimous in their praise for him. Perspective is very important in his case: he doesn’t turn 19 until this August and is six months younger than 2013 first-rounder J.P. Crawford. As for Crawford, I really like him and he should provide a good balance of offensive and defensive skills.
Pitching is a mess after Biddle, with injuries striking down several prospects and disappointing performance from others. I don’t know if this is a systemic problem or just bad luck or a combination of both. We’re just going to have to wait and see on the injury guys. Severino Gonzalez is extremely interesting and it wouldn’t surprise me if he winds up having a better career than most of the hard-throwers.
Overall, this is not a deep system but it isn’t completely empty, and if some of the toolsy players develop better skills it could look much better next year.