We already reminded you that the Arizona Fall League has returned for its month of yearly prominence, but there will be more to the proceedings than the sixty beat writers following Tim Tebow like puppies riddled with self-loathing. The Phillies, like all teams, have sent six representatives to "baseball grad school," to join members of the Angels, Mets, Giants, and Yankees as the Scottsdale Scorpions, and they’ll be looking to turn heads of their own.
Which fair faces from the Phillies farm system have been ticketed for Arizona flights, then? It might not be the most familiar crop of youths out there, but that’s what we’re here for. Get to know these prospects, so that you may claim to your friends that you knew them before they were big league stars; and then your friends can mutter "man, that guy’s cool" while their spouses consider leaving them for you. And while we’re helping you out, here’s a spine-tingling - or at least, marginally impressive - moment from each one of these early twentysomethings’ 2016 campaigns.
Scott Kingery, 2B
Spent 2016 in: Clearwater (94 G), Reading (37 G)
A vicious base stealing threat and conniving lead-off hitter in a 5’ 10" frame, Kingery has gained a reputation as a keen turner of the double play, as both of his managers this year made sure to point out. Kingery acts as an agent of chaos, using everything from his speed to his bat to screaming complex riddles at the opposing team in between pitches just to get on base.
Once he’s on base - look out. And I don’t mean, like, how you might shout "look out!" because current Phillies Cesar Hernandez second baseman has slid past third base and is hurdling into the stands. Kingery was 30-for-37 in base thievery this season, and as an added bonus, committed a mere 11 errors (Only one with Reading), being knighted the Phillies’ minor league Defensive Player of the Month for April after zero fielding glitches in 180 innings and turning nine of those double plays he loves.
Kingery put some of his best glove work on display on September 9 late in a game against the Trenton Thunder - almost two weeks after Reading had already clinched a playoff spot.
That’s a grade of defense that can turn Matt Winkelman into a potty-mouth.
Mitch Walding, 3B
Spent 2016 in: Clearwater (100 G), Reading (23 G)
In 120 games with the Threshers last season, Walding got the ball over the fence four times. When the 2015 season came to a close, he packed up, and, unlike in 2014, didn’t head for Australia. He stayed here in America, where a team of faceless, hooded experts gathered to monitor his swing in a room lit only by a single, swinging light bulb. It was clear that Walding was getting buffaloed by inside fastballs, and the adjustments made over that long, frigid off-season - which we can only assume Walding was cursed to never reveal - saw an instant payoff as Walding homered on 2016’s opening night in Clearwater.
A week later on April 16, Walding fired a shot out of Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, e had already surpassing his home run total of the previous season, and was named the Florida State League Player of the Week. At the season’s midpoint in June, the newly powerful Walding was entered in the FSL Home Run Derby... with sexy results.
Aaron Brown, OF
Spent 2016 in: Gulf Coast League (3 G), Clearwater (20 G), Reading (74 G)
The Phillies may have some young outfielders with which you are far more familiar than Aaron Brown. In fact, despite Brown going 12-for-23 in spring training this year, Nick Williams was still the hottest name on everyone’s lips as he finished his preseason hitting a double and a home run in the second Phillies vs. Futures game. But Brown decided not to quit baseball forever in that moment, and he may not have been a significant power threat all season long, but he had a knack for getting involved in late inning heroics.
In June, he’d disassemble an Altoona Curve catcher at home plate to score the winning run of a tie game, and in August he flared a three-run seventh inning rally to steal a lead with an RBI double just after returning from a sprained wrist. Brown picked a good moment for his first AA home run, too, 37 games into the season with Reading down by three with two outs in the ninth.
Victor Arano, RHP
Spent 2016 in: Clearwater, Reading
It’s probably fair to assume that Victor Arano has earned everything he’s got. Except runs. He hates those.
From July 1 to August 1, Arano allowed only two earned runs in 11 games and 20 innings. It was at that point that the Phillies bumped him up to Reading, where he threw 16.2 more innings to close out the season, allowing only four earned runs total. Arano became a tantalizing option in the Reading bullpen, pushing his heater close to triple digit territory and continuing to stifle his number of free passes. But on September 5, Arano entered a close game with the dreaded Trenton Thunder, and a couple of balls got away from him.
A lead-off walk, a double, and an intentional walk loaded the bases with no outs and the score tied at 6-6.
And then, all of Arano’s blood turned into ice water.
Victor Arano escapes a no out/bases loaded jam bot9 to send this game to extras. Tied at 6, Reading at Trenton #MiLB— Jay Floyd (@PhoulBallz) September 5, 2016
By the time Arano was fielding a comebacker to the mound and getting the force at first, Reading had escaped the threat untouched. It was all the room Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins needed to go back-to-back and spark a five-run rally in the tenth; though those two needed so little motivation to do that kind of thing all year.
Miguel Nunez, RHP
Spent 2016 in: Clearwater (6 G), Reading (45 G)
Appearing in 45 games for Reading, there were a lot of ninth innings in which Nunez came trotting in for the save, which is why he wound up with twenty of them. With a heater sitting confidently at 95-96 m.p.h., he had several stretches of stress-free relief work this season that helped send Reading to the playoffs (and one performance that literally did so). From July 14 to August 12, he allowed only eight hits, three walks, and no runs in ten appearances.
On September 3, against - good lord, did Reading even play any other team besides the Trenton Thunder this season - Nunez (and Aaron Brown) made the Fightin’ Phils the Eastern League East division champions.
Jeff Singer, LHP
Spent 2016 in: Williamsport (4 G), Lakewood (9 G), Clearwater (10 G)
The ex-Camden Rivershark Singer showed up in Williamsport on June 17, threw just a hair under seven innings, allowed no runs, no walks, two hits, and nine strikeouts, and got whisked out of Central PA faster than Amish teens on Rumspringa. He didn’t allow his first earned run of the year until July 23 with Lakewood, 20.2 IP into his season, thanks in part to a revamped delivery - he said went with more leg and a slower pace this season. According to his agent, Singer was touching 99 on the radar gun in Jersey, which as a lefty, is going to keep the big club from deleting your number.
On August 1, his last night with the BlueClaws before being shuffled to Clearwater, he kissed Single A hitters goodbye with a three-inning appearance in which he struck out half the batters he faced (5).
Lakewood LH reliever Jeff Singer has 27 Ks in 21 IP for BlueClaws. He's allowed 9 H and 9 BB. His ERA is .0.43.— Brian Freeman (@bfreems1) August 2, 2016
Which is all well and good, but the future may hold a different path for the young hurler. Singer said in an interview that his dream job is still waiting for him.
"I’d want to be the point guard for the 76ers. I love basketball and the Sixers are my favorite team."
Brandon Leibrandt, LHP
Spent 2016 in: Gulf Coast Phillies (4 G), Clearwater (6 G)
Entering play on August 23, the Clearwater Threshers were 74-51, while the Brevard County Manatees were crossing their fingers for a 40-win season (They’d get it! But barely). Coming off a 15-0 stomping of the Daytona Tortugas and with inclement weather in the five-day forecast, Leibrandt got the ball having made seven starts since mid-July; four on the Gulf Coast and three as a Thresher. His previous two starts had been rather contained affairs, lasting six and five innings respectively, but had featured zero runs and only a combined four hits allowed by the lefty.
Looking to keep that momentum, and to probably get this game over with before the rain hit, Leibrandt went out and chucked five strong innings, matched his single game strikeout high for the year (6), and permitted only two hits and three walks.
The Threshers would hang onto that momentum, too, winning eight of their last 12 games to end up at 82-54, the best record in the Florida State League. The post game numbers would reveal that Leibrandt had been playing some real "shut up" baseball.
After 5 scoreless vs Brevard last night, Brandon Leibrandt has not allowed a run in his last 3 starts. In 16 IP, just 6 H, no runs, 17 Ks.— Kirsten Karbach (@Kirsten_Karbach) August 24, 2016