On Wednesday, ESPN's Keith Law released his rankings of all 30 MLB franchises' farm systems. On that list, the Phillies came in at No. 6.
On Thursday, Law released his Top-100 prospect list (Insider Access only), and once again, the Phillies were well represented.
- #4 - J.P. Crawford
- #63 - Jake Thompson
- #68 - Mark Appel
- #74 - Nick Williams
- #82 - Jorge Alfaro
This is the first list we've seen this off-season in which Nick Williams was not the team's No. 2 prospect. Instead, Law has him beneath Jake Thompson and Mark Appel, all the way at No. 74. He calls Williams a "tools goof" coming into last season, a player with physical ability but "poor baseball acumen."
He made an exceptional effort in the offseason and spring to improve himself as a ballplayer -- as opposed to just an athlete who played baseball -- and much of it came through in a breakout season.
Williams has quick hands and makes hard contact, with a swing that's almost too rounded, producing loft but a tendency to come up too much through contact. The increased patience at the plate, which led to him drawing 35 walks one season after having just 19, is a bit of a mirage; he was possessed by the Walk Demon in May, drawing 13 walks in a 19-game span, then regressed to his former, aggressive self, drawing just 13 more walks the rest of the season in more than 300 more plate appearances.
The improvements he made elsewhere in his game look like they'll stick. Once bumbling in center, he now takes good jumps and shorter routes. Previously a deer in headlights on the bases, he's now making better decisions and should develop into a net positive as a runner. Even at the plate, he's more balanced and at least getting into some better counts; when he misses, it's big, but when he squares one up, it's hit hard.
A low-OBP center fielder who can poke 20 homers is a big league regular, and if Williams can find a more patient approach that lasts more than three weeks, he could be a lot more.
As for the Phils' top prospect, J.P. Crawford, Law's report was glowing.
At Reading, he showed an incredibly mature approach at the plate and the easy, slick defense that gives him such a high floor as a prospect. Crawford's actions at short can border on the comical because of how simple he makes challenging plays, especially anything that has him moving to his left or coming across the bag for a double play. His hands are plus and he has plenty of arm to make any throw from short.
At the plate, his approach has always been ahead of any other aspect of his game. It's not just that he's patient, it's that he's very comfortable running deep counts -- even falling behind if he doesn't get his pitch right away -- and showing a great two-strike approach that has produced consistently strong contact rates. As he gets stronger, the quality of that contact should improve, with maybe 12-15 homer power at his peak given his current swing path, which is geared toward line drives with only moderate loft in his finish. He's also a plus runner at full tilt but unfortunately doesn't always bring that to the field, often trotting out ground balls where more effort is demanded.
A plus defender at short with high OBPs, speed and 35-40 doubles a year is an All-Star in our current offensive environment, and Crawford seems like he'll be ready to reach the majors and start providing that glovework by the end of this year.
Only the Dodgers' Corey Seager, Twins' Byron Buxton, and Lucas Giolito were ranked ahead of Crawford, and frankly, Buxton would have been off these prospect lists if he had accumulated another two at-bats last year in Minnesota.
On Jake Thompson, Law called him a "high floor prospect" who "should be a fourth starter but has some of the less tangible facts to his game that give him a chance to be a good No. 3."
He has great feel for pitching and is very aggressive on the mound, pitching a bit like a guy with bigger stuff, which is why he seems so likely to become at least a back-end starter. He has the mentality and command to become a mid-rotation guy in time.
On Mark Appel, Law noted his young age, just 24, and said he's "ready to join a major league rotation."
Even as is, he's a fourth starter in the big leagues, but getting into a new player development system, one in which he can get back to his style of pitching, should be the best thing for him.
And on Jorge Alfaro, Law says the young catching prospect "has 80 power and an 80 arm behind the plate" (both pretty good things ya know), "but his offense and his defense have been held back by other things, the former by atrocious plate discipline... and the latter by a real lack of focus and work on the non-throwing parts of catching."
There is a good argument to be made that it's easier to fix one problem than two, meaning the Phillies should just put Alfaro in right field and tell him to pretend he's Vlad Guerrero. But if he can just be an average receiver, maybe just a fringy framer, with that arm and that power, he could still be worth several wins per year. Power from behind the plate is so scarce that only seven catchers have reached 25 homers in any single year in the past five seasons, and we've seen only 28 20-homer seasons from catchers in that span, six of them from Brian McCann. So here's hoping the trade was the wake-up call Alfaro needed to start acting like a catcher and work on game-calling and pitch-framing and all the stuff that makes the job so hard, because he has All-Star appearances riding on his willingness to do just that.
So while the Phillies have just one player in Law's Top-50, they are well represented once again in this list.
A very far cry from just one year ago, to be sure.