One could hold a very lively debate as to whether Reading or Lehigh Valley has the best team in the Phillies' system, and that's the kind of problem every team wants to have: Advanced talent at advanced levels of the minors. The Reading club is led by potential superstar J.P. Crawford, but features a mix of homegrown and trade-acquired pieces that give it a solid prospect at every position but No. 5 starter. Some of the depth comes from the natural progression of players through the system as they age and improve, but this season added a new wrinkle, as familiar faces were held back because of the logjam of talent ahead of them. This team may not be able to stick together all year for a postseason run, but that will be because they may be in Philly helping the big league club finish their season strong later this summer.
Best Hitting Prospect: J.P. Crawford
Crawford struggles against left handed pitching, he makes mistakes on easy plays at shortstop, he is not a great base stealer, and his power is inconsistent at best. And yet, in the face of those shortcomings, J.P. Crawford is still one of the best prospects in baseball. His plate approach and pitch recognition are some of the best in the minors, which allows his natural hitting ability to play up. His defense is going to be fine, and he can make incredible plays. The hype around Crawford has made him seem to be a finished product, but there is a lot of room for improvement (part of the reason for his Reading assignment, rather than Lehigh Valley), and watching Crawford grow into a potential star in his third full year should be one of the top things to watch this year.
Best Pitching Prospect: Ricardo Pinto
Pinto has been under the radar for the past two seasons, as he was never a big time acquisition either through draft/signing or trade. Pinto is not the biggest guy, but he has plenty of velocity, sitting 90-95 and touching 96 with regularity. His real weapon is a changeup that has good deception with plenty of armside drop and run. He is working to develop a slider, and the pitch looks improved so far in 2016. In addition to the pitches, Pinto is not afraid to attack hitters in the zone and will use his changeup both to pitch backwards and as a putaway pitch. He has mid rotation upside, but if that plan should falter, his fastball-changeup combination could make him a dominating reliever.
Two More to Watch: Roman Quinn and Jorge Alfaro
It is not that anyone does not know who Quinn and Alfaro are, but both are primed to have interesting years. Quinn has always been a dynamic athlete, and it is hard not to see his upside on the field. He is one of the fastest players in baseball, and centerfield gives him more of a chance to show his abilities. At the plate, he has become a true switch hitter, and while he does not have elite contact skills, he does make plenty of contact, and will draw a walk at a decent rate. Quinn's speed makes him appealing as a slap hitter, but he has surprising power and could hit as many as 10 home runs a year if he hits his peak. Quinn's biggest weakness has been staying on the field, though it has been more freak injuries than repetitive injuries. Alfaro has had similar issues staying on the field in recent years, but his problems on the field are evident as well. He has cleaned his swing up, but his approach is still a weakness. It is the same kind of problem on defense where his glove is improving, but still not good enough to work in the majors. That said, he is an incredible athlete for a catcher, with big raw power, an elite arm, and average to above speed. He has near superstar upside, but he could flame out in AAA or end up anywhere in between.
The number in parentheses next to a player's name indicates their rank in my Top 50
Jorge Alfaro (5), Logan Moore
Moore has a reputation as one the best defenders behind the plate in the Phillies' system, but outside of 42 games of hitting .276/.338/.351 at AAA last year, he just hasn't hit, and owns a career line of .222/.293/.311 over 350 games.
J.P. Crawford (1), Jake Fox, Rhys Hoskins (20), Harold Martinez, Angelo Mora, KC Serna, Jesmuel Valentin (38)
Fox is a Reading legend, and is going to be the primary DH for this team. He is going to hit a lot of baseballs hard and continue to not have a Major League future. Hoskins led the Phillies in all major offense categories last year, but he is a right-right first baseman, which means he is going to need to prove that he can handle advanced pitching this year in AA. If he passes the test, he could be the Phillies' first baseman of the future, or he could be relegated to Quad-A or non-prospect status. Martinez is a former second round pick who found increased contact abilities last year, but still has not found power. Mora is interesting, he is a former 2B/SS who was not great with the glove up the middle, but started on a hitting tear last year and has not stopped. He is the primary third baseman for Reading but, in reality, he is learning every position on the diamond in an effort to become a super utility player. Serna, meanwhile, is that kind of utility player now, but he lacks the bat and impact defensive tools to play that role in the majors. Jesmuel Valentin may end up as a utility player, but he can field at second base and has a feel for contact. The Phillies are going to let him get his shot to play the position everyday.
Aaron Brown (34), Dylan Cozens (31), Christian Marrero, Roman Quinn (8)
Brown and Cozens are interesting and highly flawed prospects. Both have very good raw power, with Cozens probably a grade stronger. Both have left handed swings that can get long and stiff, neither has a great approach at the plate, and their pitch recognition is not a real strength. In the field, Brown is a competent defender in center and a very good defender in the corners with a strong arm. Cozens is limited to the corners where he moves well enough to not be an embarrassment, but he does have a very strong arm. For both it comes down to whether they can hit enough to get to their power, Brown has better secondary skills (see: defense), but Cozens is two years younger, giving him more time to fix his flaws. Marrero is a good contact, good OBP org guy who is firmly the 5th outfielder behind the other three here, and Angelo Mora.
Ricardo Pinto (12), Nicholas Pivetta (14), Alec Asher (29), Ben Lively (33), Anthony Vasquez
Pivetta has as much upside as almost any pitcher in the organization. His fastball sits 91-96 and can touch 97, and he matches it with a plus curveball, average slider, and average changeup. His command and changeup growth are the two biggest obstacles holding back his future in the rotation. If he moves to the bullpen he could be a shutdown reliever. Asher gets a "demotion" due to the Phillies’ starting depth in AAA, but the Phillies still are working on him in the rotation. Without steps forward in pitches or command, he might be moving to the bullpen soon. Lively will be making his second attempt at Reading, and has the stuff to be a back of the rotation starter with four average to slightly above average pitches. His command took a step backwards last year, and he will need to make improvements and adjustments, as his stuff is not overpowering. He is another bullpen candidate because his fastball and slider should play up. Vasquez, a soft-tossing lefty, is a placeholder in the Reading rotation.
Jeremy Bleich, Severino Gonzalez, Ulises Joaquin, Edubray Ramos (27), Yacksel Rios, Joely Rodriguez, Tom Windle (32)
Bullpens are volatile things, and the Reading bullpen is no exception. Bleich is an injury-prone, former top prospect trying to make it as a lefty reliever, but is likely mostly org filler. Gonzalez has moved full-time to the bullpen, and that, coupled with more muscle mass, has him throwing a bit harder, making him intriguing as a middle reliever down the road. Joaquin is a small righty who throws hard with some feel for secondary pitches; if he shows command, he can be in the Hector Neris, Colton Murray, "name your favorite up-and-down reliever" mold. Ramos has actual Major League impact upside. The small righty struggled this spring, but when he is on he throws a ton of strikes with a fastball at 94-97 and a wipeout curveball. Rios is another starter now transplanted full-time in the bullpen. He is often found in the mid 90s with his fastball, and his secondary pitches have drawn mixed reviews. He is capable of going multiple innings, but he needs to tighten up his fastball command to have a future. Rodriguez had a horrible 2015 season, which is why he is in the bullpen now. When he isn't walking batters, he features a low-to-mid-90s fastball and solid slider with extreme groundball tendencies. Tom Windle is yet another starter now relieving, continuing the trend. His increased velocity from last fall has carried over, as he is now throwing 92-95 and touching 96. His slider is still a weapon, and missing the strikezone is still his weakness.
The drawbacks described above are merely for balance; there really is not a bad thing to say about this 2016 Reading team. The starting pitching lacks the star power of Lehigh Valley, but Ricardo Pinto and Nick Pivetta could easily help narrow that gap, if all goes well. The hitting side of the team should make them interesting every night, as the lineup combines elite power and elite speed along with some guys who can work pitchers and really square up the ball. It's safe to say we, as fans and evaluators alike, can look forward to another good season in Baseballtown.