It is often a struggle to continue come up with new content about prospects. Yes, even despite the sheer volume of players in an organization, noticeable progress rarely happens overnight. If you keep up with every little change, you can lose yourself in noise, or just end up repeating the same information and observations over and over again.
With that said, I am trying this new little project to try and provide a bridge between the big prospect features on individual players and the everyday box score recaps. The goal is to have a mix of small features and a mailbag, but we here at The Good Phight welcome feedback on what you would like to see.
Prospect Spotlight: Mark Laird and Zach Coppola
I am intrigued by extreme cases that break models. Mark Laird and Zach Coppola were both college juniors taken by the Phillies in the 2015 draft (9th round and 13th round, respectively). The comp for both is, optimistically, Ben Revere. Neither has Ben's speed (although Coppola is pretty close), but they have his...power...with a combined 12 extra base hits in 429 PA. Despite the lack of power, both have batting averages over .300 and a combined walk rate greater than their strikeout rate. Both should be able to play center field, but have been bumped for better defenders, but they can realistically play all three outfield positions. Coppola has an above-average arm, while Laird has a Revere-esque arm, which should eventually push him to just left and center. In theory, both could add muscle and power over time, but Laird is already 23 and Coppola hits ground balls at a near 70 percent rate while bunting heavily. Neither will make a prospect list this year, and they might never, but they are weird players, and I think there are things to be learned by watching players who have abilities that lie out on the extremes of the game.
And Now...The Mailbag
If you have followed my writing around the internet, you are probably familiar with my sporadic and sometimes giant mailbags where I answer a ton of questions, often with short, rapid-fire answers. This will not be that. Instead, the goal is to answer a couple of larger and deeper questions a bit more in-depth. Also, the plan is to do this weekly, on a regular day still to be determined. For now, if you want to ask questions, you can do so on Twitter (@Matt_Winkelman) or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Before consulting the internet this week, I asked the TGP email list to see if anyone had any questions, and David Cohen delivered.
David: Do the Phillies have any prospects you think will turn into top-flight MLB guys or is the ceiling "just" a bunch of good to very good players? I'm talking Harper/Trout/Kershaw/Sale level. And if not (as I suspect), is that a franchise problem?
The simple answer is probably not, but it is not a franchise problem. The guys David lists are all generational talents (or close to it), and right now they simply don't exist in the minors. For me, J.P. Crawford is either the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the minor leagues, so if he does not have that kind of ceiling, then all the other teams in the minors are in the same boat. But let's take a step down from the players listed and look at the next group of players by value this year. We see names like Lindor, Bryant, Seager, and then down into players like Wil Myers, Jason Kipnis, Brandon Crawford and others. Do the Phillies have players like this? Absolutely. J.P. is obviously the leading name, but Mickey Moniak certainly has the talent, even if he is currently far away. Both Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro have the talent, but have not necessarily put it all together yet. On the pitching side there are arms like Franklyn Kilome, Sixto Sanchez, Alberto Tirado and Kevin Gowdy, where if they hit their absolute ceilings they could be frontline impact guys. That being said, pitching is, of course much more volatile, and pitchers both seem to crash and burn or jump up above their ceilings.
So to summarily answer the question, yes: The Phillies system is lacking huge impact talents, but so is everyone else's. They have guys who could be part of that very very good group of players, and that is just fine.
I am actually going to ignore the question and talk both about Appel and pitching development! First, on Appel: While this has been a disappointing year, this was never going to be a quick turnaround. The Phillies know they acquired a project. Appel struggled from the stretch this year, which is not a new thing for him; he has also been struggling with his delivery since the Astros messed with it after drafting him. There are a lot of things that need work with Appel, and they are all interconnected, so it has to be a holistic rebuild, not just repetitive forcing of a single piece.
As for pitching development, I can start by saying that if you sent Appel to Clearwater he would learn nothing more than if you had him throwing side sessions in the bullpen. Hitters down there are not going to punish mistakes the way hitters in Triple-A are. When you are talking about something like a delivery, it is not just a repetitive thing to find a feel for in games, it is a constantly evolving thing, with both coach and player working during off days to improve and tweak things. If you want Appel pitching exclusively from the stretch that is one thing, but it won't happen with a wait-and-hope approach. Maybe adding some deception, syncing his body up, not rushing the parts of the delivery, and ultimately finding consistency in his release point will lead to improved command and secondary pitches. To repeat, this is not going to be a slow or sudden process, even if it may (hopefully) one day appear to be so.
All of them. Well, probably pitching. Always worry about pitching.
The weakest position in the farm system is probably still 3B, but the Phillies have Maikel Franco in the immediate term. In reality, the weakest position will be where the most prospects fail, and history tells us this is pitching. The Phillies are not really lacking for pitching in the organization currently; the rotation is young, and has enough arms that there should be some left after attrition. The upper minors are a bit bare on impact arms, but I love the low minors arms in the system. There will be heavy losses due to injuries, lack of development, and shifts to the bullpen, but the Phillies have both volume and impact. There is just a ton that can go wrong.
As for hitters five years out, you are looking at high minors impact and potential impact, and the Phillies have that at shortstop, outfield, and catcher. At second and first base, they have a line of young players who will get their crack at the Major League job until one sticks or the team trades for someone. This could, of course, all be rendered inconsequential via trade or the draft, where the Phillies could acquire a player who could turn a weakness into a strength.