Minor league playoffs are here (or will be here)! As of right now, it seems that the Phillies will have four affiliates in the playoffs, with the GCL Phillies and Reading having already clinched, and Lakewood and Lehigh Valley on the very edge (at the time of this writing, Clearwater was not eliminated, but needed a four-game sweep). The first team to start their postseason will be the lowest level of the Phillies stateside affiliates; the GCL Phillies, a year after having a top-four record and still missing the playoffs, dethroned the GCL Blue Jays on their way to a league-leading 43-15 record.
The GCL playoffs are meant to be over and done quick. Round 1 is a one-game playoff played on Friday. Round 2 kicks off the next day with a best-of-three series on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
The GCL Phillies lead the league in ERA and runs scored, but really, any analysis of the GCL Phillies' success starts with the starting rotation. Barring any Alec Asher rehab starts, the Phillies are poised to be able to send their top three starters to the mound in the first three games of the playoffs (provided they win Round 1). Those starters are:
Sixto Sanchez - 54 IP, 0.50 ERA, 33 H, 8 BB, 44 K
Mauricio Llovera - 53 IP, 1.87 ERA, 39 H, 12 BB, 56 K
Nick Fanti - 51.2 IP, 1.57 ERA, 36 H, 9 BB, 65 K
All three were in the top four of the league in ERA, with Fanti and Llovera one-two in strikeouts. Sanchez is the "ace" of the staff, and has grown into one of the top pitching prospects in the system. Llovera has come on strong and, over his last four games, has allowed just nine hits and one walk, while striking out 22 over 20 innings. He doesn't match Sanchez in velocity, but he holds 94-95 and can throw strikes with three pitches. He is definitely a name to watch both now and in the future. Fanti has an arsenal made for the GCL, as a lefty that can throw strikes with three pitches and spin a curveball. He is still a bit more of a long-term project as a prospect and draws varied opinions, but for winning games he is as good as anyone in the league.
If the Phillies need to go to another starter, they could tap Luis Carrasco, who has struggled to hold up into his fifth and sixth innings of work, but has a live fastball, a 2.18 ERA and a 50-to-14 K:BB ratio in 41.1 innings. Or, the club could go to lefty Will Stewart, who has had the worst statistical year of any of their starters (4.06 ERA), but has decent stuff and have been better of late. The wild card in all of this is 2016 2nd-round pick Kevin Gowdy, who just returned from injury and could give them an inning or two.
The offensive side of the team is headlined by top picks Mickey Moniak and Cole Stobbe, and big money international signings Daniel Brito and Jhailyn Ortiz. Even the spots occupied by non-premium players have been solid, like catchers Rodolfo Duran and Lenin Rodriguez both hitting over .300 and Nerluis Martinez holding his own. Or the third outfield spot and DH, where Josh Stephen, Ben Pelletier, and Malvin Matos are prospects in their own right and to varying degrees. The GCL Phillies have made a living on punishing bullpens, which is not a terrible strategy in the shallow GCL. They have the pure talent to take this with just a few good swings, but in a single game, anything can happen.
Relief pitching is never great in the GCL, and it has been a struggle all year for the Phillies. Jose Nin can reach 96 and has been solid; Randy Alcantara has a 1.65 ERA; Jhon Nunez has not been a disaster; Kyle Young has been pretty good, and Jordan Kurokawa has been much better, of late. They even have a closer in Tyler Frohwirth, who only tops out in the upper 70s, but comes from an extremely slow slot in a funky delivery that is death on righties. The problem is that the GCL is about development, and while that seems like a long list above, there are another half-dozen perilous pitchers on the roster with plenty of ability to give up the game.
The GCL Phillies will be a heavy favorite in any matchup, but in extreme short series, it may not matter. If they do finish with the championship, it would be a fitting end to one of the most talented teams the Phillies have assembled.