Oh, it’s prospect rankin’ season, y’all.
With a few weeks to kill before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the prospect-watchers are releasing their rankings of the top farm systems and prospects in the game, and one of the more closely-watched lists is published by ESPN’s Keith Law, who released his Top 100 this week.
After ranking the Phillies’ farm system No. 6 last year, this year he moved them down to No. 14. He explained...
The Phillies have a good farm system that had a bad year in 2016, with six or maybe seven of their top 10 guys coming into the season underperforming, getting hurt or both.
As good as J.P. Crawford could be, he scuffled in Triple-A at the plate. He clearly has some adjustments to make and another gear to find before he can become a superstar in the majors, while Mark Appel, a key part of the return for Ken Giles, struggled badly before his season ended because of elbow surgery.
There were bright spots -- Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins took advantage of a good power park in Reading to break out with 78 homers between them, and some of the Phillies’ unheralded Latin American pitchers emerged as potential midrotation starters given enough time.
For the rest of their near-to-the-majors prospects, 2017 looks like a critical season, whether it’s about getting healthy or performing well enough in Triple-A to earn a big league job.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that only three Phils’ prospects made his Top 100 this year, down from five a year ago.
Last year, Crawford was at No. 4 overall, Jake Thompson was at No. 63, Mark Appel was 68, Nick Williams was 74 and Jorge Alfaro was the final Phillie on his list at No. 82.
This year, Thompson, Appel and Williams all fall off, while Crawford and Alfaro are joined by last year’s No. 1 draft pick, outfielder Mickey Moniak.
No. 45 - Jorge Alfaro
Alfaro jumped 37 spots and is ranked as the team’s third-best prospect. Here’s a portion of what Law wrote about him.
Alfaro returned from an injury-shortened 2015 to have a much better offensive season while repeating Double-A, and he showed enough progress as a receiver that the Phillies appear committed to leaving him behind the plate in the long run. Alfaro’s physical gifts have always been apparent -- he has an 80 arm and 80 raw power -- but his plate discipline has ranged from bad to awful, and he was often indifferent behind the plate unless it was time to throw someone out.
The latter problem appears to have dissipated this past year, as all accounts have Alfaro more active behind the plate, moving his feet better, blocking more balls and taking more of a role in game-calling. As for plate discipline, he might never be much of an OBP guy, but he did improve his contact rate the second time through Double-A, though I’d still like to at least see him work the count to get himself ahead, even if it doesn’t produce more walks.
Given this improvement, it seems like he’s going to be an everyday catcher in the majors, and a reasonable projection for Alfaro of .270/.300/450 with a caught-stealing rate of 35-40 percent would likely make him an above-average regular.
Alfaro will start the season at Lehigh Valley, where some more seasoning will do him some good. But the Phillies would love nothing more than for him to force their hands and nudge Cameron Rupp from the starting gig at some point later this season.
No. 30 - Mickey Moniak
It’s hard not to get excited about the top overall pick in last year’s draft. He got off to a terrific start in the GCL last year and has all the makings of a future star. Law wrote...
The first pick in the 2016 draft, Moniak is a high-floor, teenage-position-player prospect, meaning he’s more likely to play in the big leagues than 90 percent of high school prospects taken high in the draft. In Moniak’s case, it’s a combination of his defensive value, his makeup and scouts’ faith in his bat that gives him that designation, although I think it shortchanges his potential upside during the long haul into his late 20s.
For now, Moniak is a true center fielder who is a plus runner and should end up a plus defender at that spot because he’s rangy and gets good reads. At the plate, despite his height, Moniak has a short swing that produces a lot of line drives, and he uses the whole field well but doesn’t pull the ball much for power or drop the bat head to get some more loft into his finish. He’s a four-tool guy, lacking the power, but I don’t think it’s out of the question that he could find power with some small changes to his swing, especially where and how he starts his hands.
If the Phillies simply don’t want to mess with a good thing, however, Moniak might end up an All-Star anyway because you could say it’s a future 70 bat on a true center fielder who will add value with his glove. That’s the kind of high-floor prospect I like.
That’s the kind we like too!
Moniak is still a few years away, but he’s tracking towards being one of the very best prospects in baseball if he continues along his current path.
No. 5 - J.P. Crawford
Crawford fell only one spot in Law’s rankings, a surprise to me considering J.P.’s tough 2016 season. He hit .244/.328/.318 in 385 AAA plate appearances, but that wasn’t enough to deter Law from keeping Crawford in his top-five.
As good as Crawford could be, he had a disappointing Triple-A debut in 2016 after starting the year back in Double-A Reading, where he did his usual act of getting on base and playing great defense. He has struggled after promotions before, but never to this extent, and it seemed like playing in Reading, the most homer-friendly park in the Eastern League, affected his approach.
Crawford at his best is a disciplined hitter, unafraid to hit with two strikes, willing to use the whole field, but unlikely to hit for much power -- he’s not big and his swing isn’t geared that way. He instead posts high OBPs with doubles and lots of speed. He’s a potentially elite defender at short with good range in both directions and a very quick transfer. The challenges for Crawford in 2016 are to return to his prior approach and show greater physical commitment to the tasks at hand. He’s blessed with the talent to be a perennial All-Star at shortstop who saves 5-10 runs a year with his glove and gets on base 40 percent of the time.
Crawford’s performance in 2017 is crucial. Most would agree it would be disappointing if Crawford does not become a Phillie at some point this season. While he’s still young for the International League, he’s a top-five prospect getting his second crack at Triple-A.
Law will release his organizational top-10 next week, at which time we’ll get a look at how he ranks Phils prospects.
(And check out this week’s Felske Files podcast, in which we break down rankings by Law and MLB.com).