The Iron Pigs went 80-62 in the 2017 campaign, scratching and clawing their way into the playoffs by winning their final six games of the season. They ran into a tough Scranton squad in the first round however, and with much of the talent that came through Lehigh Valley in 2017 already in the Majors, they were unable to go any further.
There were peaks and valleys, as there are with any minor league team. J.P. Crawford went from looking like one of the worst players in the minors to one of the best in a span of a few months. Dylan Cozens struggled to keep his strikeouts down. Meanwhile, everything Rhys Hoskins hit seemed to go up (and out).
And maybe, just maybe, the guy who managed this skilled team will be sitting in the dugout in Philadelphia in 2018.
Rhys Hoskins: .284/.385/.581, 29 HR, 91 RBI
Well, there wasn’t exactly anyone else to give this to. The guy ended up hitting 47 homers between AAA and the Majors in 2017, but it all began here. And what can you say? The patience at the plate. The eagle eye. The absolutely incredible raw power that translates to plus game power. And yes, then he went to the Majors and proved it wasn’t a fluke.
What Hoskins did in AAA was truly incredible. Fifty-seven of his 114 hits were for extra bases. He scored 78 runs in just 115 games. He walked 64 times and struck out just 75 times. Yes, Hoskins looks like a truly special player. He was certainly looking a bit tired by the end of the season, and you’d expect that from a guy who appeared in 165 games across two levels, but his 2017 in Lehigh Valley is one we won’t soon forget.
Tom Eshelman: 10-3, 2.23 ERA, 18 G, 121 IP, 101 H, 13 BB, 80 K
Sure, it was nice that Pedro Beato had a fantastic year in relief, but Eshelman got an opportunity early in the season thanks to injuries and never had to go back to Reading, where he did actually start five games this season. Look, we all know the book on Eshelman at this point: He pounds the strike zone, but doesn’t quite have that special out pitch that separates him into a different echelon.
That being said, Eshelman displays the best command of any pitcher in the organization, with above-average control. He’s not going to blow guys away with a 98 MPH fastball, but as long as Eshelman attacks the strike zone like he has in his minor league career, he’ll make a fine piece in the back end of a Major League rotation for a long time to come.
Well, this one wasn’t really up for debate:
this is the best part about Crawford's inside the park grand slam. he fakes like he is accepting of being out then drops for a slide. safe. pic.twitter.com/KUG4VOSvHi— chris jones ¯\_ _/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) July 27, 2017
After tearing up Reading and showing some flashes of being a first-division regular, Kingery was a no-doubt to promote to Allentown by the end of June. The Reading numbers: .313/.379/.608, with 18 HR and 44 RBI in 69 games. He’s a plus runner, appears on his way to being an above-average fielder, and finally saw the power numbers play out a bit in 2017.
He added muscle this past off-season and it showed. He posted a .786 OPS in Lehigh Valley and certainly didn’t embarrass himself, though there was an adjustment period to say the least.
The big question: Is Kingery on his way to Philadelphia in 2018? The Phillies have a decision to make with Cesar Hernandez (and Freddy Galvis for that matter, who seems like he’d play literally anywhere on the field to remain with the Phillies). If Hernandez is traded this winter, Kingery’s your second baseman come April. But it might take a few months, too. Hey, the Phillies weren’t afraid to move prospects around the field this season as we saw. Kingery might be a starting pitcher by June if we really try hard enough.
Dylan Cozens: .210/.301/.418, 27 HR, 75 RBI
Is this really so much of a disappointment? It could just be a bit of reality. Cozens put together a pretty outstanding 2016 season, and, yes, playing in Reading did seem to help him a little bit. There were plenty of questions heading into this season about Cozens and his ability to hit left-handed pitching. He didn’t quell any of those fears, hitting .194./291/.367 in 139 at-bats against southpaws.
So really, as of the end of this season, yes, sadly, Cozens is looking more like Russell Branyan than he is Adam Dunn. But it’s not too much of a surprise. His relatively lucky .348 BABIP in 2016 dipped to .283 in 2017. With fewer balls landing in the seats, fewer balls dropping in for hits, and 194 strikeouts in 135 games, this was the season that fans of Cozens dreaded thinking about.
But it did happen. Cozens will be 24 in May, and there’s no reason to do anything but let him come back in 2018 and do it all over again in Lehigh Valley. He’ll probably sneak onto the 25-man at some point in 2018, and maybe he’ll mash a few taters. But that rosy 2016 season now seems so long ago.