Just one season removed from witnessing Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens hit balls into orbit at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Reading Fightin Phils had some work to do to replicate 2016.
Obviously, no one was going to come close to matching what the Bash Bros did with Reading. It’s just the thought that counts.
Reading went through their fair share of ups and downs during 2016. As all minor league clubs must do, they withstood multiple promotions that both helped and hurt them. They finished up the season with a record of 72-68, missing the playoffs by 13.5 games.
Their Opening Day lineup featured outfielder Aaron Brown who would convert to a pitcher during the season and finish with high-A Clearwater. Andrew Pullin, Scott Kingery and Carlos Tocci spent time in Reading before earning promotions to Lehigh Valley on June 22, June 26 and August 17, respectively. Tom Eshelman, Jesen Therrien, Yacksel Rios, Brandon Leibrandt and Drew Anderson each pitched with the Fightins before earning promotions to Lehigh Valley and eventually Philadelphia for some.
There were only a few mainstays in the lineup and the pitching staff for the entirety of the season. Mitch Walding, Chace Numata, Kyle Martin, Malquin Canelo, Tyler Viza, Shane Watson, and Victor Arano all did not earn a promotion to or from Reading during the course of the season. Arano, of course, was promoted to Philadelphia upon completion of the double-A season as he requires a 40-man roster spot for protection from the Rule 5 Draft. Everyone else, including Jiandido Tromp who spent a small amount of time with the IronPigs, was promoted to or from Reading at some point during the season.
This category, for me, was difficult to decide. On one hand, there is the Scott Kingery vs. Andrew Pullin debate. Both hitters raked during their time in double-A, however they only spent roughly half the season with Reading. That argument leads you into Carlos Tocci’s excellent season overall, including his presence at the plate. Tocci spent much more time in Reading than both Kingery and Pullin and put up relatively similar numbers across the board.
That is why I am giving the Best Hitter Award for Reading to Carlos Tocci. The 22-year old center fielder played all of his games in double-A as a 21-year old. He hit .307/.362/.398 with two home runs, 19 doubles, seven triples, 29 walks (6.1% BB%) and 66 strikeouts (13.9% K%). Tocci swiped just four bases despite attempting nine times.
This was a much needed season for Tocci as he must be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. The 6.1% BB% is tied for the second highest of his career and the .362 on-base percentage is his highest since posting a .387 OBP over 59 games in 2015 with Lakewood. Hopefully the Phillies saw enough from Tocci to warrant a 40-man spot come season’s end.
For the second straight category, it took me a little bit to decide on the winner. I’m generally against giving awards like this to projected journeymen minor leaguers or low-end LOOGY types. As it currently stands, Jesen Therrien, Joey DeNato, and Austin Davis, all of whom posted excellent numbers with Reading this season, project to be not much more than career journeymen minor leaguers, low-end relievers or low-end LOOGY types. Yacksel Rios, on the other hand, projects as a possible solid piece in a bullpen, perhaps as a 7th inning shutdown guy. He also took steps forward with his pitch development and upon being promoted to Lehigh Valley showed that he can hold his own in the upper minors.
My Best Pitcher Award for the Fightin Phils goes to Yacksel Rios. Rios, as I mentioned, improved his pitches greatly this year. That combined with his increased control and command allowed him to break out with Reading and eventually Lehigh Valley. During his time in double-A, Rios logged 38 innings, posted a 1.89 ERA (8 earned runs), and tallied 47 strikeouts as compared to just 10 walks.
Rios was another player whose Rule 5 protection was at stake based upon his 2017 performance. Clearly, the Phillies saw more than enough from the 24-year old Puerto Rican right-hander and awarded him with a spot on the 40-man roster.
I’m going to split this into two categories: key promotion from Reading and key promotion to Reading.
The key promotion from Reading to Lehigh Valley is fairly obvious: it was Scott Kingery. Kingery enjoyed a breakout season across two levels of the minor leagues but excelled especially in his time with Reading. He played in 69 games for the Fightins and slashed .313/.379/.608 with 18 home runs, 18 doubles, five triples, 28 walks (8.8% BB%), 51 strikeouts (16.1% BB%), and 19 steals in 22 attempts.
On the flip side, not many marquee prospects passed through Reading in 2017. The only notable prospect who took the leap was right-handed starter Franklyn Kilome. Kilome was promoted to Reading on August 5 and made just five double-A starts. In those five starts, Kilome threw 29.2 innings and allowed 12 earned runs en route to a 3.64 ERA. His final BB:K ratio stood at an underwhelming 15:20.
Kilome will almost certainly begin 2018 with the Fightins in hopes of regaining his strikeout stuff that he displayed in 2016 with Lakewood. This will be the toughest test for Kilome as he will be pitching a lot at the hitter-friendly Reading park.
There were not many notable disappointments in Reading this season. It is for that reason that I chose Alberto Tirado, who appeared in just under half of his games with the Fightins, as the biggest disappointment this season.
Tirado appeared in 25 games overall between high-A Clearwater and Reading, 10 of which came in Reading. He was converted to a relief role full time this season and looked less than ideal. In his 12 relief innings in double-A, Tirado posted a 6.75 ERA (9 earned runs) and a hefty BB:K ratio of 19:8 (no, that is not supposed to be reversed). Those numbers translate to a 14.3 BB/9 and 6.0 K/9. Simply put, Tirado walked way too many hitters.
The hope for Tirado when he was converted to a full-time reliever was to cut down on the walks while using a simpler delivery. It didn’t work and he eventually got injured. Tirado is on the 40-man roster currently and is still just 22 years old, so another season in the minors while on the 40-man is looking likely.
The best moment of the season came on the Fightins’ home opener when they honored Reading sports super fan Adam Briscoe before, during, and after the game.
Briscoe had been in a car accident on January 4 and suffered serious injuries, but recovered and was able to make it out to FirstEnergy Stadium for Reading’s home opener. Briscoe helped present the lineup card prior to the start of the game. During the lineup exchange and playing of the National Anthem, photos of Briscoe and surrounding players and fans were snapped then taken to the Reading Eagle’s offices where posters using the photos were printed and given away to fans upon leaving the stadium at the end of the game.
The Fightins’ home opener also drew the 2nd highest attendance in the history of FirstEnergy Stadium with 8,510 fans present to watch Reading’s 6-3 victory over Richmond.
In addition to the posters, limited edition Briscoe Bobble Arms were sold at the park on opening night with all of the proceeds directly benefiting Briscoe in his road to a full recovery.