WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR PHILLY?
The 2014 Major League Baseball season may officially begin today in beautiful Sydney, Australia, with a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, but that game, and this Opening Day, does not interest us here at the Philadelphia Inquirer. We care about the Phillies! We want today to be March 31! We want to see Cliff Lee carve up the Texas Rangers.
Unfortunately, March 31 is not yet upon us so us baseball fans have to settle with watching two of the most uninteresting teams in the sport. This is fine though, as it gives us Phillies fans a time to learn about the most important part of this club: the farm system. Of course, this new front office regime no longer refers it to as the farm system. Nicholas Hoff calls it “the pipeline” to emphasize that the players we discuss today may not arrive in Philly today or tomorrow, but they will do their part to help bring a winner back to America’s greatest city.
Before I begin, I want to emphasize that the mere arrival of these players will not instantly turn Philadelphia into a contender. Player development occurs in phases, and one such phase is the transition from the minor leagues to the major leagues. To borrow from Paul Krugman, the idea that a player making the majors solves all our problems is an example of a cockroach idea. Sometimes, prospects do not live up to their potential; other times, a player that no one expected blossoms into a star. In short, we have to be careful about leaning too heavily on one of these guys, or any combination of them, to turn Philadelphia back into a contender overnight. That – becoming a contender – is a gradual process and having a strong “player pipeline” is an integral part of it.
Without further ado, Philadelphia’s Top 10 prospects:
3B Maikel Franco – The 21-year-old third baseman from the Dominican Republic projects to begin the 2014 season in Double-A Reading, but it would not surprise many if he plays himself into the big league starting job before the season’s end. While Franco could stand to be more patient at the plate, he should not struggle to reach base as his hitting and power tools grade out as plus-plus. At his peak, it would not surprise me if Franco bats .300 and slugs 25 home runs. Baseball America ranks Franco as the #33 prospect in the game. MLB Comp: Adrian Beltre
RF Bryan Martelo – The 17-year-old Venezuelan is one of the youngest on this list, but he may have more potential than anyone else in the system does. In baseball, there are few things more coveted in a prospect than projection, and baby, does Martelo have it. Standing in at 6’2 and weighing 180 pounds it is easy to envision Martelo metamorphosing into a hitter in the mold of Miami’s Marcell Ozuna as he matures. Baseball America ranks Bryan as the #62 prospect in the game.
3B Luis Encarnacion – The 16-year-old Dominican Luis Encarnacion is younger than the man above him, Bryan Martelo. Born in 1997, this right-handed batter compares well to fellow prospect Maikel Franco. That is, they are both about the same size physically and project to have similar skillsets at the Major League level. The main difference between the two has to do with their defense. Encarnacion’s defense is below average, and as he nears Philadelphia, may have to move across the diamond to first base.
SP Yoel Mecias – This left-handed starting pitcher, born in Venezuela, dominated A-Ball last season to the tune of 70 strikeouts in 57.1 innings pitched. At 6’2 and weighing 160 pounds, Mecias will have to add on some weight and tack on some velocity to his fastball to reach his ceiling as a #3 starter. If he cannot do this, then Yoel may be able to carve out a decent career as a reliever as he does have one plus-plus offering: a deceptive changeup.
3B Lucas Rojo – This is the third, and final, third baseman on this list. Just a few days shy of his 20th birthday, Rojo, born in Brazil, is set to make his stateside debut in the New York Penn League. He measures in at 5’6, so he is not long for third base at the Major League level. At the plate, Rojo presently has average power and may one day develop plus power, but it is unlikely that he adds any additional tools to this game.
SP Shane Watson – I am not too sure what to make of right-hander Shane Watson, but I do envision a future where he is starting for the big league club. Just 20 years old, Watson already displays impressive velocity as he comfortably sits in the 92-94 mph range. Moreover, Shane’s pitch arsenal is quite large, including a cutter, curveball, changeup, and splitter. Unfortunately, none of these pitches—not even his fastball—projects to be nothing more than average at the big league level. If he wants to move beyond the ceiling of a back of the rotation starter, then he either needs to add a few miles to his fastball or work on his secondary offerings or both.
SP Perci Garner – At 25-years-young, time is not on Perci Garner’s side. He has a three-pitch arsenal – a fastball, curveball, and changeup – but struggles to control his pitches. While he can generate swings and misses, he cannot do so on a consistent basis. At this point, it is more likely that Garner spends his career on the MLB to Triple-A shuttle, subbing in for injury, than it is that he ever harnesses control over his pitches and enjoys a nice career.
MR Ken Giles – Giles is the definition of a live arm, as he can dial his fastball up to over 100 MPH and make even the best batters look foolish. To go with superb stuff, Ken has mediocre control and movement over his pitches. This makes him susceptible to both the walk and long ball. While he may never be a closer or quality back of the bullpen guy, Giles should be a serviceable major league bullpen arm that can keep his team in the game.
SS J.P. Crawford – Crawford is one of the newest editions to the player pipeline, and he is the organization’s #1 overall pick in the 2013 amateur player draft. He has considerable speed and nice power potential with great contact skills. While his defense is not quite the same caliber as his offense, Crawford should be an average defensive SS in the mold of present-day Jimmy Rollins.
C Cameron Rupp – Rupp is presently in Triple-A LeHigh. Last season, he received a cup of coffee with the big league squad but failed to impress. He is the club’s third-string catcher, and barring an injury to Ruiz and Nieves, unlikely he ever suits up behind the plate for the Phillies. Despite this, the Texan displays well-above average offensive skills (relative to his position) and is a competent—but not excellent—defensive catcher. He strikes me as the most obvious trade candidate on this list.
The one name you are going to want to watch on this list is the club's #1 guy, Maikel Franco, but he should hopefully be up with the big league club sometime in June after the super-two clock expires. Outside of him, the system has potential but industry insiders do not care too much for most of it. If I had to guess which player on this list is most likely to improve on his ranking for next year, I would choose J.P. Crawford. He is a very talented kid, defensive questions aside, and should be able to fill Jimmy Rollin's shoes when the time comes.