Sep 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; From left to right Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and top prospects pitcher Ben Lively and outfielder Dylan Cozens and first baseman Rhys Hoskins prior to a game against the Chicago White Sox at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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We are now into the top 20 prospects of the Phillies system. Inside this section are powerful outfielders and a mixed bag of pitchers.
The Phillies were a complete mess in the outfield this season. While Odubel Herrera was a solid centerpiece, the surrounding outfielders were less than solid.
Tyler Goeddel manned left field on Opening Day, but his playing time was limited this season. Even though Goeddel struggled – .549 OPS this year – the Phillies couldn’t demote him to Triple-A since he was selected from the Rays in the Rule 5 draft. Instead, he stayed on the roster for the entire year while other players spent time in left field.
Aaron Altherr was poised to be the starting right fielder, but a wrist injury in spring training required surgery and caused him to remain out of action until August. After returning from injury, Altherr carried a .202/.304/.293 line in 57 games. Safe to say, Altherr’s return was less than ideal.
In addition to these young players, several others also spent time in the outfield. Peter Bourjos had a tremendous June with a 190 wRC+, but the rest of his season was otherwise poor. Cody Asche managed to be worse than his previous seasons, being worth -0.6 fWAR in 71 games. Finally, the Phillies signed Jimmy Paredes hoping he would put up his solid numbers from 2014 and 2015 with Baltimore, but he instead had a meager .591 OPS.
Despite the struggles of the outfield, some help is on the way from the minor-leagues. Roman Quinn made an impressive debut in September before an oblique injury cut his season short. In addition, several other prospects, including some in this section, could help the team’s outfield in the future. Without further ado, let’s dive into prospects No. 16-20 in the Phillies system.
By every statistical measure, Ben Lively had a tremendous season between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Lively started the year with the Fightin’ Phils, and posted a 1.87 ERA in nine starts. In that span, he left 80.3% of runners on base and had a 0.94 WHIP. Among all pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched in the Eastern League, Lively ranked fourth in ERA and fifth in WHIP and FIP.
Lively only continued to succeed when he reached Lehigh Valley. The righty threw 117.2 innings for the IronPigs, allowing opposing hitters a .193 average as Lively held a 3.06 ERA. His control was the best since his 2014 stint in High-A in the Reds system with a 5.9% walk rate. Lively’s longest start came August 2, where he went eight shutout innings giving up just three hits and one unearned run with eight strikeouts.
Despite all his success in the minors this year, Lively’s ceiling isn’t particularly high. None of his pitches particularly stand out, but he can throw all of them for strikes. Lively’s best pitch is his fastball, which he runs around 93-94 mph. Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs said Lively can get through an order a couple times “as long as he continues to work off his fastball.” Farnsworth said Lively is a “useful high-floor arm.”
Right now, two spots in the Phillies 2017 rotation are locked up by Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez. In addition, the team hopes Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin can return from season-ending injuries in 2016. That would leave just one spot open, and that spot might be filled by a veteran arm, causing Lively to start the year back in Triple-A.
Although, if anything happens to one of those pitchers, Lively could be a prime candidate to take their spot. The team has to add him to the 40-man roster to protect him from this year’s Rule 5 draft, meaning it won’t be hard for him to join the team at some point in 2017.
Jhaiyln Ortiz was one of the biggest names in the international market in the 2015 signing period. Teams saw video of the then-16 year old Ortiz destroying baseballs and instantly started dreaming. The Phillies and Ortiz agreed to a $4 million bonus months before the July 2 deadline.
At the time, Ortiz was a big kid at 6’2 260 pounds with an equally big bat. He came into camp this year another inch taller and much skinnier at 215 pounds according to his listing on MiLB.com. Ortiz retained his strength while showing much more athleticism.
Ortiz’s trademark is his big raw power, which is easily plus and could be even higher. He hit eight home runs with the GCL Phillies this season in his stateside debut.
Overall, Ortiz is raw but has legitimate potential at the plate. He has the aforementioned power but he can struggle with his approach. He walked 8.6% of the time but he also struck out in 26.9% of his plate appearances. Pitchers can take advantage of Ortiz with offspeed pitches, so that is one of his bigger hurdles in his development.
Seeing how big Ortiz was this time last year, nearly everybody expected Ortiz to be a first baseman sooner or later. He was still athletic at the time, but he couldn’t move much. Now that he lost so much weight, he is actually a surprisingly decent runner. He manned right field for the GCL Phillies and made just three errors in 255.2 innings there. While some still foresee a move to first base in the future, Ortiz earned another chance there next year.
Ortiz’s development will hinge on his approach at the plate. If he learns how to handle offspeed pitches, he could become a real threat in the middle of the order. Considering he will be just 18 next season, Ortiz may spend another year in the GCL unless the team sees major strides in his development between now and next June.
No prospect in the Phillies system got more buzz this year than Dylan Cozens, who ripped the cover off the ball game in and game out for Double-A Reading. He finished the year with 40 home runs and 125 RBI, hitting for a .276/.350/.591 line in 134 games with the Fightin’ Phils.
Normally when a prospect puts up this kind of production, he would skyrocket up rankings. However, when you dive deeper into Cozens’s monster season, some major flaws quickly emerge. For starters, Cozens benefited from Reading’s home stadium, which is extremely hitter-friendly. Cozens had a 1.118 OPS at FirstEnergy Stadium but a .766 OPS in away games.
In addition, Cozens completely struggled to hit lefties. The left-handed hitter hit for just a .197 average and five home runs in 127 at-bats against lefties. Throughout his minor-league career, Cozens has struggled mightily against lefties, and it only continued this year.
Finally, Cozens can generate lots of power with his long swing, but it also causes him to strike out a lot. Cozens swung hard and missed hard with a 31.7% strikeout rate this season. His 10.4% walk rate was a marked improvement from last year, but it doesn’t balance out his large strikeout rate.
As I’ve written before, Cozens’s major flaws make me hesitant to believe the numbers he put up this year. We will have to see him put up solid power numbers with Lehigh Valley in their pitcher-friendly park, as well as performing at least somewhat decently against left-handed pitchers. For now, it’s hard to see Cozens as much more than a platoon outfielder who can provide some pop against righties. He does have the potential for much more, but I need to see it before I believe it.
The Phillies picked up two dynamic young pitchers from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade in Vince Velasquez and Mark Appel. Meanwhile, Thomas Eshelman flew under the radar, but he is a talented pitcher nonetheless.
While Appel and Velasquez overpower hitters with their arsenals, Eshelman commands the strike zone like few others. Without a doubt, Eshelman’s command is easily plus if not higher. MLB.com considers it a 70 on the 20-80 scale. Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs said Eshelman’s command “gives everything a bump up a tick or so, grade-wise.”
Eshelman exhibited this control with High-A Clearwater, walking just 1.67 batters per nine innings in 59.1 innings with the Threshers. His command helped him succeed overall, as Eshelman struck out 25.9% of opposing hitters and posted a 3.34 ERA in 11 starts.
Eshelman earned a promotion to Double-A Reading in mid-June, but he certainly stumbled out of the gate there. Through his first seven starts, Eshelman carried a 6.75 ERA and 1.91 WHIP. In addition, Eshelman walked 12 batters in 29.1 innings in that span, which was completely uncharacteristic for him.
Thankfully, Eshelman turned it around when the calendar turned to August. In his six starts that month, Eshelman struck out 23.7% of hitters and walked just 3.7% of them. Opposing hitters had a .271 average and his FIP was just 2.73. Unfortunately, a bout of appendicitis cut his 2016 short.
The biggest concern with Eshelman is his lack of any one standout pitch. His command is top-tier without a doubt, but the worry exists that upper-level hitters will jump all over Eshelman’s average arsenal. We saw that when Eshelman started out in Double-A, but he also showed the ability to adjust as he did much better in the last month of his stint in Reading.
Eshelman’s 2017 will likely begin back in Reading’s rotation, but command pitchers like him progress rather quickly. Eshelman follows that trend, reaching Double-A this year despite being drafted in 2015. It isn’t too hard to see him reach the major-leagues in September next season if he continues to succeed, but a 2018 major-league arrival is far more likely.
The Phillies went with a position player with their first pick in this year’s draft, putting them on the hunt for a pitcher. With the No. 42 pick in this year’s draft, the Phillies selected Kevin Gowdy, a right-handed pitcher from Santa Barbara, California. Gowdy and Mickey Moniak were poised to be teammates at UCLA; instead, they became teammates with the GCL Phillies.
While Gowdy has plenty of potential, we didn’t get to see much of it at the professional level this year. He threw just eight innings before suffering a strain in his thigh according to Jim Peyton of Phuture Phillies. He pitched just three more shutout innings afterwards. For what it’s worth, Gowdy had a 3.27 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in that span, but it is too small of a sample size to really garner much from it.
Gowdy has plenty of ceiling, he is years away from ever reaching it. With such limited time in the GCL this year, he will likely spend next season there too. The hope is he can develop into a solid mid-rotation starter, but we will need a larger sample of professional action to gauge where Gowdy is in his development.