Phillies Top Catching Prospect Deivy Grullon Proves He Can Play In The Florida State League

We debated whether we would journey across the Causeway to Tampa to watch the Threshers take on the Tampa Yankees.  But we did and fought our way there through a wind driven mist on a nippy night at George Steinbrenner Field.  We were glad we did.  Not only did the Threshers break a nine game losing streak but the top catching prospect in the Phillies organization proved he can catch in the advance A Florida State League.

You see Deivy Grullon only turned 18 years of age on February 2.  Baseball Reference says that make him 4.7 years younger than the average position player in the FSL.  The Phillies had a catching emergency when AAA catcher Cameron Rupp pulled his left oblique in his first at bat on Sunday.  That caused call ups in the system.  The Threshers back up catcher Chad Carmen went to Reading to replace the Fightins backup Sebastian Valle who got the call to Lehigh Valley.  So all of the sudden the top catcher in extended spring training who was not injured got the call to back up Logan Moore with the Threshers.  Two more experienced catchers in extended spring Chace Numata and Corey Bass are still injured.

Last night Deivy Grullon proved that he belongs and can catch at a very high level for his age.  In his first pro season after getting a big international signing bonus, we watched him catch and DH for the GCL Phillies.   But when Roy Halladay came down to pitch in a rehab assignment start for the GCL team last season, a more experience Jose Mayorga caught him and Deivy served as the designated hitter.

Against the Yankees last night Deivy had a good night going one for four at the plate with a rbi single.  He did a good job behind the plate receiving the ball, framing pitches and he called his own game.  After catching starter Jon Pronsinski to a 7-2 lead after five innings,  Jon tired in the sixth inning and Kevin Walter came on but had control problems. He was charged with three wild pitches including one in the dirt and another up and in to the batter that got by Deivy.

The score was tied up 7-7 going into the ninth.  After some sloppy play by the Yankees, the Threshers pushed a run across to regain the lead.  Deivy worked with Colton Murray on the mound who relied on a 92 mph fast ball and a big 76 mph curve ball to close out the Yanks in the bottom of the ninth for the rare Threshers win.

So it was a nice debut for the young Phillies catching prospect.  After Deivy’s base hit they rolled the ball toward the Threshers dugout to acknowledge his first Florida State League base hit.  It won’t be his last hit at that level and he will have many more with the Phillies someday.

To see video of Deivy Grullon’s Florida State League debut see Here.   The Yankees tried to steal only one base in the game where the runner had a big jump to beat Grullon’s throw. See Here

 

 

 

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Ken Giles Is Ready Right Now For The Phillies Bullpen

We have been watching Ken Giles pitch for the last two years.  He has had his ups and downs.  It was always fun going to Dunedin Stadium where they post a pitch speeds on the scoreboard.  Not many people attend Dunedin Blue Jays Florida State League games.  So a couple of fans can fire up a pitcher closing in a game.  It was fun watching Ken come in to close for the Threshers there.  We would watch the old scoreboard as Ken lit it up with his fastball, not so much with his slider.  Double “00″ and “01′s” would pop up and we would go wild in the stands.  You see the old board only had double digit readings.   We knew right then and there Giles would someday be a major league closer.

Since his pitching in the Arizona Fall League, he has all but perfected his slider.  Take 10 miles per hour off with a slider in the strike zone compared to his fastball and you are going to get a lot of called “strike threes”.  This is what has happened to Ken Giles.  He has perfected his slider and is locating his fastball.  This combination is lethal to opposing batters.

On Saturday we watched on MiLB-TV Ken comes in to get a five out save in Harrisburg against the Senators.  He ended the eight inning with a 99 mph fastball swinging strike three.  The classic high heat.  Then in the bottom  of the ninth he ended the game by freezing the hitter with a deadly slider that broke down right over the plate for a called strike three.  The batter never moved.  He did not even have time to buckle his knees as he was ready for the 100 mph heat, not an off speed slider which broke right over the heart of the plate.

Last night Giles did it again.  We did not watch or listen to the game.  We were over at George Steinbrenner Field watching the Clearwater Thresher bullpen blow a one lead in the bottom of the ninth and then listening to satellite radio on the way back to the Phillies game where the bullpen blew a one run lead in the top of the ninth.  Sound all too familiar?  But Ken was pitching  in Richmond VA. against the Giants AA farm team.  Again in a save situation he came on and using only 13 pitchers to strike out the side.   What caught my eye this morning in reading a recap of the game was that two of his three strike outs were called strike threes. Wonder if it was the deadly slider again.

Last night by striking out three batters on 13 consecutive pitches Giles was getting close to the immaculate inning, one of the rare feats in baseball.  At the major league level it is rare that a pitcher has stuck out three batters on nine consecutive pitches in an inning.  Only 48 pitchers in the history of major league baseball have accomplished an immaculate inning.

Giles now has pitched in five games and has 14 strike outs in only six innings compared to two walks.  That is an amazing 7-1 strike out to walk ratio.  I remember the pundits saying how great Tanaka was with his control when the Yankees signed him and he had only a 4.5-1 strike out to walk ratio in Japan.

I alway look for pitchers for have a one to one strike out to innings pitched ratio.  That usually qualifies young pitchers as set up or closer material.  But Giles now has an incomprehensible 21 strike outs per nine innings inning pitched ratio.  Usually you get  extra excited with an eleven or 12 strikeout to nine innings pitched ratio by closer prospects.

The Phillies have been careful with Giles.   General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. just said that he would be considered for a call-up but wants to see how he reacts to adversity.  Calling up pitching from AA is not us usual for the Phillies.  Kyle Kendrick got the call directly from Reading to join the Phillies starting rotation back in 2007 and was key in the Phillies making the playoffs that year.

After last night’s Phillies bullpen mix up where Papelbon and Bastardo were unavailable and Jake Diekman was forced into a closer role trying to get unsuccessfully his first major league save,  I know where the Phillies Front Office can find a closer real quick.

Last night  this closer/set up guy was pitching just down I-95 a few hours in Richmond Va., striking out the side on 13 pitches for his fifth save in five opportunities after the first 11 games of the season.  Because of this guy Reading has the best record in the Eastern League.  If he were pitching for the Phillies they might have the best record in the National League.  This guy’s name is Ken Giles.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Phillies Have A Power Outage At the A Ball Level and The AAA and AA Teams Have Injuries

If you look at blocks of ten games during the season, the Phillies two A ball teams are off to the worst start of any teams in minor league baseball.  After the first ten games of the season the Clearwater Threshers in the advanced A Florida State League are 1-9 and the Lakewood BlueClaws in the South Atlantic League are 2-8 for a combined 3-17 to start the A ball season.

The problems are easy to spot.  Both teams have had  power outages with the bat and on the mound.  Both teams are last in runs scored and OPS in their respective leagues.  They strikeout few batters.  Clearwater’s staff is next to last in league strikeouts and Lakewood is dead last in strikeouts.  Few power bats and few power arms usually means few wins.

 

Clearwater’s record is not surprising in one way in that they have few major league prospects to begin with.  They have been made up of  Threshers players returning from last season, a minor league free agent, an independent ball player, rehabbing major and minor league players and players moved up from Lakewood.  But when Cole Hamels started two of your first ten games you would expect at least a win or two in those games, not two losses.   Some of the players did play in Lakewood last year but the team finished 24 games under .500 so Clearwater’s record should not be too surprising.

The bottom line is not much pop exists in the Clearwater lineup so far.  The Threshers are putting up league lows with a .204 batting average, an OPS of .555 which has resulted in only 20 runs being scored.  Scoring an average of two runs a game even with Cole Hamels on the mound is not going to result in winning baseball.

Lakewood’s record on the other hand so far is very surprising.  Many of us who follow the Phillies minor league system thought that the young position talent on the BlueClaws roster would result in a fast start.  They looked good in the minor league camp.  We were right after the first three games which they won two but they are now on a seven game losing streak.  They are ninth in the 14 team league in batting average at .222 but last with a .578 OPS which has resulted in them scoring a league low 29 runs.

 

Each team plays an 140 game schedule which is divided into two, 70 game half seasons.   After the first 10 game block the Threshers and BluClaws are already in last place eight and six games under .500 respectively.  After the first 70 games the two teams will get a do over but I can see Lakewood rebounding more quickly as the season progresses.  Come mid-June the Phillies will be drafting seventh each round in the North American first year draft, much higher than recent drafts, which should allow them to more quickly restock the lower levels of the farm system.

If the Phillies were to look for help from extended spring training teams at the A level, I would look to outfielders Herlis Rodriguez and Cord Sandberg but they would add even more left-handed bats to the Lakewood lineup.  Outfielder Jiandido Thromp is hitting the ball long and deep from the right side. With the catching injuries in the system the top ext. spring catcher Deivy Grullon is headed to Tampa for the Thresers tonight to replace Chad Carman.   He is headed to Richmond Va. to be the back up catcher for Reading tonight while Sebastian Valle heads to Lehigh Valley to replace the injured catcher Cameron Rupp.

In Ext.camp but still on the disabled list and not in uniform are the likes of pitchers Shane Watson and Josh Warner plus position players Jiwan James, Chase Numata, Mitch Walding and Roman Quinn.  All of them could help out as the season progresses.

Of the pitchers in ext. spring, one of my good friends is a big fan of the power arm of closer Delvy Francisco who has averaged 11.1 per nine in two years in the system.  Starter Andrew Anderson is scheduled to pitch today.  Mitch Gueller looked the best I have ever seen him throw on Saturday morning.  Lefty Jesus Manuel Chavez certainly could get some outs on the mound.  All of them could certainly help the Lakewood or the Clearwater pitching staffs.

At this point the two A ball teams have not had the injury bug to blame for their slow starts.  On the other hand AAA Lehigh Valley (4-7) and AA Reading (7-3) have been hit by injuries.   Yesterday, catcher Cameron Rupp had to leave the game after the first inning when he suffered an oblique injury after hitting a double.  The injury appears to be similar to Darin Ruf’s oblique injury suffered in batting practice back on March 20th which placed him on the disabled list.  Ruf has yet to take live batting practice.

Reading’s right fielder Kelly Dugan had to leave that game yesterday after getting hit by a pitch on his wrist.  On Friday night, starting pitcher Hoby Milner had to leave the game and be placed on the disabled list after getting hit on his left forearm by a line drive off the bat of a Harrisburg Senator.

 

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Looks Like Baseball To Stay In Dunedin, Good For Us Especially On Saturday Mornings!

Saturday morning is always the best time of the baseball week for us.  We live almost half way between two minor league complexes and three blocks from Dunedin Stadium.  As fans of minor league baseball we can’t have it any better than that.  Most Saturday mornings we make our way to either to the Toronto Blue Jays complex at the Englebert Complex or the Phillies Carpenter Complex to watch the stars of tomorrow play.

Last year the Blue Jays said they were “95% certain that they would be leaving the Dunedin area in a few years  to join with the Houston Astros in the Palm Beach Garden area on the east coast of Florida to spring train.  It turns out that problems arose on the move and the buzz Saturday morning at the Carpenter Complex was that the Astros will be leaving the Kissimmee training complex near Orlando to head to Vero Beach Fl.  They would spring train at the old Dodgertown facilities there in the future.  Hopefully that will leave the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

As always two Blue Jays and Phillies teams played each other in extended spring games and good young talent was on display.  I was particularly impress with former high Phillies draft pick Mitch Gueller who pitched three strong innings.   Aaron Altherr continued to hit and made a start centerfield as he rounds into shape rehabbing wrist injury before returning to action soon.  Likely he will either continue rehabbing with the Threshers or head to an already strong Reading team.  On the same Roberts Field, after a base hit by shortstop Grenny Cumana, Jiandido Tromp hit one out to left for a two run homer.  Defensively, Trey Williams continues to improve at first base as he made a nice scoop on a throw from short.

On the Ashburn Field, I was somewhat surprised to see the big international signing from last year Luis Encarnacion at first base.  He has been struggling defensively at third  but there is no question he can hit a baseball long and far.  He should be interesting to watch in the Gulf Coast League this season.  I already project him to hit more than the league leading six home runs that were hit by several players last year in the GCL.  Another player who can barrel a ball at the plate is Jesus Posse who is listed as a catcher but has been playing some first base and DHing as well.

Finally, it is always good to stay until the games are over.  Two left handed relief pitchers caught my eye for the Phillies late in the game on Ashburn.  The first one, Francibel Alejo, pitched for three seasons in the Dominican Summer League.  He struck out two in an inning of relief as did next up Chris O’Hare who finished up the game.  O’Hare you might remember is under suspension for violating MiLB drug policies.  See Here.  He had an excellent slider yesterday which appears to be his out pitch.  See Here.  As we have seen recently on the AL East minor league teams of the Blue Jays and Yankees in the Florida State League, a team can never have enough left handed pitching.

 

 

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Good Plays in Phillies Extended Spring Training Games Today At the Carpenter Complex

Today a couple of extended spring training games gave us a chance to watch progress of the young prospects in the Phillies organization.  On Ashburn Field mostly players who played with the GCL Phillies last season took on a squad from the Pirates.  Many of them are headed for Williamsport when the NY-Penn League opens on Thursday June 12th.. Over on Roberts Field Roly DeArmas was coaching up many of the youngsters who will wind up in mid June with the GCL Phillies of the Gulf Coast League.

Some of the highlights on Ashburn Field included a perfect hit and run play.  With Jiandido Tromp taking off from first, Cord Sandberg send a hard hit ground ball base hit to the left of second base where the Pirates shortstop had just vacated to cover second base.   Just before that play, DH Aaron Altherr, coming off the disabled list from his wrist injury, leveled off on an up and in fast ball and drove an rbi double down the left field line.   Third baseman Jan Hernandez hit a hard ground ball into the hole between short and third for a base hit.

Over on Ashburn a future battery of the Phillies was in action.  There, lean lefty pitcher Manuel Chavez was working with catcher Deivy Grullon.  And both of them impressed.   Chavez showed a big sweeping slider to left-handed hitters that was a called strike three pitch against a left-handed Pirates bat. Good pitch framing by Grullon. SEE HERE  Grullon came up to bat and lined a base hit to left for a run scoring single.  Defensively  Grenny Cumana made a great leaping catch at shortstop on a line drive which looked a base hit to left.

 

At the bat rehabbing center fielder Tyson Gillies lined a base hit to left and first baseman Trey Williams square up a pitch and drove it into the gap in left center.  But the big bat of the day was supplied by third baseman Luis Encarnacion.  He lined a hanging curve ball to left for a base hit and the next time up hit a homer out of Roberts Field.

The next games up for the Phillies extended spring training squads will be at the Englebert Complex in Dunedin against the Blue Jays  tomorrow at one o’clock and then a rematch against them back at the Carpenter Complex Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

 

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The Reading Fightins Played The Game As It Should Be Played In Last Night’s Win

Yesterday I watched three different kinds of baseball games, two via the internet and one live.  One was a very good game, Reading’s 4-1 win over New Hampshire while at the same time watching a very bad game the Phillies 9-4 loss to the Milwawkee Brewers.  Earlier in the afternoon we watched the Tampa Yankees down the Clearwater Threshers in a game which the losing team again never gave up but just did not have enough to win it.

Reading’s game was one of the best played games you will ever see at any level. It was played the way baseball should be played every game.  It had what every team strives for, a well rounded effort at the bat, on the mound and in the field.  In the first inning leadoff hitter Carlos Alonso singled to set the table and with runners on second and third the clean up hitter Kelly Dugan drove them home to get the lead which they would never give up.

Then it was up to the starting pitcher Severino Gonzalez to shut down Toronto’s New Hampshire team the rest of the way and he did, pitching seven innings giving up only one run.  The most important factor with Sevie is that he is a strike thrower so he can pitch deep into games.  He pitches on the corners at the knees.  He walked no one which set up the bullpen for the save.  Ken Giles came on to get the final out in the eight inning and struck out the side in the ninth for his third save in three opportunities.    It was a textbook played game that all teams at any level should be required to watch and copy.  A tip of the cap to Manager Dusty Wathan and the guys.

On the other hand the Phillies game was difficult to watch.  It was the polar opposite of the Reading game.  It was long with misplays and eventually the Brewers won going away in the eight and ninth innings.   The Phillies now lead the league in giving up unearned runs after the first week of the season.  The problem with the Phillies is that too many of them are old, overpaid and many of them are not in their prime baseball years any longer.   Fans, its going to be a long season at the major league level for the Phillies.  I don’t care how much infield practice manager Ryne Sandberg puts them through, you “can’t teach old dogs new tricks”

On the other hand the earlier game I watched, the Clearwater Threshers vs. Tampa Yankees.  The Threshers are like the little team that tries but just falls short.  They have fallen to 1-5 to start the season but in a way are interesting to watch if you stay around to the ninth inning.  For the second straight game they fought back to get the  tying run at the plate when the final out was made.  It’s going to be a long season for them but team plays hard and maybe the pitching will improve.

I can take watching left-handed pitching only so much.  After the first six games of the Florida State League season the Threshers have face about twice as many left-handed pitchers than right handed.  The Blue Jays and the Yankees just kept running out southpaws agains them in the first six games of the season.  I have been impress how the Threshers left-handed bats are holding up against the lefties:  Pete Lavin (.500 , 8 for 16 and hit a long home run on the berm yesterday), Brian Pointer (.375, 3 for 8, with a bunt single and a pin ball hit off the second base bag yesterday),  Logan Moore (.364,  4 for 11, all of them line drives including one yesterday and a long fly out to the track in right) and Art Charles ( .250, 3 for 12 ).  See Charles drive a single against a lefty from yesterday’s game HERE)  No, that is not Ryan Howard batting.

A tip of the cap to Pete Lavin.  With his home run yesterday he becomes the first player in the Phillies system to hit for the cycle just after the first six games of the season.  He now has two doubles, a triple and a home run this early in the season.  As we noted earlier he already has three outfield assists in center throwing out runners at second, third and home so far.

What would I do to get the Phillies back on the right track for the future?  The future will probably tell us that it is already time to turn the page on the major league team.  That won’t be easy to do since many of the players in their mid 30′s are still under contract for next season.  So let’s focus on the minor league teams.

I would up load up the Reading roster for the future.   Maikel Franco who is off to a slow start at AAA would be sent back down to Reading to play third base.   Pete Lavin would be called up from Clearwater to play center.  He has earned it.  The Reading roster would be loaded:  Joseph 2, Stassi 3, Alonso 4, Franco 5, Duran 6, Perkins 7, Lavin 8 and Dugan 9.  The starting staff already has major league arms with a rotation built around Jesse Biddle, Severino Gonzalez, Hoby Milner and Perci Garner and Ken Giles coming out of the pen.  That lineup would be loaded with major league prospects to build a future major league roster from.   That’s all Phillies fans might have to look forward to this season, “hope for a better future”.

 

 

 

 

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Clearwater Threshers KC Serna Just Misses Going Deep In The Bottom Of The Ninth

Monday night it was pitcher Ranfi Casimiro just missing a five inning “no-no” for the  Lakewood BlueClaws.  Tuesday night it was KC Serna just missing a three run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth which would have tied up the Clearwater Threshers game against the Tampa Yankees.

Serna was a 42nd round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2011 and played  independent ball last year in Amarillo Texas.  He hit .304 as a shortstop for the American Association team.   He hit only one homer all of last season but just miss one last night that would have tied the game.   He had to settle for a two run double to left in the game at Bright House Field.

It was a strange game as the Yankees jumped out to a big lead but the Threshers never gave up.  Rehabbers Freddy Galvis with a tripled and Mike Adams pitching a strong inning in relief helped the Clearwater get back into the game.  First baseman Art Charles who was sporting an “0 for the season”  finally broke out with a two-run homer to right center in the fifth.  The Threshers fought back down 7-4 going into the bottom of the ninth.  Then things got interesting.

With one more inning to tie or win the game, the left-handed hitting Charles continued his hitting by lining a single to center off of left-handed Yankee pitcher Tyler Webb.  Nick Ferdinand walked to put runners at first and first second wit one out. After Justin Parr flew out to center, Serna came to the plate and hit the first pitch, driving a high long fly ball down the line in left.  The wind, blowing left to right, kept the ball fair but knocked it down enough to keep it in the park.  It fell in for a double just in front of the left field wall.  Charles and Ferdinand scored and Serna wound up at second making the score 7-6 with two outs and the tying run at second.  SEE HERE

The next moved by the Threshers manager Nelson Prada  stunned me.  He pitch hit for left-handed hitting catcher Logan Moore with switch hitter Willie Carmona.  Moore who singled earlier in the game off a lefty is 3 for 7 already this season off of left-handed pitching.  Carmona is now 1 for 9 off of lefties.  Moore also in previous seasons has been an excellent clutch hitter with runners in scoring position.  Carmona ground out to short to end the game.

It is rare to see pinch hitting at the Advance A ball level.  Pitchers do not hit and most of the time pinch hitters are not used no matter what the situation is in the game.  It was absolutely a bizarre move by Prada who was going by the “Book” just to get a lefty- righty matchup.  Class A ball is about developing hitters in high leverage situations and Logan Moore was the right hitter to have up there with the game on the line.

In any event KC Serna gave the Threshers a chance to win the game and the manager took it away from them by managing by the “Book”, not what made sense in that situation.

 

 

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