“You Know It When You See It” Zach Eflin and Brandon Leibrandt Are Phillies Major League Talent

Baseball Betsy and I have had the pleasure to watch both  Zach Eflin and Brandon Leibrandt pitch in their most recent starts.  On Sunday we watched on MiLB-TV and listened to the call of the game by Reading’s play by play voice Michael Ventola as Zach Eflin pitched a masterful five hit, eight inning shutout.  Last night we were at Bright House Field when Brandon Leibrandt shutout the Tampa Yankees for seven innings. Both games were gems and move the two to the top of the Phillies starting pitching prospect list.

Eflin was voted the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week for his efforts. In two starts he has pitched 14 shutout innings.  He reminds me of a Greg Maddux who was not over powering but had great command of the strike zone.  Eflin has walked only two and struck out seven in 14 innings but has 21 ground outs compared to only seven fly outs in his two starts.

Leibrandt on the other hand reminds of a more composed Cole Hamels.  Leibrandt has a 88-92 fastball with excellent change-up and breaking pitches. See Here, Here.  In his last two starts he has been brilliant pitching thirteen innings giving up two runs, striking out thirteen and walking one.  He has one of the best moves to first in baseball. See Here.  So far this year he has controlled and all but shutdown the opponents running game.  In his three starts he has allowed only one stolen base compared to three caught stealings and has been credited with an amazing five pickoffs.

Three other players stood out in the Threshers 3-0 win last night.  Dylan Cozens just missed a home run or perhaps an inside-the-park one and had to settle for a ground rule double as the ball got stuck in the left field fence.  See Here.   Aaron Brown hit a clutch two run rbi single. See Here. and Edubray Ramos showed off his 94-96 fastball and this case his slider in getting a strike out to earn the save in the game. See Here.

Back in the day, an old hockey coach was asked how does he tell if players in a rookie tryout  camp game he was watching have NHL potential?   He simply said, “you know it when you see it”.  Zach Eflin, Brandon Leibrandt, Dylan Cozens, Aaron Brown and Edubray Ramos will play in the major leagues someday soon since “we know it when we see it!”

 

 

 

 

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The Clearwater Threshers Scoreboard Finally Shows Pitch Speeds And Starting Pitcher Colin Kleven Hits 95 mph

This is the first year that the Phillies, High A, Florida State League team in Clearwater has posted pitch speeds on the scoreboard.  In previous seasons we had to befriend the starting pitcher for the next game who was charting sitting up behind home plate to find out the pitch speeds.

The Phillies have few starting pitchers anywhere in the organization that have power arms.    When you see a starting pitcher hit 94 or 95 mph on the scoreboard pitch speed you take notice.   Threshers starting pitcher Colin Kleven  Saturday night has put on the best show with the pitch speed on the scoreboard so far.  His curve ball was in the high 70’s on which he got his first strikeout, slider and change in the 80’s and fastball in the 90’s. And he pounds the strike zone.  He had no walks.  Especially, he was interesting to watch when he fired high heat registering 95 and 94 MPH on the scoreboard and getting swinging strike threes on the two of the Lakeland Flying Tigers batters.  See Here and Here.

When Kleven was locating his fastball down in the zone he was sitting at 92 and painted the outside corner for a called third strike.  See Here.  Then he gets a lefty swinging on a power pitch on the outside corner.  See Here.

One would think as desperate as the Phillies are for power starting pitching arms Kleven would be a top prospect.  But this is his the sixth season in the Phillies organization for the 24-year old who was drafted by them back in 2009.  It is his third season in the Florida State League.  Next season he will be a free agent and I would not be surprise if more than one of the 29 other organizations just might be looking for a starting pitcher who can hit 95 on the radar gun for a swinging strikeout, paints the corner for a called third strike and goes six innings plus innings without walking a batter.

With the Phillies acquiring four well hyped minor league starting pitchers in trades over the winter Kleven was not give much of a chance of moving up to AA or AAA in spring training. Not one of these pitchers can match Kleven on the speed gun.

Kleven pitched a strong game Saturday night going six full innings giving up four hits and a run with no walks and five strikeouts.   He tired in the seventh and was taken out after the first two batters reached on base hits and then the reliever allowed these two inherited runners to score.

Kleven is one of the best young starting pitchers from Canada.  He was named Canadian Player of the Week last August for his pitching with the Threshers.  See Here   In August he was the only Phillies minor league starting pitcher who averaged better than a strikeout an inning for the month.

This summer the Pan-Am games will be played in Toronto.  Only players not on the 40 man MLB rosters will be allowed to play in the baseball tournament part of the games for their counties.   So this summer might be a very important time in his career to showcase his skills

If you want to see a good show by following the scoreboard pitch speeds, you will get one if you go to a game when Colin Kleven starts.

Colin Kleven

Colin Kleven

 

 

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Another Walk Off Weekend For the Clearwater Threshers Led By Two Long Balls, Spectacular Relief Pitching and Clutch hitting

Thanks to a couple of solo home runs early, spectacular work out of the pen late and a bases loaded base hit by Dylan Cozens, the Clearwater Threshers walked off another extra inning win this time in seventeen innings last night at Bright House Field.

Aaron Brown SEE HERE and Andrew Pullin hit home runs on to the berm in right which tied up the game at three runs a piece going into overtime. See Pullin circle the bases HERE.  But it was one of the best bullpen efforts I have ever seen in my many long years of watching baseball that set up Dylan “Clutch” Cozens base hit to win the game 4-3 in the bottom of the 17th inning.

For “Clutch” Cozens it was his second straight game driving in the winning run.  The night before in Jupiter he hit a sacrifice fly to score the winning run in the top half of the 11th inning.

To make this all possible it was because of the Threshers bullpen.  After starter Miguel Nunez left giving up three runs in five innings, Lino Martinez, Lee Ridenhour, Edubray Ramos and Cody Forsythe came on to pitch the final twelve shutout inning giving up seven hits, walking one and striking out sixteen.  Forsythe had major league stuff coming to pitch the final four innings striking out six to get the win.

Lee Ridenhour

Lee Ridenhour

Edoubray Ramos

Edoubray Ramos

Cody Forsythe

Cody Forsythe

 

Cozens bases load base hit in the bottom of the 17th was the second time in only the third home game of the season that the Threshers walk off their opponent in extra innings. See  HERE . Last Saturday night it was Willians Astudillo’s single to walk off the Dunedin Blue Jays in the bottom of the 11th.   After only nine games this is already a very special team.

 

 

 

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Clearwater Threshers Ulises Joaquin Is Tied For The Most Saves In Minor League Baseball

After the first eight games of the season, Clearwater Threshers Ulises Joaquin is tied for the most saves in all of minor league baseball.  The hard throwing right hander with a 95 mph fastball is three for three in save opportunities.  He picked up saves the last two nights against Jupiter, the Miami Marlins Florida State League farm team.

Ulises Jaoquin

Ulises Joaquin

Mark Leiter, Jr.

Mark Leiter, Jr.

A strong bullpen usually means a good team.  Helped by the likes of Mark Leiter Jr., Lee Ridenhour and Cody Forsythe out of the pen the Threshers are off to a good start.  They are 5-3 and sit tied for first place in the Northern division.  Last season they were never over .500, starting the season 1-10 and would finish 40 games under .500.

I have been particularly impressed with Leiter Jr. who has come in throwing a low 90’s fastball and a power slider.  He had never before come out of the pen after starting last year the but has adapted well in his new role. He has a 1.93 ERA in three appearances.

We watched Leiter retire all ten batter he faced last week in a game against the Dunedin Blue Jays.  Last night he went four shutout innings and retired the last ten batters he faced.  The Threshers pulled the game out in the top of the eleventh on an rbi single by Dylan Cozens driving in Andrew Knapp who had tripled.  Then Joaquin put down the Hammerheads in order in the bottom of the 11th to save the game for Leiter.

Winning baseball is all about good defense, timely hitting and strong pitching.  Though they are in the middle of most team offensive and defensive FSL team categories, the Threshers pitchers lead the league in fewest walks allowed and its defense has committed only four errors over the first eight games of the season, including one error by Domonic Brown who is no longer with the team.   Those strong metrics usually help set the stage for a winning team.

 

 

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Quick Looks Beyond The Phillies Minor League Box Scores For Roman Quinn, David Whitehead, Aaron Brown, Ulises Joaquin and Ricardo Pinto

My takes from yesterday’s Phillies minor league box scores:

No. 1.  Reading’s Roman Quinn’s first week of the 2015 season will be one to remember.  His slash line of .478/.538/870 leads the Eastern League and is one of the highest in all of minor league baseball.  His 1.408 OPS is second highest in AA.  Only a 26-year old in the Texas League has a higher one.  Roman turns 22 years old May 14th.   Yesterday against New Hampshire he just about did it all: hit  a double and a single, stole a base,  walked twice, scored two runs, threw out a runner at the plate and had a rbi   The Phillies have a superstar in their midsts.

No. 2.   Clearwater Threshers David Whitehead continues to rise up the Phillies starting pitching prospect list.  In his second start of the season he went six innings and held the Marlins farm team in Jupiter to one run. His first run given up of the season.  What impressed me more was that he induced 12 ground ball outs to only one fly out.  In his two starts he has now forced 18 ground ball outs and allowed only four fly ball outs.  In 86 innings in his professional career he has allowed only one home run.  Compare this to the Phillies 2014 No. 1 draft pick Aaron Nola who has given up nine homers in his 60 professional innings. Also in his 12 innings of work this season he has struck out 12.  David Whitehead’s numbers have the potential to be major league starter stats.

No. 3.  Clearwater scored seven runs in the ninth inning after trailing 4-0 last night to defeat Jupiter.  Talk about an eventful inning for Aaron Brown. He lead off the ninth inning with a single after having struck out in his three previous at bats in the game.  He would later double in the inning to drive in two runs but was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.

No. 4.  Ulises Joaquin came on for the save in the bottom of the ninth for the Threshers.  He pitched a clean inning striking out two to pick up his second save of the season.  He is quickly emerging as one of the top closer prospects in the Phillies system.

No. 5.  Ricardo Pinto joins David Whitehead as the two most impressive starting pitchers from the first week of the season.  The 21-year old struck out ten in seven innings for Lakewood yesterday.  His numbers are only slightly behind Whitehead’s numbers.  He has struck out 12 in 13 innings and has given up only two runs in his first two starts.   He has been more of a fly ball pitcher but yesterday had six ground outs to three fly outs.  In his first game he had only two strikeouts to go with three ground outs and ten fly outs.

Players to watch this season: Quinn, Whitehead, A. Brown, Joaquin and Pinto.

 

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Phillies Minor League System Is Overloaded In Centerfield With Aaron Brown, Roman Quinn and Carlos Tocci And A Shout Out To Pitcher Elniery Garcia

Great baseball yesterday for the Phillies minor league centerfield prospects.  Reading’s Roman Quinn went 3 for 5 with a triple, had two stolen bases and scored two runs; Clearwater’s Aaron Brown went 2 for 4 with a double and a triple to score two runs and Lakewood’s Carlos Tocci doubled and then hit a grand slam.

It just does not get any better than that!

Switch-hitting Roman Quinn has caught the attention of everyone in the Eastern League.  After his first five games he leads the league in runs scored,7, triples 2, total bases 17 and slugging percent and is tied in steals with three.  He has hit 9 for 20 with a double, two triples and a home run for a .450 average which is second in the league.  He also has two sacrifices.  He has done it all!

Left-handed hitting Aaron Brown has started more slowly for Clearwater but has treated us with great defensive play in center.  Brown reminds me of a Mike Trout in build and will only get better as the season progresses.

Right handed hitting Carlos Tocci has been the surprise of the minor league system.  The 19- year old is starting his third year with Lakewood.  His grand slam home run last night was only his third in three seasons there.  He is off to a strong start going 9 for 23 for a .391 average.  What has impressed me is Tocci has struck out only once in the first six games.  Also he is three for three in steals after normally being around 50% in caught stealing in his two previous seasons.

A special shout out to Elniery Garcia for a job well done.  He picked-up his first win in the South Atlantic League last night for Lakewood pitching six strong innings allowing only one unearned run, walking one and striking out four.  But what impressed me the most was that his sinker was working with 9 ground outs compared to only four fly outs including inducing two double play balls.  We watched him develop his sinker last Fall in instructs and it is now paying off.

 

 

 

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Quick Looks Behind the Phillies Minor League Box Scores

1.  The Phillies organization is apparently reinventing the bunting game. I call it extreme small ball.  I am not a fan of the sacrifice bunt other than by a pitcher.  Just do not like to give up outs.  In Saturday’s second game of Reading’s doubleheader in Portland Maine, Manager Dusty Wathan had Roman Quinn square up and sac. bunt with runners on first and second with no outs on a 3-0 count. He had just squared and took three pitches out of the zone.  He was able to beat out the sac bunt from the left-handed batters box as only Roman can with his speed for a base hit.

Last night in Manchester, New Hampshire, Wathan again had Quinn bunt with no outs and this time a runner was on first with Reading trailing 4-3 in the top of the ninth.  The old rule is you never bunt on the road trailing in the ninth inning.  Quinn was successful in moving the runner to second but was just out at first bunting from the right-handers   batters box.  Reading lost the game as the runner was stranded on second.  The irony was that Quinn was going for the cycle at that bat in the top of the ninth after hitting a triple, double and single in earlier at bats in the game.

2.   Matt Imhof goes tonight for the Threshers in Jupiter Florida.  He was the opening night Thursday starter for the Threshers.  His fastball sat in the high 80’s.  I saw 90 pop up  once on the new speed gun on the Threshers scoreboard.  Somewhat surprised that a No 2 draft pick from the 2014 draft does not have a fastball that sits in the 90’s.  But he is a lefty so he has a lot of movement on his pitches.  Another lefty Brandon Leibrandt, a sixth round pick from last year’s draft,  started Saturday night for the Threshers.  His fastball sat at 90-91 in the first inning on the scoreboard speed gun but dropped to the high 80’s in later innings.  His out pitch is his change-up.

3.  The most impressive starter I have seen for the Threshers has been righty David Whitehead.  Friday night in Dunedin his fastball sat in the low 90’s and he hit 93 in his final inning in the sixth as he seemed to get stronger as he reared back to pitch out of a jam.  But it was his curve ball in the 70’s that kept the Blue Jays batters off balance and helped him strikeout eight of them over six shutout innings. Watched Aaron Nola’s Florida State League debut with the Threshers last year at Lakeland.  His fastball was at 93 on the Marchant Stadium scoreboard.

4.  Mark Leiter Jr. has been impressive as a Threshers middle reliever.  We spoke with Mark during a “meet the players” event last Wednesday night at Bright House where he told us this would be his first time as a reliever.  Though he gave up a home run in his first relief outing Thursday night, he showed major league stuff in his second outing against the Blue Jays on Sunday.  He pitched 3.2 shutout innings of perfect middle relief  retiring all ten batters he faced in order helped by a strikeout, throw out double play after he faced his first batter. Leiter finished up striking out his final two batters he faced with sharp, late breaking sliders.  His fastball sat at in the low 90’s.

5.  Threshers closer Edubray Ramos seems to have good stuff with his slider but was hit hard Sunday coming on in the eight inning after the Threshers had taken a 4-3 lead in the top of the inning. He started throwing a fastball sitting only at 94 which led to a blown save.  After he gave up two runs and three hits, pitching coach Steve Schrenk came to the mound and then his next pitch was amped up to 96 on the Dunedin scoreboard.  He went on to pitch out of the inning without further damage but it was too late as the Threshers went down 4-3 to the Blue Jays.

 

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