READING — The Phillies have developed a pipeline with Dallas Baptist University, a small private school with a big baseball reputation. The farm system’s headliners right now from coach Dan Heefner’s Patriots are Darick Hall and Austin Listi, two power hitters who have recently been promoted from high-A Clearwater to double-A Reading.
Hall, a first baseman, was a 14th-round pick in 2016 after hitting 20 home runs during his junior year at Dallas Baptist. He has hit 57 more home runs in 257 minor-league games. That same year, the Phillies took outfielder David Martinelli in the sixth round and infielder Cam Duzenack in the 23rd round. Martinelli was released in April and Duzenack did not sign with the Phillies.
If it was not clear then that the Phillies had a fondness for DBU players, then it was last year when they used their 17th-round pick on Listi. The trend continued this year when they took Patriots reliever Eric White in the 24th round.
“They seem to like us,” Listi said.
The best big-leaguer to come out of Dallas Baptist is Ben Zobrist, who is still going strong with the Chicago Cubs at the age of 37.
Hall and Listi have the best chance among the former Patriots of getting to Philadelphia someday. Hall, who turns 23 later this month, legitimatized his prospect status last summer when he hit a franchise record 27 home runs for low-A Lakewood on his way to earning the title of South Atlantic League MVP.
“I actually didn’t hit very many home runs growing up,” Hall said. “I only hit three in high school. I was always just a good hitter. I knew when I hit home runs I had power, but I didn’t know how to repeat it. When I went to DBU, what we were taught and learned through repetition was being able to put better swings on the ball more consistently. That let the power come out.”
Hall finished last year at Clearwater, where he hit two more home runs in seven games and his power triggered a friendly debate between Reading manager Greg Legg and Clearwater manager Shawn Williams during spring training.
“We would play Group 1 against Group 2 before the players were assigned teams and I would tell Shawn that he was Darick ‘double-A’ Hall,” Legg said.
Williams, however, got to have Hall for the start of the season and the 6-foot-4, lefthanded-hitting slugger picked up where he left off last year, slamming 11 homers and driving in 35 runs in 48 games, which earned him a June 1 promotion to Reading. Twenty-two games into his double-A career, he was hitting .273 with six home runs and 24 RBIs.
Lately, however, Hall has encountered his first major challenge in professional baseball. He was 2-for-30 in his last eight games through Tuesday and his overall average was down to .220. The two hits, however, were both home runs, giving him 19 overall this season.
“These guys up here are smarter about the shift,” Hall said. “I’ve hit against the shift since I’ve been in pro ball, but the thing they do up here is they pitch to it. What they try to do to me is they go soft away. You don’t see too many guys hitting rifles to the opposite field against curveballs. I just have to do a better job of looking for off-speed pitches rather than reacting to it.”
Listi owns the school record at Dallas Baptist with 53 career home runs and has 13 so far this season. Like Hall, he opened the season in Clearwater. He had to wait until June 19 for his promotion to Reading. He left Clearwater batting .344 with nine home runs and 45 RBIs in 58 games. In his first 17 games at Reading he has hit .344 with four home runs and 17 RBIs.
“They’re both growing as hitters, but I think Listi has adjusted already,” Legg said. “Hall, as a power guy, you have to live with those stretches of him driving in 12 runs in four or five games and then you might have three or four games where he’s not doing it. But then he gets hot again and at the end of that month when you do the math, the numbers are huge.”
At 24, the 6-foot, 218-pound Listi is a year older than Hall even though he was drafted a year later. That’s because Listi took a year off in an effort to become a Navy SEAL following his sophomore season at Dallas Baptist.
“I loved every minute I was in,” he said. “You have to get drafted into that stuff. I was in a training group for it. I didn’t serve or anything. I did it for four or five months, but then I decided I wanted to get married and that is not a life for a family man.”
Hall also had a side story at Dallas Baptist.
“He was our Saturday starter,” Listi said. “He was very good. He threw 88 to 91 with his fastball, but he had a foot and a half of sink. There wasn’t a pitch he threw straight. I think he could go out there on the mound right now and compete.”
The Phillies like him just fine as a first baseman. Listi, meanwhile, alternates between playing first base, left field and right field, which is something he has done since his college days. Together, the two former college teammates have hit a combined 32 home runs this season. They also have given the Phillies good reason to love their Dallas Baptist pipeline.