Minors Year in Review: Scouts like Phillies rebuilding so far

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Phillies prospects (clockwise from left) J.P. Crawford, Dylan Cozens and Ben Lively (19), chatting with catcher Jorge Alfaro.

These days, the view from Joe Jordan's windowless office at Citizens Bank Park is an alluring one for the Phillies' director of player development. Jordan scans the board that contains more than 150 colored name plates representing the entire farm system, and he sees potential answers.

"We have a lot of success stories," Jordan said.

Winning in the minors is not always paramount to the mission of developing good big-league players. But the Phillies' six domestic minor-league affiliates posted a .595 winning percentage this season. That clip was the best, Baseball America found, for any single organization in the last eight years.

Jordan now understands the benefit.

"It is an understatement to say that winning is important," he said. "I've been kind of the last guy to come around. But it is. It's important. The culture is better. The environment is better. The affiliate staffs and their players, there is just more energy. We ask a lot of our players. It's easier to do that for a five-month season if you're winning."

For an objective assessment of the Phillies system, the Inquirer polled five scouts whose coverage included the Phillies. Those scouts were granted anonymity to speak candidly about another organization's players.

The consensus depicted a system teeming with young pitchers at the lower levels, possible everyday position players at the higher levels, and a current lack of "elite-level" prospects.

"You could just go on and on about some of the young kids," one scout said. "Wow, I wonder how he's really going to evolve. They have probably 10 guys on the lower levels that you can dream."

"They're at an incredibly attractive spot in the rebuild," another scout said.

"It is much improved," a third scout said. "There is talent at every level. They should have players in waves."

Arms in low minors

When Bart Braun, a special assistant to the general manager, went to the Dominican Republic in early 2015 to scout a Cuban defector, someone else caught his eye. He was a 16-year-old shortstop named Sixto Sanchez, and Braun phoned Sal Agostinelli, the Phillies' international scouting director. He needed money to sign the kid.

"It wasn't a lot of money," Jordan said.

Sanchez, now 18 and a starting pitcher, may have been the biggest revelation of 2016. He posted a 0.50 ERA in 11 starts for the Gulf Coast Phillies. He struck out 44 in 54 innings with just eight walks. His fastball sits between 94 and 95 mph and can reach the upper 90s.

"He's got a great arm," a scout said.

Sanchez was just one part of a GCL rotation that generated praise. Mauricio Llovera, a 20-year-old Venezuelan righthander, had a 1.87 ERA with 56 strikeouts and 12 walks in 53 innings. Nick Fanti, a 19-year-old 31st-round draft pick, had a 1.57 ERA with 65 strikeouts and nine walks in 512/3 innings. Kevin Gowdy and Kyle Young, two picks from last June, are highly regarded.

And that was just one young rotation.

The best group might have been at low-A Lakewood, which is playing for a South Atlantic League championship. Franklyn Kilome, the sinewy 21-year-old righthander, pitched to a 2.73 ERA with 123 strikeouts and 40 walks in his final 20 starts. "Stupid numbers," Jordan said. With the help of Brian Sweeney, a former big-league pitcher and first-year pitching coach at Lakewood, Kilome made adjustments following three ugly starts.

Alberto Tirado, acquired from Toronto for Ben Revere, posted a 2.19 ERA with 83 strikeouts and 25 walks in 531/3 innings as a starter after his banishment to extended spring training. He throws 100 mph. He is eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft. "Tirado has the best arm in our system," Jordan said.

Lakewood also boasted Jose Taveras, the system's strikeout leader, and Seranthony Dominguez. At short-season Williamsport, Adonis Medina, Bailey Falter, Jojo Romero, and Cole Irvin all impressed.

"So many intriguing guys," said one scout, who predicted the Phillies could begin to package some young arms in the next two years to acquire talent closer to the majors.

A second scout put it this way: "A lot of low-level arms like, 'Wow, there's a chance a lot of these guys could hit.' That's what every organization wants."

Williams, Crawford stall

The closest thing to a disappointment in 2016 was the stalled development of Nick Williams and J.P. Crawford at triple-A Lehigh Valley. The Phillies had hoped either one or both could emerge as an elite prospect; most scouts still view them as solid everyday regulars in the majors. They were two of the youngest players in the International League.

Williams, after June 18, walked just two times in 276 plate appearances. The 22-year-old outfielder struck out 74 times and had a .618 OPS in those games. Williams' problems bothered Jordan. They were attitude-related.

"Nick got frustrated when he started going bad and he didn't handle it because all he could think about was Philadelphia," Jordan said. "Nick Williams is going to be a good player. He did not stay in the moment. He did not stay grounded where he was. He got frustrated. It's youth. He needs to handle things better than that.

"We're going to develop a good major-league player there. I just think he got in a hurry and it hurt him. Every time he had a bad day, he felt like he got a little farther from Philadelphia. That's the wrong way to play the game. I like this kid a lot. He wants to be a good player. He's a good worker."

Said one scout: "I didn't like the way he went about his business. There are some flaws in his swing, some holes he needs to fix."

"When he's locked in," another said, "it's pretty good."

Crawford slugged just .318 in 385 plate appearances with the IronPigs while still displaying strong plate discipline. Jordan wants to see his top prospect add strength.

"What he got this year," Jordan said, "he needed."

Reading duo

No two players in the Phillies system generate a difference of opinion like Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins, who combined to bash 78 homers at double-A Reading. Take this sampling on Cozens, who homered 40 times with 186 strikeouts:

"How will he react to good breaking balls at the big-league level?" one scout said. "Will he be Russell Branyan or Adam Dunn?"

"At times I saw him whaling away, then I saw great patience and pitch recognition," a second scout said. "It's there. I liked the way he handled himself when he struck out. There was some maturity."

"He has platoon-type splits," a third scout said. "Big platoon splits. That leads you to believe he's the strong side of a platoon in the outfield."

A fourth scout quipped that Cozens has 90 raw power, which does not exist on the traditional 20-80 scouting scale.

Hoskins, two scouts agreed, is a good fastball hitter but one who struggles with breaking balls. A lack of athleticism, one scout said, could hurt him later. His season was more even than Cozens' in terms of home-road and lefty-righty splits.

"Rhys has been a pretty consistent run-producing bat since we drafted him," Jordan said.

The risers

One of the better developments, Jordan said, was how some players handled promotions. Scott Kingery, in his first full pro season, ended at double-A Reading. The second baseman is touted for his baseball instincts.

"I love the year he had," Jordan said. "He absolutely ran out of gas. . . . He gave us everything he had. His overall numbers suffered at the end. I don't care about it. I think he's going to be a special player, offensively and defensively."

Righthander Nick Pivetta, acquired in the Jonathan Papelbon trade, raised his strikeouts and lowered his walks. He finished at triple A. So did righty Ben Lively, acquired for Marlon Byrd. He had a 2.69 ERA in 28 games, 18 of which he won. Elniery Garcia, a 21-year-old lefthander, mastered high-A Clearwater and pitched well in a postseason game for Reading. They will all be added to the 40-man roster.

Victor Arano could be the best relief prospect in the system. He came to the Phillies from Los Angeles in the Roberto Hernandez trade and moved to the bullpen in 2016. He struck out 95 and walked 19 in 792/3 innings and thrived after a promotion to Reading. One scout slapped a setup man grade on Arano while another said he has "closer's stuff." Along with Kingery, Arano will go to the Arizona Fall League.

"He's in the role he likes," Jordan said. "He loves what he's doing and he's totally dominant right now."

The elite question

Jordan said he often compares his system with that of the Yankees' because their affiliates are all in the same leagues and both organizations are in the nascent stages of rebuilding. The Yankees, scouts said, have more prospects with higher potential.

"I understand the point," Jordan said. "I probably don't totally agree with it. But it's fair."

Jordan then pointed to Jorge Alfaro and Roman Quinn. Alfaro, perhaps the most athletic catcher in the minors, could be elite at that position.

"If we get Roman Quinn for five or six months," Jordan said, "that's elite ability."

Mickey Moniak, the No. 1 overall pick last June, could attain that label next season. He produced in his pro debut, with a .749 OPS in 194 plate appearances in the Gulf Coast League.

But what scouts like about the Phillies system is the sheer quantity of viable major-league players. The organization was heavily scouted in the final months of the season because other teams anticipate the Phillies' either losing a few players in the Rule 5 draft or making some trades from their system to alleviate a roster crunch. Two scouts saw catcher Andrew Knapp, who had a mediocre season, as a possible trade chip.

There are options.

"An average to an above-average major-league player, you're talking about a really good player," Jordan said. "A really good player. You get to elite level, if that's the area we're missing, maybe they're right. I don't know. I think Cozens has impact, elite power. If he makes enough contact and is a good enough hitter, he may change someone's opinion going forward."

mgelb@philly.com

@mattgelb