Five things to look for this season in the Phillies' minor leagues.
The biggest need on the Phillies is starting pitching, and the best place to find it is at advanced Class A Clearwater. The consensus top Phillies prospect is righthander Sixto Sanchez, who won't turn 20 until July 29. He was promoted from Lakewood to Clearwater last August. This season, he will start at Clearwater, although director of player development Joe Jordan says Sanchez won't likely pitch with the Threshers for about the first two weeks because he came to spring training with the flu, setting him back. In addition, the Phillies were going to limit his innings anyway. At Lakewood, he had a 2.64 ERA with 64 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings. Sanchez had a 4.55 ERA in five starts at Clearwater with 20 strikeouts and nine walks in 27 2/3 innings.
Another top prospect at Clearwater is righthander Adonis Medina, No. 4 on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 list of Phillies prospects. The 21-year-old righthander had a 3.01 ERA for Lakewood, with 133 strikeouts and 39 walks in 119 2/3 innings.
Reading has four pitchers who are the Phillies' Nos. 9, 10, 12 and 13 prospects, respectively: lefthander JoJo Romero, 21; righthander Franklyn Kilome, 22; lefthander Ranger Suarez, 22; and righthander Seranthony Dominguez, 23. All but Dominguez will be in the starting rotation. Kilome, Suarez, and Dominguez are all on the Phillies' 40-man roster.
As for Lehigh Valley, Zach Eflin, who made 11 starts for the Phillies in each of the two previous years, would be a candidate to return to the big leagues if the Phillies need a starter and if he can show more consistency. Righthander Enyel De Los Santos, 22, acquired in the Freddy Galvis trade with San Diego, is the Phillies' No. 15 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, one slot ahead of righthander Tom Eshelman, who will turn 24 in June and was 10-3 with a 2.23 ERA in 18 starts for the IronPigs last year.
Outfield might be the deepest position in the Phillies' minor-league system. Roman Quinn and Dylan Cozens return to Lehigh Valley. Quinn, who didn't look out of place in a 15-game, late-season stint with the Phillies in 2016, has been dogged by injuries and was limited to 45 games last year. He must prove he can stay healthy. Cozens, a former second-round pick, had 27 home runs last season for Lehigh Valley, but hit just .210 and struck out 194 times in 476 at-bats. This season could determine if he will ever turn the corner.
Three former first-round draft choices are outfielders. Cornelius Randolph (2015 draft) will start the season at Reading. Last year's top pick, centerfielder Adam Haseley, and Mickey Moniak, the No. 1 overall selection in 2016, are both at Clearwater. Since center field is the best position for both, they will also be used as corner outfielders there, according to Jordan.
Besides Cozens, one of the Phillies' top power prospects is Jhailyn Ortiz (yet another outfielder) who will begin the season at low-A Lakewood. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Ortiz hit .302 with a .961 OPS in 159 at-bats for short-season Williamsport. He struck out 47 and had eight home runs. Ortiz won't turn 20 until November. He was signed for $4 million in 2015, and his power is expected to develop as he gets older. Of course, he will be playing in a difficult park for power hitters at Lakewood, which should be a good test. He is No. 8 among MLB Pipeline's top Phillies prospects.
The Phillies are moving Reading's Dominguez to the bullpen. The 6-foot-1 righthander made 15 starts last season, 13 for Clearwater. In those 13 starts, covering 62 1/3 innings, he struck out 75, walked 30 and posted a 3.61 ERA. Manager Greg Legg says he will probably give him multiple innings to begin with, until eventually giving him a shot to close games. Hard-throwing relievers are coveted, and this could be a faster path to the big leagues for Dominguez.