LAKEWOOD, N.J. — The Lakewood BlueClaws have flaunted the youngest pitching staff in the South Atlantic League, the place that serves as a player's first exposure to the rigors of a full professional season. They have graduated two lefties, Ranger Suarez and JoJo Romero, to high-A Clearwater. Sixto Sanchez is the organization's top pitching prospect.
And Adonis Medina has struck out 27.1 percent of the batters he's faced, just a tick below Suarez's and Romero's rates. That is notable because Medina, who is 20, struck out a mere 12.8 percent last season in rookie ball.
"I'm concentrating more on the strike zone," Medina said through an interpreter. "I have been attacking the zone a little more."
He is throwing a slider, too, a weapon that Lakewood pitching coach Brian Sweeney said can be even better. Medina threw a loopy curveball last season when he struck out 34 in 64 2/3 innings. The slider is really a slurve, and Medina still throws a slow (more traditional) curveball. Hector Berrios, pitching coach at Williamsport, tinkered with Medina's slider at the end of last season.
Medina played with it all winter, while at home in the Dominican Republic.
"He can spin the baseball very well," Sweeney said. "There's a lot of room for it to get better and harder. He has a great break to it. But it's 82 [mph] max. With the arm speed he has, he could throw it at 88. Then it'll be devastating."
It would. Combine that with a fastball that has touched 98 — but lacked control — and typically sits between 94 and 96, and on a good night, Medina is an imposing prospect. He's had good nights in 2017. He's had bad nights, too.
Medina has a 3.58 ERA. He has hit 10 batters and thrown eight wild pitches in 75 1/3 innings.
"The biggest step in his development is being consistent," Sweeney said. "Consistent in his delivery, which will make him consistent in throwing fastballs for strikes."
Medina already has reached a career high in innings and starts, and the Phillies will be cautious with him and every other arm in Class A ball. He signed for $70,000, and has emerged as one in a crowd of low-minors arms that offer promise.
"I always had 10 or 11 outings," Medina said. "This time, I know, it'll maybe be double. I'm concentrating on being in shape, doing the conditioning and all that work that will keep me healthy all the way to the end."
Darick Hall, a first baseman and a 14th-round pick last summer from Dallas Baptist, missed 20 days in April because of a high ankle sprain. Still, he leads the South Atlantic League with 17 homers and ranks fourth in slugging percentage (.536).
"He's been a great presence in the middle of the order," Lakewood manager Marty Malloy said. "He's a college guy. You have [Mickey] Moniak, who has hit in the three-hole all year and just turned 19 a few weeks back. Hall has given him protection. It gives us a presence in the middle of the order you don't worry about."
Hall will turn 22 at the end of July. He could soon move to Clearwater if the Phillies shuffle first basemen at the top of the organization.
Mark Appel, who walked five of the nine batters he faced in his last start for triple-A Lehigh Valley, was placed on the disabled list Thursday with a strained right shoulder. … Trevor Bettencourt, a righthanded reliever, was promoted to high-A Clearwater after posting a 3.28 ERA in 25 games for Lakewood. Bettencourt, a 25th-round pick last summer from Santa Barbara, struck out 55 and walked five in 35 2/3 innings. "One of the best curveballs in the system," Sweeney said. … Elniery Garcia was reinstated from his 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, but he was not assigned to a team. The lefthanded pitcher, who is on the 40-man roster, dealt with a shoulder issue near the end of spring training. … The Phillies released righthander John Richy, one of the two players acquired from Los Angeles in the Chase Utley trade.
Which players are on top of their games?
JoJo Romero: He struck out 19 in 12 2/3 innings in his first two starts after a promotion to high-A Clearwater. That'll play.