State of the System: Philadelphia Phillies
Starting in October and running through the end of the year, MiLB.com's State of the System series will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each Major League organization, highlights prospects who've made the biggest strides in 2020 and offers a peek at 2021. There are things to like about where
Starting in October and running through the end of the year, MiLB.com's State of the System series will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each Major League organization, highlights prospects who've made the biggest strides in 2020 and offers a peek at 2021.
There are things to like about where the Phillies stand as 2020 wanes. They have
But Philadelphia hasn’t found a way to get that far. Former general manager Matt Klentak’s five-year tenure came and went without a winning season or playoff appearance. Only the Mariners have a longer playoff drought than the Phillies’ nine-year absence. And when managing partner John Middleton spoke with the media following Klentak’s demotion last month, he was blunt about why.
“You can’t build a championship team around free agents,” Middleton said, “and we just didn’t have the internal players coming up to really field the competitive team that we needed.”
Even if it’s also fair to say the full merit of the amateur talent brought into the system under Klentak is yet to be determined, Middleton’s assessment was true; Nola was the Phils' only Draft pick to amass more than 1.0 bWAR for the team this year. It will be the task of the next leadership group, as well as director of player development Josh Bonifay, to get more out of the club’s prospects.
Spencer Howard doesn't show favoritism.— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) September 1, 2020
The No. 2 #Phillies prospect shows all his pitches some 💗pic.twitter.com/aGNWSWjjpB
Sure, it sounds crazy to say pitching is the Phillies' strength when their bullpen ERA in 2020 was a historically bad 7.06. If the pitching prospects were so good, why didn’t they get a chance to help the struggling bullpen? Because they’re just not ready. Abel didn’t get to pitch his high school senior season because of the pandemic and just had his introduction to pro ball at the club’s instructional camp in Clearwater, Florida.
What Bonifay saw at instructs bodes well for the Phillies’ pitching stock beyond their top prospects.
It’s worth noting that Miller, the club’s No. 10 prospect, is the only one in that group who's ranked in the Phillies’ Top 30. It seems the organization feels better about its pitchers than some outside evaluators.
“These are guys to watch for very soon in the future,” Bonifay said. “We feel good about where our arms are moving forward.”
Areas for growth: While Harper is entrenched in right field, it’s difficult to see the obvious long-term answer at the other outfield spots. Andrew McCutchen has one year left on his contract, while
Four of the Phillies’ Top 30 prospects are outfielders:
Moniak, the top overall Draft pick in 2016, is still only 22 and got a brief taste of the Majors over the summer. Muzziotti was a 2019 Florida State League All-Star, although he's known more for his glove and speed than his bat. Ortiz signed for $4 million in 2015 because of his 60-grade power and probably would have played at Double-A in 2020. Rojas, 19, has added to his prospect stock the past two years but has yet to make his full-season debut.
If the Phillies are going to get back to their winning ways by developing from within, it’s logical at least one of them will have to become a productive everyday player. It’s possible. It’s just that other positions have more depth. Second-ranked
“I think we're well-rounded as an organization,” Bonifay said. “I don't want anybody to sleep on us.”
What’s changed: Bohm went from one of Philadelphia’s best prospects to one of its best players. The 24-year-old hit .338 with four homers, 23 RBIs and an .881 OPS. He was clutch for the big league club, batting .452 (19-for-42) with runners in scoring position. His graduation from prospect status put Howard atop the Phillies’ rankings, but he should matriculate early next year. The expectation is that Howard will be healthier and better than the 5.92 ERA he posted over 24 1/3 innings.
Abel headlined Philadelphia's four-player Draft class. The 19-year-old power pitcher from Oregon didn’t fit the club's usual first-round mold -- it hadn’t dipped into the high school ranks that early since 2010 -- but Abel seemed worth it. Bonifay said he shined last month at instructs.
“He's the type of kid that wants to learn,” Bonifay said. “He's open-minded. He did a tremendous job during COVID to keep his body in shape, continue to throw and maximize his time during that to continue to grow as a player. But his fastball was electric. His slider had power with good swing-and-miss. And he's gonna be the complete package. He's mature beyond his age at this point and he's the kind of guy that brings a notebook with him everywhere he goes because wants to learn and he wants to soak up all the knowledge that he possibly can.”
After the abbreviated Draft, the Phils signed 10 more pitchers. They got their first look at most of them in pinstripes during instructional camp. Bonifay noted Billy Sullivan,
Alternate site standouts: When the Phillies assembled their initial 60-man player pool, it didn’t include many lower-level prospects or developmental projects; it was heavy on veterans and relief options. As the year went on, however, the average age at Coca-Cola Park dropped. And when injuries impacted the Major League roster, some of the youngest players at the alternate site had to step up. Medina, for example, made a spot start on Sept. 20.
“I think they all thrived to a certain extent. They all learned. They all grew," Bonifay said. "They all had the opportunity to see what competition at the highest level really means. They all had a chance to -- it's about getting results, it's about winning. It's beating your competition consistently, night in and night out. And they got to feel the pressure and they got to feel the bruises a little bit if they didn't succeed. But they also got to experience success in smaller degrees.”
Maybe no success was more surprising than Marchan. It’s not that the Phillies don’t think highly of their No. 7 prospect -- they do. Manager Joe Girardi showered praise on the 21-year-old’s receiving skills during Spring Training. But Marchan’s high-contact, low-power approach at the dish was still developing. He had never homered in 846 Minor League plate appearances, then clobbered a three-run dinger to spark a Sept. 18 win over the Blue Jays.
#Phillies No. 8 prospect Rafael Marchan goes big fly.pic.twitter.com/5LOdy9peU9— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) September 19, 2020
Impact rookies: Bohm, of course, had the most impact. He hit two walk-offs and received nine first-place votes for Rookie of the Year.
But Philadelphia's bullpen could have been even worse had it not been for No. 14 prospect
“Brogdon was just refining some of his secondary stuff and continuing to get his velo back,” Bonifay said. “JoJo did an outstanding job of attacking the zone with his stuff and also showing a wipeout slider at times. I think these guys just really had a sense of urgency to get there, a want and a high desire to play at the highest level and compete. And they took advantage of all the resources that we had at the alternate site.”
Next big thing: Abel has the most potential of anyone in the system, but he won’t be next. Fourth-ranked
“Francisco Morales, he was electric as well,” Bonifay said. “He was getting the ball glove side. Location was a thing that we've continued to work on, but it was spot-on. Slider continues to be the big swing-and-miss pitch for him, and his fastball was up to 97. So it was really, really good.”
Joe Bloss is a contributor for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss.