Phils brass: Minors short on offense

Posted: July 14, 2014

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and director of player development Joe Jordan couldn't have been more frank when assessing the minor-league system.

"There are not enough offensive players in our system," Amaro said last week. "We feel we need to do better than that, and it certainly is something that is a priority for us."

Jordan went further. "We need more of everything," he said. "We are like 29 other teams."

In fairness, the system has helped the team in a few spots this year. Righthanded reliever Ken Giles has made an immediate impact after being called up from Lehigh Valley on June 8.

Much of the bullpen consists of players developed through the system, such as Jake Diekman, Antonio Bastardo, Justin De Fratus, and Mario Hollands. They were either drafted or signed as an amateur free agent by the Phillies.

In addition, David Buchanan has gone 5-5 with a 4.40 ERA since being promoted May 24 from Lehigh Valley. (Buchanan was sent back to Lehigh Valley after beating Milwaukee on Thursday, when the contract of veteran outfielder Grady Sizemore was selected from the IronPigs.)

As Amaro suggested, the Phillies minor leagues haven't featured enough depth to make a major impact on offense.

For example, when catchers Carlos Ruiz and Wil Nieves went on the disabled list with injuries recently, the replacements were 25-year-old Cameron Rupp and journeyman Koyie Hill, who both entered the weekend batting under .200.

It also hasn't helped that two of the top prospects - third baseman Maikel Franco, ranked No. 2 by The Inquirer, and lefthander Jesse Biddle (No. 5) - have had disappointing seasons.

Biddle, the first-round pick in 2010 out of Germantown Friends, was placed on the inactive list June 26, basically to take a step back from a frustrating season. He is working out in Florida.

Biddle has regressed in his second season at double-A Reading and was 3-9 with a 5.03 ERA when the Phillies decided he needed a break.

"He's active and throwing and working on things he needs to work on," Jordan said.

A scout who saw Biddle pitch this season said, "He has lost his curveball."

Franco has had a difficult transition to triple A. Even though he began hitting better recently, Franco entered the weekend hitting .234 with a .656 OPS. In his last 10 games for Lehigh Valley entering the weekend, Franco was batting .370 with a 1.035 OPS.

"When he was really slumping, he was taking good pitches and swinging at bad pitches," the scout said.

There is every reason to believe that Franco is the future third baseman of the Phillies and that Biddle will be in the rotation, and the Phillies are depending on them for future contributions. With prospects, however, nobody knows for sure.

This is a Phillies system in which the glamour place is suddenly high-A Clearwater, Fla., with three of The Inquirer's top six Phillies midseason prospects.

They are shortstop J.P. Crawford (No. 1), righthander Aaron Nola (No. 3), and centerfielder Roman Quinn (No. 6).

Quinn moved from shortstop to center field when Crawford joined Clearwater from Lakewood on June 19.

Nola was the first-round draft choice from LSU and is expected to rise swiftly through the system.

"We have seen some pretty good things in our lower minor leagues, some improvement there," Amaro said. "Obviously we want to see more improvement toward the top."

Another highlight has been the progress of outfielder Cameron Perkins, who was hitting .342 at Reading before being promoted to Lehigh Valley. Perkins, however, has gotten off to a slow start in triple A.

"It's not been a good first half and not a lot of good news aside from Crawford and perhaps Cam Perkins," said John Manuel, the editor of Baseball America.

Manuel also cited the play of unheralded Lakewood catcher-first baseman Willians Astudillo, who entered the weekend hitting .319, and Clearwater's Quinn, who has looked strong since returning May 19 from an offseason Achilles injury.

"Willians Astudillo is a nice breakthrough story, and Roman Quinn has done some nice things considering the injury he had," said Manuel, whose publication rated Crawford 23d and third baseman Maikel Franco 50th in Baseball America's Top 50 midseason rankings. "I'm sure there are other good stories, but they are few and far between."

The Phillies understand the work they need to do to replenish the system.

"We need more bats and need starting pitching depth, especially at the upper levels," Jordan said, echoing Amaro's goals.

One problem is that the Phillies struck out on high picks with a so-called big upside who never developed. A leading example was outfielder Anthony Hewitt, the first-round pick (24th overall) in 2008 who was finally released last month. Hewitt was a lifetime .223 hitter in seven minor-league seasons.

The Phillies' lack of depth in the system was evident by their draft strategy this year, when 26 of the first 27 selections in June were from four-year colleges.

Many of those players, such as Nola, second-round lefthander Matt Imhof of Cal Poly, and third-round centerfielder Aaron Brown of Pepperdine are among the players the Phillies hope make a quick ascent to the big leagues.

"I really like a lot of our players," Jordan said. "We think there are many who have a chance to be really good, but we need more."


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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