The Philadelphia Phillies have been undergoing a public rebuilding program for the last two to three years.
Management has made some astute trades. They have also done a solid job making selections in the annual Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
It all adds up to the Phillies accumulating an enviable array of minor league prospects. Some of those players have already begun their big league careers.
This is most especially noticeable on the mound, where starting pitchers Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola are each now in their second full big league season.
And even more are just a phone call away. The Phillies top farm club, the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs, are roughly a 60 miles north drive up the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Allentown, PA.
Based on MLB.com rankings, a full seven of the Phillies top dozen prospects, including three of the top four, are starting this season with the Pigs.
THE BASH BROTHERS
Two of those players are 24-year old first baseman Rhys Hoskins and 22-year old outfielder Dylan Cozens. A year ago, the pair became known as the “Bash Brothers” for their power exploits at AA Reading. Hoskins ranks 12th and Cozens is 6th on the Phillies Top Prospects list.
In 2016, Cozens crushed 40 home runs and knocked in 125 runs while also stealing 21 bases. Hoskins banged 38 long balls and knocked in 116 runs.
Hoskins is off to a hot start at AAA, hitting for a .333/.417/.571 slash over his first half-dozen games. Cozens got off slow at .190/.292/.333 thus far.
The fans at Coca-Cola Park have already been introduced to the 2017 “Bash Brothers” version. The pair each homered in the first game of a doubleheader this past Sunday.
PAIR LOOKING TO OVERCOME PAST TROUBLES
Ranked 7th on the Phillies prospect list is speedy outfielder Roman Quinn, who already received a cup of coffee last September with the big club.
Quinn is perhaps my personal favorite among Phils’ prospects. He has game-changing speed, and is a natural table setter for the top of the future Phillies batting order.
The only thing holding back the soon-to-be 24-year old has been a propensity for injuries. Quinn is hitting .400, has an early stolen base, and is tied with Hoskins for the IronPigs lead in runs scored.
The lone pitcher among the top dozen at Lehigh Valley is former #1 overall MLB draft pick Mark Appel, who is ranked 10th on the Phillies list.
The top pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft by the Houston Astros, Appel will turn 25 years old at this year’s MLB All-Star break. He struck out two and walked three batters in his first AAA start of the season, allowing four hits over 4.2 innings.
THE TOP TRIO
The best of the prospects at Lehigh Valley are shortstop J.P. Crawford (1), outfielder Nick Williams (3), and catcher Jorge Alfaro (4), the latter having also received a cup of coffee in Philly last year.
Crawford has been the club’s top prospect for the last three years, but his offensive development has been slow. But Crawford is also still very young. Thus far in 2017, the 22-year old is hitting for just a .125/.160/.208 slash line.
Williams was plagued by immaturity issues a year ago. He seemed much more prepared this spring, though he too is off to a slow start. The 23-year old is hitting for just a .167/.211/.222 slash.
Alfaro will turn 24-years old in June. He is off hot, hitting for a .500/.524/.550 slash. The backstop came to the Phils in the big Cole Hamels deal with Texas back in 2015 along with Williams, Eickhoff, and pitching prospect Jake Thompson.
LEHIGH VALLEY LOADED
Thompson is also at Lehigh Valley. The 23-year old righty lost his MLB rookie status a year ago when he tossed 53.2 innings for the Phillies across his first 10 big league starts.
In addition to Appel and Thompson, at least four more pitchers at Lehigh Valley can be considered legitimate big league prospects.
They include Zach Eflin, who came from the Dodgers via the Padres organization in the Jimmy Rollins trade, and who tossed the Phillies only two complete games a year ago.
Ben Lively is a 25-year old who came from Cincinnati in a deal for Marlon Byrd. 24-year old Nick Pivetta came from Washington in a deal for Jonathan Papelbon. And the Phillies signed 23-year old Ricardo Pinto out of Venezuela in 2011.
Finally, Jesmuel Valentin is an infielder who will turn 23-years of age in May. He came to the Phillies in one of the earliest of the rebuild deals, a 2014 trade with the Dodgers for reliever Roberto Hernandez.
Valentin very nearly made the Phillies 2017 Opening Day roster, perhaps the final cut when the club elected to keep Brock Stassi. He is off to a strong start, hitting .474 with a .500 OBP as the IronPigs second baseman.
Every one of the prospects mentioned here could find their way to Philadelphia at some point in this 2017 season. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs are loaded with legitimate help for the big club. Some of these players will undoubtedly make it, some will fizzle out.
One thing that we can say for sure, the Pigs are loaded. If the team mostly stays together, a longshot, they could contend for a AAA championship. More likely, at least half of these guys are in Philly before it’s all over this year.
Phillies fans should get their tickets now, and take the drive up the Turnpike to watch a legitimately exciting minor league ball club at Lehigh Valley.