This week, at the Phillies’ winter charity banquet in Lakewood, NJ, I had the opportunity to speak with Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan about many matters related to the Phillies developmental system. Included in the topics of discussion were the depth at the catcher position, the team’s plans for some of their youngest prospects and two former top draft picks among other things.
Prior to joining the Phils last off-season, the former pro catcher held the position of director of scouting with the Baltimore Orioles. The University of Oklahoma product also previously worked in scouting with the Expos and Marlins.
Read ahead for that full interview.
– Looking back on last year, it seems the system underwent a bit of a refined approach since you were hired, with several players from the 2012 draft class quickly made their debuts with Class A full season Lakewood. In previous seasons that was rather rare. Can you speak on that a bit?
Well, I don’t know, as far as the change of approach. But, the thing that I really tried to do last year, when I came over, was I tried to involve as many people as I could in our decision making process. I did not make those decisions by myself. I really leaned on Benny Looper, our assistant GM, who has done my job before and he is my boss. But, I also leaned heavily on the managers and the rovers that see the players, really, more than I do, that knew the players. And I think there were some instances where maybe we were being more aggressive, maybe, than the past. But really, it was a group decision and most of them I think were good decisions. I think a couple of them maybe the player wasn’t quite as ready as we thought, but, you know, I don’t really believe in pushing guys, but I believe in keeping them challenged and that’s what we tried to do.
– The Phillies currently have considerable catching depth in their developmental ranks. Is that a nice luxury to have?
It is and it’s very unusual and we’re very fortunate, as an organization. It’s a hard, hard position to find and we feel good. We really feel good. Obviously, we have a fine catcher in the Major Leagues, an All-Star catcher. But, you know, when you look at Double-A and Triple-A, behind that, we’ve got Steven Lerud, who did a good job for our Major League team, when he went up last year. And he’s a very good defensive catcher, but prospect wise, when you look at (Sebastian) Valle and (Cameron) Rupp and Tommy Joseph, obviously, you know, those guys have gotten a lot of attention and it’s warranted, because they’re, I think…they have talent, but it’s a competitive situation and that’s gonna help all of them, because they’re gonna have to come to camp ready to go and ready to perform. We like that, down low we’ve got some guys that we like as well.
– Former 1st round draft pick outfielder Zach Collier had a nice year in 2012, following his suspension for banned substances. What are your thoughts on Zach and what do you think the future holds for him?
I’m proud of Zach as far as the way he handled his suspension. We kept him in extended (spring training) and played him in a lot of games there, so that when he was ready (to be activated), he was ready to go. He didn’t have to play himself into shape. He was in shape and had seen live pitching. But, I’m really proud of him because he handled it very well and he had a good summer, tailed off a little bit at the end of the Florida State League, but he did well and then he went to the (Arizona) Fall League and did really well. I think that’s the guy that we’re counting on, because it’s a left-handed swing that you can trust and he can run and he can throw. He can do a lot of things. And, yeah, I’m proud of him.
– Another outfielder that was drafted in the first round, Anthony Hewitt has been slow to progress in his pro career. He’ll turn 24-years-old early in the season. Is it premature to call Hewitt a little bit of a disappointment, based on where he was drafted?
Last year was obviously my first year to be around Anthony and I got to see him play all year, and I had a good conversation with him this past week on the phone and what I told him is kind of what I believe- he has every physical ability needed to be a really, really good Major League player. We talked about the mental approach, the plan at the plate, you know, the focus. There’s certain things for me that we’re gonna really focus on in February and March in spring training with him, I told him. Again, I like a lot of what I saw with him. I think Double-A is gonna be a good challenge for him, but I really hope that in six, seven more weeks, we’re gonna be in Florida, before the season starts, we can hit on some things. No, he’s no disappointment. We still have work to do. But he’s a worker and I know he’s got the ability and I know he’s got the desire. We’ve just got to try to hit on some things.
– A couple of young guys that were drafted in the early rounds a couple years ago, shortstop Roman Quinn (2nd round, 2011) and outfielder Larry Greene Jr. (1st round, 2011) would be expected to play with Lakewood soon. Do you agree those two will be BlueClaws to start the 2013 season?
Oh, absolutely. I mean that’s our expectations for each of those guys. Two very, very exciting young players. You know, when you start with Roman, a switch-hitting shortstop, that has top-of-the-scale speed…he will arguably be the fastest player in (the South Atlantic) League when he goes up, but he made a lot of progress defensively and offensively last year. And, sky’s the limit. I like his make up, he’s a good worker. And, really, he’s got a long way to go, he has the physical ability to one day be a really, really good impact type player. And really, the same thing for Larry. Larry was a little bit behind, coming into spring training physically. He really worked hard in extended, got in shape. I’m probably as proud of him as anyone, simply because not only did I think he made a lot of progress with the bat, but he can be a pretty good left fielder. For a guy his size, he was running Major League average down the line, last summer, so, again both guys can be good players and they got a lot of work to do. I expect them to be BlueClaws.
– Another young guy on the rise, younger than those two, is 17-year-old outfielder Carlos Tocci. What are your thoughts on Carlos and his future?
Well, “Toch” is probably as instinctive a young player as I’ve seen in a while. He really has a good clock. The game’s a little slow to him, especially in center field. He’s a glider, not a burner. He’s an above average runner, but he doesn’t look like it when he runs. But he always gets there. He’s got a really good instinct for the game. He’s not very strong and that’s something we focused on this winter and we’ve added some strength. About 10 pounds to his body, which is hard to do, because, you know, he’s skinny. But, he can get the bat to the ball. He’s got a real good feel for where his barrel is and so, again, I wouldn’t totally rule out the (possibility) that he’s on (the BlueClaws) at some point, if not from day one. We’re gonna challenge him and see what he’s capable of in spring training.
– Last year’s draft class featured some great talent in the early rounds with guys like Shane Watson, Dylan Cozens, Mitch Gueller and Chris Serritella. What is the outlook for those guys in the coming season?
I think the college guys, (full season Class A) is the right level for them. We’re talking about (Chris) Serritella or (Cameron) Perkins, the college players that we took last year. I like what I saw from them. They should be on this club when the season starts. As far as the young guys, I really like what Marti (Wolever) and his guys did last year in the draft. They really got some talented young players. Whether or not they’re ready to come to full season club day one, don’t know that. I like what I saw last summer and in instructional league and we’ll just wait and see.
– Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. often states a point of view that no player is untouchable (in trades), if it makes the team or the organization better. Clearly, there would be players you’d rather not get calls about, but do you share that same frame of mind regarding trade availability?
That’s Ruben’s call, you know, and I think the thing that we have to- the thing that I feel like we have to do is two things…obviously, develop the players. The program needs to be sound so that they’re gonna get better. And two, evaluate our players correctly. It’s the decision of him, Scott (Proefrock), Benny Looper, those guys, whether or not we move players for established Major League guys. For me, my job is to make sure they’re developing and evaluate them correctly, so that, if we’re gonna move them, we have a pretty good idea of what we’re giving up.
– Along with the young arms that the Phillies have already used at the big league level, there is a crop of young hurlers on the verge of being able to help the big club, with guys like Julio Rodriguez, Jonathan Pettibone, Colby Shreve and Tyler Knigge. Do you think we could see some of those guys promoted to the Majors this year?
I fully expect that, you know, part of the spring training package that I sent out to players this year was reminding them that we did have a lot of minor league guys go to Major Leagues last year and contribute. Probably more important was the experience they got and the fact that that should really help in Major League camp and help them try to make the club. We absolutely expect our Major League club to need our help this year and, so, that’s our whole focus. They guys you mentioned and others. Hey, we’re just gonna go to work. We’re gonna get them ready and hopefully, when there’s a need, we’ve got somebody that’s playing well or pitching well that fits the need that Charlie has and we’ll have someone ready.
– With Roly de Armas managing the Gulf Coast League team for a while and now Nelson Prada in charge of the short-season Williamsport team, the two lowest stateside affiliates of the Phillies have Spanish speaking skippers. Is that something that is done on purpose to help Latin players transition to playing in the U.S. more easily?
I really think it’s important. It’s not paramount. It doesn’t have to be that way. When you have a qualified candidate, someone that can communicate with all players, it has to be a benefit. And, honestly, the Latin coaches are harder on the Latin guys than they are on the American guys. They are! It’s a pride thing. And, so, I don’t worry one bit about the guys that we’ve got and I know that they’ll treat them all the same. The fact that they can talk to them and communicate, get a point home, that’s very important.
– And speaking of managers, it appears that in recent years, the Phillies have focused on developing managerial and coaching prospect, not only player prospects. With guys like Mark Parent coming through and now with Chris Truby, Dusty Wathan and Mickey Morandini managing teams, as well as Ryne Sandberg going up to the Phillies, what are your thoughts on that?
I totally agree with you. I inherited a bunch of really good baseball guys. It starts with the managers and there are others. I think we have, obviously, we’ve got the six managers here in the United States on the minor league clubs, honestly, we’ve got about 10 or 12 managerial candidates in our system, so, listen- they’ve done a great job hiring people and it’s a great place to work. I can vouch for that now. And, yeah, we attract good people and hopefully, the environment is good to work in and that’s my job to make sure it is. And we’ve got really good people.