Much like the Philadelphia 76ers, the Phillies have been trusting a ‘process’ over the past couple seasons. A process that requires time and patience while the front office retools the farms system with fresh talent. A select few get to see the process of these prospects developing through the system. Luckily a friend of mine, Mike Ventola, has been a witness to some of the best talent the Phillies have had to offer in the minors. Ventola has been the Reading Fightin’ Phillies’ play-by-play broadcaster since 2014 and possesses a knowledge of the game and its prospects like none other. He was gracious enough to chat with me about the Phillies future and some of the prospects the fans should keep their eyes peeled for.
Mike Murphy: So has this been the most exciting season for you as broadcaster. Seeing as the Reading Fightins are first in all of professional baseball in terms of wins?
Mike Ventola: Without question it has probably been the most exciting season for me as a broadcaster. Just to watch all this talent here at one level. Not only to put together the most impressive season for a minor league team but secondly just to watch guys like Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins participate in a home run chase. Then you have guys like Roman Quinn and Scott Kingery who are speedy runners who create havoc on the base paths. Then there are veteran guys like Jake Fox helping these young guys move along. So it is a fun group to be around and hopefully they can make it all work and get chance to win an Eastern League Championship this year.
Murphy: So you started in independent baseball and you experienced a championship your first season as a broadcaster in that venue. What were some of the lessons you learned from that year that have helped you in your role as the Reading play-by-play guy.
Ventola: I started as the lead play-by-play guy back in 2012 for the Southern Illinois Miners. From there it allowed me to pretty much get me feet wet and settled in. My first year they did win a championship which was pretty exciting also getting that chance to experience playoff baseball at a level like that. From there I just started building some relationships which allowed me to find my way here to Reading.
Mike: So you’re a Pennsylvania guy. Grew up in Easton then went on to Immaculata for college. Is this almost a semi-dream-come-true since you were a Philadelphia guy growing up.
Ventola: It is a dream come true. It’s funny though my family was originally from northern New Jersey so I grew up a Yankees fan, but getting a chance to go through college in Philadelphia and having made the stop with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, I couldn’t have asked to join a better organization than the Phillies. To be the voice of this AA team here in Reading has been a dream come true. It has allowed me to pursue this dream and hopefully one day lead into a potential Major League job for years down the line. For now I am enjoying the ride. I am 28 and considered a ‘young man’ in the industry so hopefully that allows me to continue to work on my craft. This (Philadelphia) is the fourth-largest market in the entire country so to work for one of the farm teams with the Phillies can’t get much better!
Murphy: Well you certainly have the talent and I am positive you will make it to the major leagues at some point in the near future. So does is sway you at all to root for the Phillies even though you are a Yankees fan since birth?
Ventola: I will always be a Yankees fan but I have to be honest with you the Phillies have become my National League team. It would be dumb for me not to root for them because there are guys from my first year in 2014 that are now up putting on Phillies uniforms. Guys like Aaron Altherr and even briefly seeing guys like Caesar Hernandez and also Aaron Nola. Guys that I rode the bus with everyday. There’s guys on last years team that are eventually going to be up in the major leagues too so it is interesting to see guys like J.P. Crawford, Dylan Cozens, Roman Quinn, and Rhys Hoskins come down the line. Guys that will get up there and hopefully contribute everyday. So it would be shameful for me not to root for the Phillies. Even Tommy Joseph was a guy that was here my first year and Tommy is now playing first base everyday so I got to know Tommy quite well and it is hard not to root for those guys.
Murphy: Now you bring up an interesting point: Tommy kind of showed up out of no where. What are your thoughts on him? Did you think he would have this type of production especially when he got called up?
Ventola: I’m not surprised by the success he’s had as a first baseman and you know it is a shame that he got hurt because he was going to be a good catcher but luckily for him he can hit. For him being a little athletic himself I think he is going to continue to grow at the first base position and I hope that he’ll become the long-term first baseman. For him he has to continue to work defensively. He had to learn the position after being a catcher his entire playing career up until this point. Tommy is as hard of a worker there is if there is for anybody putting on a Phillies uniform. If you told me he would be the first baseman for years to come…I wouldn’t be surprised.
Murphy: So we are facing some-what of a logjam here: in the outfield and at the infield positions. A good problem that we haven’t had in a long time. You and I both talked about Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins. Now we have Tommy Joseph who is producing well along with guys like Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams who will be up soon with Roman Quinn. In your eyes what happens when all these young guys start knocking on the door?
Ventola: Right now this is a good problem for the Phillies to have. They are overloaded with talent and I think what you can end up seeing is they are going to sit there and say ‘we have multiple options for multiple positions’. And here is the thing too: some of these guys are going to be potential trade options. some of these guys are going to be picked up in the Rule Five drafts. so for now with the Phillies their biggest question is going to be: who can we protect? And why are we going to protect this ‘guy over that guy’. There are going to be some players that you would think are a part of the future but the Phillies are going to make some tough decisions. Right now they are going to let this thing play out. Lehigh Valley is deep in a playoff run, we (Reading) are in a playoff run, Clearwater is in a playoff run so you have a ton of talent right now in your top levels. Even Lakewood is having a strong second half. For me I think it’s going to be a busy off-season for Matt Klentak and it ultimately goes to show you that he had a tough time making deals at the deadline because he wanted to continue to make the system richer and he ended up doing that by looking to trade few guys and other organizations didn’t want to bite this time.
Murphy: General manager time: I’d like you to name one guy not named J.P. Crawford that you would protect from a Rule Five draft.
Ventola: It’s funny I was asked earlier about a certain player to keep an eye on and that guy for me is Andrew Pullin. When i watch him right now, he was a prospect, then not a prospect, and now he put himself back into play a little bit. I don’t equate him to this player but he reminds me of a little bit of Chase Utley. I don’t think he’ll be Chase but the way he approaches the plate reminds me of Utley. He has a short, compact, and tight swing very much like Utley. Provides some pop and he plays some good defense out in the corner outfield spot. He doesn’t have the strongest arm but I think he is going to be a guy that is going to continue to show people that he is a pretty good hitter. I think as long as you hit they’ll find a sport for you. Andrew Pullin is someone Phillies fans should keep on their radar.
Murphy: Well let me ask you about Aaron Nola and his injury. Do you think that his durability is in question?
Ventola: For Aaron Nola right now, it is a shame that he has had such an up-and-down type of year but I do think he is going to be a very good major league starting pitcher. I think for him right now going on the disabled list is an option that is best for him. It gives him a chance to shut down, recharge the batteries, and get ready to go whether he gets a chance to come back this year or even for next season. I simply think he had a sophomore slump. He is too good of a pitcher to be pitching as poorly as he did so I wholeheartedly expect for him in 2017 to have a monster year and to be a guy that the Phillies will be sitting there saying ‘all right this could be our anchor, this could be our guy right here for this rotation’.
Murphy: Speaking of 2017…my prediction is the Phillies contend for a wild card spot. I wanted to see if you agreed with that or when you might think we might see playoff baseball back in this city?
Ventola: I do think that they are going to compete for a wild card spot. Do I think they will get a wild card spot? Probably not but you know what to be in September and competing that is all you can ask for with this team. I think thats what the fans want at this point. So in 2017 expectations will be a little high after the overachieving year they had this year but I think with a young rotation there is going to be days where they all are dynamite and there’s going to be days where they are going to be saying ‘wow, what is going on here’? So I think once guys like Crawford and the rest of the young guys get up there, don’t be surprised if there is a struggle come early May. Some guys will be getting situated but once they get some games underneath them towards the end of May into the middle of June this team will start to take off a little bit. It is a very exciting time to be a Phillies fan…more than I can say about being a Yankee fan right now (he said with a chuckle). I will say it like this: they will be a playoff team in 2018, deep in the playoffs by 2019, and you can wholeheartedly expect them to be in a World Series maybe by 2019-2020 but definitely by 2021.
I love the bold predictions by Ventola. The man knows as well as anyone how deep this Phillies farm system has become over the last few seasons. You can catch Ventola anytime calling Reading Fighting’ Phillies baseball on CBS sports radio 98.5 FM/1240 AM in the Reading area. He is also a play-by-play voice of the New Jersey Institute of Technology Women’s Basketball team.