For all the talk about Ruben Amaro Jr. leaving the farm system depleted by the time he was shown the door … what did he really give up?
I count one farm system guy – one – that has turned into anything above a replacement-level player (Carlos Carrasco) at his next destination after the Phillies. Travis d’Arnaud can’t stay healthy, Michael Taylor got demoted in 2016 and Jonathan Villar and J.A. Happ had to be cast off a second (or third) time before they became stars. Who else are we really talking about here?
That doesn’t mean the system was stocked either, since some of Amaro’s sell-off trades bordered on unforgivable. Some of those trades, however, worked to build the system back up to where it is today, ready to provide the major league club with viable options throughout the team’s many, gaping holes.
But the Phillies are sitting at an interesting time right now. And when you’re talking about the class of rookies that could reach the majors in 2019, it could become the season where things get really, really crowded at the major-league level if these guys join guys like J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens as legitimate major leaguers:
Scott Kingery: Kingery (we talked about him in our 2018 piece) poses quite the conundrum for the Phillies. He’s a natural second baseman and has played no other position in the minors, but then there is reason No. 27,859 why this is such an important year for the franchise. If Cesar Hernandez continues his second-half run of 2016, he’s the man at second likely for the foreseeable future. The Phillies would love to see that, but then Kingery is left without a position. He could try one of the outfield spots, which would require extra seasoning in the minors. That likely would mean a full season in Reading this year and a full season in Allentown in 2018, leaving him primed for a 2019 callup when both his defense and offense are playable, and hopefully the team has figured out its outfield logjam.
Carlos Tocci: Geez, how long have we been hearing about Carlos Tocci? Signed out of Venezuela with Bobby Abreu in 1990 (perhaps it just seems that way), Tocci has been one of the most physically tantalizing players in the Phillies system after he signed (for real) in 2011. But he signed as a projectable 16-year-old and has moved through the Phillies system with the speed of molasses in January. He’s tough to project even now, because his body still hasn’t filled out – maybe it never will. He’s still just entering his age-22 year, and after spending the last year-and-a-half in Clearwater, it’s time for him to move to Reading and show the franchise something after registering an OPS of just .693 in his Clearwater repeat last year.
If anyone falls off this list, it’s probably him since the Phillies left him off the 40-man roster this offseason. He’s back because no one was ready to take a chance on him to stick in the majors all year. With a decent year in Reading, someone might take that chance in the next Rule 5 Draft. Or he may be protected and continued to be moved along slowly for a 2019 debut after the Phillies, let’s say, trade Cozens, Roman Quinn, Sixto Sanchez and Andrew Knapp to Cleveland for Corey Kluber (signed through 2019, team options for 2020 and 2021) after the 2018 season.
Elniery Garcia: One of the worst things you can do when talking about prospects is compare them to the outlier of their physical or stylistic comparison. Like when former Phillies’ flameout Joe Roa used to paint the corners with pinpoint accuracy, but could barely hit 87 mph. That led the optimistic, though misguided, to say, “Well, Greg Maddux can do it, so Roa can do it too.” Only that doesn’t take into effect the freak of pitching nature that Maddux was and the hundreds of soft-tossers who never made it despite Maddux’s success. So for what seems like all of Garcia’s career when he’s taken his lanky, 6-foot, 150-pound Dominican frame to the mound, we hear, “Well, Pedro did it, so he can too.” Just. Stop. Every short, thin pitcher from the DR has been compared to Pedro, and it just isn’t fair.
Regardless of comparisons, Garcia’s breakout year at Clearwater in 2016 put him on track to reach Philadelphia in 2019. He moved up a level and increased his strikeouts per nine innings from 5.0 to 7.0 and decreased his hits per nine from 9.4 to 7.2 in 2016. The glut of starting pitching prospects in the system could land him in the bullpen, or as trade bait, but if he wasn’t going to be in the team’s plans one way or another after 2015, he certainly should be now. If he is able to increase those strikeout and hit numbers again in 2017, he might force the Phillies to keep him in the rotation and kick one of the other starters to the pen when Garcia is ready in 2019.
Victor Arano: I’ve never thought pigeonholing pitchers into roles before they hit the majors is a good idea, but some guys are just built for the bullpen. Arano repeated Clearwater in 2016 to convert to the back end of the bullpen, and he took to it as well as anyone could have hoped. Then he got a cup of coffee in Reading for the stretch run of August and was even better. To adjust to his new role, he’ll likely repeat Reading in 2017 and go through Lehigh Valley in 2018 to reach Philly full-time in 2019 as a 24-year-old.
But he’s a candidate to be in the majors not just in 2019, or 2018, but with a couple months in 2017 like he had in 2016, he could be in line for a September call-up this year. 2019 seems most likely with a chance to contribute in the back end of the bullpen and perhaps even get himself in the mix for closing duties.
Mickey Moniak: Now this is a leap. Moniak would only be entering his age-20 season, but the way he hit in his first season, you could see him finishing this year in Clearwater, at least for the team’s playoff run. A jaw-dropping 2018 spring starts him in Reading, where he mashes for three months and leads the Eastern League with 15 assists in the first half. When Odubel Herrera goes down just before the All-Star break with a hernia injury suffered from lifting too hard in his attempts to stave off Moniak’s rocket-like ascension, the Phillies pass over Roman Quinn for the full-time center field spot and give the keys to Moniak.
OK, none of this is happening and Moniak likely doesn’t smell Philadelphia full-time until 2021. But it’s fun to think of, right? I’d imagine Daniel Walsh will be talking about Moniak more when he comes up with the 2020 list tomorrow.