The Double-A Reading Fightin Phils are headed to the postseason at the Eastern League’s East division champions. All season long, the team has been led by its offense, that has seen the club tally a minor league best 182 home runs heading into action on Monday, the last day of the regular season. This weekend I chatted with outfielder Aaron Brown and starting pitcher Tyler Viza about Reading’s offense. Brown, a 24-year-old lefty batter, also spoke about learning from those around him as well as his up and down season while Viza, a 21-year-old right-hander, offered thoughts on four levels of the Phillies’ minor league system reaching the playoffs in their respective leagues, plus more.
Read ahead for those interview excerpts with both players.
-It’s become quite a rivalry here with Reading and Trenton, with the two teams battling over the top spot in the division, know you’ll face each other in the opening round of the playoffs beginning Wednesday night.
Its definitely exciting, knowing that we made the playoffs and we’re just getting ready to go for that playoff run and competing you’re just going to see some good baseball out there, playing hard and when playoff time comes, then it’s game on.
-What are your feelings on your season? There are ups and downs literally, going down to Clearwater for a time after an injury. Are there levels of disappointment or is it all good because now you’re back here and headed to the playoffs?
Now, it’s just go time. It’s time to play and win some ball games and just have some fun and compete. My season is what it is. You’re going to have bad seasons, you’re going to have great seasons. I’ve had some good seasons and this has just been a down season for me. I struggled with a wrist injury and I went down to Clearwater for a bit and rehabbed it and played really well and got myself back here and I’m ready to compete and just help this team win.
-Is there any feedback you’ve gotten from coaches that has inspired you to go harder or has helped you improve this year?
As far as going harder, no. They’ve actually encouraged me to relax at times and just take a breath.
No, they’re very happy with where I’m at and how I’m progressing. And they just want me to keep going, keep working hard and just keep having fun and focusing on the things I need to focus on with my swing and knowing situations in the outfield and getting better in every aspect of the game.
-Clearwater manager Greg Legg has told me in the past that you hit the ball harder than most players he’s seen in Class A ball. With people paying attention to things like exit velocity, is that part of your game that you take pride in or even think about?
I just think putting good swings on good pitches is going to help in any situation. If it comes off the bat a little harder than somebody else, that’s great, but for me it’s just focusing on getting the barrel on the ball and producing and doing whatever I can to help the team win. It’s always great playing for Legger. He’s a great manager and a great guy to be around and so, it’s nice for him to notice something like that, but for me it’s just focusing on every at bat and putting quality at bats together and helping the team win.
-Being part of this team this year, there’s a lot of stuff that grabs attention. You’ve got Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens going after the team home run record and the league lead, you’ve got some great pitching, you’ve got some names like J.P. Crawford and Roman Quinn coming through here and, hopefully, you’ll begin to emerge as a name in that mix, but what have been some of the standout things on this team this year, to you?
Definitely the power numbers. It’s been a huge year for us. With Hoskins and Cozens going at it and having great years, it’s been fun to watch. And it’s also been fun learning from them and watching them play and seeing how I can model my game after that and kind of relax and trust the process and not worry about the results. I think both of them have done a great job of that this year. They have great work ethics and it’s been nice to see and I know I do too. I’m just kind of waiting for my turn to put those numbers up as I know I can. But that’s been the huge thing. The power display has been a lot of fun to watch and everyone’s contributed to that. Our starting catcher (Jorge Alfaro) and obviously Rhys and Cozens and Fox in the DH spot, it’s been a fun year, just seeing those guys step up and take control of the season and everyone’s definitely had their say in the action. No one’s really led in all categories. Everyone has their time and kind of pitches in at the right moments.
-You mentioned Jake Fox there and I’ve heard from other guys about him being like an extra coach or a mentor over the years. Can you share some thoughts specifically on Jake?
He has a lot of experience in this game and that’s great when you have a lot of young guys coming up through this system. He really helps keep things loose and has his two cents and whether you want to listen to that, it’s on you. But I believe, as a player, that he’s a lot of help to this team and he’s just a leader and he knows how to do it really well. Having him on this team, having him put up some numbers and helping us win ballgames and helping some of the younger guys develop their game as well that’s a big thing for a team, if you can have a guy like that on your team. That helps a lot. That helps the coaching staff and it helps the players, so that’s been a huge bonus.
-You guys come out here this weekend, clinching the division and making a statement against the team you were already going to face in the first round of the playoffs. Talk a bit about that for me…
At the beginning of the season every player at every level sets out to accomplish the ultimate goal, which is make the playoffs and obviously win the playoffs in the end. We’ve accomplished our first goal, clinching the division, and to do it against the team we’re going to face in the first round makes it that much sweeter.
-Four levels of this Phillies minor league system are going to the postseason. How much are players aware of what success is happening at the other levels?
I think we’re all aware. I think we’re all pulling for each other. Most of us at every level were part of those other teams at some point, so I mean it’s pretty awesome. I think we have a great group of guys at every level.
-With the starting staff here with Reading there have been ups and downs as well as changes to the group. New additions, like you, coming in with injuries or promotions changing things up a bit. Are you guys bonded well with each other, helping one another get by and develop?
100-percent! I think it’s like that from day one on any team you go to. Those are the guys that you spend most of your time with. Those are the guys that set the tone for the team. As far as the ups and downs go, that’s how every season goes. We’d like to limit the downs as much as we could, but it’s a pretty unique situation that we have going into the postseason, where it’s almost another season. Everything starts brand new. You have zeroes across the board. You don’t have to do anything besides going out there, doing your job and put up zeroes.
-How much fun is it for you as a pitcher watching this team’s offense behind you?
It’s a lot of fun. They make a lot of noise out there. It gives us pitchers a lot of confidence out there. Even if we give up a couple runs out there, we know they have our backs and they’re going to score runs. Virtually every game they’re scoring runs. We don’t get shutout too often. It’s a lot easier for us to go out there and do our job.