Throughout the season, the Reading Fightin Phils’ offense has been one of the biggest stories across minor league baseball. As the team’s collection of strong hitters mashed for power and rocked opposing pitchers all season long in the Double-A Eastern League, the team’s hitting coach, Frank Cacciatore, has gotten a good look at the best show in the sport. Over the weekend, I sat down with Cacciatore to gain some insight on the likes of the homer hitting duo Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins along with emerging players such as Scott Kingery and Andrew Pullin. He also offered feedback on talented switch-hitter Roman Quinn as well as veteran Jake Fox and plenty more.
Cacciatore played in the Detroit organization in the 1970’s and has been part of the Phillies’ developmental coaching staff since 2008. Read ahead for my full interview with Coach Frank.
-Outfielder Dylan Cozens has had an outstanding season, leading the league in home runs and RBI. Are you surprised at all by the output coming from him this season?
Well, not really, according to his abilities. It’s nice to see that he’s made some progress with pitch selection and laying off pitches, you know, he needs to lay off how they pitch him, because he’s got the bulls eye on his back, so he’s made some progress along those lines.
Has he done what I expect to see in the future? No. He’s got some room for improvement and he’s only going to get better at doing that. But, he’s got tremendous abilities. He’s got tremendous hand speed. He’s still learning how to hit. I think he’s made some progress there and that’s why you’ve seen the success that he’s had. Not only has he had the power numbers, but he’s had the doubles, the RBI’s and the things that you need to do to become a productive big league hitter.
-When you have a guy like that, or any batter in general, that might have issues with striking out a lot, what should he be working on to resolve that concern?
There are things that I see now and I saw at the beginning of the year that he needed to learn how to do because you understand what’s on the other side of the fence, where he’s going- he’s going to Triple-A and eventually to the big leagues. He needs to make those adjustments because they’re going to make adjustments to him. And, so, as far as that’s concerned, he has made some progress there, you know. But like I said, I think he realizes it could be better as far as the number of strike outs. Yeah, he’s going to strike out because he’s a guy that can turn a game around in one swing of the bat and you expect that. Does he need to cut that down? Probably so, because if he puts more balls in play, how many more balls can he hit out of a ball park or hit a double with his ability and puts it up the gap and stuff like that. So therefor, there’s a lot of up side and it’s hard to say when you see numbers like he has a couple team records now and that kind of stuff, but he has that type of ability and he’s that kind of person and not just the numbers, because, you know, if he continues to work and improve at his game like he has here, then the sky’s kind of the limit. But he’s still learning his craft and that’s part of the development.
-You’ve got a couple guys that missed time recently with injuries, Andrew Pullin, who joined the team in June, and Roman Quinn, who has had multiple injuries this year. Both guys have been great contributors for the team. Can you comment on those guys and their contributions this year?
You start with Andrew Pullin, he came in right from Clearwater and was productive right off the bat. He’s a guy that can hit a fastball and, you know, basically, (he’s) just developing a simple swing and a simple set up where we’re basically talking about like how to look for pitches and how to control a strike zone and not let them spread ya and stuff like that. And Roman Quinn, we’ve been together now for three-odd years and, yeah, he’s had kind of a bugaboo with the injuries but he’s made a lot of progress across every line and he’s becoming a complete ball player. And the more he can get those turns at bat and play winter ball and that kind of stuff, that can be valuable for him as far as his development. But as far as knowing himself and knowing what he has to do, you know, again room for improvement, but he’s got a good sense of what he needs to do.
-I want to ask you about the third basemen on this squad. Angelo Mora‘s (promoted to Lehigh Valley on Tuesday) been there and elsewhere in the infield throughout the year along with Harold Martinez, who had a really good average most of the year and now Mitch Walding is with the team. Is it hard to get certain guys playing time when everyone performs?
Oh, yeah! Harold last year during the home stretch was invaluable as far as what he contributed. He’s sort of like the unsung hero. The guy under the radar, you know? Everybody’s looking at this guy and here comes Harold- sixth, seventh spot (in the lineup) and delivers big hits for us all the time. You know, Harold and his defense has been second to none. You know, he’s been a very valuable guy to us.
Mitch Walding, kind of a younger guy. He’s worked hard to get out of A ball. You know and a great athlete and finally getting his feet wet up here, so its kind of like he’s getting his first taste of what it takes here. I think he’s learning a lot and that’s what happens at the Double-A level. The first month or so you’re here, the first time, you’ve got to take (your results) with a grain of salt, good or bad, and learn the level. And Mitch has been here what- two weeks- and he’s already delivered some big hits for us and his numbers may have gone down a little bit, but that doesn’t mean anything. He’s coming along and he’s going to be fine.
-Second baseman Scott Kingery was an early round draft pick last year. He joined the team well into the season. What have you seen from him thus far?
I see a kind of a gritty type, blue collar guy working type ball player that’s got a good feel for the game and a good feel for instruction and all that, so I expect him– I expect everyone’s projecting him to start here next year and just really have a good season, a good solid season, and maintain what he’s doing right now. He’s a real good student of the game. He comes to work everyday. I like his work ethic and, to me, that’s real big because all the guys that are doing well and the guys in the past since I’ve been here in Reading that have done well usually have pretty good routines and have pretty good work ethic about how they prepare for games and the whole bit. And, to me, game prep is essential and he’s got all those qualities.
-You talk about those qualities and earlier about some improvements guys are looking to make. Is there a guy on this team that has more of the complete hit tool above the others? f
Ability wise we’ve got several and we’ve mentioned almost all of them except Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro. As far as some guys who far as in game knowing about having a good feel for what they’re going to do to him and what he has to do back, I think Rhys Hoskins has done a tremendous job along those lines as far as being a cerebral hitter and knowing what’s going to happen to him and paying attention to pitching patterns and then making adjustments to what they’re going to do and being able to take the ball to the opposite field when they’re going to give that to him and then lay in the weeds and go up top when he’s ahead in the count and the game’s on the line. So, I think I wanted to make sure I give a little shout out to him, because he’s done the physical things and the routine and the whole bit, but also he’s really, really done a nice job, you know, learning how to play, how to be a hitter and like I said, the other guys– I don’t want to leave them behind– it’s not like they haven’t, but I think Hoskins has done a little more along those lines than some of the others.
-When you mention the word cerebral there, one guy that always comes to mind with that word for me is Jake Fox, who is always going up there with a plan, thinking steps ahead. He’s a guy that can supplement the coaches and mentor his teammates. Does he stand out to the coaches as being an extra teacher?
He’s a guy that’s on our team that has the experience and he’s playing in the game and he has the in-game experience that’s invaluable. I haven’t gotten a hit in 40 years, but, and so the guys rely on that and that’s good. It’s good to see a guy helping out the younger guys. And, basically, he’s been like an insurance policy to help those guys thicken our lineup a little bit where a pitcher doesn’t have an out where he can pitch around a couple guys and get to the bottom of the lineup. He makes our lineup real thick and a pitcher’s got to pitch to one of them. And, so, along those lines, he’s been invaluable. He’s been a nice addition as far as, like you said, giving advice. He’s very forthright and really open to help guys when they ask him questions because these guys, Hoskins, J.P. (Crawford) was here, Cozens, this was their first taste– Cozens has a little bit last year– but it’s his first big taste of Double-A baseball and here’s this resource and so, yeah, they’re going to go sit there and ask, “How do you think he’s going to pitch me?” You know, he’s aware of that stuff. So, it is a plus. It is a plus. He’s been a big plus for us.