The Reading Fightin’ Phils have been the Philadelphia Phillies Double-A minor league affiliates since their founding all the way back in 1968 when they were simply named the Reading Phillies. The relationship between the two teams is tied for the longest minor league affiliation in baseball.
In 2008 the Philadelphia Phillies ownership outright purchased the Reading club, and the nickname was changed for the 2013 season.
Often simply known as the “Fightins”, the Reading team is the oldest in the Eastern League still playing in their original city. The club has played its home games at FirstEnergy Stadium, which was built in 1951 and was originally known as Reading Municipal Stadium, for its entire history.
Reading, Pennsylvania has been nicknamed “Baseballtown” as its relationship to organized baseball goes back to at least 1858 and the Reading Athletic Club. The city is located approximately 70 miles northwest of the Philadelphia area. Depending on where you are coming from, traffic conditions, and the route you take, it is about an hour-and-a-half to two-hour drive usually utilizing I-76.
The Fightin’ Phils went 64-73 this season, finishing in fourth place in the Eastern Division of the Eastern League. Their manager is 58-year-old Greg Legg, a 22nd round draft pick of the Phillies way back in 1982. Legg would reach the big-leagues, playing in parts of the 1986 and 1987 seasons with the Phillies.
This year’s Reading Fightin’ Phils Player of the Year is pitcher JoJo Romero. A native of Oxnard, California, the 6-0, 190lb left-hander was taken by the Phillies with their fourth-round selection in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft out of Yavapai College in Arizona.
Romero had his season cut short due to an oblique injury, but still made 18 starts for the Fightins. He went 7-6 with a 3.80 ERA and a 1.294 WHIP, allowing 97 hits over 106.2 innings with a 100/41 K:BB ratio.
He currently ranks #5 on the Phillies Top Prospects list by MLB.com, where they show him as throwing five different pitches: fastball, cutter, changeup, slider, and curveball. Each of his offerings are graded out at 50 or higher, with his fastball receiving a 60 grade.
Their scouting report on him includes the following breakdown of his pitches:
“…improved stuff, along with his command, make him a much better pitching prospect overall. His four-seam fastball was up to 95 mph all year, including his final start of 2017 against Blue Jays super-prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette, while his sinking 90-93 mph two-seamer generates a lot of weak contact on the ground. Depending on the report, he has as many as four secondary pitches. His changeup and cutter have the chance to be plus pitches, while he has a distinct average slider that is a bit ahead of his curveball. He fills the strike zone with all of them consistently.”
Romero also finished in the #5 slot when we released our own Phillies Nation Top 20 Phillies Prospects rankings back in early August of this year. In our description, staff writer Alec Whitaker wrote:
“an ERA of 3.80 while playing in a tough pitchers park at Reading is more than okay. Romero could be a solid middle rotation option or an elite lefty out of the bullpen.”
Romero put together his strong season after getting off to a horrendous start. Over his first seven outings the lefty went 0-4 with a 6.38 ERA, allowing 43 hits over 36.2 innings. Opposing batters were hitting .291 against him.
Mitchell Gladstone at Philly.com did a nice piece on Romero back in mid-July, just before the injury shut down his season. In it, Gladstone quoted Legg on the turnaround made by his pitcher:
“He was trying to do too much. He had an arsenal of all these pitches — a two-seamer, a four-seamer, a slider, a cutter, a curveball, a change-up. In the first three hitters of a game, he’s trying to do all of it. … The biggest thing since his first four or five starts here was that he simplified his attack.”
After making the adjustments, Romero went 7-2 over his final 11 outings with just a .212 batting average against. He allowed just 54 hits over 70 innings with a 69/22 K:BB ratio during that ending stretch to his season. That was the stretch that pushed him to this Player of the Year recognition.
Romero should reach Triple-A Lehigh Valley next season. Whether that happens out of spring training or into the season probably depends on his health and his spring performances. That would leave him on the doorstep of a promotion to the Phillies.
All big-league clubs are continually looking for effective left-handers. Rookie southpaw Ranger Suarez made three starts for the Phillies this season, the only three by a left-hander all year. Should Romero stay healthy and continue to mature as expected he will at least be in line for a bullpen shot as early as next summer.
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