Over the past five years, the emphasis on high-level prospects and player development has noticeably increased within the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
A primary reason for this was that the team was caught in the midst of one of their worst losing stretches in franchise history. The Phillies failed to have a winning record in seven straight seasons from 2012-18.
Because of this emphasis, Phillies fans began to familiarize themselves with minor league prospects more than in the past. In some cases even paying more attention to the minor league teams than they did the big-league squad, waiting for the best of those youngsters to emerge and turn around the club’s fortunes.
Thanks to websites such as Phillies Nation, MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, fans have been able to keep up with how these prospects are performing. We try to keep the fans updated as to not only the long-range most talented prospects, but also which youngsters might be able to help return the Phillies to the postseason in the short-term.
Most fans would be able to name the current Phillies top prospect – third baseman Alec Bohm – but you should also be keeping an eye on a few names who don’t appear at the top of lists and rankings.
The following are five prospects who have begun to emerge in the Phillies minor league system as names with whom fans should start becoming familiar:
The 23 year old catcher has risen through the minors since being signed by the Philles back in 2012 as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. Grullon appeared on the Phillies top 30 prospects list back in 2015 and 2016, but some struggles in those seasons hurt his ranking and he never made it back on the list.
In 2017, Grullon slashed .249/.283/.398 in 2017 with a dozen homers in a season split between High-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. At age 21, he was beginning to re-emerge as a legitimate big-league prospect.
Then last season, Grullon began to showcase even more promise at the plate. Back at Reading, always known as a home hitter’s park, his offensive numbers went up considerably. He produced a slash line of .273/.310/.515 with 21 home runs and 14 doubles in 90 games.
As the primary catcher for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Grullon is hitting .360 in the early going this season with five home runs and 24 RBIs and a .992 OPS over his first 24 games. His defense does seem to be hit-or miss-though. He has committed two errors in 20 games behind the plate with three passed balls, and base stealers have a 90% success rate against him.
In 2017, Grullon threw out 37% of base runners, so this area of his game has regressed in a big way. Another reason the Phillies may have some pause in rushing him for any promotion to the big-leagues is that Grullon has only walked eight times this year, and the Phillies love players who can work an at-bat.
Despite these shortcomings, you still may well see Grullon at some point this year. Knock on wood, but it seems unlikely that both J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp will stay healthy for all 162 games. Knapp’s struggles at the plate may also force the Phillies to give Grullon a look. He definitely needs some refinement with his defense, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Grullon take a run at the back-up catcher position by spring of 2020.
Vierling was the Phillies 5th round selection in the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft out of Notre Dame. The outfielder has moved up to High-A Clearwater already and has produced with the bat. Between short-season ball and Low-A last year, he slashed .321/.365/.496 with seven home runs, 18 doubles, 32 runs scored, and seven stolen bases over 62 games.
The 22-year-old is up to a .292 batting average this year with four homers, seven doubles, 14 runs scored, and eight steals in 30 games. So far this season, Vierling has committed just one error and has three outfield assists. In 2018, Vierling had a .990 fielding percentage.
Despite showing off five-tool potential, Vierling doesn’t appear on any major prospect lists or rankings as yet. A big reason why is that he’s playing against many pitchers that are younger than him, who don’t have the college experience that he does.
Reaching Double-A Reading should be a big challenge for Vierling as he continues to develop. Whether he makes it there this year or next remains to be seen. Once he reaches the upper levels, we should get more clarity on what kind of big-league potential he genuinely possesses.
3. J.D. Hammer
Hammer is a right-handed bullpen piece pitching currently in Double-A. He was acquired by the Phillies in July of 2017 when the team sent Pat Neshek to the Colorado Rockies. That trade could go down as one of the best and most underrated deals of GM Matt Klentak’s career. Not only did Neshek re-sign with the Phillies the following off-season, and perform well himself since returning, but Hammer has been better than expected.
Hammer has never shown on the Phillies top 30 prospect list for MLB Pipeline. In 11 appearances for Reading he has allowed one earned run in 19.2 innings for a miniscule 0.46 ERA. This is even more impressive when you take into account Reading’s hitter-friendly reputation. Hammer has also struck out 19 batters over that span against just five walks.
There’s a lot to like here. Hammer’s fastball sits in the mid- to upper-90s and his secondary stuff is at least average, often a tick above, and he is a strike thrower. He’s also capable of going multiple innings, which is something Phillies manager Gabe Kapler likes and values immensely.
The 24-year-old may not stay in Reading for long, and we could see him take a similar path to the one Seranthony Dominguez travelled last season.
On Wednesday, Larry Bowa made mention during his remembrance of David Montgomery that he and Charlie Manuel were in Reading to watch the Fightin’ Phils play this week. I’m sure Hammer was one of, if not the biggest, reason for that trip. If the Phillies bullpen continues to deal with injuries and a lack of success, Hammer could be next to get a call to the big-leagues.
4. Ramon Rosso
Rosso is an interesting story. He was originally signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an 18-year-old in 2015, but they released him almost a year to the day later. He spent the next 11 months on the open market until the Phillies signed him on June 2, 2017. Since joining the Phillies organization, Rosso has been lights out.
In 2017, he posted a 1.31 ERA in 75.2 innings of work across three levels which included Rookie and Short-Season Ball. He came back in 2018 and flew through Lakewood and Clearwater with a 2.04 ERA over 123.1 innings with 139 strikeouts.
Now 23, Rosso is making quick work of batters in Double-A. In five starts this year, he has a 1.03 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and is averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings. The Phillies honored Rosso as their Minor League pitcher of the month for April.
Rosso doesn’t throw hard, especially for someone who is 6’4, with his fastball maxing out at 92 MPH. But he has a nice changeup that he commands well which sits in the mid-80’s. There is definitely a lot to be intrigued about here, and we’ll see if this continues throughout the season. If so, Rosso’s name should soon begin popping up on prospect rankings.
5. Jose Gomez
Remember the Neshek trade with Colorado that we mentioned earlier? Well, there was another piece in that deal – I told you Klentak did pretty good there. Jose Gomez was the other piece in that trade, and was actuallyl the centerpiece of the deal.
Gomez was signed by the Rockies as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela. He appeared as high as No. 17 on the Phillies top 30 prospect list immediately following the trade in 2017. Gomez would fall off the list after an abysmal 2018 season where he slashed .224/.259/.263 in 103 games for Clearwater. He only had 10 extra base hits.
This year, Gomez has bounced back nicely. Over 14 games with Clearwater he hit .348 with four doubles. He was sent to Reading where he is currently hitless over his first six games, dropping his season batting average to the .262 mark.
What puts Gomez on this list is his glove. Gomez has yet to commit an error this season and was named the Phillies Minor League defender of the month for April. He plays shortstop, second base, and third base this year, but has also played first base in the past, making him a potential valuable bench piece.
Gomez has obviously made improvements with his defense, considering that in 2016 he committed 24 errors in 66 games for the Rockies. Last year, he committed just nine errors over 104 games, highlighting that improvement.
Gomez isn’t going to be a starter with the Phillies, but he could be a valuable defender who would be capable of playing all four infield position – if his bat comes around.
He has ways to go in his development, and I don’t see him returning to any lists any time soon, but Gomez deserves a lot of love for the improvement he showed over the first month of the season. His excellent defensive versatility leave him as a player worth keeping an eye on for any positive offensive development.
MORE MINOR LEAGUE NEWS FROM PHILLIES NATION:
- Larry Shenk’s Phillies Minor League Report: 5/10/19
- Deivy Grullon making an impact with Triple-A Lehigh Valley
- The Alec Bohm show continues
- Phillies Top 20 Prospects rankings: April 2019
- Phillies affiliates sport new looks for Copa de la Diversión