Baseball America, one of the most respected publications and websites covering the game, released its list of top 10 Phillies prospects Wednesday.
That’s a difficult assignment in the best of times because the talent evaluators putting the list together must weigh potential against performance on the field during the most recent season. The degree of difficulty increased tenfold in 2020 because there was no minor-league season to evaluate.
Applaud the magazine for going forward with its ratings anyway. At some point this offseason, it will also rank all 30 organizations based on the perceived strength of their minor-league systems. A year ago, the Phillies were listed at 26th, and such a low ranking is the kind of thing that tends to upset a fan base, especially one rooting for a team in the midst of a nine-year playoff drought.
Josh Bonifay chooses not to agree or disagree with the list put together by Baseball America or any other publication ranking prospects. Instead, the Phillies director of player development chooses to believe in his team’s system and praise the difficult process his staff and the minor-league players endured during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Regardless of what any publication says, I believe in our organization and our farm system and our process of doing things,” Bonifay said. “We had 10 guys make their major-league debuts and they contributed in a big way. We know we have a lot of talent and we know we have a lot of work to do in order to continue to grow. But I think we’re in a pretty good place.”
Third baseman Alec Bohm, of course, was the greatest contributor among those making their big-league debuts, but the Phillies also got outstanding relief work from rookies Connor Brogdon in September and JoJo Romero until late in the season. Catcher Rafael Marchan, a spring-training favorite of manager Joe Girardi, moved from seventh to fifth on BA’s prospect list after three impressive big-league starts, one of which included his first professional home run.
BA’s top 10 also included Spencer Howard at No. 1, 2020 first-round pick Mick Abel at No. 2, 2019 first-round pick Byson Stott at No. 3, and Venezuelan-born righthander Francisco Morales at No. 4. The bottom five in the group includes shortstop Luis Garcia, outfielder Yhoswar Garcia at No. 7, outfielder Simon Muzziotti at No. 8, outfielder Johan Rojas at No. 9. and shortstop Nick Maton at No. 10.
Howard, who made it through the fifth inning in only one of his six big-league starts in 2020 before being shut down with a shoulder injury, maintained his rookie status for 2021 as did every other rookie to debut in 2020 except Bohm, who finished tied for second in the National League rookie of the year voting.
Eight of the players on the top 10 list did not have an official professional at-bat in 2020, but Bonifay believes many of them had valuable experiences either in the summer at the satellite camp in Allentown or during the October instructional league camp down in Clearwater, Fla.
Like the rest of us, Bonifay would have preferred the normalcy of the minor-league seasons, but he believes players such as Stott, Maton, Marchan, and catcher Logan O’Hoppe benefited from being at the Phillies’ alternative site camp.
“I thought it was a really good camp,” Bonifay said. “Some players were playing above where they naturally might have been and they were seeing major-league-caliber pitchers. Every single day they posted and showed their work ethic and routines and commitment to playing at a high level. O’Hoppe was phenomenal with his work before and in games.”
Maybe O’Hoppe, 20, would have worked his way into the BA top 10 if he had been able to showcase his talent at low-A Lakewood or high-A Clearwater last season. Every hardcore baseball fan surely missed looking at the minor-league statistics during the 2020 season. They also undoubtedly missed the opportunity to go to places like Reading, Lehigh Valley, and Lakewood to see games.
For some minor-leaguers who did not get a chance to play during the summer, the Phillies staged a 53-man instructional league camp last month at their spring-training home in Clearwater. Typically, more than 100 players are invited to the instructional league and games are played against other teams for much of the month.
The pandemic forced a change in that itinerary and the Phillies opted to use 20 of their 53 spots on the four players they selected in the scaled-down draft in June and the 16 others they signed as undrafted free agents.
“We were limited to five games against the Pirates and Blue Jays,” Bonifay said. “The players did not care about that. They just wanted to play. They wanted extra work, they wanted early work and they wanted late work. They were just really hungry to play.”
The instructional league camp gave the Phillies their first look at Abel, and the 19-year-old righthander from Portland, Ore., did not disappoint.
“He was filthy,” Bonifay said. “Very mature and polished for a young kid. He commanded his fastball to both sides of the plate and was north and south as well. It was a lot of fun to watch him.”
In a normal year, Abel might have started his season in the Gulf Coast League and finished at Lakewood with a quick stop at Williamsport in between. Bonifay said there have not been any conversations about where Abel will pitch in 2021 yet, but he believes he’d be capable of handling the competition at Lakewood to start.
Bonifay also described lefty Erik Miller, a fourth-round pick out of Stanford, as being “filthy” during the instructional league. He was also impressed by 6-foot-8 righthander Carson Ragsdale and 6-4 outfielder Baron Radcliff, the team’s fourth and fifth-round picks in June. Third-round pick Casey Martin was sidelined for much of the camp by an oblique injury.
“Ragsdale is so tall and he has good extension, so his ball gets right on hitters and his curveball is gross,” Bonifay said.
Gross, in this instance, means good and has nothing to do with former Phillies Greg or Kevin.
“Radcliffe has incredible bat speed,” Bonifay said. “He’s just a good hitter and athlete as well.”
Maybe one day those two will work their way onto Baseball America’s top 10 list, but the greater goal of course is to reach the big leagues.
Without a minor-league season and without the objective eyes of opposing scouts looking at players, it really is difficult to rank players and minor-league systems. Applaud Baseball America for keeping its annual tradition alive, but you should not put too much stock into any of the pandemic-hindered rankings that come out in 2021.