The first month of the minor-league season generated few success stories in the Phillies' system. Their four full-season, minor-league affiliates — Lehigh Valley, Reading, Clearwater and Lakewood — went a combined 36-62 in April. That was the worst record for any organization in baseball. Phillies minor-league pitchers posted a 4.60 ERA and hitters a .650 OPS. Both of those marks were the worst among all franchises.
It is important to note this sobering fact: The Phillies ended April with 15 of their top 30 prospects, as ranked by Baseball America, either on the disabled list or at extended spring training. Much of their best talent is not yet playing.
That is why Sunday's games accentuated two of the more positive developments. J.P. Crawford, Lakewood's shortstop, and Tommy Joseph, Reading's catcher, each had four hits in their teams' wins.
Crawford, 19, has played professional baseball for less than a year, and is on the verge of entering the picture as one of baseball's most elite prospects. The No. 16 overall pick is batting .324/.418/.467 in 122 plate appearances at Lakewood. Team officials, rival scouts and agents polled on Crawford generally come to the same conclusion: He's legit.
Scouts are most impressed with Crawford's natural instincts for the game. The Phillies saw the same promise and rewarded Crawford with an aggressive 14-game promotion to Lakewood at the end of 2013. He is still one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League this season. Should his success continue into the summer, the Phillies could challenge him with a move to Clearwater.
Crawford cracked his third homer Sunday. He added a walk to reach base five times in six plate appearances. He is 12 for his last 27 (.444). He has not struck out in 25 at bats.
Joseph, the 22-year-old catcher acquired as the centerpiece to the Hunter Pence trade in July 2012, missed eight days because of concussion-like symptoms suffered from a foul tip to the head. Joseph has a worrisome history of concussion problems. The team cleared him of any complications. He returned Saturday and struck out three times in four hitless at bats.
Then, on Sunday, he tripled and homered. He went 4 for 5 and scored two runs. That raised his season line to .281/.347/.594 in 72 plate appearances. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said it was "a shame" when Joseph suffered another injury because his bat showed life in April. The concussion scare, apparently, was a mere speed bump.
Joseph was limited to just 36 games last season because of those concussions. He can remake his prospect status with a strong season at Reading in 2014. His value, of course, is contingent on remaining behind the plate.