Most of the attention on the Phillies minor leagues will be focused in Reading, where the team's top pitching prospects will gather.
But a step lower in high-A Clearwater, Fla., where there's far less public attention, the team is building talent just as significant for the long term. And one of the team's more intriguing talents is outfielder Aaron Brown.
Brown, 22, was drafted last June in the third round out of Pepperdine. All of the team's first six picks were from college. Brown is expected to rise quickly through the system thanks to his college experience.
Brown will likely start the season at Clearwater. Shortstop J.P. Crawford, the team's top prospect, and catcher Andrew Knapp are expected to join him. Crawford is still working his way back from a strained oblique. Knapp, who was drafted out of college in 2013, hit .290 in 75 games last season at low-A Lakewood. He hit five home runs and drove in 25 RBIs.
Brown played both center field and right field last season. He hit .256 in 47 games at short-season Williamsport and .309 in 55 games with low-A Lakewood. He was a pitcher and outfielder at Pepperdine. Brown said half of the teams that scouted him wanted him to pitch, the other half wanted him as an outfielder. He said he listened to whatever the Phillies told him.
"It's great. I love to play every day. I think that's the only way to play the game," Brown said. "Just me being at a position all the time is more fun. You're in the game, you're locked in every day. I think it's a more fun way to play throughout the season."
During high school and college, Brown started in the outfield on days he was not pitching. In his junior season at Pepperdine - his final year at the California university - he hit .309 and compiled a 1.95 ERA in 17 starts.
"The college guys that get drafted have that maturity and understanding of the game," Brown said. "They kind of have the feel for the traveling and being able to relate to the minor-league lifestyle. I feel like the college I went to prepared me for that and helped me understand that."
Brown said his time as a pitcher can be an advantage when he's batting. He puts himself in the pitcher's shoes and thinks about what he would throw to get himself out. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it does not.
The biggest challenge to Brown's transition last season was making small adjustments during at-bats. The game became different from college, he said. The players are better and you have to be able to adjust as quickly as everyone else.
The Phillies instructed him this offseason to work on adjustments with his hitting and fielding.
"Nothing too major," Brown said. "I guess they were pretty excited about what I was doing."
Brown said it was his job to return home to California, keep working on his game, and return to spring training "ready to go." He did just that, and the transition continues as Brown hurries up the minor-league ladder.
It could be argued that the Phillies are going to open the season with the worst outfield in baseball, and if you are taking the Phillies' side in that argument, prepare to lose. That's why it was so disturbing when the Phillies passed on developed Cuban players such as Yasmany Tomasand Rusney Castillo. Here are some of the players they hope develop into big-league starters:
Roman Quinn. He is back playing center field, the position he occupied when the Phillies made him a second-round pick out of Port St. Joseph High School in Florida in 2011. He finished strong after moving from shortstop last season, then impressed in the Arizona Fall League. Likely opening-day destination: Reading.
Aaron Brown. The Phillies liked what they saw from their 2014 third-round pick out of Pepperdine, but high-round picks are supposed to excel in the lower-level minors. It will be interesting to see how the lefthanded hitting centerfielder performs as he progresses. Likely destination: Clearwater.
Dylan Cozens. There is no denying the 6-6 rightfielder's power - his 16 home runs were tied for seventh in the South Atlantic League last season - but he is going to have to make more contact if he is going to get to the big leagues. Likely destination: Clearwater.
Carlos Tocci. It seems as though Tocci has been in the organization forever, but he is still only 19 years old. He made improvements at the plate in his repeat performance at Lakewood last season. It will be interesting to see if the Phillies think he needs to begin a third season in the South Atlantic League, where he would still be one of the younger players. Likely destination: Lakewood.
Aaron Altherr. He showed some power potential last year at Reading and followed that up with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. He already has the ability to play center field at the big-league level, but still swings at too many bad pitches to be considered a big-league hitter. Likely destination: Reading.
Kelly Dugan. If durability is more important than ability, then the Phillies' 2009 second-round pick is in trouble. Dugan, 24, has averaged only 76 games per season because of injuries since 2010 and that's the exact number he played last year when he hit .296 with an .818 OPS. He opened spring training in a walking boot on his right foot because of a stress reaction in January. When on the field the last three seasons, Dugan has shown a lot of promise. Likely destination: disabled list and Lehigh Valley.
Jiandido Tromp. The 21-year-old Aruban can play all three outfield positions and led the New York-Penn League with 14 home runs last season. Likely destination: Lakewood.
Cameron Perkins. The 24-year-old corner outfielder struggled after being promoted to Lehigh Valley from Reading last season, but has been an outstanding contact hitter with gap power while rising through the system. Likely destination: Lehigh Valley.
Infielders and Catchers
If you played three of the four infield spots or were a catcher in the Phillies organization during the last decade, you always found yourself looking up with no place to go. Here's a look at some of the guys who will try to step up:
Maikel Franco, 3B and 1B. The 22-year-old native of the Dominican Republic is knocking on the big- league door and is likely to be let in at some point this season. He struggled last September and again in his big-league portion of spring training. Manager Ryne Sandberg said he'd like to see Franco shorten his swing. He is already good enough defensively to play either first base or third base in the big leagues. Likely opening-day destination: Lehigh Valley.
J.P. Crawford, SS. The team's 2013 first-round pick is bigger and stronger than Jimmy Rollins at the same age, but he could bring the same combination of speed and power that the former Phillies shortstop provided for 14 seasons. Crawford, 20, made 29 errors last season, so he needs to become more consistent defensively. He also suffered a strained oblique muscle in spring training, which will leave him on the disabled list to start this season. Likely destination: the DL and then Clearwater.
Zach Green, 3B and 1B. A third-round pick in 2012, Green was limited to 84 games last season by an April hip injury. Upon his return in June, he hit .286 with 28 extrabase hits and a .768 OPS in 69 games. Likely destination: Clearwater.
Jesmuel Valentin, 2B. The Phillies acquired Valentin as part of the deal that sent Roberto Hernandez to the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. After a strong season with the Dodgers' low-A affiliate in the Midwest League, he struggled over the final two weeks at high-A Clearwater.
Tommy Joseph, C. After playing in just 63 games the last two seasons because of a variety of injuries, Joseph must have good health in 2015. He also reported to camp a little heftier than the Phillies would have liked. In the brief time he played last year at double-A Reading, he performed well. Likely destination: Lehigh Valley.
Andrew Knapp, C. The second-round pick in 2013 had a solid season at the plate with low-A Lakewood after making a May return from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The switch-hitting 23-year-old struggled upon being promoted to Clearwater. Likely destination: Clearwater.
Deivi Grullon, C. Considered one of the best defensive catchers in the system, the 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic will have to prove he can hit. Likely destination: Lakewood.
Willians Astudillo, C and 1B. The 5-foot-9 Venezuelan opened a lot of eyes by hitting .333 at Lakewood last season, but he is 23 years old and trying to make the transition to catcher. He will also play at first base and in the outfield. Likely destination: Clearwater.
Don't Forget About…
The guys you see at the top of prospect lists are not always the ones who reach the big leagues and make an impact.
Carlos Ruiz, David Buchanan, Ken Giles, Jake Diekman, and Darin Ruf are some examples on the Phillies. Young players, especially international ones who signed at 16 years old, also can grow into prospects quickly.
Here's a look at some of the off-the-radar Phillies prospects:
Mitch Walding, 3B. His stock has tumbled after two straight years with Lakewood, but he is still only 22 years old. Likely opening-day destination: Lakewood.
Jan Hernandez, 3B. A third-round pick in 2013, Hernandez needs to start hitting now. Likely destination: Lakewood.
Yoel Mecias, LHP. The 21-year-old lefty returned from Tommy John surgery last season and pitched well in three starts at Lakewood. Likely destination: Lakewood.
Victor Arano, RHP. The hard-throwing righthander was acquired from the Dodgers in the Roberto Hernandez trade last year. Likely destination: Lakewood.
Brandon Leibrandt, LHP. The Phillies took the son of former big-league pitcher Charlie Leibrandt in the sixth round out of Florida State last year and were pleased with his work in his introduction to pro ball. Likely destination: Lakewood.
Cord Sandberg, OF. The third-round pick in 2013 is still learning the game after heavily focusing on football during his high school career in Florida. Likely destination: Williamsport.
Adam Morgan, LHP. On the verge of being in the Phillies rotation two years ago, he has a long climb back from shoulder surgery. Likely destination: Lehigh Valley.
Malquin Canelo, SS. He hit .270 in 45 games at Lakewood last season and has a great glove. Likely destination: Lakewood.
Luis Encarnacion, OF and 1B. He has a chance to hit for power, but at 17 is still growing into his 6-2 frame. Likely destination: Williamsport.
— Bob Brookover