ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- The winds of change have swept across Coca-Cola Park in 2017. The wins, however, have continued to roll. Philadelphia's Triple-A affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, became the first Minor League team to 50 wins Wednesday night.But while the wins have remained consistent with last season -- when
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- The winds of change have swept across Coca-Cola Park in 2017. The wins, however, have continued to roll. Philadelphia's Triple-A affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, became the first Minor League team to 50 wins Wednesday night.
But while the wins have remained consistent with last season -- when the IronPigs posted the fourth-highest win total in the Minors at 85-58 -- their makeup has done a 180. Last season, the IronPigs had one of the most impressive pitching staffs in the Minors. They ranked first in WHIP (1.149) and second in ERA (3.12) in the International League with both of the top two ERA leaders (Jake Thompson, 2.50, and Ben Lively, 3.06).
This season, the majority of that talent -- due mainly to injuries in the Phillies rotation -- has graduated to the Majors. About 30 percent of the Phillies' starts this season have been made by pitchers who threw for the IronPigs in 2016. Entering the season with the big league starting rotation locked, that number was supposed to be much lower.
How have the IronPigs replicated their success from the past season despite such drastic turnover?
Their offense this season is a veritable who's who of Phillies hitting prospects. The lineups' origins can be traced to the end of last season, but with the much-anticipated addition of Scott Kingery on Monday, the IronPigs full-strength starting lineup boasted seven of the Phillies nine best hitting prospects this week, according to MLBPipeline.com.
On Friday, No. 4 prospect Nick Williams was called up to the Phillies when Howie Kendrick was sent to the DL. Even without Williams, the IronPigs lineup remains daunting, with six top hitting prospects.
"It says a lot about the organization, where we are right now," IronPigs manager Dusty Wathan said.
The six are as follows, with their organization ranking included: J.P. Crawford (No. 1), Jorge Alfaro (No. 3), Roman Quinn (No. 6), Dylan Cozens (No. 9), Kingery (No. 11), and Rhys Hoskins (No. 13).
None of the six top prospects at Triple-A Lehigh Valley began the 2016 season with the IronPigs.
"I think everyone just feeds off each other," Kingery said. He's familiar with the lineup from his callup to Double-A Reading last July -- Hoskins, Alfaro, and Cozens were the heart of that order. Kingery, once again, has fit right into the mix, going 4-for-13 (.307) with a .769 slugging percentage, two homers, and five RBIs in his first three games.
"There's a ton of talent and a ton of great players so once you get things rolling, the rest of the lineup is going to take over and do what they do best. It's fun to be a part of the lineup," he said.
The IronPigs have scored almost a run more per game than last season. The offense has improved across the board, raising their batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Wathan, in his first year as IronPigs manager after becoming the winningest manager in Double-A Reading history, knows come August, his lineup may look decidedly different. Just as he dealt with that cycle early this season on the pitching side, he may face it again soon on the hitting side. He knows these cycles are part of the job.
"As an organization, our job is to get some young guys up there and have some guys, hopefully, behind them, which I think we do," Wathan said. "If we can get some of these guys up there and have some success, and we can add some guys, then all of a sudden things turn around fast."
Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.