After the completion of the regular season and alternate training sites, most player development staffs have turned their attention to instructional league play. In the past, instructional leagues have been populated by new draftees, recent international signings and players at the bottom rungs of their organizational ladder. This year, in an attempt to make up for lost time due to the pandemic, it’s been expanded to include many more players. MLB Pipeline will be providing position-by-position reports from instructional league camps in Florida and Arizona.
Mick Abel, RHP (No. 3 prospect); Benjamin Brown, RHP; Blake Brown, RHP; Dylan Castaneda, RHP; Starlyn Castillo, RHP; Joel Cesar, RHP; Hilton Dyar, RHP; Bailey Falter, LHP; Nick Fanti, LHP; Jordan Fowler, LHP; Maikel Garrido, LHP; Cristian Hernandez, RHP; Jonathan Hughes, RHP; Sam Jacobsak, RHP; DJ Jefferson, RHP; Rafael Marcano, LHP; Gunner Mayer, RHP; James McArthur, RHP; Tyler McKay, RHP; Jhordany Mezquita, LHP; Erik Miller, LHP (No. 10); Francisco Morales, RHP (No. 4); Jack Perkins, RHP; Corey Phelan, RHP; Dominic Pipkin, RHP; Carson Ragsdale, RHP (No. 30); Brett Schulze, RHP; Eduar Segovia, RHP; Manuel Silva, LHP; Noah Skirrow, RHP; Christopher Soriano, LHP; Billy Sullivan, RHP; Victor Vargas, RHP; Braden Zarbinsky, RHP
The two top pitching prospects at instructs were Mick Abel and Francisco Morales. Both are in the top five of the organization’s Top 30 list and both performed like they belonged there.
This was the first look the Phillies got of Abel, their first-round pick in this year’s Draft. The No. 15 overall pick came with a reputation of having good stuff and an idea of what to do with it, and he did not disappoint.
“He was electric,” Phillies farm director Josh Bonifay said. “His fastball was extremely impressive with his ability to command it to both sides of the plate and elevate when needed. His slider was unhittable at times. Not only was he ready to go, but when he came in, he was mature beyond his age. He listened intently in classes. He’s open and willing to learn, and his stuff was as electric as they said during the Draft and as our scouts had said.”
Morales has been with the Phillies since July 2016, and he has been making slow and steady progress up the organizational ladder. He made his full-season debut in '19, and if his time at instructs is any indication, he’s ready to take another big step.
“He continues to impress,” Bonifay said. “He was up to 97 mph, his slider misses bats at an elite clip and he continues to develop a changeup. He’s making himself into a very good starter for us in the future.”
A little bit more off the radar, at least for now, is right-hander James McArthur. A 12th-rounder in 2018 out of Mississippi, the 6-foot-7 hurler spent much of 2019 in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. He has more feel for pitching than pure stuff but really impressed with his ability to use the pair of breaking pitches he was specifically working on.
“He was outstanding with the ability to command the zone with all three pitches,” Bonifay said. “He executed his fastball, curveball and slider, and he had punchouts on both the curve and slider. He has a good changeup, too . He made some tweaks in his delivery and he was extremely polished.”
Edgar Cabral; Rodolfo Duran (No. 20); Herbert Iser; Andrick Nava; Cesar Rodriguez; Micah Yonamine
Back in 2015, Rodolfo Duran and Edgar Cabral were teammates, making their Phillies debuts in the Gulf Coast League, Duran as an international signee and Cabral as a non-drafted free agent. They reunited for a while in Clearwater in 2019. Both had that season shortened with injuries -- Duran a knee, Cabral his elbow. Both were back together at instructs and performed very well.
“Duran came in really good shape,” Bonifay said about the 22-year-old. “His ability to stay through the middle of the field and not be too pull happy was impressive. He had tremendous at-bats throughout camp and his work with the pitchers was really good. He has a quick exchange and a hose. We were aggressive on the bases and he was aggressive throwing them out.”
“It was fun seeing him block and receive,” Bonifay said about Cabral, who is 25. “He swung the bat well, spraying the ball all over the field with a couple of homers, one around 430 feet."
Several infielders stood out at instructs, starting with 2020 third-round pick Casey Martin. Many thought Martin could sneak into the back end of the first round because of his athleticism, and he might end up being a steal. His speed and arm were on display -- Bonifay said there’s nothing he saw that said he won’t play shortstop -- and he focused on staying in the zone and swinging at strikes more consistently.
Kendall Simmons continued to show that he has the chance to be an offensive contributor in the future. He played all over the infield and showed off “lightning quick hands,” according to Bonifay, allowing him to see the ball deeper because of his bat speed.
The flip side of that might be Jonathan Guzman, who might be one of the best defenders in the system. He makes the game look slow, making the routine and spectacular plays consistently.
But perhaps no one stood out more than Luis Garcia. The infielder just turned 20 and is putting an up-and-down 2019 season in his rearview mirror, showing up to instructs ready to go.
“He was one of our best workers during COVID,” Bonifay said. “He was flipping tires, he was hitting, he was doing footwork and agility. He came in and may have been the best in terms of strength and growth. The at-bats from both sides, the bat speed continues to increase. He’s really improved at the pivot at second base, getting acclimated to that, while also playing a good shortstop.”
Matt Vierling, the club’s fifth-rounder in 2018 who spent '19 in Clearwater, had a strong camp and added to his positional versatility, showing the ability to not only play all three outfield spots, but also both infield corner spots. Baron Radcliff, taken in the fifth round of this year’s Draft, showed off legitimate left-handed power while also exhibiting good athleticism and an above-average arm in the outfield.
But among this group, it was Johan Rojas who stole the show. The 20-year-old made his United States debut in 2019 and looks poised to make a big jump in '21.
“He’s a freak,” Bonifay said. “He’s unbelievably strong, wiry strong. His ability to swing the bat is impressive. His bat-to-ball skills -- if he swings, he has a good chance of hitting it. He’s got power and he can patrol center field with the best of them. He can play shallow and go deep and his arm is above average. He needs to continue to get his reps, but he loves to play.”