Phillies prospect report from Spring Training

March 11th, 2020

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies went all-in a year ago. They signed Bryce Harper to a $330 million contract, shelled out another $73 million for two more free agents in Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, assumed $58 million more in contract responsibilities in a trade for Jean Segura and packaged their top pitching prospect (Sixto Sanchez) in a deal for J.T. Realmuto.

And after all those upgrades, Philadelphia won just 81 games in 2019, up one from the previous season. It still hasn't had a winning record or advanced to the playoffs since 2011.

The Phillies had a quieter offseason this time around. They did invest $118 million in Zack Wheeler, but their second-biggest move was a one-year, $14 million deal for Didi Gregorius. If they're finally going to get back to October baseball, their two most impactful newcomers in 2020 might just be their two best prospects.

Third baseman Alec Bohm and right-hander Spencer Howard looked close to ready while excelling in the Arizona Fall League following the 2019 season. Bohm finished second in the batting race at .361/.397/.528, while Howard showcased the best consistent stuff in the developmental circuit.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Bohm has continued to make a strong impression in big league camp, collecting nine hits in his first 22 at-bats (.409) while striking out just twice. The Wichita State product's ability to hit for power and average gives him considerably more offensive upside than Philadelphia's third-base options, which include Segura, Scott Kingery, Logan Forsythe and Josh Harrison.

After hitting .293/.378/.518 with 21 homers while rising from Class A to Double-A at age 22 last season, Bohm is capable of posting similar numbers as a rookie. The bigger question is whether he can handle the defensive responsibilities of third base at the big league level. He has solid arm strength and has worked to improve, though his range and consistency still are fringy at best.

"Alec is a special hitter," Phillies farm director Josh Bonifay said. "He controls the zone, he uses the entire field. He has the ability to hit the ball out to right-center, then pull the ball for a home run. He adjusts to the breaking ball, he has a gameplan, he adjusts to how pitchers pitch to him.

"He takes third base extremely serious. He has done a lot of work on his footwork and pre-pitch preparation, and he continues to get better every day. His arm strength is plenty to play third base. From last year to this year, he has made great strides."

Howard made his first Grapefruit League appearance on Tuesday after he tweaked his right knee during a workout shortly before camp opened. He also missed two months with shoulder soreness last season, when he advanced to Double-A at age 22 while compiling a 2.03 ERA, .173 opponent average and 94 strikeouts in 71 innings between three levels.

A second-round pick in 2017 out of Cal Poly, Howard can miss bats with four different pitches. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and touches 99 mph, his plus changeup features deception and tumble, and both his slider and curveball combine power and depth. He has cut his walk rate from 5.7 to 3.2 to 2.0 per nine innings in three seasons as a pro, so the main thing he needs to prove at this point is that he can stay healthy.

"Spencer has a special arm," Bonifay said. "He has the ability to throw his fastball at 99, two unbelievable weapons with his curveball and slider and the ability to throw his changeup at any point in time. He has confidence in the changeup, which is an out pitch at times. He commands all four pitches too."

Camp standouts
As a 21-year-old who has barely played above Class A, Rafael Marchan has no chance to make the Phillies out of Spring Training. He gets summoned to big league camp whenever the Phillies need an extra body at catcher. While he hasn't gotten much playing time, he has made the most of it -- as well as a strong impression on manager Joe Girardi, who spent 15 years behind the plate in the Majors.

Known mostly for his defense, Marchan has displayed steady receiving skills and a strong arm behind the plate. He also has three singles in six at-bats and even has stolen a base.

"Rafael is an elite receiver with an extremely quick exchange," Bonifay said. "He makes strong, accurate throws and is very poised for a young catcher. A manager can leave the game in his hands because he knows how to run a game. He's a very good human too.

"I know Girardi has talked extremely highly of him in camp. He has very good bat-to-ball skills and knows the strike zone. We're not really worried about his power. As he physically matures, he'll be just fine."

Two lesser-known prospects have laid the groundwork for possible big league debuts later in the season. Left-hander Damon Jones, an 18th-round pick in 2017, has struck out five in three scoreless innings with a deceptive fastball that reaches 96 mph and a pair of swing-and-miss breaking balls in his curveball and slider. Luke Williams, a third-rounder in 2015, has gone 8-for-22 (.364) while showing the versatility that allowed him to play all four infield and all three outfield positions in Double-A last year.

Prospects we'll be talking about in 2021
The Phillies placed three players on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list (Bohm, Howard, shortstop Bryson Stott), and Francisco Morales could join them in the near future. A right-hander signed out of Venezuela for $900,000 in 2016, he can overpower hitters with his fastball and slider. He made his full-season debut in 2019, logging a 3.82 ERA with 129 strikeouts in 96 2/3 innings in Class A.

"Francisco is a beast on the mound, a physical specimen," Bonifay said. "His fastball is extremely heavy and gets up to 98 mph. His slider had a 32 percent swing-and-miss rate last year -- it's a pure out pitch. He has come a long way with developing a changeup. He's poised to have a tremendous year."

Among deeper sleepers, keep an eye on Dominican left-hander Jordi Martinez. He pitched just 12 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last summer but wowed scouts with a fastball that touches 96 mph with late tailing action, flashes of a plus slider and feel for a deceptive changeup.

Something to prove
When Mickey Moniak signed for $6.1 million as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, the consensus was that he had the tools and skills to contend for batting titles and Gold Gloves in center field one day. But in his first four years in pro ball, he hit .256/.302/.390 with 22 homers in 402 games. Scouts outside the organization now view him more as a fourth outfielder than an everyday player.

The Phillies remain more optimistic than that, of course, and note that Moniak set a career high with 11 homers while posting a full-season best .749 OPS as a 21-year-old in Double-A last season. In any case, he needs to prove he can provide impact at the plate if he's going to become a regular in Philadelphia.

"Mickey had a pretty good year last year and was three years younger than the Double-A average," Bonifay said. "After the month of April, he did a great job. His at-bats got better, his zone discipline got better.

"One of the areas he needs to continue to polish is stealing bags. He has a good arm, he can play center field, he can play right field. Each year, he gets more physical. He's also a phenomenal person who gets along extremely well with his teammates and looks out for them."