The story so far – During a trip to watch Spring Training in Florida, I watched a Yankees/Phillies minor league game. I noted the names of six of the Phillies players, and resolved to follow them through the season to see how the fared.
Now, as they say, read on…
It’s a sixteen hour, 1073 mile drive from Clearwater, Florida to Reading, Pennsylvania. But in terms of what the two towns have in common, they might just as well be on different planets. In Clearwater on Minor League opening day it was 76 degrees and sunny. It’s a nice, busy coastal resort which is one of a chain on the Florida Gulf Coast. Seven figure value figure boats are berthed in the marina, the seafood restaurants serve the catch of the day, and when you drive round it looks pretty prosperous.
On opening day in Reading PA, it was 20 degrees colder. Reading is in an area commonly referred to as ‘rust belt’ – the de-industrialised part of the States that has seemingly been in permanent economic decline for over forty years. In 2010 a report announced that it had the highest poverty levels in the country. Iron and steel production has long gone, and even the railway doesn’t go there anymore.
It’s mid-way between Harrisburg – of Three Mile Island nuclear disaster notoriety, and Allentown – whose claim to fame seems to be that Billy Joel once wrote a depressing song about it…
But even given all that, I’d guess that outfielder Matt Vierling would have bitten your arm off to be heading north as the Minor Leaguers left Spring Training, rather than staying in Clearwater. His was one of the last names omitted from the Double-A roster, listed instead to remain at the single-A level he’d ended 2018.
To his credit, Vierling has started the season in great form, hitting .343 in the first week of the young season, with a game winning home run against the Dunedin Blue Jays. He’s probably taken the chance to top up his tan as well and perhaps allowed himself a wry grin when he heard that the Double-A Fightin’ Phils game against New Hampshire River Cats was postponed because of snow in the Granite State!
So, aside from trying to ward of hypothermia, how have our other five prospects been getting on?
OF Micky Moniak was drafted straight out of High School by the Phillies in 2016. Not only that, but they gave him a multi-million signing on fee, and made him the first overall pick in that year’s draft. So, it’s fair to say there’s a high level of expectation surrounding the alliterative outfielder. Missing college means he’s been getting his baseball education straight from the major league source.
So Moniak is now in his third year in the minors, but at just 21, is three years younger than most others on the Fightin Phils roster. The local Reading Eagle paper has made Moniak one of the key promotional figures for the Fightin Phils this season, alongside fellow first round draft picks – Adam Haseley and Cornelius Randolph. After a couple of average seasons in single-A, the jump up seems to have done Moniak good – he’s batting over .270 with some important hits.
There’s also a high level of expectation on the shoulders of David Parkinson – but that’s due to his stellar performance since being picked 353rd overall in the 2016 draft. He made his double-A debut on Saturday 6th. The Reading Eagle described his performance as a ‘gem’ – and having watched it on MILB.tv, I agree with them. 10 strikeouts in five innings with only one hit and three walks. He’s got great control, and uses the slider and curveball to set up the high fastball as his ‘out’ pitch. Very impressive stuff.
Henri Lartigue has started the season as the back-up catcher, although he did catch David Parkinson’s start last Saturday, and has made three starts in the first eight games. He’s 3 for 12 with 3 RBI… and six K’s!
Darick Hall (2B) has struggled to keep his average above the Mendoza line thus far, though had the key 2 RBI hit in the home opener against Richmond Flying Squirrels (Yes, honestly, that’s the team name! Maybe it’s a breed that’s unique to Virginia…)
Third baseman Luke Williams, who was also picked by the Phillies straight out of High School, is batting .278. His highlight so far is stealing third and then home in the space of a few pitches.
Overall the Fightin Phils have started the season nicely and have a 5-2 record, with one game snowed out and one lost to what looked in the photos like a monsoon!
It’s interesting to note that all six of the prospects we’re following were picked in the 2016 draft by the Phillies, and all seem to be following the same route through the minor league organisation. Below the major league club, there are TEN different teams in the organisation, from the rookie leagues in Florida, where games start at noon in front of two men and the proverbial dog, right up to triple-A. So, a conservative estimate suggests there are nearly 300 players, all with an eye on making the major leagues.
In the next episode, we’ll continue to see how the six perform, and have a closer look at the Reading team and organisation.
If you want some homework between then and now, watch Bull Durham!