August 28, 2015
As the Phillies started to replenish their farm system by picking at the top of the draft and trading away the veterans who brought a title to Philadelphia, Joe Jordan’s job became increasingly more important. The team’s director of player development has quite a bit more talent to work with than at this time last year.
Outsiders sure think so. MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis recently called the Phillies’ system the most improved in baseball. Generally thought to be in the bottom third at the beginning of the year, Callis has the Phillies all the way up to seventh overall in his rankings of MLB farm systems. Some young players are even starting to make an impact at the major-league level, like Aaron Altherr and Aaron Nola. For Jordan, that is the most rewarding part of his job.
“It’s been very gratifying for my whole staff especially when you see guys come up here perform and contribute,” Jordan said. “We talk about that a lot. It’s ‘come up and help the major league team win a game and just try to contribute.’ It’s been very gratifying for all of us.”
An even more busy man than usual, Jordan fielded a whole host questions about the Phillies’ system. Most interestingly, he talked about the early returns from the Cole Hamels trade.
“We’re going to get some big league players out of what we just acquired,” Jordan said. “I’ve got no question if they stay healthy, we added some pretty significant talent.”
In an effort to give an overworked bullpen some reinforcement, the Phillies announced on Friday that starter Jerome Williams will switch to relief duty “for the time being.” Taking his place in the rotation on Sunday against the Padres is 23-year-old right-hander Alec Asher.
Along with Jerad Eickhoff, Asher was viewed toward the bottom end of the prospect haul that the Phillies got in return from the Texas Rangers for Cole Hamels. Like Eickhoff, he is more major-league ready than the higher-rated players and will get a chance to pitch in the bigs fairly quickly. After posting a 4.63 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Asher settled down once he came east. In four starts at Lehigh Valley, he went 2-0 and posted a 2.08 ERA.
According to Jordan, Asher’s fastball can climb as high as the 94-95 mph range. His main secondary pitch is a slider, and both a curveball and changeup exist in the repertoire even if they have to be developed.
“He’s very aggressive and pounds the zone,” Jordan said. “I think the thing we’ve seen with him, as with Jerad when he was in the minor leagues, they pitch with a lot of confidence. They throw their fastball to both sides of the plate, and they pitch to contact.”
Jordan also believes that the 2012 fourth-round pick has the mental makeup to pitch well in the majors, even after being forced to make a couple of transitions fairly quickly.
“I had a good conversation [with Asher] in Lehigh two nights ago, it just seems like he’s really settled in,” Jordan said. “He presents himself very well. I think he’ll come up here and be himself. He should be fine if he does that.”
Since joining the Reading Fightin Phils after the Hamels trade, Nick Williams has been raking. In 92 at-bats, the 21-year-old outfielder is batting .326/.347/.554 with four homers and five doubles. Unfortunately, he’s going to spend at least a week on the disabled list after suffering a concussion in a game on Wednesday night.
Jordan believes Williams, who was injured on a collision at first base, will be fine. He said the absence “is more precautionary than anything.” Once Williams woke up with a headache the following day, the Phillies had no choice but to shut him down for a few days. Jordan doesn’t anticipate that the concussion will force Williams to miss the playoffs if Reading (75-55) continues to play well.
“We’ll encourage him to stay back at their place, keep the lights off and just let it do what it needs to do,” Jordan said. “He’ll have impact tests along the way, and again, we don’t foresee this to be any issue whatsoever. It’s just standard operating procedure.”
One of the other major pieces in the Hamels trade was Jorge Alfaro. After an ankle injury caused him to miss time, the prized catching prospect made his debut in a rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast League Phillies this week. A couple of games don’t give us any sample size at all, but Alfaro reportedly flashed the cannon throwing arm that he’s well known for.
“He threw a runner out in the first inning yesterday at second base and I got some ‘wows’ from the guys in Florida,” Jordan said. “The first impressions are very, very good. He needs some at-bats and needs to see live pitching.”
In the offseason, the plan for Alfaro is to head to instructional league for a short time and then play winter ball in Venezuela. The final major piece in the Hamels trade was right-handed starting pitcher Jake Thompson, who MLB Pipeline has ranked third overall in the Phillies’ system, directly ahead of Williams and Thompson.
Pitching for Reading, Thompson is another player who has impressed since coming over from Texas. In five starts, he has a 3-1 record and 1.97 ERA for the Fightin Phils with 23 strikeouts in 32 innings pitched. Along with a 90-93 mph fastball, Thompson’s slider is a highly regarded pitch. From what he said, Jordan thinks Thompson still has areas of his repertoire where he can make significant improvement.
“I think there’s room for development and room for improvement,” Jordan said. “I believe he’s a guy we can help, but I’m really excited about what he’s done. He’s been pretty good.”
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann