April 29, 2015
It's no surprise to see the Phillies struggling this year. At least it shouldn't be.
They're rebuilding, and doing so successfully will require getting the best out of what they already have, especially at the minor league level. It won't be easy for the Phillies, who currently have the 20th-ranked farm system in baseball, but that doesn't mean there isn't talent there.
Most of that talent is currently at the double-A level, so developing the Phillies' best young players will likely extend into next season and beyond. However, there are future Phils at nearly every minor league level, including their single-A club, the Lakewood BlueClaws.
And the best part is, some of their top prospects are playing within driving distance of Philadelphia, meaning there's no reason you can't go watch some of them play in-person.
Here's a closer look at the BlueClaws, their best players and some of the best days this season to make the drive over to Lakewood to watch them play:
2014 (Lakewood) - 487 AB, 59 R, 18 2B, 8 3B, 2 HR, 30 RBI, 25 BB, 96 K, .242/.297/.324
2015* (Lakewood) - 65 AB, 8 R, 7 2B, HR, 11 RBI, 7 BB, 6 K, .338/.427/.492
Just 19-years-old, Tocci has already spent parts of four seasons in the Phillies system, which seems almost impossible. However, the Phillies wasted not time signing the undrafted Venezuelan outfielder as soon as they could, his 16th birthday (August 23, 2011).
Now, Tocci is the fifth-ranked prospect in the entire organization according to Baseball America and has been tearing up single-A ball this season, posting a .919 OPS through his first 65 at-bats of the season. He's not known as a power hitter, but his ability to find the gaps coupled with his speed make him a threat to deliver an extra-base hit every time he steps up to the plate. And sometimes, he's capable of much more than that:
With his average up nearly 100 points this season, Tocci is not only leading his team in hitting (and is eighth overall in the South Atlantic League) with a .338 average, but his fielding is solid as well. In two-plus seasons with Lakewood, his Range Factor ([Putouts+Assists]/Games Played) is 2.48. By comparison, the MLB's active leader in RF is Denard Span at 2.63. Tocci's 2.48 would land him at seventh on the big boys' list.
If Tocci keeps up this pace, he'll likely move to double-A Reading at some point this season or begin next year there. We're probably at the very least a year or two away from seeing him on the major league club, with the smart money betting on the over.
MATT HOCKENBERRY, RHP - If you're a Temple grad, then you have something in common with the 23-year-old reliever from Hanover, Pa. So far this season, Hockenberry has tossed nine scoreless innings while recording three saves.
CORD SANDBERG, OF - Remember that good Mississippi State football team this year? Well, Cord Sandberg could have been their starting quarterback; he turned down a scholarship there to sign with the Phillies after the selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft. And following a rocky start to the season, the 20-year-old has been hot as of late, recording seven hits in his last four games.
MALQUIN CANELO, SS - Another young international prospect, Canelo is off to a great start in 2015, hitting .333 through 16 games at the top of the BlueClaws order.
The first BlueClaws player to advance to the Major League level was current Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard would later be joined by other former BlueClaws like Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz, all integral parts of the 2008 World Series team.
The BlueClaws offer an all-you-can-eat package at select home games throughout the summer. It costs $153 for the nine-game pack ($17/game) and gives you access to unlimited hot dogs, burgers, chips, and soda. Since tickets at the gate cost $14 for adults, that means you get to stuff your face for just four dollars. Not too shabby.
FirstEnergy Park - 2 Stadium Way, Lakewood, NJ 08701
Opened: 2001 | Capacity: 8,000 (6,588 seats)
As is the case with many minor league teams, you'll want to check the schedule of upcoming promotions before buying tickets. Here are some highlights:
• May 7 - Garden Gnome Giveaway
• May 9 - Bark in the Park
• May 21 - Renaissance Night
• June 4 - Duffel Bag Giveaway | Cheerleading Night with Eagles Cheerleaders
• July 5 - Back to the Future Night
• July 8 - Ken Giles "Made The Phillies" Bobblehead
• July 12 - Kids Superhero Cape Giveaway
• July 25 - Bruce Springsteen Appreciation Night
• July 27 - Mustache Appreciation Night with appearance by Rollie Fingers
You can listen to BlueClaws games online if you don't live within range of their radio broadcasts, but if you want to watch them play, your best bet is to make the short drive out to FirstEnergy Park