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June 16, 2017

Phillies notebook: When Adam Haseley could reach majors, Saunders vs. Williams, All-Stars & more

Phillies top pick Adam Haseley, a left-handed hitting outfielder out of the University of Virginia, will likely sign his first professional contract within the next week.

The 8th-overall pick in this week’s MLB Draft, Haseley is the first collegiate position player the Phillies have used on a first-round pick since 2000 (Chase Utley).

But Haseley is also the 21st collegiate position player to be drafted in the top 15 picks of the draft in the last five years. It’s a route that’s worked out particularly well for the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs (Kris Bryant, 2nd overall in 2013; Kyle Schwarber, 4th in ’14; Ian Happ, 9th in ’15).

It’s a draft strategy that might be music to the ears of Phillies fans sick of hearing about having to wait for their prospects to grow on the farm. All seven of the college position players drafted within the first 15 picks of the 2014 and ’15 drafts reached the big leagues within two seasons of their draft year: Schwarber, Happ, Trea Turner, Michael Conforto, Andrew Benintendi, Alex Bregman, and Dansby Swanson.

So can the 21-year-old Haseley, known for his advanced control of the strike zone and strong makeup, be on that same fast track and get to Citizens Bank Park by 2019, if not sooner?

“I hope so,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “His performance will dictate that, but I think he has demonstrated the ability in college, he’s a pretty mature player and if he demonstrates those same skills at the professional level in the minor leagues, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that he might be able to zip through the minor leagues.”

There was talk initially of having Haseley, once he signs, beginning his pro career with Low-A Lakewood. But that was squashed a few days later since the Phillies want both Haseley and 2016 No.1 overall pick Mickey Moniak playing center field regularly, and Moniak is doing just that in Lakewood.

Although short-season Williamsport was mentioned as a possibility for Haseley, let’s do the math: he’s 21 (two years older than Moniak) and on a possible fast track to the big leagues, meaning Class A Clearwater (a level above Lakewood) would look like a much better fit.

In a perfect world for the Phillies, Haseley dominates the Florida State League this summer and puts himself in position to begin the 2018 season at Double-A Reading. In that scenario, Haseley could be on the big league radar as soon as late next summer.

But, of course, Haseley’s bat is the one in control of how fast he moves through the system. Where he starts is important, though, and Class A Clearwater would be an encouraging sign for Phillies fans.

For the sake of comparison, the Cubs sent Happ to short-season Eugene (the same level as Williamsport) to begin his own pro career two years ago and the University of Cincinnati product earned a promotion to Low-A South Bend (the same level as Lakewood) a month later. Benintendi, the 7th overall pick in ’15, began his own pro career in the New York-Penn League (where Williamsport plays) and then earned a promotion to the Red Sox Sally League team (where Lakewood plays) in August.

Perhaps that's the plan for Haseley this summer, although, again, the presence of Moniak muddles things. If the Phils want both Haseley and Moniak to continue to develop at center fielders, it would make sense to push the college kid that’s two years older to the higher level, wouldn’t it? 

And that would mean Class A Clearwater at some point this summer – and perhaps even as a starting point – for the 8th overall pick.

Put me in, coach

Michael Saunders was out of the Phillies’ lineup for the sixth time in the last eight game son Friday night. And one of the games he started involved the Phillies having a ninth bat in the lineup with the usage of a designated hitter.

Saunders came into play Friday hitting .200 with a .254 OBP and 16 extra-base hits in 59 games. You know this is poor production when you actually have to look up to check to see if these numbers are superior to the production through 59 games of the Phillies main right-fielder for the first half of the 2016 season, Peter Bourjos. They are, but barely: Bourjos hit .211 with a .240 OBP and 12 extra-base hits through his first 59 games last season.

Of course, Bourjos was also making just $2 million last season (not the $9 million Saunders is being paid) and Bourjos also played Gold Glove-caliber defense (Saunders does not). It’s beginning to feel like Saunders and his one-year, $9 million contract should just join the list of sunk costs from the first two years of the Klentak Era, with Clay Buchholz ($13.5 million) and Charlie Morton ($9 million).

Those two pitchers, of course, suffered season-ending injuries. With Saunders, you’d have to release him to make him go away.

If he’s not going to play and the Phils are eventually going to promoted prospects, why is he still here?

“Michael Saunders is a true pro,” Klentak explained. “The way he conducts himself is having an impact on the team, even when he's not performing, even though he's not on the field. The way he carries himself, the way he interacts with his teammates, Michael Saunders is a net positive in that area. That's one of the reasons he was a player that we wanted to bring in to be around this young group. No. 1, there's that.

"And, No. 2, if you look at Michael Saunders' career arc, he has been through both cold and hot streaks in his career. The hot streaks tend to be really hot. And the cold streaks, like the one he's in now, can be pretty tough. So, for where we are, we want to try our best to get him going. Because we know if he gets going, he can carry this team for not a day, not a week, he could carry the team for a month. It's tricky, obviously. How much do you run him out there? How much do you give him some rest? … We still have the belief that Michael Saunders can turn it around.” 

If and when Saunders does go away (or, perhaps more likely, when Howie Kendrick is traded before next months’ trade deadline), the outfield replacement bat could be Triple-A prospect Nick Williams, who is slashing .308/.333/.673 with 11 home runs in 28 games/108 plate appearances since May 17.

But why not Williams-for-Saunders now?

“Nick has a year and a half under his belt at Triple-A,” Klentak said of Williams, who turns 24 in September. “I think J.P. (Crawford) was the youngest last year at Triple A and Nick was the second youngest. It was an aggressive timeline for him. I would tell you that Nick is more ready today than he was a month ago. Nick has been really good for a month.

“He’s had a really good month and come into his own offensively. But he’s not a finished product. As you have heard me say before, we’d like when players that come up here, they have a decent chance of staying and that’s the thing. There’s some finishing touches for Nick that he’s working on and he knows what he’s working on. I think Nick has been a success story for the last month to six weeks. He’s been really good.”

You're an All-Star

Pete Mackanin looked at the ballot in his hand while sitting inside his office at Citizens Bank Park and had a simple but important question: could he vote for any of his own players?

While fan balloting determines who starts in next month’s All-Star Game in Miami, players and managers also vote, determining the rest of the roster, including the pitching staffs.

If Mackanin had to pick one of his guys?

“Neshek,” he said.

Pat Neshek, the veteran 36-year-old middle reliever, is as good of a choice as any to be the lone representative from the team with baseball’s worst record. Neshek entered Friday having allowed two earned runs in 27 games (good enough for a 0.72 ERA) and his 0.80 WHIP and 5.75 K/BB rate are his best since 2014 when he made the All-Star team as a member of the St Louis Cardinals.

Among major league relievers with at least 20 innings, Neshek’s ERA ranks second best to Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances, his WHIP ranks 6th best, and his .222 opponents’ OBP ranks 10th best.

Neshek has been scored upon in just one of his 27 appearances this season (on May 14 in Washington). Since that night he’s posted 12 straight scoreless appearances, striking out 11 and walking one in 11 1/3 innings over that span.

Update: make that 13 straight scoreless appearances after Friday night. Neshek has begun his Phillies career with 15 straight scoreless appearances at home, tied with Tug McGraw (1979) for the fourth-longest such streak by a Phils' reliever since 1913. The longest of those streaks? Jeff Calhoun, of course, with 21 straight scoreless appearances out of the 'pen to begin the 1987 season.

If Neshek has any competition as the Phils’ All-Star rep, it’d come from Aaron Altherr. Although the 26-year-outfielder has slowed down some since his breakout month of May, Altherr also entered Friday hitting .275 with seven extra-base hits in his last 10 games, including three home runs.

Altherr came into Friday slashing .281/.355/.542 with 11 home runs in 57 games. Altherr’s .897 OPS ranked 7th among National League outfielders, behind Bryce Harper, Michael Conforto, Charlie Blackmon, Marcela Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton, and Matt Kemp.

Quick hits

• Vince Velasquez is tentatively scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, before the Phillies hit the road for a 9-game road trip through Arizona, Seattle, and New York. Velasquez, placed on the DL on May 31 with a right elbow flexor strain, is unlikely to rejoin the Phillies before the All-Star break.

• Aaron Nola fell to 3-5 with a 4.76 ERA after Friday night's one-run loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a game that turned on the 24-year-old right-hander's 99th pitch of the night: a 77-MPH curveball that hung a little too high when it arrived at the plate. The ball was smacked out by Gregor Blanco for a game-tying home run. 

But one bad curveball shouldn't have Nola re-thinking his best pitch. He threw it 36 times on Friday, more than any other pitch in his arsenal, and a good number of them were, for lack of a sabermetric-y word, nasty. It's even been argued that Nola should throw his curveball more often each time out. 

"I felt better with it than in previous outings," Nola said of his hook on Friday. "I didn’t throw (the Blanco one) where I needed to, I needed to throw it more down. But yeah ... I threw some good ones. It felt better than in previous outings."

• Phillies top prospect J.P. Crawford has missed five straight games with a groin injury but is expected to rejoin Triple-A Lehigh Valley's lineup by Monday. Crawford is hitting .194/.313/.252 in 56 games this year 

Although Crawford has hit a bit better in the last month (.247, ..360 OBP with more walks than strikeouts since May 15), aren't the overall numbers beginning to be a bit concerning? 

"Am I concerned? Not really," Klentak said. "His defense is still good. He still controls the strike zone. Obviously, he's hitting .200. That will need to improve. But I think it will. He doesn't strike out. He doesn't chase. He's been a victim of BABIP (batting average on balls in play) a little bit this year. He's still 22. He may not be quite on the fast track that he had been publicly anointed over the last few years. But as far as a long-term concern for his ability to contribute to this club, we are not concerned."

• Low-A Lakewood left-hander JoJo Romero struck out 10 and didn't walk a batter in eight shutout innings of a 6-0 win on Friday. Romero, a 4th round pick out of Yavapai College in the 2016 draft, improved to 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA in 12 starts this season. In his last seven starts, Romero is 4-0 with a 1.53 ERA and 48 strikeouts/11 walks in 47 innings.

You may have missed Romero's latest, but if you have tonight free you can drive out to Lakewood to see Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez. The 18-year-old Sanchez, who is 2-2 with a 3.07 ERA and 32 strikeouts and three walks in six starts, takes the ball at 7:05 tonight at FirstEnergy Park. 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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