Photo of Mark Appel courtesy of Cheryl Pursell.
Philly Baseball Insider has increased our list of the top Phillies prospects from the usual 50 prospects that we’ve ranked in previous seasons to 80 players coming into the 2018 season.
Our list is compiled by comparing notes with scouts, coaches, broadcasters, reporters and other analysts both throughout the season and following the season.
To be eligible for the list, a player must have his MLB rookie status intact coming into the 2018 season, meaning that they do not have more than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors during a previous season or seasons. They also may not have accumulated more than 45 days on a major league roster during the 25-player limit period (April through August), excluding time on the DL.
The plan is to unveil five players per day through mid-January with short scouting reports on each player. We will also be starting to assemble a list of player pages that will include stats and information on players throughout the Phillies organization.
Here are the Phillies prospects ranked 46th through 50th on our Top 80 Prospects list:
46. Mark Appel, RHP, 26
It has not been a fun ride for Mark Appel. Just three years ago, Baseball America had Appel as the 31st best prospect in all of baseball. He was actually drafted in the first round twice, the first time at number-eight by Pittsburgh and the second time as the top overall pick by Houston in 2013. This guy was supposed to be the real deal.
Last season, he tried to pitch through an injury with Lehigh Valley and put up horrible numbers in 17 starts with a 5.27 ERA. It’s not out of the question that Appel will be moved to the bullpen in an attempt to get something out of him and if he falters there, he could be coming up on the end of the line. The Phillies have already removed him from the 40-man roster and right now, he’s not in their plans for 2018 other than pitching at Lehigh Valley.
47. Mark Laird, OF, 25
Laird was pushed out of center field at Louisiana State because of the presence of Alex Stevenson, but the Phillies like his abilities in center and figure on him sticking in that spot. He’s got above-average defensive abilities, and a strong enough arm that playing in right field in college wasn’t a stretch for Laird at all.
It figures that Laird will be something of a slap-hitter, most likely suited for one of the first two spots in a batting lineup, where he’ll be able to use his speed, because he lacks power, but has the ability to get on base. Last season at Clearwater, Laird hit .286 with a .338 on-base percentage and is a career .302 hitter in three minor league seasons.
48. Trevor Bettencourt, RHP, 23
In 2017, Bettencourt opened last season at Lakewood after pitching in just two games for Williamsport in his first pro season, which was a testament to just what the Phillies believed he was capable of doing. He pitched so well for the BlueClaws (3.28 ERA in 25 games) that they moved him up to Clearwater where he made 16 more relief appearances and posted a 1.57 ERA. Between the two stops he saved 10 games.
The Phillies showed more confidence in Bettencourt when they selected him to play in the Arizona Fall League following the season. Perhaps because of a little fatigue, Bettencourt ran into a tough patch where he allowed nine earned runs in three innings, covering three appearances. Those were the only runs he allowed in eight full innings of work, but they still resulted in a 10.13 ERA. Bettencourt finished with four shutout innings during which he allowed one hit, hit one batter, struck out seven and didn’t issue a walk. Bettencourt features a sharp 12-to-6 curve which he uses as his out-pitch and a mid-90s fastball with decent movement.
49. Brandon Leibrandt, LHP, 25
Leibrandt opened the 2016 season on the DL following surgery to correct a torn labrum. After a lengthy rehab, he pitched in just 10 games – four with the GCL Phillies and six with Clearwater – but put up good numbers and was at least able to show that he was healthy. Last season with both Reading and Lehigh Valley, he took another step, showing that he can get hitters out at the upper levels of the minors.
The key to Leibrandt’s success is commanding his fastball, which isn’t strong enough to blow by most hitters, with the velocity sitting right around 90 mph. While with Lehigh Valley, pitching coach Dave Lundquist noticed an issue with Leibrandt’s mechanics when he threw his curve and change and the two worked to fix the flaw. The result was turning the curve into a pitch that he can use as a true weapon and making the change at least an average, or slightly above pitch for Leibrandt. While Leibrandt has a spring training invite, he’s not likely to make the club out of camp, but should serve as insurance pitching in the IronPigs bullpen.
50. Francisco Morales, RHP, 18
Morales was an international free agent signing by the Phillies in July 2016, but he didn’t pitch for them until he participated in the Florida Instructional League following the season. Last season, he made nine starts and one relief appearance in the Gulf Coast League and pitched well, striking out 44 hitters in 41 1/3 innings of work, but he did struggle with his command, walking 20 hitters, hitting eight batters with pitches and issuing six wild pitches.
Morales is somewhat erratic as a pitcher, which leads to some of the control problems. His fastball can be anywhere between the upper-end of the 80s to mid-90s. He seems to have the same problem that Vince Velasquez has in that even when he pitches pretty well, he tends to use too many pitches to get hitters out instead of being able to go right at them and put them away quickly. The difference is that Morales is still just 18 years old. On the upside, Morales has good size at 6′ 4″, 185 pounds. He may fill out a little and with coaching, should be able to keep him velocity at a more consistent low or mid-90s level.