In part one of the series, we looked at the more subtle off the field changes that the Phillies new farm director, Preston Mattingly, has made in the minor league system. In this part, we take a look at the things you will see on the field, throughout every level of the minors.
At Lehigh Valley, the roster this season consists primarily of older players with just a couple of strong prospects sprinkled in here and there. The better prospects are at the lower levels, primarily High-A Jersey Shore and Class A Clearwater. Reading has a few nice prospects on the roster as well, but the bigger names of the future are at the lower levels.
The good part of that is that younger players who are at the upper levels have older players to help them through the season and young managers have experienced players that they will not have to pay as much attention to and can help the new coaches as well.
The young coaching staffs are reinforcing two new philosophies. Patience/discipline at the plate and aggressiveness on the basepaths. As for patience and discipline, they’ll have to keep working. The IronPigs have played eight games, while the three other affiliates have played five and so far, the teams have combined to draw 89 walks, while whiffing 225 times in those games.
The aggressiveness on the bases is going much better, especially among those younger players at Jersey Shore and Clearwater. As the chart below points out, Jersey Shore and Clearwater have huge leads in stolen base attempts and have success rates of 92 and 73-percent. If you divide out the number of pitches that players are seeing per game, Jersey Shore also leads the way there with 153, compared to Reading (145), Clearwater (140) and Jersey and Lehigh Valley (131). In other words, the BlueClaws, where nine of the Phillies top 30 prospects started the season, have taken to the new philosophy both at the plate and on the bases.
The aggressiveness on the bases also translates to aggressiveness in runners going from home to second or third, first to third and second to home. While there are no quantitative stats on those numbers in the minors, trust me, it is being emphasized. Contreras spent about a half-hour prior to a home game working with players on what type of lead he expects them to get off both first and second base. The instruction involved a tape measure and lines in the dirt to show players just what was expected.
“Base running is one of those things that is underrated, but when you have good base runners and teams can execute and understand situations, when to advance, when to take that extra 90, it pays dividends,” said Contreras in a recent meeting with the media.
Philadelphia Phillies Organization Report – 2022
|Lehigh Valley IronPigs||.214||8||238||29||29||60||2||1||.308||.324||.632||1047|
|Reading Fightin Phils||.165||5||158||16||21||53||2||1||.275||.323||.598||727|
|Jersey Shore BlueClaws||.211||5||166||21||23||64||24||2||.320||.259||.579||767|
IronPigs hitting coach Joe Thurston was never considered to be a base stealer in the majors, with just five swipes in 182 MLB games, but early in his minor league career, he was a definite burner on the basepaths. In his first minor league season though, he had 27 steals and 27 walks in 71 games and became known as a guy who was aggressive and would take an extra base at every opportunity. Thurston is passing his philosophies on taking secondary leads, recognizing when to take an extra base and being aware of things like outfielders positioning, fielding and throwing skills and their mechanics in getting to a ball in the outfield.
“I was taught by Maury Wills, Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson, so I kind of know a little bit about it,” Thurston said. “I think it’s just something that it’s a lost art because it wasn’t as important. It’s just being brought back. There’s nothing new.
“It was, ‘Get the ball in the air, but what happens when you don’t get the ball in the air and you got guys on base?”
The new philosophy plays well with what could be a return to stealing and baserunning by Major League Baseball and the Phillies, who lagged behind in things like the Moneyball approach to winning and analytics, are on the forefront of this movement and are preparing their players. The minor leagues will experiment with moving second base, which will make stealing bases and going from first to third just a little easier by cutting down the distance between first and second and second and third. When the change goes into effect in the second half of the season, a trip around the bases will actually be about 26-inches shorter than it is now. To steal a base, runners will travel 13-inches less than in the past, which might not sound like a lot but when you consider the number of bang-bang plays on stolen bases, it will make a decided difference.
How much success will the new philosophy bring? That remains to be seen, but if you are a fan of aggressiveness on the bases and stealing bags, it could be a lot of fun. Now if they can only get that plate discipline thing down.