Tuesday, June 25, 2013

All About the Iron Pigs - Guest Post


As near as I can figure there are only three fan blogs in all of minor league baseball. (I could be wrong. That’s happened once or twice. Let me know if I am.) One of them is Bacon and Biscuits the child of Matt Creedon and it follows the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and another team that plays an obscure game that involves wacking stuff around on ice. The Bulls went 2 and 2 in a four games series against the Iron Pigs at the DBAP back in early May.

As the Bulls roll into the Lehigh Valley, here’s Matt’s take on where the Phillies Triple-A franchise is this year.

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The IronPigs came into the season with the youngest roster that they have had in their six seasons in the Lehigh Valley. The average age of the Opening Day roster was about 26.5 years old and six of the Phillies’ top ten prospects started the year as Pigs (3 are still on the team, 2 are on the DL, and Jonathan Pettibone is in the Phillies rotation). There were also a number of players who contributed to the Phillies in 2012 (Tyler Cloyd, Joe Savery, Justin De Fratus, Pete Orr, etc.) who weren’t necessarily considered prospects (or at least in the top ten) that made the Opening Day squad. Because of that there was a lot of excitement and high expectations around the team back in April. There was also some concern that the team might struggle early and that proved to be the case.

The Pigs lost four of their first six games (all at home) and finished April at 10-15. In their last 12 April games they went 3-9 including being swept in four games at home by Buffalo. Along the way there were very few transactions which is rare considering the shape the Phillies were/are in and the simple fact that this is Triple-A. So it was concerning that the team played poorly despite all the promising pieces being in place for the entire first month.

May started off kind of shaky, but after the 3-5 road trip through your place and Norfolk, the Pigs really stepped it up at home, a place they have played very well at over the past few seasons, but did not through the first month and a half. Starting on May 18 - which oddly enough was my first game of the season. I guess I’ll take some credit – the Pigs won 8 of their next 9 home games and ended the month one game over .500 at 15-14 (25-29 overall).

They haven’t slowed down a bit at home since. In June they have won 8 of their 11 home games, which means that since May 18th they are 16-4 at Coca-Cola Park. The result is a 40-36 overall record and a half game lead in the Wild Card race. It might not sound that impressive, but they have come a long way. They just need to learn how to win on the road.

The team’s performance aside, one guy who has been good all season is 23-year-old 2B Cesar Hernandez. He hit .375 in April and continued to hit well over .300 for much of the first two months. He’s down to .296, but he still has a team-high 21 steals and IL-high 7 triples. Cesar also got some time with the Phillies when Michael Young went on bereavement leave (May 29th) and stuck with the team for two weeks. He’s back and hitting .263 in his last ten games.

22-year-old 3B Cody Asche is leading the team in RBI with 44, hits with 77, and games with 72. He has been very good offensively and defensively and figures to be the Phillies 3B next season (and hopefully long afterwards).

LF/1B Darin “Babe” Ruf had a chance to make the Phillies out of Spring Training, but wasn’t well adjusted enough in LF to make the team. They moved Ruf to the outfield after he hit 38 home runs with Reading (AA) last year. That broke Ryan Howard’s single-season record at Reading. Howard is of course blocking him at 1B. He’s 26 and wasn’t really on anyone’s radar until that power surge last season. After a slow start he’s starting to put things together. Overall he’s at .269, 7 HR, and 38 RBI and batting in the cleanup spot nightly. In the field he has done just fine and maybe even a little better than that. There’s still lots of talk on Philly sports radio about bringing him up, but he will be a Pig for the foreseeable future. You’ll probably see him in LF and at 1B during the upcoming series. He plays 1B about three times a week.

Catching has been a revolving door and arguably the Pigs’ biggest weakness. #3 prospect Tommy Joseph (acquired in last July’s Hunter Pence deal) started the season behind the plate, but landed on the DL with a concussion on May 9th. It turned out that it wasn’t his first. He was just about back, but after five games with Clearwater (High-A) he went back on the DL last Wednesday. That’s one of those situations where you start to really worry about the guy’s future. He’s only 21.

With Joseph out the Pigs have had Humberto Quintero, John Suomi, Steven Lerud, and Cameron Rupp (another prospect just promoted from Double-A) at catcher. Lerud and Rupp are on the roster right now.

1B Cody Overbeck is quietly having another good season for the Pigs. With a team-high 13 HR, he has moved into 2nd place on the IronPigs career HR list (jumped ahead of Phillies OF John Mayberry, Jr. – behind former Pigs 1B and current Phils Minor League Hitting Coordinator Andy Tracy).

OF Steve Susdorf and DH Josh Fields are having great seasons with .326 and .321 averages respectively (top two avg. on team). OF Leandro Castro will likely miss the Durham series after injuring his hand on the recent road trip. He was a valuable piece in the lineup and for what it’s worth, is leading my blog’s Pig of the Year competition. OF Jermaine Mitchell has been a good leadoff hitter.

Pitching-wise the most recent game notes say you will face Raul Valdes, Tom Cochran, Tyler Cloyd, and then possibly Carlos Zambrano (yes, the Carlos Zambrano). Valdes (2-2, 3.41) started the year in the Phils bullpen and was optioned mid-May. He’s had only two bad starts out of 7 total. He’s done well enough, but he should be in the bullpen. Cochran (3-2, 4.68) came up from Reading (AA) in early May and has won 3 of his first 4 starts in June. He’s been better after a bad start.

Cloyd (1-6, 7.69) is nowhere near the IL Pitcher of the Year that he was last season. He has been hammered in his two starts since being optioned by the Phillies (where, oddly enough, he didn’t do too badly) to the tune of 13 runs over 9.2 IP. In those two starts he has given up five home runs.

Zambrano (1-0, 3.18) may or may not pitch Friday. He has an opt-out clause on July 1st if the Phillies do not call him up. He has started 3 games for the Pigs and posted a 7 inning shutout at Toledo last Tuesday. He’s looked decent enough, but with Pettibone (only 22) holding his own in the Phils rotation, Z’s future is up in the air. If it were me I would not option Pettibone in favor of Zambrano. The Phils are rebuilding and Pettibone will play a role in the future team. Zambrano won’t.

Bullpen. We just lost J.C. Ramirez and Phillippe Aumont to the Phillies due to injuries. We’ve yet to get a replacement for either as of Monday morning. We have a closer by committee for the time being since Jake Diekman was called up. Lefty Mauricio Robles is the most likely candidate and hits the mid-90s with his fastball. RHP Justin Friend has been very, very good lately in middle relief. Greg Smith and Zach Miner are long men.

As for the rest of the season, I believe the IronPigs have enough talent to make the playoffs. That being said, I have to put out the disclaimer that this is Triple-A and the Phillies might be moving a number of pieces in the coming month. The Pigs could lose that talent and miss the playoffs. But I’m holding out hope…for the entire organization.

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Thanks, Matt!

4 comments:

  1. Thanks Chris; that's a very good summary of the Pigs.

    Dave

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    1. Here's another Pigs blog: http://noisenation.wordpress.com/

      Plus, the Pig's PR staff does an excellent job creating game notes before each and every game: http://www.milb.com/content/page.jsp?ymd=20130405&content_id=43951024&sid=t1410&vkey=news

      Chris, per your earlier post, too bad the Bulls don't have the same attitude about informing their AAA fans.

      Bill

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  2. Can't believe I missed the Noise Nation blog. Think I did look at it a couple of years ago, but then lost track. Will try an mention in next post.

    I'm pretty sure just about anyone can get on the email list for Durham Bulls game notes and they usually put up a tweet each day when they are published. If you do twitter, just follow the Bulls. Not sure that every game notes link is tweeted since I get mine by email.

    Try an email to: Shawn Krest
    and ask to be added to list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would be:

      skrest@durhambulls.com

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