To counter the boredom of the next couple months, I’m going to prepare a possible opening day roster for the 2020 Clearwater Threshers.
First, the catchers. Last season, the Phillies suffered a rash of injuries to their minor league catchers. There were 16 different instances of catchers going on the IL. Some of the transactions appeared to be paper moves, but of the 12 individual catchers who went on the IL, seven ended the season there (bold below). Three of these would have been questionable had the season started when scheduled (italics below). The delay may allow them to bet healthy.
- Nerluis Martinez (REA) started the season on the 7-day IL (activated 7/29)
- 4/4 – Matt McBride (LHV) placed on the 7-day IL with a calf strain (activated 4/20)
- 5/2 – Rafael Marchan (LAK) placed on the 7-day IL (activated 5/24)
- 5/23 – Edgar Cabral (CLW) placed on the 60-day IL, TJ surgery (activated 10/3)
- 5/24 – Abrahan Gutierrez (LAK) placed on the 7-day IL, concussion (activated 6/8)
- 6/13 – McBride placed on the 7-day IL (thigh contusion) (activated 7/2)
- 6/13 – Colby Fitch (CLW) placed on the 7-day IL (activated 10/3)
- 7/2 – Deivi Grullon (LHV) placed on the 7-day IL for a fractured toe (activated 7/13)
- 7/3 – Gutierrez placed on the 7-day IL (activated 7/11)
- 7/4 – Jesse Wilkening (LAK) placed on the 7-day IL (assigned to XST 6/14, DNP)
- 7/17 – Jack Conley (CLW) placed on the 7-day IL (activated 7/26)
- 7/26 – Rodolfo Duran (CLW) placed on the 7-day IL, knee (activated 10/3)
- 7/30 – Martinez placed on the 7-day IL (activated 10/2)
- 8/8 – McBride placed on the 7-day IL, calf strain (activated 8/17)
- 8/19 – McBride placed on the 7-day IL (activated 9/1)
- 8/19 – Gabriel Ojeda (CLW) placed on the 7-day IL (activated 10/8)
- 8/28 – Willie Estrada (CLW) placed on the 7-day IL (activated 10/8)
To overcome the situation, several catchers moved through several levels of the organization. Correct assignment is tricky. The following are best guesses. Nothing more.
Rafael Marchan made a huge impression on Phillies’ manager Joe Girardi during spring training. None the less, he will likely return to Clearwater where he started 22 games during the Threshers’ second half.
Marchan was signed as a 16-year-old international free agent on July 3, 2015 out of Venezuela. Born February 25, 1999, he’s R/R, 5’9, 170 lb. He was not assigned to an affiliate during the 2015 season. He spent 2016 with one of the Phillies DSL teams (.333/.380/.386/.766 in 192 plate appearances and threw out 40% of base stealers).
Marchan came stateside in 2017 and played for the GCL Phillies (.238/.290/.298/.588 in 93 plate appearances and threw out 43% of base stealers. He spent 2017 with Williamsport (.301/.343/.362/.705 in 210 plate appearances and threw out 29% of base stealers).
Marchan started the 2019 season in Lakewood (.271/.347/.339/.686 in 265 plate appearances and threw out 36% of base stealers) and finished in Clearwater (.231/.291/.282/.573 and threw out 37% of base stealers).
Marchan’s work behind the plate is what caught Girardi’s eye. It didn’t hurt that he was hitting .500 (3-6) in 5 games with a stolen base. Marchan needs to develop offensively. He has yet to hit a HR in 846 career plate appearances. He’s a good contact hitter, striking out just 79 times (9.3%) in his career and walking 61 times (7.2%).
Abrahan Gutierrez was originally signed as an international free agent by the Braves as a 16-year-old on July 2, 2016 out of Venezuela. He was one of several players who were granted free agency when the Atlanta Braves were found to have violated international free agency signing rules. He was signed by the Phillies on March 6, 2018. He was born on October 31, 1999 and is R/R, 6’2, 214 lbs.
Gutierrez did not play the summer he was signed. He made his professional debut in 2017 with the GCL Braves (.264/.319/.357/.676 in 141 plate appearances and threw out 38% of base stealers). After signing with the Phillies, Gutierrez repeated GCL in 2018 as an 18-year-old with Phillies West (.315/.363/.407/.769 in 177 plate appearances and threw out 21% of base stealers).
Gutierrez jumped to Lakewood in 2018 (.246/.314/.318/.632 in 322 plate appearances and threw out 30% of base stealers). Most notable was his spike in strike outs. In his GCL seasons Gutierrez struck out 14.9% (2017) and 9.0% (2018). In Lakewood, he struck out 19.3%, respectable, not alarming, but noteworthy. His walk rates his first three seasons were 7.1%, 5.5%, and 8.7%.
Gutierrez possesses some power with 6 HRs, 4 with Lakewood. He also hit a grand slam during spring training with the Phillies where he went 1-2 with a walk in 3 plate appearances in 3 games. Note that the spring training HR came off a much-injured pitcher who had been in the FSL part of 2018 and all of 2019 accumulating just 19.0 Advanced A innings. Nevertheless, the Tigers thought enough of the prospect that he had been placed on their 40-man roster in November 2018 … and optioned back to Lakeland 4 days after the grand slam.
Jack Conley had a season that saw him assigned to several levels in 2019. He finished the season in Reading.
Conley was selected by the Phillies in the 27th round of the 2018 Amateur Draft out of NC State. He was born on January 16, 1997 and is R/R, 6’1, 190 lbs. He had previously been drafted out of Leesville High School by the Red Sox in the 30th round of the 2015 Amateur Draft.
After going 5 for 6 as a freshman, Conley slashed .224/.309/.327/.636 as a sophomore and followed that with a .333/.476/.515/.991 slash in his draft year.
In 2018 with the GCL Phillies East, he slashed .329/.447/.461/.907 in 94 plate appearances with 14 walks (14.9%) and 17 strike outs (18.1%) while throwing out 22% of base stealers.
Conley began 2019 in XST before being called up to Lakewood (.190/.277/.241/.518 in 66 plate appearances while throwing out 29% of base stealers) on May 2nd. He returned to XST on June 8th, but was quickly assigned to Clearwater (.167/.219/.200/.419 in 34 plate appearances while throwing out 31% of base stealers) on June 13th. Conley went on the IL on July 17th but after being activated by Clearwater on July 26th, was promoted to Reading (.273/.429/.455/.883 in 28 plate appearances while throwing out 13% of base runners) on July 30th. Across 3 levels, he walked 12 times (9.4%) and struck out 28 times (22.7%).
Herbert Iser was selected in the 23rd round of the 2019 Amateur Draft by the Phillies out of Dallas Baptist. He was born on December 14, 1997 and is L/R, 6’3, 210 lbs. He had been selected the previous year by Baltimore in the 24th round out of San Jacinto College.
Starter as SJC reached the NJCAA Division I World Series Finals in 2017, and the 2018 NJCAA Division I World Series where he was named to the all-tournament team with a .417 (6-17), HR, and 3 RBI. Entered the 2018 season as the #14 prospect on Baseball Ameica’s Top 50 JUCO Draft Prospects.
As a freshman, Iser slashed .281/.355/.465/.820 in 211 plate appearances with 7 HR, 21 BB (9.9%), and 37 K (17.5%). He had a 17.4% RCS (Runners Caught Stealing). As a sophomore, he slashed .322/.365/.567/.922 in 203 plate appearances with 11 HR, 12 BB (5.9%), 42 K (20.1%), and a 23.8% RCS. He saw limited action in the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2018, slashing .219/.242/.438/.680 with 2 HR, 1 BB, and 15 K in 34 plate appearances. As a junior at DBU, Iser slashed .280/.347/.490/.837 in 176 plate appearances with 7 HR, 17 BB (9.7%), 54 K (30.1%), and a 34.6% RCS.
Iser ravaged GCL pitching with a .500/.875/1.475 slash in 5 games/20 plate appearances. He had 2 doubles, 2 triples, 3 BB, and 2 K. He was promoted to Williamsport and struggled with a .179/.224/.292/.517 slash in 116 plate appearances with 2 HR, 6 BB (5.2%), 38 K (32.8%), and a 50% RCS.
Iser suffered an injury early during spring training (leg, I think)and didn’t see a lot of on field action. I spoke with his father during ST. He had a lot of animosity toward his college baseball coach who, he claimed, told scouts that his son was returning for his senior year and not to draft him. The father became concerned as teams who had shown interest on day two (and even day one), passed his son over. He finally convinced his son to call a scout to let him know he was signable. If true, the Phillies got him at about one-sixth of what his father told me other teams had been talking about.
Vito Friscia was selected by the Phillies in the 40th round of the 2019 draft as a senior out of Hofstra. It was the only year he was drafted. He was born on December 19, 1996 and is R/R, 6’3, 225 lbs. He is a person of imposing size.
Vito played all 4 years at Hofstra. He played 45-51 games per season (188-223 plate appearances) and compiled a 4-year slash of .308/.418/.479/.897 (his best was a .375/.487/.500/.987 in his junior year) in 815 plate appearances with 35 doubles, 25 HR, 109 RBI, 124 BB (15.2%), and 127 K (15.6%).
Friscia played in the 2018 Cape Cod League and slashed .375/.487/.500/.987 in 40 plate appearances with 4 doubles, 6 BB (15%), 8 K (20%).
Friscia spent all of 2019 with Phillies East in the GCL. He slashed .275/.358/.415/.773 in 165 plate appearances with 9 doubles, 3 HR, 19 BB (11.5%), 33 K(20%).
Vito started more games at first than at catcher. But that should come as no surprise as Phillies East split time behind the plate among 5 different catchers last season – Cesar Rodriguez (22 starts), Friscia (17), Micah Yonamine (15), Mitchell Edwards (10), and Kevin Escalante (3).
Friscia’s 23% RCS was highest on the team among catchers who faced more than one steal attempt.
The Threshers aren’t going to carry five catchers, but they are likely to carry three. Marchan and Gutierrez are pretty sold bets to make the roster. Conley could end up here or higher in the organization. Iser and Friscia are older and maybe one here and one in Lakewood.
Did you know?
In 2019, 33 different catchers caught games for the Phillies’ nine minor league teams. In addition, 4 other catchers were “present” – Nerluis Martinez, Jesse Wilkening, Gabriel Ojeda, and Willie Estrada. Plus, another 5 catchers were on futures contracts.
The Phillies have a lot of young, promising catchers. They need to find out who has the ability to improve, and they need to find out quickly. If MLB does go through with contraction, the Phillies will lose two rookie level teams – Williamsport and one of the GCL squads. It will become increasingly difficult to keep as many catchers in the system as they have in past seasons.