PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – As Clearwater Threshers centerfielder Carlos Tocci looked out on the spring training home of the New York Mets this week, the Phillies' prospect accentuated his conversation with the same word his countryman Wilmer Flores — a Mets utilityman who roamed Tradition Field often – spoke on numerous occasions.
Though four years younger than Flores, the 20-year-old Tocci signed with the Phillies on his 16th birthday, just as Flores did with the Mets. Tocci is from Maracay, Venezuela, while Flores calls Valencia home. The two cities are separated by less than 60 miles.
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Both have only known one organization – the ones that signed and brought each of them into his respective American baseball family.
“The organization is like my family. I’ve spent five years with them. The Phillies are good people," said Tocci, whose English has improved with three-day-a-week sessions. "It’s really a family. We have a good manager, good coaches, good players and they help me every day, in and out of the stadium.
“I’m still working on my English. It’s difficult.”
Another area Tocci is working on, and one the Phillies hope comes naturally, is the frame of the slim outfielder.
Tocci is listed at 6-foot-2, 160 pounds on the Clearwater roster, and standing next to the soft-spoken player, one gets the impression the folks doing the measuring may have had a toe or two on the scales while adding a few pounds to Tocci to help get him to 160.
“Some people say I’m skinny, but I’m trying to keep weight on," he said. "That’s my goal right now. I try to eat two times at Chipotle, two times at McDonald’s. If I can put 10 pounds on, I think I can play in the majors.”
That may be a little too simplistic on Tocci’s part, but Baseball America ranks him as No. 10 on the Phillies' prospect list, behind outfielders Nick Williams (No. 2), Cornelius Randolph (No. 6) and Roman Quinn (No. 9).
Certainly him improving more offensively and increasing his basestealing percentage will help him move up the system, but Clearwater manager Greg Legg agrees the Venezuelan’s physical development may be the big key.
“I don’t think he’s got his man-strength going yet. I would love to see him when he gets that strength. When that happens, I think we’re going to have a really good player – a big-league player. He can already play defense with just about anybody,” Legg said.
“He’s got great instincts on the field and has the aptitude. He’s got a good time-clock in his head of how the game’s being played and where the ball should go. In the three years I’ve had him, I can think of only one time (he threw to the wrong base), and I’m pretty sure we lined up wrong.
“It’s hard to teach. You try to teach it, and over time, guys ‘get it.’ He just happened to ‘get it’ at a young age. I’ve got to believe he’s watched a lot of games.”
Tocci played in the Phillies Futures Games in Reading and Philadelphia at the end of the spring. Being a part of those showcases made an impression on him.
“It was a very good experience. Everything was major league," he said. "The people, the fans and Philadelphia were all good. The fans love the players so much.”
The fans at Citizens Bank Park could learn to love the smooth-fielding Tocci, who has manned center field almost his entire baseball career.
Legg coached the then-17-year-old Tocci in Lakewood in 2013 and said he almost never saw the fleet player make defensive miscues. In addition to having good all-around defensive skills, the outfielder was heady, too.
“He was just a pup,” Legg said. “The biggest thing with him is he makes no mistakes in the outfield, throws to the right base every time, gets great jumps and can play right, left or center. He’ll hit second or third in your lineup.”
Tocci said the only place he ever wanted to play was the outfield.
“I’ve always been in center,” he said. “Sometimes I pitched, but I never had control. I like to catch fly balls and make good throws.”
He has raised his average 10 points in the last 10 games, boosting it to .258 after going 2 for 5 in Saturday’s 9-6 loss to Palm Beach.
His speed has produced a pair of triples and seven stolen bases this season. On Monday, in the top of the ninth with Clearwater holding a one-run lead, he connected for his first homer of the season, a two-run shot to left off St. Lucie Mets reliever Jimmy Duff that provided insurance for the Threshers in their 8-5 win.
“I feel comfortable right now (at the plate), just trying to do my job," Tocci said. "I’m trying to put the ball in play and we’ll see what happens. I got a 1-1 changeup on the homer and got a good swing on it."
Legg said the outlook for Tocci is promising, and he expects him to pick up the pace as the season continues.
“He’s very coachable, very likeable. I look for him to have a really good year this year. I think he’ll hit .280, .290 before it’s over,” Legg said.
“He’s got a lot of things going in his favor. He’s just a good baseball player.”