Future Phillies Report: Hottest Nick Williams Has Been All Year

The Phillies added two new pieces for the future on Thursday night, when they drafted outfielder Mickey Moniak first overall and right-hander Kevin Gowdy with the 42nd pick. Both are high school players, so it could be quite a while before they make an impact at Citizens Bank Park.

If or when they do, they could be joining several of the players below. Let's check in with some Phillies prospects closer to the majors:

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams is as hot as he's been all season, going 11 for 30 over his last seven games with three doubles, a triple and two home runs. The hot streak extends beyond that, though — Williams has hit .358 over his last 17 games with 11 extra-base hits, 12 RBIs and 17 runs scored.

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The pop he's shown lately has his season batting line up to .288/.324/.468 in his first 53 games at Triple A. Just like that, he's pretty much back to the level he was at in 2015 at Reading.

It's no surprise that Williams' power surge has coincided with warmer weather. Lehigh Valley's last eight games have been on the road in North Carolina and Georgia, where it's been around 90 degrees the last few weeks. As we've written in this space a few times recently, Williams did not play much in cold-weather environments during his time as a high school player in Texas or in the Rangers' farm system.

Williams had an impressive at-bat on Tuesday against the Braves' Triple A affiliate. In the third inning, he attempted to bunt for a hit against right-hander Manny Banuelos but the pitch was high and inside and nipped his bottom hand. He fell backwards and took about 30 seconds to gather himself, but just two pitches later, Williams ripped a ball over the first baseman's head for a line-drive single. 

Williams has the kind of bat speed that will allow him to hit fastballs, specifically right-handed fastballs, once he gets to the major-league level. His recognition of breaking pitches still requires refinement, though. Williams has 58 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 223 plate appearances this season.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
It's been a rough go at Triple A so far for Crawford, who has hit .162 in 18 games since being promoted to Lehigh Valley. He's 11 for 68 with two doubles, two RBIs, 11 walks and 12 strikeouts.

Crawford wasn't lighting up the Eastern League at the time of his promotion. He was hitting .265 at Double A but was again showing elite plate discipline skills, walking 30 times and striking out just 21. There was some thought that he had advanced far enough ahead of Double A pitching that a new challenge was required for him to avoid stagnating. He hasn't yet met that challenge at Triple A, but you don't judge a player through 18 games at any level.

Impressively, Crawford still has not committed an error at shortstop in 153 innings with the IronPigs. His bat needs to come around, but Lehigh Valley is a good place for him right now because the Pigs' offense has been clicking and he isn't needed to be their difference-maker.

In 245 plate appearances with Reading and Lehigh Valley in 2016, Crawford has hit .230/.359/.324 with 10 doubles, three homers, 15 RBIs, 41 walks and 33 strikeouts.

RHP Zach Eflin (AAA)
Eflin was scratched from his scheduled start for Lehigh Valley on Wednesday, the same day Vince Velasquez left his start for the Phillies with a right biceps strain after throwing just two pitches. But it was merely a coincidence. The Phillies wanted to give Eflin some additional rest after two straight poor starts.

Eflin ended up pitching a day later and was better, allowing two unearned runs on just one hit over 5⅓ innings. His control wasn't where it usually is, though. Eflin walked a season-high three batters after issuing just eight walks total in his first 10 starts.

Still, it was something of a bounce-back outing for Eflin, who has had tremendous success this season despite being the third-youngest starting pitcher in the entire International League. In his previous two starts he had allowed 10 runs in 10⅓ innings.

On the year, Eflin is 5-2 with a 2.90 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. His opponents have hit .199. Pretty much every aspect of Eflin's game has improved in 2016 — his strikeout rate has spiked from 12.6 percent to 21.0 percent, and his groundball rate has risen from 44 percent to 47 percent. 

But the Phillies are going to be cautious with Eflin, so don't expect them to rush him up next time they need a spot starter. If Velasquez does miss some time, his replacement in the rotation could be someone like Brett Oberholtzer or David Buchanan. The Phillies want to allow Eflin to get locked in at Triple A over an extended period of time. Buchanan and Severino Gonzalez are certainly less exciting options to bring up if you need a starter, but they're on the Phils' 40-man roster and Eflin is not. That's a consideration when it comes to call-ups. The Phillies do, though, have one spot open on their 40.

RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
The up-and-down nature of Thompson's 2016 season has continued in his last two starts. He allowed eight runs (six earned) in just 3⅔ innings two weeks ago, but rebounded to pitch six scoreless innings Sunday in his last start.

Thompson had his changeup and breaking ball working Sunday, specifically against left-handed hitters, but his fastball velocity was down to the 89-90 mph range. He's typically more of a 92 to 94 mph pitcher. He was squeezed a bit by the home plate umpire and probably could have gone deeper into the game had he gotten a few more calls.

Still, Thompson is searching for some more ground balls. On Sunday, 13 of Charlotte's 17 balls in play against him were in the air.

In 11 starts in his first year at Triple A, Thompson has a 3.84 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. His 3.1 walks per nine align with his career average, but his 7.0 strikeouts per nine are down a strikeout and a half from his career rate. It's still early enough in the season, though, that his K/9 could shift drastically with one big game. 

Thompson's struck out more than five batters only twice in the 11 starts, but his nine percent swinging strike rate is the same as it was in his seven dominant starts with Reading last season.

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
It's been an all-or-nothing few days for Alfaro, who hit a three-run homer and drove in four runs Tuesday and then went 0 for 5 with four strikeouts Wednesday, when Reading whiffed 18 times as a team.

Alfaro's three-run homer, a no-doubter, came on a high-and-inside fastball with two outs and runners on the corners Tuesday. He's been excellent with runners in scoring position, going 17 for 44 (.386) this season. And he's been even better with two outs and RISP, going 12 for 26 (.462) with 10 RBIs.

In 159 plate appearances this season, Alfaro has hit .313 with five homers, 31 RBIs and a .480 slugging percentage. He's driven in nearly a run per game.

It's been nearly a year since the Cole Hamels trade and the Phillies' return has looked promising. Jerad Eickhoff has 15 quality starts in 20 tries in the majors, and Alfaro, Williams and Thompson have shown promise. Even Alec Asher, who was terrible with the Phillies last season, learned from that experience that he needed another pitch, a two-seam fastball that gave him some early-season success before he went on the DL.

That trade is looking like a win for both teams. The Phillies netted quality and quantity, while the Rangers rode Hamels to a 2015 playoff berth and are off to a great start this year. Texas is also paying only about half of Hamels' remaining contract, and got to hold onto its top three young players in Nomar Mazara, Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo.

OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
Cozens has had another strong week, going 11 for 34 (.324) with two doubles and two solo homers since our last update. He's hitting .279 with 18 doubles, 16 homers, 46 RBIs, 12 steals and a .923 OPS this season as he continues to push toward Eastern League MVP honors.

Cozens would have to stay at Double A for most or all of the season to win that award, though, and it's no guarantee with how well he's played. The 22-year-old is 2.5 years younger than the league average, but in 70 games at Double A over the last two seasons has hit .290/.360/.576 with 20 doubles, 19 homers and 55 RBIs. He seems ready for Triple A.

Two things to note with Cozens: the lefty has hit .235 with an OPS 214 points lower against same-handed pitching than he has against righties, and he's slugged .697 at Reading's hitter-friendly park compared to .450 on the road. Asked about Cozens last week, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged he has legit raw power but also said it is sometimes tough to assess power hitters given the wind that aids so many flyballs at FirstEnergy Stadium.

CF Roman Quinn (AA)
Quinn has missed five straight games for Reading with hamstring tightness, an injury the Fightin Phils hope is behind him soon. Quinn has been so hot lately, which would make it an inopportune time for an extended absence from the lineup. From May 14 to June 4, he hit .354 in 18 games with six doubles, two homers, nine RBIs, 18 runs scored and 12 steals in 15 attempts.

The 23-year-old switch-hitter is batting .289/.360/.422 this season with 17 extra-base hits, 25 steals and 43 runs in 49 games.

LF Cornelius Randolph (Class A Lakewood)
Developmental time is crucial for a prospect as young as Randolph, so this season has not gone according to plan so far for him or the Phillies. The 2015 first-round pick has been out since April 21 with a shoulder injury. 

Randolph had a strong showing in rookie ball last year, hitting .302 with a .425 on-base percentage in 212 plate appearances.

With Moniak and Randolph, the Phillies have drafted a high school outfielder two years in a row. They're hoping that duo comprises two-thirds of their big-league outfield four or five years from now. Randolph turned 19 on June 2.

RHP Ben Lively (AAA)
So far, so good for Lively at Triple A. The finesse right-hander has given the IronPigs quality starts in each of his first three outings, going 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA. 

Lively, whose stuff requires sharper command than Eflin's or Thompson's, has given up three runs or fewer in all 12 of his starts this season. Overall, he's 9-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 72 innings with 64 strikeouts and 20 walks. His opponents have hit .180 with a .238 on-base percentage and one extra-base hit every 21.5 plate appearances.

Lively is another right-hander who could find his way up to the majors at some point this season. Like Eflin, he is not on the Phillies' 40-man roster. But Lively is 24, two years older than Eflin. You'd think the Phillies would want to get a look at Lively at some point soon if his command remains this strong.

C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
The Phillies' switch-hitting catcher has been hot at the plate lately, hitting .406 over an eight-game hitting streak. His numbers are pretty much identical from both sides of the plate this year — Knapp has hit .275/.336/.459 as a right-hander and .259/.333/.466 as a left-hander.

RHP Edubray Ramos (AAA)
This is Ramos' first appearance on the 2016 Future Phillies Report. It's been quite a season for the right-handed reliever, who was the Phils' Minor League Pitcher of the Month in May.

Ramos has a 1.42 ERA in 22 appearances this season. He was promoted to Triple A in the beginning of May and has been even better for Lehigh Valley than he was for Reading. Ramos finally allowed a run Sunday in appearance No. 11 for the IronPigs.

In 16⅔ innings at Triple A, Ramos has allowed 11 hits and one run, walked one and struck out 19. His swinging strike has been 12 percent, which is quite high.

Ramos has a fastball in the 93 to 95 mph range, slider in the mid-80s and a big curveball in the low-to-mid 70s. That velocity disparity has kept hitters off balance all season and could play well in the majors. 

Look for Ramos, who is on the 40-man roster, to be up in September as the Phillies take a look at some relievers who could help next season. Who knows, you might see Ramos setting up for Hector Neris at this time next year.

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