Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson, the Phillies' two most major-league ready starting pitching prospects, are on fire at Triple A Lehigh Valley. The last two cycles through the IronPigs' rotation, that duo has combined to allow just one earned run on 15 hits over 26 innings.
Let's begin with those two right-handers in this week's Future Phillies Report:
RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson has allowed one earned run over his last 21 innings to lower his ERA from 6.16 to 3.32. On Sunday, he allowed two hits over seven innings for the second time in three starts, winning his second game of the year for the IronPigs.
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Thompson was given an immediate 2-0 lead and went right into attack mode, driving his fastball down in the zone. He was facing a veteran Toledo lineup, too, featuring players like Nate Schierholtz, Casey McGehee, Tyler Collins and Argenis Diaz. It was a good test for Thompson, facing hitters who have big-league time under their belts.
Both Schierholtz and McGehee worked lengthy at-bats against Thompson in the first inning, but the Phils' 22-year-old right-hander executed his pitches to avoid any threat. After falling behind Schierholtz 2-0, Thompson threw a two-seam fastball high-and-inside to the lefty that broke back over the plate for strike one, then peppered him with low-to-mid-90s fastballs on the outside corner. The result was a softly hit grounder to shortstop that Taylor Featherston booted. McGehee, batting next, also worked a full count before grounding into an inning-ending double play.
From there, Thompson cruised. Over his seven innings, only three men reached scoring position.
Thompson has been much more effective out of the windup than with runners on base this season. With the bases empty, his opponents are hitting just .205/.283/.301. When he's out of the stretch, his opponents have hit .286/.344/.411.
RHP Zach Eflin (AAA)
Eflin, 22, has been one of the three or four best starting pitchers in the entire International League so far in 2016. Through seven starts, he's 5-0 with a 2.36 ERA and 0.81 WHIP.
Eflin's strikeout rate has spiked from 4.6 per nine innings to 7.7 this season. He's done it without sacrificing control, walking just seven batters in 45⅔ innings.
His start on Wednesday may have been his best of the season, even including the eight shutout innings he threw in his second start back on April 17. Against Syracuse (Nationals' affiliate) on Wednesday, Eflin allowed two hits over seven shutout innings, induced a season-high 13 groundballs and did not give up a single line drive. He struck out six, a number he's matched or exceeded in four of his last five starts.
The 6-foot-6 sinkerballer has held his opponents to a .185 batting average and has allowed just six extra-base hits in 172 plate appearances.
Eflin has made legitimate improvements this season, missing far more bats than he did a season ago. When will his promotion to the majors come? Don't hold your breath. Eflin is nearly five years younger than the average age at Triple A, and the Phillies will want to see him continue to dominate at that level before calling him up. Perhaps a promotion could come in the middle of the summer, but for now Eflin's job will be to keep stifling International League competition.
Eflin was the first player acquired in the Phillies' rebuilding trades all the way back in December 2014. Ruben Amaro Jr. deserves a lot of credit for landing a starting pitching prospect with this kind of upside in exchange for a 36-year-old Jimmy Rollins.
OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
Talk about a man on fire. Cozens is on another hit streak, this one 11 games, giving him at least one hit in 23 of his last 25.
Over those last 25 games, Cozens has hit .337/.430/.652 with eight doubles, seven homers, 15 RBIs, 15 walks and six steals. He's now played 49 games at Double A and hit .303 with a .954 OPS.
Cozens is exciting Phillies fans the way Nick Williams did last summer at Reading. A lefty hitter, he's destroyed right-handed pitching so far this season and is making a case to soon ascend to Triple A, where he could replace veteran Cedric Hunter in the corner outfield.
SS J.P. Crawford (AA)
Dating back to April 25, the Phillies' top prospect has almost as many walks (15) as hits (16). As always, it's why Crawford remains a potent offensive player even when he's not squaring up the ball. It's why a player with a .263 batting average in 161 plate appearances this season has the fifth-highest on-base percentage (.391) in the Eastern League.
Phillies farm director Joe Jordan said before the season that if Crawford got off to as hot a start as he did in 2014 and 2015, he could quickly make the jump from Double A to Triple A. You can't really describe this as a fast start, but Crawford has proven that he has a firm grasp of the strike zone against Double A pitching. In 121 games with Reading, he has 77 walks and 66 strikeouts.
At Triple A, the shortstops the IronPigs have used have both really struggled, Featherston in the field (10 errors) and Ryan Jackson at the plate (.214 BA). Neither has a real future with the Phils and neither is blocking Crawford. It's just a matter of getting Crawford going offensively and letting him build confidence before sending him to the next phase of his career and to his final minor-league stop.
CF Roman Quinn (AA)
The Phillies' speedy leadoff prospect has put that early-season slump behind him and is enjoying a nice May. Over his last 17 games, Quinn has basically been the Odubel Herrera of the Eastern League, hitting .328 with a .456 on-base percentage. He's gone 21 for 64 with four doubles, three triples, 13 walks, 17 runs scored and 11 stolen bases.
Quinn is on a four-game streak of reaching base multiple times and stealing at least one base. He's running deeper counts than ever before, which has resulted in more walks but also more strikeouts. Last season, Quinn had 18 walks and 42 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances. This season, he already has 16 walks and 38 strikeouts in 161 PAs.
OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams is a Texas native who, until last July, had played his entire pro career in hot-weather locations like Frisco and Myrtle Beach. This has been his first prolonged experience playing in the cold, given how chilly it's been on the East Coast this spring.
Through 34 games and 138 plate appearances, Williams' bat hasn't stood out at Triple A. He's hit .268 with a .299 on-base percentage and has nine extra-base hits. He has seven walks and 30 strikeouts.
If you break his season up into thirds, he hit .184 over his first 11 games, .370 over his next 11, and .233 over his last 12.
There are a lot of expectations for Williams that should be tempered. He's not ready quite yet, despite the Phillies' need in the corner outfield.
C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
A seven-game hit streak ended for Knapp on Wednesday. During the stretch, he went 8 for 25 with two doubles, two homers and four walks.
Knapp slumped in the early part of May but is still having a decent offensive season, posting a .769 OPS. A switch-hitter, he's been much better from the left side, batting .286/.366/.543. As a righty, he's hit .214/.313/.386.
Historically, that hasn't been the case for Knapp. Last season he hit all pitching, but was much more powerful from the right side. If anything, it's good that he's now shown success from both sides of the plate.
Every game Knapp has played so far this season at Triple A has been behind the plate. Even though Jorge Alfaro, if healthy, has a better chance to stick as a catcher than Knapp, don't expect to see Knapp play first base much anytime soon. Darin Ruf and Brock Stassi are both with Lehigh Valley, and it's in the Phillies' best interest to continue developing Knapp as a catcher, either for trade purposes or in case Alfaro can't stay on the field.
C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
Alfaro had four good games upon his return from an oblique injury on May 7 but has cooled off since, going 2 for 22 over his last five games. The torrid start he had to 2016 still has his batting average at .342 and his OPS at .903, though.
Alfaro has walked just once in 76 plate appearances, a theme throughout his minor-league career. In 1,942 plate appearances he has 96 walks. He's an aggressive hitter who likes to do damage and usually does, so it's not necessarily a worrisome approach just yet.
Defensively, he's been solid, with no errors and just one passed ball in 152⅓ innings. The strong-armed Alfaro has thrown out 5 of 12 base stealers.
RHP Mark Appel (AAA)
Appel's start this week was much better than his last three — he retired 14 of the first 16 batters he faced and didn't allow a hit through 4⅔ innings.
His line would have looked great if not for a shaky sixth inning. Appel's velocity has decreased as he's gone deep into starts throughout his minor-league career, and when he faced Syracuse the third time through the order on Monday the Nats were much more prepared. In that inning, Appel went single, walk, walk, infield fly, two-run single, RBI groundout. His final line read 5⅔ innings, three hits, three earned runs, four walks, six strikeouts.
Appel has yet to record an out in the sixth inning in his seven starts. He's allowed three earned runs or fewer six times, but he's averaging just 5.4 innings per start.
RHP Ben Lively (AA)
Lively, the Phillies' return in the Marlon Byrd-to-Cincinnati trade, is off to a stellar start at Double A — he's 6-0 with a 1.53 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. He's struck out 46, walked 14 and allowed one home run in 47 innings.
Lively has credited the turnaround from last year (4.13 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) to a different grip on his fastball and more comfort with his breaking ball. That kind of tinkering is what the minors are all about.
His last time out, Lively struck out 12 over seven shutout innings. That followed six shutout innings the time before. In fact, in four of his eight starts this season Lively has pitched at least six innings without allowing a run.
It's tough to tell when Lively might be ready for a promotion. The Lehigh Valley rotation is crowded with Eflin, Thompson, Appel, Alec Asher (who's pitching well) and David Buchanan. Buchanan would likely be the odd man out if Lively were to soon advance to Triple A. Severino Gonzalez is also at Triple A working as a reliever.