The Future Phillies Report takes on some added meaning as the MLB trade deadline nears. Each roster spot that opens would create room for one of the Phils' top prospects, and there are a few that are knocking on or kicking down the door to the majors.
The Red Sox have reportedly scouted Jeremy Hellickson as a potential trade target. If he's indeed dealt, the first man on this list figures to replace him in the Phillies' rotation:
RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Another dominant start by Thompson on Wednesday night lowered his ERA to 2.58. He's allowed four earned runs in his last 49⅓ innings spanning seven starts, lowering his season ERA by nearly two full runs during that span.
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What more does Thompson have left to prove at Triple A? He ranks fifth in the International League in ERA and all four pitchers ahead of him — Chad Green, Wade LeBlanc, Tyler Glasnow and Jose Berrios — are either in the majors or have spent time in the majors this season.
Thompson's five-pitch mix — four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, curveball, changeup — has been too much lately for minor-league hitters. He's commanding the sinker down in the zone and his offspeed stuff is the best it's looked all year. As a result, Thompson's groundball rate continues to rise. He's induced 63 groundballs and 11 double plays over his last five starts. That'll help any pitcher.
Thompson is not the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his minor-league career, but he's been better this way. You don't see too many right-handers in Triple A holding lefties to a .197 batting average and .501 OPS.
Thompson, 22, is an even-keeled, mellow guy, so it was surprising last week when he told me the pitchers he most enjoyed watching growing up were Jake Peavy and John Lackey for their fiery demeanors on the mound. Don't expect to see Thompson showing visual disdain like Peavy if an outfielder misses a ball, or to see him fail to cover home plate on a wild pitch out of frustration like Lackey did in his last start.
Thompson should be up with the Phillies before September. It just doesn't seem like there is much more for him to learn at Triple A. He's harnessed his stuff, improved his mechanics and figured out how to get early, efficient outs.
SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Baseball Prospectus recently ranked Crawford the top prospect in all of the minors and recently he's looked like it. Back-to-back three-hit games have Crawford's batting average at Triple A all the way up to .264, the highest it's been since his promotion on May 20.
Crawford hit .153 in his first 19 games at Triple A but has hit .343/.393/.441 in 25 games since.
Defensively, Crawford has been very consistent with Lehigh Valley. He committed two errors on July 4, but has just four in 392 innings and 202 defensive chances. That improved work with the glove was enough for Crawford to earn the Phillies' Minor League Defender of the Month honor for June.
That's an important development because last season, Crawford committed 27 errors and had a dismal .954 fielding percentage. At Triple A this season, his fielding percentage is .980. Anyone who watches Crawford in the field can see that he has the smoothness, range and arm to be one of the better defensive shortstops in the majors some day. Like Jimmy Rollins, Crawford makes difficult plays look effortless. Last season, the issue was a lack of concentration on routine plays, specifically with throws. He's corrected that in 2016 and continues to push toward the majors, even though he's six months away from turning 22.
CF Mickey Moniak (GCL)
The Phillies' first overall pick is off to a strong start in Rookie ball, homering Thursday for the first time and going 7 for 20 (.350) through his first six games. Call him up! (Kidding.)
The 18-year-old Moniak will spend the summer in the Gulf Coast League, where he's currently a teammate of last year's first-round pick, Cornelius Randolph, and last year's high-priced international free-agent signing, Jhailyn Ortiz.
OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams hasn't been benched this week, so that's progress. He's also continued to hit. Williams brings a nine-game hitting streak into Friday's game. He has at least one hit in 20 of his last 21 games and is batting .300 over that span with 10 doubles, a triple, a homer and 10 RBIs.
Williams' season numbers are up to .287/.324/.459 with 20 doubles, 19 of which have come since May 1 — most in the International League over that span.
Williams' lack of walks continues to be a concern. He has none in his last 77 plate appearances. Last week, Williams said he thinks the walks will come. But if they're not coming while he's hitting, it's hard to believe they'll come when he's slumping. If you can't recognize pitches and work deep counts when you're going cold, you pretty much become an offensive zero. It's unfair to compare Williams to his teammate, Crawford, because Crawford probably has the best plate discipline in all of the minors, but the shortstop is a prime example of the value of walking. Crawford's on-base percentage this season is 101 points higher than his modest .265 batting average.
Williams needs some more seasoning at Triple A and continues to look like more of a September call-up than anything else, especially with the Phillies' outfield producing at the moment.
1B Rhys Hoskins, OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
The Phillies' Minor League Hitter of the Month in June has been held hitless in four of his last five games, but mixed in there was a two-homer, six-RBI night in Richmond. Hoskins leads the Eastern League with 24 home runs, 75 RBIs and a .938 OPS.
Cozens is second in the Eastern League in each of those categories with 23 homers, 72 RBIs and a .910 OPS. Cozens has gone four straight games without a homer. How's this for a crazy stat: Aside from his two-week HR drought from June 12 to June 26, Cozens hasn't gone four straight games without a homer since play ended on May 19. Remarkable consistency from a power standpoint.
The issue with Cozens is that he strikes out way too much. His 107 K's are second-most in the EL, and he's punched out at least once in 39 of his last 44 games. He and Hoskins (84 K's) will both need to cut down on their strikeouts to give the Phillies the confidence to promote them within the system. They could probably both continue to hit homers at Triple A, but more advanced pitching would likely reduce their ability to reach base otherwise.
Still, what Hoskins and Cozens have done is rare. No other player in the Eastern League has more than 16 home runs. And get this: In the 50 years that Reading has been the Phillies' Double A affiliate, no pair of teammates has ever reached 25 home runs. They're about to do it before the All-Star break.
C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
Whereas Williams hasn't walked in his last 77 plate appearances, Alfaro has begun taking more pitches. He has nine walks in his last seven games after walking just four times in his first 51. None of those walks has been intentional.
That's important, because again, it keeps you afloat during rough patches. Alfaro is going through a mini-rough patch right now, hitting .150 so far in July. He did homer on Thursday night.
On the season, Alfaro is hitting .288/.327/.494 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs in 58 games. He's been as defensively sound as it gets for a minor-league catcher, throwing out 25 of 53 base stealers (47 percent) and allowing just three passed balls in 513 innings.
The way Phillies officials have gushed about Alfaro, the way Vince Velasquez praised his work behind the plate during last month's rehab assignment, Alfaro's defense seems like it's major-league ready.
RHP Ben Lively (AAA)
Lively's inevitable cooling-off phase has begun. After going 10-0 with a 1.94 ERA in his first 13 starts, he's allowed 17 runs in 25⅓ innings in his last four. He's suffered back-to-back losses for the IronPigs, allowing 12 runs in 11 innings as his ERA has risen to 2.85.
Lively's command is his calling card. You hate to put a limit or ceiling on a minor-leaguer, but Lively, with an 88 to 90 mph heater, has one. He's probably a future No. 4 or No. 5 starter at best. There's nothing wrong with that — it has value, especially when a player is still young and making the minimum.
Lively could get a look in September and figure to get an invite to major-league spring training next year.
C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
Knapp has had a rather nondescript season. He's hitting .266/.338/.405, decent numbers all around but nothing that stands out. He's hit the same from both sides of the plate, .268 as a righty and .261 as a lefty. He's doubled in consecutive games, but hasn't homered in 108 plate appearances.
Knapp is closer to the majors than Alfaro, but it's Alfaro who projects as the Phils' future catcher. And with Cameron Rupp hitting so well this season, it could still be a little while before Knapp makes an impact at the big-league level. It wouldn't be shocking if he's eventually used as a trade chip, given the dearth of catching talent league-wide.