The Phillies' Lakewood affiliate has been one of the most prospect-laden clubs in the minors this year, with a rotation headed by the now-injured Jarred Cosart and, for part of the year, also featuring Trevor May, who punched out 13 on Wednesday as Lakewood took Game 1 of its best-of-three playoff series against Hickory. Game 2, eventually won by Hickory in 10 innings, included a strong matchup of starting pitching prospects and ended up a showcase for the best reliever on each club, but the biggest name involved was Lakewood first baseman Jonathan Singleton.
Singleton burst on to the prospect map this year when he hit over .400 with a slugging percentage near .700 for his first month with Lakewood, and while his performance slid after that, there's still a fair amount to like. Singleton is physically well-developed already at 6-foot-2 and a listed weight of 215 -- although I'd guess he's a little bigger than that -- and has an outstanding swing with good hand speed and excellent hip rotation for future power. He tends to hit a little too much off his front foot -- he can end up with his weight completely off his back side -- but he gets great extension through the zone, and if there was a beauty contest for swings he'd be one of the favorites. At the plate Friday, Singleton didn't look good, but it could simply be exhaustion, as he was late on 88 mph fastballs from the lefty Erlin and struggled to adjust to anything offspeed. I'm inclined to think he's more of a one-level-per-year guy right now, since his season started late, he's already worn out in early September and his recognition of breaking balls is limited, but he does control the zone pretty well and his swing is ready to play at higher levels.
• Brody Colvin started for Lakewood and showed big velocity with below average command and control. Colvin hit 94 on his first pitch and pitched from 91-95 over his five innings, losing about 2 mph when working from the stretch. He accelerates his arm very quickly and gets good extension out front, so the ball appears to come quickly out of his hand towards the hitter. He was more confident in his 83-84 mph changeup, which had a lot of late downward action, than his 77-79 mph slider, which had some tilt but was less consistent and occasionally flattened out. Colvin cuts himself off in his delivery and didn't command anything as well to his glove side as he did to his arm side -- I could see him getting around the side of that slider -- but the raw material is there for a No. 2 starter who brings two or three above-average pitches.
• Robbie Erlin had much better results than Colvin but doesn't have the same ceiling. He touched 90 but was mostly 87-89 with a slow downer curve at 71-75 and a changeup with early action. He likes to pitch inside and threw everything for strikes, but his size -- he's listed at 5'11", so apparently an error of two or three inches is now acceptable -- and lack of big stuff really limit his upside, probably to a bullpen role.
• Erlin was followed by another lefty, Miguel de los Santos -- one of three players with the surname de los Santos on Hickory -- who faced 15 batters and punched out eight of them with a solid-average fastball at 89-92 and plus changeup at 80-83. He used the change heavily, throwing it for strikes, throwing it at 0-0, ahead in the count, or behind in the count, and throwing it to both sides of the plate, even under right-handers' hands. He also showed a 70-73 mph curveball that would help if he was starting, but the fastball/changeup alone make him a serious relief prospect. De los Santos struck out the first three men he faced, then walked the leadoff man in his second inning, followed by a double that put men on second and third ... after which he struck out the next three guys, showing the kind of guts that scouts love to see in young pitchers.
• Lakewood countered with a relief ace of their own, Julio Rodriguez, who struck out 90 men this year for the Blueclaws in 55 innings and punched out five of the ten men he faced on Friday. Rodriguez didn't show a real knockout pitch and his fastball only touched 91, sitting mostly 86-89 in his second and third innings. He mixed four pitches very effectively, showing good two-plane break on the slow curve and hard tilt on the slider, with only the changeup a "show-me" offering (just to let hitters know he has one). Rodriguez's arm is loose and easy, and he works quickly, keeping hitters off balance. If he can hold that velocity as a starter, he has the body and repertoire to become a legitimate starter prospect, even though I think the crazy strikeout rate this year wasn't indicative of his raw stuff.
• Lakewood right fielder Anthony Hewitt batted three times ... and struck out three times. Breaking balls, fastballs up, changeups -- he can swing and miss with the best of them.
• Centerfielder Jiwan James didn't fare much better, fanning four times in five at bats. James' pitch recognition is a notch or two above Hewitt's, and like Hewitt he looks good in the uniform. James doesn't have Hewitt's raw power, but I give him a better chance to hit, and he does have the four tools other than power, with good bat speed and lots of range in center. He barely uses his lower half at all, with limited rotation, and tends to meet the ball a little out front, all of which points away from power despite the fact that he could easily end up over 200 pounds when he's in his late 20s.
• Catcher Sebastian Valle punched out three times in four ABs with a walk, although his at bats were mostly sound and he had a few good takes and showed he could foul off a lot of pitches he couldn't hit fairly below the zone. His stride at the plate is very short, but he's got good hands and uses his lower half well, which is why he's showing power already even though he's still pretty slight. He's a work in progress behind the plate but has arm strength and showed soft enough hands that he projects well defensively.