Recapping My 2016 MiLB Season

Last year I did a post at the end of the 16 games I spent out at a baseball park recapping my 2015 MiLB season. With the 2016 MiLB season now over for me, I wanted to once again post an overview of the games and of the autographs I received this year. In all, I managed to make it to thirteen baseball games this season. It was a great year, full of fun, and I thought I’d take the time to recap it all:

April 19th — Salem Red Sox Vs. Carolina Mudcats

Game one of the year turned out to be a rather good one. Before the game, I was able to get Rafael Devers and Joe Oliver to sign a couple of cards, as well as Andrew Benintendi (he amazed everyone and actually signed cards — something he claimed to never do) and Angel Berroa, who both signed a card apiece. The big miss on the day was Yoan Moncada, who ignored everyone. But I had already gotten him last season, so I wasn’t overly disappointed. After the game — which lasted 12 innings, and ran roughly four hours — I was able to get Braves top prospect, Dansby Swanson, to sign a 4×6 photo, in addition to a card:

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April 24th — Indianapolis Indians Vs. Durham Bulls

Following a good night five days earlier at the Mudcats, I was really looking forward to this game. I was able to get Mel Rojas Jr., Trevor Williams and Tyler Glasnow to sign a card before the game, in addition to Cory Luebke signing two cards. After the game, I ventured outside and picked up Jameson Taillon and Cole Figueroa on a couple of cards each, with Josh Bell signing one card after coming back from buying pizza. The biggest misses on the day were Jung-Ho Kang, who was rehabbing but didn’t sign for anyone, as well as Alen Hanson. But overall, it was a good evening for autographs:

DSCN7808May 12th — Buffalo Bisons Vs. Durham Bulls

I wasn’t sure how great this game was going to wind up, originally. The Bisons didn’t have a single one of the Blue Jays’ top 30 prospects heading into this game, yet I headed out to the ballpark anyhow. Things turned out to go amazingly; so good that I have to put it in two separate pictures. Before the game, I received three autographs from former Red Sox pitcher Bob Stanley, and two from Pat Venditte, David Aardsma, Fausto Carmona (now named Roberto Hernandez) and Alexi Casilla:

DSCN7809Then, after the game, I was able to do just as good as pregame, getting Matt Dominguez and Tony Sanchez to sign a card, with Domonic Brown, Jesus Montero and Drew Hutchinson all signing a handful:

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May 16th — Lynchburg Hillcats Vs. Carolina Mudcats

There weren’t a ton of top prospects on this team, with the main two players being Bobby Bradley and Justus Sheffield. Due to Sheffield starting the game, I was only able to get Bradley, Dorssys Paulino (on three cards) and Anthony Santander before the game. But after the game, Justus Sheffield was nice enough to sign a card, as well as Yu-Cheng Chang on a 4×6 photo:

DSCN7811May 31st — Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders Vs. Durham Bulls

I didn’t do all that well inside before the game, getting just Aaron Judge and Chris Parmelee (on two cards), but outside allowed me to redeem myself. There were probably around 50 people waiting around for Nick Swisher, who has always been a fan favorite — and Swisher didn’t disappoint. He stuck around for nearly ten minutes, signing autographs for everyone who wanted one, taking pictures, and simply being himself and joking around with the crowd. It was an awesome experience. After getting Swisher on two cards, I also obtained Cesar Puello and Jake Cave on a card, as well as Ben Gamel on a 4×6 photo:

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June 3rd — Gwinnett Braves Vs. Durham Bulls

The original plan for this game was to get the few autographs I needed from the Bulls’ players before the game, and then get the many players I needed from Gwinnett outside after the game. However, things didn’t go as planned. I was able to get autos from the Bulls before the game like I wanted, but a two-hour rain delay in the second inning lead to the game starting back after 9:30. For that reason, I decided not to stick around for the game, which ended up concluding at 12:15 in the morning. Even so, I was able to get J.P. Arencibia and Daniel Robertson on a couple cards, as well as Jaff Decker and Adam Kolarek on a card each; in addition, I got Austin Pruitt on an old program, and Richie Shaffer on a 4×6 photo that I was hoping to get Blake Snell to sign as well, but was never able to due to his callup to the Rays:

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June 26th — Lehigh Valley Ironpigs Vs. Durham Bulls

I had been looking forward to this game since last season, when the Phillies had so many top prospects in Double-A that I assumed would make the jump up to Triple-A in 2016. I wound up seeing the Phillies’ top three prospects (all in the top 100) on the team. I obtained three autographs from Jake Thompson, two autographs each from Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford and Ben Lively, as well as an auto from David Buchanan, James Russell, Darnell Sweeney, Emmanuel Burriss and Darin Ruf. So, all-in-all, everything went very well, despite missing out on a few key players such as Andrew Knapp and Edward Mujica due to a combination of bad luck and mental errors:

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July 6th — Syracuse Chiefs Vs. Durham Bulls

Trea Turner was the obvious standout of this game, sitting as the number nine overall prospect at the time. Before the game, I wasn’t able to get Turner, but instead got A.J. Cole (he surprisingly signed, despite being the starting pitcher), Matt Skole and Michael Taylor (on a couple cards), who had just been sent down. After the game, I was successful in getting Trea Turner to sign a card outside, along with Pedro Severino, and Austin Voth on a 4×6 photo:

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July 25th — Durham Bulls Vs. Toledo Mud Hens

I was most looking forward to seeing Steven Moya at this game, who I saw last year but wasn’t able to get. However, he didn’t sign before the game. Instead, I began the day by snagging former Cubs’ pitcher Jeff Pico on a few cards, and proceeded to get Dean Green on a 4×6 photo, as well as Dixon Machado and Casey McGehee on two a piece, with Jacoby Jones, Argenis Diaz and Jordan Valdespin each signing one for me. Then, outside after the game, I got Bobby Parnell, John Hicks and Steven Moya (finally) on two cards:

DSCN7819August 2nd — Carolina Mudcats Vs. Winston Salem Dash

There was really no pressing reason for me to attend this game, other than the fact that I hadn’t been to a Mudcats game in around three months, and I was missing it. (And, of course, I knew it would be my last game there of 2016.) Even so, I made the most of it, getting autographs from 2016 first-round draft pick Zack Collins, as well as Telvin Nash, Jose Bautista (not THAT Jose) on three, Brett Austin on a card, and Jordan Stephens on a photo. After the game, I got Travis Demeritte on a couple cards, Braxton Davidson on a card and Sal Giardina on the program for the night:

DSCN7820August 7th — Gwinnett Braves Vs. Durham Bulls

I had already seen Gwinnett once this season, but I was trying for autographs from the Bulls players at that time. This time around, I was solely going for Gwinnett, as they still had a great team. I ended up doing fantastic, getting Omar Infante, Matt Lipka, Rio Ruiz, Aaron Blair, Rob Wooten, Jason Hursh and John Gant before the game:

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Then, after getting Ryne Stanek following the final out, I ventured outside and obtained a signature or two from Matt Wisler, Michael McKenry, Reid Brignac, Chris Ellis, Matt Duffy (on the blank-auto card), Curt Casali, Eury Perez and another from Rio Ruiz:

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August 19th — Norfolk Tides Vs. Durham Bulls

I don’t really have that much to say about this game. My mind wasn’t completely in it, and it still bugs me. For that reason, I only got five autographs, from Christian Walker, Trey Mancini, Andy Oliver, Pedro Beato and L.J. Hoes. The end.

DSCN7823August 29th — Columbus Clippers Vs. Durham Bulls

I wanted to end the season with a bang (especially after doing so poorly at the last game), and I did just that. Before the game, I was able to get Steve Karsay, Bradley Zimmer, Ronny Rodriguez, Collin Cowgill, Ryan Merritt, Michael Choice and Erik Gonzalez on a varying number of cards. Then, after getting Jake Hager and Casey Gillaspie immediately following the game, I went outside and picked up an autograph from Cody Anderson, Giovanny Urshela and Yandy Diaz, on a 4×6 photo:

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By the Numbers

Though you could take the time for yourself to add it all up, I figured I’d make things a bit easier. Here’s a numbers recap of my 2016 MiLB season:

Games attended: 13

Win-loss record for the home team: 7-6

Total runs scored (Home Team-Visitor): 53-40

Top 100 prospects seen in person: 16

Autographs from top 100 prospects: 13

Total autographs: 156

Total miles traveled to & from games: 1,240

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Vincent Velasquez Completely Shuts Down the Padres

If you aren’t already familiar with Vincent Velasquez, you inevitably will be very soon.

On Tuesday afternoon against the Padres, Velasquez absolutely dominated San Diego’s lineup, allowing just three hits and striking out 16 batters over the course of his complete game shutout, in which Velasquez received 27 swings and misses. This following his first outing of the season, where Velasquez struck out nine over six innings, giving up no runs, it would appear that he’s already in midseason form. Phillies

Velasquez has now struck out twenty-five batters in just fifteen innings of work, and subsequently holds the new record for a Phillies pitcher of most combined K’s in their first two starts of the season, previously set at 20 back in 1964.

Originally a product of the Astros, getting drafted by them in the second round of the 2010 draft, Velasquez came to Philadelphia as part of the Ken Giles trade this past offseason. To this point, it would appear to be a great move on the part of Philadelphia (especially with Giles getting off to a slow start with Houston).

But Velasquez’s career hasn’t been a smooth ride to the top.

Back in 2011, Velasquez underwent Tommy John surgery (an all too common procedure at this point), forcing him to miss the entire 2011 season. In addition to the injuries, once Velasquez finally did make it to the major leagues, he didn’t immediately post the type of numbers he has recently, notching a 4.37 ERA over 19 total games pitched and 7 starts in 2015, leaving many to question him moving forward.

However, Velasquez appears ready to take off.

It certainly can’t come soon enough for Philadelphia, who has been fairly pathetic in recent years. While they dominated their opponents for a number of years in a row not too long ago, they have been in the process of rebuilding over the past few Francoseasons But other than Velasquez, the Phillies’ pitching staff merely consists of standouts Aaron Nola and Jeremy Hellickson — nothing close to resembling their rotation of 2011 that included Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay.

Likewise, the Phillies lack a good, intimidating lineup, currently possessing very little power threats within it. With Ryan Howard no longer the slugger he once was, and seemingly on his last stretch with Philly, Maikel Franco is truly the only major power threat available of what was once an efficient offensive machine.

But there is help on the way, with the Phillies holding seven of the top 100 prospects in baseball throughout their farm systems. Pitching-wise, the Phillies have guys such as Jake Thompson and Mark Appel in Triple-A, both of which are ready to help very soon. Hitting-wise, J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams are coming fast, and should be contributing to the run scoring in Philadelphia before too long.

With the win on Thursday afternoon, the Phillies have now won three straight, and five of their last six, keeping their overall record for the season at .500 (5-5). Inevitably, however, the Phillies will taper out of contention as the year goes on, and as other teams begin to figure things out, ultimately finishing at or near the bottom of the National League East division.

Even so, once every fifth day, Phillies fans will be reminded by Velasquez that their club is well on their way to transforming back into a contender once again, as it was for so many years not so long ago. Rebuilding is a process that takes time, as well as patience on both the part of the team and the fans.

But as Vincent Velasquez proved on Tuesday, the rebuild is getting closer to completion.

2016 Top 100 Prospects List

Over the past couple of weeks, MLB.com has been unveiling the top ten prospects list at each position heading into the 2016 season. If you take the time to briefly browse the list, you’ll see that there are tons of talented players who will be making an impact in the big leagues within a year or two. However, it’s the top 100 prospects list officially released on Friday night that gives baseball fans a true glimpse at the players most worth keeping a close eye on heading into this year.Prospect

Of the top 10 prospects in all of baseball for the start of the 2015 season, eight of them made it to the majors and made big impacts for their respective clubs, with Carlos Correa (the number three ranked prospect in 2015) and Kris Bryant (number two) winning the Rookie of the Year awards. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the prospect lists to get an idea of which players are going to make your favorite team better upon arrival in 2016.

I’m not sure what it is about prospects that intrigues me so much, but I absolutely love studying over, and basically memorizing, the top 100 prospects list — the stars of tomorrow. I didn’t really get into it until 2012, as that’s when I began to get serious about autograph collecting, and I had to keep up with the prospects to know when a particularly talented player was coming to town. I suppose that’s why I love it so much, as I can’t get autographs from MLB players all that often — living 250 miles from the nearest MLB team — so I have to get them on their way up.

In this blog post, I’m going to tackle the prospects list in chunks (10 prospects at a time), but I’m not going to be talking about them all. That would take far too long; and besides, not every player of the top 100 is going to make an impact at the major league level in 2016. Therefore, I’m only going to cover the prospects who will likely make it to the big leagues this year, including those who don’t make it out of Spring Training but have a chance of a call up later in the season.

Keep in mind, I’m by no means guaranteeing the players I discuss below will make the major leagues this year (they could get delayed for whatever reason). In addition, there might end up being a few players I don’t mention that end up making it to the big leagues this season. I’m merely giving my own personal opinions as to which players I feel will make it to the bigs in 2016. With that said, let the debating begin:

Prospects 100-91

Matt Olson (100), Roman Quinn (99), Reese McGuire (98), Jorge Polanco (97),

Jorge Alfaro (96), Frankie Montas (95), Alex Jackson (94), Bobby Bradley (93),

Hunter Renfroe (92) and Nick Gordon (91).

Of all the players from 100 through 91, Matt Olson is the one who has the most overall potential in my mind, and is also the one with the biggest chance at a big league impact in 2016. He has a ton of power, and would be an added benefit to the Athletics at any point he were to be called up this season. Likewise, Jorge Polanco, who has already made his MLB debut, will likely get even more time at the big league level in 2016.

Those two are the only ones who I see as having any sort of big league impact in 2016, but I could see Hunter Renfroe being a September call up for the Padres, as could Frankie Montas for the Dodgers, who made his MLB debut in 2015.

Prospects 90-81

Forrest Wall (90), Kolby Allard (89), Billy McKinney (88), Gavin Cecchini (37),

Albert Almora (86), Hunter Harvey (85), Cornelius Randolph (84), Trent Clark (83),

Christian Arroyo (82) and Willy Adames (81).

Gavin Cecchini is the only player of these ten who I see as having any shot at all of a late season major league call up, but I feel it will be 2017 before he makes any sort of impact. For the other nine players, their time will likely arrive in 2017 and beyond. But the wait will be well worth it. Each of these players has the potential to be major stars at the next level for many years to come.

Prospects 80-71

Jack Flaherty (80), Amed Rosario (79), Erick Fedde (78), Duane Underwood (77),

Ian Happ (76), Daz Cameron (75), Kyle Tucker (74), Luis Ortiz (73),

Archie Bradley (72) and Jose Peraza (71).

There is a ton of young talent in this group of prospects, but only a couple of them stand any shot at making an impact at the big league level in 2016. Archie Bradley has reportedly been throwing better than ever this offseason, but last year was somewhat of a disappointment for him. Although he improved upon his disastrous 2014 season, Bradley wasn’t able to breakout as the star many feel he can be. Look for that to change this year. Jose Peraza is the other player who will spend the majority of his season in the big leagues. After being traded twice so far in his young career, Peraza will be looking to make a home in Cincinnati.

Prospects 70-61

Mark Appel (70), Amir Garrett (69), Sean Manaea (68), Braden Shipley (67),

Cody Reed (66), Kyle Zimmer (65), Nick Williams (64), Victor Robles (63),

Grant Holmes (62) and Josh Hader (61).

Former number one overall draft pick Mark Appel has yet to post any sort of above average numbers in his minor league career, but he will likely be given a chance to show if he can break through in 2016. If he gets off to a good start, expect him to spend the majority of the season in Philadelphia with the major league club.

Sean Manaea (a strikeout machine), Braden Shipley, Cody Reed and Kyle Zimmer all could see big league call ups at varying points during the season, and they all will bring a ton of talent to their clubs. In addition, Nick Williams and Josh Hader may also see time at the majors towards the latter part of the year, so this is a pretty loaded group.

Prospects 60-51

Tyler Jay (60), Gary Sanchez (59), Javier Guerra (58), Jorge Lopez (57),

Aaron Blair (56), Jake Thompson (55), Jameson Taillon (54), Michael Fulmer (53),

Jeff Hoffman (52) and Dominic Smith (51).

Gary Sachez has been on my radar for quite awhile, but look for him to make a big time impression on all of the baseball world in 2016. Sanchez is a power hitting catcher who looks like the real deal, if only the Yankees can figure out the situation with him and Brian McCann. Jorge Lopez saw time in the majors in 2015, and Aaron Blair, Jake Thompson, Jameson Taillon and Michael Fulmer all stand a shot at doing the same in 2016.

Prospects 50-41

Willson Contreras (50), Josh Bell (49), Ryan McMahon (48), Tim Anderson (47),

David Dahl (46), Manuel Margot (45), Max Kepler (44), Brent Honeywell (43),

Anthony Alford (42) and Francis Martes (41).

Josh Bell had a good minor league showing in 2015, and likely will have a chance at the big league level in 2016. He is a part of a long list of Pirates prospects who look to finally get the Pirates past the Wild Card game in the postseason in the near future. Other than him, Max Kepler could wind up playing a big role for the Twins in 2016, with Tim Anderson possibly getting a bit of time in the majors towards the end of the season.

Prospects 40-31

A.J. Reed (40), Anderson Espinoza (39), Carson Fulmer (38), Raul Mondesi (37),

Dillon Tate (36), Robert Stephenson (35), Jesse Winker (34), Jon Gray (33),

Brett Phillips (32) and Aaron Judge (31).

A.J. Reed had an unbelievable season in the minors in 2015, hitting .340 with 34 homers. I expect him to join a talented Astros club fairly quickly and give them even more added pop after having a successful year in 2015. Carson Fulmer is another player who could make a big league debut in 2016, with the remaining prospects from Raul Mondesi to Aaron Judge likely to spend a good bit of time in the majors this season as well. They all have the ability to post unbelievable numbers once they arrive for good.

Prospects 30-21

Jorge Mateo (30), Ozhaino Albies (29), Gleyber Torres (28), Clint Frazier (27),

Bradley Zimmer (26), Andrew Benintendi (25), Jose De Leon (24), Franklin Barreto (23),

Alex Bregman (22) and Sean Newcomb (21).

After losing Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks this offseason, the Dodgers are in need of another dominant pitcher to place at the two slot behind Clayton Kershaw. Jose De Leon could wind up being that guy. For that reason, even if he doesn’t begin 2016 with the Dodgers, I expect him to get there fairly quickly. Other than De Leon, I don’t see any player making a major league impact in 2016, with the exception of Sean Newcomb who is a very special pitcher who could help the Braves at some point down the road this year.

Prospects 20-11

Austin Meadows (20), Jose Berrios (19), Nomar Mazara (18), Rafael Devers (17),

Lewis Brinson (16), Steven Matz (15), Blake Snell (14), Alex Reyes (13),

Brendan Rodgers (12) and Trea Turner (11).

Jose Berrios had a terrific 2015 season in the minors, but he should spend enough time in the majors this season to post a full seasons worth of great stats. Likewise, Steven Matz and possibly Trea Turner should spend most of their year at the highest level, with each of them already having made their first impressions in 2015.

Of all of the other players, I could easily see Lewis Brinson and Blake Snell being called up at some point during the length of the season. While they may need a little more seasoning in the minors, they should be up before too long.

Prospects 10-1

Tyler Glasnow (10), Joey Gallo (9), Dansby Swanson (8), Yoan Moncada (7),

Orlando Arcia (6), J.P. Crawford (5), Julio Urias (4), Lucas Giolito (3),

Byron Buxton (2) and Corey Seager (1).

Byron Buxton had been the number one overall ranked prospect heading into the 2014 and 2015 seasons, but his streak finally came to an end with this year’s prospect list. This time around, Corey Seager was named the number one prospect in all of baseball, with Buxton winding up as the second best prospect. Even so, both of them are sure to make huge contributions to their major league clubs in 2016.

While Buxton and Seager are likely to be the only two prospects of these ten who begin the year in the big leagues, I expect every player, with the exception of Dansby Swanson and Yoan Moncada, to make it to the majors this year. How much of an impact they make is yet to be seen, but with players as talented as the top ten are, the future of baseball appears to be in good hands.

Q and A With J.P. Crawford

J.P. Crawford was drafted by the Phillies in the 1st round of the 2013 draft, after batting .452 his senior year at Lakewood High SchoolCrawford.

Since the draft, Crawford has made quick work of the minor leagues, thanks to his all around great gameplay that includes fantastic defense at shortstop.

Making it all the way up to Double-A in his second full professional season, Crawford recorded 6 homers and 42 RBI’s in 2015 to go along with a .380 OBP, and could very well make it to the big leagues in the very near future.

Crawford has already played in two futures games and is the bright spot at the top of a loaded Phillies farm system that looks to get them back into contention within the next few years.

J.P. Crawford — the number five prospect in all of baseball — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I became interested in baseball when I was about 4-5. My older sister was my biggest influence. We would always push each other to do better.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

[Derek] Jeter and [Jimmy] Rollins were my favorites growing up because I played shortstop and my dad told me to watch how they respect the game.

3.) You were drafted by the Phillies in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. What was that moment like for you?

That moment was great. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Hearing your name called by the commissioner, and knowing your life is about to change. That moment really changed my life.

4.) You were selected to play in the Future’s Game in both 2014 and 2015. What was the experience like each time? 

It was such an honor to be there to partake in those events; to play with future all-stars, future hall of famers. It was great.

5.) In 2015, you were promoted to Reading after 21 games due to a superb start of a .392 average. Following your promotion, what kind of adjustments did you find yourself having to make with the transition to Double-A?

In AA, the main thing was just staying with your plan, and not trying to do too much. [Also], the pitchers knew how to pitch a lot better.

6.) With the Phillies having struggled for the past few years, how confident are you that the crop of talent (yourself included) making their way towards the big leagues will help transform the Phillies back into a competitive club?

I think we’re going to make a huge impact in a couple years if all this goes as planned. We have a great group of guys who are really close and play great team ball.

7.) Striking out a mere 54 times in 430 at-bats last season, what type of approach do you take at the plate that enables you to make contact so consistently over the course of any given season?

It’s just staying with my plan. If the pitch is a pitch you don’t wanna hit, then I take it. With two strikes, [I] shorten up and put it in play.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

I think everything went well last year just fell one game short [of the Championship]. But next year [my goals are] to just stay consistent and healthy, and whatever level I reach I’ll be happy and ready to help my team win.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

The ‘Walking Dead’; my dad’s BBQ.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice would be to want to win — but have fun doing it!

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Big thanks to J.P. Crawford for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @jp_crawford