Archive for July, 2013

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News is spreading swiftly about the Philadelphia Phillies agreeing to terms with Cuban RHP Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported moments ago that the Phillies have signed the 26-year old to a $60+ million contract. But, what is it that makes Gonzalez so valuable? Here’s everything you need to know.

The youngster was coveted by multiple teams, most notably the Boston Red Sox. Earlier this year, Gonzalez fled Cuba in hopes of playing professional baseball in the states. After a stop in El Salvador, he made camp in Mexico. The right-hander throws a mid-90s fastball coupled with a mediocre curveball and average secondary pitches. Opinions on his ceiling have varied from #3 starter to back-end of the rotation. It is almost unanimous, though, that he is indeed a major league talent. 

His windup includes a high leg kick that effectively hides pitches from the batter. Gonzalez has had trouble with regards to consistency in his mechanics, often shortening his stride, resulting in a loss in velocity and command. But, with work, that is an issue that can certainly be resolved. 

Gonzalez burst onto the scene as a pitcher with the Cuban National Team during the 2009 and 2011 World Cups. He was suspended for two years by Cuba after attempting to defect in 2011. 

In the past, Cuban defectors have had tremendous success. Orlando Hernandez burst onto the scene in the late-1990s as one of the first successful defectors of the communist island-nation. Recently, young stars like Aroldis Chapman ($30.25 million), Yoenis Cespedes ($36 million), and Yasiel Puig ($42 million) have successfully defected and become fan favorites in the majors. 

The signing comes as a surprise, as the Phillies had never signed an international free agent for more than $2 million.

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The mood is dim in the City of Brotherly Love. Gone are the days of four aces and overflowing confidence. The decade of dominance, one that saw the Phillies capture this city’s first championship in 25 years, has waned. Instead, the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies have devolved into an enigma. Injuries, inconsistency, and age have contributed to a first half that was decidedly mediocre.

Still, there remains plenty of opportunity for a team once left for dead by their fan base. Philadelphia, thanks to a 9-4 stretch in July, is right in the thick of things in the National League. As the second half gets underway on Friday, the Phillies sit 6.5 games behind Atlanta in the East. They’re also just 5.5 out of the Wild Card, although that represents a trickier task thanks in large part due to the fact that they’d have to pass three teams to accomplish it.

Overall, it looks like a tricky situation. However, the Phillies have long been a strong second half team under Charlie Manuel. Even last year, when Philadelphia relied on the likes of Tyler Cloyd, Ty Wigginton, and Kevin Frandsen to be key contributors, they went 44-31 after the All-Star break, good for fifth in the NL. Couple that with their favorable schedule, and the Phillies’ faithful should not give up hope just yet.

There are 66 games remaining in the 2013 season. That is certainly enough to overcome a 6.5 game deficit in the division. It helps that the Phillies will play a majority of those games (35) against teams at or below .500. Philadelphia will see the Mets (10 games), Marlins (6), Cubs (6), Rockies (4), Giants (3), Dodgers (3), and Padres (3) over the next two months. With the exception of a three-game series at Wrigley Field, every non-divisional series against below .500 teams is at home.

Of course, that leaves 31 games against teams that are currently above .500, including two critical sets on the road over the next week-and-a-half in St. Louis and Detroit. If Philadelphia can survive their current nine-game home stand with five wins or better, they could be in for a smooth sprint to the finish. The Phillies play the Braves and Nationals a combined 22 times, something that should come in handy when it comes to catching Atlanta in the division. The only other series against a team above .500 is an August set at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have struggled over the last month. Simply put, the Phillies control their own destiny. If they beat Atlanta and Washington handily, they should be right in the divisional race at the end of September.

The Facts

– The Phillies are currently 6.5 games back of Atlanta in the NL East (Washington sits just ahead of them at 6 games back.

– The Phillies play a majority of their remaining games against teams that are below .500 (35 of 66).

– Of those 35 games, 16 come against NL East rivals New York and Miami. Of the remaining 19 games, only 3 are on the road. That leaves 16 home games against Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, Colorado, and San Francisco.

– Of their remaining games against above .500 teams (31), the Phillies play 22 against the two teams ahead of them in the NL East, Atlanta (13) and Washington (9). That leaves just three series against the likes of St. Louis, Detroit, and Arizona (home).

– Of their 35 games against below .500 teams, 22 of them are at home.

– Of their 31 games against above .500 teams, only 9 are at home.

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SkoodSports got a chance to catch up with Tyson Gillies, the Phillies’ young prospect outfielder who was acquired in December, 2009 from the Seattle Mariners organization for Cliff Lee. Tyson spent time in AAA this seasons with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs because being demoted in May to Reading (AA). He is now back with the IronPigs, and as such, had an opportunity to sit down with SkoodSports for a few good minutes. 

Skudris: In your time down with Reading, you have certainly heated-up. In June, you hit .289-3-8. What do you owe to that success?

Gillies: You know, some of the different hitting techniques that everybody has been showing me. I have tried to put everything together. You know, it obviously took some time. I had a lot of failure at first but then had some success as of late. That’s about it. I’m trying some new things to become a better hitter.

Skudris: Now, you’ve certainly seen an influx in your power recently. You had 7 HR in about 170 AB down with Reading. Is there any reason specifically for that?

Gillies: Basically just back to getting comfortable and using my hands a lot more as well as my legs. I’m basically getting the confidence that allows you to drive the ball and be selective with the counts. Everything has been coming together and I have had more power luck recently.

Skudris: Now, in your first stint here with Lehigh Valley in April, your batting average was way below what your typical average would be. Yet, your peripheral numbers, your walks and strikeouts, they weren’t bad. They were about even. What do you think were your struggles here in Lehigh Valley? Was it just getting adjusted to a new level or was it bad luck?

Gillies: You know, it’s a little bit of everything. You get adjusted to the level early in the season. Learning new pitchers and stuff like that. Obviously, these guys are artists (at this level) when it comes to ground balls and fly balls and stuff like that. But, I’m just getting to know these pitchers and getting to know what kind of balls you can tee up and what kind of balls you have to lay off. Hopefully, I’ll have a little bit more luck this time.

Skudris: We certainly hope so as well. Now, your stolen bases have been a little bit down over the past season. Is there any reason for that or is it just that you haven’t had the opportunity to run?

Gillies: You know, sometimes it’s not the right opportunity. I definitely should be going a lot more than I have. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to base-stealing and when is a good time to go or when I should shut down. But, that’s something that we are really going to emphasize over these next two months. 

Skudris: Now, I’m going to go back in your life a little bit, because when you were a kid up in British Columbia, you were a bantam hockey player and a pretty good one at that. What made you decide to become a baseball player and focus your professional dreams on that as opposed to your national pastime? 

Gillies: Well, the big thing was that I always had a dream to go to the states on a scholarship to play sports and with baseball, it was there for me. I took the opportunity. Obviously, I love hockey and I miss hockey. But, you know, my biggest thing was to go to school and get an education.

Skudris: Who’s your favorite hockey team?

Gillies: I’d have to say that it’s the Penguins.

Skudris: The Penguins?!? We might run into some trouble in this area. But, I’ll accept you for it. For you, some may not know that you were born with a hearing impairment. What type of hurdles did you have to overcome in your professional career and in your personal life with that and how did it help you in baseball?

Gillies: Oof, that’s a long story there. Basically, it’s not like anything I can compare it to. I can’t hear the ball off the bat or different situations such as if I steal and someone hits the ball in the air, I can’t hear it or tell. The list can go on. There’s so many things that you can take as a negative. But, there’s also so many things you can take as a positive at the same time. I always have to be more aware of my surroundings and what I’m going to do when the ball gets to me because I’m not going to hear the cut-off man and things like that. I just always have to know. So, I always have all these scenarios running through my head as I’m playing. I take that as a positive, though. I always have my head up. At the end of the night, I always take it as a positive. 

Gillies, who was recalled to Lehigh Valley on Monday, will be the IronPigs’ starting center fielder for the foreseeable future.