While there are a few hardy souls out there that believe the Phillies, who are currently eight games out in the wild card, could still make a big enough run to reach the playoffs, the odds aren't good. In the minors though, where the season is quickly coming to an end, there are a number of teams with very good odds of reaching the playoffs, right about the time that the big league club will be considering September call-ups.
At Triple-A, Lehigh Valley, despite not playing their best baseball lately, the IronPigs are 3 1/2 games out in the North Division. They're chasing a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club that recently lost Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Tyler Austin to the Yankees. In the wild card, Lehigh Valley has their lead at 5 1/2 games, right about where it's been for a while now. There are just 17 games left in the IronPigs season and they have two games remaining against Scranton and five against Rochester, who is chasing them for the wild card.
Double-A Reading has had the best record in professional baseball for some time now, but they haven't been able to put away another Yankees affiliate, the Trenton Thunder, who are four out in the Eastern Division, with Reading having 19 games left to play.
Clearwater is tied for second, two games out in the Florida State League's North Division, while Lakewood has a one-game lead over both Hagerstown and Kannapolis in the South Atlantic League North.
In the short-season leagues, Williamsport's inability to beat State College, the leaders in the Pinckney Division of the New York-Penn League has left them eight out in the division, but they're just three out in the wild card. The catch is that they have four teams to climb over for the wild card. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast League Phillies have a .708 winning percentage (34-14), but are a game out in the Northwest Division.
With all of these teams fighting for potential playoff spots in the Phillies minor league system, two weeks from today, just as their seasons are coming to an end, would not be a good time to lose key players either to a promotion to the majors or through the domino effect that would have them move up to fill holes on other playoff bound teams. It's possible that by September 1st, some of the teams would have either clinched a playoff spot or have been eliminated. But is just reaching the playoffs enough from a player development standpoint.
"I think it's very important," said IronPigs manager Dave Brundage recently about young players going through a playoff run. "I think young players learn a lot from struggles and they can learn just as much from hot streaks personally and from being a part of a winning culture. From a selfish standpoint, of course, I want to keep these guys here."
Fans are anxious for the arrival of some of Brundage's key players, like J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams and Andrew Knapp. Others like Cam Perkins and Ben Lively could get consideration for a call-up as well. Each player is an interesting case. With the Phillies having to add a number of key players to their 40-man roster after the season to protect them in the Rule 5 Draft, roster spots will be at a premium.
Knapp, Lively and Williams all have to be protected, so adding them to the 40-man roster for a September call-up wouldn't be a matter of using a roster spot on a player who doesn't have to be protected. Perkins must also be protected, but he's admittedly a step below the others in terms of his prospect status and could be a guy the Phillies leave off the roster if they don't have room for him.
The Phillies could do some juggling behind the plate. Jorge Alfaro, who is at Reading, is already on the 40-man roster and there has been talk that he would get a September call-up. The Phillies could move him up to the majors in September and fill his spot at Reading or move him up to Lehigh Valley in September and bring Knapp to the majors. Either way, the other could then come to the majors after the minor league playoffs.
If Williams comes to the majors, the Phillies will want him to play on a very regular basis. An outfield of Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera and Williams would be very interesting to watch and Lehigh Valley does have a number of outfielders on the roster, so they might be able to plug in a guy like David Lough into the starting lineup for Williams.
You'll notice that Crawford doesn't need to be protected. At this point, even though it wouldn't be popular with fans, the Phillies might just keep him at Lehigh Valley and not bring him to the majors even after the IronPigs playoffs are finished. They don't have to protect him and they may just keep him off the roster until next season when they're ready to bring him to the majors to stay.
Reading outfielder Roman Quinn is also an interesting case. At just 23-years of age, the oft-injured center field prospect is already on the 40-man roster and there has been talk of him coming to Philadelphia for September. It's more likely that Williams and/or Perkins go to Philly and Quinn could possibly come to Lehigh Valley. Even with injuries, by the end of the month, Quinn will have just about a full seasons worth of time at the Double-A level.
Then, there are the veterans. Cody Asche and Darin Ruf are both at Lehigh Valley and are both on the Phillies 40-man roster. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made a curious comment when Asche was sent down, hinting that he might not be back in September. If the Phillies figure on bailing on both Asche and Ruf after the season, bringing them up in September seems a waste. Probably better to leave them where they are, to help win some titles in the minors.
As for pitchers, Lively and/or David Buchanan could head for Philly, since they've already stated that they would like to save innings on young arms. A safe bet might be to have Buchanan head for the Phillies and Lively finish out the shorter regular season and postseason in the minors before shutting him down. That would leave Nick Pivetta and Ricardo Pinto, both of whom have to be protected this year, along with Tyler Viza as potential hole-fillers for the IronPigs rotation.
In the bullpen, Lehigh Valley has Philadelphia retreads Luis Garcia, Elvis Araujo and Dalier Hinojosa available. Teams like to add extra arms in September, so figure that at least one of them goes to Philly, which would be another blow to the IronPigs bullpen, which has already lost pitchers like Edward Mujica, Frank Herrmann and Michael Mariot to the Phillies recently. Phil Klein, who made an emergency start for the Phillies last month, could work as a starter or reliever and is already on the 40-man roster.
"It's really a balancing act," said Phillies director of player development, Joe Jordan recently. "You really have to think about it on a case-by-case basis and try to determine what's best for both the teams involved and for the player. Some guys can really benefit from going through a postseason, even if it's in the minors, but other guys may benefit more from playing, or even just being exposed to the routine, of the majors."
The bottom line is that to have literally all of the Phillies minor league teams in the hunt for their respective postseason is a huge plus for the organization, which is something that both Brundage and Jordan noted. Coming into August 19, the Phillies organization currently has the second-best minor league winning percentage of any major league team at .573 (414-308). The Seattle Mariners, at .593 (393-270) have the best overall percentage.