The Lehigh Valley IronPigs should start printing playoff tickets any day now. Their roster is going to be stacked!
Three key ingredients of this year's team arrived in camp after being sent out of the big league camp at the Carpenter Complex on Friday. Jorge Alfaro, J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams all arrived in the minor league clubhouse and will start playing as part of the Triple-A squad in minor league games.
Williams had the biggest impact this spring, hitting .286 (8-for-28) in 15 games with the Phillies with one home run and five RBI. Defensively, he made what may be the play of the spring leaping high over the fence to pull back a home run ball. Last season wasn't especially kind to Williams, who hit 13-64-.258/.287/.427 with the IronPigs in his first season at the Triple-A level. The 23-year old is looking to put up much bigger numbers this season on a team that is going to have plenty of offense and pitching thanks to a stacked Phillies minor league system. Williams is on the Phillies 40-man roster and could see some time in the majors this season, especially if he produces like many scouts believe he's capable of producing with Lehigh Valley. If nothing else, a September call-up would seem like a good possibility.
Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com asked Williams about the team that should be on the field at Lehigh Valley this season and Williams described the team's potential as "scary."
"It's going to be a talented outfield, infield, all around. There's going to be a lot of young guys, athletic guys, just guys that are full of energy," said Williams of the likely roster at Lehigh Valley. "This spring made me feel like I can play here. Whenever that time is, I have no idea, but going through this spring made me truly believe I can play here."
Alfaro played in just five games with the Phillies, going 2-for-8 (.250) before heading to the World Baseball Classic to play for Columbia. Alfaro also hit .250 (3-for-12) with Columbia, adding a solo home run to his stat line, playing in three games.
The 23-year old figures to see the vast majority of playing time with Lehigh Valley as their starting catcher, handling the young pitching staff that should be one of the best in the International League. Like Williams, Alfaro was acquired in the deal that sent Cole Hamels to Texas during the 2015 season.
Last season at Reading, Alfaro played in 97 games with the Fightin' Phils and hit 15-67-.285/.325/.458 on the season. Joining the Phillies as a September call-up, Alfaro played in six games at the major league level and hit .125 (2-for-16).
Alfaro could also see some time back in Philadelphia this season, depending on how the catching situation there shakes out. Right now, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Andrew Knapp are battling to be the backup to Cameron Rupp. Injuries during the season could determine whether Alfaro heads down the turnpike from Lehigh Valley to Philadelphia during the season or waits for another September audition. Long-term, Alfaro is thought to be the guy who will take over the Phillies catching job at some point.
Because they were both on the Phillies 40-man roster, Williams and Alfaro were optioned out to Lehigh Valley, the first option used on both players.
Crawford isn't on the Phillies 40-man roster and was in camp as a non-roster invitee and was reassigned to minor league camp, where he'll play with the Triple-A squad. While it's possible that Crawford will take over the Phillies shortstop job during the season, for now, he's going to play at Triple-A to get consistent at-bats and continue to work on honing his game. Once the Phillies deem Crawford ready to take over, they'll need to decide how to make room for him on the major league roster. Incumbent shortstop Freddy Galvis could bump second baseman Cesar Hernandez out of the starting job there or could be the odd-man-out in the situation. Of course, potential trades could always influence the situation and injuries can also play a role in who winds up where.
Crawford started last season with Reading, but moved up to Triple-A after 36 games with the Fightins. On the season, Crawford, 22, hit 7-43-.250/.350/.339 between Reading and Lehigh Valley. Lauded for his defensive abilities, Crawford can sometimes lose some focus defensively, leading to errors. He's also able to make plays that are deemed impossible by normal shortstop standards and make them look almost routine.
Salisbury noted that Crawford added some muscle to his 6' 2" frame during the offseason and that Crawford reports feeling stronger on the field thanks to the added size. Crawford is a guy who has never lacked any confidence and is looking forward to the IronPigs season.
"I feel like I can compete with all of these guys. I can't wait for the season to get going," Crawford told Salisbury.
RELATED: Read Jim Salisbury's full article on Friday's cuts.
In addition to optioning out Alfaro and Williams and reassigning Crawford, the Phillies made three other moves on Friday. Reliever Pedro Beato, infielder Taylor Featherston and outfielder Cam Perkins were all reassigned to minor league camp.