Prospect Stock Watch: Philadelphia Phillies

Top prospects for both the Philadelphia Phillies and Minnesota Twins collided in a late-July series in the Double-A Eastern League. In the July 28 matchup, the Phillies Double-A affiliate, from Reading, Pa., fielded the top two talents in the system, as well as a former top pitching prospect whose career is currently is in flux.

Jesse Biddle, LHP

Biddle has to be happy to put July behind him. The southpaw posted a 7.11 ERA while allowing a plethora of base runners thanks to 15 free passes in just 19 innings. Control has always been a nemesis of the Philadelphia native and is the No. 1 item keeping him from realizing his potential.

It’s been an interesting year for Biddle at the Double-A level. He’s leading the league in both walks and strikeouts. However, high pitch counts have caused the lefty to average just five innings per start. When the 21-year-old starter can find the plate he can be overpowering — as witnessed by the strikeout rate of 9.94 K/9 and his hits-allowed rate of 6.79 H/9.

Biddle was not sharp against the New Britain Rock Cats on July 28 and was yanked in the second inning with just one out. He left after bringing in three runs by loading the bases through  a walk, a hit batter and another free pass.

Biddle is athletic and has a smooth delivery, but his arm slot was all over the place in this game. He was getting under the ball and working up in the zone far too much. Perhaps the biggest issue I noticed was how quickly he worked. It was a detriment to his game and he let the game control him. He was rattled on the mound and spent a lot of time going to the rosin bag and throwing to first base; he didn’t look confident on the mound. I was surprised catcher Sebastian Valle and the Reading coaching staff didn’t take a more hands-on approach with the young pitcher.

His fastball command, which was mostly 91 mph and 92 mph, let him down and he rarely used his changeup. He broke off a few very nice plus-curveballsm but the breaking ball was mostly inconsistent — both in terms of break and in his ability to throw it for strikes. There is nothing wrong with his raw stuff, though. It’s above-average but Biddle needs to smooth out his mechanics and regain his confidence. He remains the best prospect in the Phillies system and I have faith he’ll eventually realize his No. 2- or No. 3-starter potential.

Brody Colvin, RHP

As recently as 2011, Colvin and Jarred Cosart were neck-and-neck for the best pitching prospect in the Phillies system. The latter pitcher has moved to Astros system and currently has a 0.96 ERA through his first four MLB starts. Colvin, on the other hand, has taken several huge steps backward.

Currently pitching at Double-A, he has a 6.58 ERA in 18 appearances and has lost his starting role. He’s walked 44 batters and has just 30 strikeouts in 67 innings. Since shifting to the bullpen, the Louisiana native has been better, but still not effective. Like Biddle, Colvin’s issue has been his lack of both command and control.

For his first pitch on July 28, he threw a bullet at the knees. Still, his fastball command was well below average on this day and the break on his hard curveball was inconsistent. The effort in his delivery suggests the bullpen is the place for him.

For me, Colvin represents a great buy-low candidate. He still shows good velocity and has movement on his fastball; his hard breaking ball showed potential. Although he’s been in the bullpen, he’s been serving as a long man and has been pitching multiple innings. I would take him and limit him to one inning per appearance in an effort to build up his confidence with (hopefully) a string of scoreless appearances before allowing him to work a second inning. He has the ingredients necessary to be a high-leverage reliever, assuming he can rediscover his command and his control.

Maikel Franco, 3B

Franco has been one of the biggest breakout prospects of 2013. He currently features a triple-slash line of .320/.359/.573 on the year, and a .945 OPS since his promotion to Double-A (39 games). ESPN’s Keith Law recently had some negative comments about the young hitter, though, and Law went so far as to leave the third baseman off his mid-season Top 50 prospects list. With that in mind, I paid close attention to Franco in this game.

The first thing I noticed in this game was the Dominican’s swing appeared long. He seemed to compensate for this by starting his swing early. I haven’t heard any concerns about his swing length, so I was a little surprised by this. He might just be fighting his mechanics, though. Franco definitely struggled with pitch recognition and had a lot of check-swings in this game despite facing rather pedestrian pitching.

He definitely prefers to hit the fastball and appeared to be more of a mistake hitter than I expected. Franco hit a single to left center field in his first at bat July 28 against former big-leaguer Kyle Davies. The hit came on a high fastball that broke in over the outer half. He then gave away his next two at bats by swing at the first pitch each time, resulting in a weak fly ball to center and a grounder to the shortstop. Franco added a single in his final at bat to finish 2-for-4.

Despite his issues at the plate with pitch recognition, his strikeout rate is just 8% at Double-A. His 2.4% walk rate is in line with the aggressive approach I saw in this game. Despite his eye-catching numbers, Franco is a work-in-progress. His bat is going to have to carry him because he’s a well-below-average runner and his defense at third base is fringe-average.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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