The COVID-19 pandemic swallowed up baseball's minor-league season last year. Now, it's back, with a whole new look. The season begins Tuesday night.
"I don't know if words can describe how excited we are, our staff and our players," said Josh Bonifay, the Phillies director of player development. "The last few days of camp were a lot of fun. You saw the joy on the players' faces as the rosters came together, just the excitement of playing again."
The Phillies announced rosters for their four full-season clubs on Monday.
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Because of COVID precautions and new travel protocols, teams will play a 120-game schedule and six-game series. Mondays will be off days.
As part of Major League Baseball's takeover of the minors, the leagues have been rebranded. For instance, there is no more International League, Eastern League or Florida State League.
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs will play in Triple A East.
The Reading Fightin' Phils will play in Double A Northeast.
The rebranded Jersey Shore BlueClaws will play in High A East.
The Clearwater Threshers will play in Low A East.
The Clearwater club will feature a handful of notable prospects, including pitcher Mick Abel, the Phillies' top pick in the 2020 draft. Abel is a 6-5 right-hander with top-of-the-rotation potential. At No. 15 overall, he was the first high school pitcher selected in last year's draft.
"Dominant, exciting, pure stuff, polished," said Bonifay, describing Abel.
Gunner Mayer, a 6-6 righty, is another starter to watch on the Clearwater roster.
The Clearwater club will also feature infielders Casey Martin and Luis Garcia and outfielder Johan Rojas, who won rave reviews from Joe Girardi during big-league spring training camp. Garcia received a $2.5 million signing bonus from the Phillies in 2017 and won the Gulf Coast League batting title as a 17-year-old in 2018. Martin was the Phillies' third-round pick out of Arkansas last season. He's a hard-nosed shortstop with speed, pop and explosiveness on the bases.
The Jersey Shore club, nee Lakewood, will put a number of prospects on the field, including shortstop Bryson Stott, the team's top pick in the 2019 draft, catcher Logan O'Hoppe, power hitter Jhailyn Ortiz and pitchers Ben Brown and Kevin Gowdy.
Gowdy was the Phillies' second-round pick in 2016, the draft in which they selected Mickey Moniak No. 1 overall. The right-hander, now 23, is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.
Fans who follow the Phillies' minor-league system know that Lakewood is not a long drive from the Philadelphia area. With the restructured leagues, the Jersey Shore club will also make trips to Wilmington to play the Nationals' affiliate. Jersey Shore will play a six-game series in Wilmington next week.
The Double A Reading club will feature three prospects in the starting rotation, James McArthur, Francisco Morales and Ethan Lindow. McArthur, a 6-7 right-hander and 12th round pick out of Ole Miss in 2018, impressed in camp with power stuff up to 97 mph.
The Triple A club will feature Rafael Marchan behind the plate with Spencer Howard, Adonis Medina, Ranger Suarez, Bailey Falter and David Parkinson on the pitching staff. Veteran reliever Neftali Feliz is also at Triple A, trying to make it back to the majors after his career was derailed by an arm injury. He will be someone to watch and could be in play in Philadelphia if he pitches well.
Several notable players remained in extended spring training and will be assigned to a club in the coming weeks. Yhoswar Garcia, a 19-year-old outfielder from Venezuela, is one of those players. The Phillies signed him for $2.5 million and he has yet to play in an official professional game, but that will come soon, after he gets a little more time to acclimate.
Garcia is known as "The Drone" for his speed and ability to track balls in the outfield.
"He's a high-energy player who can really go get the ball," Bonifay. "He's a pure centerfielder with bat speed and lightning-quick hands. And he's fearless. He plays with aggressiveness and passion."
Outfielder Simon Muzziotti, a prospect who was added to the 40-man roster last fall, remains on the restricted list. He has been unable to travel from Venezuela to the U.S. because of a visa issue.
Here's a look at the Phillies' minor-league rosters: