Since the future doesn’t appear to be now for the 2017 Phillies, why not hop in the car this summer and see for yourselves what the future may hold?
Depending upon where you live, it’s no more than 75 to 100 miles from your door to the home of any of three minor league franchises within the Phillies system.
That way you can see for yourself whether Rhys Hoskins, J.P. Crawford, Dylan Cozens, Roman Quinn or any of a number of pitchers are the real deal for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs of the International League.
You can head to Reading and, once you’re done at the outlet stores, find your way to FirstEnergy Stadium, where the Eastern League Double-A Fightin Phils seem well stocked with Scott Kingery, Andrew Pullin and pitchers Brandon Leibrandt and Shane Watson, a former first-round draft choice.
Or, if you’re intrigued by what’s in the system a few years down the road, the Lakewood BlueClaws of the Class A South Atlantic League may be the spot to hit. Located 60 to 70 miles from Center City, the Jersey shore town that Ryan Howard, Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis once called home is a place full of potential.
Of course, it won’t be known for at least a couple of years whether players like pitchers Sixto Sanchez and Adonis Medina and outfielder Mickey Moniak, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, ever realize that potential.
But if the Phillies aren’t your team, there are still options — especially if you’re a Yankees fan. The Double-A Trenton Thunder, where Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens once did rehab stints and, before that, Nomar Garciaparra and Kevin Youkilis played when the Red Sox ran the team, is only minutes away.
And if you don’t mind the two-and-a-half-hour or so trek to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, you’ll find yourselves at the home of the Yankees Triple-A RailRiders.
Finally, the Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Class A-Advanced Carolina League are in the midst of celebrating their 25th season. A Kansas City Royals affiliate throughout most of its history, the team has produced 163 major leaguers, including Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Zack Greinke and Eric Hosmer.
So if you love baseball, but coming out to Citizen Bark Park doesn’t seem too appetizing, here’s a closer look at those alternatives.
Lehigh Valley IronPigs
Completed in 2008, Coca-Cola Park in Allentown has a capacity of 8,278, which doesn’t include close to 2,000 more who can hang out in the picnic areas and other attractions scattered throughout the ballpark. The IronPigs — a reference to the pig iron synonymous with the steel manufactured in the region — have served as the Phillies Triple-A club since the stadium opened.
Throughout the years, the franchise has had only moderate success, but it traditionally has been at or near the top of attendance in the International League. They’re currently atop the Northern Division, having recently gone on a 12-game winning streak.
The former home of the Phillies has been a Yankees affiliate since 2007 but the team did not become the RailRiders until 2013. The defending International League and Triple-A national champions have produced players like current Yankees Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Luis Severino.
Located in Moosic, PNC Field officially seats 10,000, although more than 12,000 fans have packed the place on several occasions. At the end of the minor league season, PNC Field will host the Triple-A national championship game.
Reading Fightin Phils
The Double-A home of the Phils since 1967, Reading is tied for the longest continuous affiliation of any major league franchise. And FirstEnergy Stadium, which was built in 1951, is the oldest in the Eastern League, though it has been frequently renovated.
That means Phillies fans have trekked to Berks County to watch hot prospects like Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Darren Daulton and Cole Hamels, among many others, for more than half a century.
As in most minor league ballparks, tickets are affordable —ranging from $8 for lawn seats and up — plus fans get a more intimate place to watch players develop who might be that far away from “the show.”
In recent seasons, Phils like Franco, Aaron Altherr, Aaron Nola and César Hernández came through Reading at some point. So did current IronPigs Hoskins, Cozens, Crawford, Quinn and Jorge Alfaro; most, if not all of them, project to be factors at the major league level.
It’s been 23 years since baseball came back to Trenton, N.J., where there are records of the game being played going as far back to just after the Civil War. Later, shortly after Jackie Robinson crossed baseball’s color line, Willie Mays made his minor league debut playing for the Trenton Giants.
As for the current incarnation as the Yankees Double-A outlet, while there’s likely not a Mays, Robinson Canó or even Brett Gardner among them, there could be some players not too far removed from wearing the pinstripes. Besides, being only 30 miles or so from Center City, Arm & Hammer Park has always been a great place to take the family.
For one thing, it’s easily accessible from just about anywhere. For another, between tickets, parking and concessions, you’ll spend a lot less than at any major league ballpark. Plus, even if the game’s not very entertaining, there’s enough going on to sustain anyone’s interest.
For the most part, Class A minor league baseball is for the serious fan. That’s the guy who’s intrigued by some of the names he sees rising through the system and wants to see for himself how good these guys are.
In the case of the BlueClaws, who play at 6,588 capacity FirstEnergy Park, it means checking out Moniak, who could be the Phillies’ centerfielder of the future. Going through the record books, among the current major leaguers who have spent time here since the franchise started in 2001 are Carlos Carrasco, Jonathan Villar, Jarred Cosart and Domingo Santana, all prospects the Phils dealt in trades.
Considering Lakewood is still three steps removed from Citizens Bank Park, though, there’s no guarantee a player who excels here will eventually climb to the top of the ladder.
Class A – Advanced
Wilmington Blue Rocks
The same holds true for the Royals’ longtime affiliate, although a cursory glance at alumni shows some impressive names. For whatever reason, Wilmington’s Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, where you can get a $7 ticket with Groupon, seems to attract real talent.
Again, with a nice view of the Delaware waterfront, it’s not too far away for anybody, and convenient.
And for players who made a name for themselves with the Blue Rocks — from current Royals Mike Moustakas, Salvador Pérez and Raul Mondesi Jr., to Brandon Finnegan (Reds), Wil Myers (Padres) and Greg Holland (Rockies) — between Philly, Baltimore, New York and Washington, there are plenty of places to follow them once they’ve made it.
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