We continue our annual look at players that could be with the BlueClaws in 2016. We previously looked at infielders (here) and will have outfielders today. Pitchers will follow.
As always with this series, nothing is set in stone as the players report to Clearwater and begin minor league spring training games. This is a look at potential BlueClaws. Typically the team carries two catchers, but they have carried three in the past, and that, among many other factors such as positional versatility, could impact this list.
This series is one of our favorite things to do on this blog. We hope you enjoy.
(Pictured above are Zach Coppola [left] and Mark Laird])
Cornelius Randolph – We’ll start with Randolph, the Phillies first-round pick last year (9th overall) from Griffin, Georgia. Baseball America ranks him 6th best in the system. Last year, he hit .302 with 1 home run and a 32 BB/K ratio for the GCL Phillies, ranking second in the league in doubles, on-base percentage, and walks. Randolph was drafted as a shortstop but was immediately moved to left field upon being drafted, and he seems likely to be the BlueClaws Opening Day left fielder this year.
Mark Laird – Laird was drafted by the Phillies in the 9th round out of LSU and hit .285 with 11 stolen bases with Williamsport last year. He played right field in college but was a teammate of Andrew Stevenson, a high Nationals draft pick, who played center in Baton Rouge. His college coach was very complimentary of his defense.
“Mark Laird would be one of the top 10 percent of the center fielders in the country,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I guarantee you he’s better than 90 percent of the center fielders in college baseball. It just so happens he plays on the same team with who I think is the best center fielder in the country — Andrew Stevenson.”
Laird will turn 23 at the end of March, so it’s certainly possible that he goes to Clearwater to open the 2016 season (where he would play a corner since Carlos Tocci is expected to play center for the Threshers).
Jose Pujols – Pujols signed with the Phillies in 2012 for $540,000 from the Dominican Republic and has been working his way up the system over the last few years. His calling card is his power and he’s hit 15 home runs in three minor league seasons thus far. Last year, he hit .238 with Williamsport, adding four home runs and five stolen bases while serving as their primary right fielder. Pujols hit .300 over the first month of the season before fading at the end, though all four of his home runs came in the season’s final month. He’s still just 20, and won’t turn 21 until September, so more seasoning in extended spring training and Williamsport certainly isn’t out of the question, but could be with the BlueClaws this year.
Venn Biter – A 21 year old from Tennessee, Biter was drafted in the 30th round of the 2013 draft and spent two years in the Gulf Coast League before joining Williamsport. With the Crosscutters last year, he hit .265 with two home runs and nine stolen bases. He hit in the 2-hole more than any other spot for the Crosscutters last year.
Zachary Coppola – A speedster from South Dakota State, Coppola was a 13th round pick last year that hit .271 with 15 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. He was 39 for 39 on the bases in college and is a 5′ 10″ left-handed hitter that profiles as a Ben Revere type of slash hitter. He’s another potential centerfielder for the BlueClaws with Mark Laird (it would likely be Coppola if Laird is in Clearwater). Here is some pre-draft video on Coppola, who was just the 12th Jackrabbits player ever to be drafted.
Carlos Duran – The 21 year old from Venezuela spent most of last year with Williamsport, where he hit .236 with two home runs and 10 stolen bases, while also filling in over a four-game stretch with Hi-A Clearwater. Duran hit .299 with the GCL Phillies in 2014 and began his career with two seasons in the Gulf Coast League.
Juan Luis – The Gulf Coast Phillies had, among their outfielders, Randolph (see above) and several younger options, most of whom seem more likely for Williamsport. If one of those players breaks through to Lakewood, it seems like it would be Luis. He’ll turn 20 on March 23rd and hit .244 with two home runs with the GCL Phillies, but his most notable skill was his speed – he was 14 for 15 on the bases