LAKEWOOD, N.J. – Marty Malloy did not know what to expect from his starting rotation as he prepared for his second season as manager of the Phillies’ low-A Lakewood affiliate.
He had been blessed in his first season. Big-armed prospects such as Sixto Sanchez and Adonis Medina lived up to expectations. The lefthanded trio of JoJo Romero, Nick Fanti and Ranger Suarez turned in dominant efforts consistently, and Bailey Falter and Alejandro Requena were terrific, too. The BlueClaws’ 3.26 ERA was the third best in the South Atlantic League.
Sanchez, Medina and Romero are all among Baseball America’s top 10 organizational prospects, so it was a given that this year’s crop of Lakewood starters would not be as highly touted as the previous one. The surprise is that they’ve been just as good, if not better.
“This group might not be as electric or as talked about, but they’ve performed at the same level,” Malloy said after a doubleheader earlier this week. “It has been one right after the other.”
Ramon Rosso (1-0, 0.93) has been the ace of the six-man rotation, but the five guys who have followed have done just fine. Combined, the rotation was 14-6 with a league-best 2.15 ERA heading into play Wednesday.
Spencer Howard, the Phillies’ second-round pick last June, has the biggest arm of the bunch and has hit 98 mph on the radar gun this season, according to Malloy. He is 3-2 with a 2.89 ERA and has struck out 39 and walked just five in 28 innings.
Lefty Will Stewart, who at 20 is the youngest member of the rotation, is 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA. He has struck out 31 and walked five in 37 innings. He was a 20th-round pick in 2015.
“He has been off-the-charts good,” Malloy said.
The rest of the rotation – Damon Jones, David Parkinson and Connor Brogdon – consists of college pitchers selected in last year’s draft. Jones, an 18th-round pick out of Washington State, is 2-1 with a 2.10 ERA. Parkinson, a 12th-rounder from Ole Miss, is 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA, and Connor Brogdon, a 10th-rounder out of Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho, is 1-2 with a 3.95 ERA.
The BlueClaws will soon add 6-foot-10 lefty Kyle Young to the rotation. Young, 20, was 7-2 with a 2.77 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 65 innings last season with Williamsport, but has been sidelined by a strained left shoulder since the start of the season.
As well as the Lakewood pitchers have performed, the BlueClaws bats have been mostly silent. The team is last in the league in runs scored and batting average. In fairness, four of Lakewood’s opening-day starters — Jhailyn Ortiz, Simon Muzziotti, Cole Stobbe and Malvin Matos — are on the disabled list. Ortiz and Stobbe are due back soon, according to Malloy.
In the absence of those four, Jake Scheiner, a fourth-round pick out of Houston last year, has been Lakewood’s best offensive player, hitting .282 with four home runs and an .806 OPS. On the flip side, infielder Daniel Brito is struggling with a .209 average after returning to the BlueClaws for a second straight season. At 20, Brito is still one of the league’s younger players.
Addison Russ, with 25 strikeouts, two walks and just nine hits allowed in 19 2/3 innings, has been the BlueClaws’ best reliever. A 19th-round pick last year, Russ has six saves and an 0.92 ERA. … Lefty Kyle Dohy, a 16th-round pick last year, has a 1.37 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings for the BlueClaws. … Double-A Reading recently announced that it will induct Ryan Howard into its Baseballtown Hall of Fame on Tuesday, Aug. 14.