Fightins manager Shawn Williams anxious to get spring games underway

Mike Drago, Reading Eagle, Pa.
·3 min read

Apr. 9—Minor league spring training always brings excitement and unknowns but this year — after seeing the entire 2019 season wiped out by COVID-19 concerns — there's even more intrigue.

Many of the 140-plus players in the Philadelphia Phillies minor league camp in Clearwater, Fla., haven't played in a live game in over a year.

They're itching to get going, as is Reading Fightin Phils manager Shawn Williams.

"I just can't wait to see these guys play games," Williams said Thursday afternoon, five days into minor league camp.

With the minor league season starting a month after the Major Leagues got going — Reading's season opener is May 4 — there's not quite as much mystery as who might end up on the Phillies' Double-A roster.

The organization sent 30 players to their alternate training camp in Lehigh Valley. You've got to figure that will basically be the Triple-A roster, and it'll include Mickey Moniak, Darick Hall and Spencer Howard, each of whom played in Reading in 2019.

The IronPigs' roster will be the jewel of the Phillies farm system, with as many as 11 of the organization's Top 30 prospects.

The Fightins figure to end up with plenty of top prospects as well, with the likes of right-hander Francisco Morales and outfielder Shawn Muzziotti, both members of the Phillies 40-man roster. Other top prospects likely to start in Reading include outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz, catcher Rodolfo Duran and pitchers Erik Miller and Ethan Lindow.

Muzziotti's debut in Reading could be delayed; he remains at home in Venezuela at this point.

The roster won't officially be set until around May 1, a few days before the team arrives in Reading.

The manager is as anxious as anyone to find out who will be calling FirstEnergy Stadium home this spring.

"There's a lot of question marks right now," he said. "There's no telling what guys can make this team."

With the 2019 line left blank on the back of most guys' baseball cards it's harder to know who could start the season in Double-A, or how they might perform. Top second base prospect Nick Maton, for example, could start in Triple-A after playing just 21 games last season at Reading. He's currently part of the Phillies' Player Pool roster working out at Lehigh Valley.

Others, such as the 21-year-old Morales, could skip High-A entirely and open in Reading. That wouldn't be a surprise after seeing him dominate at Lakewood in 2019, where he averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings.

"You look at him, you can't believe he's only 21," Williams said. "He's his special pitcher. He has a chance to be really good.

"That's what's kind of fun about right now is seeing all these young kids (have a chance to make that kind of jump), like Josh Stephen in 2019, when he went from Lakewood to Reading and made a huge impact."

Stephen could be one of about half-a-dozen or more guys returning to the Fightins. That list includes former No. 1 pick Cornelius Randolph and shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa, both of whom have struggled with the bat at times.

Williams said he's as excited about seeing those two return as he is about anyone.

"Cornelius Randolph looks great right now," Williams said. "He made some big improvements playing (winter ball) in Australia. He's one that I've seen that's definitely opened some eyes. Gamboa looks good, too."

Williams said he'll have a better idea of what to expect in 2021 once exhibition games begin next week.

"That'll be the fun part, because that's what we haven't been able to do for so long, is compete," he said. "We'll find out a lot more once we get some games going. A handful of guys have been playing winter ball, but the majority here have not played in almost two years."