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The SportsTalk Shop: The Phillies Farm System: May 2013 Report

May 21, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Excuse me for making an interjection amongst angry fans who are upset with the current state of the Phillies roster, but contrary to the public fandom’s opinion, “the cupboard is NOT bare” in the Phillies’ minor league system.

Philadelphia PhilliesPeople will point to the fact at the overall decline in ranking according to Baseball America — something that cannot be disputed. There are clearly less “prospects” in the Phillies minor league system than there were a few years ago .. before the days of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and even Ben Revere. General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr., using the mantra that most Phillies fans have been clamoring for DECADES to do, went for the jugular with “win now/damn the future” deals to improve the team in 2009 to the present to try to win baseball’s ultimate prize. As memory serves, nearly all of those deals (except the second Lee trade) were met with universal praise and admiration (and backhanded derogatory comments towards former GM Ed Wade, who took an opposite approach) for making the “tough deals” to try to win a World Series. The price, of course, is that in order to obtain top-of-the-line talent, which the Phils have done, they would have to give up most of their young talented players in those deals—the majority of them still have not panned out with the team they were traded to.

Now that the team is floundering (as of their 16-21 record), baseball fans in the Eastern Pennsylvania region are upset that Amaro can’t twitch his nose and make a power-hitting outfielder appear. You could argue that he over-evaluated the talent on this current big league roster and put too much faith in the bounce-back abilities of Halladay and Ryan Howard. However, to say that the organization’s minor leagues are in shambles is just not accurate. The Braves, one of the best teams at grooming minor leagues to contribute to the parent club, have done an excellent job over the last few decades of developing at least one or two home-grown players a year to help out the varsity squad. Most teams fall short of that goal. So let’s look ahead at some potential openings/holes in the current Phillies roster and analyze if the front office has provided efficient insurance down on the farm.

Second Base (Chase Utley). With his contract expiring at the end of the season, there is a huge “unknown” as for how long his oft-injured knees will hold out. But down in Triple-A, the Phillies have perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the spring so far. Cesar Hernandez (as of May 13th) is hitting .336 in 140 Abs with 10 extra base hits, a .392 OBP and is 10-11 in steal attempts. A serviceable defensive 2nd baseman and with continued improvement, it wouldn’t be outlandish to envision him replacing Utley where he has frequently been in the Phils’ lineup (the number-two slot).

First Base (Ryan Howard). With Charlie Manual’s recent tendency of sitting Ryan Howard against the majorities of southpaws, it increases the opportunity for another home-grown player, Darin Ruf, (.294, 5-HR, 21-RBIs in 125 AB-s through 5/13) to get playing time at a position that he has had success in defensively. Ruf has looked alright when I’ve seen him in action in left field with the IronPigs (he’s basically playing 5 games at left and 2 games at first so far this season). A combination of him at first base, DH (in American League parks) and left field (in a semi-platoon/rotation with Dom Brown, possibly even shifting to center for a few innings a week?) might help the team’s long-struggling offense. And although the thought of trading Howard and his mega-contract is unlikely, the Phils do have an option should they find a taker for the “Big Piece.”

Catcher (Carlos Ruiz). This might be the biggest disappointment of the season—and not just because of his slash line of .200/.256/.225 as of May 13th. The alleged brain cramp of not getting a prescription for his amphetamines certainly put the team and himself behind the 8-ball, both offensively and defensively, in a pivotal year for the veteran. Ruiz is one of a handful of core players who are eligible for free agency after this season. The Phillies clearly are not happy with his lack of judgment and it might factor in when it comes time to negotiate. Tommy Joseph wasn’t exactly tearing it up in Triple-A before going on the DL with a concussion, but scouts and team officials seem genuinely high on the young receiver acquired in the Hunter Pence trade, and more than one of the Phillies beat writers have indicated that if there’s any place the team might “gamble” on a young player for next season, they would bank on Joseph.

Third Base (Michael Young). In a prior blog entry and on our “RCN SportsTalk” show (available on VOD), we’re already debated in some detail with IronPigs media members about the potential of Triple-A infielder Cody Asche and the chances on him manning the hot corner in Philadelphia by Opening Day 2014. Although Young has been the team’s best hitter—average-wise—and poses a consistent, professional hitting approach that the team has lacked the last few seasons, Young’s age (he’ll be 38 in October) and lack of power will work against (but not preclude) him when the team considers which of the current crop of free agent players they’ll make a play for this offseason (would you prefer Young or Utley batting 3rd?). Even if Young would return (he can play other positions), Asche has continued to get positive reviews and improve his Triple-A numbers (.272 BA, 11 extra base hits in 125 ABs) as the season has unfolded.

Shortstop, Center Field and “Anywhere else.” Following the three hits in his first three at-bats against the D-backs in the final game in Arizona, home-grown Freddy Galvis had his batting average up to .293 while playing five different positions (including spring training) and, quite honestly, looked better in the field than some of the “regulars.” Whether he finds an everyday home in the near future, or becomes a valuable “super-utility” player that can spell people on days-off and/or fill-in when injuries occur, his contributions to the organization should not go unnoticed by Philadelphia sports fans. Radio analyst Larry Anderson had opined in a recent broadcast that he would feel comfortable with Galvis playing at practically every position except pitcher and catcher, and the word from people who have been around the switch-hitter have told me the young Venezuelan has the strong mental makeup and baseball IQ to handle multiple roles.

Pitchers. Jonathan Pettibone, Tyler Cloyd and Justin DeFratus have all come through the Phillies system and have already helped the team (Cloyd pitched well enough to earn a “W” in Arizona), while filling in for hurlers who were either injured or were not performing adequately. A few more may help the team this year (Joe Savery, Jake Diekman, and Mike Stutes) or a year or two from now (Adam Morgan and Jesse Biddle), and if Kyle Kendrick (another Phils’ farmhand) continues to pitch the way he has for the last five baseball months, the team could still have a quality starting rotation for the next several years.

Without the ability to go back in time, I think it’s too hypocritical to criticize most of the moves Amaro has made (the Lee to Seattle and Revere deals the exceptions). If none of these young players mentioned above pan out, then you have every right to rip the current front office for their inability to correctly evaluate young talent and for not providing due diligence in maintaining the long-term success of the franchise (something Amaro stated he was doing by acquiring Philippe Aumont and others from the Mariners—which NO ONE is happy with now). However, if the Phillies fail to make the playoffs again in 2013, at least we have some young players with some legitimate upside to watch at Citizens Bank Park in September ’13 and beyond.

What other mistakes have the Phillies front office made since 2008, and do you think the current staff is doing a good job? What are your thoughts on the Phillies’ prospects? Post a comment below or send us an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in for our live “RCN SportsTalk” show every Thursday at 6pm on RCN-TV to voice your opinions.

The SportsTalk Shop: Time for the Leaders to Step Up

May 13, 2013 By Chris Michael 1 Reply

People have been complaining about the Phillies’ core for several years now…Ryan Howard strikes out too much, Jimmy Rollins pops up too much, Chase Utley should have a better off-season workout program. All of these complains are legit (as ALL players have flaws to their game) and certainly some players (Howard) seem to be unfairly targeted more than others (Utley). But more than any other facet of their game, there’s one aspect that all three of those players have lacked before embarking on the west coast trip. It’s an aspect that is frequently overlooked, yet vital to their worth as mega-million dollar athletes, and is imperative if this core of players is, in fact, going to have one last hurrah before it gets broken apart. What’s needed here…is leadership.

There have been mini-breakdowns all season long that, by itself, is not that big of a deal: Kevin Frandsen making a throw on a near-finished play that goes wide, allowing base runners to further advance; Rollins taking a throw in front of the bag instead of a “drop-tag” which would have erased a baserunner, et al. These small lapses in focus have built up so that it is now accepted in the Phillies clubhouse, and they are the cancer than erodes a playoff-contenting team to the sub-.500 status this team is currently looking at being—and staying for the near-term. The 2008 team did not have these reoccurring lapses…nor did its succeeding teams through 2011. Those mistakes were written off in 2012 because the leaders (Utley, Howard) weren’t around. I would get violently ill every time I heard the “wait ‘til Ultey gets back” and “if we had everyone, we’d be in first place” soundbites that permeated throughout last season, and all it did was put more pressure on the team to do well out of the gate here in 2013. Something it certainly has not done.

Well now everyone’s back. The excuses are now exhausted, and it’s time for those leaders to step to the plate—both figuratively and literally. I don’t expect Howard to mirror his MVP season, nor would I bank on Rollins hitting .280 again. But there is something that one, two…or all three of those players need to do. It makes for boring quotes, but these guys have to be “real leaders” in the clubhouse. Guys need to be focused at ALL TIMES and this team has to have the same intensity it had when guys like Aaron Rowand patrolled center field. What Rollins, Utley, and Howard lack from the prime in power and speed, they need to make up with status in the clubhouse and a desire to push the younger guys to exceed their potential.

We see glimpses of what some of the young players can be, but when Dom Brown, John Mayberry, Ben Revere and the other younger players are going through slumps, there’s no reason why they can play a little beyond their abilities, or show a little fire to help ignite the team. We’ll forever remember Rowand trying to take out the metal wall in centerfield, Pete Rose scampering to first base on a walk, Marty Bystrom firing a pitch at George Brett’s head…those are the moments that can lift a team to greater heights and make a far-larger impact than just doing what’s expected of you.

Whether it is something that Rollins does on the base paths himself (like running full-tilt to the next base), or if it’s Utley going behind closed doors and challenging a player to step-up…it needs to be done—NOW! There’s no more time for “waiting for players,” there’s no Cliff Lee or Roy Oswald trade that will magically solve every problem with this year’s team, and at this point, even if a miracle-trade can be engineered once again by Ruben Amaro Jr. to muster together the remaining prospects to make one major addition to this team, I still don’t think it will be enough to give this team what the fans, the players, and the entire Delaware Valley thought would be a certainty back in the winter of 2008—and that’s a 2nd World Series championship.

Of course, in the winter of 2008, we thought we would have our “leaders” for some time.

The SportsTalk Shop: The Latest on the “Super Conference”

May 7, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The Latest on the “Super Conference”

First of all, thanks to all for the comments about our “Former Athletic Directors/Lehigh Valley Super Conference” edition of “SportsTalk” on May 2nd. We certainly had a ton of responses about the program. I’m glad to see the feedback highlights that we tried to balance the conversation and look at opposing points of view, addressing different sides of the issues, and also the potential impact for many of the schools in our coverage area. Clearly, the credit lies with our great panelists on the program.

Here’s a video clip with just a few opinions from our show—the entire program is available on RCN’s Video on Demand. I also have a few observations and comments that were made off-air that might be of interest to you.

Watch Sports Talk on YouTube

Watch Sports Talk on YouTube

Watch on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEn_GV2249k

 Here are a few items addressed during our commercial breaks and some “general consensus” points that were achieved by our panel.

Sports Talk panelists debate.

I was glad the panelists universally agreed that no team should be left out of whatever the new league may or may not be. There are clearly differing opinions on how the private schools should be grouped with the public schools. They range from having schools like Becahi and Central Catholic move to 4A classification to having a separate division of private schools—naming a private-school division winner and then having them play the public school division winner(s) for an overall league champion.

The topic of “super conference” is discussed.

An idea raised about a “super conference” involving “weighting teams” into separate divisions according to their abilities seems utopian, yet very problematic. The suggestion is that every two years, schools are basically placed into three categories based on past success: the best teams in one division, the “middle-of-the-road” teams in a second, and the struggling teams in a third. While that would be great for schools like Allen, Dieruff and Pocono Mountain-West for many of their sports, I see nothing but arguing over “which teams belong where,” and complaints about the success of teams in the “weaker division” while schools who play tougher competition suffer more losses. In addition, when you factor in the stipulation that teams must have a .500-or-better record to make the playoffs, the possibilities of griping and protesting of final outcomes could be endless.

The pros and cons of the“weighted points system”.

I do, however, personally like the “weighted points system” that District XI has come up with for its playoffs. If something like that could be tailored to a new league (maybe including ALL teams from the MVC, LVC, Colonial League and Pius X?), I think that has a better chance of success. Do we really need a league champion and/or would “division titles” be sufficient? In some cases (usually for bigger schools), a loss early in the district playoffs obliterates the success of winning a league championship. I’ve gotten the sense from some people in recent years that winning a league honor is not nearly as important in the Valley as it once was. The area has been so competitive recently that it almost seems that winning a league championship is the kiss-of-death for that team having long-term post-season success. For some sports, like basketball, the league champ almost never seems to win the district title—which also means a primo spot entering the all important state playoffs.

A wide range of topics are discussed by the panelists.

I thought it was interesting to hear the wide ranging opinions among just the people on our show, and can only imagine how tough it will be to try to make “everyone” happy in the region. Our panelists’ thoughts on the latest league news ranged from “it’s nothing new” and “nothing will come of this” to truly strong regret that this idea has been raised and heartfelt sadness that some schools might very possibly be forced to look outside the Valley to find teams to play for next year’s school calendar.

Don’t forget … the MVC asked for a decision by the LVC teams by the end of May. At the very least, there will be heated discussions around the Valley for the next several weeks. I do have confidence, however, that things will be resolved with the student-athletes’ best interests in mind.

One other note NOT related to the super-conference. My thanks to Northampton softball head coach Sally Whittaker-Kahan and her Konkrete Kids for being so gracious and classy when we stopped by with our “SportsTalk” camera to do a feature on the team for this week’s show.

After winning its first 17-straight games, the K-Kids lost its first ever game right before we stopped by to interview the squad about their great success this year. As is often the case and is the nature of “our world,” we had tried on several occasions to either stop by their practice or take in one of their games earlier this year to do a feature on their success, and had to reschedule our interviews multiple times because of scheduling conflicts, weather postponements and the like. When we finally stopped by to talk with them, they were coming off a tough loss to a really good Whitehall squad; yet the K-Kids paid the Zephyrs their proper respect and still answered our questions very eagerly and intelligently, not sulking or hanging their heads about the defeat.

I know coaches hate when I say this, but a loss this time of year is not necessarily the worst thing to happen this time of a sports-year. Sometimes, it can re-focus a team and make them remember how unpleasant it is to lose a game. Northampton certainly had nothing to be down about in its effort against Whitehall. A sloppy and/or one-sided loss this time of year is a different story, but a hard fought 1-0 defeat might only be a bump in the road. I won’t be surprised if it’s a few more weeks before we see another “L.” FYI: I’ll be out with our “SportsTalk” camera quite a bit in the next week, taking in tennis, volleyball and baseball games for features on our upcoming programs.

Your comments on the league realignment possibilities are most welcome, and any schools who have made notable achievements this year, like both the Northampton and Whitehall softball teams, would be appreciated posts to make her on our site. Be sure to check out our May 9th “SportsTalk” program (live at 6pm) featuring great sports radio voices from the area: Alan Rabler, Dick Hammer & Tim Cain, who all have promised some great local sports stories to reveal. (A shout-out to Glen Remaly for the use of his digital camera work for this post.)

The SportsTalk Shop: Back To Basics

May 2, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

After tackling the hot and sometimes laborious issues of local league realignments, super conference invitations, and sports politics the last several weeks (and something we’ll have to address again very soon with a May 31st deadline on the horizon for the proposed MVC/LVC merger), I’d like to focus on one of the more refreshing aspects of this current high school sports spring season by discussing something that has become passé with many of today’s athletes: fundamentals.

What’s that? Some may say . . . especially those great athletes that play above the rim or score multiple touchdowns every week without much effort. It’s something that older coaches will frequently preach, and even older, now retired sports veterans will say is severely lacking among today’s sports stars. However, I think it’s refreshing to see as I make my way around different schools and sports over the last several weeks, that I have not only seen younger coaches and managers stressing fundamentals to their kids, but the athletes themselves seem very proud of themselves for their repetitive work on basic skills. It’s no surprise then that the teams that have worked hard on that aspect of their respective sport, find themselves among their league standings with just a few days remaining in the regular season.

Take Whitehall, for example.

The Zephyrs, under third-year Manager Shaun O’Boyle, have bounced back from an average season a year ago to becoming one of the top teams in the area (if not the state) at this point. The first thing they worked on was getting a good lead off of first base. The second, taking the proper route on rounding third base. After another base running drill, they worked on their defense . . . and then they worked on their defense some more. Through most of their practice on this day, they did not have batting practice, but instead, worked on the mundane things that championship teams need to have. Upon speaking with the players, they all seemed to understand the importance of those skills and the need to continue to work on them to keep their season – one of the best in Whitehall history — going.

One of their top pitchers, Elliot Mortimer, threw just 53 pitches in 7-innings, which is impressive enough. Then you hear the mind-blowing stat that all but 8 pitches were STRIKES! He said he let his defense do their job, and it resulted in the team’s 14th victory in 15 tries (against one of the better teams in the region) by a 14-1 score. Simple strategy, but effective.

The Zephs are not the only team spending more time on fundamentals, and they’re not the only squad turning their fortunes around. The Wilson softball team (under Head Coach Sara Ulrich) reached their second playoffs—ever—in school history last year, and are looking to do the same again this spring. Teams such as the Warriors, Emmaus, Parkland, and Liberty baseball, Northampton softball, Parkland lacrosse and other organizations are being led by great young coaches who know the importance of fundamentals. Nearly every team I’ve seen while doing our “RCN SportsTalk: Time Out” features on local athletes and teams have been talking about the basics for their sport, and one of the first things they work on in their practices? Defensive drills.

What are your thoughts on this current spring sports season? Do you like the way teams are playing? And do you like the “defense wins championships” mantra that I’ve heard quite frequently mentioned by coaches and players alike this spring? Post a comment below and tune in for more features on our local teams and athletes on our “SportsTalk” show, every Thursday at 6pm (and available for free on RCN’s video-on-demand).

The SportsTalk Shop: League Expansions & Super Conference

April 23, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

There’s been quite a bit of talk over the last few months regarding changes and speculations to our local Lehigh Valley Conference and Colonial League. We greatly appreciated local athletic directors coming on our recent “RCN SportsTalk” show (which you can watch for yourself for free on RCN Video-On-Demand). I have posted a short clip of our recent show below. I try to limit my own opinions on the program as much as I can as I try to focus and devote our time for our guests to give their views; however, there were several points I wanted to address on the show and did not have the opportunity to do so on that particular program.

First, I think the schools are absolutely justified in trying to look at options that would result in the best opportunities for their student athletes. I think the current alignment of teams in both the Lehigh Valley Conference and the Colonial League are overall very fair and make for genuinely good competition in most teams and sports. There are some “size discrepancies” (e.g., Bangor vs. Catasauqua) that sometimes directly affect their team’s abilities to succeed. However, if you look across the board at the different athletic events, a team like the Rough Riders not only defends their honor quite nicely, but in some sports, has held a strong advantage over bigger schools (among them football and softball). Is it perfect system? No . . . nor will it ever be. I think the school administrators must provide due diligence in looking to see if it can better the current alignments.

Secondly, there are some schools that have significant challenges in traveling to away games—especially during the winter sports season. The most obvious examples are Bangor and Northwestern going to Palisades and vice versa, which results in what amounts to a huge expense in travel costs and commuting time for not just the school districts, but also for the parents and family members, who already make sacrifices for their sons and daughters to participate in athletics. Does one trip from one end of the District XI map to the other sabotage one’s budget? Not really…but why make several trips from, say Bangor to Hellertown, Kintersville and Center Valley each season, when you have teams from up north at much closer distances.

Thirdly, I’d like to discuss the “super-conference” that we have discussed on our show and the suggestions proposed by Keith Groller of the Morning Call in a recent column. There are benefits to grouping teams together according to classifications, distances, and program strengths that could involve all the teams currently in the LVC, MVC and Colonial League in one way or another. Several weeks ago on “SportsTalk”, the Express-Times’ Bruce Buratti thought it was possible that a couple schools from the Poconos might want to “go north” and get more involved in teams from District 2, which, of course, would be right to do so if they feel that would be in the best interest of their schools. However, if any more teams leave the MVC— to the Anthracite League, Schuylkill League or wherever—I think you will have to look at assimilating teams from the Poconos into any rebranding of the LVC, even if they themselves have their own section which would limit their long-distance travel to the District’s southern region (most of those schools already schedule Lehigh Valley teams as part of their non-conference schedule).

There are other super-conference rumors that have not been spoken about publicly in recent weeks. As you might imagine, the current athletic directors cannot comment directly on any speculation that a plan could be in the works. That net will not apply for our May 2nd “SportsTalk” show, in which will be talking with former athletic directors from the region that have no obligations (nor a propensity) to limit what they can address.

Here’s some of the recent news and comments about the local leagues’ changes from last week’s show:

What are your thoughts on the changes that have already taken place, and in what direction do you think local administrators should move towards? Feel free to post comments below and email your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to you emails on our live May 2nd show at 6pm on RCN-TV.

The SportsTalk Shop: Local Leaders Keeping Kids First

April 17, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

I have long admired the local athletic directors in the Eastern Pennsylvania region. From Dick Tracy (who was also my English and Journalism teacher while he was Athletic Director—(which is a story for another blog entry), to Mike Schneider to Bob Shriver, and several other former athletic directors that I’ve always admired, I have always felt (and would frequently hear them say) that they would always want to keep the student-athletes’ best interests in the forefront of any major decision that they would make. Even now that those gentlemen have retired and I have the good fortune of being able to talk with them, they continue to preach that mantra as the directive of all administrators. I also feel that the people who have succeeded them have very much continued with that message in mind.

That point was hammered home once again this week—with some help from other community leaders — as the District XI re-established the pact with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to have their playoff championship games be played at a first-class facility, Coca-Cola Park. Here are some of the highlights from this week’s press conference (in order): Dylan Dando—LVBA Director of Baseball Operations, Scott Cooperman—District XI Baseball Chair, Kurt Landes, IronPigs General Manager and Terry Schadler from ECTB.

I think it’s so wonderful for the local athletes to continue to play in a Triple-A professional baseball venue. It’s a tribute to the local leaders to get together and work out a deal to continue this tradition. I’ve covered the PIAA Baseball and softball playoffs for several years. While the games are played at very nice facilities at present, there have been some places (sorry Shippensburg) that have not been worthy of playing the ultimate spring season championship game. You could argue the teams in District XI—thanks to this deal—may play in one of the finest facilities in the country for a high school contest. To play in a pro baseball site creates a memory that will last a lifetime, and in an age where many big business men and women are always looking for the best deal financially for themselves, it was refreshing to see these organizational leaders work out a pact that will see future athletes enjoy this rare and incredibly special experience.

Surely, there’s no drawbacks to this move. Other advantages include having a professional grounds keeping crew on hand to battle inclement weather, and the stadium lights allow games to be played later, which allows parents a rare chance to see their kids play without having to sacrifice their work schedule. What do you think of the news, and would there be any local sites that you think would do a better job hosting the playoffs? Feel free to post your comments below. This will be just one of the issues we’ll be discussing on this week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show featuring current ADs, in which we’ll show more video from the press conference.

Speaking of the former athletic directors in this region, they’ll be part of some very special “SportsTalk” shows coming up in May. Here are upcoming show lists for our program, which airs live on RCN-TV on Thursdays at 6pm:

April 25th: College Football Spring Recaps

May 2nd: Local Sports Issues w/Former Athletic Directors Bob Shriver, Dick Tracy, Les Kish

May 9th: “Radio Announcing Legends” featuring Al Raber, Dick Hammer, Tim Cain

May 16th: TBD

May 23rd: Former Major League Catcher Brian Schneider, plus Mike Schneider & Don Harakal

The SportsTalk Shop: Escaping the Winter of Discontent

April 8, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

With the arrival of the baseball season and the Phillies looking less than stellar to start their season, I wanted to look back at a troublesome winter — sports-wise. The weather is supposed to warm up and there’s no snow in the forecast (not until Halloween anyway), so let’s examine a phrase I heard quite often here in the Eastern Pennsylvania region during the last several months, and decide if this truly was the “winter of discontent” for Philly sports fans. Let’s examine the pro sports happenings this winter & decide which event(s) was the most mentally draining for us:

1. On the NHL side, we first had to endure (yet another!) lockout. After months of arguing … sorry, “negotiating,” and a supposed deal that collapsed, followed by several more weeks of going back-and-forth, an agreement was reached. Then the remaining pieces of last year’s Flyers disappointing season were supposed to mix with alleged upgrades and Ilya Bryzgalov was supposed to have a bounce-back year. Then the teams who you knew were going to be good (Tampa Bay) were even better than expected and shook off the rust with ease. The teams the Flyers were supposed to be better than (New York), lit up the scoreboard on Bryz and the Flyers defense way too often. The Flyers even struggled to beat the mediocre teams or would lose in shootouts to horrific teams like the Florida Panthers. Their chances of making the playoffs are now slim, and they also don’t have the abundance of youth that one could hope for. The fact that they’ll start next season on time may be the biggest bright spot for next season

2. Andrew Bynam. Do we have to say much more when it comes to talking about the 76ers’ woes this season? Everything was built around a player who ended up never playing a game for the team. Add the double-double performances of the dispatched Nik Nucevic and the usual, better-than-average consistent effort by Andre Iguodala, mixed with the less than spectacular additions of Dorell Wright, Kwame Brown, the injury-riddled Jason Richardson and the inconsistent Evan Turner, Swaggy P and the like made for an absolutely abysmal season for the Sixers—and an abyss of questions, unknowns and I-don’t-want-to-think-about-thems on the roster for next year.

3. The Eagles came off their worst season under Andy Reid, and soon afterward dismissed the head coach. Despite a wave of more popular and NFL-proven commodities, Jeff Lurie, in his infinite wisdom went outside of conventional thinking and hired Chip Kelly. His under-the-radar free agents and his seemingly solid assistant coaching staff have given Birds fans reason for optimism, but the unpopular decision to bring back Michael Vick and his completely unknown ability to draft well (something his predecessor struggled mightily with) still have many faithful followers uneasy heading into the spring.

4. Last and maybe, in terms of this blog query, the least — the Phillies. They were coming off their first season since 2006 in which they not only failed to make the playoffs, but barely reached the .500 mark. With the trades of mega-millionaires Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, and Hunter Pence, the Phightin’s were free to spend boffo-dollars to sign BJ Upton, Michael Borne, Nick Swisher, Annibal Sanchez, et al to fortify the troops and make a grand rush for the playoffs before the potential departures of free agents-to-be Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and Carlos Ruiz. Instead, we got Michael Young, Delmon Young, John Lannan and Ben Revere (at the expense of Vance Werley and Trevor May). While we have to give due diligence to see if these deals work out, none of the moves were the ‘big splash’ we were all hoping for, and it can certainly be argued that the outfield and starting pitching (pending Halladay’s health) is actually WORSE than it was heading into last year.

Was it the worst winter in recent memory for Philly pro sports? And how would you rank these events in order of your frustration and angst? Post your comments and send us an email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com to let us know how you feel, and join us on our next “SportsTalk” show on Thursdays, live at 6 pm to discuss your sports opinions.

Phillies’ Prospects – The SportsTalk Shop – April 1st

April 1, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

“SportsTalk Shop” Looks at Philadelphia Phillies’ Prospects

I recently chatted with the Phillies’ AAA-team’s Director of Media Relations, Matt Provence, (just back from Clearwater) and asked him about some of top Phillies prospects. A number of them could play very important roles with the parent club in the very near future. In fact, with potential free agents like Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and others all in the last year of their contracts, there could be a quite a few minor leaguers starting the 2014 season with the Philadelphia Phillies. Here are Matt’s comments on some of the top prospects:

A few other items and observations I’ve obtained about the Phillies top prospects:

  • Everyone I’ve spoken with has nothing but praise for third baseman Cody Asche. I’ve pressed some of the Phils reporters for areas of weakness or gaping holes in his swing. Everyone thinks he’s the real deal and “right on track” for taking over the position in 2014 — if not late this year if everything goes well with his play in the Lehigh Valley. A big concern could be that the Phillies would be even more left-handed hitting heavy with Asche in the everyday lineup behind Utley, Howard, Ben Revere, Dom Brown and Jimmy Rollins (who hits better from the left side), but the Phillies are “hoping” to have that problem a year from now. Everyone I’ve talked to said Asche has an excellent glove that will upgrade the team defensively from current third sacker Michael Young. In addition, Asche won’t hurt you offensively, especially if he bats near the bottom of the order to begin his soon-to-start major league career. He should be fun to watch—along with the continued development of Darin Ruff and his continued learning process of playing left field at Triple-A this year.
  • B.J. Rosenberg may have been an early exit from the Phillies spring training, but don’t be surprised if he shows up on the Phils’ radar at some point – especially if Roy Halladay struggles. He’s been inserted into the IronPigs’ starting rotation and is one of the few Triple-A starters that has experience in the big leagues. His lively right-arm that scouts really like might just be the first option if the Phils don’t want to rely on the untested arms of Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, and Adam Morgan. The latter has continued to pitch well in the minor league camp—so much so that the organization has jettisoned all the veteran free agent pitchers who were brought in to provide insurance to the Phillies starting rotation.
  • Be careful of “Player of the Future” labels. This time in 2012, Cesar Hernandez and Sebastian Valle were projected to be the replacements for Utley and Carlos Ruiz, respectively, yet neither is assured of even starting at those respective positions in Triple-A. Hernandez has been seeing time at shortstop as he looks more to try to tailor his game to a “utility guy” to give himself a better shot at advancing to the Bigs. Valle may go to Double-A just to get some regular reps as he has fallen behind Tommy Joseph (who looked solid offensively and defensively in both the major league and minor league spring training sessions) on the organization’s depth chart. Joseph has also gotten a big “thumbs up” in terms of the all important role of handling the pitching staff thus far. One caveat, there’s a rumor that Valle, who’s has the reputation of a big bat, could also see time in Reading learning left field and could be a back-up plan down the road if Darin Ruff can’t cut it defensively as an outfielder and/or is traded away.
  • Tyson Gillies and JC Ramierez, both part of the Cliff Lee trade, continue to struggle to give the Phils any semblance of hope when trying to defend their acquisitions. Gillies, once hoped to be a top-of-the-order/solid defensive center fielder regular, seems to be on a path similar to Hernandez—that of a utility outfielder as he has seen time at all three outfield positions this spring, and looks to be too inconsistent at the plate to be a major league regular. Ramirez has continued to struggle with his control. Coming off a year at Triple-A in which he ended the season as an IronPig mop-up man, he finds himself once again buried in the pen behind Jake Diekman, Justin DeFratus and others.

What do you think of our Phillies prospects opinions and which players do you think will make an impact in the near future? We’ll be discussing the Phillies and more on our next “RCN SportsTalk” show (Thursdays at 6 pm). Post a comment on our blog or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your questions and comments on our next show!

SportsTalk Shop Salutes a Coaching Legend – March 25th

March 25, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Recently, we had the opportunity to visit with the Notre Dame Boys & Girls track teams – a program that is led by one of the few high school coaches to earn over 500 wins with two DIFFERENT teams, and is closing in on becoming the all-time winningest track coach in Pennsylvania high school sports history. The athletes were great in sharing all the wonderful stories of Art Corrigan, and had so many great compliments about their legendary head coach, that we wanted to show you their thoughts, uncut and unedited, to pay tribute to one of the greatest coaches ever in Lehigh Valley sports. We could not fit all the interviews in our recent “SportsTalk” feature on Coach Corrigan and the Crusaders track team, so here’s the “raw video” of their conversations. Enjoy!

Giving Real Prognosticators Their Due – The SportsTalk Shop – March 22nd

March 22, 2013 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

With the madness getting underway and all the variations people have in taking their best guesses at bracketology, I think it’s appropriate and to give some real prognosticators credit where credit is due!

In March, there’s countless hours of sports programming and planning and studying and educated guessing for the NCAA tournament. People love to pick teams in the “Field of 68” and there’s all sorts of ways you can play your picks (none of them for any financial rewards, of course), but there’s all sorts of ways that the “experts” can accurately tell us how we should play the NCAA basketball tournament.

Yet each year, my non-sports family and friends around me come up with new ways of “strategically” putting forth their college basketball playoff picks. Among them, is choosing teams with uniform or logo colors they like, picking animal-related mascots to beat non-animal mascots (or, if two animals, picking the cuter animal), or even picking teams because the team name reminds them of their favorite cartoon characters. I’ve heard just about every possible way you could pick teams in the NCAA tourney, and every time I hear one more ridiculous than years past … that person usually come closer than many experts in ending up with the correct teams.

I recently had an example a bit closer to home on our own “RCN SportsTalk” show. Our weekly poll question a few shows ago dealt with picking the District XI 4A Girls & Boys champions. Pocono Mountain-West Girls were the #1 ranked team, yet the unanimous selection was Nazareth. This wasn’t a surprise since the Eagles have a loyal fan base and, even though they didn’t have as good a record as the Panthers, Nazareth played some very strong teams this year.

The other part of the poll was on the men’s side, where our audience (with three exceptions), unanimously picked Parkland to beat Freedom. While Parkland was a very strong team, on paper the match-up seemed to favor the Patriots. Joe Stellato, who has done a tremendous job as Freedom’s head coach, has become a Lehigh Valley sports fan’s favorite and I couldn’t find a person who didn’t WANT him to win a title. In the previous three matches, Parkland had one two, but by small margins, and it appeared that Freedom had some things working against them in the two losses and were at full strength for the district title game. Most of our guest panelists on our district preview show — all very knowledgeable basketball minds — had picked Freedom as well. It seems on paper, that the Patriots were the team to get the nod…and yet our audience disagreed.

But there’s more! I always have said that we have a very intelligent audience, but the “SportsTalk” viewers outdid themselves not just with the Parkland pick—but with the
score as well! When I looked back at some of our pollsters’ predictions, I saw the following insights:

  • Andy W.’s (from Nazareth) prediction 55-45
  • Shannon Z.’s (from Catty) prediction 60-50
  • Aaron’s (no town given) prediction 64-50.
  • The final score? Parkland 65, Freedom 50.

And the game didn’t seem close at all as Parkland jumped out to a big second quarter lead, and never looked back. I, and a number of us on the on-air staff, were shocked at how easily the Trojans appeared to win…but our audience never had a doubt, and I salute the great response we received and tip my cap that so many of you nailed both predictions.

We ask for the audience’s thoughts, questions, comments and poll predictions each week on our “RCN SportsTalk” show and would welcome you to participate at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We also invite you to tune in every Thursday, live at 6pm on RCN-TV, to talk sports & participate in those poll questions on our program.

One additional note regarding “William’s” comments replying to my most recent post—we will be providing HS baseball coverage on our “SportsTalk” show (the snow and school’s closings the past few days precluded us from going out to two local schools this past week) through interviews of local coaches and players. RCN-TV will also be providing coverage of baseball playoff games. Thanks for your comment and I will pass along your request for more full-game baseball coverage to the appropriate persons

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