Phils prospects get taste of bright lights

Phils prospects get taste of bright lights

Phils prospects get taste of bright lights
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Leading off and playing shortstop, Roman Quinn. ... Starting in left field, Larry Greene. ... At third base, Mitch Walding ...

If all goes well, in a few years, those names may echo around Citizens Bank Park as Dan Baker announces the Phillies' starting lineup. For now, though, they are members of the Williamsport Crosscutters of the short-season Class A New York-Penn League, playing at historic Bowman Field. The second-oldest Minor League park in the country is where the Phillies have placed three of their youngest blue-chip prospects.

Each was drafted out of high school in June 2011 -- Greene with the 39th overall pick, Quinn in the second round, Walding in the fifth. Each reported directly to the Florida Instructional League after signing, then spent the last three months back in Clearwater, Fla., for Spring Training and the extended spring program. Each is 19 years old. Each, in effect, was making his professional debut on Monday's Opening Night against the State College Spikes, a Pirates affiliate.

And even though each is several levels from the Major Leagues, the Phillies are watching closely, hoping this trio might fill the left side of the field in the future. Though the three have played in games, this will be the first time they'll be competing under game conditions.

"[We're] getting them out under the lights, in front of a crowd, [experiencing] more real baseball and the routine of professional baseball -- night games, travel, all that," said Benny Looper, assistant general manager of player personnel. "It's different when you have to travel and you're under lights. There's more pressure playing in front of crowds. For those young kids, [it's] just that experience, and getting into a routine of what being a professional baseball player is like."

Adding to the atmosphere was the fact that Monday's night's game was being televised locally, a Williamsport first.

Greene is the left-handed power hitter who legendarily hit a 485-foot homer that carried over the weight room behind the outfield fence at Berrien County High School in Nashville, Ga.

"Plus-plus bat. Light-tower power," said former big leaguer Andy Tracy, who made his managerial debut on Monday night. "He can run. Surprisingly good runner. He can throw a little bit. He's a pretty good athlete if we can keep him locked in on the game. He's a pretty special kid.

"He's a big kid in a man's body," Tracy added of the six-foot, 235-pound Greene. "He's coming along, you know? I want him to feel his body when he's doing certain things so he feels it and can understand and make adjustments off it -- whatever his adjustment is at this time. But at least he feels it and we can go from there."

Younger players tend to exhibit more power as they mature, and Bowman Field is a large yard: 345 feet down the left-field line, 350 to right and 405 to dead center. Greene understands that he can't try to force the long ball.

"I just try to hit the ball hard, and if it goes out, it goes out," Greene said. "I know I'm known to be a power hitter, but I just try to hit it hard."

His favorite player? Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz.

Quinn is the polar opposite, generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds. His main tool is blazing speed. A center fielder at Port St. Joe (Fla.) High School, he was converted to shortstop in the Florida Instructional League. And as if that wasn't enough, the natural right-handed hitter is also learning to become a switch-hitter.

"That's putting a lot on the plate," said Steve Noworyta, assistant director of player development, who attended Monday's game. "But when you have an athlete like he is, you just go with the flow. He's a tremendous athlete, and to watch the way he's handled everything has been fun to watch."

Added Tracy: "Over the last two and a half months, I've seen massive improvement in his game. He's learning probably the second-hardest position, behind catcher. They're also teaching him to switch-hit. He struggled a little bit early. We probably expected that. And he'll probably struggle still. But defensively, he's really coming along, and the light's starting to turn on for him, and he's starting to make some athletic, body-control plays, which is a good sign of him starting to get comfortable with the position."

Quinn's speed -- and the pressure it can put on defenses -- was on display during Monday's night's 6-2 win over State College. He led off the bottom of the first with an infield single and advanced to second on a wild throw. He then stole third and scored easily on another throwing error.

The 19-year-old also plays with a little flair, which isn't surprising considering the shortstops he tries to emulate.

"I watch Jimmy Rollins a lot. I like his game. We're pretty much the same body type. I also watch Jose Reyes," Quinn said.

Quinn is happy with the way he's adapting to the changes.

"It's going good," he said. "At first it was real tough, but now I'm getting more comfortable with it, and I think I've improved a lot. At shortstop it's being more vocal and being a leader out there. In center field it's just catch the ball, throw it in, two outs, you know I'm saying? But now I've got to line up with the cutoff man, whatever bag we're throwing to. It's just a lot more to think about."

Walding, another left-handed hitter, is also learning a new position after being drafted as a shortstop.

"With his [six-foot-three, 190-pound] frame, he's meant to be at third base," Noworyta said. "Defensively, he's very good from both sides. And hitting-wise, that's coming. This will be a good step for him to see how he does offensively."

The transition to third is coming along.

"So far, so good," Walding, a product of St. Mary's High School in Stockton, Calif., said. "At first it was a little shaky. Short and third are completely different, you know. One you need range, one you need quick movements. But I'm definitely getting used to it and I'm liking it. It's going pretty well."

Said Tracy: "He's a very high-energy guy. He wants to be successful. He wants to get to the big leagues right now. We're trying to get him to take his foot off the gas pedal a little bit, slow it down, kind of see where he is. But we don't want to take that aggressiveness and that fire away from him, so it's kind of a fine line for us. He's sort of a throwback guy. He's fiery."

There are eight pitchers from the 2012 Draft on the Crosscutters' roster, plus first baseman Chris Serritella, from the University of Texas. Also on the roster is 2011 draftee Tyler Greene, who played in the Gulf Coast (Rookie) League last year and is making the switch from shortstop to second base.

Every player will get a chance to show what he can do. On Opening Night, though, the spotlight was on Greene, Quinn and Walding.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.