There have been some quiet discussions around the Phillies faithful about the long-term future of Jimmy Rollins and how he and Andy Machado might both fit in with the Phillies down the road. Part of the talk has been because Rollins has seemed slow to grasp the leadoff spot that the Phillies desperately want him to fill, but the majority of the discussion comes from the fact that Machado is seen as a hot prospect who isn't far away from pushing Rollins. That distance may have grown a little when Machado was assigned to AA Reading for his second season at that level.
Machado hit .251 with 12 homeruns for Reading in 2002, but the Phillies minor league people fear that he may be headed down the same road as Rollins. The Phillies have had trouble getting Rollins out of his homerun frame of mind and Machado may be developing the same disturbing habits. That's the main reason why the Phillies sent Machado back for another season at AA. The .251 average needs to come up and the 118 strikeouts need to go down. With Machado's speed, he is a natural for the leadoff spot, but improving on his .353 OBP would help his case. The Phillies hoped that Machado - and Rollins for that matter - would both be working more on getting on base and less on hitting homeruns this spring. For Rollins, a conversation with homerun hitter Mike Schmidt may have convinced him that his career will go much further if he concentrates on getting on base rather than hitting homeruns. Machado probably should have sat in on that discussion as well. Phillies brass aren't sure that he got the message this spring, so they thought another stop at AA might do the trick.
Machado won't be the only repeating player at Reading. Jorge Padilla returns to the R-Phils for a second season, too. Padilla, who was taken by the Phillies in the third round of the loaded 1998 draft, hit .256 with 7 homeruns for Reading last season. This season figures to be a make or break season for the 24 year old. Padilla was thought to be a hot prospect after hitting .356 with 5 homeruns at Martinsville in 1998. The following season, his numbers tailed off, but in 2000, he rebounded by hitting at Piedmont in the South Atlantic League. He put up a career high 16 homeruns in 2001, but his average fell and the Phillies were not impressed with his play at Reading in 2002. Padilla has slid down the Phillies prospect list and is in danger of a further slide if he can't put things together in his second go around in the Eastern League.
On the way up, is pitcher Taylor Buchholz, who will also start the season at Reading. There is some minor concern about Buchholz because of some tenderness in his arm late in spring training. The Phillies believe the tenderness was nothing to be truly alarmed at and look for the 21 year old right-hander to truly blossom this summer. Buchholz started last season at Clearwater and did make four starts at Reading, struggling to a 7.43 ERA after going 10-6, 3.29 for Clearwater. One of the reasons for optimism is that in his four AA starts, the first three were where the damage was really done. In his final start of the season, Buchholz threw 7 innings and scattered 3 hits after giving up 26 hits in just 16 previous innings.
The Reading Phillies open their season April 3rd at home against the Altoona Curve, the Pirates AA affiliate.