Tough Start Has Reading Phillies In Unusual Spot

To a lot of baseball scouts, players and fans, AA baseball is where things really start to get serious. If you look back on prospects that have failed to live up to their potential, many times, it's at the AA level where their prospect status started to fall. With that in mind and one month of the season in the books, what's happening at AA Reading and what does it mean for Phillies fans?

The Reading Phillies aren't used to this. Usually, they're near the top of the Eastern League's Southern Division standings. This season, they're dead last with an 11-17 record, trailing first-place Akron by five games.

Bud Smith continued his climb back to the majors after offseason surgery with a solid outing against Altoona. That outing followed a start – also against Altoona – that was Smith's longest of the season (6 2/3 IP) and yielded eight strikeouts for the young left-hander. Unfortunately for Smith, there was little offensive support (where have we heard that before) and he took a loss. Sunday, there was enough support for Smith to even his record at 1-1 with a 3.66 ERA on the season. The Phillies are being cautious with Smith, but he may be moved along to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre before too long to see how he can progress at higher levels.

Mike Wilson has been a nice surprise for the Phillies minor league system this season, but certainly needs more work. Wilson is 0-2, but has a 2.89 ERA. On the down side, he has walked 16 while striking out 15.

The Phillies acquired Dan Giese from San Diego and he's looked good in his first two appearances for Reading. Giese already recorded a save for the R-Phils in two innings of work. Giese's arrival will help a Reading bullpen that has struggled a lot this season. Dan Brooks is the only Reading reliever with an ERA under 4.80 this season. Brooks has been impressive, striking out 23 in 18 2/3 innings and amassing a 3.38 ERA.

Of course, one of the bigger names at Reading is Taylor Buchholz, who has been near dominating. Buchholz is 3-1, 3.04 in five starts and is holding opponents to a .214 batting average. In 26 2/3 innings, Buchholz has whiffed 28 hitters and is 2-0, 0.69 in his last two starts. Yoel Hernandez is another of the Top 40 Prospects pitching at Reading this season and the Phillies hope that he's starting to come around. Hernandez has recorded a win and a save in his last two outings, but his ERA is still just above the 5.00 mark. Martire Franco was supposed to be at Reading this season, but was on the DL and was just activated late last week. The Phillies started Franco at Clearwater, although he may be at Reading before too long.

One of the bigger disappointments has been pitcher Seung Lee. At Reading's First Energy Stadium, Lee is unhittable with a 1.36 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 26 innings. Outside of the city limits, Lee has been dismal and his season totals (2-1, 5.28) reflect that.

Offensively, Jeff Inglin has been strong. Inglin is winning Reading's triple crown right now, leading the team in hitting (.313), homeruns (5) and RBI (19). Add to that the fact that Inglin has not struck out in his last 69 plate appearances and you see why the Phillies are starting to really like this kid. Jorge Padilla is putting up big numbers in his second season at Reading. Padilla thought he deserved to start the season at Scranton and he's showing why, hitting .296 with 8 stolen bases. The Phillies are working with Padilla to become a more efficient base stealer though, since he's been tossed out 5 times while trying to steal.

Third baseman Juan Richardson and second baseman Brian Hitchcox have been good additions to Reading's roster. Richardson and Hitchcox have both hit four homeruns with Richardson hitting .275 and Hitchcox at .284 this season. First basemen Nate Espy and Aaron McNeal have been disappointing to say the least. The two have combined to hit just .171 with 2 homeruns and 20 RBI. Actually, most of that production has come from McNeal, who has both of those homeruns and 15 of the RBI.

After a slow start and after battling some nagging injuries, Andy Machado is coming around, while Jay Sitzman, Uriel Casillas and Buzz Hannahan have all been steady and at times, have shown flashes of the spectacular. Hannahan has played 3B, 2B, SS, LF and CF for Reading this season, but found himself going on the DL late last week.

The major problem has been pitching. With the exception of Buchholz and Hernandez, there just isn't a lot to watch at Reading this season. Giese should help and if some of the younger players get over their initial shock of playing at AA, things should improve, but don't look for Reading to suddenly turn into a powerhouse in the Eastern League.

Reading Phillies players on
Top 40 Prospects list
2003 Stats
Taylor Buchholz313.04526.222628
Seung Lee215.28630.2231121
Bud Smith113.66319.213813
Yoel Hernandez105.021014.11737
Andy Machado13.250.345761660
Juan Richardson410.275.3221091400
Juan Padilla114.296.3691081385

Top 40 Prospects

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