The Phillies have been somewhat protective of Hamels. Instead of getting an immediate assignment to one of the minor league teams starting their seasons in April, Hamels got an extended stay in Clearwater as part of the Phillies extended spring training program. Last week, Hamels gave the Phillies brass enough ammo to move him along, sending him to the Lakewood BlueClaws of the South Atlantic League. The moment of truth came when Hamels took to the mound in a game against other extended springers. He was dominant to say the least, striking out thirteen of the seventeen hitters that he faced. Having seen enough, the Phillies bought him a ticket for Lakewood.
The BlueClaws have struggled to say the least in the early going. There are some talented, young players on their roster, but many of the top-notch talent has been in Clearwater in one way or another. Some of the Phillies prospects moved along to the Clearwater Phillies – one step ahead of Lakewood – in the Florida State League, while others like Hamels and Jake Blalock among others, stayed in the sunshine state for extended spring training. Lakewood could benefit from one or two other moves that could be made before the short-season teams fire up in June.
For Hamels, starting his first professional game is of course, a milestone. The Phillies aren't necessarily looking for him to be dominant, although they won't be upset or surprised if he is. What they're looking for is to get Hamels consistent work, pitching as part of the rotation and making sure that his arm is ready for the rigors of professional baseball. By all indications, the arm is completely healed and shouldn't cause any concerns. Of course, with the Phillies investing a lot of money to sign Hamels and fans wanting all the good young pitching prospects that they can get, there will always be that thought of Hamels' high school injury and what it could mean down the road.
Baseball America lists Hamels as the fifth best prospect in the Phillies organization. PhillyBaseballNews.com has Hamels at the number four spot on our list of the Phillies Top 40 Prospects.
Unless Hamels completely stumbles, it's unlikely that Hamels will return to extended spring training this season. The game plan is for Hamels to pitch a full season at Lakewood, with possibly a start or two at Clearwater. Of course, if he is dominant in the South Atlantic League, plans could change and Hamels could be in Clearwater a little sooner than expected. The bottom line though is that Cole Hamels has started a journey northward through the Phillies organization and should be in Philadelphia within a few seasons.