The biggest story around Scranton is Chase Utley. The Phillies first round pick in the 2000 Draft has gotten certifiably hot. Utley has hit .500 (30-60) over the past couple weeks raising his average from .309 to .348 and his homerun total to eight. There are definite rumblings about whether Utley might be ready to help the struggling offense in Philadelphia. The Phillies believe that Utley is ready for the majors, but aren't pushing to find room for him, preferring instead to stick with Placido Polanco at second base and David Bell at third.
Josue Perez moved to AAA when McKay Christensen went down for the season with a shoulder injury. Perez, who was once highly touted in the Dodgers and Phillies organizations, is hitting .250 (11-44) in his first ten games for the Red Barons. Since coming over from the Pacific Coast League, Damon Minor has hit four homeruns in 76 at bats, but his average is an ugly .197 at Scranton. Third baseman J.P. Roberge is hitting just .253. It's no wonder the Phillies were interested in John Valentin, who can play at first and third, the spots held by Minor and Roberge. Valentin asked the Phillies to void the contract he had signed with them just one day after he signed the deal.
Remember how sharp Jim Crowell looked in spring training. His AAA season has been up and down. His ERA climbed as high as 4.58, but he has brought it under control to a respectable 3.96 for Scranton. Unfortunately, Crowell's record shows his inconsistency at 0-4. Geoff Geary keeps getting better and better. His ERA has shrunk to 2.11 and he is 6-1 on the season. In his last five relief appearances, Geary has thrown eight shutout innings. Like Utley, there are some in the Phillies organization wondering if Geary might be able to help the Phillies bullpen. Josh Hancock underwent an MRI, but the tests were negative. Even though Hancock was pronounced to be healthy, he hasn't looked quite the same. In the past two weeks, Hancock is 0-2, 8.00. Eric Junge has also been hurting, but his ERA doesn't show it. In his last two starts, Junge has pitched 13 innings, allowing just three earned runs (2.08).
Reading Phillies (31-31)
There are differing opinions over Jorge Padilla. At first, it was thought that there was tendon and / or ligament damage in Padilla's hand. Reportedly, tests showed no damage, meaning that Padilla wouldn't miss the rest of the season as was originally feared. Juan Richardson continues to lead the Eastern League in homeruns with 14. While the Phillies are loving the power, they're trying to get Richardson to be a little more selective at the plate. In 235 at bats, Richardson has whiffed 65 times. Speaking of being selective, Andy Machado has walked 39 times to lead the Reading Phillies. It's a good thing too, because with Machado's average down to .212, the walks are keeping his on base percentage high at .366 and allowing Machado to steal 22 bases while only being thrown out six times for a 79% success rate.
Taft Cable's stay at AA was short-lived. The right-hander went 0-1, 2.00 in two starts at Reading before returning to the Clearwater Phillies. Get to know the name Will Glen. He has made 15 relief appearances for Reading and is 1-0, 3.29 with 21 strikeouts in 27.1 innings of work. Ian Harvey is coming on too. Harvey is 3-0 with one save in eight relief outings with a 3.50 ERA. Then, there's Brad Pautz. In nine outings, Pautz is 1-3, 9.00, walking eight hitters in 14 innings.
Clearwater Phillies (37-31 finished 2nd in the West Division for the first-half)
Left-hand hitting Juan Camilo has definite potential, but needs desperately to cut down on his strikeouts. Camilo has struck out 63 times in 237 at bats with just four homeruns. Ryan Howard has struck out 78 times in 263 at bats, but has at least hit 13 homeruns. The Phillies are trying to get both hitters to cut down their stroke and make more contact. Jim Deschaine has some definite talent and is hitting .313 with a .396 on-base percentage. The only problem is that Deschaine doesn't have speed – zero stolen bases in only one attempt – and he doesn't have power – zero homeruns in 96 at bats. Since the Phillies don't quite know what to do with him, Deschaine has been used primarily as a utility guy and don't rate his future as much more than that unless he shows something else at the plate. Mamon Tucker has been the picture of consistency, hitting at .289 this season. Like Deschaine though, Tucker doesn't possess great speed or power, with just three stolen bases in seven attempts and just one homerun in 194 at bats.
The battle for the team leadership in wins continues. Ezequiel Astacio has eight, Elizardo Ramirez has seven and Layne Dawson and Gavin Floyd both have six. Floyd is running away with the team lead in strikeouts with 73. The next closest is Ramirez with 54. Luis Encarnacion made his Clearwater debut with one inning of shutout relief. Left-hander Matt Squires hasn't gotten a lot of the spotlight, but he is putting up very solid numbers. Squires has pitched in 18 games and has one save with a 2.15 ERA.
Lakewood BlueClaws (21-46)
The Lakewood roster features six position players all hitting under .200 for the season and none hitting above .300. Karl Nonemaker is hitting .292 in his first 48 at bats for Lakewood. The young outfielder has been impressive in his early going. Jeremy Isenhower has his average up to .284 on the season and a .373 on-base percentage. Mark McRoberts is stuck on 10 homeruns for the past couple of weeks and his average has fallen 40 points to .221. Chris Roberson leads Lakewood with 19 stolen bases, but is hitting just .186 on the season. Catcher G.G. Sato has 11 and is hitting .263.
The Cole Hamels show rolls into Cooperstown, NY Monday. The youngster will start for the Phillies in their exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the Hall of Fame. Hamels has an amazing 54 Ks in 32.2 innings and a 0.83 ERA. Still, the Phillies insist that Hamels won't be in the majors until 2006. We'll see. Francisco Butto lowered his ERA to 1.59 over the past couple of weeks. Butto is another guy who doesn't get a lot of publicity, but should. Robby Read's trip to extended spring training apparently didn't help much, although his ERA has come down a little to 7.03 for the year.