Taylor Buchholz Is Ready For AAA Challenge

August tenth marked the one year anniversary of Taylor Buchholz' promotion to AA Reading. Ironically, he was Reading's starting pitcher on the anniversary and threw yet another strong outing that lowered his ERA even further. What's more important, the outing should have been an exclamation point to convince the Phillies that Buchholz has had enough fun in Reading and could use a change of scenery to the Pocono Mountains, where the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons make their home.

When Taylor Buchholz arrived in Reading, he was coming off an impressive early season run at Clearwater. He had gone 10-6, 3.29 and there wasn't much more for him to prove. The Phillies moved him along and in his first AA start, he looked good and even struck out the side in the fifth inning of that first start against Altoona. Unfortunately, the rest of his season at AA didn't go so great. He would up with an 0-2 record and an ERA of 7.43 over four AA starts. Still, the Phillies weren't deterred and knew that Buchholz was going to be a good pitcher.

Now, it's a year later and Buchholz has better AA stats than he had when he was promoted from Clearwater. Sunday, he threw seven innings, allowing just two hits and striking out eight hitters against Akron, but got no decision because of an offensive outage by his teammates. In Buchholz last four starts, he has 24 innings pitched, 12 hits, 7 walks, 21 strikeouts and has allowed just 4 earned runs. That comes out to a 1.50 ERA. Again, because of weak offense, he has gone just 1-2 in those four starts, but that's certainly not the fault of Buchholz. On the season, the 6' 4" right-hander is 8-9, 2.93 and has allowed 108 hits in 122.2 innings, with 98 strikeouts.

Does Scranton have room in their rotation for Buchholz? With Eric Junge and Ken Pumphrey on the disabled list, there's not only room for Buchholz, there's a need for a potential innings eater like Buchholz. Josh Hancock, Amaury Telemaco and of course, Ryan Madson are the big three starters for Scranton. Aaron Myette has done a decent job at times, but Scranton could use a fifth guy to make the rotation complete. After all, Scranton has 22 games remaining without a day off, meaning that Buchholz could get four starts at AAA this season.

The Phillies are known for being slow to promote young pitchers over the past couple of seasons. With the depth at pitching, they've been able to let the kids mature and haven't felt a need to rush them along as they did in the pre-Mike Arbuckle days of the system. Cole Hamels had to completely dominate the South Atlantic League over and over before he got the call to head to Clearwater just a few weeks ago. While the Phillies progress pitchers slowly, they have another trend that could signal Buchholz' departure from Reading. That trend is what brought Buchholz to Reading in the first place. The philosophy is to promote young players to the next level late in the season to get their feet wet before they start out at that level next season. With the openings in the Scranton rotation and the minor league season winding down, the time is now for Buchholz to head for AAA.

Buchholz, who the Phillies drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, attended Springfield High School just outside of Philadelphia. Pitching for the Phillies is a dream come true. He has worked hard to develop a good fastball to go with what Baseball America called "the best breaking pitch in the Florida State League" last season. The Phillies know that Buchholz will need a full season at AAA Scranton before being ready for the majors. It's possible that Buchholz could hit Citizens Bank Park in September of 2004, depending how his season goes. With Madson ready for the Phillies rotation next season, there isn't a need to rush Buchholz, but there also isn't a compelling reason not to let him progress as he is ready.

Another upside to moving Buchholz to AAA would be opening a spot for Gavin Floyd to move up from Clearwater to Reading. Like Buchholz, Floyd is ready for a change of scenery after going 7-6, 2.85 in 17 starts this season at Clearwater.

Being cautious is fine. The Phillies have seen too many young pitchers fizzle because of undue pressure and quick moves through the system. There is also a fear of being too cautious, as well. The challenge of a new level would give Buchholz – and Floyd – something to push them late in the season and would also make the start of their 2004 season a little easier. The Phillies philosophy of late season promotions is a good one and there could be a few moves in the next week or so.

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