Most fans are well aware that the strength of the Phillies organization is found on the pitching mound. Baseball America agrees and made that obvious in their recent edition that examined the players with the best "tools" in the minors. Four different Phillies players showed up in the tools edition.
Ryan Madson was named the International League's "Best Pitching Prospect" Award. The 22 year old will see Philadelphia by the end of the season and possibly by the time that he turns 23 on August 28th. Madson is generally thought of in the top three or four pitching prospects in the Phillies organization. The Phillies grabbed Madson in the ninth round of the 1998 Draft and he has developed perhaps even a little better than the Phillies imagined. Madson's first season in Scranton hasn't proved to be too much of a challenge as Madson has kept his ERA right around the 3.80 mark this season.
One of the clear strengths in the organization isn't just pitching, but the kind of pitching. No less than three pitchers in the Phillies system claimed "Best Breaking Ball" awards for their respective league. Taylor Buchholz (Eastern League), Gavin Floyd (Florida State League) and Cole Hamels (South Atlantic League) - remember, that Hamels pitched most of the season at Lakewood and was judged by the talent in the SAL. Floyd not only was voted the best at throwing a breaking ball, but was picked as the Florida State League's "Best Pitching Prospect".
The Phillies have put somewhat of a premium on teaching pitchers how to throw breaking pitches and in teaching them correctly. A lot of young pitchers try to develop the pitch too early in their careers and wind up being frequent visitors on the DL. The Phillies look for the basic skills to be able to throw a curve and then let those skills develop with careful teaching and a watchful eye. Actually, one of the keys that the Phillies have taught is to throw the breaking pitch well, but to also not use it as a pitcher's only tool. Buchholz, Floyd and Hamels have all learned well and have found that the breaking pitch can be powerful, especially when it's mixed in with the right amount of other pitches. It's a lesson that Brandon Duckworth seems to have forgotten.
Solid defense also comes through from the pages of Baseball America. In the International League, Travis Chapman was voted best defensive third baseman, while shortstops Andy Machado (Reading) and Danny Gonzalez (Clearwater) were voted best defensive shortstops in their leagues.
The Phillies nearly lost Chapman and are glad to have him back. It will be interesting to see what the Phillies do with Chapman during the offseason. Other than being a utility player, there isn't much of a future for Chapman in Philadelphia, but the Phillies do love his skills and work ethic.
Anderson Machado will be another interesting player to follow. The Phillies had some concerns about his attitude early in the season and had further concerns when Machado started slowly. Machado has been able to turn things around both on the field and with his attitude and is back in the Phillies good graces.
Who's Danny Gonzalez? He's one of those guys who have flown under the radar somewhat, but he's been picked up loud and clear now. Gonzalez doesn't do anything great, but he is spectacular with the glove. Like a lot of young players though, he is prone to some mistakes, which have led to 19 errors this season. Some of the rough infields of the Florida State League haven't helped that though, either.
Chase Utley was voted the "Best Hitting Prospect" in the International League. Utley's arrival in Philadelphia should be coming literally at any moment and you've got to figure that the next time he hits the majors, he'll be there to stay.
Reading's Juan Richardson and Clearwater's Ryan Howard picked up hardware as the "Best Power Prospect" in their leagues. The Phillies have some concerns about Howard's plate discipline, but both players are definite prospects that project very well as future major league players.
Again, it comes down to having a plan and following it. The Phillies know that pitching and defense will get you far and that's where a lot of their emphasis has gone. It's paying off for the Phillies minor league teams and also shows in the prospects who have made their way to Philadelphia already.
Years ago, there wasn't much to talk about in the Phillies minor league system and much like a cloudy night in the big city, it wasn't easy to spot too many stars. Now, the sky is clear and the view of the stars is easy. All we have to do is sit back and watch.