Clearwater Didn't Lack Pitching Prospects

The Clearwater Phillies finished with the best record of the Phillies minor league teams, but still didn't make the postseason. The problems were the same as with the other affiliates; good pitching, but offense was a weakness. With a little offensive help, the 72-61 record at Clearwater might have been better and possibly enough to make Clearwater the only Phillies minor league team to make the playoffs.

The big show offensively at Clearwater was undoubtedly Ryan Howard. The slugging first baseman opened a lot of eyes and showed the kind of raw power that the Phillies have always suspected they would get from him. The Phillies took Howard with their fifth round pick in the 2001 Draft out of Southwest Missouri State. He opened his minor league career at Batavia, hitting 6 homeruns there before slugging 19 at Lakewood in 2002. The bad news is that Howard whiffed 151 times this season, but the good news is that he improved over his 2002 total of 200 strikeouts. Howard also finished the season hitting .304. Reading should be home for the left-handed hitting Howard, unless the Phillies dangle him as trade bait during the winter since they already have a first baseman who can hit pretty many homeruns for them at the major league level.

Besides Howard, there was very little power, speed or anything else for that matter. The next closest in the team homerun race were Sean Walsh and Juan Camilo who both finished with 6 homeruns. The both also stole 11 bases and Camilo hit .256 while Walsh hit .265 for Clearwater. Mamon Tucker hit .280 and Danny Gonzalez hit .271 at Clearwater, but neither of them had much else to brag about.

The pitching was the story and there was plenty to talk about. Gavin Floyd spent his season at Clearwater, getting 20 starts and finishing 7-8, 3.00 with 115 strikeouts in 138 innings of work. The right-hander suffered from a lack of run support or his record would have been much better. Floyd seems to have found a prospect buddy in Cole Hamels. The Phillies moved Hamels to Clearwater after an impressive start at Lakewood. Hamels slowed just a little at Clearwater (0-2, 2.73) which isn't saying anything compared to his numbers at Lakewood (6-1, 0.84). Hamels and Floyd give the Phillies an amazing righty/lefty combination that should pretty much move through the organization together.

Some fans may be surprised to find out that neither Floyd or Hamels led Clearwater in wins. That distinction, by far, went to Ezequiel Astacio, who finished 15-5, 3.29. Astacio started 22 games, threw 2 complete games and struck out 83 in 147 innings of work. The 23 year old Astacio signed with the Phillies as an amateur free agent in February of 1998 and has been somewhat overlooked as he has worked his way through the Phillies organization, partly because he spent his first three professional seasons pitching in the Dominican Summer League. Once Astacio came state-side, he has been a quick mover and has a 3.16 ERA with a 29-14 record. Elizardo Ramirez was second on Clearwater's staff in wins (13) and strikeouts (101). The right-hander started 25 games for Clearwater and is another face in the crowded group of pitching prospects with a Clearwater mailing address during the 2003 season.

Keith Bucktrot (7-7, 3.33) was impressive in 17 starts for Clearwater before moving along to Reading to finish the season. Bucktrot is just 22 and has shown why the Phillies used their third round pick in the 2000 Draft to get him. Until this season, Bucktrot was good, but not nearly as impressive as he showed in 2003. Layne Dawson (6-3, 3.24) showed a lot in his 10 starts with Clearwater and was moved along to Reading where he struggled. A nice story for the Phillies was the return of Rob Tejeda. The 21 year old right-hander missed most of the 2002 season with elbow problems and got a late start on the 2003 season. After some unimpressive tune-ups at Lakewood, the Phillies moved Tejeda to Clearwater and he turned things around. In 11 starts, Tejeda was 2-4, 3.20, throwing 1 complete game. The best news was that he had no soreness or problems in his elbow and is definitely back on track.

In the bullpen, the Phillies moved Ryan Hutchison to Reading after an impressive early part of the season. His role as the closer was inherited by Bobby Korecky, who saved 25 games for Clearwater, finishing with a 2.26 ERA. Eude Brito (4-3, 3.09) served as a valuable left-handed set-up man and also saved 6 games for Clearwater. Matt Squires, another lefty, finished with a 1.86 ERA in 41 appearances and also saved 2 games. From the right side, Taft Cable was effective and pitched in 26 games in relief. Cable also started 5 games and moved along to Reading.

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