Reading Struggles, But Franchise Is Strong As Ever

The Reading Phillies franchise isn't used to finishing below the .500 mark and certainly isn't used to finishing 17 games below .500 (62-79). Even so, the amazing Reading franchise drew the second highest attendance in franchise history as 465,717 fans came to FirstEnergy Park to watch Reading Phillies baseball. Of course, the fact that the stadium and the Reading promotions and marketing teams are one of the best in the minors doesn't hurt.

The Reading Phillies struggled, but like the Philadelphia team, most of those struggles were on the road. The home crowd watched their team go 37-34 at home, while other cities saw Reading go 25-45 during the 2003 season. The home crowd also saw their heroes get no-hit by New Britain's Horacio Estrada late in the season. The road struggles weren't the only similarity to the big league club.

A team that figured to have a lot of offensive firepower fizzled – why does that sound familiar – and finished last in the Eastern League in batting with a .255 average. Injuries didn't help the cause at Reading, with 14 different players winding up on the disabled list at various times throughout the season.

Jorge Padilla was one of the walking wounded and played in just 46 games. He did manage to hit .295, but basically, experienced a lost season because of all the injuries. 2003 was supposed to be a breakout season for Andy Machado; it didn't happen. Like Padilla, Machado was repeating AA. Machado hit a weak .196 at the plate and struck out 120 times, but did show at least some positives. He walked 108 times, which boosted his OBP to .360 for the season. The walks helped put him in a position to steal 49 bases, which got him a major league call up in September. It should also be noted that Machado went through some personal problems that may have stinted his growth at Reading this season. Nate Espy also repeated AA and showed flashes of brilliance, but finished hitting .242 with 9 homeruns on the season.

At 27, Jeff Inglin is a little old for AA, but he did put up strong numbers. Inglin led the Eastern League with 24 homeruns and 103 RBI. Another great stat is that Inglin played 122 games in the outfield without an error. Actually, the Reading outfielders were all pretty strong defensively.

If there was one position player who may have set himself apart in 2003, it was Buzz Hannahan. The Phillies drafted Hannahan in 1998 and he has never really opened any eyes, until this season. Reading found that Hannahan could play almost anywhere – he played six different positions – and could handle them all pretty well. Offensively, Hannahan wasn't spectacular, but he hit .261 with 3 homeruns on the season and showed the Phillies the flexibility that they wanted to see from him. Playing second, third, short and all three outfield positions, Hannahan made just three errors during the season and may have been the best overall outfielder on the team.

Garry Maddox II went through a stretch that was unequalled among Reading players when he hit 11 homeruns in a stretch of 30 games. He also hit .320 during the stretch and got himself a promotion to AAA Scranton temporarily, where he hit .214 in 18 games. When he returned to Reading, he never did catch fire again, but still hit .289 with 12 homeruns to finish the season. He also showed that he learned a thing or two about playing defense from his dad, since he was errorless in 46 games.

Jim Deschaine joined Reading about half-way through the season and hit .295 with 13 homeruns in a Reading uniform. Deschaine came over from the Blue Jays organization after he was released in May. It turned out that the Jays had too many players that were blocking Deschaine's progress and he became the odd man out. At 25, Deschaine has developed solid skills, but projects primarily as a major league utility man as long as he can keep the power numbers going. Aaron McNeal finished with 13 homeruns and drove in 71 runs while hitting .254 for Reading.

Of all the injuries, the one to Juan Richardson may have done the most damage. The Phillies were loving the season that Richardson was having – hitting .315 with a league leading 15 homeruns – when he got hurt in the middle part of May. It looked like Richardson was on a fast track until a hand injury sent him to the disabled list and then, an ankle injury set him back even further. He returned only briefly and finished the season with his average dipping down to .270 and his homerun total stuck on 15. There's no telling what Richardson might have been able to do had he not gotten hurt.

On the mound, Reading belonged to Taylor Buchholz. The 21 year old didn't show any of the jitters that he showed in four late season starts at the AA level in 2002. He took the ball from day one and went on to start 24 games for Reading. By the end of the season, Buchholz was only 9-11, but had a 3.55 ERA and 114 strikeouts with just 33 walks. Buchholz was by far, the leading pitcher in the Phillies rotation. Seung Lee started 25 games and posted a 4.96 ERA and Will Glen, who started just 14 games for Reading, had a 3.83 ERA; The rest was ugly. Martire Franco (4-7, 5.71) and Ryan Carter (2-7, 6.00), Layne Dawson (1-9, 7.42) were all disappointments to the Phillies. The rotation did get some help late in the season with the arrival of Taft Cable (0-1, 2.51) and Keith Bucktrot (3-1, 2.56). Cable and Bucktrot figure to make up the top part of Reading's rotation in 2004.

The bullpen featured no true closer. Frank Brooks finished the season as the team's saves leader with 9, but he also finished the season in the Pirates organization after the Phillies dealt him in the Mike Williams trade. Ryan Hutchison had a nice season after being promoted from Clearwater. The righty went 3-2, 3.76 with 5 saves for Reading. Yoel Hernandez went 6-3, 4.26 with 2 saves and got a late season promotion to Scranton.

The Reading staff was so weak, that Brad Pautz (4-5, 7.69) and Josh Miller (0-3, 5.36) both somehow, stuck around for the full season. Miller in fact made 43 appearances out of the bullpen.

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