CD's Connect the Dots... Ten For The Tenth

The tenth of October...a bit too soon to look ahead to wild trade rumors and free-agent signings. A bit too late to look back at a Phillie season that left Phils fans with a bitter taste at the end. A fine time to take a look at a minor league system that has produced the likes of Marlon Byrd, Brett Myers and Chase Utley and promises much more. Let's take a look at arguably the ten best minor league players who will soon grace the grass at Citizens Bank Park. <i>The Ten For The Tenth!</i>

Ah, there are few things more enjoyable when discussing Philadelphia Phillies baseball than a quick perusal of their minor league system. Under the watchful eye of Minor League and Scouting Directors Mike Arbuckle and Marti Wolever, the Phils farm system has gone from one of the worst in the mid ‘90s to one of the ten - there is that number again! - best in professional baseball. The philosophy of the organization has been to draft high-ceiling talent, especially at the high school level, and develop them into solid major league players.

Any question about whether this method has been successful is answered by a study of the major league roster. Players like Mike Lieberthal, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Randy Wolf, Nick Punto, Jason Michaels, Carlos Silva and the aforementioned Byrd, Myers and Utley were all drafted or developed in the Phils organization. Other former Phils drafted during the Arbuckle era are Scott Rolen, Wayne Gomes, Reggie Taylor, Eric Valent and Adam Eaton.

So, without further ado, lets take a look at ten players who many casual Phillies fans may not yet recognize, but certainly will in the future. A couple of notes here before we start. Number one, the list is purely this writer's opinion of the ten jewels in the system. Because the Phils system is quite deep, a few names may be left off that could quickly land in the elite ten very soon. And secondly, let it be noted that Chase Utley has been left off this list. In this writer's opinion, he is no longer a prospect but a solid major league contributor. Needless to say that if Utley were still considered a minor league prospect, he would drop no further than 4-5 on any list.

1. Cole Hamels few pitchers in recent years made a more immediate splash in professional baseball than did Mr. Hamels this past season. Hamels, a lefty, was the Phils #1 draft pick in the 2002 draft but made his professional debut this past May and to say that he succeeded beyond anyone's wildest hopes would be an understatement.

Beginning in Lakewood, he completely dominated South Atlantic League hitters to the tune of a 6-1 record and a microscopic 0.84 ERA. In 75 innings pitched, Hamels struck out an eye-popping 115 hitters. So dominating was Hamels, that he was elevated to the Florida State League at Clearwater. While his 0-2 record was deceiving, his 2.73 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 26 innings were not.

This is the real deal here, friends, and Phils fans can look forward to Hamels in Philadelphia sometime in 2006. It will be worth the wait!

2. Gavin Floyd think Wood-Prior with the Cubs, and you are not far removed from the potential tandem of Hamels-Floyd in Philadelphia.

Floyd, a mini-version of Mark Prior, has all the tools to become a number one pitcher in the major leagues. Solidly built, with a knee-buckling curveball, Floyd pitched at Clearwater in 2002 and was a prominent member of the Young Guns. Although his 7-8 record doesn't shout dominant, the Phils were more than pleased with his progress and ability this year. Floyd is only 20 years of age and was the fourth pick in the entire 2001 draft.

He will pitch at Reading this season and could come very quickly! Expect him at Citizens Bank Park sometime late in 2005.

3. Taylor Buchholtz… another former high school hurler drafted and signed by the Phils and if you think a theme is developing, you are correct!

There are few teams in baseball more adept at spotting, drafting and signing minor league hurlers and in "Bucky" the Phils may have gotten a steal in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. It was rumored that Buchholtz was going to North Carolina University on a baseball scholarship but, as a local boy, was an avid Phils fan! When the Phils plucked him in round six, he quickly signed and no one has been disappointed.

Buchholtz resembles Brett Myers in make-up and ability and has done well everywhere he has pitched. Perhaps his greatest strength is his ability to persevere through adversity. At Lakewood in 2001 he began the season 1-10, yet rebounded to win eight of his final 12 decisions. He progressed to Pitcher of the Year at Clearwater in 2002 and had a solid season at Reading this summer.

Look for "Bucky" to begin the year at Scranton Wilkes-Barre in AAA and possibly make his major league debut late next season. He may become the young closer that is so much in demand these days with the Phils!

4. Ryan Madson still another former high school hurler who has advanced his way through the Phils system. Madson made his major league debut the final weekend of the season with two very impressive shutout innings against the Braves.

Drafted in 1998, Madson has made steady progress through the system and has been successful at every level. Much in demand whenever trade talks occur, Madson could have a change of address this winter if the Phils feel they can land a number one hurler with Madson as the bait.

If not, expect him to make the roster next spring and become a solid contributor in Philadelphia, either as a potential number five starter, or as a middle inning reliever.

5. Ryan Howard… finally, a position player, and one with plenty of pop in his bat. Unfortunately for the Phils, Howard plays only first base and will probably make his major league debut in another uniform.

Ryan was the Florida State League Player of the Year with a very impressive .304 average, 23 home runs and 82 RBI. A left-handed hitter, he has been compared to a young Willie Stargell or John Mayberry! Although the comparisons to Stargell are probably a bit premature, the powerful build and solid swing of Howard's promises a successful career as a major league slugger. It behooves the Phils to strike a hard bargain before allowing him to leave.

There are few things as difficult as developing a power-hitting major leaguer. If Howard is not traded this winter, watch for him at Reading in the Eastern League in 2004 with a major league debut in late 2005 or early 2006.

6. Anderson Machado… a shortstop who reminds baseball scouts of Davy Concepcion, Machado suffered through a dismal season in 2003, which only partially diminished his potential in the eyes of most baseball scouts.

A Gold Glove type player, Machado had domestic troubles and injury problems, which caused his average to shrink to an unacceptable .196. However, the Phils are buoyed by his plate patience - 108 walks - and his ability to steal bases - 49 steals. Machado continued to display the defensive ability, which often makes him a human highlight film with the glove.

Despite his low batting average at Reading, Machado will begin the season at Scranton Wilkes-Barre and is a candidate to become a member of the Phils before the end of 2004 if his average ascends as expected.

7. Jake Blalock… perhaps no hitting prospect in the Phil's system so excites the organization as this high school teammate of Hamels. If his name looks familiar, it should… he is the younger brother of slugging third sacker, Hank Blalock of the Texas Rangers.

Jake has greater power potential and should follow his brother's footsteps into stardom at the big league level someday. He began his career as a third baseman, but was shifted to the outfield due to an overabundance of quality at third base, and a lack of power hitters in the outfield. This seems a very smart move and should allow Blalock to move rapidly through the system. Although he hit only .245 at Batavia this summer, it was definitely a "loud' .245. Among his 64 hits, 35 of them were for extra bases, and he also displayed a strong arm at the corner outfield spots.

Look for Blalock at Clearwater next season and don't be surprised if he quickly supplants Howard as the top power prospect in the organization. Blalock will not be rushed but it would surprise no one of he makes an appearance at the big league level sometime in late 2006.

8. Kiel Fisher… in many ways, Fisher is the most intriguing player on this list for several reasons. First and foremost, he was almost unknown to all but the most skilful of baseball scouts when he was drafted in the third round in 2002. Yet, his abilities at third base have caused the Phils to move Blalock to the outfield and it would surprise very few in the Phils organization if he one day won a batting title in the minor leagues.

Solidly built, with a short compact stroke, Fisher hit .323 at the GCL and then advanced to Batavia where he hit a robust .340. Fisher has been one of the standouts in the Florida Instructional League and may join Blalock at Clearwater in 2004.

Unlike Blalock, he did not play the high caliber competition in high school, so the Phils will advance Fisher carefully. It would not surprise if he becomes the Phils third baseman in 2007.

9. Elizardo Ramirez… aka "The Lizard", he is almost a baseball anomaly nowadays with his almost incredible ability to throw strikes.

Ramirez first showed up on the radar screen in 2002 when he went 7-1 with a microscopic 2 walks in 73 innings! Tall and lean, the Phils asked him to gain weight in 2003 and then asked him to make a two league leap to Clearwater. His 13-9 record attests to his ability to advance quickly and he remained a control artist with only 33 walks in 157 innings of pitching. Ramirez will begin the year in AA and if he is successful this year at Reading, he could advance quickly.

Ramirez is one of the jewels of the improving Latin American scouting system and might be in Philadelphia in late 2005 or early 2006.

10. Juan Richardson as attested by his tenth spot rating, Richardson is probably the most controversial of all the players listed.

Frankly, there will be no in-between with Richardson, his power bat will either make him a star at third base or his defensive foibles and high strikeout totals will send him into baseball oblivion. This writer believes there is enough potential in this solidly built youngster that he may even play some third base at Philadelphia late in 2004.

Perhaps no Phils minor leaguer suffered a more frustrating injury than Richardson this summer. While moving furniture, he tripped and suffered a high ankle sprain, which effectively ended his season in early July. This proved very unfortunate as he was on a very impressive power display and had hit 15 home runs in less than 250 at bats, with a respectable .270 average.

His numbers projected to over 30 home runs and this is a very impressive total for the Eastern League. As mentioned, his glove is often suspect, but the Phils believe this is more a lack of concentration than a lack of ability. Richardson should begin the season at Scranton Wilkes-Barre and if his power numbers continue, he is a candidate for a call-up sometime next summer.

Though these are the ten for the tenth that are given the highlight treatment, they are far from the only shining lights in a deep and talented system.

Position by position, the Phils have an abundance of solid right-handed hurlers, decent middle infield depth and a plethora of third sackers. The outfield has a few potential major league prospects and Hamels makes leftie hurlers a rich delight.

If there is a black hole in the organization, it is at the catching position where a case could be made that there is not even one major league prospect at this important position. Look for the Phils to alleviate this problem through a trade or in next June's Amateur Draft.

Among the talents that might make up the next batch of outstanding Phil's prospects are pitchers Geoff Geary, Josh Hancock, Eric Junge, Greg Kubes, Keith Bucktrot, Scott Mathieson and Ezequiel Astacio.

Infield prospects include Travis Chapman, Terry Jones, Wilenson Baez, Carlos Rodriguez, Tim Moss and Danny Gonzalez.

Outfield prospects of note include Jorge Padilla, Jason Crossland, Michael Bourn and Javon Moran.

As Phils fans wait with anticipation for this winter's wheeling and dealings, they should take due note of some of the names that are listed on this page. Undoubtedly, many of them will be starring at a local baseball diamond near you before too long, especially the ten for the tenth!

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast


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