Hey CD...On Jake Blalock, Schilling & Vukovich

Hey! CD is a regular Q&A column by California Dreamin, a Phillie die-hard from SoCal. His unique perspective on various Phillie baseball issues & events draws grassroots interest from Phillie fans in various parts of the country. Send your comments or questions to CD at <a href=mailto:connectthedots@earthlink.net>connectthedots@earthlink.net</a> and read his response to you on a future edition of this column.

Q: On Minor League slugger Jake Blalock, from Leo Mazzone (QuickComet)

Hey! CD, do you think Jake Blalock can handle the jump from Batavia to Clearwater next season now that Mike Schmidt is manager?

CD says...
Great question, Leo and great name, though I know you are not THE Leo Mazzone of Atlanta Braves fame! Jake Blalock is one of the best young power hitters in the Phil's minor league system. In fact, over 50% of his hits this season at Batavia were for extra bases. With Schmidt now managing at Clearwater, the Phils may be tempted to place Blalock there since there are so many similarities between the two sluggers.

For those unfamiliar with Blalock, he is a young player, who was a high school teammate of outstanding pitching prospect Cole Hamels. Both played high school ball in San Diego and were part of a very solid 2002 draft. Blalock played shortstop in high school, was signed as a third baseman, and has now shifted to the outfield.

The Phils feel he has all the skills to be a 30 home run guy in the big leagues someday. However, they will be patient with him as he still has much to learn about the strike zone. My guess is that he will begin the year at full-season Lakewood, playing right field. If he shows the ability to hit well in his first year of full season ball, he may be promoted to Clearwater in August. However, my guess is that he will play a complete year at Lakewood, with a 2005 jump to Clearwater.

If he continues to progress as hoped, he could be playing in Philadelphia in late September of 2006. He is definitely a player to watch this coming season! Again, thanks for the question, QuickComet!

Q: On reacquiring Curt Schilling & possible bullpen help, from Dominick Patrone, Richmond VA

Hey! CD, I was speaking to family members last week and was told that Curt Schilling called Philly's all-sports station and said that there are only two places he would pitch next year, either Arizona or Philly. He said he would waive his no-trade clause to return. My question is, what do you think is the likelihood of this happening? Do you think that a trade package is currently being worked on and if so will this happen fairly quickly?

Also, what are they going to do in the bullpen and what about a back-up catcher? Your comments, please.

CD says...
Welcome aboard, Dominick, and thanks for posing the question that is now on the lips of almost every Phillie fan! As you probably know if you have read my column, I have been consistent and outspoken in my belief that it was never a question of IF but rather, WHEN Schilling would come home. Given the recent trial balloon rumors, denials, and Schilling comments, I am more convinced than ever that this trade will occur soon.

Oh, not in the next few weeks, probably not even until after Thanksgiving. However, I will be shocked if Curt and his family aren't celebrating the Christmas holiday season as members of the Philadelphia Phillies. Watch for trade talks to heat up now that the World Series is over. Expect some denials, possibly even some "the deal is dead" announcements. This will all be theatre, but fear not, the deal will get done. Both the Arizona Diamondbacks, who must cut salaries, and the Phils, who need Schilling's star power as a number one hurler to replace the departing Kevin Millwood, realize the logic of this trade.

As for the talent the Phils will relinquish, it will be a combination of either minor league hurlers Ryan Madson or Taylor Buchholtz, an outfielder - possibly either Jason Michaels or Jorge Padilla - and another lesser hurler such as Josh Hancock, Eric Junge or Geoff Geary. This is no small package as Madson and Buchholtz are two of the best four minor league hurlers in the organization. The other two, Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd are going nowhere but to Philadelphia someday!

I expect Schill to throw the first pitch at Citizens Bank Park on April 12, 2004. I also expect him to lead a solid starting pitching with a minimum of 15 wins. One more thing… before Schilling retires, I expect him to become one of the most popular athletes to grace a Phils uniform in the past 40 years.

As for the bullpen help, look for the Phils to make an effort to sign Tom Gordon as a free agent. If signed he will become the Phils closer in 2004. The second choice will probably be free agent Ugueth Urbina of Florida, though it is possible he will command more money and years than the Phils deem him worth. A final possibility, and this would be a great pick up, is acquiring lefty Billy Wagner from Houston. I do think the Phils will inquire about Wagner but ultimately find the price tag in prospects too high a price to pay.

When the dust settles, I expect Schilling and Gordon to be wearing Phil's uniforms. As for the backup catcher, this is a great observation! The Phils will need to add a third catcher next year, preferably a young one. I would not surmise a guess as to who it might be, but after I begin to see some of the catchers who are non-tendered a contract by other organizations, I may venture a guess as to the name of that third catcher. Thanks again, Dom, for three great questions!

Q: On third base coach John Vukovich, from Ed Siegler

Hey! CD, why is it that when all of the coaching vacancies are up to be filled, you never hear of John Vukovich being a candidate other than the last time the Phillies coaching vacancy was there? Is he on some kind of coaching "black-ball" list or something like that? What are his coaching credentials since he retired, as in, what teams other than the Phillies did he coach (I "think" he coached somewhere else) ? Has he coached anything other than first or third base?

CD says…
Welcome back, Ed! Ah, John Vukovich, one of my favorite coaches! Did you know that he has as many World Series rings as major league home runs? That's correct, one of each! Ask a fan to name the 25-man roster for the World Champion 1980 Phils and chances are many will forget that Vukovich was on the team all year, though he rarely played.

A personal favorite of then manager Dallas Green, he left the Phils to join the Chicago Cubs as a coach when Green took over as General Manager of the Cubs in 1982. He remained a coach there until Green left the Cubs in 1987. Ironically, it was Vukovich that actually caused Green to lose his job. He wanted to promote Vukovich to manager and when ownership balked, both Green and Vukovich left.

Since 1987, Vukovich has been a highly valued coach in Philadelphia, both from the bench and at third base. Although often criticized by fans that think he represents an era in Phils baseball that has long since outlived its usefulness, I think he is one of the best coaches in the business.

Although he has never been "black-balled" I do think he is fast approaching the time when he will no longer be mentioned as managerial material, and may already have reached that point. Given his past health problems, I am not sure he would ever want to manage in the big leagues. However, he is the guy who sets up the spring training agenda for the Phils, is a wonderful "go between" among players and Larry Bowa, and is still highly popular in Philadelphia.

My guess is that he has a job as long as he wants one and will call Philadelphia his home until he retires. Thanks for asking about Johnny V!

To My Readers: Thank you for your continued patronage and the continuing interest on our beloved Phillies. Keep the questions coming! CD from the Left Coast

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