Top Prospect #31: RHP Jeremy Wedel

With the Phillies pulling off a major overhaul of their bullpen, there might be room for one or two young relievers to get a crack at pitching in the majors. One of the young guns looking for a chance is Jeremy Wedel, who has two seasons of AAA ball under his belt and by all accounts is ready to help at the major league level.

The Phillies just love to find pitchers from small schools to grab as the draft nears its mid-point. They did just that when they looked at Armstrong Atlantic State University for their 20th round pick in the 1998 Draft. That's where they found Jeremy Wedel.

The theory goes that small school pitchers generally may not have always gotten the best coaching, but they also generally don't wrack up the mileage on their arms that a lot of big school prospects do. With that in mind, the Phillies – and some other teams – believe that bargains can be found. Jeremy Wedel fits the mold of a young pitcher who many believed just needed some work and fine tuning to become a much better pitcher than he had ever shown in college.

As a 21 year old, the Phillies sent their young find to Batavia for his first taste of professional baseball. He was admittedly a little rough around the edges, but was able to hold his own. One thing that the Phillies discovered is that Wedel was likely going to be a stronger candidate to make the majors if they converted him to a reliever. He had decent control and a fair amount of talent, but just seemed to be much more hittable as he went through a game.

The Phillies didn't bother keeping Wedel behind when the 1999 full season minor leagues started. Some scouts wanted to keep him in extended spring training to work on a few things, but they decided against that plan and instead, sent him to the South Atlantic League. They soon discovered that their hunch about Wedel's conversion to pitching in relief was the right one to follow. Wedel's good control became even better and suddenly, hitters were looking a lot weaker against him. As a late season reward, the Phillies sent Wedel to Clearwater and he wasn't phased at all by the move in levels.

Wedel stayed on course by moving up a level each season and reached AAA in 2002 at the age of 25. He was allowing less than one hit per inning through his young professional career and his highest ERA was 3.71 at AA Reading. Wedel was suddenly rising through the system quickly and was nearing the top.

As spring training rolled around in 2003, the Phillies had Wedel in camp and figured to give him a good, long look. Wedel didn't respond. In four games, he was hammered and his control was seemingly lost. Before long, he had slid behind other pitchers on the depth chart and his first real chance to reach the majors had come and gone.

If Wedel's spring was disappointing, it was going to get worse from there. While he was putting up good numbers once again at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Wedel suffered a forearm injury in July and his season became somewhat of a lost cause. He finished pitching just 17 games for the Red Barons, going 1-1, 3.76.

The battle for spots in the bullpen could be difficult in 2004. Wedel will again get a look. Since he turned 27 last November, the clock is starting to tick ever so slightly for Wedel. If he answers questions about whether he's 100% and can show that he is truly ready for a shot at the majors, Wedel may be near the front of the line for candidates to fill jobs in the bullpen. Still, the battle will be difficult and it's not out of the question that Wedel will find himself back at AAA in 2004.

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