Hey, CD; What's the Phillie Pulse On...?

<b><I>Hey! CD</b></I> is a regular Q&A column by California Dreamin, a Phillie die-hard from SoCal. His unique perspective on Phillie baseball issues & events draws grassroots interest from Phillie fans spread all over the country. Hop on the good ship PhilliePulse and send your 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 Top Pitching Prospects Elizardo Ramirez, Keith Bucktrot and Alfredo Simon, from Chad Ridge, Philadelphia, PA


Hey! CD, I am so excited about the upcoming season that I already bought three baseball magazines. In the magazines, they mentioned three pitchers I am unfamiliar with, Elizardo Ramirez, Keith Bucktrot and Alfredo Simon. Are they top prospects and can you tell me a bit about each one?  Thanks in advance, love your column!

CD says...
Thanks for the question, Chad, and you have mentioned three pitchers that often fly under the radar screen because of the exploits of mega-prospects Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd and Ryan Madson.  However, the three you have asked about are in the next tier of pitching prospects, all would seem to have a bright career in Philadelphia.

Perhaps the most talented is Elizardo Ramirez, 21 years of age and affectionately known as the Lizard.  Tall and wafer thin, he has burst onto the American scene from the Dominican Republic with a big splash in only two seasons.

After a few years at the Phillies DR camp, Ramirez began his career pitching for the GCL Phillies in 2002. To say that he took the league by storm would be an understatement.  His spectacular 7-1 record with a 1.10 ERA was just part of the story.

Even more mind-boggling was his amazing total of only 2 walks in 73 innings of pitching.  His control has often been compared to Greg Maddux, and not without merit.

The Phils felt confident enough in his development to advance him two levels to full season Clearwater in the FSL.  Although his ERA predictably climbed, he still finished the season with a 13-9 record and only 33 BB's in 157 innings of work.

Ramirez is expected to open the 2004 season at Reading and help anchor a staff lead by Floyd and Bucktrot.  If all goes according to plan, he should make his ML debut sometime in 2006.

Speaking of Bucktrot, he is a former 3rd round draft pick in 2000 whose development has been slow but steady. Possessor of an outstanding fastball and great athletic instincts, he was actually considered a potential OF prospect coming out of HS.

Now 23 years old, Bucktrot has advanced slowly through the system, with stops in the GCL, Lakewood, Clearwater and Reading along the way.  With records of 3-2, 6-11 and 8-9 entering the '03 season, his sudden progress last year was very rewarding.

After starting the year 7-7 at Clearwater in high A ball, he was advanced to Reading in Double A where he flourished with a 3-1 record and a solid ERA.  This is where he will begin the 2004 season.  Although he is expected to remain at Reading all year, it would not surprise Phillie scouts if he was moved the SWB by August.

Expect to see Bucktrot in Philadelphia sometime in 2006.

When it comes to fastballs, two names in the Phils organization stand out.  Of course, lefty reliever Billy Wagner, possessor of an occasional 100 MPH fastball is tops, but close behind is Alfredo Simon, formerly known as Carlos Cabrera.

Although his name and age have changed, his sheer pitching stuff hasn't, and he regularly tops out at 95 MPH with an occasional burst to 97.

Another product of the revitalized Latin American program, Cabrera began his professional career in 2001 with a 2-2 record in the GCL Rookie League.  From there, he advanced to a breakout 9-2 record in '02 at Batavia.

Expectations were high for him coming into the 2003 season when he ran into visa problems back home in the Dominican Republic. It turns out that he was a bit older than previously thought, but also was not Carlos Cabrera, but Alfredo Simon.

It seems that he had used the identification of his cousin to enter the US and this took quite some time to sort out. When he finally arrived in the US in July, he immediately displayed the form that he had previously showed.

Pitching for a very weak Lakewood club, he finished with a spectacular 5-0 record, and the raves of coaches and scouts throughout the league. With a combined 16-4 record over 3 partial seasons of play, Simon is prepared for breakout season in 2004.

Expect him to begin the year at Clearwater, pitching for former Phillie great Mike Schmidt, where his advances will be determined by his performances, but a 2007 debut in Philadelphia would not shock Phillie organizational brass.

Phillie fans have much to be optimistic about as we enter what could be another golden era of Philadelphia baseball.  With a new stadium, a solid major league team, and great young pitchers like Hamels, Floyd, Madson, Ramirez, Bucktrot and Simon, the future looks bright for the Fightin's!

Thanks for the question, Chad, and hope to see you again soon, at the Phillie Pulse!

Q: On the Outlook for Vicente Padilla in 2004, from Neil Dorval, a California Phillies die-hard

Hey! CD, I am worried about Vicente Padilla this year.  What do you think about his chances of doing well?

CD says…
Neil, it is not surprising that you might be concerned about Padilla, both mentally and physically, after his somewhat difficult off-season.

For those unfamiliar with Padilla's problems, he was in a very tragic auto accident during the off-season in Nicaragua, and his best friend, who was driving the vehicle, was killed. Padilla also suffered some injuries, which proved relatively minor.

Besides that unfortunate mishap, Padilla was also the unfortunate victim of some rumors started by a local newspaper reporter. It serves no purpose to rehash these rumors, as the Phils found them unfounded, and Padilla denied them all.

What is important is how this off-season will affect his performance in 2004 and if Pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan is correct, the affect will be minimal.  In fact, Kerrigan still believes that Padilla has the best stuff on the staff… Pedro Martinez-like stuff and this may translate into a breakout year for him.

With back-to-back 14 win seasons, and over 400 innings of work; Padilla has been a veritable workhorse for the Phils. Yet, truth be told, the best may be yet to come and it is quite possible that Padilla will win between 15-17 games this year if he remains healthy.

Lost in the concern about his off-season was the fact that Padilla was denied 3-4 wins in 2003 by a bullpen that continually gave up leads that they had inherited. Of particular consternation was that highly forgettable August game in Montreal when Padilla had leads of 8-0 and 10-3. 

After departing the game, the lead and the game were quickly lost. With ace lefty, Billy Wagner in to close out ballgames this year, Padilla may be a willing and happy beneficiary of this talent.

So, Neil, there are legitimate concerns about the '04 Phillies, from the condition of David Bell's back to the condition of Pat Burrell's bat. However, rest easy about Vicente Padilla. On a staff of such luminaries as Kevin Millwood, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers and Eric Milton, Padilla may emerge as the best.

To follow the year of Padilla and the Philadelphia Phillies, stay with the Pulse to answer your Phil's questions this season!  Take care.

Q: On the 1st Round Draft Pick in the Upcoming June Amateur Draft, from Adam Cole, Wynnewood, PA

Hey! CD, with the absolute dirth of catching prospects at the minor league level, do you think we will draft a catcher in the first round of the June amateur draft?

CD says…
Adam, as a new member to the Pulse, let me welcome you aboard!  Hope you will stay awhile! 

To answer your question, you are correct that there has been much consternation in the Philadelphia ranks about a seeming lack of catching prospects in the organization.

In truth, this has been the case, and the inability to sign top C prospect, Rob Johnson last summer was particularly painful.  However, before I answer your question about the June '04 draft, let me say that the Phils feel that the catching at the minor league level may improve rapidly this season for several reasons.

The first reason is the off-season signing of free agent AJ Hinch.  A former College All-American, Hinch was a former can-t miss prospect that seems to have missed often in his career. However, the Phils appear confident that they can turn his career around and he will get his chance at SWB this year.

Also, catcher Russ Jacobson, a former U. of Miami All-American and 3rd round pick of the Phils, seems about to resurrect his career after a few near misses. Reports out of Clearwater say that Jacobson looks like he is in the best shape of his career, and may be ready to fulfill his once abundant promise.

He will begin the year at Reading in Double A, but could join Hinch at SWB before the season ends. This is quite possibly a make or break season for both Hinch and Jacobson so it will be interesting to watch their progress.

In regards to the June draft, the Phils have said that they expect to address their catching need situation, but it would be very surprising if they used their top pick on a catcher.

Historically, catchers have not been picked quite so high, so it would seem that the Phils are more likely to use their top two picks on a HS pitcher and a college OFer.  However, it will be a major surprise if the Phils get through the first five rounds of the draft without selecting a catcher.

Some collegiate catchers to keep an eye on for this upcoming draft are Mike Nickeas of Georgia Tech, Donny Lucy of Stanford, Jason Jaramillo of Oklahoma State and Landon Powell of South Carolina.

Traditionally, high school backstops are more problematical so the chances are strong that if and when the Phils select a catcher, it will be from the collegiate ranks. Of the four catchers mentioned, two are of special interest, Jaramillo and Powell.

Jaramillo is a former Phillie 39th round pick, and would be a most welcome addition to the Phils while Powell is the player represented by agent Scott Boras.  Powell will be a very tough player to sign so if the Phils hope to bring in a youngster quickly the chances are that they will stay away from him.

Thanks for the great question, Adam, and stay with the Pulse for all your pre and post draft news concerning the Phils!

Q: On Chase Utley's Chances of Making the Phillies, from Al Cooper, San Francisco, CA

Hey! CD, do you think that Chase Utley will make the 25-man roster and if so, how much will he get to play?

CD says…
Nice to see another Phillie fan out here on the Left Coast.  Al, your question is one that is on many fanatics' minds this spring.  The reasons are simple, but the answer is a bit more complex.

Chase Utley has already had two very successful seasons at the Triple A level and is now 25 years old. There is really very little that he can learn at the minor league level. Clearly, his time has come.

Although his defense may never be more than just average, he has a very solid bat that can lend itself very nicely to the Phillie attack, whether its coming off the bench, or as the starting 2nd baseman.

However, manager Larry Bowa has indicated that if 3rd baseman David Bell is ready to start the season, then either Utley or outfielder Jason Michaels will probably not make the club. Bowa has indicated that Utley might be better served by playing everyday at SWB.

Although I understand this logic, I do not agree with it, for several reasons. For one thing, we are now dealing not just with a player's physical skills, but his psyche as well. By all accounts, Utley has come to camp and impressed everyone with his talent, hustle and determination.

Bowa has even nicknamed him "Dirtball" for the way he goes all out on the baseball diamond. This would seem to preclude any reason to send him back and I hope that he remains with the club. Ironically, ageless reliever Roberto Hernandez, age 39, just was quoted yesterday as commenting that at some point you learn more by just being around major league players than any other way.

It is my opinion that Utley would be very upset and frustrated if he had to spend a third summer at SWB and the Phils could lose him emotionally.  Even if Bell is healthy, the option of interchanging Bell, Utley and Placido Polanco at 2nd and 3rd base would seem to be a reasonable option for Bowa.

If Bell is unable to play, then Utley becomes the starting 2nd baseman, but even if Bell plays 125 games this year, the opportunities for Utley would be plentiful and the experience priceless.

I believe Utley will not only make the club, but also end up being a starting 2nd baseman for Philadelphia, if not on opening day, then soon thereafter. If this happens, I would expect a season of between 10-15 home runs, a .270 average and decent defense. I also think that Utley's youthful enthusiasm could be an invaluable tool for the Phils in their efforts to win the NL East title.

Once again, thanks for the question, Al, and hope to see you on a regular basis all season… here at the Pulse!

Q: On the Possible Destination of Jason Michaels, from Dominick Patrone, Richmond, Virginia

Hey! CD, if Jason Michaels is traded, as has been rumored in the Philadelphia press, where do you think he might end up, and what could we reasonably expect to receive in return?

CD says…
It is highly doubtful that when Jason Michaels left Veterans Stadium for the final time last October that he could have ever imagined the questions his name would bring this spring.

After a successful year as a 4th outfielder, with a team leading .330 batting average, Michaels may well have expected his role to expand in 2004.  Indeed, it is very possible that he will have an increased role this season, but the location of this role is problematical at the current time.

Michaels faces three scenarios, as February soon becomes March. He could well stay with the Phillie club for the entire '04 season and get reduced playing time as the probable 6th outfielder behind starters Pat Burrell, Marlon Byrd, Bobby Abreu and subs Ricky Ledee and Doug Glanville.

Another scenario, though highly unlikely, is that he could begin the upcoming season at Triple A with SWB. This seems very slim, as he is much too talented a player to not be able to perform at the big league level.

The third, and possibly most likely scenario would see the Phils trade him to another club.  Given Michael's solid bat and decent defense, it does not seem far-fetched to picture an American league club valuing him as a combination outfielder and designated hitter.

Teams such as Baltimore (where he hit a game winning home run last season). Detroit, Tampa Bay and Texas could all use a player of his talents as a starter.  A team like Seattle might make good use of him as a platoon outfielder, while the Chicago White Sox might show interest if they end up trading outfielder Magglio Ordonez to the Dodgers.

As for what the Phils would ask in return?  I would hope that they would want a position player, preferably a young catcher or outfielder. Given GM Ed Wade's preference for major league ready talent, the chances are great that the player would have played some major league ball.

Whatever happens, I am quite sure that Michaels will forever remember the winter of 2003, when a reserve outfielder on a team that didn't even make the playoffs, was the subject of so much speculation and discussion!

As always, Dom, my friend, thank you for the question, and I hope you continue to send your questions The Pulse as the Phils make their move in 2004! 

To My Co-Fans:  Thank you for your continued patronage and undying interest on our beloved Phillies.  Keep the questions coming and I'll keep responding.  Until next time! CD from the Left Coast

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