CD's Connect the Dots... "Two Arms, Two Arms"

In a city long known for revolutionary zeal, the cry of "two arms, two arms" always has had special meaning in Philadelphia. Yet, the City of Brotherly Love may soon witness a revisiting of this famous phrase, in the form of two young hurlers, expected to evoke cries of "two arms, two arms" every time the opposition sees Cole Hamels or Gavin Floyd on the hill.

The thought of a dominant lefty-righty pitching combination has long been the goal of major league teams.  From Koufax-Drysdale to Seaver-Koosman, teams have always had a definite advantage when they could place an outstanding lefty handed pitcher back to back with an equally outstanding righty.

Indeed, the Phils have been blessed with several outstanding lefty-righty combos in Simmons-Roberts, Short-Bunning and Carlton-Denny.  It is not mere coincidence that those hurlers pitched on some of the most outstanding Phillie teams in recent history.

It is against this backdrop that even the most skeptical of Phillie faithful anticipate the soon arrival of a lefty-righty duo that promises to lead a staff of young gun hurlers that should guarantee the Phils more than their fair share of success over the next decade.

 

The much anticipated hurlers named lefty Cole Hamels and righty Gavin Floyd couldn't be more different in many ways, yet strikingly similar in others, ways that matter most to the long term prospects of our favorite baseball nine.

Whereas Hamels throws lefty and comes from the beaches of San Diego, California, Floyd is a right-hander who hails from the more conservative suburbs of Severna Park, Maryland.  Hamels is outgoing, friendly and ebullient, while Floyd is quiet, shy and reserved.  Hamels fully expected to sign a professional baseball contract after high school while Floyd was within hours of attending his first class in college before he signed.

Yet in other instances the two are very similar. Both were dominant high school pitchers, each listed among the top two or three HS pitchers in the nation.  Both were born in the year 1983, on the 27th day of two different months, with Floyd on the first month of the year on January 27, 1983, while Hamels was on the last month of the year, December 27, 1983.

They were selected in the first round by the Phils and had protracted negotiations before eventually signing. They began their careers in the Phil's Florida Instructional League and eventually made their professional debuts the following season.  Each had instant success, though Hamels was much more spectacular in his. Nevertheless, Floyd was also quite dominant in his rookie season, even tossing a no-hitter in the process, albeit in a losing effort.

With these issues as a backdrop, lets examine these two hurlers, names that could soon dominate the sports pages, not only in Philadelphia, but also in baseball hotbed cities from New York to Los Angeles.

Gavin Floyd was quite possibly the best young hurler not named Mark Prior coming out of the 2001 amateur draft. Rebuffed in their efforts to convince collegiate hitting star Mark Texiera that Philadelphia would make a good professional home, the Phils honed in on the singular skills of Floyd, ironically a childhood friend of Texiera's.  Ironically, the more the Phils studied the talents of Floyd, the more they became convinced of his singular talents.

Blessed with a large frame at 6'5" and great pitching mechanics, Floyd evoked comparisons of a young Tom Seaver by many long time scouts.  After more than two months of negotiations, things looked dim for the Phils as Floyd announced he would join his brother Michael also a lower round Phillie draft pick, at the University of South Carolina.


Yet, in a great advertisement for the wonders of the cell phone, the Phils reached Gavin as he and Michael were driving towards South Carolina with an increased offer for both he and his brother.  They stopped the car, agreed to the offer, turned around and headed back for home. Gavin eventually signed for a whooping 4.2 million, while his brother settled for $20,000 and an opportunity to play pro ball.


Floyd made his professional debut in 2002 at Lakewood, and immediately showed what all the fuss was about. Equipped with a 92 MPH fastball, and a better than average change up, Floyd finished his rookie year with an 11-10 record, and the raves of hitters throughout the league.

Actually, his record quite possibly could have been even more dominant but the Phils refused to allow him to throw his best pitch, a curve ball, so he could learn to improve on his other pitches. Highlights of his rookie year included an impressive 166 innings pitched, 3 complete games, a 2.77 ERA, and a no-hitter.

In that game, a walk and an error led to an unearned run, and a 1-0 loss for Floyd. Nevertheless, it mattered little to the Phils, a team much more interested in progress than numbers.  To them, Floyd was a work in progress, and the end result promised a dominant right-hander at the top of the rotation for years to come.

As effortless as his rookie season was, his sophomore year was equally difficult.  He pitched the entire season at Clearwater in the FSL, and began the year at 0-3. The Phils immediately discovered that the problem was an extreme case of player idolization.  Apparently Floyd had always idolized Kevin Millwood, and when they met in Spring Training, he began to emulate Millwood's slow wind-up.

While this wind-up may be wondrous for Millwood's stuff and location, all it did was flatten out Floyd's fastball. The Phils quickly put a stop to this and Floyd soon returned to his dominant stuff. In fact, he was so talented that he was selected to pitch in the Major League Futures Game in June, where he was equally impressive.

The sky appeared the limit for Floyd until he returned from the Future's Game. Suddenly, he was not only being hit hard, but could not seem to make it past the 5th inning of any game.  Although the Phils insisted that his arm was fine, and blamed his demise on the Florida heat, it was apparent to many that something was not quite right.

Floyd finished his 2003 season with an unimpressive 7-8 record and a 3.00 ERA.  Worse yet, his strikeout total of 115 KO's in 138 innings pitched did not exactly befit a pitcher of his repute.  Finally, he admitted what many had suspected, that his shoulder did bother him in July and August, and was diagnosed as mild shoulder tendonitis.

Exercise and rest were prescribed and Floyd reported to camp this spring as good as new.  Although he is in camp with the major league club, he will open the 2004 season in Reading at the Double A level. While typically close mouthed on the subject for public consumption, the Phils privately think that Floyd well could make major leaps in the next two years and be pitching at Citizens Bank Park sometime in 2005.

When he eventually makes the jump to the big leagues, he projects as a solid #2 or even a #1 starter at the big league level. If he remains healthy, it is not a major leap of faith to expect Floyd to help anchor a starting pitching staff for the next ten years.

If the Phils have their way, helping anchor that staff will be the precocious southpaw from San Diego, Cole Hamels.  As talented a hurler as Floyd may become, he will likely take a back seat to Hamels, a pitcher of rare skills and talent.  In fact, the only question concerning him at all is the broken humorous bone he suffered after his sophomore year in high school.

This injury occurred while playing football, and rendered him inactive his junior season.  However, he came back fully healthy in his senior year and, along with his HS and professional teammate Jake Blalock, helped Rancho Bernardo High School to the state finals.

A broken arm for a pitcher is usually career ending, and the list of pitchers like Dave Dravecky, Tom Browning and Jim Wright, is ample proof of this fact. Yet, Hamels appears to have beaten the odds, a tribute to modern medical science and the ability to rebuild what was once broken.  His 10-2 record as a high school senior was not only testament to his recovery, but sent professional scouts scurrying to San Diego to watch both Hamels and Blalock.

On draft day, the thought was that Hamels might not last past the first dozen selections, but happily for the Phils, he was available when their turn came up at #17.  They wasted little time in selecting him, then turned around and picked Blalock in the 5th round.


Although Blalock signed almost immediately, Hamels and the Phils decided that it might be better for his arm if he took the summer off, and negotiations went hot and cold. Nevertheless, there was little doubt that he would eventually sign, and in August of 2002 he agreed to a signing bonus of 2 million dollars, and reported to the Phil's Florida Instructional League.

Hamels immediately wowed the staff with his professional demeanor on the hill, and the almost effortless way that he threw. Clearly, this was a special pitcher, someone who seemed born to pitch. 

Yet the Hamels of October of 2002 was not the same pitcher who reported to camp last February 2003. He was overweight, and out of shape and although the Phils said all the right things publicly, privately they were disappointed and upset.  They proved this fact by keeping Hamels behind when the minor league players broke camp to open their seasons.

However, a talent as unique as Hamels could not be kept down long, and by May, it was announced that he would make his professional debut in Lakewood.  To fully understand how thoroughly dominant this young lefty was, it must be understood how absolutely horrible the Lakewood club was last year.

On a team that was nearly 40 games under .500, and with almost a nonexistent offense, Hamels came in and was nearly unhittable. His 6-1 record, with an eye-popping 115 KO's in 75 innings pitched and an ERA of 0.84 was only part of the story. He was dominating hitters often nearly two years older than he, and with a weak team behind him.

Long time Phillie faithful were reminded of a young Steve Carlton in 1972 dominating the NL with a team that seemed fully unable to win on the nights he was not on the hill. Hamels evoked such memories and he soon joined Floyd and the Young Guns of Rob Tejeda, Ezequiel Astacio and Keith Bucktrot at Clearwater.

Although he was winless in Florida and suffered two defeats, he was hardly an overmatched youngster. In 26 innings of work, he struck out 32 Florida State League batters, and finished with a 2.73 ERA.

In almost storybook fashion, Hamels was later selected as the Minor League Pitcher of the Year by several baseball associations. With this as a backdrop, he will open the 2004 season back at Clearwater, but it would surprise no one if he soon joined Floyd at Reading before the year runs its course.

From Reading, the trip to Philadelphia is a short one, less than four hours away by car. Yet for long suffering Philadelphia Phillie fans, the trip is even more meaningful, as it could mean an end to countless years of lost games, lost hopes and lost dreams.  It does not take a vivid imagination to picture Floyd and Hamels joining an already talented core of hurlers like Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla, Brett Myers and Ryan Madson in bringing more than an occasional NL East championship to the City of Brotherly Love.

Perhaps even more exciting for a Philadelphia fandom that admires a competitive nature, it has been reported by Manager Larry Bowa that both Floyd and Hamels have taken on an almost competitive zeal in competing against each other this spring.  This can only be good news for the Phils, as each will push the other to the absolute limits of their talents and skills.

There is much to like about the rebirth of baseball in Philadelphia. Blessed with a forthcoming new edifice and a team worthy of performing there, the future appears at least equally bright for the Phightin Phils!  It has long been said that baseball is 90% pitching. If this be the case, then the Phils coming battle cry of "two arms, two arms" should be a revolutionary declaration for all unfortunate teams preparing to outwit the latest dominant lefty-righty tandem of Hamels and Floyd.

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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