Oh, don't phret phanatics, my Connect the Dots articles will still appear every Monday and Friday as always. Yet, starting today, Sunday's will find a brand new column coming your way, articles written entirely about players moving their way up through the farm system.
Yes, you will certainly get your
fill on the exploits of mega-stars Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd. But this column
will touch largely on the exploits of players just below the radar screen,
athletes that the average Phillie fan may never have heard of. Let's face it, when the Phils acquired
Billy Wagner last winter for Brandon Duckworth and two minor league hurlers, the
trade looked like a steal.
However, close followers of the Phils minor league system couldn't help but wince when the names Taylor Buchholtz and Ezequiel Astacio were identified as the "two minor league hurlers." Truth be told, it was a deal that the Phils had to make, given their need for a top notch closer, but the day will come when Buchholtz is winning regularly in Houston, and knowledgeable Phillie fans will understand that this trade was far from one-sided.
Rather than present game results, I will focus on Phillie farmhands who had particularly noteworthy weeks, be it successful or unsuccessful. I will talk about who is coming, and who might be going. As we get closer to the Amateur Draft in June, names that might just pop up on the Phils draft day list will be discussed and scrutinized.
If and when a Phillie trade involves a minor leaguer, this column will attempt to dissect the trade, and its possible impact on a Phillie system that has quietly but effectively been supplying the major league club with standout players for the past decade.
Not surprisingly, this turnaround
occurred when Assistant GM Mike Arbuckle was brought over from Atlanta to run
the draft, and oversee the farm system.
Through his efforts, along with such standout scouts like Jimmy Stewart,
Gordon Lackey, Jim Fregosi Jr. and Sal Artiaga, the Phils have completely turned
around what once was a depleted and depressing minor league organization.
After several years of being pitcher rich and bat poor, it appears that this year's farm system may reverse the trend. While Hamels and Floyd, along with righties Elizardo Ramirez, Francisco Butto, Keith Bucktrot and lefties Nick Bourgeois and Joe Wilson will still make headlines; it is the bats that evoke the most excitement.
Not since Pat Burrell and Eric Valent were drafted in 1998 have the Phils had such power in their farm system as this year's group. No less than three players have the potential to one day become 30+ home run hitters in the major league. third baseman Juan Richardson, first baseman Ryan Howard and Outfielder Jake Blalock will all be hitters to watch in '04, though Richardson's start at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre will be delayed until June by shoulder surgery.
Howard will bring his power bat and
solid batting average to Reading, where he hopes to duplicate his near Triple
Crown performance from last year.
Blalock, the younger brother of Texas Ranger star, Hank Blalock, is
beginning to conjure images of Greg Luzinski with his tape measure power in
Blalock will begin the year at Lakewood, where his power bat should provide welcome RBI fodder for the speedsters Tim Moss, Javon Moran and Michael Bourn. Along with 3rd sacker Kiel Fisher and infielder Jack Headley, this Blue Claws club should be an offensive juggernaut in the SAL this summer.
Speaking of Headley, no less an
authority than former Phillie great, Mike Schmidt, has crowned him as the
hitting jewel of the farm system.
Though this evaluation raised eyebrows within the organization, Michael
Jack stands by his assertion that Headley is a .300 hitter waiting to
happen. Stay tuned.
Along with these players, Phuture Phillie Phenoms will keep a close eye on such relative newcomers as pitchers Kyle Kendrick, Matt Linder and Darin Naatjes. Names like catcher Trent Pratt, infielders Terry Jones and Welinson Baez and outfielders Jason Crossland and Chris Roberson should become more familiar as will hot prospects like Anderson Machado and Jorge Padilla.
When the short-season clubs at Batavia and Gulf Coast begin play in late June, we will be there to report on the hot new prospects that someday may grace the fields in Citizens Bank Park.
So, stay with us, enjoy what promises to be a memorable season up and down the organization, and remember that Phuture Phillie Phenoms will be here every Sunday to provide fans with the latest in minor league information.
Columnist's Note: Please feel free to offer any comments, questions or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast.