CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms

It was a mixed bag of news coming out of the Phillies minor league camps when all four full-season clubs burst into action on Thursday. The good news was the outstanding starts of several players; many of them highly rated players. The bad news was the injury wave that struck several players, none more shocking than the elbow problems of lefty phenom Cole Hamels. Although the injuries seemed more nuisance than serious, any injury to the golden left arm of Hamels must be cause for concern.

After his outstanding spring in Clearwater, in which he wowed scouts and major leaguers alike with his talent and poise, Hamels came down with what was described as a "tired arm", loosely translated to be a sore elbow. The corresponding MRI revealed no major damage, and Asst. GM Mike Arbuckle announced that Hamels would miss a month of the season.

His logic was thus…it is better to be conservative with an arm as valuable as Hamels than risk more serious damage by rushing him back into action. The reasoning was that two weeks on the sideline and two weeks of rehab could put him back into game form by May 10. In defense of the Phils, their track record with pitchers arms over the past few years is markedly improved, after nearly a decade of "pitcher abuse."

The reality is that the Phils are probably paying the price for having Hamels pitch in an exhibition game against the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Tony Clark and the New York Yankees. It seems impossible that Hamels would not "want to impress" in his outing, and it is likely that his elbow wasn't ready for the stress.

In any case, this is a major story worth watching, and Phuture Phillie Phenoms will certainly keep fans abreast of any news concerning Hamels and his balky elbow. As most phanatics are aware, Hamels is among the brightest lights in baseball, and is without a doubt the top prospect in the organization.

What had to send shockwaves up and down the organization is the reality that Hamels is attempting to do what no player ever has…come back and pitch successfully at the big league level after suffering a broken pitching arm. Names like Dave Dravecky, Tom Browning and Jim Wright all saw their careers end prematurely after suffering broken arms.

Nevertheless, most doctors think Hamels case is different, because he suffered his not from pitching but while playing football. The injury occurred after his sophomore year in high school, and he did return to pitch in All-American form his senior year. This lead to his selection by the Phils as the 17th pick in the first round of the 2002 draft. He began his career in 2003 and was voted the Minor League Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America.

Clearly, this is a hurler with irreplaceable talent; so trust the Phils to monitor him with extreme caution over the next month. When he is ready and able to pitch, he will begin his 2004 season at Clearwater, as Manager Mike Schmidt's ace hurler.

Speaking of Clearwater, they began the '04 season with an exciting, albeit losing start as they lost a wild 14-11 extra inning tussle to the Dunedin Blue Jays. Highlighting the opening two nights for the Threshers was Ryan Barthelemy, another player from the 2002 draft group. Until this year, Barthelemy has been a major disappointment for the Phils, after a collegiate All-American career at Florida State.

Drafted in the tenth round, he struggled to hit, run or field, and most scouts felt that he was another in a long line of players who could not make the adjustment from aluminum bats to wood. However, in his case, it might just have been a case of "bad eyes", not bad bats. Barthelemy had complained of not seeing the ball well, and finally submitted to eye surgery.

The transformation has been astounding, and hopefully permanent. He began the season with 8 hits in 10 at bats, and is hitting a cool .800 after two games. Of course, the average will sink accordingly as he accumulates daily at bats. Yet the Phils are beginning to see the potential that he displayed in college, and if the change is real, he may well elevate himself back into "prospect" status very soon.

Another player who appears ready for a banner year is shortstop Danny Gonzalez of the Reading Phillies. He is among the most interesting of all Phillie farm club players, a high draft pick (fourth round in 2000) who has been steady yet unspectacular throughout his climb through the system.

In many ways Gonzalez has suffered because his steady play has been in stark contrast to the often spectacular but wildly inconsistent play of shortstops Anderson Machado and Carlos Rodriguez. Most Phillie officials readily acknowledge that Gonzalez ranks third in the talent department among the shortstops, yet ranks first in performance.

After a highly rated high school career in Florida, he began his professional career in 2001 at Batavia of the short-season NY-Penn League. Though his average was a less than awe inspiring .238, he showed solid fielding prowess, and a willingness to improve.

This desire has paid off in averages of .270 and .271 the past two seasons at Lakewood and Clearwater. He has also been voted the best defensive shortstop in the Florida State League. Now he takes the next step, one that many scouts say separated the "men from the boys." He is playing at Reading in Double A and if his first few days are an example of his continued growth, the Phils may well have a new shortstop prospect.

Gonzalez began the season with 4 hits in 8 at bats, a .500 average that has thrust him on the radar screen of Phillie watchers everywhere. While still not the prospect of such teammates as slugger Ryan Howard and pitcher Gavin Floyd, he is a player to watch in '04.

Other highlights from the first few days of action include a home run by future Phillie second baseman, Chase Utley, some standout pitching from Latin American bonus baby, Robinson Tejeda of Reading, and the stellar start of Lakewood speedsters Michael Bourn and Javon Moran.

Utley is making his third tour of duty at SWB and if most Phillie fans have their say, it will not only be short-lived, but his last. Clearly, this is a player who belongs in the major leagues, and if the Phils insist on playing David Bell and Shawn Wooten in the infield on a regular basis, watch for clubs like the Yankees and Oakland A's to pursue Utley in a trade.

Tejeda was one of the Young Guns at Clearwater last year, a group that included Hamels, Floyd, Keith Bucktrot and Elizardo Ramirez. A strapping 6'3", 180 pound righty, Tejeda has long tantalized the Phils with his mid 90 MPH fastball and often unhittable breaking stuff. Yet, he was equally frustrating in his seeming inability to mature in the way the Phils hoped.

Only 22 years of age, he may finally be ready to come of age at Reading. In his first start on Friday, April 9, he spun 5 shutout innings in an eventual 5-1 Phillie victory. If he can continue this fine pitching throughout the summer, and if Gonzalez continues his improvement, the R-Phils may well have four outstanding prospects on their roster. There has never been any doubt about the talents of Howard and Floyd.

If its speed you seek, look no further than the Lakewood Blue Claws, where a veritable relay team of speedsters has been assembled. In particular, outfielders Bourn and Moran, along with infielders Tim Moss and Carlos Rodriguez could well steal 200 bases this summer.

After but two days of action, Bourn already has four, while Moran and Rodriguez have two, and Moss one. It seems as if Bourn has been given the green light to run at will, and a total of over 70 is not unreasonable if he stays healthy. Remember the name Michael Bourn… he may well be the Phils leadoff hitter of the future.

Not to be outdone by these jackrabbits, outfielder Jake Blalock has been given the task of driving them in, and his early .333 average indicates he is up to the task. Built along the lines of sluggers Greg Luzinski and Pat Burrell, the brother of Texas standout Hank Blalock is expected to become a potential 30 home run hitter at the big league level in the not too distant future.

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the news was mixed, with injuries being the biggest cause for concern in the early going. Besides Hamels, other notables sidelined with injuries include infielder prospects Terry Jones and Kiel Fisher, along with pitchers Darin Naatjes and Zack Segovia.

Only Segovia's appears serious as his recent elbow surgery will sideline him the entire '04 season. The Phils hope, and expect him to be available for the Instructional League in late September. The injury to Naatjes, a tall lanky righty, is also cause for pause, as it involves a partially torn muscle.

Although no surgery is planned at this time, his timetable for recovery is anywhere from 6 weeks to two months. It is hoped that Naatjes can pitch some time this summer. As for Jones and Fisher, their injuries are relatively minor, and they may soon return to action at Clearwater and Lakewood, respectively.

Things to watch for this week are the first start of Floyd, scheduled for Easter Day, April 11, as well as the continued progress of Howard at Reading and Utley at SWB. These are probably the two best hitters in the minor league system, and may well become the two prime trading chips for an organization that may wish to fortify their catching corps, and well as add a pitcher or two.

Also, keep an eye on pitchers Geoff Geary, Bud Smith, Dave Coggin and Josh Hancock at SWB. All of these pitchers are hopeful of big league returns, and in the case of Geary, the return may not be far away. His quiet but steady rise through the system has not gone unnoticed by this writer, and it will not be a surprise if he becomes a solid middle inning reliever in Philadelphia by this summer.

Regardless of what transpires, stay with Phuture Phillie Phenoms every Sunday, for the latest in Phillie minor league reports!

Columnist's Note: Please feel free to offer any comments, questions or suggestions to and I will respond. Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast

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