The Baseball Rat: Threshers Carry Hot Sticks

The Phillies minor league system is known for young pitching. In Clearwater, the early news is on the offense. The Threshers bats have been busy although, not exactly booming in the early part of the season. Rookie manager Mike Schmidt got his first win in the team's fourth game of the season, now all he needs is for somebody to put on a bit of a power display. Plus, <i>The Rat</i> takes a look at a couple other notes from the Phillies minor league system.

A look at the stats for the Clearwater Threshers shows a lot of things. First of all, keep in mind that we're four games into the season. Still, the numbers are very interesting. The Threshers lead all of the Phillies minor league teams in hitting by a wide margin. Clearwater hitters are producing at a .297 clip. Scranton is hitting .269, Lakewood .254 and Reading is hitting .217 as a team. Meanwhile, the big league club is hovering around the Mendoza Line in their first seven games.

Clearwater has scored 23 runs in four games and collected 43 hits – almost 11 per game. Here's where it gets interesting. Of the 43 hits, over one-third have been for extra bases, but they don't have any homeruns. The Threshers have banged 13 doubles and 2 triples, but have yet to go deep. Mike Schmidt has to be loving that. To be fair, in 16 minor league games, the Phillies affiliates have just four homeruns this season.

Another part of the equation is speed. The Threshers have stolen six bases in nine attempts. If you think that's good, take a look at Lakewood. The BlueClaws think they're at the Indianapolis 500 and have swiped 11 bases in 12 attempts this season. Michael Bourn has five of those stolen bases. The Phillies are stressing speed, particularly at the lower levels of the minors. All told, Phillies minor leaguers have stolen 24 bases in 31 attempts for a 77% success rate.

If the Threshers are hurting themselves, it's in their strikeout rates. The Threshers have whiffed 31 times – 7.8 times per game – this season. They have also managed just 14 walks. Those numbers aren't quite as bad when you keep in mind that younger players will be less disciplined at the plate. Reading hasn't done too well in the strikeout area, striking out 34 times with 17 walks in their first four games. The good news is at AAA where veteran minor leaguers primarily fill the roster. The Red Barons have drawn 24 walks and have struck out 21 times through their first four games. Jorge Padilla has walked 7 times already while striking out just once. That helps to explain his .625 OBP.

Threshers first baseman Ryan Barthelemy is hitting .500 (9-18) and John Castellano is at .471 (8-17) in the early going. Both hitters have driven in four runs in four games. Barthelemy has been handling first base duties, while Castellano has been playing third and DH for Schmidty's club.

Good thing the Threshers have been hitting. They have allowed 37 runs through their first four games. Ryan Hutchison got bombed in his first trip to the mound, giving up 3 earned runs in 1.1 innings of work. The good news is that he rebounded to throw 3 shutout innings in Sunday's game. The Threshers have a 4.86 ERA, but that was helped considerably by Sunday's game where they gave up just three runs in a 9-3 win. Coming into the game, Clearwater's ERA was a hefty 5.46 coming into Sunday's game.

The Phillies four affiliates are a combined 7-9 in the early going. Scranton, Reading and Lakewood went 2-2 in their first four games and Clearwater started 1-3. It will be interesting to follow the numbers and see who finishes where this season. You can bank on the fact that the best performances are likely to be pitchers. The face of the Phillies minor league system is still that of a group of good young pitchers.

The road to Scranton The over/under on when Gavin Floyd will hit AAA Scranton is somewhere around Memorial Day. In his first AA outing, Floyd threw five hitless innings. The Phillies are putting a premium on not rushing young pitchers, but there's a fine line between rushing and not holding back. You have to figure that if Floyd dominates at AA, the Phillies will be relatively quick to move him along. The question is, if he does hit AAA even by mid-summer, does he get a call to the majors in 2004 or will the Phillies make him wait until next spring?

Empty seats? If you watch games from Citizens Bank Park – especially early in the season – and see empty seats, don't panic. They're sold and have fannies assigned to them, but there is so much to see and do at "The Bank" that folks are drawn to walking around and seeing the sights. Conversely, the crowds in Ashburn Alley will start to thin a little as more and more fans get to see everything. Since the weather has been cruddy and the games have been as equally depressing, it's been more exciting to hang out in the various parts of the park than just sit in your seat and get wet watching the Phillies offense drown.

Remember, if you have a question or comment for The Baseball Rat, just e-mail the rat and watch for your answer in an upcoming column.

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