Will We Get To Know Ryan Barthelemy?

If you look toward Clearwater, you might see a player truly coming into his own. Clearwater is home to Ryan Barthelemy, a guy who came to the Phillies out of Florida State University with a big bat and big reputation. In his first two minor league seasons, the bat and reputation have been small. Now, as he approaches his 24th birthday, Barthelemy may have put it all together.

With the Phillies minor league system lacking in power potential, they were scouring the names for some offensive help that they could draft in the 2002 Draft. What they found was a big hitting first baseman out of Florida State University. Ryan Barthelemy also had the added attraction of being a left-handed hitter. In three seasons at FSU, Barthelemy hit .345 with 45 homeruns and 237 RBI. The Phillies grabbed Barthelemy in the tenth round of the 2002 Draft even though just the year before they had selected another powerful left-handed hitting first baseman in the fifth round when they found Ryan Howard.

If Barthelemy and Howard were set to present a log jam at first base, the following winter would throw a huge pile of logs right on top of the situation. Jim Thome selected Philadelphia as his new home and suddenly there didn't appear to be any need for a left-handed hitting first baseman to develop in the organization. Now, Howard appears to be destined for trade bait status, but Barthelemy hadn't developed enough to make him much of anything other than a first baseman coming through the system.

Fast forward to the spring of 2004. Ryan Barthelemy came to camp looking to produce. With Howard destined for AA Reading, Barthelemy was hoping for a promotion to High A Clearwater. If he was going to get the promotion, his minor league reputation wasn't going to get him there. In two seasons – one at Batavia and another at Lakewood – Barthelemy had hit just .238 with 3 homeruns and 58 RBI. His season at Lakewood had produced just one homerun and a .221 average. Instead, Barthelemy set out to show first hand that he didn't want a return ticket to Lakewood.

Before long, the Phillies announced that Barthelemy would in fact start the season at Clearwater. Now, there was the test of hitting at a higher level staring Barthelemy in the face. Certainly, youth wasn't really on Barthelemy's side since he will turn 24 in May. Second, there would be the added pressure and scrutiny of playing for Mike Schmidt, the most prolific homerun hitter in Phillies history.

If hitting is contagious, the Clearwater Threshers are infected. Barthelemy started strong and after a full week of play, is looking almost better every day. Through April 14, Barthelemy is hitting .444 (12-27) and is tied for the team lead in RBI with 7. The power isn't exactly oozing, but Barthelemy recently hit his first homerun of the season. Suddenly, things are brighter for Ryan Barthelemy, except for that log jam.

As things stand now, obviously, Barthelemy has a long way to go to reestablish himself as a prospect. Thome and Howard still stand ahead of him. Thome is going nowhere and will likely spend the rest of his career in Philadelphia. Howard's name has continually come up in trade talks with other teams who could use a power hitting first baseman. While the Phillies aren't in a hurry to deal Howard and believe that his stock will climb throughout the season, odds are that Howard's major league future won't have a Phillies uniform in the picture. That leaves Barthelemy.

With Thome signed through 2008 with a team option for 2009, if Barthelemy is to wait his turn, he would be 28 when Thome's contract expires - 29 if the Phillies pick up his option. Depending on how Barthelemy develops, he could become a left-handed pinch-hitter or could possibly move to the outfield if the Phillies really wanted to make room for him. Of course, a year from now, Howard might have been traded and Barthelemy will be the next bait on the Phillies trade hook.

For now, it all depends on how Barthelemy continues to develop. If he continues to produce at anywhere near the level that he has early in the season, the future changes dramatically. If by the end of the season, Barthelemy's numbers are back to the levels that they fell to earlier in his minor league career, then his future may not include a Phillies uniform or an opportunity to be traded to a team with more room for a power hitting first baseman.

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