Ryans Hope Gang Looks For Future Successes

While it's not an official stat, it's believed that the Phillies organization leads major league baseball in players named Ryan in their system. From rookie phenom Ryan Madson at the major league level to Ryan Barthelemy and Ryan Hutchison, who are both at Clearwater, the Phillies system has plenty of Ryans who are all hoping for the future. For now, the Ryans Hope Gang are all just looking for their chances to show what they can do.

What can you say about Ryan Madson? This kid has been just phenomenol since his arrival in the majors late last season. In his initial outing last season – two innings against the Braves – Madson immediately looked like a veteran who was in charge of things on the mound. This season, opposing hitters are batting just .161 against the 23 year old right-hander and he has yet to allow an earned run. He has also inherited seven runners and none of them have scored.

The Phillies found Madson in the ninth round of the '98 Draft and drafted him out of Valley View High School in Moreno, California. His first two professional seasons were learning years to say the least. Madson made it through those seasons with a record of 8-10, 4.76, working as a starter in short-season leagues. Since he was fresh out of high school, the Phillies didn't worry too much about the numbers and it's a good thing they didn't, because across the board, Madson's numbers were nothing special. He was walking a few too many hitters and didn't appear to be anything special.

In 2000, Madson got his first shot at a full-season league, pitching for Piedmont in the South Atlantic League. Madson was just 19 when the season started, but the Phillies saw a different pitcher on the mound. Suddenly, the tall righty had turned on his arm and his slow start was forgotten. A kid who had struck out 127 in 142 innings in his first two seasons, whiffed 123 in just over 135 innings after moving up a level. The control issues were gone, as Madson went a full season walking as many as he had the previous year in a short-season.

Madson steadily worked his way through the system. In 2001, he was at Clearwater and moved to AA Reading the following year. Each season, Madson won more games, including a career high 16 for Reading in 2002 and he earned more respect and attention in the organization. The attention factor was about to change though. With the drafting of Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels, the Phillies had higher profile young pitchers who were sucking up the spotlight. Madson was always an after thought when those two arrived. To Madson though, it didn't make any difference. A 12 win season at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre in 2003 got him his call to the majors. His two innings of work weren't much to go by, but there were definite glimpses that this kid was going to be something special.

This year, Madson is gaining the spotlight back. He is moving up in the pecking order of the Phillies relievers and a shot at the starting rotation isn't out of the question. If not for the presence of Billy Wagner, there would be calls to insert Madson as the team's closer and there are whispers that the job could eventually be his in the post-Wagner years. There are also whispers that Madson was greatly underestimated. Now, some believe that he is certainly in the same sentence as Floyd and Hamels and perhaps, even a slight step above the young arms coming through the system.

Ryan Howard is probably the second best known of the Ryans Hope Gang. Pure power and constant comparisons to Pirates great Willie Stargell are what Howard is all about. Earlier this season, Howard became the first left-handed hitter to hit a homerun over the scoreboard at Reading's First Energy Park. The blast was estimated at 480 feet and still has fans in Reading talking about the power that Howard has to be able to hit a ball that far.

But, where have we heard about a left-handed, power hitting first baseman before? None other than Jim Thome owns the first base job at the major league level and he figures to be there for a good, long time. Not unlike Stargell, Howard is, well, not athletically built to put it nicely. His body is closer to the Stargell, John Kruk, Greg Luzinski mold than it is to the Pat Burrell or Bobby Abreu mold. To his credit, Howard has worked on his conditioning and has dropped a few pounds while keeping the muscle. Howard doesn't carry the bulk of a Kruk or Luzinski, but has been warned that if he isn't careful, he could be in their league. Howard's lack of athleticism keeps him from learning to play a position other than first base, where he has worked hard to learn the position. Defensively, Howard has become a pretty decent first baseman, but other positions are likely out of his ability.

So, what happens to Ryan Howard? The 24 year old has already been talked about as trade bait. With Thome's presence, it's likely that the Phillies won't have a spot for Howard at the major league level. Teams constantly scout Howard and follow his every move, knowing that the Phillies might be willing to move him in the right trade. General manager Ed Wade would include Howard in a deal, but will likely be patient and wait for just the right time to pull the trigger.

Another scenario is that the Phillies will let Howard progress slowly, figuring on a 2006 arrival in the majors. That would actually mean just a few years of playing as a utility player coming off the bench before Thome's career would be winding down and opening a door for Howard to take over as the Phillies first baseman. Odds are it will depend on what offers the Phillies may receive for Howard and how tempted they would be to move him elsewhere.

Another solid, left-hand hitting, power first baseman named Ryan is playing in Clearwater. Not unlike Madson, Ryan Barthelemy hasn't been an overwhelming success in his first two minor league seasons. Drafted out of Florida State University in the tenth round of the 2002 Draft, Barthelemy is a little older than Madson was though at the end of his first two seasons.

This could be the season that Barthelemy begins to climb up the list of Phillies prospects. Barthelemy, who turns 24 later this month, is hitting .313 for the Threshers. The Phillies are still waiting for the raw power that they saw from Barthelemy in college to translate to the minors, though. Barthelemy averaged 15 homeruns a season at FSU, but has hit just four in two-plus seasons in the minors, including one this season. The Phillies have started to wonder if his power was greatly inflated by the aluminum bats in the college ranks, although all reports were that he had more than adequate power to be a homerun hitter in the minors and even at the major league level. Perhaps, a season of work under Clearwater manager Mike Schmidt will improve on the mechanics needed for Barthelemy to recapture the homerun swing that he had in college.

At age 25, Ryan Hutchison knows that he's a little old to be pitching at High A Clearwater. The Phillies 17th round pick in the 2001 Draft has put up solid minor league numbers, but the Phillies have moved him along slowly. Hutchison pitched 32 games in relief at AA Reading last season, going 3-2, 3.76 with five saves, but found himself caught in a numbers game and back at Clearwater to start this season.

The Phillies are likely doing a disservice to Hutchison and themselves by not giving him more of a look. The right-hander has handled every challenge and has nothing to prove at Clearwater after playing a full season there in 2002 and pitching in eight more games there last season. In all, Hutchison has a 2-3, 3.40 record with six saves in 76 2/3 innings at Clearwater. Overall, Hutchison came into the season with a 2.79 ERA in the minors, but none of the numbers seem to have mattered to the Phillies.

Hutchison is another of the Ryans Hope Gang that could interest some teams as part of a trade. It's not difficult to see the Phillies including Hutchison as a "throw-in" in a package deal with another organization. After all, they haven't seemed too enthralled with his talents, he's getting to be a little old for his level, and there is plenty of young pitching coming along in the Phillies organization that would allow the Phils to send Hutchison elsewhere. That might be unfortunate though, since some scouts believe Hutchison has enough talent to become a solid major league setup man or possibly even a major league closer someday.

The Phillies just promoted another Ryan. Outfielder Ryan Fleming got the call to leave extended spring training and report to the AA Reading Phillies. Fleming was originally drafted by Toronto in the 18th round of the '98 Draft and played at AA in the Rangers organization last season, hitting .270 with 23 doubles and 14 stolen bases. Fleming took the roster spot that opened when Josue Perez was released. Manager Greg Legg didn't waste any time getting Fleming into the lineup and he went 1-4 with a walk, a double and two RBI batting leadoff in his first game with Reading.

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