Maybe We Should Re-Think This

Ryan Howard as trade bait? The Phillies minor league system as barren behind the plate? Just maybe, the Phillies have a couple of things to re-think in the near future. Maybe the Phillies can co-exist with Ryan Howard and Jim Thome. And maybe, just maybe, the farm system does have one or two guys who have a shot at becoming a decent major league catcher.

Ryan Howard doesn't just hit homeruns. He pounds them. He smashes them. He absolutely launches homeruns.

Howard is the kind of homerun hitter that when he hits a 420 foot homerun, the word "only" is generally put before the distance. Thursday night, he did it again. Not once, but twice, Howard took aim at the geographical area well beyond the homerun fence in Reading. His shortest homerun of the night went an estimated 450 feet to left-center field. Keep in mind that Howard is a left-handed hitter, so that's an opposite field poke. The real homerun of the night went an estimated 480 feet and was a frontal attack on the brick wall surrounding the stadium. Now those are homeruns.

The comparisons to Willie Stargell are uncanny. Body build, swing, pure power. It's all there. It's almost impossible for Phillies fans to not compare Howard to one Jim Thome. After all, the two are having their own little homerun race, matching each other almost shot for shot. On Sunday, Thome hits two long homeruns. On Thursday, Howard hits two long homeruns. And so, the race continues. Both sluggers stand at 24.

Thome is signed long-term and Howard can only play first base. That's where the problem comes in.

One scenario is to just give Howard an outfielder's glove and tell him he has some work to do. Most believe it wouldn't be pretty. But would comparisons to Greg Luzinski be so bad? In this age of baseball specialization, having a player around to be a late game defensive replacement for Howard wouldn't be out of the question. Plus, interleague play gives you another 18 games with Howard settling in as a DH.

Moving Howard to an outfield position begs the question of what to do with Pat Burrell or Bobby Abreu. Simple, you teach Howard to play in right field and move Abreu to center. Can you imagine the possibilities of an outfield consisting of Burrell, Abreu and Howard?

With the lack of real position players in the Phillies farm system, trading one of them away isn't the way for the Phillies to go.

Another thing to re-think is the dearth of catching in the Phillies farm system. Carlos Ruiz, Howard's Reading teammate is changing that. Ruiz has gone on a hot streak. The 25 year old is hitting .355 (22-62) in June. In the last eight days, he has five multi-hit games. Ruiz also has a touch of the dramatic. Twice in the last month, he's delivered a two-out, game tying hit in the ninth inning for Reading. He has also come through with a three-run pinch-hit homerun. Ruiz has upped his average to .279 and has become a stronger defensive catcher as his career has gone on. Ruiz has thrown out 32% of would-be base stealers this season.

Another current minor leaguer, who is showing at least some promise is Tim Gradoville. While he has always been a nearly amazing defensive catcher, he was a stranger to being able to hit much. This season, Gradoville is hitting .306 at Clearwater. Don't count out Lakewood's Chico Cortez either. The switch-hitting Cortez is hitting .289 with five homeruns.

The recent draft should also help the Phillies catching situation.

Louis Marson signed quickly and is playing in the Gulf Coast League. Although he's off to a slow start, hitting just .167, many scouts believe that Marson could be one of the more pleasant surprises from this year's draft. The real catching prospect should turn out to be Jason Jaramillo. The Oklahoma State product was taken by the Phillies in the second round and has all the makings of a big-time prospect. The Phillies are also high on tenth round pick Charles Cresswell, a high school catcher that they hope they can convince to sign.

Sometimes, just when all looks a little bleak, things change. Prospects develop. Situations rearrange themselves and what seemed like a good plan one day changes the next. The point is that when judging prospects, you're bound to miss a time or two. This season has already shown some things that the Phillies need to examine to determine if maybe we really do need to re-think this.

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