Phuture Phillie Phenoms... The Class of 2004

The Phillies made no secret of their desire to improve their minor league offense in the recent Amateur Draft. In fact, after several years of concentrating on young pitching potential, they were determined to come away from this draft with hitters that would replenish a system with too few hitters in anyone's Who's Who list of Phillie Top Ten prospects. Early returns seem to indicate that the Phils have accomplished their goal of bringing in young hitting talent. Let's take a closer look...

As of Saturday, June 26, the Phillies had signed 28 of their 50 picks. Although the team hopes and expects to sign possibly a half dozen more, including high picks catchers Jason Jaramillo and Charles Cresswell as well as infielder John Hardy and lefty James Adkins, the bulk of this year's crop is signed and playing, either at Batavia or the Gulf Coast League. Both are short season rookie teams, though Batavia is a higher level, made up mostly of ex-college players, while the less experienced High school or Latin prospects tend to play in the Gulf Coast League.

Of the 28 players signed, only number one pick, young outfielder Greg Golson has yet to make his debut, and this is expected to take place early next week. Needless to say, the Phils are more than anxious to see the potential five-tool player begin his professional career, as they believe it will eventually lead to Citizen's Bank Park. The Phils make no secret of their expectation that Golson will one day bat leadoff and play center field in Philadelphia.

But for now, his work will take place under the sun in the less pressured atmosphere of Florida, where he can begin to hone the talents that made him so desirable to the Phils. Yet, what of the other signed draftees? How are they doing, and are there any early traits that may give an indication to the eventual grade of this draft. In fact, the answer is yes, and with Batavia's record standing at 5-3 and GCL off to a 2-3 beginning, one thing is clear.

What is clear is that the Phils appear to have signed a bumper crop of solid hitter's from the 2004 draft. Need some evidence? In all, 13 of the Phil's 27 signed picks that have played are position players, and in all, seven of them are hitting over .300. Of course, things can change quickly when the sample size is small, but nevertheless the early signs are promising.

Among the early stalwarts are number six draft pick, Sean Gamble, hitting a cool .385 as a leadoff hitter for Batavia, and young catcher, Derek Brant, swinging at a .364 clip. Brant's case is very interesting as he was a thirty-fifth round draft pick in a draft where the Phils made catchers a huge priority. If and when Jaramillo [he will definitely ink a deal soon] and Cresswell [more problematical in my opinion] ink contracts, the Phils expect both to combine with number four pick, Louis Marson, to make catching a real strength in the organization.

Brant could only enhance this thought process if his solid start makes the Phils take notice of his talents. The baseball adage that a team never has too many catchers would certainly bode well for the Phils if the 2004 draft were to reap four solid young catchers. At any rate, Brant's progress will be closely monitored.

Other youngsters off to great starts include outfielders Nick Shimer, Ryan Frith and Andy Mcfarlane. Shimer is hitting .320 with good power and Frith weighs in with a .308 average for Batavia. The younger Mcfarlane is off to a great start in the GCL with a .333 average and solid skills defensively and on the base paths.

Two infielders are hitting over .300 at Batavia, shortstop Josh Mader at .316 and utility infielder Anthony Buffone at .348. What is interesting about this early barrage of hitting skills from many of these prospects is that Golson and Jaramillo, the Phils top two hitting prospects, have yet to play, and young shortstop Samuel Orr is off to a slow start at .174. Orr is coming off an outstanding collegiate career at Biola University and is expected to be a solid hitting middle infielder. If and when Golson, Jaramillo and Orr join the fray, the hitting onslaught may even continue to improve.

Of course, not every signed Phillie position player is off to a quick start. Number four pick, Louis Marson is hitting .100 (1-10), while slugging first baseman, Carl Galloway is at .188 in the GCL, though he does have a homerun. Also starting slowly are Greg Isaacson at .250, Joe Dirnberger at .158 and first baseman Buck Shaw at .100.

Averages will continue to fluctuate over the course of the next two weeks, and players like Orr, Isaacson and Galloway will probably begin to hit with more authority, while players like Brant, Gamble and Buffone will almost undoubtedly see their averages drop a bit. Nevertheless, the early returns bode well for this year's crop of young signees, and should they continue, the chances that Phillie fans will someday see a few of these players in action greatly increase.

If the hitting has been solid, what of the young hurlers? After all, for years the Phils readily acknowledged the strength of their system lie in the talents of youngsters like Ryan Madson, Elizardo Ramirez, Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd. While Madson and Ramirez have already seen action with the Phils, and Floyd may not be far behind, the question arises…are there any candidates from the '04 draft who may soon join the ranks of pitching prospects.

Early returns are mixed, though the Phil's top two pitching prospects from this draft have performed well. Number three pick James Happ is a polished collegiate hurler, and has shown the same poise and talent that made him such a great college hurler. After two appearances, Happ sports a microscopic 1.29 ERA and a very good strikeout to walk ratio.

Quietly, the Phils are very optimistic about Happ's potential and he may soon be on the fast track to the big leagues. In fact, the odds are overwhelming that either Happ or Jaramillo will be the first player from this year's draft to make it to the big leagues.

Number five pick, Andy Baldwin, has displayed a good fastball and decent control in his first two starts, though his 4.70 ERA is a bit high. Baldwin is considered much more of a project than Happ so the Phils will be patient with him, and hope that one day soon the head catches up with the arm and Baldwin fulfills the wonderful potential he has shown.

Other pitchers off to solid starts include Joe Bisenius, Zac Kline, Nick Evangelista, Clary Carlsen and Mike Mihalik. All four hurlers have ERA's of 0.00 and Mihalik has two saves to his credit. Another Phillie pitching prospect of note, Kevin Sheppard sports an ERA of 3.00 while Nathan Johnson chimes in with a 2.25 ERA.

Three pitchers that are off to slow starts include Kevin Rose with an ERA of 8.35, Jason Martinez at 9.00 and Jacob Barrack at 4.50. As previously mentioned, the numbers can change from game to game, and one solid performance can see the numbers improve greatly, while a bad two days might see the numbers plummet.

One other player deserves mention, though he is technically from the Class of 2003. Drafted in the seventeenth round out of Birmingham-Southern University, southpaw Derick Griffith underwent serious shoulder surgery last summer and was not completely healthy until this spring. A player of immense potential if his arm is healthy, Griffith may soon be considered a "steal" if he shows that his shoulder is sound.

Griffith has started two games for Batavia and his ERA of 1.00 speaks well of his rehabilitation. He is a player worth watching this summer along with many others from the Class of 2004. In an organization where the pendulum often swung too far towards the pitching side of the ledger prospect-wise, early returns indicate that the pendulum may be starting to swing the other way.

This is a very positive development for Philadelphia Phillie fans. With youngsters like Madson, Ramirez, Hamels and Floyd ready to join Brett Myers in Philadelphia, the pitching seems in good hands.

Now with young hitters like Ryan Howard, Jake Blalock, Kiel Fisher, Javon Moran and Michael Bourn seemingly about to be joined by precocious newcomers like Golson, Jaramillo, Orr and Gamble, the future continues to look bright for a Phillie organization that has long prided itself on the ability to nurture and develop it's very own.

Columnist's Note: Please send comments or suggestions to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast

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