- No player has shined brighter in 2004 than slugger Ryan Howard of the Reading Phillies. Truth be told, he is having a season for the ages, and if he continues his current pace, he well may set records that will last for decades. Playing in the Double A Eastern League, where the all-time single season home run record is 41, Howard has already hit a staggering 32 home runs in merely 79 games. At his current pace he will top 60 home runs, and knock in over 150 runs. He is also improving at the plate as his .314 average attests. It will surprise no one if he is voted the Minor League Player of the Year.
- Jake Blalock was always considered a solid power prospect from his high school days in San Diego. Yet few experts could have been prepared for his coming out party at Lakewood this season. His 14 home runs and 56 RBI merely half a season would be cause for celebration in any other year… this year his totals are dwarfed by Howard's prowess. Nevertheless, the lithe, smooth swinging left fielder is a player in a hurry, and if his current .295 batting average continues to climb, he could make the jump to Reading as soon as next season.
- Although Gavin Floyd's pitching numbers fail to register the gasps that his crackling curve ball does, he is well on pace to become a regular member of the Phillie starting rotation sometime in 2005. Beset by hard luck, and a bullpen that seemingly always surrenders a lead, Floyd's pedestrian 3-5 record belies the overpowering stuff he often displays at Reading. His 2.84 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 92 innings of pitched are mere rehearsals to the main act of the play…when he makes his initial appearance at Citizens Bank Park.
- Even though his is probably playing in a league below his talent level, few critics would use that against speedy Chris Roberson after his scintillating first half performance in an otherwise forgettable season for the Clearwater Threshers in the FSL. Managed by Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, Roberson has turned his game up several notches and was recently voted the Most Valuable Player in the Florida State League All-Star game. Although his numbers have slipped somewhat since that game, he still sports such outstanding numbers as a .301 average with 86 hits in 75 games. Add to these totals such well rounded numbers as 12 doubles, 6 triples, 9 home runs and 16 stolen bases and it is little wonder that Roberson's name is steadily rising up the prospect list in the Phillie organizational chart.
- Javon Moran gets poor marks for his seeming lack of plate discipline. He also hits too many singles and not enough home runs. He walks to little and strikes out too much. There, now that I have all of that out of the way, let me say that Moran is quietly having an outstanding season as the leadoff hitter for the Lakewood Blue Claws. For someone with little plate discipline, Moran seems forever on base, as his .315 average attests. Once on base, he is quite likely to advance quickly to second, as he has stolen 29 bases in a mere 70 games. Add to this the outstanding total of 53 runs scored and 92 hits, and stellar defensive play, and the critics may soon have to choose a more deserving target. Moran will do quite nicely, thank you!
- Few players drafted so highly have struggled as much as second baseman Tim Moss has since his professional debut in the summer of 2003. Beset by health issues, injury problems and general tough luck, Moss has struggled to maintain a .200 average in professional baseball. After a .150 average at Batavia last year, it was hoped that a full season at Lakewood would cure what ailed Moss. Instead a bout with high blood pressure slowed his season and only recently saw his average rise to the .200 level. Even more surprisingly, the swift Moss has been thrown out trying to steal with regularity. After an All-American career at Texas, this was not expected to happen to this former Longhorn.
- Often compared to a young "Jason Schmidt", the Phil's youngster, Kyle Kendrick has instead struggled with his command and control as his 3-8 record at Lakewood would attest. After a great career in high school, Kendrick was a prize plume signed in 2003 draft, forsaking a football scholarship to Washington State as a quarterback. After an 0-4 record in the GCL Rookie League last summer, the Phils thought enough of him to jump him two leagues to full season Lakewood. The jump has been too much, and Kendrick was recently sent back to Batavia.
- Another pitcher of whom much is expected is lefty Nick Bourgeois, currently pitching at Clearwater for the woebegone Threshers. Equipped with solid stuff, and a fine fastball, Bourgeois has nevertheless struggled with his command and his 4-6 record is a testament to the inconsistencies of this talented hurler. After a 7-10 record last year, including a solid finish to his season, Bourgeois was expected to anchor a staff led by several of the Phil's top hurling prospects. Instead, it has been a disastrous season for the Threshers, and Bourgeois is Exhibit A of this disappointment.
- Alfredo Simon is Exhibit B of a staff that seemed so promising for Clearwater and yet has been so inconsistent. Simon has a mid 90's fastball, outstanding stuff…and a 4-9 record. Though his record includes a 2 hit shutout and 82 strikeouts in 96 innings of pitching, Simon has too often fallen victim to the big inning, an indication that the concentration, if not the ability, is not always there. The Phils still expect Simon to be a top major league hurler some day.
- Many Phillie fans barely know his name. He has only been a member of the organization a short time, and has spent his entire year with the SWB Barons in Triple A. Yet Michel Hernandez was a talented enough catcher to get some playing time with the AL Champion New York Yankees, and more than a few Phillie officials expected Hernandez to back up Mike Lieberthal at some point in the '04 season. Instead he now languishes on the disabled list, after a listless .234 average and only 4 home runs and 20 RBI in 42 games for the Barons. Although the Phils have not given up on him, the team now has several youngsters clamoring for an opportunity to someday replace Lieberthal. For Hernandez, that time may have passed.
This list come in no special order as all were key youngsters of which much was hoped for in 2004. Instead due to injury, none have performed with the ability that was hoped for, and most have not played at all. These names include mega-prospect Cole Hamels and his fellow pitching mate, Zack Segovia s well as a trio of young third base prospects, Juan Richardson, Terry Jones and Kiel Fisher.
Any discussion of the failures of such clubs as Clearwater and Lakewood must take into account the loss of these players. Hamels and Jones were expected to be the centerpiece players for Schmidt's Thresher club while Fisher and Segovia were counted on to add depth and talent to the prospect rich Lakewood Blue Claws while Richardson was hoping to make a splash at Triple A with SWB as a possible audition for a future starting spot with the Phils at third base.
Hamels and Richardson have at least set foot on the diamond, though with varying forms of success. Of course, Hamels only problem is health…his 1-0, 1.13 ERA in only 18 innings of pitching at Clearwater serves notice of his abundant talent. Still with a former broken arm, and two elbow problems on his resume, it is no longer a sure thing that Hamels will one day anchor a Phillie staff in Philadelphia. Red flags abound everywhere for this oh so talented southpaw.
Richardson is finally back in action as a designated hitter for the Threshers until his arm is strong enough to throw. Once this takes place, expect to see him make his Triple A debut at Scranton. His power packed bat will be a welcome addition to the Baron lineup.
Jones suffered a broken foot in spring training, an unfortunate setback for this talented youngster from Oakland, Calif. Equipped with great baseball skills, he finally seemed to have harnessed this talent last August at Lakewood. After struggling to raise his average above the .200 mark for most of the season, Jones parlayed a red hot August into a closing .240 average with 11 home runs and 66 RBI.
The Phils had every reason to expect a breakout campaign for Jones. Now they are forced to wait for his long overdue debut at Clearwater, now scheduled for mid-July. It will be a most welcome sight for the beleaguered manager, Mike Schmidt, and might add some offense to a lineup that lacks for punch from top to bottom.
Few players in the Phillie organization have a more picture perfect swing than young third baseman, Kiel Fisher. This George Brett-like swing catapulted Fisher to the top of the Phillie batting average charts last year, as he hit .340 at Batavia and .323 at GCL. He was expected to make his full season debut at Lakewood this spring but suffered back problems in spring training.
Doctors seem to think he suffers from the same back ailments as Phillie third sacker, David Bell, so rest is the only cure. The Phils sent Fisher back to California to rest and rehabilitate and it is hoped that he might be ready for the FIL in September.
Segovia, he of the bulldog mentality and rapid fire fastball had a very serious arm operation last fall and doctors, while optimistic about his long term recovery, do not expect him to pick up a ball until spring of 2005. It is hoped that he will come back as good as new, and make his full season debut at Lakewood next season.
Needless to say, these unfortunate setbacks for five of the best Phuture Phillie Phenoms severely hurt a minor league organization that has talent but little depth. If they can come back next year as good as new, watch for Phillie minor league fortunes to rise, especially at the Single A level. While Richardson will undoubtedly be at Triple A, the other four players will begin their seasons at Clearwater or Lakewood. If they are healthy, both teams will benefit greatly.
As good, bad and ugly as some of these performances have been, the happy story is that the season still has two months to go. With all of these players, talent has never been a question, just performance, health or luck. Stay with Phuture Phillie Phenoms through the next two months as Howard pursues history while others merely chase respectability!
Columnist's Note: Please send all comments or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast