CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms... Full Speed Ahead

The Fourth of July Celebrations are in the past. Summer has now nearly reached its mid-point and baseball is in full swing, from tight pennant races, All-Star Games, and all minor league clubs playing daily. It is certainly not too soon to make general observations about the Phillie pharm system; its minor league clubs, and the players who make up the teams. Let's take a closer look at all six of the Phillie pharm clubs and see where they are, where they are headed, and where they might end up!

The best place to start is at the beginning, and any talk of Phillie pharm clubs begins with the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Barons, the AAA team that has been leading the International League for most of the season. Led by a solid and underrated manager, Marc Bombard, this team consists of a solid combination of young upstarts, grizzled veterans and a group of individuals who make the whole greater than the sum total of its individual parts.

Need proof? It's best player, Chase Utley, is busy hitting clutch home runs in Philadelphia, where he belongs. It's next best player, former Phillie wunderkind, Marlon Byrd, is struggling to regain his past form, and has yet to homer in a less than inspiring two weeks with the team. His .263 average suggests that hitting guru, Charlie Manuel's attempts to get Byrd to drive the ball with more power has not yet sunk in.

Instead this team carries on with solid veterans like mark Smith, Buzz Hannahan, AJ Hinch and a cast of thousands. With a record of 52-35, this team easily carries the best record in the organization, and should contend for an IL championship this summer.

On the player development front, the results are mixed. Shortstop Anderson Machado continues his maddeningly inconsistent performance, one day dazzling everyone with his defense and agility, then the next day, having a lackadaisical and seemingly disinterested 0-4. Nevertheless, there is much to like about him, his .243 average notwithstanding.

In 60 games, Machado has scored 45 runs and walked 43 times. These numbers are very impressive for a defensive whiz at shortstop, and it seems just a matter of time before he makes his appearance at Citizens Bank Park.

Not quite so ready for prime time is outfielder Jorge Padilla, who was once considered a "Sammy Sosa" clone. Somewhere between the fields of Batavia and the grasslands of Scranton, Padilla lost his power, and if he does not find it soon, he will probably reach the point where prospects become suspects. Although his .268 average is respectable, his 6 home runs in 85 games is not and if he doesn't turn it up a notch he may well lose his spot on the 40 man roster come December.

On the pitching front, the news is encouraging, as veteran Dave Coggin is once again pitching pain free and could receive a September call up if he continues to improve. Also, two names to remember are righty Dan Giese and lefty Greg Kubes. Both are very dependable situational relievers, and could be recalled to Philly if they remain consistent. Giese's 10-4 record is excellent and Kubes ability to retire left-handed hitters, coupled with a 3.19 ERA make him a likely candidate for the next Geoff Geary scenario.

Geary's solid year in dependability finally won him a spot in Philadelphia, and Kubes could soon join his former teammate at CBP.

Silence please. Listen to the whispers; they are growing louder by the moment. The Phils dare not shout, for fear that their little secret may reach the ears of an unsuspecting public. Yet, the whispers are becoming shouts, and the shouts may soon turn to screams. Unless the numbers are complete aberrations the Phils are developing a slugger at Reading whose numbers will be talked about for years.

Of course, we are referring to one Ryan Howard, a young first baseman who may soon stamp his name in Eastern League record books for all time. His home run total of 33 in merely over half a season is staggering, his 88 RBI in 84 games equally so. His next home run will break Greg Luzinski's Reading record, and if he reaches 42 he will break the all-time league record!

He is on pace to hit between 55 and 60, and his 99 hits, .312 average and .681 slugging percentage suggest that this is not a "one trick pony." He has quietly developed into a hitter the Phils can no longer ignore, though ignore seems to be what they would like to do. Oh, certainly not because they are not fond of the popular, friendly and hard working Howard.

No, rather the problem lies in the fact that they believe his skills only work well at first base and the Phils have a Mr. Thome solidly entrenched at this position, thank you very much. But it says here that this is no longer a valid excuse, it is time to make a plan for Howard that includes a possible Philadelphia destination. Homerun hitters are the rarest of breeds, and if they do trade him and receive anything less than a Carl Crawford or Brad Wilkerson, then they have done the Philadelphia fandom and team a terrible disservice.

It says here that Howard is the real deal, and we will soon be watching his homerun exploits in the major leagues. If it is anywhere but Philadelphia, then GM Ed Wade and assistant GM Mike Arbuckle will carry with them forever the cross of Howard's career. If it turns out to be a wonderful one, and the Phils don't turn the trade into not just a serviceable, but a star player, then Howard may join the list of former Phillie rejects, Ryne Sandberg and Ferguson Jenkins, in Philly folklore of what might have beens?

Other players who are helping keep Reading [40-46] afloat are John Castellano at .351 and young catcher Carlos Ruiz, with a snappy .270 average and 9 home runs in 54 games. Unfortunately, the Phils lost Jim Deschaine and his .320 average for the season with an injury.

While Howard has been the word in Reading, the other mega prospect, pitcher Gavin Floyd continues his march to Philadelphia. Although his 4-5 record is deceptive, his 2.76 ERA and 81 KOs are not. Happily for Phillie fans, Floyd is slowly developing into a one strikeout per inning pitcher, a very important number to watch when attempting to gauge a minor league hurler's likely success in the major leagues.

Also on the upswing is Keith Bucktrot, who recently threw seven solid innings of one-run ball after a lengthy stay on the disabled list with tendinitis. Bucktrot has always been a "pitcher in progress" and his baby steps may soon turn to leaps and bounds.

Speaking of leaps and bounds, no one took a larger leap than Elizardo Ramirez, aka "The Lizard", when he was recalled from class A Clearwater to pitch in the big leagues, albeit for a limited stay. It is worth noting that he was somewhat effective in Philadelphia, but has suffered since his option back to Reading.

Although disappointing, this is not surprising. Once a player has tasted big league life, it can be very disheartening to return to the minor leagues, even if you are aware of the circumstances. Ramirez's 0-2 record and high ERA is more a product of this disappointment than any lessening of his skill level. Watch for him to reel off a few victories very soon, he is much too talented to struggle forever.

Next stop is Clearwater, and the news continues to be bad for what appears to be the worst Phillie minor league club. Manager Mike Schmidt has already given hints that his Hall of Fame resume did not prepare him for the everyday rigors of a bad ball club, and it will surprise no one if its one and out for the former Phillie great.

If he leaves, he will take with him the memory of a breakout season for one of his players, outfielder Chris Roberson. After a post All-Star Game slump, Roberson has regained his effectiveness, and his .315 average, coupled with 9 homeruns, 37 RBI, 16 stolen bases and 95 hits in 80 games are solid numbers indeed!

Also, Schmidt may take with him the satisfaction of watching Mike Floyd, Gavin's older brother, develop a homerun swing if his 4 home runs in the past two weeks are to be believed. Schmidt may also look back with pride on the steady play of Ralph Santana, hitting .300 and Ryan Barthelemy at .297 as further proof that his year at the helm was not entirely in vain.

Other players to watch include young catcher Tim Gradoville at .300 and hurlers Lee Gwaltney, Alfredo Simon and former big leaguer, Bud Smith. All are playing well for a team with a 30-58 record.

Not as encouraging are the performances of recently rehabbed third basemen, Terry Jones and Juan Richardson. Jones is hitting .059 after recovering from foot surgery and Richardson is delaying his advancement to Scranton by struggling with a .136 average. Though both will undoubtedly improve, and it is certainly good news that they are at least playing daily, their struggles show the importance of staying healthy.

Baseball is a game whose skills need to be honed on a daily basis, and any interruption, no matter how short, can only hinder the development of young talent. It is a story that Phillie draftee, Jason Jaramillo, may well care to remember.

Jaramillo is currently one of only two draft holdouts from among the first 26 players picked by the Phils in the June Amateur Draft. It is certainly expected that he will sign soon, but if he continues to wait, the 2004 season will quickly pass by without him, delaying his appearance in the big leagues, and certainly retarding his development as a player. Along with high school lefty, James Adkins, these are the only two players the Phils are opening wooing as the days dwindle down to a precious few before school begins and the players are lost forever.

Speaking of recent Phillie draftees, none are faring better than at Lakewood, where the outfield of Jake Blalock, Javon Moran and Michael Bourn is putting up very impressive numbers while leading the club to a 37-46 record.

Blalock is now the second ranked power hitter in the organization, as his 14 home runs and 61 RBI attest while Bourn is hitting a cool .330 with 46 runs in 58 games. He also has taken the time to steal 32 bases and draw 51 walks. He is a player to remember! His alter ego, Javon Moran is also playing well, as his .304 average proves. Although his lack of walks his a concern, his 29 stolen bases shows that once he gets on, he knows what to do.

Watching these three outfielders advance through the system should be a joy for Phillie fans in the next few years. Other players enjoying recent success include shortstop Carlos Rodriguez, catcher Chico Cortez and starting pitchers Scott Mathieson, Joe Wilson and Nate Cabrera. Only a weak bullpen has kept these three starting hurlers from putting up better won-lost records, but they continue to impress with their poise, skill and improvement.

Last but not least is a trip to the Short Season Rookie Leagues in Batavia and the Gulf Coast League. Batavia has the more advanced college prospects and early highlights include seventh round draft pick, John Hardy's 5-5 debut a week ago. His .400 average reflects his ability to adapt to a wooden back and the daily rigors of professional ball.

Also showing power, if not average is young Jason Crosland, who hit 3 home runs this week, though still struggling to get his average north of .200. Derek Griffith seems to have overcome dreaded Tommy John surgery and won his first professional game this week. Batavia's 9-10 record reflects the consistent performance of such former college standouts as Ryan Frith and Joe Bisenius.

Undoubtedly, once Jaramillo signs he will join the Batavia club and make it a more powerful group but for now the progress is a daily thing and the entire roster is getting ample opportunity to play.

The rawest of rookies are in the GCL and one of the most exciting developments of the week concerns the professional debut of 18 year old, Greg Golson, the Phils recent first round draft pick. Although extremely raw, Golson's ability is quite apparent, and his .263 average and 3 stolen bases in his first week indicate that the best is yet to come.

Also playing well for the 5-12 GCL Phils are infielder Anthony Aquilino at .283 with 2 homeruns, and Australian import, Bradley Harmon at .288. Good news on the signing front is the addition of tenth round pick, catcher Charles Cresswell this week. He is expected to join fellow draftee Louis Marson in the GCL. Marson is off to a slow start, but did hit his first professional homerun this week.

Special note on the pitching front goes to relievers Andy Barb with 15 KOs in only 9 innings, and Robert Mendoza with a 2-1 record and 17 KOs in 12 innings pitched. Proving that once you get on the field, your draft status is irrelevant is 40th round draft pick, Michael Mihalik with an 0.93 ERA and 3 saves.

Even more impressive is young Scott Mitchinson, another Australian import with a 2-0 record, 1.59 ERA and 17 KOs and 0 walks in 17 innings of pitching.

All in all, a very interesting summer is developing down on the Phillie pharm, and many of these names will someday grace the fields of CBP as stars with the Phils. Stay with Phuture Phillie Phenoms all summer to watch their progress unfold before your very eyes!

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

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