CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms... Record Losses

On Friday night, slugger Ryan Howard hit record setting homerun number 34 in a 7-3 loss. If this minor league season can be defined by anything remotely tangible, it is these seemingly dissimilar equations. In a season where many Phillie farmhands are having outstanding seasons "record" wise, the teams as a whole are losing games at a rapidly increasing pace. If a title song were ever written about the 2004 Phillie minor league system, it would be titled "Record Losses."

Make no mistake about it, a team's won-loss record at the minor league level is never the end all, be all of it's success in developing players. Teams like the New York Yankees regularly stack their farm clubs with veteran type player, not at all "age appropriate" for their skill base. Other teams, like the Atlanta Braves, tend to keep players right on schedule with their age base, and try and not add too many veteran types with little chance of ever making it to the big leagues.

The Phillies, under the watchful eye of Mike Arbuckle, tend to be somewhere in between. On the one hand, they have several veterans at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre to assist the youngsters in their final push to the big leagues, this is reflected in the Barons 53-38 record. Players like Lou Collier, Mark Smith and A.J. Hinch have all had some success at the big league level, and can offer wise guidance to youngsters like Anderson Machado, Jorge Padilla and a now struggling Marlon Byrd.

On the other hand, the Phils philosophy of promoting prospects one level at a time can prove maddeningly slow to a Phillie fan base anxious to see players like Chris Roberson, Michael Bourn, Jake Blalock and Ryan Howard challenged at a higher level. Truth be told, the jury is still out on this philosophy.

It is this writer's opinion that Roberson, after a banner first half at Clearwater including an All-Star MVP award, deserved to be promoted to Reading in early July. Clearly, Roberson, at 25, is a player in a hurry, and it is probably not coincidental that Roberson's numbers have dropped since the All-Star break. It would only be human nature for Roberson to be disappointed that he remains at Clearwater after such a banner first half. This is definitely a story worth watching.

Yet, a case can be made that Arbuckle knows exactly what he is doing. Players like Byrd, Chase Utley, Ryan Madson and Brett Myers were certainly ready when they finally appeared at the big league level, and their current struggles have nothing to do with their minor league training, but rather everything to do with what is happening at the big league level.

In fact, many Phillie farm fan aficionados were pleasantly surprised to find out just how young the players were who are currently playing at the Rookie Gulf Coast League club. Players like Greg Golson, Carlos Carrasco, Scott Mitchinson and Louis Marson are a mere 17-18 years of age, and though they are struggling with a 9-14 team record, many of these players are showing real signs of becoming top prospects very soon.

Golson, the Phillies' number one draft pick in June, is conducting himself quite nicely, thank you, as his .258 average and 16 hits in 15 games would indicate. He also has four stolen bases and has shown great natural talent. Other players to watch at the GCL are Aussie Bradley Harman, at .269 and steady, catcher Michael Lombardi with 12 RBI in only 10 games and young pitchers Carrasco (2-2) Robert Mendoza (2-1, 2.84 ERA) and Andy Barb with 18 KO in only 11 innings of work.

As mentioned, SWB remains the cream of a minor league crop of mostly losing clubs, and along with Collier's stellar .324 average and 11 homeruns, the pitching of Dave Coggin has been encouraging. Coggin seems to have regained his form and it will not be a major surprise if he replaces someone in Philadelphia very soon in relief. When healthy, Coggin was a major contributor to the Phils, and he, along with lefty Greg Kubes, and righties Dan Giese (10-4) and Frank Perez seem to have major league futures, if not this season then in the next few.

Of course, the Phillie minor league story line continues to be the exploits of Ryan Howard at Reading. It seems a day doesn't go by without rumors of an impending trade involving Howard for a starting pitcher. Frankly, this line of reasoning seems incredibly shortsighted. Power hitters like Howard come along once in a decade, and it behooves the Phils to find a way to get Howard in their lineup someday.

It seems that the logical thing to do would be to give him an outfielder's glove this fall and hit him 500 fly balls a day in the Florida Instructional League. After this, send him to winter league, or to the Arizona Fall League as an outfielder. Then, and only then, could an honest appraisal of his outfield abilities be determined. If he is traded for a mediocre starting pitcher, Phillie executives may be reminded for years to come of another Ryne Sandburg fiasco, when a youngster was jettisoned out of the organization… and in to big league stardom with another club.

Simply put, Howard's numbers continue to be staggering. In 88 games, he has 34 homeruns, 92 RBI and a .678 slugging percentage. Add to this his 66 runs scored, and 110 strikeouts and the numbers are almost other-worldly. It seems safe to say that we probably won't be discussing another season like his on Phuture Phillie Phenoms for as long as this writer pens the articles!

Though Howard is the main story, he certainly is not the only story at Reading. Veteran John Castellano continues to earn his keep with a .360 average and catcher Carlos Ruiz has entered his name on the radar screen with his solid defensive play and .283 average and 9 homeruns in merely 58 games played.

As mentioned last week at Phuture Phillie Phenoms, it was only a matter of time before stellar prospect Elizardo Ramirez won a game after his slow start. It is not a rare occurrence for a youngster to struggle after being demoted from the big leagues, and Ramirez was no exception. After losing his first two games, he won for the first time this week, and it certainly won't be his last victory. This is a solid pitching prospect, the third best hurler in the system after Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd.

Also earning mention this week were stellar pitching performances by prospects Robinson Tejeda at Reading and Alfredo Simon at Clearwater. Both pitched dominant games, and struck out 11 enemy batters in victories. They are among the Phils best pitching prospects and, along with Ramirez, provide a real boost to the efforts of the Latin American scouts to sign solid players for the Phils.

Another young pitcher to keep an eye on is Brian Sanches at Reading. Sanches is a righty who was acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Royals this winter and was once considered one of the Royals best pitching prospects. He seems to have rediscovered his form, as his 3-1, 2.61 numbers would indicate. He has also chipped in with three saves.

On the other end of the spectrum, Keith Bucktrot struggled in his last start, and allowed 13 hits and seven earned runs in less than five innings of work. At some point in the near future, Bucktrot's future is likely to be decided. He takes a valuable spot on the 40-man roster, and if he continues to struggle he may lose that spot.

Speaking of players who continue to struggle, Examples A and 1A are third basemen Terry Jones and Juan Richardson, both currently playing at Clearwater. They are prime examples of how a player coming off an injury finds the going to be a tough one. Jones is hitting a mere .105 and Richardson is not much better at .171. It should be noted that Richardson does have 2 homeruns so his much discussed power may soon return.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, players like Mike Floyd and Ryan Barthelemy at Clearwater deserve special mention. Floyd, the older brother of mega prospect Gavin Floyd, has seemingly discovered a power source that no one thought he had. Although not yet deemed ready for prime time, his five homeruns in the past month certainly seem a reason to watch him closely the rest of the season. It would certainly not be the first time a player suddenly had the "light bulb" go on in this often ruthless game and if this occurs, Floyd could soon join the burgeoning group of Phuture Phillie Phenoms in the outfield.

Barthelemy on the other hand has been a beacon of consistency at Clearwater, and his .305 average and 99 hits and 8 homeruns in 91 games is merely a byproduct of a player who discovered the wonders of "laser surgery". A former college All-American at Florida State, Barthelemy struggled in his first two years as a pro until eye surgery seems to have transformed him into a player worth watching. Stay tuned!

Last but certainly not least, no discussion of Phuture Phillie Phenoms would be complete without mention of Lakewood and their merry band of sluggers. No team wearing Phillie jerseys has enjoyed a better offensive season than the BlueClaws and although their 40-49 record doesn't reflect it, this team has been wildly successful.

Jake Blalock continues to be the second best power hitter in the minor league system with 15 homeruns and 68 RBI and a young catcher named Chico Cortez is quietly enjoying a banner year at .298 and 6 homeruns in 51 games.

Also deserving mention is first baseman, Bryan Hansen with a .258 average and 7 homeruns and, of course, no BlueClaws talk would be complete with adding speedy outfielders Javon Moran and Michael Bourn to the equation. Moran is hitting .299 with over 30 stolen bases but it is Bourn who has been the revelation.

Simply put, Bourn has become an on-base machine as his .320 average and 59 walks in a mere 63 games well attests. In fact, the Phillie minor league brass committed what seems a major verbal gaffe this week when suggesting that Bourn's large walk total may be hindering his offensive aggressiveness. Frankly, this is an absolutely absurd statement.

A leadoff hitter with Bourn's speed and hitting ability, and the batting eye of a Lenny Dykstra or Ricky Henderson should be applauded, not questioned. It is hoped that Bourn simply ignores this foolishness and continues to put up great numbers. If memory does not evade me, it seems that a major Phillie weakness this season has been finding a leadoff hitter who can draw an occasional walk.

Bourn has had this ability since college and it is a talent that should be commended, not critiqued. The Phils will tinker with Bourn's talents at their own peril. He has skills that can't be taught and it seems the wisest course of action is to just let him do what has worked so well up to this point. The wise adage, "if it isn't broke, don't fix it," certainly seems applicable in this case.

Finally, at Batavia, another power hitter may be emerging, one Jason Crosland, a 2003 draftee. He has recently been on a hitting binge and his four homeruns in less than two weeks certainly seems to indicate that the Phillie faith in his ability was warranted. Next to Howard and Blalock, he may be the best power hitter in the system.

Also shining for an 11-16 MuckDogs club are recent draftees, Samuel Orr, John Hardy, Ryan Frith and Nick Shimer. Hardy is batting a "hardy" .380 and Orr, Frith and Shimer have shown good power strokes in the early going.

On the hill, pitchers Andrew Baldwin, Joseph Bisenius, Chris Honsa and Nate Johnson have shown promise and talent. This team is composed mostly of 2004 Phillie collegiate draft picks, and is probably one of the more talented young clubs in the system. Improvement can well be expected from this club in August.

As always, stay with Phuture Phillie Phenoms for the latest in prospect news, minor league happenings, and the latest 2004 signings. It would not be a surprise if next week's edition contained news of the Phils latest signees, catcher Jason Jaramillo and pitcher James Adkins. Both are in the final stages of negotiations that could go one way or the other. It says here that at least Jaramillo will soon place his name on a contract, and it would not surprise this writer if the Phils happily announced that both had agreed to terms. Look for an announcement in the next few days!

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

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