Phuture Phillie Phenoms... Seldom Noticed Players

As the regular readers of this column can attest, most of the weekly attention is spent extolling the virtues of Ryan Howard's power, Michael Bourn's speed, Gavin Floyd's curveball or Cole Hamel's tender elbow. Yet, truth be told, for every Howard, there are twenty other players in the system who toll in relative obscurity. This week's column is dedicated to those players, most who will only see Citizens Bank Park with a ticket but who deserve our mention and appreciation. Here are but a few...

Before we delve into the world of the relatively obscure "organizational player", let us dispense with the Phillie Pharm news of the week. On the signing front, as noted here last week, catcher Jason Jaramillo, the number two draft pick in June's Amateur Draft, did sign a contract on Monday, and should begin playing at Batavia sometime this week.

Jaramillo is easily the most major league ready player drafted, and is no doubt the heir apparent to catcher Mike Lieberthal in 2007. Next to speedy number one pick Greg Golson, Jaramillo has the highest ceiling of any draftee, and is certainly the most likely player to have major league success. Make no mistake, this is a big time catching prospect, and Phillie fans will soon delight in his defensive prowess, strong arm, and underrated bat.

Speaking of unsigned draft picks, there is but one to go, Tennessee high school left-hander, James Adkins. Although he gave the Phils an arbitrary date of July 20 to get a deal done, no news may be good news as the Phils, nor Adkins have issued a "no deal" statement. Watch for something to be announced soon, and it says here that the Phils will get this deal done. If they do, this will mean the first 26 players picked will have inked a Phillie contract, a very impressive number indeed.

Quickly, in minor league tidbit news, undoubtedly the most dominant player in the system this week was young right-hander, Alfredo Simon of Clearwater. A top prospect who throws 95 mile per hour heat on occasion, Simon dispensed with two overwhelming starts this week, and came away with two victories.

Consistency has always been an issue with Simon; so stay tuned to see if August becomes an extension of July success. If it does, then Simon could vault to number three status behind Hamels and Floyd in the pitching prospect list on the Phuture Phillie Phenom chart list! Stay tuned.

Other players who had solid weeks include outfielder Michael Floyd of Clearwater, shortstop Carlos Rodriguez of Lakewood and pitchers Kyle Kendrick and Nate Cabrera. Howard did hit his 38th homerun but slumped a bit this week, while Bourn and Jake Blalock continued their assault on South Atlantic League pitching and Golson continued to impress at the Gulf Coast League rookie league.

On the injury front, third basemen Terry Jones and Juan Richardson are back and playing, but struggling to regain their hitting form at Clearwater while the news on Hamels remains clouded. Although the Phils insist that nothing is wrong with his elbow, his extended absence from action does seem to indicate that the Phils private thoughts may be a bit different from their public utterances.

One more bit of disappointing news on the injury list concerns outfielder Jorge Padilla of Scranton Wilkes-Barre. A talented youngster, who was thought to be a "Sammy Sosa" clone when drafted out of high school in 1998, Padilla suffered yet another setback when he injured his leg while running out a groundball this week. His absence is expected to last awhile and this will make three years in a row that injuries have derailed his progress.

However, for every disappointment, there always remains a "feel good" story, a tale of a player, or players, who seem to play beyond their potential, and rise above their limited talent base. For the Phils, there are many, and these are merely but a few. This story is dedicated to all of them.

No story of "out of nowhere" Phillie fables would be complete without first mentioning the exploits of one Mike Floyd at Clearwater. Yes, the name sounds familiar because it is. He is the older and less talented of the Floyd brothers, and was signed mostly as a reward for getting his brother's valuable right arm into a Phillie uniform back in 2001.

Although the Phils drafted him in the 20th round, there was not a hint of interest in Michael without Gavin coming in first. To the Phils credit, they made no hint of denying this. So, no doubt Michael's prodding played more than a small part in getting Gavin to commit. In fact, they signed together and then basically took separate roads down the professional path.

For Gavin, it was coaching tips, special treatment, awe-inspiring outings and a Phillie populace that almost literally counted days until his arrival at CBP. For Mike, it was hard dirt infields, and few starting assignments, and a season ending injury in the spring of 2003.

Although Michael Floyd began the '04 season at Clearwater, there was no false assumption that he was anything but outfield filler, a player who took up a spot on the roster, if for no other reason than to keep his younger brother happy.

April came and went, and so do did May and June, and Michael Floyd entered July with an average below the Mendoza line and zero homeruns. No one was surprised, and no mention was made of this until a strange and wonderful thing happened to Floyd in July…he discovered a power stroke. Now most long time Phillie minor league aficionados consider his month to be an anomaly, and it may be, but the simple fact is this…. with one week left in the Jolly month of July, Floyd has hit eight, count em, eight homeruns this month.

Forgive me my enthusiasm here, but eight homeruns in a month are Howard-like totals, we are talking 40+ in a season numbers. What happened? Did he change his stance, or alter his focus? Did a mysterious and as yet undefined light bulb suddenly go on in his head and change his hitting skills? Has Mike Schmidt's Hall of Fame magic finally worked on someone other than Chris Roberson? Who knows?

This much is known. Mike Floyd has become the poster boy for all lifelong minor league hitters who seemingly struggle forever and then just as quickly burst on the scene. Although his seasonal numbers are a still pedestrian .256 average and 30 RBI, these numbers took a quantum leap in July. If nothing else, the Floyd Watch will now have to be redirected somewhat, from the pitching mound at Reading to the grassy outfield of Clearwater. Count on Phuture Phillie Phenoms to keep you updated on the latest from the Floyd front!

If Floyd has been a one-month shooting star, then infielder Lou Collier at SWB has been a steadily moving satellite in 2004. Almost from day one, this lifetime minor leaguer has been a steady and effective presence in the Red Baron lineup and it will be a major surprise if he isn't rewarded with a September call up to Philadelphia. He has certainly earned it.

From a solid .323 average to his 13 homeruns and 65 RBI, Collier has been the Barons MVP this year and is fully capable of playing several infield and outfield positions. Again, if Floyd represents all that is wonderful about a sudden surprise, than Collier is representative of the "steady as they go" player that dominates many minor league rosters.

Also deserving mention at SWB is first baseman Jim Rushford, a career .300 hitter at the minor league level and relief ace, Dan Giese, who leads the organization with ten victories. Closer examination of their seasons indicates why they have both toiled in the minor leagues for so long. Rushford, for all his hitting prowess, has little power in a position that demands it. His five homeruns dwarf his other contributions however, and he is a player worth rooting for. Giese, on the other hand, lacks a strikeout pitch, as his 37 strikeouts in 51 innings pitched would seem to indicate. Nothing will stamp a pitcher with the "suspect" mark quicker than a pitcher who doesn't "miss enough bats."

Nevertheless, Giese has been a solid citizen at Scranton, and may receive a call up in September if the Phils current bullpen woes continue. Either way, he has had a season worth noting, and a career worth celebrating.

Quick now…which Phillie player has the highest organizational average? Michael Bourn? Lou Collier? Ryan Howard? Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Actually the answer is another veteran of the minor league wars, infielder John Castellano at Reading with an astounding .360 average. Although never mentioned in the same breath with Howard, the fact remains that Castellano's solid bat behind Howard has enabled Ryan to see more than his share of fastballs, and no doubt has contributed to his homerun totals.

In 68 games, Castellano has an impressive 85 hits, 12 homeruns and 43 RBI. Certainly, he has no false visions of grandeur, much like the rest of this "obscure" group. He will someday fade from the minor league scene, but a blip on the organizational radar screen. Yet, it takes talent and skill to hit .360 in Double A baseball, and a quick tip of the cap to Castellano is more than due his way!

Two other players at Reading deserve mention, and they are fairly interesting cases. I speak of catcher Carlos Ruiz and reliever Matire Franco. They appear in this column for their relative anonymity, but should be remembered as "possible" suspect to prospect players. If nothing else, they have made their seasons memorable through the sheer ability to carry on when all seemed lost.

Franco is a quite interesting case, a former starting pitcher in the lower minors with prospect written all over him until… A) his age increased by two years and B) he had a falling out with management. He was punished, banished and has only now resurfaced as a relief pitcher in Reading.

His early efforts were mixed but for the past month he has been a steady and reliable closer on a team that rarely is in a position to need one. His 4-4 record and 6 saves are fairly pedestrian, as is his 3.58 ERA yet he has pitched quite well lately and may be a pitcher worth watching next season. If Franco's story is one of redemption, then Ruiz tells a tale of attention, as in attention to detail.

Ruiz has toiled in the system for several years, and no doubt heard the taunts of an angry Phillie fan base about the lack of catching skill in the minor leagues. This is no longer the case, and Ruiz is one of the main reasons. His defensive improvement, ability to call a game, and his new found hitting skills stamp him as a player to mention in our out of obscurity article.

In 63 games, he has 62 hits, 9 home runs, 28 RBI and a solid .295 average. Not only this, but Ruiz can add his name to the Who's Who Catchers List of AJ Hinch, Micheal Hernandez, Tim Gradoville, Chico Cortez and recently drafted prospects Jaramillo, Charles Cresswell and Louis Marson. From rags to riches, thy name is Phillie catchers.

Toiling for Clearwater can be a lonely proposition. Too few fans and too many defeats have left many players more than a bit despondent this season, but not so infielder Ralph Santana or relief pitcher Ryan Hutchison. Both have made the best of a bad situation, and they should be duly noted. Consider it done!

Hutchison is like Franco, an ace closer on a team that rarely has a ninth inning lead. His 3-3 record belies his effectiveness, and his seven saves speak loudly. Even screaming louder is his outstanding 2.17 ERA. No doubt, he will probably get no higher than Double A, but he can be proud of his performance this year on a team in utter disarray.

The same holds true for Ralph Santana, a scrappy middle infielder with a good glove, strong arm and .298 average in 63 games. Holes, he has a few of them. Like zero homeruns and only 11 RBI. Like limited speed and not great range. Yet, there will always be a place in professional baseball for the Ralph Santana's, players who know their limitations, yet succeed well beyond their means.

Yes, perhaps this is the very definition of the "obscure" minor leaguer. A player with limitations who nevertheless succeeds well beyond their means. And there are others like them. Players like Bryan Hansen, whose greatest claim to fame was being the "other" first baseman drafted the same summer as Ryan Howard.

Hansen is having, for him, a breakout season offensively, and his .267 average belies his improvement. With 7 homeruns and 39 RBI in 88 games, he may yet become the player the Phils saw as a young high school draftee several years ago.

Other players of note include lefty Kyle Parcus at Lakewood, a pitcher who seems quite suited to start, as his 59 strikeouts in 59 innings would indicate. His 34 appearances suggest a pitcher who can throw often and well, and his 3-3 record on a less than .500 club indicates he has more than held his own record-wise.

Lakewood's kiddy corps of Blalock, Bourn and Javon Moran certainly benefit from the veteran presence of Randy Ruiz, a 27 year old first baseman with great power, a tremendous work ethic, and no hope of ever reaching the big leagues. Without Ruiz in the middle of the order, it is doubtful that the youngsters would be flourishing, and his .303 average, and 9 homeruns and 53 RBI tell but a small part of the contributions he has made.

Although the rookie leagues are but a month old, several players deserve mention as "obscure" but solid citizens. Players like low draftees, pitchers Jacob Barrack, Kevin Rose, Andy Barb and Michael Mihalik are performing like the highest of draft choices, and infielder John Hardy has been an offensive surprise after a relatively disappointing junior year at the University of Arizona.

For most of these players, the path to stardom has long since become a dead end street. Except for family members and the closest of friends, few of these players will even be remembered for their professional baseball talents. Yet, in a profession where the mortality rate is probably 99 per cent, they deserve more than a mere mention, a tiny footnote in the archives of Phillie baseball circa 2004.

Here is a Phuture Phillie Phenom hats off to players too often ignored, but much appreciated by this author, and by the many who have enjoyed their efforts from Scranton to Clearwater and all points in between. Congratulations, fellas, you have earned it!

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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