Clearwater's Season Comes To Quick End

With Hurricane Frances drenching and pounding the state of Florida, the Clearwater Threshers final weekend of games has become a casualty. Frances ends a tough season for the Threshers and also seemingly puts an end to the managerial career of Mike Schmidt. Even with a 55-81 record though, there were some bright spots in Clearwater's season.

Any discussion of the Clearwater Threshers 2004 season begins with Chris Roberson. The 25 year old outfielder was the Phillies ninth round pick in 2001 and was basically an afterthought coming into the season. In his first three professional seasons, Roberson hadn't shown any reason to truly believe that he was a prospect worth watching. That changed with his Florida State League showing this season.

Roberson was not only an FSL All-Star, but was the MVP of the game. His season was cut short by a broken bone in his leg, but he still managed to hit 9-38-.307 with 16 stolen bases. The Phillies believe that he will be recovered in time for the Arizona Fall League season and are excited about watching what he can do against some of the best prospects from around the minors. They'll be working with Roberson to develop a little more discipline at the plate – he struck out 71 times – and to improve his 57% stolen base percentage. Other than that, it's just a matter of watching Roberson continue to develop and hoping that he can travel quickly through AA and AAA, helping to catch up to his age a little.

Mike Floyd and Ryan Barthelemy also put up numbers that made more people aware of just who they are. Floyd, the older brother of super-prospect Gavin Floyd, had also been somewhat unimpressive in his early professional career. Things turned around somewhat at Clearwater as Floyd hit 10-39-.261 and stepped partially out of the shadow of his younger brother. Floyd also contributed with 19 doubles and led the Threshers with five triples.

For Barthelemy, it was a simple eye exam that turned things around. The Phillies had liked Barthelemy, but were somewhat disappointed with his lackluster numbers. An eye exam discovered some issues which were easily correctable and Barthelemy became a different hitter. The left-handed hitter led the Threshers in doubles (27), RBI (77) and homeruns (14) and finished second to Roberson in batting average with a .295 mark. The emergence of Barthelemy is another reason why the Phillies may again shop Ryan Howard in potential trade packages during the off-season. The Phillies don't have a spot for Howard in the majors and with Barthelemy following a few steps behind, the Phils would still have a decent prospect for the post-Thome era, although even Barthelemy may be blocked by the time he would be ready for the majors.

On the downside, Vince Vukovich continued to struggle in his minor league career, hitting just .167, while Trent Pratt sank to .195 for Clearwater. Terry Jones returned from an injury and also had a disappointing season, hitting 4-21-.204 as a Thresher. This was basically a lost season for Jones and he'll need to impress in 2005 to return to the rankings of strong Phillies prospects.

Cole Hamels was strong, when he was healthy. Hamels spent much of the season on the DL, but is still highly thought of throughout the organization and baseball in general. The young left-hander went 1-0, 1.13 for Clearwater, but started just four games. The fact that Bud Smith started more games (5) than Hamels did at Clearwater is not a good sign. The Phillies will keep a close eye on him during the off-season and especially next spring as Hamels looks to bounce back. If the injuries continue next season, true question marks could arise around Hamels.

Lee Gwaltney finished with a 3-10 record, but don't let that fool you. The 24 year old came into the season with a minor league ERA of 3.11 and while he wasn't quite that strong, his 3.80 wasn't too bad. Gwaltney has good movement on his pitches and would seem to have a strong future. It's likely that Gwaltney will try AA again next season – a 7.17 ERA in four starts with Reading early in 2004 got him demoted – and that will be the telling season for Gwaltney.

Beau Richardson and Brandon Mayfield were workhorses out of the bullpen for Clearwater. Richardson, who some believe could be the closer of the future, was 6-1, 3.61 in 47 games, with one save. Mayfield also sort of burst onto the scene with a 2-2, 3.80 mark in 48 games. Mayfield, who was in his second full season at Clearwater, turns 26 in October and will need to pick up the pace in his career.

Ryan Hutchison received a promotion to AA Reading after his 3-3, 2.12 mark in 29 games with Clearwater. Even with the promotion, Hutchison was the Threshers leader in saves with seven. Cory Schultz took over for Hutchison and was strong, picking up four saves in 11 games with a 0.43 ERA in Clearwater.

Nick Bourgeois and Francisco Butto showed signs of life at times, but both finished with ERAs pushing toward the 5.00 mark.

As for Schmidt, he officially closed the door on managing. Early in the season, there were some thoughts that the Hall of Famer wouldn't even complete the season. As things got better in Clearwater and the team played better, it looked like Schmidt may be changing his mind somewhat, but now that all is said and done, he won't be back. It was a valiant effort and you have to hand it to Schmidt for seeing it through. He'll likely stick around the organization and at least offer some help to some hitters next spring and perhaps, beyond.

While Clearwater's on the field season was a little rough, things were upbeat. Attendance was great and the new logo has been a huge marketing success. Next season will be interesting as some of the young guns from the rookie levels and from Lakewood make their appearance for Clearwater. Good things are ahead for the Threshers.

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