Lakewood's Season Ends With High Spirits

As the South Atlantic League season wore on, the Lakewood BlueClaws continued to get better and better. They finished the second half of the season with a 39-30 record, 6 ½ games out of a playoff spot and finished the season with a 70-67 overall record. Why were they so much better in the second half? Many players believe that the team simply started to come together and it didn't hurt that they got some injured players back by later in the season.

Lakewood's roster is spotted with true prospects. Whether they're pitchers or position players, there are strong prospects to watch progress that were a part of the 2004 Lakewood BlueClaws.

The starting rotation starts with Nate Cabrera. The 21 year old right-hander started his professional career with five appearances in the Gulf Coast League in 2003 and found himself at Lakewood for 2004. Cabrera (6-4, 2.82) started 23 games for Lakewood and led the staff with 113 strikeouts in 131 innings. Over the course of the season, Cabrera threw two complete game shutouts and looked strong and promising.

Scott Mathieson (8-9, 4.32) was in his first full-season league in 2004 and didn't disappoint. The 20 year old righty out of British Columbia seemed to make a big leap from his days in the GCL, where he spent almost two full seasons. Mathieson finished right behind Cabrera with 112 strikeouts and threw 131 1/3 innings for Lakewood. Mathieson and Cabrera should quickly start to become bigger blips on the Phillies pitching prospect radar screen.

Erick Arteaga (10-9, 4.87) was impressive at times, but lacked movement on many of his pitches. Opponents hit .326 off of him, but somehow, someway, he found a way to hang in there and led the team with 159 innings pitched in 26 starts. He had a good walk/strikeout ratio – 21 walks, 87 strikeouts – and has good command of his pitches, but needs some work if he is going to last at the higher levels. Younger hitters will allow a pitcher to get away with many of the mistakes that Arteaga made, but as he progresses, that will disappear if he doesn't become a better pitcher.

Late in the season, 2004 15th round pick Zac Cline arrived in Lakewood and didn't disappoint. Cline started eight games, going 5-1, 2.98 with the BlueClaws. The lefty allowed just eight walks in 42 1/3 innings and progressed quickly after the Phillies saw how well he responded to higher quality hitters. The West Virginia University product could continue to progress at a decent pace and like Mathieson and Cabrera might become a better known name in the Phillies organization before too long.

Maximo Reyes was the bullpen workhorse. After Kyle Parcus (4-4, 3.32) was promoted to Reading, Reyes picked up the added work. Reyes, who turns 23 later this month, pitched in 42 games and led the BlueClaws with 10 saves on the season. Right from the start, Reyes was strong, throwing 21 innings without allowing an earned run to start the season. He stayed consistent all season long, going 9-3, 2.31 for Lakewood.

Dan Hodges (2-3, 2.96) saved seven games for Lakewood and continues to open some eyes. As a left-hander, Hodges is even more intriguing to the Phillies future. Hodges has good command of his pitches and doesn't dazzle hitters with any one pitch, but uses his whole arsenal to keep hitters off balance and he does it well.

As good as Lakewood's staff was, they lost some key components to trades and promotions. Cory Schultz (3-1, 2.88), Joe Wilson (4-7, 4.64) and C.J. Woodrow (9-3, 3.48) were all having solid seasons and showing lots of promises before they left Lakewood for other surroundings.

As for position players, it's hard to know where to start. Jake Blalock and Michael Bourn were true spark plugs for Lakewood. Bourn, has become one of the better prospects in the organization. The 21 year old from the University of Houston easily led Lakewood with 58 stolen bases, which also led the South Atlantic League. Bourn hit .317 with a .433 OBP at Lakewood and should move along pretty quickly. There is some talk that he will start 2005 at Clearwater and could get a mid-season move to Reading if all is going well. The Phillies like Bourn so much that they dealt his draft and outfield mate, Javon Moran because they feel that Bourn was the superior player and clearly their center fielder of the future.

As for Blalock, he hit 16 homeruns and set the Lakewood franchise record with 40 doubles on the season. Blalock hit .271 and seems destined to be moving toward the same type of career that his brother Hank, third baseman for the Texas Rangers, is putting together. Jake may not have quite as much power, but some scouts believe that will develop more and more with time.

If you had to guess, you might have figured that Blalock led Lakewood in homeruns and RBI. That guess would be wrong though. Randy Ruiz edged Blalock by one in each category, hitting 17 homeruns and driving in 91 runs on the year. Ruiz also hit a healthy .288 for Lakewood. On the downside, Ruiz struck out 140 times and the Phillies hope to get him to knock that number down without losing power. It will be interesting to see if Ruiz and the Phillies can accomplish that. Ruiz played both outfield and first base for Lakewood in 2004.

After a bad debut season in 2003 and a horrible start to 2004, Tim Moss looked like his prospect status was in trouble. Injuries and health problems had become the norm for the young second baseman in his first season and carried over into his second season. It all started in spring training when he was diagnosed with high blood pressure and almost started the season in extended spring training rather than with Lakewood. Suddenly though, Moss started to look like the player that the Phillies thought they had drafted. By the end of the season, Moss had pulled his average from the .170 range to .256. Now, comes some fine tuning in the Florida Instructional League and if all goes as planned and Moss avoids further injuries, he could be right back on track as 2005 approaches.

Catcher Chico Cortez (8-34-.291) put up solid numbers, which is significant since the Phillies went heavy on catchers in the June Draft. Cortez pulled himself into the catching competition as the resurgence of young catchers continues in the Phillies' organization.

Shortstop Carlos Rodriguez didn't put up great numbers, but at least his attitude and off the field discipline were better. Rodriguez' 6-57-.268 performance was somewhat lackluster, but since he doesn't even turn 21 until next month, the Phillies are likely to stick with Rodriguez and hope that he reaches the potential that they have always seen in him.

Outfielder Chris Klemm (2-33-.304), first baseman Bryan Hansen (9-59-.273) and backup catcher Zach Norman (5-14-.333) all showed some signs of progress and deserve some attention.

Lakewood's strong second half should have fans in Clearwater excited, because many of the players will be moving along to the Florida sunshine. A couple may make a big jump to Reading, while a couple others may be back for another run in the South Atlantic League. It's safe to say that Lakewood was the most exciting of the Phillies full-season minor league stops throughout the 2004 season.

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