Reading Phillies Can Only Look Ahead

As minor league baseball takes on its usual progression, it's a good bet that many of the players on Reading's 2005 roster will come from Clearwater. The Threshers finished stronger than they started, but still struggled overall. Possibly though with a mix of a few players that may stay at Reading and one or two that could make the jump from Lakewood, next season might go a little better for the Reading Phillies.

Early in the season, the eyes that focused on Reading focused squarely on Gavin Floyd and Ryan Howard. While Floyd wasn't quite as dominating as he was at lower levels, he still left little doubt that he was a big time prospect who had superstar written all over him. By the time he was promoted to AAA Scranton, Floyd was 6-6, 2.57 at Reading and looking like he truly was ready to move along.

Howard meanwhile set Reading's all-time mark for homeruns in a season, easily shattering Greg Luzinski's mark of 33. Of course, Luzinski set his record in a full season, while it took Howard 90 games to pass The Bull. Howard hit 37 at Reading and added another nine after he was promoted to AAA Scranton, finishing with a combined mark of 46-131-.291 in 131 games between Reading and Scranton.

When Floyd and Howard moved along, there weren't necessarily any superstars to watch at Reading, but there were still some interesting stories.

One of the interesting storylines in the Phillies minor league system this year was the emergence of catching prospects. Carlos Ruiz was one of those who emerged, hitting 17-50-.284 at Reading and showing that he deserves at least some consideration for prospect status. Ruiz showed good plate discipline, striking out just 37 times and received a lot of attention for his ability to work with pitchers on the staff. Defensively, Ruiz was strong and it won't be surprising to see him continue to develop major league potential.

Veteran minor leaguer John Castellano was an Eastern League All-Star and finished just behind Binghamton's Jeff Keppinger in the EL batting race, hitting .340. It's possible that he would have caught Keppinger if not for a late season promotion to AAA Scranton, but we'll never know for sure. Castellano came into the season as an older minor league player who didn't project as much of a major league player. Now though, with his ability to play a number of different positions, including catcher, he could be considered for a utility role at some point down the road.

Reading was filled with a number of minor league veterans who don't necessarily project highly in the majors, but had good seasons. Ryan Fleming is 28 years old and was in his first season with the Phillies. Fleming, who is 28, hit .260 and stole 17 bases at Reading. Jim Deschaine turns 28 in about ten days and also played well at Reading, hitting .282. Kurt Keene hit .281 with 12 homeruns and played everywhere but behind the plate for Reading. None of them seem to have a great future in the majors, but any of them might be able to become an eventual utility player for the Phillies.

Floyd was the big story on the mound at Reading this summer, there's no doubt about that. Keith Bucktrot, who is a highly regarded pitching prospect struggled through a 4-7, 4.87 campaign and spent a little time on the disabled list. Bucktrot's star hasn't diminished though and there is no reason to believe that he won't bounce back next season.

Martire Franco (4-4, 3.30) recorded a team high 15 saves at Reading and had somewhat of a breakout season after faltering in his first attempt at Reading in 2002 and again last season in with the R-Phils. Franco seems to have developed a lot and caught up to his potential somewhat. Franco will be one of the main guys to watch as he starts 2005 at AAA Scranton. He's gone back and forth between starting and relieving, but it looks like the Phillies will keep him in the bullpen and that will be his path to the majors.

Left-hander Eude Brito tied for the team lead in wins with an 8-4 record. He finished with a 4.42 ERA and four saves for Reading. Brito may turn out to be the opposite of Franco, who appears to have found a home in the bullpen. After working primarily as a reliever, the Phillies had Brito start seven games and he responded well, even throwing one complete game for Reading.

Yoel Hernandez (1-2, 2.01), Ryan Hutchison (1-1, 3.18), Matt Squires (0-1, 3.62) and Felix Villegas (3-1, 3.35) all pitched well for Reading and seem to have strong futures. Hernandez was in his second season at Reading and seemed to have rediscovered how to pitch. His minor league career started strong for the Phillies, but slowed a little when he reached Reading. This season though he was back on top and will deserve a promotion to Scranton. Hutchison has slowly been moving through the ranks and after the Phillies drafted him in the 17th round of the 2001 Draft. He has good stuff and will likely need just one season at AAA before he is pronounced to be major league ready. The only thing holding Matt Squires back were injuries. He underwent season ending shoulder surgery in August, but should be ready for spring training. The Phillies may proceed slowly and start him at AA before a promotion to AAA when he appears ready. Villegas seemingly came out of nowhere and hasn't gotten a lot of attention. Villegas just turned 26 and has bounced around a little in the minors. He reached AA with both Boston and Florida, but only for parts of a season with each organization. The Phillies like his potential and he should get his first taste of AAA ball next season.

There may be some returning faces for Reading in 2005. Add to that some players from Clearwater (Ryan Barthelemy, Chris Roberson and others) and Reading may have the ingredients they'll need to rebound from a dismal 2004. This year's version of the Reading Phillies was filled with a number of players who project to utility type players in the majors. Next season, at least a few true prospects should be sprinkled in and that might make a difference.

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