CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms...Class of '04 Review

Baseball purists often say that an amateur draft cannot be evaluated properly for five years. If this is the case, then that would take us all the way back to the June draft of 2000. With this in mind, I thought it proper and interesting to spend the next few weeks evaluating every Phillie amateur draft since June of 2000, beginning with the most recent and moving backward. This may not only tell us where the team has been, but where it is likely to go in the coming seasons. Let's take a look…

In all, the Philadelphia Phils signed 32 of their 50 picks in 2004. Given their most recent history, there is a slight chance this number may increase by next May, as they did pick several players slated to play Junior College ball and remain in the team's control until a week before the 2005 draft. Even more impressive is that among these 32, the team signed 25 of their first 26 picks.

Only high school lefty James Adkins from Tennessee failed to sign, and the team made a valiant effort to sign this talented relief pitcher. Nevertheless, it was one of their more successful seasons in recent memory in regards to bringing in their top choices, especially given the slant towards drafting high school hitters in the first ten rounds.

Yet, truth be told, it is not just signing draft picks that makes for a solid draft, it is having the savvy to select AND sign top talent. More than a few clubs in professional baseball are quite good at signing amateur talent, yet shy away from drafting the so called "high ceiling" players due to their potential high price tags.

Not so the Phils of 2004… they drafted and signed at least four top high school prospects who had quite impressive college scholarships to fall back on. None was more impressive than top pick, Greg Golson of John Connally HS in Texas. A consensus five-tool player, he had a coveted scholarship to attend baseball powerhouse University of Texas if he wished to.

Instead, he chose to sign with the Phils, and they are glad he did. Golson was easily the most impressive newcomer in the system, and was one of the best players in the Rookie GCL. Although he started slowly he finished with an impressive .295 batting average, and coupled that with 12 stolen bases, excellent defense and an improving batting eye.

Golson was everything the Phils advertised him to be, and will no doubt make the team's Top 10 prospect list in the spring. Watch for the team to continue his slow but steady progress through the system, though a standout Instructional League performance could elevate him to full season Lakewood next spring.

Undoubtedly the most advanced Phillie draft picks were number two and three selections, catcher Jason Jaramillo and lefty starter J.A. Happ, both outstanding collegiate products. Due to their heavy college workloads, the team was quite protective of their appearances this summer, but Jaramillo displayed the same defensive instincts that made him an All-American at Oklahoma State, while Happ was quite impressive in 35 innings of work with a 2.02 ERA.

Both players will open next season in Lakewood, but could advance quickly through the system if they perform as advertised. Few scouts doubt that Jaramillo is the heir apparent to incumbent Mike Lieberthal in Philadelphia, while Happ should quickly become the second best lefty-pitching prospect in the organization, behind Phillie phenom Cole Hamels.

Before the '04 draft, it was widely known that the biggest weakness in the Phillie organization was behind the plate. Many pundits described it as a black hole. Not so anymore as this position now seems like a genuine team strength. Not only did Carlos Ruiz emerge as a solid prospect at Reading, but the team solidified the spot even more with three top catching picks in the first ten rounds. Jaramillo was no doubt the most well known catching prospect, but perhaps may not become the best. The team selected and signed high school stars, Louis Marson and Charles Cresswell with the numbers four and ten round picks, and both displayed solid potential in the GCL this summer. Marson in particular showed a good power bat with four home runs, and Cresswell looks like a keeper with a smooth left-hand hitting stroke.

It is quite possible that all three backstops will one day adorn the major league landscape, a very positive sign for the Phils. Not only does this promise to offer the team depth and skill, but also possible trading chips if the situation arises. At any rate, the team seems to have taken care of their organization wide shortage of catchers with this draft.

Easily the most impressive hitter in this draft class was outfielder Sean Gamble, the son of former Phillie fly chaser Oscar Gamble. The younger Gamble hit a solid .304 at Batavia and showed good extra base power with 25 doubles and six home runs in the short season. Other outfield draft picks to hit fairly well at Batavia were 17th round pick, Ryan Frith, with 11 home runs and number 32nd round pick, Nick Shimer with 6 home runs.

Assistant GM Mike Arbuckle was especially pleased with Frith's all around game, as he not only stole 13 bases, but also showed a powerful arm from right field at Batavia. On the negative side of the ledger, both Frith and Shimer struck out at alarming rates and will need to work on making better contact as they move up the ladder.

Other draft picks to show pro potential, albeit in more inconsistent form, were third baseman Samuel Orr, shortstop John Hardy, first baseman Buck Shaw, and outfielder Andy Mcfarlane. All four players showed enough to consider their initial seasons as successful and will be expected to improve as they advance to full season minor league ball next spring.

On the pitching side of the ledger, the top hurlers beside Happ were undoubtedly righties Joseph Bisenius, a number 12 pick and lefty Zac Cline, selected with the 15th round pick. Bisenius, a college teammate of Jaramillo at Oklahoma State, had a wonderful rookie year, with a microscopic 1.43 ERA in 11 starts.

Cline also showed the advanced form of a polished collegiate hurler with a 7-1 record and an ERA of less than 3.00. Both hurlers will pitch at full season Lakewood next spring, and Cline could earn a promotion to Clearwater with a solid exhibition season.

Perhaps the most disappointing draft pick among the top 10 was righty Andrew Baldwin, a seemingly polished righty from Oregon State. Blessed with a 92 MPH fastball, Baldwin was inconsistent with his location, and finished with a 4-6 record and an ERA above 5.00. The Phils were said to have anticipated Baldwin's struggles and still have high hopes for the tall righty from Oregon.

One other player deserves special mention even though he played not one game of professional ball in 2004. His name is Curt Miaso and he represents a quantum leap change in past Phillie signing practices. Another five-tool high school outfielder, much like Golson, he was considered a "flyer" pick by the team, a player unlikely to sign.

Yet the Phils pursued Miaso vigorously and were pleased to announce his signing in early September. Most scouts consider him to rank near Golson, Marson and Cresswell in high school skills and it was widely considered a Phillie coup with the signing. Miaso will open the 2005 season in extended spring training and will no doubt make his professional debut in the GCL in June.

Although the future of these players is never guaranteed, the team deserves a solid B to this point, not only for the selection and signing of such young talent as Golson, Marson, Cresswell and Miaso, but in addressing their need for catchers with three top picks. In an industry that considers a successful draft to compose no more than two or three players, it does not seem unreasonable to think the Phils did much better than that.

The Class of 2004 was a solid group and promises to offer Phillie minor league aficionados plenty of thrills and excitement in 2005 and beyond. It is also not unreasonable to expect Citizens Bank Park to one day house such standout ballplayers as Golson, Jaramillo and Happ, with Gamble and Miaso not far behind.

Count on Phuture Phillie Phenoms to chronicle the progress of these and many other prospects throughout the '05 season and beyond.

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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