CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms...Class of 2002

It is said that potential only means that you haven't done it yet. In the case of the Phillies draft class of 2002, the potential for future stardom is apparent with several players. No less than four of the top 20 prospects in the entire system were drafted in 2002, all of them directly from the high school ranks. Yet, despite the talent, injuries have been as prevalent as performance, and therein lies the black cloud that could darken the horizon. Let's take a look at this fascinating group.

Clearly, the team made a philosophical decision to draft young in 2002 as no less than four of their top five picks were chosen from the ranks of the high school campuses. None came more highly recommended than mega prospect, lefty Cole Hamels. In fact, Hamels is widely considered the best prospect in the entire organization, and one of the best in baseball.

However, his career is marked with injuries; beginning with the still mysterious broken arm he suffered after his sophomore season at Rancho Bernardo HS in San Diego. It has never truly been made clear how this injury occurred, though rumors of a football mishap still make the rounds. In fact, it was this injury that caused several teams, notably the Anaheim Angels, to shy away from him in this draft and he fell to the Phils at pick number 17.

To say the Phils were ecstatic would be an understatement and after what seemed like forever, he finally made his debut in June of 2003. All he did was pitch so spectacularly that he was named the Minor League Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America. His numbers bordered on the phenomenal, as in a 6-1 record with a terrible Lakewood team and an ERA of 0.84.

Even more impressive were his 115 strikeouts in only 75 innings of pitching. A promotion to Clearwater did nothing to indicate that this young hurler was on the fast track to Citizens Bank Park. Rumors abounded in spring training this year that Hamels might be in Double A by July, and as Gavin Floyd and Ryan Howard showed, once you reach Double A, you are literally a phone call from the big leagues.

Unfortunately, elbow problems, again mysterious and clouded in secrecy, derailed Hamels and his 2004 season consisted of 16 innings pitched, a 1-0 record and a 1.13 ERA. Despite the Phil's ever promising injury updates, Hamels remains a major question mark until he can show the ability to pitch an entire season pain free.

It remains this writer's opinion that Hamels will eventually need elbow surgery, so it behooves Phillie fans to refrain from penciling in his name as a starting pitcher with the team anytime soon. Nevertheless, this is the only blot on his resume… talent wise; he is the real deal, probably the best arm in the entire organization, majors or minors.

The number two pick in the '02 draft was also a talented high school pitcher, Zach Segovia from Forney, Texas. Segovia has all the characteristics of a top notch closer, a bulldog mentality and a fastball that touches 93 MPH with excellent movement. His rookie season was excellent, as he was one of the mainstays with a Clearwater rookie team that won the league title.

Sadly, the injury bug hit Segovia in 2003 and he eventually succumbed to arm surgery which put him on the shelf for the entire '04 season. However, reports from the FIL are excellent on his recovery, and it seems likely that he will open the upcoming season at a Lakewood in the SAL.

If the injury story is becoming quite, ah, painful to read about, then skip the report on number three pick, third baseman Kiel Fisher, a rangy left-handed hitter from Riverside, California. Perhaps the best hitting prospect in the entire system, Fisher had an outstanding season 2003 with averages of .323 in the Gulf Coast League and an even more impressive .340 at Batavia.

More than one Phillie scout felt that Fisher was the heir apparent to the hot corner spot with the Phils, over more highly rated players like Juan Richardson and Terry Jones. Fisher was slated to open the '04 season with the most talented team in the system, the Lakewood Blue Claws. However, back pains, not unlike those felt by Phillie third sacker David Bell, put Fisher in traction and out for the season.

As with Hamels and Segovia, he enters the 2005 campaign with high hopes of an injury free season…and a whole bunch of question marks after his name. If healthy, watch the sweet swinging Fisher have a banner year at Lakewood and once again take his place among the top 10 Phillie prospects in the system.

Picks number four and six were college pitchers, lefty Nick Bourgeois and righty Lee Gwaltney. Both came from highly rated collegiate programs, and both were expected to progress quickly through the system. However, for various reasons, from injury to inconsistency, neither has done as well as expected, and the upcoming campaign is crucial for both of them.

To his credit, Gwaltney did get a late season promotion to Reading, and his 2-2 record is deceptive. Far more indicative of his lack of success was his 7.17 ERA. Yet, Gwaltney has four quality pitches, and seems to have a strong mound presence. It is much too early to count him as a failed prospect, though he will be watched closely this season. Expect him to start the season in Double A at Reading.

Perhaps no pitcher in the Phillie system is more of a mystery than the talented Bourgeois. Watch him pitch and marvel at his moving fastball, darting curve and knee buckling change up. It seems almost incredible that he ever loses, but lose he does, and with alarming regularity. In fact, his career record is a dismal 12-24, despite some absolutely dominating performances.

Rumors of a tired arm haunted Bourgeois for much of his early career, but the Phils have pampered his valuable left shoulder for two seasons now and it is time for Bourgeois to take his place as the second best southpaw in the minor league system, behind Hamels. If this does not happen soon, it is likely that the Phils will move on to the younger group of flame throwers currently pitching in the rookie leagues.

Selected between the college hurlers, Gwaltney and Bourgeois, is the player who has had the most success of any player from this class to this point. Erstwhile third baseman Jake Blalock, moved to the outfield to accommodate Fisher, has emerged as one of the best power hitters in the entire organization, and has brought forth images of a young Greg Luzinski with his power bat.

Clearly, his '04 season was his coming out party, as he hit a "hard" .271 with 16 home runs and 90 RBI. It is said by many scouts that the most telling number for a young hitter is doubles and Blalock hit a league leading 40 of them. Most scouts equate doubles at an early age to home runs as the player matures, and if this be the case, Phillie fans are in for a home run treat when Blalock makes his debut with the Phillies.

In almost any draft there is one unsigned player, designated as the "one that got away." No doubt this player would be outfielder Steven Doetsch, a highly rated high school fly chaser from Dunedin, Florida. After failing to reach terms with the Phils, Doetsch returned to a junior college, was drafted and signed by the Atlanta Braves in 2003 and now appears to have a decent chance of making the Phils regret this move. Time will tell.

In round ten, the Phillies selected a college All-American from Florida State named Ryan Barthelemy. He came with a reputation as a top notch hitter, but a player who would have to move to first base to be successful. After two poor seasons that almost caused the team to release him, Barthelemy discovered he needed eye surgery, and almost like magic, he was transformed into an entirely different player.

On a very poor Clearwater team, Barthelemy was a beacon of consistent light, and finished the '04 campaign with a solid .297 average and 14 home runs and 77 RBI. Even more impressive, he cut his strikeouts to only 93 and played a solid first base.

It appears highly unlikely that Barthelemy can crack the power two-some of Jim Thome and Ryan Howard at first base for the Phillies, but if Barthelemy can repeat his outstanding '04 year at Reading this year he will make a very impressive trade piece in a possible multi player deal.

As with almost all drafts, the picks after round ten are mere guessing games, but the Phils do have two players worthy of mention from the lower rounds. In fact, one of them is righty Scott Mathieson of Aldergrove, British Columbia, a steal of a pick chosen in the 17th round.

Mathieson has done nothing but impress since his arrival and his 7-9 record this year at Lakewood belied his effectiveness. His is a name to remember and if he stays healthy [and with this group that is a big "IF"] he will someday pitch in Philadelphia with the Phillies.

Another pitcher to remember, again with an injury plagued background, is a tall right-hander from Stanford named Darin Naatjes. This 6'7" righty was good enough to be a starting tight end in college, and has only now begun to learn the art of pitching. After a promising rookie season, he too was injured in 2004 and missed the entire campaign, much like Segovia and Fisher.

As with his '02 classmates, Naatjes is reported to be as good as new and ready for spring training in February. If true, he could also join Segovia as a closing force from the bullpen someday with a fastball that tops at 95-96 MPH.

No doubt the jury is still out on the Class of 2002. At its worst, it will go down as one of the more injury ravaged groups in recent years, and the future success of players like Hamels, Segovia, Fisher, and Naatjes will be limited. Yet at its best, this group may someday go down as the greatest draft in Phillie history, even outdistancing the great draft of 1998.

With a little health and a lot of luck, this group may one day see no less than a half dozen players grace the roster of the Phils or another major league roster. Certainly, Hamels, Segovia, Fisher, Blalock and Mathieson are projected as future big leaguers in Philadelphia, and it would not surprise if non-signed draftees like Doetsch and catcher Brad McCann, also of Atlanta, played against the Phils.

Far more unlikely, but not without possibility, is the prospect of Gwaltney, Bourgeois, Barthelemy and Naatjes performing at the big league level. Even more impressive is the prospect that many of these players will not just be solid big leaguers, but "star" quality players.

Hamels and Mathieson seem to have the talent to become winning pitchers in Philadelphia and Segovia may one day become an ace closer. Fisher and Blalock are counted on for regular roles in the Phillie lineup, with Fisher manning the hot corner and Blalock occupying a corner outfield position.

For now, we will give this group a solid B, with the potential [there is that word again!] of one day earning a B+ or A-. Much of what they do, and how healthy they remain, will decide the eventual final grade they receive.

Columnist's Note: Please send comments or suggestions to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast

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