The Minnesota Twins were among the first to really dive head first into the Australian outback, hunting for talent. Their success has led to other teams starting to investigate things down under, including the Phillies. With the success that the Phillies have had, they're not in the mood to gloat about their newfound pipeline. Instead, they prefer to keep it as quiet as possible and even downplay their success.
The advantages of signing Australian players are many. First, there isn't much scouting competition and the Phillies have a definite advantage in that area. Kevin Hooker, who was the Phillies' 31st round pick in 1995 never panned out as a major leaguer, but he's feeding the Phillies plenty of talent. Hooker is the coach of a successful Australian team and puts in a call to the Phillies when he sees a player worth looking at. The Phillies take it from there.
Second, Australian players come pretty cheaply. While top Japanese players are demanding millions of dollars and there are bidding wars for top Dominican and Cuban players, the stars of Australian baseball are cheaper. They are also many times younger, but with that, comes the fact that they're somewhat unproven. The Phillies have adopted a "shotgun approach" to Australian players and are signing even marginal prospects, figuring that the money will be well spent if even one of them pan out.
Scott Mitchinson may be the biggest payoff to date. The 6' 2" right-hander was downright awesome in his professional debut this past season. He found himself winning the Paul Owens Award as the best pitcher in the organization, standing beside the other winner, Ryan Howard, who was deemed the best position player in the organization. Mitchinson was little known before he posted huge numbers in the Gulf Coast League. The 19 year old started ten games in the GCL and threw 61 2/3 innings, finishing with a 7-0, 1.75 record. Those numbers don't tell the full story; The real story is his control that allowed opposing hitters just one walk all season. He also struck out 60 hitters.
Mitchinson didn't need to feel out of place in the GCL. Two of his teammates were also Australian players signed by the Phillies. Mitch Graham, hit .283 for the GCL Phillies and posted a .358 OBP. Graham split his time between second base and shortstop. Brad Harman played most of his games at short, but also played a few at third and even one game at first base. Harman has good bat control and is a solid line drive hitter with slightly above average speed. Harman hit just .230, but the Phillies believe that he will be well worth the time that they'll spend working with him.
Two other Australian players, Mark Kelly and Tim Kennelly are still in Australia, but are the property of the Phillies. Both are playing at an Australian baseball academy under the watchful eye of Major League Baseball. Kelly, a 20 year old pitcher and Kennelly, an outfielder, will likely be brought to the states next summer.
As for the potential of these players, Mitchinson has pushed his way to the top of the list, but the Phillies believe that Harman may actually be the second best prospect of the bunch. Graham would be third and it remains to be seen where Kelly and Kennelly will fall in.
Australia has produced 15 major league players, including Graham Lloyd, who was on the Yankees' 1996 and 1998 World Series teams. Reliever Grant Balfour is the poster boy for the Twins Australian success and is a strong part of their bullpen. Another Australian player, Dave Nilsson, was an all-star in 1999 and is back in the states, attempting a comeback after playing for the Australian Olympic team.
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