CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms... Gold Rush

I recently gave a lesson on the California Gold Rush of 1849 and it occurred to me that there were many similarities between the gems found in "gold country" and the state of the Phillie's minor league pitching prospects today. To wit, it was solid gold and easy to find at the top, much harder to glean in the middle areas of the organization, and rich in quantities at the bottom. With this in mind, let's go panning for "golden nuggets" and see what we can find...

Stories of the early miners and the untold riches they found at the top of the river beds in the American River are still told around campfires and in fourth grade classrooms everywhere. In much the same way, stories of a future Phillie one/two pitching punch of Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels are bantered about on Philadelphia websites and chat rooms without ceasing.

Truth be told, the stories are probably true in both cases. Just as the early settlers didn't need to look hard to find solid gold at the top, any casual Phillie fan certainly knows of the exploits of Masters Floyd and Hamels. They have been at the virtual top of any top ten prospects list for the past three years, and are currently at two and three this season. Only the home run legend that was Ryan Howard pushed them off the top of the charts, albeit only momentarily.

As Phillie phaithful are more than aware, Floyd is the right-handed version of the "two arms" race and Hamels is his lefty partner. Any discussion of the two eventually leads to the same conclusion. If they stay healthy they should lead a staff of kingpins into the next decade, while dazzling National League hitters with their stuff and savvy.

Floyd is the more advanced, Hamels the more skilled. Hamels has the higher ceiling, Floyd the greater chance of reaching his. Floyd never experienced any arm problems until recently, while Hamels has been plagued by injuries since his junior year in high school. Floyd is serious and stoic, Hamels the more casual and carefree.

Still, for all their seeming differences, they have one treasured thing in common... a rare talent for throwing a baseball in ways that few pitchers can, and with unsightly results. Stories of Floyd's curveball and Hamel's changeup are as legendary as the tales of the unkempt gold miner who suddenly struck it rich in '49.

With any luck, both will be displaying their wares in Citizens Bank Park no later than September of 2006. Floyd is expected to open the '05 campaign in Triple A at Scranton while Hamels is counted on to make the leap to Reading at the Double A level. If both do well as expected, Floyd could be in the Phil's starting rotation by August, whereas Hamels will probably stay in Reading for the full year.

If Hamels does end up in Reading as hoped, it will have been a major step forward for the crafty lefty who has pitched merely a total of 117 innings since he made his professional debut in June of 2003. Elbow problems, considered minor, have slowed his development, but the Phillie minor league brass thinks he is more than ready to make his mark in the higher levels of Double A.

In merely 16 innings of pitching at Clearwater last spring, Hamels did seem a man among boys as his 1.13 ERA and 24 strikeouts seemed to indicate he needed a greater challenge. Reading should provide him with this challenge and one of the joys of following Phillie minor league teams this summer will be to chart the exploits of Mr. Hamels. In an organization with a dearth of lefties, he is most definitely the shining light.

Floyd's path to the majors has been much less solid gold than sterling silver, but his two wins in September at the big league level demonstrated that he has what it takes to be a number two starter on future Phillie clubs. After a dominating high school career, Floyd has made steady if unspectacular progress through the system and should begin his ascent to major league stardom this season.

Much as gold was easy to find at the top of the riverbeds in 1849, Floyd and Hamels are equally easy to spot at the top of the Phillie organizational pitching chart. Much less easily spotted are the golden gems encased at the mid levels of the system. Just as rich golden nuggets are buried deep in the ground, the Phils true gems are now found deep at the bottom of the minor league system, out of sight but not out of mind.

Names such as Keith Bucktrot, Robinson Tejeda, Dan Giese, Greg Kubes, Franklin Perez, Matire Franco, Lee Gwaltney, Eude Brito and Francisco Butto may or may not ever cause a major league pitching coach to holler "Eureka" in discovering talents untapped by former miners. Still, they all have their skills, and all have pitched at the high single A level or higher.

All have been discussed in various stages of development during the past few years but suffice it to say that Bucktrot, Tejeda and Brito possess the highest upside, Giese and Kubes the greatest minor league success, Gwaltney and Perez the most untapped potential and Franco and Butto the most intriguing combination of stuff and skill.

If this list seems somewhat short on big names, it is because it no longer includes such luminaries as Elizardo Ramirez, Josh Hancock, Taylor Buchholz, Ezequiel Astacio. Alfredo Simon and Joe Wilson. Each was traded for major league help in the past year. In fact, the Phillie pitching riches was once the envy of organizations far and wide until the aforementioned half dozen were sent packing.

Yet, talk to a Phillie scout and he will extol the athleticism of Bucktrot and Tejeda, the tenacity of Giese and Butto and the 95 MPH fastball of Brito. Still, after Floyd and Hamels, it would be difficult to rate these hurlers in any particular order and Phillie fans can only hope that one or two of them will make their mark in '05.

Talk to any gold prospector and he will speak of the fact that 80 percent of all the gold in California is still buried deep in the ground, waiting to be found and mined. Similarly, talk to most minor league aficionados and they will speak of the same numbers in the Phillie system, a comstock load of at least 80 percent of the golden arms still buried deep in the pharm.

Ah, and herein lies the secret to any future Phillie riches, to ensure that this valuable group of gems is Is not left buried or battered. For if properly mined, this group promises Philadelphia a wealth of pitching talent and victories. One need look no further than the current Top Ten Prospects on the esteemed Baseball America list.

No less than four of the ten await discovery and each is a nugget worthy of mention. Better yet, these represent but a small sample size of the riches to be found at Lakewood, Batavia and the Gulf Coast League. Names like Scott Mathieson, Scott Mitchinson, Carlos Carrasco and Edgar Garcia may soon become household names much like early day pioneers James Marshall and John Sutter.

All four of these hurlers possess uncommon talent, if untapped experience, and any of the quartet may soon take their spots next to Floyd and Hamels on a Philadelphia Who's Who list of major league pitching gems. At worst, each offer hope that the Phillies may soon recapture their place among the organizations mostly likely to win the arms race of baseball.

If Mathieson, Mitchinson, Carrasco and Garcia are the purest of hidden nuggets, they are not alone among the spoils. Add to this list such youngsters as Nate Cabrera, Kyle Kendrick, Maximo Reyes, CJ Woodrow, Kyle Allen, Andrew Baldwin, Joseph Bisenius, JA Happ, Zac Cline, Derek Griffith, Andy Barb, Maximino Delacruz, Robert Mendoza and Kelvin Pichardo and one understands why gold panning is still in vogue.

Each of these hurlers displayed solid gold characteristics, and should continue to shine as they make their steady climb through the organization. Some, like Happ, Cabrera and Bisenius, are draft picks who were expected to have professional success.

Others, like Delacruz, Mendoza and Reyes are part of a burgeoning Latin America program which promises even greater riches in the near future. Still others like Kendrick and Baldwin are those most hidden of gems, the kind worth mining though time is of the essence. The results should be well worth the effort.

As in any numbers game, the exact location of these hurlers in 2005 is subject to needs of the organization. Hurlers like Mathieson and Cabrera should open their seasons in Clearwater, while Kendrick Happ, Bisenius, Baldwin and Griffith may form the starting rotation in Lakewood.

Mitchinson, after his sterling 7-0 season last year, might well be ready for a full year at Lakewood, also, which might bump one of the above hurlers back to Batavia. The young guns like Garcia, Carrasco, Mendoza, Barb and Picardo will undoubtedly continue their steady rise if short season leagues.

Wherever these hurlers should wind up, it can be expected that they will shine brightly during the season. Although pitchers routinely fall by the wayside as they climb the organizational ladder, it should be noted that this system has a habit of producing solid major league arms. Unfortunately, far too many have honed their skills in Philadelphia and cultivated them elsewhere.

It is hoped that this story will soon be a thing of the past as untold riches await if patience is displayed and wisdom carries the day. Better still are the words filtering quietly through the organizational chatter lines. Listen closely and you can hear them speak.

Rumor has it that the Phils are ready to unearth another stellar crop of golden youngsters from the baseball rich diamonds of Venezuela, Columbia and Australia. The word is that this future group promises even further wealth to a team ready to restock its golden arms. If true, then much like dreamers of 1849, long starved Philadelphia Phillie fans can soon dream of pitching riches beyond belief…an East Coast version of a modern day gold rush.

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

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