Our depth chart of minor league outfielders is based on their skills and their potential to be impact major league players and not on how close they are to making the majors. In other words, it is entirely possible for a player who played his first professional season in 2004 to be ranked ahead of a player who has had AAA experience.
1. Ryan Howard
So, is he an outfielder or isn't he? That's the question surrounding Ryan Howard this spring. The Phillies are working him out in left field, but he won't play there in any spring games until at least half-way through the spring training schedule. If he is an outfielder, than he becomes not only the best prospect, but the closest to being ready for the majors. In fact, it appears that offensively, he's ready now. Defensively, it's going to be a challenge, but Howard is working hard at learning the position and is definitely excited about the potential of switching positions. He'll likely start the season at AAA and split his time between first base and left field.
2. Greg Golson
A key question is where Golson will start the season. It's very possible that he'll start at Lakewood, giving him his first experience in a full-season pro league. The Phillies' first round pick from the 2004 Draft has a lot of skill and the Phillies believe that he will measure up to all of the potential that scouts see in him. He had a strong debut season in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .295 in his professional debut. Golson has great speed and a knowledge of how to steal bases and he uses his speed defensively to improve his stock as an outfielder. He's a strong, young player with a lot of good things ahead of him. Unfortunately for Golson, he also has some pretty stiff competition for the title of Phillies "Center Fielder of the Future".
3. Jake Blalock
The Phillies don't have too many power hitters in the minors, who aren't named Ryan Howard. Blalock is one of them though that looks to have all the skills to become a true major league power hitter. It doesn't hurt that he comes with a good pedigree and that his older brother, Hank, has shown himself more than capable of hitting homeruns at the highest level. Blalock is a converted infielder who has adapted to anything and everything he's ever been asked to do on a baseball field. The 21 year old will start the season at Clearwater and figures to move about a level per season until he reaches the major league level.
Bourn may be the stiffest competition for Golson. Some scouts believe Bourn is the one to watch from the group of young outfielders in the system, especially among the center fielders. The Phillies were impressed that Bourn put up on-base percentages over .400 in each of his first two professional seasons. He has good plate discipline and knows how to get on base. If he can cut down on his strikeouts a little more, he's going to be awesome. Once he gets on base, you can almost just assume that he'll be running. Last season at Lakewood, he swiped 57 bases to go with the 23 that he stole at Batavia in his debut season. Scouts aren't afraid to compare Bourn to Florida's Juan Pierre, but many think that he can be even better than the perennial Phillie Killer from Florida.
Of all of the center field prospects, Roberson is the closest to hitting the majors, but that doesn't mean that he can't be replaced. The Phillies have Roberson in camp with them this spring, but he's not going to make the club. Instead, he'll be at Reading, looking to show just what he can do after coming back from a stress fracture in his leg. The injury was the result of being hit by two pitches in almost exactly the same spot. He probably should have taken time off after the first time that he was hit, but Roberson is a gamer who didn't want to come out of the lineup. The reports are that he's completely healthy and the injury shouldn't slow him at all. He was hitting .307 at Clearwater when he was hurt and was truly having a breakout season.
Like Roberson, Padilla is in camp with the Phillies, but won't make the club. Also like Roberson, he has something to prove after injuries have slowed his minor league career. If he stays healthy, he'll likely establish himself this season at Scranton, putting himself back on the upper levels of the Phillies prospect radar. It's looking like Padilla won't necessarily be an everyday major league outfielder, but keep in mind that those injuries have kept him from really showing what he can do. Padilla's power numbers have tailed off, but again, the Phillies believe that Padilla can be a decent homerun hitter if he stays healthy. Health and consistency are the two keys for Jorge Padilla coming into the 2005 season.
7. Ryan Frith
Like Blalock, Frith is one of the developing power hitters in the organization. If there is a drawback, it is that Frith strikes out a lot - 86 times in 255 at bats in 2004 - and the Phillies believe that he has to cut down on those numbers if he is going to be truly effective. Give him some time though, because 2004 was his first professional season and he is making a lot of adjustments in his swing and is also adjusting to using a wooden bat. The Phillies also believe that Frith won't be a one-dimensional player. He has good speed and knows how to help defensively. He'll start the 2005 season at Lakewood.
8. Sean Gamble
Don't think that Gamble was drafted only because of his father - Oscar Gamble - who played for the Phillies. The younger Gamble has his own set of skills and could wind up making his own mark in the majors. The Auburn University product can get himself into trouble when he tries to hit homeruns and he tends to overswing, but the Phillies will work with him a lot on that. They want Gamble to simply put the ball in play and drive in runs. They think he can hit lower in the order and possibly drive in the hitters ahead of him with good consistency, if he can only learn to cut down on his swing. It appears that Gamble is mature both physically and mentally and he has definitely studied the game, giving him a good grasp of how to succeed. He'll move pretty quickly and should be an interesting player to watch.
The Phillies may have stretched a little bit for Macfarlane, taking him in the ninth round of the 2004 Draft, but they believe that if they didn't do it, there were other teams who were setting their sites on Macfarlane and would have loved to grab him. The only reason that Macfarlane didn't get a lot of attention is because he played at Treasure Valley Community College and wasn't in a major baseball program. Macfarlane has generally shown good plate discipline and he has good defensive and fundamental skills. He works hard at his game and the Phillies like the fact that he is somewhat of a work in progress for them to mold. He has decent speed and should be a guy that gets on base and drives other teams nuts by chipping away at them. The Phillies may keep Macfarlane in extended spring camp before sending him out to Batavia when their season starts this summer.
10. Nick Shimer
Nick Shimer needs some work. Somewhere between college and Batavia, he lost his plate discipline and seemed to be swinging at almost everything. It's likely that he simply needs to settle in and that just relaxing and getting used to a wooden bat and the rigors of professional baseball will take care of many of Shimer's problems. He has good power and hit six homeruns in the short-season New York / Penn League as a member of the Batavia MuckDogs last summer. His defense is spotty and he may be a guy that should look to be a DH when he hits the major league level. For now though, the Phillies will keep working with him and believe that he could become a pretty decent major league player in the vein of Jason Michaels.