Spotlight of Concern Shines on Bucktrot

When a young pitcher struggles, there can be any number of reasons. The Phillies are sorting through the reasons why Keith Bucktrot struggled last season and continued to struggle this spring in major league camp. Some of the possibilities simply aren't very good.

The Phillies haven't said much about Keith Bucktrot. That in itself is interesting. The young pitching prospect stumbled greatly in camp this spring and was on the first list of cuts that were announced on Monday. Now, he's back at minor league camp and the Phillies will keep a careful eye on him in an attempt to gauge exactly what is going on.

Is it an injury? There is a long list of pitchers - particularly young pitchers - who do all they can to hide injuries. A sore elbow or shoulder can greatly change how an organization looks at a young pitcher. Actually, the pitchers worry about it more than most clubs do, since teams are used to seeing pitchers rebound from injuries. The advancements in surgical techniques have been a growth industry and have greatly extended many careers; just ask Tommy John. He's become more famous for the surgery named after him than for what he did with a baseball in his hand.

The Phillies will openly say that Bucktrot is fine physically. Yes, he was shut down for a time last season while pitching for AA Reading, but that was nothing serious, at least from all of the public reports. The sore shoulder first erupted in late April and it was July Fourth until Bucktrot was coming off the DL and was deemed ready to resume his season. The results after that weren't as impressive as Bucktrot or the Phillies had hoped for. Both sides insisted that Bucktrot was healed and that he was just struggling. So why then was his velocity shaky at times? Why was he unable to find the type of action on his pitches that he had already had before. He finished the year with a 4.87 ERA in 20 starts. He still came close to the six innings per game average that he has generally reached during his minor league career, throwing 105.1 innings. This spring, Bucktrot pitched in two games and lasted just 1.2 innings, getting hit hard on both occasions. He finished his major league spring audition with a 32.40 ERA and opponents hit .545 off of him.

Is it the innings? Bucktrot does pitch deep into games. He always has and the Phillies hope that he always will. In 2002, he pitched back-to-back complete games as a member of the Clearwater Phillies. Bucktrot has averaged 139 innings of work pitching for full-season minor league teams over the past four seasons. That number jumps to 158 innings per season over the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Suffice it to say that Bucktrot pitches a lot and that does cause wear and tear on an arm.

The bottom line is this; The Phillies have concerns about Keith Bucktrot. He was at one time, one of the higher thought of pitching prospects in the organization, but a weak season at AA and a bad spring with the major league club have caused some wringing of hands among the Phillies brass.

The hope is that Bucktrot is simply one of those pitchers that hit a bit of a wall when they reach AA, although that wall wasn't there when Bucktrot made seven AA starts in 2003 and finished with a 2.56 ERA for Reading. Even with that stat, there is some thought that Bucktrot may just need more work. There are some in the organization that believe he should repeat at least part of the season at AA and others believe that he's fine and simply needs to be moved along, no matter what 2004 looked like. It's likely that the Phillies will in fact put Bucktrot in the rotation at Scranton, along with Gavin Floyd to give the Red Barons what should be a formidable rotation. It gets even stronger when you insert Rob Tejeda into the mix at AAA.

There are many players in the system to keep an eye on this spring and summer. Not the least of which will be Keith Bucktrot. Where will he start the season? How will he pitch? Can he regain the velocity and movement that failed him last summer? Those are all concerns for the Phillies and questions for Bucktrot to answer from this day forward.

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