CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms... Changes Matter

The mood is significantly upbeat. The players are more purposeful in their steps. The sense is one of optimism and hope. For a Philadelphia Phillie minor leaguer these are heady times. The reasons are many and definitive. In an organization that often seemed much too enamored with "veteran presence", the philosophy is changing and this can only be good news for many of the skilled players in the system. With this in mind, let's take a look at which players are likely to benefit from this change.

Listen closely to the scouts of various teams and the whisper becomes a buzz. The Phillies have a hurler who looks more than ready to have a successful season in the big leagues. Randy Wolf? The jury remains out on this stylish lefty. Vicente Padilla? Many scouts wonder if he will even make it through the season. Jon Lieber or Cory Lidle? Solid but unspectacular types for sure. No, the name on everyone's lips this spring is mega-prospect, Gavin Floyd, he of the drop off a table curveball and rediscovered fastball.

Floyd has unquestionably been the most impressive hurler in PhillieLand this spring yet in spring's past it wouldn't have mattered. He would have been penciled in to start the season at Scranton and no amount of logic would have changed the course of this decision. Yet, this year, the pencil has an eraser and the name Floyd is now being written down as a Phillie starter instead of a Baron ace.

This is not only good news for pennant hungry Philadelphia fans, but also gives hope to all Phillie minor leaguers of more than ample talent. The message is clear...perform well and show that you belong and you will be promoted. After too many seasons of Paul Abbott and Doug Glanville, it is time to see just what players like Floyd, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can do at the big league level.

In fact, it says here that before the Dog Days of August present their unwelcome sights no less than five Phillie youngsters will be making more than insignificant contributions to what is hoped to be a City of Brotherly Lovefest this fall. Besides the above threesome, names like Dan Giese, Clay Condrey and Martire Franco may also see their names in major league boxscores before the season reaches September.

The message is clear. Produce and you will be rewarded. Manager Charlie Manuel has an uncomplicated way of viewing things. He rewards production and is less affected by past press clippings than was former manager, Larry Bowa. Manuel also understands that this is a team "in a hurry" with a window of opportunity closing fast. If a Floyd or Cole Hamels can help bring a pennant to Philadelphia, then they will be on the field. 

This makes for a competitive and exciting minor league camp. Youngsters like catchers Jason Jaramillo and Louis Marson have looked quite impressive and seem to have given the Phils their best backstop depth in at least a decade. Shortstop Danny Gonzalez was thrilled to play in a major league exhibition game and now understands that if he has a solid season at Scranton he could be Jimmy Rollins' backup by next year.

In the outfield, speedsters like Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson gave Phillie fans more than a taste of the future by showing hitting and fielding skills that had the Phil's brass salivating with anticipation. Clearly, centerfield is in future good hands with Bourn, Roberson and number one draft pick, Greg Golson all showing major league talent.

On the medical front the news was also positive. Third basemen Juan Richardson, Terry Jones and Kiel Fisher all appear healthy and primed for breakout years after an injury wracked '04 campaign. Richardson will open at Scranton, while Jones is likely to begin his year at Clearwater. Fisher's location is a bit more problematic as he could open the season at Lakewood or remain in extended spring until the weather warms up in May.

As for Hamels, the former wunderkind southpaw who has seen his status drop with every setback, he is progressing nicely after breaking his hand in a fight last February. He hopes to be throwing soon and is on target for a mid-May debut, probably in Clearwater. Though the Phils won't acknowledge it publicly, they will judge Hamels purely on his production from here on out. No more visions of grandeur for a hurler with less than 150 innings pitched in two seasons of work.

Nevertheless, Hamels is a major talent and if healthy and properly motivated, he could be pitching in Double-A by the end of the season. If this occurs, the Phils dream of a Floyd-Hamels top of the rotation lineup could still occur sometime in 2006. Truth be told, it is now up to Hamels to show that he is worthy of all the fuss. In the new Phillie way of doing things, a youngster will be rewarded for production, not press clippings. 

This is not only sound, but wise. It gives hope to youngsters like Giese, Eude Brito, Carlos Ruiz and Gonzalez. It should make for a strong minor league system this year, though Reading may be a bit weak due to a lack of top prospects at the Double-A level. Contrast that to Clearwater, a team that may have no less than a dozen major league prospects on their roster.

Besides the likely status of Bourn on the roster [though there are rumors that he could get elevated to Reading], other players of note on the Clearwater roster include slugging outfielder Jake Blalock, infielders Bryan Hansen, Tim Moss, Carlos Rodriguez and Mark Tugwell and catcher Chico Cortez. Pitchers of note for the Threshers include Eric Arteaga, Nate Cabrera, Scott Mathieson, Kyle Parcus and C.J. Woodrow.

Lakewood's roster is expected to be filled with several 2004 draft picks who spent their rookie seasons at Batavia. Players of note include number two draft pick, catcher Jason Jaramillo, infielders Sam Orr, John Hardy, Josh Mader and Carl Galloway and outfielders Sean Gamble, Ryan Frith, Jason Crosland and Nicholas Shimer. Expected to anchor the pitching staff are talented hurlers as Kyle Kendrick, Andrew Baldwin, J.A. Happ, Derek Griffith and Joe Bisenius.

No organizational rookies were more impressive last summer than number one pick, outfielder Greg Golson and righty Scott Mitchinson. Golson hit .295 in his professional debut while Mitchinson was 7-0 with an amazing one walk in 62 innings pitched. Solid springs could elevate both to full season minor league stints at Lakewood.

Whither Ryan Howard has been the most frequently asked question of the spring, and the answer is a complex one. Logic dictates that he spend at least a few months at Triple-A Scranton and this does appear his likely destination. Yet, at what position? His natural spot at first base is currently occupied by Jim Thome so the experiment of Howard in the outfield had been an ongoing one, with not enough positive results to finish.

Look for Howard to concentrate on playing first base with the Barons with only an occasional appearance in left field if needed, and watch for him to be promoted when a designated hitter is needed in June against the American League. At any rate, Howard's bat has been one of the highlights of the spring, and it still appears that the Phils would be making a grave error if they trade him for anything less than a top flight talented player in return.

Speaking of the Barons, the roster should be a solid mixture of youngsters and veterans, all merely a phone call from Citizens Bank Park. Among the players who should stay close to their phones are catcher A.J. Hinch, infielder Danny Gonzalez, outfielder Jorge Padilla and pitchers Dan Giese, Clay Condrey, Rob Tejeda and Martire Franco.

Under the watchful eye of Mike Arbuckle and Company the Philadelphia Phillies are once again producing solid major league prospects at an impressive clip. Unfortunately, too many of these prospects, notably pitchers, have been dealt away in pursuit of short term major league help. At long last, the philosophy seems to be changing.

Starting with second baseman Chase Utley and pitchers Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd, the Phils seem determined to reward minor league talent with major league jobs. Given the veteran status of such luminaries as Mike Lieberthal, Jim Thome, Tim Worrell, Rheal Cormier and Terry Adams, this seems not only necessary, but wise. The philosophical turn seems genuine, the talent base expanding.

In a franchise that often seems to make change only grudgingly, this new philosophy is welcome. If the Philadelphia Phillies are determined to compete with the likes of the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins for the rest of the decade, it will be players like Roberson, Howard, Blalock, Bourn, Floyd and Hamels who will lead the way.

Clearly, there is change in the air. Change for the better, change that should mean bright days ahead in the organization. For the players currently in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system, indeed, these changes are no minor matter.

Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast

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