Reading's pitching staff features a number of new faces. Erick Burke, Ryan Cameron, Travis Minix, Edwin Moreno, Chris Rojas, Mike Smith and Jeff Wilson are all new to the Phillies organization and will start the year at Reading. That means that seven of the twelve pitchers on the roster came from outside of the organization. Two former members of the R-Phils pitching staff, Keith Bucktrot and Matt Squires are starting the season on the DL. Bucktrot has some tenderness in his shoulder and was shut down as a precaution and Squires is rehabbing from shoulder surgery performed late last season.
Erick Burke split his time between AA Frisco and AAA Oklahoma in 2004. He had a lot of success at Frisco (4-2, 1.77), but struggled at the AAA level, posting a 5.29 ERA in 24 games at Oklahoma, where he was a teammate of Scranton pitcher Mike Bacsik, who was in major league camp with the Phillies this spring. Burke started the season at AAA for Texas, but was demoted after struggling. Burke isn't the only one to come to the Phillies from the Rangers organization. Edwin Moreno was 5-6, 6.01 at Frisco and will return to the AA level, opening the year with Reading.
The Phillies reached into the independent leagues for three pitchers last season and all three are opening at Reading. Carlos Chantres returns to Reading after going 1-3, 6.91 as a member of the R-Phils in 2004. Felix Villegas was also at Reading last season, after opening the year with the Atlantic City Surf of the Atlantic League. Villegas went 3-1, 3.35 in 31 games at the AA level and could wind up in AAA before the season ends. Allen Davis pitched at Clearwater last year after signing with the Phillies from the independent ranks. Davis was 1-0, 0.00 in a three-game audition with the Threshers.
After splitting his time between Clearwater, Reading and Scranton last season, Ryan Hutchison was hoping to open the year in AAA. Instead, he's back in Reading, where he pitched in 12 games. The majority of his time was in Clearwater (29 games) and the Phillies want him to have some more exposure at AA before they move him along, even though he was successful at every level last season. Hutchison was 1-3, 3.18 in his stint at Reading last summer. He will likely serve as Reading's closer, since he had the most saves of any pitcher on the opening day roster for Reading. Hutchison saved a total of 7 games last season, all at Clearwater.
Tim Gradoville and Trent Pratt will handle the catching for Reading. Neither figures to produce the way Carlos Ruiz did last season, but both are capable. Gradoville has slightly better offensive numbers, although both finished last season with four homeruns and 26 RBI at Clearwater. Gradoville would figure to see the majority of the time, but the two co-existed last year at Clearwater and should do the same at AA Reading.
Reading's infield should be pretty slick. Ryan Barthelemy, Alex Prieto, Danny Gonzalez and Juan Richardson will see most of the time in the starting lineup. Brian Hitchcox figures to get his share of at bats, as do Nate Grindell and Jeff Phelps. Richardson and Gonzalez had hoped for a ticket to Scranton, but neither got the promotion that they hoped for. Phelps is starting the season on the DL with a bad back.
Prieto spent some time in the majors with Minnesota last season and spent the majority of his time at AAA Rochester. Barthelemy is a rising star in the Phillies organization after belting 14 homeruns and hitting .295 at Clearwater. He'll anchor first base, with Prieto at second, while Gonzalez and Richardson will handle the left side of the infield. It's possible that either Gonzalez or Richardson will wind up in Scranton if they perform the way the Phillies hope for them to do.
While Gonzalez and Richardson didn't get the promotions they were hoping for, Michael Bourn did. The Phillies are allowing Bourn to skip Clearwater and move directly to Reading, where he'll pair up with Chris Roberson. The two are in a neck and neck battle for the title of center fielder of the future in the Phillies organization. It's likely that Roberson will see time in right field, but both could move to other outfield spots to help find jobs for both in the long-term picture. One thing is for sure, the two will give Reading plenty of speed.
Ryan Fleming and Jim Deschaine are also part of the Reading outfield. The two are likely to platoon in left field. Both spent their 2004 seasons at Reading and both were productive, although neither figure in the major league plans for the Phillies.
The Reading roster seems to be pretty strong and balanced. After a disappointing season last year, the Reading fans could see a vast improvement in their club in '05.