Out of Left Field: Phils Face A Floyd Folly

When Gavin Floyd was drafted with the number four overall pick in the 2001 draft, he stated that he didn't want to feel rushed to get to the majors. He would take his time, learn, and get there in "maybe two or three years" the high school phenom deadpanned. 2005 will mark Floyd's fourth full season in the Phillies system. Four years that have seen him meet, or exceed, every expectation that was laid upon him.

Last week saw Gavin Floyd drop a seven inning, one run performance on the vaunted St. Louis Cardinals offense that boasts at least three, and possibly four, bonafide MVP caliber players. So, naturally, the Phillies are planning to send Floyd back to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as soon as he makes one final start Friday against the Braves. While this certainly comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched the Phillies front office operate over the past few years, the question remains, is Floyd ready for prime time?

Phillies fans have watched in silent anguish as promising youngster after "can't miss" phenom has been dangled in front of them recently, only to be snatched away at the last moment. First, monster-masher Ryan Howard was summarily sent packing to Scranton after a torrid spring. Then, Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel pulled the carpet from underneath erstwhile "starter" Chase Utley, who once again finds himself the Boy Wonder to Placido Polanco's Dark Knight at second base. The Fightin's faithful are only left to wonder what a roster might look like featuring four of their most heralded first round picks: Pat Burrell (1998), Brett Myers (1999), Utley (2000), and Floyd (2001).

That's quite a run for Mike Arbuckle and the Phillies scouting staff, especially when you consider that sandwiched around those four picks were J.D. Drew (1997) and Cole Hamels (2002). Drew famously torched the Phillies after warning them not to draft him, and Hamels was thought to be progressing even quicker than Floyd, until he had his first beer and decided to throw something besides a devastating change-up with his celebrated left hand.

The argument is easy to make for sending Floyd packing. He doesn't make nearly as much money as the other guys in the rotation, and there is that whole thing about "options." Realistically, after only five starts at the AAA level, it's also easy to understand that Floyd could benefit from a little more experience at Scranton. A few weeks back I said that I agreed with getting Ryan Howard everyday at-bats at Scranton instead of remaining on the bench with the big club. So, why should Floyd be treated differently?

Well, for starters (no pun intended); he's not blocked by Jim Thome. The guys blocking Floyd are named Vicente Padilla and Cory Lidle. Ryan Howard, for all his power and potential is blocked by a guy who is better than he; not so with Floyd, who projects as a number one starter, something Padilla and Lidle could never hope to be, and is today at least a number three or four.

Padilla has shown flashes of dominance in the past, and if his arm problems are really over, should be able to recapture the All-Star form that saw him win 14 games in both 2002 and 2003. Lidle is a ground ball pitching, innings-eater who was brought in specifically to do battle with "cozy" Citizens Bank Park. But neither of these guys are Gavin Floyd.

Floyd came out of Mount St. Joseph's prep school, near Baltimore, Maryland, as a highly touted power pitcher with a wicked curve. He amassed a high school mark of 30-5, including going 8-2 his senior season, striking out 103 batters in just 63 innings. Prepared to join his older brother Michael at the University of South Carolina, the Phillies signed him in a true "eleventh-hour" deal the night before classes were scheduled to start in 2001.

In 2002 with Lakewood, Floyd won 11 games while striking out 140 batters in a little over 160 innings and posted an ERA of 2.77. He followed that splendid season, in which Baseball America named him the best prospect in the Phillies minor league system, by posting 7 wins and a 3.00 ERA at Clearwater in 2003. Floyd, despite indications that his arm wore down late in the season, still struck out 115 in 138 innings. Last season saw Floyd progress through AA Reading (where he was named to the Eastern League All-Star team) and make five starts at AAA Scranton before joining the Phillies and going 2-0, with a 3.49 ERA in four starts last fall.

This spring, the 22-year old showed tremendous poise, leading the Phillies in victories and strikeouts during the pre-season while holding opponents to a .158 batting average in his first four spring starts. After last week's outing against the defending National League Champion Cardinals, Floyd has to wonder just what he needs to do to prove he's ready. Another solid outing against the Braves on Friday will probably not be enough to change the Phillies minds about sending Floyd down. He'll have to go to Scranton, commiserate with Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd, keep his head on straight, and force the Phils front office to make room for him. Here's hoping for a Bystrom-esque return in the second half that sparks an October run.

Columnist's note: I welcome any feedback; please send your comments to dncurry@comcast.net.

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