Someone who was supposed to provide an spark at the plate was the recently recalled Ryan Howard, who replaced the struggling Jim Thome who succumbed to back pain that forced him to make a trip to the Disabled List. Howard has provided the antithesis of a spark in the lineup since his call-up from Scranton on May 3rd. Howard was lighting International League pitching on fire to the tune of a .316 average to go along with four homeruns and fourteen runs batted in in only twenty-three games for the Red Barons. Since his call-up to the Majors, Howard has struggled mightily in six games hitting an infinitesimal .056 in eighteen at-bats. Wade is unconcerned about his prized slugger's Major League growing pains and believes he will eventually come around. "Ryan Howard just needs at-bats. I'm not concerned and it's not of great consequence that he's struggled. It's an adjustment and our role is just to give him opportunities and at-bats to perform and he will come around for us." said Wade.
Since Howard's departure, the Scranton team he played for has gone from a .500 team, to a team that is four games under .500 and at the bottom of the International League Northern division. All told, Scranton is 1-5 since Howard was called up. Wade is currently the general manager of an organization whose farm system is among the most barren in baseball. The entire farm system has a combined winning percentage of .334 through the first five weeks of the season. Probably most troubling is the performance of the Class-A teams in the Phillies system. These two teams have a total of 15 wins combined through the early season. Wade though is unconcerned about the farm system's futility, admitting that it is not as deep as in past years, but saying that he doesn't believe that team success is always the best indicator of success at the minor league level.
"Team performance is not always a clear indication of success and progress at the minor league level. Clearly, we're not as deep as we used to be in the farm system because of trades that we've made and drafts where we've lost picks as compensation for free agents we've signed, but we've got a good crop of prospects coming up in the lower minor leagues. Guys we're high on. In a perfect world, you like your guys to experience the developmental process in a winning environment and that's why we've gone out and signed some free agents to stabilize some of these clubs and add some veteran experience in the way they go about their business and the game." said Wade.
Winning one out of every three games as the Phils minor league system currently is on pace to do does not bode well for the future of the Phillies major league team, even if, as Wade says, there are some quality prospects developing in it.
Wade singled out Greg Golson, Jason Jaramillo, and Michael Bourn as examples of three prospects he thinks can help the Phillies at the Major League level. Bourn is making the transition to playing at Double-A Reading after playing at low-A Lakewood all last season. He seems to be making the transition well, hitting .290 at Reading after posting a .317 average in 109 games for Lakewood last season. Wade says, "It's a big step (for Bourn). It's a good jump but our development staff felt he could handle that kind of promotion and he needs to take advantage of the opportunity."
Wade paid particular attention to the struggling Lakewood club at the low-A level, citing several players who he and the staff think have the ability to be major league players. Wade said, "We have a lot of good prospects. Our Lakewood club has several promising players. We think Greg Golson is a tools centerfielder out of last year's draft, who can help us as well as Jaramillo, the catcher. We like both guys and the pitchers as well. I was able to go out there on Saturday and see DeLaCruz and Happ pitch in a doubleheader and they both threw well. DeLaCruz has a good three-pitch mix that we really like and John Vukovich saw Carlos Carrasco and was impressed with the way he threw so we have a lot of good young prospects."
But, with the number of former minor league coaches the Phillies have tapped for the major league staff this season, are there enough qualified instructors teaching in the Phillies organization? It's not as though veteran coaches like Marc Bombard, Bill Dancy, and Rich Dubee can be replaced automatically. Wade believes the Phillies organization is placed well, even to handle departures such as the ones mentioned. "I think our development staff is one of the best in the game, in fact I don't think there's a stronger one in baseball. Anytime you can recruit a guy like Gene Lamont to replace Marc Bombard in Scranton and Steve Swisher with this Reading team. I'm very comfortable with the level of development in our system and the guys we have developing them." says Wade.
With the chronic early season speculation about his job security, it is only natural that Wade might find himself caught up in it and that it might be affecting his ability to do his job, but he claims that simply isn't true. Wade says, "I don't worry about my job. I just come to work everyday trying to do the best I can and if at some point the organization decides they need to go in another direction, I'll understand that. " Likewise, the general manager doesn't worry about what columnists or sports talk show hosts say about his trades and signings either. "I don't get bogged down in criticism. Unless you're parked in neutral, someone's not going to agree with your decisions and let you know about it. I don't really worry about it." says Wade.
Wade has learned in eight seasons as the Phillies general manager that criticism will abound from all different sources and that he has to have a thick skin to be able to survive. There are sometimes though when he should make sure that everything is known about a particular player or situation before becoming involved or risking our prospects on players who aren't worth that kind of value.
For any questions or comments about this article, contact Todd Tranausky through e-mail at ThunderPhil20@aol.com.