CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms... Winds of Change

For many long suffering Phillies phans the most anticipated day of the baseball season was Amatuer Draft Day when the team's best strength, it's top notch scouting department, would work their magic and select more than a few plums from the vast array of amateur talent. This season was no different, with one positive caveat. For the first time since 1998, the Phils opened up their pocket books in grand fashion, with the result that this may eventually become the best draft class since that year.

Yes, Phillie phaitful, say good-bye to the mental pictures of J.D. Drew. Bid sayanora to the visions of a signed Lance Niekro or Jason Cooper. Wave farewell to the images of Tommy Whiteman or James Adkins. These are unsigned players from the Ghosts of Unsigned Players Past, and they may soon be replaced by the more welcome sights of a slugging Mike Costanzo or Jeremy Slayden and the nightly features on the strikeout exploits of talented hurlers like Matt Maloney, Brett Harker or Justin Blaine. There is a wind of change within the system, and it is starting with the Class of 2005!

These are but a few of what appears to be a standout crop of newly signed amateur players corraled at the recent pluckings of top young talent. In fact, as the tabulations are still being counted, at last glance no less than 25 of 49 picks have been signed, sealed and delivered, with several more just a dotted line signature away. Even more impressive is that all of the Top 10, as well as 15 of the top 19 have come to terms, with most already plying their trades in either Batavia or the Gulf Coast League.

Before we take more than a casual glance at this year's plums, objectivity demands that we take a moment to lament the losses of the likes of Drew, Niekro, Cooper, Whiteman and Adkins. This is done not so much as an indictment of past philosophies (though that point should be clear enough) but to celebrate the awakening of what may be a better understanding of just how a team is built in today's new realities of fiscal priorities.

The story of Drew is an old one and need not be rehashed. Truth be told, he never wanted to play in Philadelphia, and his agent, Scott Boras, would have found a way to turn down any offer made by the Phils, regardless of the price tag. Judging by Drew's less than scintillating ability to stay healthy, the Phils probably were correct in not going overboard on J.D., even though his agent certainly did.

Not so, the cases of Cooper and Niekro. It takes no more than a casual glance at the daily boxscores to know that Lance Niekro is succeeding famously in San Francisco, and he probably was worth the $10,000 dollars that stood in the way of getting him signed out of high school.

As for Cooper, he is a power-hitting youngster now toiling in the Cleveland organization, and his bat might have made he and Ryan Howard the best back-to-back lefty sluggers in the minor leagues today. Better yet, he might have provided future protection in case the incumbent slugger, Pat Burrell, faced another of his frustrating but annual slumps.

Tommy Whiteman is a shortstop in the Houston organization and he might have made the Phils less likely to bequeath 40 million dollars on the incumbent shortstop, Jimmy Rollins. This is not to say that Rollins is unworthy of this amount, but it makes fiscal responsibility easier to tow when the options aren't so limited. Had Rollins fled, the Phils might have had to tout the virtues of one Tomas Perez as his replacement, and nary one Phillie phan would have been fooled.

Finally, the James Adkins previoulsy mentioned has certainly been in the sports news lately. Yes, the unsigned Adkins is the same lefty freshman who recently racked up back-to-back strikeout totals of 15 and 14 in collegiate World Series games. Best that can be recalled, Adkins was more than willing to turn down his University of Tennessee scholarship for Phillie Red if there had been more Phillie Gold included in the deal. The Phils said no, so Adkins said no, and the rest is collegiate highlight history.

It must be duly noted that until this recent signing bonanza, it was easier to find gold in the American River than it was to find standout healthy lefties in the Philadelphia pharm system. Happily for Phillie phanatics, this dearth of southpaw talent is a thing of the past, for reasons which are about to be explained.

So, for one last time, wipe the slate clean on the likes of Drew and Cooper, Niekro, Whiteman and Adkins, and say hello to the Class of 2005. Unless baseball scouts have completely got it wrong, more than a few of these names will someday dot the lineups of Phillie teams yet to come. Yes, phans, this draft class has a chance to be something special.

Not only does this class seem to have depth in numbers but the pedigree of these players seems to indicate than more than a few of them have a chance to be something special. College players like Mike Costanzo, Jeremy Slayden and Tuffy Gosewich as well as high school standouts like Mike Durant and Jermaine Williams are not only strong hitters, but seem to possess the qualities necessary for big league success.

Costanzo at third base, Slayden in left field and Gosewich behind the plate will all show their skills in Batavia this summer, while the less experienced Williams and Durant will begin their careers in the less stressful atmosphere of the Rookie League Gulf Coast League. All were selected in the first eleven rounds of the draft, and all but Gosewich are currently signed, sealed and delivered. Gosewich's Arizona State team was just bounced from the College World Series so his signiture on the dotted line is but a mere formality.

On the pitching ledger, the news is equally positive. The Phils addressed their pressing need for southpaw help from the hill by selecting and signing such skilled lefties as Matt Maloney, Justin Blaine and the appropriately named Josh Outman, all drafted within the first ten rounds. Also signed quickly was twelfth round pick, Mike Zajurski, a standout collegian from the University of Kansas.

Equally impressive was the quick signature of top high school righty, Matt Olson, the kind of player that in the past would spurn all Phillie advances and then become a star at the college level. No doubt, the Phils had to overpay to sign such high school gems as Durant, Williams and Olson, but if even one of this talented trio makes it to the big leagues someday it will have been well worth it!

Durant is a 6'5" slugger from Berkley whose power exploits are legendary in the Bay Area. Williams was merely the Los Angeles Central City "Player of the Year" and compiled such numbers as a .566 batting average and 44 stolen bases while walking an impressive 28 times in his senior year. He has the look of a leadoff hitter at the major league level while Durant projects as a middle of the order hitter.

Olson was expected to be a very difficult sign, yet was convinced to join PhillieLand within days of the draft. He will be a starting pitcher in the GCL. He may soon be joined by either David Huff or Vance Worley, two talented yet highly prized pitchers bound for four year schools in college. The Phils seem confident that they can nab at least one of the two, with Worley the more likely signee.

Other talented players under contract include Harker, a fifth round selection from the College of Charleston and second sacker, Clay Harris from LSU. Harker was a standout reliever in college and could advance quickly in the same role with the Phils. Harris should take the more pedestian one step at a time advancement through the Phillie pharm system.

Names to keep an eye on include high school shortstop Derrick Mitchell from Paw Paw, Michigan and draft and follow candidates like right-hander Andrew Ibarz and shortstop Ryan Seldon. The Phils seem to think they have a reasonable chance of signing these gems and if this happens, the draft will take on an even brighter glow. In all, the Phils selected almost an entire class of high school prospects from rounds 31 on, another welcome sight for Phillie minor league gurus who have had more than their fill of minor league "fillers", players signed by the Phillies who were collegiate seniors and had almost no chance of ever advancing the minor league ladder.

As promising as the draft and sign news has been, the stories filtering out of the minor leagues in regards to present Phillie top prospects is equally positive. At the top of the charts is the return of mega prospect, lefty Cole Hamels, from the injured list. Not only has Hamels finally returned to the hill, but he has done it in standout fashion, to the tune of a 2-0 record and nary an earned run allowed in his first 11 innings of work at Clearwater.

Hamels has been as dominating as ever, and if present performance continues, watch for a promotion to Double-A Reading by late July. This would once again place him on the fast track to Citizens Bank Park, with an arrival of late 2006 expected. He would probably join the Phils other mega pitching prospect, Gavin Floyd, who has finally returned to form after several poor performances.

Unlike Hamels, Floyd has shown the kind of sustained success to guarantee a call-up to Philadelphia soon if the current crop of major league starters continue to struggle. In fact, as Phillie fortunes fall by the day, a September rotation of Floyd and Ryan Madson appears more likely by the day. Add to this the skills of Brett Myers and Hamels, and it is not inconceivable that four fifths of the future rotation are already in the organization.

Other top prospects currently enjoying sustained minor league success include slugger Ryan Howard, speedsters Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson and Single-A talents like Jake Blalock, Jason Jaramillo, Greg Golson and Ryan Frith. All but Frith are considered Top Ten talent, and could someday make their debuts in Philadelphia.

It is always wise to be conservative when judging minor leaguers and their ability to transfer minor league success to the big league level, yet it is safe to say that for all the trevails garnered this campaign in the Phillie pharm system, there is finally a hint of optimism, unbridled as it may be. Not only does the system have a viable Top 10 prospect list of successful candidates like Howard, Hamels, Floyd, Bourn, Blalock, Golson, Jaramillo, Roberson and lefty starter J.A. Happ, but the recent cornucopia of signed picks from the draft of 2005 offers hope that the Phils have finally seen the mistakes of their ways and decided to rectify those mistakes.

Although the struggles at the major league level promise changes at the highest level, the story appears much brighter at the lowest levels, where despair has been replaced by optimism, and losses have been replaced by victories. Yes, Phillie phaithful, change is in the wind, and if like wind, it cannot readily be seen, it can be felt. A welcome breeze, indeed, one that promises to bring a wind of change to a system that is badly in need of one at this time.

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

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