CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms... Class-A Teams

These have been lean times for Clearwater and Lakewood. Although both teams seemed to have several fine prospects, a combination of injuries, bad luck and just plain failed expectations have led to both teams scrambling to finish on a respectable note. Still, it would be unwise to assume that simply because a team is playing poorly or has a bad record that there may not be a few diamonds in the rough to mine. Let's go diamond hunting and see what we can find!

Before the middle of 2004, if you talked to anyone closely connnected with the Phillie organization and asked them to name their most dissapointing player in the system, more than a few would have mentioned second baseman Tim Moss. Not only did he have the pedigree as an All-American college player from a major college power [University of Texas] but he was the Phils top draft choice in 2003, albeit with a third round pick.

Ah, and herein lies part of the rub in my opinion. Most Phillie fans forgot that although Moss was the Phils' top pick, he was still a third round selection. They envisioned him playing like a top pick and when he didn't he was labeled a major flop. Truth be told, the Phillies privately wondered if they had committed a major gaffe in selecting him. He looked nothing like the daring do who made so much happen while a Longhorn for the National Champion Texas team.

In fact, immediately after he was selected in June of 2003, yours truly wrote a glowing article about him saying the Phils hoped he would turn into a successful major league leadoff hitter, much like Pete Rose had been. I titled it "Phils Hope a Moss Becomes a Rose." Needless to say, this article fell from grace rapidly as he hit but .150 as a minor league rookie.

When Moss began the '04 season in the same manner, there were even whispers that he could get an early release if things didn't improve. Critcs talked of the '03 draft being the worst Phillie draft ever and even insinuated that quite possibly no players from this draft would ever see the light of major league day. Considering that center fielder Michael Bourn was selected immediately following Moss and is well on his way to Citizens Bank Park, this statement seemed a bit premature, but in the case of Moss, most felt the only moss to see Philadelphia would be the schrubbery growing near the outfield fences.

Then a funny thing happened to Moss on the way to the unemployment line...he went to the doctor for an examination after complaining of being tired. Presto! It seems as if Tim Moss was suffering from a blood pressure disorder that was easily regulated by medication. Almost overnight, Tim Moss was transformed into the whirling dervish that the Phils had envisioned when they selected him. He finished the 2004 season on a strong note at Lakewood and has continued his sterling play this year at Clearwater.

In fact, currently Tim Moss is a candidate for the Paul Owens Award, given annually to the top player in the Phillies pharm system. Moss may not win it but he will garner some votes and they are well deserved. Not only is he hitting a solid .277 but has shown surprising and unexpected pop with the bat. As of Monday, Moss had 15 home runs and 48 RBI to go along with an outstanding .511 slugging percentage.

If he should continue this pace, the Phils may soon be faced with a pleasant dilema. Chase Utley is firmly entrenched at second base in Philadelphia and should be for the next several seasons. This could create a log jam for Moss unless he shows the ability to play multiple positions. The Phils once thought of converting him to the outfield and may revisit this in the Florida Instructional League.

Be that as it may, Moss has once again established himself as a Phillie of the Phuture and his progress at Reading next season will be closely monitored. Watch for him to climb into the Phil's Top Twenty Prospect List at the end of the year. Speaking of Phillie top prosects leads us to the other Phightin Phil player at Clearwater worth more than a casual glance.

Jake Blalock comes from outstanding baseball pedigree, his father being a coach and his brother, Hank, being a star third baseman in Texas. This alone should qualify Blalock for special mention but his grit, determination and absolute will to succeed has made him even more appealing to a Phillie organization badly in need of a few good men. Blalock has done everything asked of him this season and his .283 average and 10 home runs belies the progress he has made.

Make no mistake, Blalock is a power hitter deluxe, but the Phils asked him to work on his swing this year and not only cut down on his strikeouts but learn to take the outside pitch to right field. By all accounts he has been very successful at this and the Phils fully expect the mega power to return next year when the friendlier confines of Reading becomes home for Blalock.

If all goes according to plan, Jake Blalock should make his major league debut some time in late 2007 and will one day start as a corner outfielder in Philadelphia. His powerful arm and excellent reflexes make him an outstanding defensive player and his absolute desire to excel almost guarantees that he will one day become all that he can be with the Phils.

Another player worthy of mention is Marc Tugwell, ertswhile third baseman, catcher and general Have Bat, Will Travel. Ironically, his very versatility may be his biggest problem as the Phils seem unable to decide where he best fits in. He has played the corner infield positions, has tried his hand at second base, and was recently converted to catcher. Through it all, two things have continued to happen.

For one, Tugwell has struggled to stay healthy, with one nagging injury after another stunting his progress. And for another, he has continued to display one of the best bats in the Phillie organization. He is now at .294 after flirting with the .300 mark all season and his .367 OBP is a strong testament to his ability to get on base. At some point, Tugwell will have to master a position so his offensive potential can be best utilized.

On the pitching front, three pitchers deserve special mention. Former second round draft pick, Zack Segovia continues to show that Tommy John surgery patients need two full seasons to completely recover from the injury. While pitching painfree after surgery in '04, Segovia has struggled with his command and has yet to completely recover the 93-94 MPH fastball that he featured before the injury. His 2-9 reocrd attests to his struggles, but in his latest start he was outstanding and came away with a much needed 3-2 win.

The Phils are just happy he is pitching pain free and fully expect him to return to form next season. Plans call for Segovia to eventually go to the bullpen where his bulldog mentality may well make him a top notch closer someday.

Speaking of closers, Nick Evangelista deserves special mention not only for his 6-6 record and 8 saves but for making the most of limited stuff. A low round draft pick in '04, Evangelista is the kind of player any manager would like to have...a righty who can pitch every day and a hurler who always makes the best use of the stuff he has. Evangelista has without doubt been the best hurler on the Clearwater staff and with relievers always in demand, may well get his chance some day in the big leagues.

Undoubtedly the most talented hurler on the staff is righty Scott Mathieson, who recently pitched in the Minor League Futures game. Although his 1-4 record doesn't show it, Mathieson is one of the top hurlers in the system, ranking just a tad below Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd on the prospect chart. A better gauge of his skills is shown in the 85 strikeouts in but 80 innings pitched. His fastball often tops out at 94-95 MPH and if this continues, he will pitch in the big leagues by 2008.

The Lakewood BlueClaws have begun to play better after a dismal opening two months and have several of the Phil's top prospects on the roster, most from the amateur draft of 2004. Among them are top pick Greg Golson, second round choice Jason Jaramillo and third round pick, J.A. Happ. These players, along with Sean Gamble, Ryan Frith, Sam Orr, Andrew Baldwin, Derek Griffith, Nate Johnson and Joe Barrack make up most of the top picks on the team from the past two seasons.

Golson has been a pleasant surprise, given the fact that he is a 19 year old playing on a full season minor league club. Although he has struggled at times, the Phils are more than happy with his progress. Batting leadoff and playing center field, Golson is currently hitting .262 with 15 stolen bases and 25 runs scored in 51 games. He may well repeat the Lakewood experience to start the 2005 season and if he does, watch for his performance to take off like a rocket!

Jaramillo is widely considered the Phil's catcher of the future and defensively he has done nothing to dissuage this thought process. A solid defensive player, with a strong and accurate arm, Jaramillo will go as far as his bat will take him. Currently he is hitting a respectable .267 with 5 home runs and 34 RBI. He may well be the Phils starting catcher in three seasons.

Two other intriquing prospects currently reside on the left side of the BlueClaw infield. While both have more errors than they care to acknowledge, both shortstop Brad Harman and thrid baseman Sam Orr have shown enough potential to mark them as players to watch in the coming years. Orr is a powerful eighth round draft pick from Biola University whose .241 batting average belies the solid season that he is having. In 85 games, he has scored 50 runs, hit 11 home runs and driven in 51 runs.

Orr has so impressed the Phillie braintrust that he may well rank ahead of former top third base prospects, Juan Richardson, Terry Jones and Kiel Fisher on the depth chart for future Phillie hot corner players. He will need to refine his bat a bit but if he continues to show the power he has displayed this season he will be a player on the move soon.

In a period that has seen the Phillie pharm system take many negative blows, one of the things that they can readily be proud of is the inroads made in the Australian amateur market. Scott Mitchinson, a top young pitching prospect hails from the land down under, as does Harman, an ertswhile second baseman who has been converted to shortstop.

Although his defense remains a work in progress, Harman has shown good pop with the bat and his .306 average is one of the best on the team. Even more impressive are his 81 hits in merely 67 games, a pace that would make him among the hit leaders in the league if he had stayed healthy enough to play on a daily basis. Watch for Harman to move through the system one level at a time, but in an organization that is shortstop challenged at the minor league level, Harman may well rank as the top middle infielder in the Phillie minor league organization.

While Lakewood has often struggled to score runs, they have several pitchers worthy of mention. Perhaps the best prospect is J.A. Happ, a polished lefty who went to Northwestern University. Only a nagging shoulder soreness has kept him from improving on his 4-4 record. More indicative of his talent is his 2.75 ERA. Happ will move quickly through the system and projects as a middle of the rotation starting pitcher at the major league level.

Other hurlers of note include Andrew Baldwin [though his 2-8 record certainly doesn't indicate it!], Derek Griffith [5-8], Nate Johnson [7-4] and releiver Joe Barrack [4-2, 1.73 ERA and 8 saves.] Still, the most interesting prospect on the staff is young Maximo De La Cruz, a hurler who has moved from the Gulf Coast League to a regular spot in the Blue Claw rotation.

DeLaCruz mixes a solid fastball with excellent off speed pitches and displays a knowledge of pitching well beyond his years. His 4-8 record is buoyed by 4 complete games and a descending 4.92 ERA in 104 innings pitched. The Phils are quietly very excited about this young righty, who may well be one of the more surprising developments in an often discouraging season.

As the calendar quickly moves from July to August, players will be making their late season moves to impress a Phillie brass making decisions on who to invite to the Florida Instructional League. From Clearwater and Lakewood, an educated guess would be Moss, Blalock, Segovia, Mathieson, Harmon, Ryan Frith, Golson, Jaramillo, Sean Gamble, Orr, Baldwin, Griffith, Happ and DeLaCruz.

How these players continue to improve will tell much about the Phils chances for future success at the major league level. Players like Golson, Jaramillo, Orr and Blalock are not just projected to be major league fillers but major league stars. How close they come to acheiving star status will be a solid reminder that the scouting and development system remains the best course for success at the major league level.

Stay with Phuture Phillies Phenoms next week as we take a long look at the short season rookie clubs at Batavia and the GCL.

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

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