CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms... Three To Get Ready

The saying, one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready... certainly applies to a Phillies pharm system that has been taking a bad rap this season. The reason for this criticism, some of it justified, is an organization that has the worst combined winning percentage of any system in baseball. Still, those in the know rarely place as much value in minor league records as they do in development. At every level, the Phillies have... three to get ready. Let's take a look.

This week's column is not meant to imply that there are only three major league prospects at every level, and no more. In point of fact, the lower levels at Batavia and the Gulf Coast League are nigh deep in potential future impact players but for the sake of brevity, let us examine three of the top players at each of the six clubs that make a strong case that this Phillie system, far from being the woebegone group that they are often painted to be, is in fact a system that while not yet teeming with prospects, has more than it' share of future major leaguers.

In fact, a case can be made that except for the injury woes of Cole Hamels and the inconsistent work of Gavin Floyd, this year's crop of top twenty talent has all shown enough progress to suggest that one or two more solid drafts and the Phils will once again climb into the top one third of all organizations in terms of potential major league talent. This, despite the trading of at least a half-dozen future major league players in the trades that brought in such players as Billy Wagner, Cory Lidle, Todd Jones and Felix Rodgriguez.

Before discussing some of the names that we may soon see at Citizens Bank Park, it is well and good to remember that both Ryan Howard and Robinson Tejeda were expected to earn their spurs at Scranton this season instead of being key performers in a hoped for playoff push in September. The same can be said of recently recalled lefty, Eude Brito, another pitcher who may see some valuable action before August turns to September.

With this in mind, who are the three players from each club who deserve not only special mention for solid 2005 campaigns, but are among the brightest prospects in the system. Careful consideration must be given to this not widely held opinion, though it is certainly true. Not only are these the top prospects in the system, but almost all of them are either having solid seasons throughout or are suddenly turning their years around with strong finishing kicks, a most welcome way to enter the winter on a high mental note.

This last reflection applies to mega prospect hurler, Gavin Floyd in Scranton. No one will deny the mental and delivery problems that have caused his promising early season shutout of the St. Louis Cardinals to evaporate faster than water in the desert. His season since that day has largely been disappointing, at least until recently. It is this writer's feeling that in any outstanding ball players career, a point of no return is usually reached, where the player chooses to learn from adversity and move forward, or succumbs to the numbness of continued failure and falls from the radar screen forever.

This may have been the point that Floyd reached a half-dozen starts ago when he was being pummeled once again in an early inning scenario that seemed to promise yet another miserable start for Floyd. Yet, it was precisely at this moment, when he undoubtedly had to reflect on a career that seemed almost at the crossroads, that he had a talk with himself, decided to head west on that Y in the road, and has been pitching well ever since. His 5-7 record and 5.87 ERA is no reflection on the improvement he has displayed recently and it says here that 2-3 more solid starts in a row will guarantee a September call up, and a possible major contributor to the push for the playoffs during the final stages of the season.

While Floyd seems to have been awakened from a long summer's nap, not so two of the Phils better Triple-A hitting prospects, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino. Ruiz is a name that many Phillie phaithful have been aware of for quite some time, a young catcher who seems destined for the big leagues next year, if not sooner. Not only has Ruiz continued to improve defensively with the Barons, but a .320 average and a staggering [for a catcher] nine triples suggests that should the Phils succeed in swapping the veteran Mike Lieberthal this winter, the team may well anoint him as the starting backstop in 2006.

Equally impressive has been the slugging exploits of Rule 5 Draftee, Shane Victorino, a center fielder with power, dash and skill. Cries of "Free Victorino" are appearing on Phillie phan websites everywhere as he seems to be a starting center fielder in waiting on a team that may just need another right-handed power hitter. Despite his smallish size at 5'9", Victorino generates great power with quick wrists and a short compact swing. His average continues to head north and is at .301 and climbing.

Victorino has also displayed excellent abilities as a leadoff hitter with the Barons as his 81 runs scored in a mere 113 games would attest. His power numbers of 18 home runs and 65 RBI from the leadoff spot suggest that the Phils might well improve in two ways with the promotion of Victorino. Not only might he make an excellent leadoff hitter, something that incumbent Jimmy Rollins will never be, but his right-handed power bat might fit nicely in a lineup that appears a bit lefty leaning with Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu and Ryan Howard in the everyday middle of the order. Watch for Victorino and Ruiz to get September call-ups and both might play significant roles down the stretch.

To suggest that a player from lowly Double-A Reading might well compete for the Eastern League MVP award seems ludicrous until the numbers for outfielder Chris Roberson are examined closely. Roberson is having a wonderful campaign with the R-Phils and well could come away with the coveted MVP title. If nothing else, he rates strong consideration with numbers that suggest he could compete with Victorino for a major league birth next season.

At his current pace of 150 hits in merely 117 games, Roberson seems a good bet to easily lead the league in hits. His 78 runs scored, despite batting anywhere from second to sixth, suggests another potential leadoff hitting candidate in '06 and his .319 average, 15 home runs and 63 RBI shows that this youngster has moved from the "might be" to the "will be" category of major impact prospects. Add 28 stolen bases to the equation and one realizes that this is a player to be watched...and closely.

The younger and less experienced half of the Dynamic Outfield Duo at Reading is Michael Bourn, who may soon be better than Roberson. Before his current .268 average is dismissed, it should be pointed out that here is a player who was promoted not one level, but two. Unlike Roberson, who earned his notice with a great 2004 year at Clearwater, Bourn made the giant leap from Lakewood to Reading. Even faster and more defensively skilled than Roberson, his 33 stolen bases will climb higher when he gets a better grasp of the nuances of stealing bases at the professional level.

In an organization with such luminaries as Victorino, Roberson and Greg Golson all campaigning for future leadoff status, the smart money still insists that Bourn is best qualified for the job. He is that skilled and expected to continue to improve. Of the four, Golson probably has the highest ceiling, Bourn the greatest chance of becoming special, Roberson is undoubtedly the most intriguing, and Victorino is the most ready. It is a future dilemma that many teams would like to have.

The final piece to the Reading troika is lefty Cole Hamels, once again resigned to the ranks of an injured enigma wrapped in a very large question mark. Hopes were high that Hamels would be pitching and winning in Philadelphia come September of this year, given his 2-0 record with the R-Phils and the unquestioned skill that he has. Yet, history is replete with potential stars who never made it past their medical setbacks, and it is a back that seems set to give him constant trouble that has once again placed his future in jeopardy.

At some point in the not too distant future, Hamels very large exclamation mark will turn into a very large question mark if his injury issues don't become a thing of the past. The Phils insist the back issues are minor, but they said that about Scott Rolen, David Bell and Jim Thome and all three missed significant playing time with issues that had been put on the "back" burner. Stay tuned to another chapter in the continuing vexing story of Cole Hamels.

Few teams in professional baseball have worse records than the Clearwater Threshers, but Jake Blalock, Tim Moss and Scott Mathieson have more than earned their keep in this most trying of campaigns. Blalock's power numbers are down with a mere 10 home runs 112 games but his current average is .293 and climbing and the Phils are heartened by his cut down in strikeouts to a more acceptable 84 in 416 plate appearances. The Phils still believe Blalock will soon develop into a major home run threat and when this happens, he will take his place as a future corner outfielder in Philadelphia.

Few stories in the Phillie pharm system are more heartening than the rebirth of seemingly failed high draft choice, Tim Moss. After an All-American career at the University of Texas, Moss was a complete flop for most of his first season and a half as a pro. An easily treatable illness was diagnosed and since then Moss has been a veritable dynamo... at the leadoff spot and at second base. This season has seen Moss combine power with speed to the tune of 17 home runs and 60 RBI to go along with 72 runs scored and 25 stolen bases in 102 games played. His .277 average has been consistent and significant.

Scott Mathieson has only a 2-5 record but this is more a testament to the poor support of his teammates than any weaknesses on his part. More indicative of his talent was a berth of the All-World team and 101 strikeouts in a mere 103 innings of pitching. Mathieson is the best pitching prospect not named Hamels or Floyd in the entire organization. He is scheduled to hurl in Reading next year.

The Three Musketeers of Lakewood fame are Golson, catcher Jason Jaramillo and shortstop Brad Harman. Greg Golson was the 2004 top draft pick and has done nothing to deter the thoughts that he will someday become a major league all-star. Although young for the league, Golson is hitting a steady .273 and has stolen 25 bases in a mere 67 games, while scoring 36 runs.

Shortstop Brad Harman is part of an intriguing group of Australian signees that seem to promise a strong base for a future talent pipeline. Still raw at shortstop with 30 errors, Harman is currently hitting .309 with 111 hits in 90 games and some power pop with 9 home runs and 49 RBI.

Jaramillo is widely considered the Phil's catcher of the future and he seems to be picking up steam as the season turns to the final stretch, His average is now at .292 and climbing and a strong Instructional League showing might well elevate him to Reading by next year. It would be little surprise if Ruiz and Jaramillo replace both Lieberthal and Todd Pratt by the 2007 campaign.

Choosing a top three from the deep clubs in the short season teams at Batavia and Gulf Coast are difficult, if not nearly impossible. Both teams are chalk full of prospects but the top three at Batavia are probably Welinson Baez, Mike Costanzo and Kyle Kendrick. The choice of these three was not easy, since there are as many as five other players who deserve equal consideration, including pitchers Matt Maloney and Brett Harker as well as outfielder Jeremy Slayden.

Still, Costanzo seems the most skilled, Baez the most intriguing and Kendrick the most advanced. After struggling early, top pick Mike Costanzo appears well on his way to a very solid rookie campaign. Hitting over .330 since his early season struggles, Costanzo recently celebrated a 4-4 performance with 5 RBI. He has hit 6 home runs in a mere 49 games and may well be the next Phillie third base star, albeit certainly a few years away.

Baez seems forever the eternal prospect, but his numbers suggest he may have finally turned the corner. Finally moved to shortstop, Baez seems comfortable and this shows in his .300 batting average and 16 runs scored in 26 games played. Baez is another Dominican player to remember.

Once called a future "Jason Schmidt" by none less than Mike Arbuckle, Kyle Kendrick is finally turning potential into production and his 4-2 record and 3.41 ERA in 10 starts demonstrates that the best is yet to come. A former high school quarterback, Kendrick is one of the best athletes in the organization and still seems a potential top of the rotation starting pitcher somewhere down the line.

Much like the Batavia club, the rookie league Gulf Coast League Phillies have more than their fair share of top prospects but the top three may well be third baseman Tim Kennelly, outfielder Jermaine Williams and pitcher Edgar Garcia. Though outfielder Curt Miaso and his power/speed numbers deserve consideration it is Kennelly, Williams and Garcia who have made the greatest impact in the GCL.

Garcia is a very special pitcher, a teenager who may soon rank as the number one prospect in the entire system. Highly touted, he has not disappointed and his 4-3 record and 3.55 ERA in 9 starts indicates. He is a pitcher in a hurry and his skill and success will dictate how quickly he advances. The Phils are privately ecstatic with his rookie season.

Tim Kennelly is part of the Scott Mitchinson/Brad Harman/Kennelly Aussie connection...a wunderkind infielder who has everyone in the organization excited. Not only his demeanor, but his .322 average in 31 games has people thinking that both he and Harman may one day be starting Australian infielders with the Phils.

Few rookies were subjected to greater early frustration than was outfielder Jermaine Williams, a former Los Angeles City Player of the Year. Drafted in the seventh round this June, Williams endured an 0-28 start before getting his first professional base hit. Since that time he has done nothing but hit, to the tune of 24 hits in his last 66 at bats, a sparkling .380 plus pace.

In a draft that may include several future plumbs, Williams is among the most dynamic and exciting. He may someday take his place as another in a long line of potential Philadelphia Phillies leadoff hitters. Regardless of that distant future occurrence, Williams has shown that he has what it takes to overcome adversity and recover from a disastrous start. This can only bode well for the future of he and the Phils down the line.

In a season that seemed to offer nothing but defeat and despair, in fact the 2005 group of players may well be a solid basis to build on in future drafts. Every player mentioned is considered a potential major league player and their ultimate destination will be determined by the skill and fortitude that they display as they advance through the ranks. This much is known now however... on each Phillie minor league club, there are more than a few standouts... in fact, a case can be made that every team has at least Three to Get Ready!

Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast


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