The names in no particular order are Cole Hamels, Giovany Gonzalez, Dan Haigwood, J.A. Happ, Derek Griffith, Matt Maloney and the appropriately named Josh Outman. If their past successes are any indication, Phillie faithful can expect then to be playing soon at a ballpark near you. Yes, they are that good!
Of course, any discussion of minor league Phillie phenoms would begin and end with Cole Hamels, the no longer boy wonder, who still wows scouts and coaches alike with his skills and temperament, if not always the good health that goes with it. Hamels, now 22 years of age, is said to be healthy, wealthy and now wise, and if this is true, he may be in the Phil rotation by August. This would be welcome news to a club that, sans the injured Randy Wolf, is still devoid of a starter with southpaw slants.
Talk to baseball people in the know throughout the league and they will still insist that Hamels has the potential to be the best hurler in the minor leagues, much as he was back in 2003 when he was voted Minor League Pitcher of the Year. His numbers continue to be staggering, as does the frustration that continues to build within the organization about his many nagging yet ever present injuries. In no particular order, Hamels has withstood a broken arm, a broken hand, back pains and elbow discomfort, all of which have stalled his development.
Still, this is an arm worth waiting on, as his career record of 11-3, and 208 strikeouts in a mere 152 innings pitched attest. Yet, here is a hurler whose numbers will never do justice to the mound presence and natural feel he has for pitching. Clearly, he is an ace-in-waiting at Citizens Bank Park and if Manager Charlie Manuel's recent comments have any credibility, then expect Hamels to open at Double-A Reading with a one way ticket to PhillieLand by mid-summer.
If it is possible to have a Cole Hamels clone, then the Phils may be the fortunate club to have one in 20 year old Gio Gonzalez, a recent trade acquisition as part of the Jim Thome deal. In fact, young Gonzalez quickly moved himself to the top of the Phillie Prospect Chart after the trade, placing himself immediately below Hamels as Prospect Number Two. Most minor league scouts felt the acquisition of Gonzalez was a veritable steal as his 13-6 record and rapid rise through the White Sox system suggests. In fact, he may not be far behind Hamels when it come to major league debuts.
In 131 innings pitched in 2005, Gonzalez struck out 165 hitters and allowed only 97 hits. Even more impressive was his 1.87 ERA in the tough South Atlantic League [SAL], where he dazzled hitters with a combination of an 87-90 MPH fastball and a tight curveball that is almost unhitable at times. He is expected to join Hamels at Reading to open the 2006 season and while he will be moved less quickly than Cole, his expected arrival in Philadelphia could be as soon as 2007.
There are some pitchers who are known admiringly for one outstanding trait; the ability to "just know how to win." Daniel Haigwood, the other half of the lefty larceny in the Thome deal is such a hurler. Need evidence? His high school record was 43-1 and he has continued that success in the minors to the tune of 32-11, including a 14-3 record in 2005. While his fastball is merely average, Haigwood combines good control with four solid pitches to "just win" wherever he pitches.
While it is true that centerfielder Aaron Rowand and Gio Gonzalez were the centerpieces of the Jim Thome deal, the Phils insist they wouldn't have made the deal without the inclusion of Haigwood, who was immediately placed on the 40 man roster. He may well open the season at Triple-A Scranton, though the Phils could decide to field an absolutely devastating lefty crew at Reading by placing him there to open the '06 campaign.
Further advanced than Gonzalez, though probably not with the high ceiling of his fellow southpaw partner, Daniel Haigwood could well make his Philadelphia debut sometime in September of 2006 if all goes well. Much like with Gonzalez, the Phils will not rush this talented lefty, as his success will dictate how quickly he makes it to the City of Brotherly Love.
Amid the excitement and anticipation surrounding the selection of outfielder Greg Golson and catcher Jason Jaramillo with their first two picks, the Phils may well have discovered a hidden gem in their third round draft choice, J.A. Happ of Northwestern University. Equal parts poise and polish, Happ has done nothing but justify the Phillies' selection since he made his professional debut in the summer of '04. After debuting at Batavia with a 1-2 record but outstanding 2.02 ERA in 11 games that year, James [his real name] was elevated to Lakewood, a full season A club in 2005.
The move did nothing to dissuade the talk that Happ is advanced well beyond his limited experience, as evidenced by his late season call-up to Reading and an outstanding six inning, one run effort that rewarded him with his first win at the Double-A level. While at Lakewood, he was outstanding when healthy, although like Hamels, he did suffer from minor arm woes during the summer. This limited him to 78 innings of pitching and will be the reason he opens the 2006 campaign at Clearwater.
Still, the Phils are more than happy to have Happ in their future plans and it will be interesting to see how quickly he joins his fellow lefties at Reading. Given the Phillie Way of doing things, they may choose to leave him in Clearwater for the greater part of the 2006 campaign to insure that Happ's progress guarantees that he is not ever "left behind."
As mentioned, this talented group of southpaw slants includes some parts old, some parts new, some parts borrowed and some parts blue. This next talented lefty, 6'6" Derek Griffith, must have felt more than a bit blue when he was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff after a successful collegiate career at Birmingham-Southern College. On talent alone, Griffith was projected to be picked in the first three rounds of the 2003 draft but injury concerns left him available to the Phils in round seventeen, where they eagerly selected him.
As with all Tommy John arm injuries, the healing process took almost two years yet for the Phils it appears well worth the wait. After sitting out the summer of 2003, Griffith pitched with limited success at Batavia in 2004, going 1-7 with a still respectable 4.34 ERA, while all the while building up the arm strength to it's pre-surgery level. As was hoped, Griffith made a full recovery in 2005 and had a stellar season at Lakewood with a 7-11 record and a more than respectable 3.95 ERA.
Even more telling were his strikeout totals, 131 KO's in 162 innings pitched. Once again, Griffith displayed the outstanding fastball and off speed pitches that made him such a highly rated collegiate hurler and the Phils could eventually be rewarded with a "steal" of a pick in Derek Griffith as a 17th round pick. It is ironic that the draft of 2003 is widely considered by many Phillie phanatics to be one of the poorest in recent team history, yet if Griffith and fellow '03 draftee, outfielder Michael Bourn eventually make it to Philadelphia, baseball scoffers will have to change their assessment of that draft.
As with many of the other skilled southpaws, the Phils will tread lightly with Griffith and he is expected to join Happ at Clearwater for the '06 campaign. Unlike the others, Griffith presents an interesting future option as a potential bullpen closer. Equipped with a solid fastball and good control, the thought of the 6'6" Griffith entering a game in the ninth inning must delight officials in the Phillies organization. It is certainly something to contemplate favorably!
When the Phillies organizational brain trust made their plans for the 2005 Amateur Draft, they made it clear that selecting and signing a few quality lefties was more than a priority, it was a necessity. After all, Hamels was hurt, Happ and Griffith were not yet established, and Gonzalez and Haigwood were mere Phillie pipedreams, seeming mainstays in a Chicago White Sox system that was happy to have them.
This led to the decision to select two stellar collegiate southpaws, Matt Maloney in round three and Josh Outman in round ten. They quickly signed both of these lefties and sent them to Batavia to begin their professional careers. It can safely be said that the Phils were more than pleased with both youngsters and expect continued success for them, though in seemingly different paths.
Matt Maloney is from the University of Mississippi and, much like Happ, was a polished and poised standout starter in college. Again, like Happ, he was selected in round three and continued his success at the professional level with hardly a misstep along the way. In 8 games started, he posted a record of 2-1 with a 3.89 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched. Clearly, Maloney was the most advanced of the Phils' 2005 draft selections and the organization fully expects him to do well at Lakewood in the full season A league next year.
Maloney projects as a starter in the future, a hurler with a decent fastball and exceptional off speed pitches. As with Happ, the Phils will be patient with Maloney, allowing his talent and skill to move him as quickly as is deemed appropriate. Suffice it to say, the Phils think they made two outstanding selections in round three of the past two amateur drafts in Happ and Maloney.
If there is a more appropriate name for a pitcher than Outman, it would be difficult to find, and the Phillies can only hope that Josh Outman more than emulates his name. So far, that has been the case as Outman was also 2-1 at Batavia with an impressive 31 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched. Unlike his teammate, Matt Maloney, Josh Outman projects as a reliever and has perhaps the best fastball of the seven, with a heater that topped out at 96 MPH during the Fall Instructional League.
To be perfectly honest, the Phils feel they have a real sleeper in this little known hurler from Central Missouri State, whom they drafted in the tenth round. It is rare, but not unheard of, for a pitcher to suddenly pick up 3-5 MPH on a fastball after some minor alterations in his delivery and this seems to be the case with Outman. His fastball, always impressive to begin with, became the talk of the FIL and should he continue this progress at Lakewood this upcoming season, the Phillies may well begin to project him as a future closer at Citizens Bank Park.
Truth be told, the Philadelphia organization understands the mortality rate of minor league hurlers, even talented ones, and fully anticipates that not all of the Magnificent Seven will achieve major league stardom. Still, it is also true that not in quite some time has the system been so rich in skilled southpaw slants as it is today. On a team that would have, if the season were to begin tomorrow, no lefties in the starting rotation, it must be comforting to know that help is on the way.
Cole Hamels. Gio Gonzalez. Daniel Haigwood. J.A. Happ. Derek Griffith. Matt Maloney. Josh Outman. Names to remember as the Philadelphia Phillies prepare for a new era, amid equal parts hope and skepticism, born of too many promises and too little success. Clearly, this wait and see attitude among the multitudes can be gratified on at least one count for certain...if the team's future success is dependent upon southpaws, the Phils will not be left behind.
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