What Does The Future Hold For Cole Hamels?

If you follow a lot of internet message boards and chat rooms, there's been a lot of talk about Cole Hamels and his unrealized potential. Some want to dump him. Others believe he's the next Steve Carlton. So, where does Cole Hamels fall and what does the future hold for the talented left-hander?

There is no doubt that Cole Hamels has been disappointing. He'd probably be the first in line to tell you that he's disappointed. He could have been pitching in the majors by now or at least figured on to take over a spot in the rotation for the 2006 Phillies. Instead, he's getting back to his off-season regimen after more back problems and is probably wondering exactly what is going on with his career.

Charlie Manuel was on Comcast SportsNet's Daily News Live a little while back and the obvious and obligatory question about Cole Hamels was thrown his way. Manuel, who is perhaps too honest at times, gushed with enthusiasm about Hamels and put out a reference to considering him for a spot in the Phillies' rotation. Immediately, those ever popular message boards and water cooler conversations lit up as Hamels was suddenly the focal point of a lot of discussions. Of course, the usual pessimism followed. "When it comes to Hamels, the Phillies ought to cut bait and dump him," said one poster. The arguments have gone back and forth. Others reminded the world about how Manuel had to be reined in by former GM Ed Wade when it came to Manuel's excitement over Hamels during the 2005 spring training and later during the season.

To figure out what lies ahead for Hamels, let's take a look at what we know to be true.

Cole Hamels has a lot of talent. He would have been drafted much higher, but teams were weary of drafting him because of a broken arm (yes, it was his pitching arm) that he suffered in high school. Then, there were those rumors that the arm was broken in some sort of mischievous fashion, most of them hinting that it was a fight and not a neighborhood football game that caused the injury. I got beat up a lot in high school, but never had my arm broken. Lots of other things got hurt, bruised and otherwise mangled, but not my arm. Maybe some of those proponents of that theory believe that Hamels hit some kid over the head with his arm or something. Again, sticking to what we do know, the arm injury was the first of many different injuries that Hamels would suffer over the next couple of years.

The high school fight story got more legs when Hamels was involved in a fight outside a Clearwater nightclub last February. In that one, he suffered a broken hand that delayed his start to the season. He was quickly labeled a troubled kid who was simply a mental case and the Phillies should have never drafted him. He was a problem waiting to happen. He was a no-good, spoiled kid who should be forgotten and the Phillies should move on. Then, when the Phillies cut loose Lee Gwaltney, who was also involved in the altercation, they were accused of getting rid of the guys around Hamels simply to protect him or make it look like it wasn't his fault. The bottom line is that Hamels is a young kid - he was 21 at the time of the fight - who was probably in a place that he shouldn't have been at a time that he shouldn't have been there and got involved in something that he shouldn't have been involved in. The newsflash is that he's not the first 21 year old kid to ever get into a jam and he's not the last. Just ask Jason Michaels.

Then, there are the back problems. They've occurred a few times now and even caused Hamels to shut down his off-season regimen a few weeks ago. If there is anything to worry about, it's his back. After all, the back is used in almost everything you do. Try getting out of bed without using your back. Try opening a car door without using your back. Try playing catch with your kid without using your back. Now, try throwing a drop-dead curveball to your kid without using your back. Hamels back problem appears to be something that will likely reoccur throughout his career - and throughout his life. Maybe he wrenched it when he hit that high school kid over the head with his arm, who knows? If you want to worry about anything with Cole Hamels, don't worry about his attitude. Don't worry about his maturity. Don't worry about his arm. Worry about his back. The good news is that he's gotten better and is going to be back to his throwing routine and when he reports to spring training, odds are that he'll be fine and ready to go.

Getting back to Charlie Manuel's comments about Cole Hamels. Keep in mind that Ed Wade isn't here anymore. Yes, minor league guru Mike Arbuckle has also stressed patience with Hamels and believes that he may need more minor league service time, but Manuel might not be too wrong in his assessment. Where he's wrong is that he shouldn't have said it in public. Not because Hamels may not be ready or because some others in the organization may not believe he'll be ready, but because it just wasn't the right thing to say based on history. First, if Hamels struggles this spring, it gives new life to the fan's concerns about him, since he'll be in a brighter light. Second, one of Hamels injuries occurred in spring training of 2004 when Larry Bowa wanted to get a good, long look at Cole Hamels. The kid looked ready and had opponents marveling at his abilities. Then, Hamels tried to be too perfect and throw too hard and injured himself. He then compounded it by not telling anybody, causing him to miss more time and give critics more ammunition. Of course, at that point of his career, there weren't as many critics.

What Manuel should have said was a simpler praise of Hamels talents and to let everybody know that he was excited to see him in Florida this spring, but that he wasn't counting on him being in the rotation. That way, Hamels could have pitched on a smaller stage and could have worked at his own pace. He could have developed throughout the spring and either found his way to Philly as part of the starting rotation or back to the minors for that much needed work. Odds are that having Cole Hamels in the starting rotation might not be the best idea for April. A little work at Reading, a quick move to Scranton if all goes well and then a call to the majors sometime around or after the All-Star Break would be a strong enough timetable. Actually, giving Hamels a full season of work in the minors with or without a September call-up would have been a strong enough timetable. The problem is that Hamels has enough talent and the Phillies rotation is likely to need enough help that if Hamels stays healthy, there won't be much holding him back or a convenient way to move him along on a slower timetable. Instead, his talent and health will dictate how quickly he moves and how quickly he can put fears to rest.

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