R-Phils Could Be Stacked For 2006

Three of the top pitching prospects in the Phillies organization could well be anchoring the Reading Phillies rotation in 2006. Plus, other top prospects could be finding their way to BaseballTown this season on their climb up the minor league ladder.

Now here's a nice problem to have; Either Cole Hamels or Giovany Gonzalez could wind up as the number three pitcher in the Reading rotation in 2006 to split up the top two left-handers in the organization. An even nicer part of the equation is that with Scott Mathieson, the R-Phils won't have trouble filling the number two spot with a legitimate right-handed prospect. In other words, Reading could be loaded.

Hamels, who is constantly battling injury problems, will start the season at AA Reading, if healthy. He underwent another MRI last week on his sore back and while there isn't any new damage or a worsening problem, Hamels still continues to have pain and likely will throughout his career. Doctors do believe though that with special exercises and a careful eye on the condition, Hamels should be able to pitch through the condition with only minor flare-ups. We can only hope. Gonzalez, one of the young left-handed pitchers to come over from the White Sox in the Jim Thome trade is right there in talent level with Hamels. Because of Hamels' injuries, some believe that Gonzalez could actually be the better prospect at this point. That question is likely to play out this summer in Reading. The problem for Reading fans though is that by mid-season or certainly by late in the year, both Hamels and Gonzalez could be promoted to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, because both are close to being ready to pitch at that level now.

Mathieson struggled in the Arizona Fall League, but has a world of potential. The right-hander, who turns 22 later this month, has moved steadily through the Phillies organization and posted a 3-8, 4.14 mark on a rather dismal Clearwater club in 2005. In four minor league seasons, he's amassed an unstellar 4.44 ERA, but over the past two seasons at Lakewood and Clearwater, his ERA is 4.23. He's had the misfortune of playing on some pretty bad teams and has a career record of 13-26, which belies his potential. If there is a bad side to Mathieson, it's that he is prone to giving up the longball; He ranked third in the Florida State League with 17 homeruns allowed in 2005 and was second in the Gulf Coast League with five homeruns allowed in 2003. One of the reasons Mathieson struggled in Arizona this fall was that he was working on his secondary pitches, which is often the case for young pitchers in the AFL. Also, Mathieson was dropping his arm angle slightly, possibly as a result of being tired.

Perhaps the influx of pitching will have a positive effect on right-hander Keith Bucktrot. After struggling through injuries, Bucktrot's star has fallen in the organization, but he still could right himself and get right back on track with a good season in 2006. Bucktrot went 3-4, 5.52 in 11 starts for the R-Phils last season and it's doubtful that he'll start anywhere else than Reading when the season begins. Seung Hak Lee is another pitcher recovering from injuries, although when he was healthy, he pitched well at Reading last season as well, posting a 1.97 ERA in 14 games (11 of them starts).

When promotions start to hit, the Phillies hope that Zack Segovia will be able to step up from Clearwater to take a spot in the starting rotation. J.A. Happ is also a name to watch; He'll start at Clearwater, but with a good start to the season, could move to Reading to fill a need.

The bullpen figures to have Nick Evangelista (7-6, 3.03 in 37 games at Clearwater) and Matt Squires (0-2, 4.88 in 22 games at Clearwater) in the bullpen. Squires is healthy again after undergoing shoulder surgery and should be set for a big season in 2006. Squires pitched at Reading in 2004 and posted a 3.62 ERA in 26 games before developing problems with his shoulder that ended in surgery. Squires reports that his arm feels better than it has in three years and he's looking forward to re-joining Reading and reviving his climb through the organization.

Partially to accommodate the strong group of pitchers that will be at Reading and partially because he's just very good, the Phillies are set to promote catcher Jason Jaramillo to Reading to work with the strong corps of pitchers that should be at AA. It's a huge plus to be able to promote Jaramillo, who hit .304 at Lakewood last season, so he can work with pitchers that are set to make up the bulk of the Phillies major league rotation in the not-too-distant future. Jaramillo will make the same jump over Clearwater that Michael Bourn made successfully last season. Speaking of Bourn, a strong performance in the AFL has convinced the front office types that he's ready for AAA and he'll move along to Scranton rather than repeating a season at AA.

Two other name position players, second baseman Tim Moss and outfielder Jake Blalock, are slated for Reading. Moss had a slow start to his professional career, but put it all back together in 2005, hitting .269 at Clearwater with 17 homeruns and a .348 on-base percentage. Blalock hasn't lived up to the power numbers that the Phillies projected, but with 11 homeruns and a .279 average at Clearwater, he'll be worth watching at the AA level as well.

Potential starting rotation career numbers

Hamels 11 3 1.54 28 28 152.0 88 30 26 2 62 208
Gonzalez 15 9 2.78 37 35 187.2 144 70 58 9 68 226
Mathieson 13 26 4.44 68 61 334.1 324 188 165 29 103 302
Bucktrot 35 42 4.59 122 113 672.0 711 395 343 71 271 422
Lee 26 30 4.20 117 77 512.2 514 277 239 56 152 391
Totals 100 110   372 314 1858.2 1781 960 831 167 656 1549

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