Top Prospect #23: Chris Booker

Chris Booker came to the Phillies in the Rule 5 Draft and hasn't gotten a lot of attention. If he can catch on the way the Phillies hope though, he may be garnering a lot of attention in a bullpen that's undergone nearly a complete overhaul.

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Chris Booker is no newcomer to baseball. He's pitched in the minor leagues since 1995 when the Cubs grabbed him in the 20th round of the draft. Since then, he's also pitched in the minors for Cincinnati and pitched in three games at the major league level for the Reds in 2005. His cup of coffee in Cincy didn't taste too good though as he finished his stint with a 13.50 ERA in his three appearances.

The book on Booker though is that he learned a split-finger pitch last season and was a different pitcher. Prior to that, he simply tried to overpower and intimidate hitters, but with the split-finger pitch, he can add a little movement and battle hitters in a different way. It's going to be interesting to see whether that split-finger works well enough in Spring Training to earn him a spot on the roster or if he'll just fall by the wayside and perhaps not even be able to stick in the Phillies' organization.

Minors - career 26 35 3.61 51 353 26 531.2 441 275 213 29 333 633
Majors - career 0 0 31.50 0 3 0 2.0 6 8 7 2 4 2

Acquired: Purchased from the Detroit Tigers, who drafted him with the fifth pick in the 2005 Rule 5 Draft. Prior to that, he was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 20th round of the 1995 Draft. The Cubs later traded him along with RHP Ben Shaffar to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Michael Tucker.

Repertoire: Booker basically throws heat. He's quickly developed a split-finger pitch that worked well for him at the AAA level in 2005, but wasn't effective enough at the major league level in a short audition with the Reds last fall. The new pitch helped Booker to record the best numbers of his minor league career at AAA Louisville where he went 8-4, 2.49 with 20 saves.

Pitching: At 6' 3" and 230 pounds, Booker is an intimidating figure. His style used to be simply to try to blow away hitters, but with the split-finger pitch and added work, he's really become more of a pitcher than just a guy who gets on the mound and throws hard. He's not afraid to pitch inside and keeps the ball down in the zone. Throughout his minor league career, he gave up just one homerun every 18 innings, so he knows how to keep the ball in the park. He has always been a strikeout pitcher, but his walk numbers were particularly low in 2005 as he issued just 28 walks in 65 innings of work in the minors, a slightly better ratio than his earlier seasons.

Projection: The Phillies are keeping their fingers crossed that Booker can win a job in their bullpen. If not, they could lose him unless they can work out a deal to keep him in the minor league system. For now, they would like him to be a sixth or seventh inning type pitcher, much like Ryan Madson was when he first arrived. From there, some scouts believe that Booker has the talent to move into more pressure situations. Could he be a major league closer? If all goes perfectly, but don't figure on him being a replacement for Billy Wagner anytime soon. Perhaps down the road, he could help out in that role if needed, but that's for a future time.

ETA: His time is now. Booker should be ready. He turned 29 last December and has plenty of minor league experience. If the split-finger pitch isn't enough for him to succeed at the major league level, then he'll likely always be a AAA filler type pitcher.

Comparisons: Booker looks a little like Lee Smith, but doesn't have the stuff that the big man had. The Phillies really haven't had a flame-throwing non-closing reliever over the past few seasons that he could be compared to. Just picture a big guy who throws hard and keeps the ball down in the zone. That's Chris Booker.


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