Top Prospect #7: J.A. Happ

J.A. Happ has done everything the Phillies expected of him and possibly, even more. Now, with a definite promotion staring him in the face, he's ready to move into the upper levels of the Phillies minor league system.

Coming into last season, J.A. Happ wanted to reach Clearwater at some point during the season, which wasn't out of the question, since he was pitching just a level below Clearwater at Lakewood. While he didn't reach Clearwater, he did jump to AA Reading for one start and pitched very well for the R-Phils. Odds are that even with that solid start, he'll be at Clearwater to start the 2006 season. If he is at Reading, that rotation would have to be one of the best in minor league baseball with Giovany Gonzalez, Cole Hamels and Scott Mathieson already set for the rotation. Of course, if Hamels isn't healthy, there just might be a spot for Happ.

Last season was Happ's first in a full-season league and he pitched well for Lakewood. His walk/strikeout ratio is awesome and he held opposing hitters to just a .213 average. It will be interesting to see Happ climb the ladder and also see exactly when the Phillies would promote him to AA Reading if he's pitching well during the season.

'04 Batavia 1 2 2.02 0 11 11 35.2 22 8 8 1 18 37
'05 Lakewood 4 4 2.36 0 14 12 72.1 57 26 19 3 26 70
'05 Reading 1 0 1.50 0 1 1 6.0 3 1 1 0 2 8
Career 6 6 2.21 0 26 24 114.0 82 35 28 4 46 115

Acquired: Drafted by the Phillies in the third round of the 2004 Draft out of Northwestern University.

Repertoire: Happ's best pitch is his fastball, but his change-up is developing into a very good pitch that he can use to keep hitters honest. Happ also features a curve and an ever-improving slider that he mixes in well with his other pitches.

Pitching: Happ wants the ball and likes to pitch deep into games. He threw 126 pitches in one college game and some scouts have worried about the mileage on his arm, but the Phillies aren't concerned at all. Happ missed about a month this past season with an injury, but showed no ill-effects of the injury when he returned. Hitters have a tough time getting much power off of Happ because he keeps the ball down in the zone and will throw inside to push hitters off the plate when he needs to. His ability to keep the ball in the park will play very well if and when he reaches Citizens Bank Park.

Projection: While it's going to be tempting to start Happ at AA Reading this season, he'll likely start at Clearwater. The Phillies generally don't push pitchers and rarely have them skip a level, so Reading will be put on hold. It's not out of the question though that Happ could be pitching at Reading by late in the season, especially if some of the pitching prospects at Reading are moved up to the AAA level, which also isn't out of the question. Down the road, Happ figures to be a number two or three starter at the major league level and since he's a left-hander, that will be a huge asset.

Comparison: The same comparisons to Randy Wolf apply to Happ coming into the 2006 season, except that Happ is healthy. Both are smart pitchers who make hitters work for anything they can get off of them, which is evident by the low averages that hitters have posted against Happ in his minor league career. Both pitchers also concentrate on control and location.

For more on J.A. Happ, premium users can check out our PBN Q & A with J.A. Happ. In the interview, Happ talks about his off-season and what he thinks of being compared to Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf.


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