In terms of talent, Cole Hamels would be the top prospect in the Phillies organization. The problem is that you can't use that talent if you're not on the mound and Hamels hasn't been on the mound much in his pro career. Add to that the fact that he's got a bad back which is likely to be an issue for the rest of his career and there are definite concerns. All that can change very quickly if Hamels just stays healthy and pitches a full season at AA Reading or anywhere else for that matter.
Hamels says that he hasn't been bothered by back pain for three or four weeks, but the Phillies will still be very cautious. He threw off a mound on Sunday for the first time since last July and all went well. After the session, he reported no hint of a problem with his back and he threw well in the session, so both Hamels and the Phillies are encouraged. Of course, there have been other optimistic moments in Hamels' career, which were ultimately followed by letdowns. With the help of a specially designed workout regimen, Hamels hopes to stay healthy and prove once again that he can be a dominating major league pitcher. There's no reason to believe that he can't do that, as long as his back cooperates and he doesn't develop any other injuries that will again set him back on his quest toward the majors.
It's interesting to note that Hamels actually moved up a notch on our list of the Phillies Top 50 Prospects from last year's list even though he pitched just 35 innings last season. The reason for that is the fact that both Gavin Floyd and Ryan Howard - who were one and two respectively on last year's list - are both ineligible for this year's list because they passed the Major League qualifications for a rookie. So too did Shane Victorino, who would have landed near the top of the list. While other players in the system improved, they didn't improve enough to move ahead of Hamels - except for one player who wasn't even on our list last year.
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Acquired: Drafted by the Phillies in the first round (17th overall pick) of the 2002 Draft out of Rancho Bernardo High School, where he was a teammate of Phillies prospect Jake Blalock.
Repertoire: Baseball America lists Hamels' change-up as the best in the organization and they state that it may be the best in the minors. There is no doubt that he has developed the pitch to where he can throw it at just about any point in the count and be dominating with it. Hamels has been working on his curve and it has gotten better since he first came to the Phillies, but it's not a dominating type of curve. He is consistently throwing it for strikes and gets good movement on the pitch. His fastball is generally in the low 90s, but he can put a little extra behind it when he needs to and pump it to the mid 90 range with little problem. He throws all his pitches for strikes and will throw any pitch at any time to mess with hitters heads.
Pitching: There are few young pitchers with more poise on the mound than Cole Hamels has. Of course, bad things rarely happen to him when he's out there, so it's easy to be poised. One of the things to watch is whether the back problems will cause him to change anything about his normally smooth and fluid motion that he's shown throughout his career.
Projection: If not for all of the health issues, Hamels would be in the majors by now. Even with the health issues, he should be there either later this season or next spring at the latest - if healthy. Not only should Hamels pitch in the majors, but he should be a dominating, top-of-the-rotation type pitcher who will be a perennial all-star and could win a Cy Young Award or two before he's all done. Again though, it all hinges on his health. His back condition is termed chronic and he will likely have to battle through it for the rest of his life. The Phillies would like to see two or three months of a healthy Cole Hamels at Reading and then they'll move him along to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
Comparison: It's interesting that many scouts see Kerry Wood when they watch Cole Hamels. Both have had some injury issues in their careers, but both are dominating pitchers.