CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms...Myth Busters

The poet Homer wrote that "light is the task when many share the toil." This phrase seems to have particular relevance at this time, when so many baseball books and publications are coming out with proclamations of the weakness of the Phillies' farm system. They speak with distain of what they perceive as a system without depth, without talent and without hope. They speak these things often, but I think they are mistaken. It is time to dispel this myth, it is time for the "myth buster."

As with many things in life, preconceived notions, especially those spoken for quite some time often take on a life of their own, regardless of whether it be fact or fiction. There has been a notion among so called baseball experts that the Phillies have long abused and ignored their farm system to the point where there is almost nary a prospect in the entire upper reaches of the organization. We read harrowing stories of how the team has very few prospects on the Who's Who list of baseball magazines and so this must be certain and impending disaster for the parent club.

In fact, outside of bookend lefties, Cole Hamels and Giovany Gonzalez, the system is thought to be fraught with frauds, filled with fillers, and poor in prospects. The theory has been advanced that because of poor draft picks, too many unsigned choices and a general lack of number one draft picks due to free agent signings like Jim Thome, David Bell and Jon Lieber, the teams immediate future looks bleak indeed.

Yet Homer's words speak as true today as they did when he wrote them and in the case of the Phils' organizational depth, this theory will eventually be proven false. Indeed, when speaking of lefty hurlers, Hamels and Gonzalez are certainly the Cadillac models of the system, sleek, styled and guaranteed to pitch smoothly. Still, they are merely two of several outstanding lefty prospects in the system that could one day make Citizens Bank Park their home.

You see, light will be the task when many share the toil and it seems all but certain that southpaws like Daniel Haigwood, J.A. Happ, Derek Griffith, Matt Maloney and Josh Outman could all join the Hamels / Gonzalez party one day soon. Certainly, they all won't be instant successes and a few of them could be used in trade to acquire a player of equal value, but a few of them will not only pitch in the big leagues but pitch well.

Not that many seasons past, one could almost make out the gnashing of teeth all the way from the City of Brotherly Love to out here on the Left Coast when it came time to discuss the Phillies minor league catching situation. In fact, the general term often used was "black hole" and the hope was that Mike Lieberthal could catch well into his mid-thirties in order to avoid the embarrassment of having to recall a "non prospect" masquerading as a catcher in the Phil system.

Suffice it to say, the Left Coast is much quieter now given the Phils sudden depth in skilled young receivers. The names almost literally roll off the tongue now...Carlos Ruiz, Jason Jaramillo, Louis Marson, Charles Cresswell and Tuffy Goseweich. Admittedly, only Jaramillo and Marson seem primed for potential stardom, but depth is again the key here and if the Phils can supply their own catching needs for the next decade, it will be a greater opportunity to build the riches elsewhere.

The cries of "two arms, two arms" as in what the Phils wouldn't give for two more arms could also be answered soon from the right side as well as the port side. The lefties have already been well documented but in the smooth right handed slants of youngsters like Gavin Floyd, Scott Mathieson, Edgar Garcia, Kyle Kendrick, Maximo De la Cruz, Carlos Carrasco, Matt Olson, Darren Byrd, Andy Baldwin, Scott Mitchinson, Zack Segovia and Brett Harker, there is plenty of room to grow.

If this spring has put on display anything at all, it is the impressive depth of the Phillies young outfield corp. No less than three fly-chasers, Shane Victorino, Chris Roberson and Michael Bourn have impressed scouts and coaches alike with their offensive and defensive skills and all could be cavorting the outfield turf at CBP by September of this year.

As talented as this threesome appears, the odds are that eventually, yet another speedster will surpass them all in terms of production, prowess and power. His name is Greg Golson, and he is but a mere pup in comparison to the more advanced talents of Victorino, Roberson and Bourn. Yet, his is a name to remember, and no less than astute long time coach, Larry Rojas, was properly impressed enough to say that he ranks with Scott Rolen, Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt as can't miss jewels of the system.

One more name to remember is Jake Blalock, an outfielder primed for a coming out power party this year at Reading. The Phils have been patient with him, and his progress has been slow and steady, but this could be the year that potential is replaced by production to the tune of a 20 plus home run season. A skilled corner outfielder with a third baseman's arm, Blalock could someday fit nicely into the homer haven that is Citizens Bank Park.

If there is an Achilles Heel in the Phillie pharm system arsenal, it could be the lack of depth in the infield but players worth watching include third baseman Mike Costanzo, shortstops Welinson Baez and Brad Harman, first baseman Mike Durant and second baseman Tim Moss. Two other interesting youngsters include middle infielders Fidel Hernandez and Derrick Mitchell.

Undoubtedly the "pick of the litter" is Costanzo, who someday soon should form with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins an all homegrown infield. In fact, the day could come when the Phils trot out this foursome in the infield, while Pat Burrell, Bourn or Roberson and Jake Blalock patrol the outfield. Behind the plate could be Jason Jaramillo, and on the mound stands either Cole Hamels or Gavin Floyd.

After six or seven outstanding innings, the ball is turned over to set up man Robinson Tejeda who eventually makes way for closer Scott Mathieson. After another scintillating Phillie victory, the realization occurs that the team has just completed an all home grown lineup win. Sound impossible. Unlikely, yes, but not impossible and every player mentioned will play in the major leagues barring injury.

Speaking of Ryan Howard, he is but the latest example of a player who was thought by the experts to have little chance of becoming much of a major league ballplayer. He was too old, too one dimensional, too this, too that. Same with Chase Utley, who was considered no more than a mediocre second baseman due to supposed defensive deficiencies. Amazingly, neither Howard or Utley ever made one of baseball's prestigious top 100 minor league prospects while toiling in the Phillie farm system.

Thus, it should be taken with a mere grain of salt when today's top 100 prospects list is nearly devoid of Phillie pharm hands, save for the lefty gems, Hamels and Gonzalez. What matters is how they ultimately contribute to the major league club and in this respect, the Phils are doing quite well, thank you. In fact, a strong case can be made that the system is likely to go nowhere but up now that GM Pat Gillick is in charge. Gillick has long been known for guarding his minor league system with care, especially young hurlers, the organization is likely to be in good hands for the duration of his rein as GM.

Young Ryan Howard has certainly been the toast of the town this spring to the tune of 8 home runs in a mere 12 games. This staggering start led many Phillie historians to recall the last time such a seeming home run outburst been witnessed in the spring. More than a few Philadelphia reporters, as well as the respected long time Phillie publicist, Larry Shenk, began to surmise that not since Richie Allen's legendary rookie spring had anyone witnessed such a display of power.

Both Shenk and Allen were rookies at their jobs in that magical year of 1964 and as with many wondrous events, time has a way of making them even bigger than life. The speculation has arisen that Allen hit 15 home runs during the spring of '64, a total that almost belies belief. A bit of research via the archives of The Sporting News showed that while Allen's numbers were impressive enough, they weren't quite in the mid-teen range.

Actually, it was mentioned by the Sporting News columnist and long time Phillie beat writer, Allen Lewis, that "Richie Allen finished with nine exhibition homers," still a most impressive total. Equally impressive was the fact that Allen began his rookie campaign with 6 home runs in his first 12 games, so that is possibly where the number 15 came from.

This, then, is the company that Howard is keeping, and anyone who speculates that the Phillie farm cupboard is bare should remember that Howard and Utley have grown up from the same ranks and are now considered premium players. The same could eventually be said of players like Costanzo, Golson, Jaramillo and Bourn. Time will tell, and certainly not all the players mentioned will achieve stardom, much less all make it to the big leagues.

Still, enough of them should emerge to insure a bright future for the Phightins in the foreseeable future. Myths are interesting, entertaining and often fascinating in their charm. Yet at their core they are based on false or misguided information. There is little doubt that many will continue to believe that the Philadelphia Phillies have a weak minor league operation and are completely incapable of righting the sinking ship.

A weak Latin American program, a lack of solid coaching and far too much losing at the minor league level are all used to justify this premise. Of course, these justifications all choose to ignore the Phils' strong push into Australia, or the fact that players like Utley, Howard and Shane Victorino have indeed flourished under the tutelage of Phillie minor league coaching.

As we begin the 2006 season, the stories will soon unfold about a Phillie pharm system in disarray, about bungled picks and wasted choices. You could be inclined to believe them yet it might be wise to remember that these are but myths and the facts speak otherwise...they are the truth tellers and indeed... the myth buster.

Author's Note: Jeff Lamana, our friend at PhilaPhans.com, is once again hospitalized and in need of our thoughts and prayers. As we approach another season, let us take a moment to remember Jeff and his loved ones and say a little prayer for his return to good health as quickly as possible. Thank you.

Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net or visit Philliestalk.com and e-mail me there and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast


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