CD's Future Phillie Phenoms..Armed, Dangerous

If pitching is 90% of the game, then regardless of what happens during the final weeks of the season the Phillies are in excellent shape. Restocked, almost overnight, the list of impressive pitching prospects on the farm reads like a Who's Who List of top young talent. Some of these hurlers will struggle, but there is little doubt that the Phils minor league organization is...armed and dangerous.

While it may have seemed like forever that the Phillies' pitching prospects began and ended with Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd, the reality is that the system has been slowly building a cornucopia of top arms from top to bottom. Led by the drafting savvy of Mike Arbuckle and Marti Wolever and the keen eye of Latin American scouts like Sal Artiaga and Wil Tejeda, the organization this season produced three of the top winners in all of minor league baseball in Matt Maloney, Zack Segovia and Josh Outman.

Matt Maloney and Zack Segovia each won 16 games while Outman won 14 games during the course of the '06 campaign. These three hurlers, along with standouts like Carlos Carrasco, Scott Mathieson, J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Derek Griffith and of course, Gavin Floyd, could provide the cornerstone of a staff that well may carry the Phils into the second decade of the twenty first century. Yes, Phillie phanatics, they are that talented, and precocious as well.

Still, these are but a few of the names well worth mentioning because they are in the higher levels of the system and closer to Citizens Bank Park. Other names worth noting from the short-season Batavia and Gulf Coast League clubs include Edgar Garcia, Andrew Carpenter, Daniel Brauer, Darren Byrd, Andrew Cruse, Ben Pfinsgraff, Raymond Cruz, Jarrod Freeman, Matt Olson and this season's top draft pick, Kyle Drabek.

Perhaps even more impressive has been the seeming synchronicity of young hurlers who thrived under a new system that rewarded them with mid-season promotions as opposed to the past when pitchers generally did not move up during the year. Under new GM Pat Gillick, the organization made it clear that pitchers would now be challenged instead of babied, and it seemed to work wonders for Happ, Segovia, Mathieson and Kendrick, all who performed even better after the promotions.

What a difference from last season when the Phils' minor league Pitcher of the Year was none other than Robinson Tejeda, a hurler who won only two games in the minors and spent most of the season in Philadelphia. This year's candidates include Maloney, Carrasco, Mathieson, Outman and Segovia, and a strong case could be made for any of these outstanding candidates. Let's take a quick glance at a group that could be the envy of any minor league organization in baseball right now.

Ask most scouts who regularly follow the Phightin's pharm system and they will tell you that Carlos Carrasco is the likely jewel of the system. Only 21 years of age, Carrasco had a 12-6 record at Lakewood this season with a sterling 2.26 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 159 innings of pitching. He then won a playoff game this week for the club. His fastball tops out at 96 MPH and he has excellent command of his secondary pitches. If he continues to progress rapidly he could be on the fast track to the major leagues.

Southpaw Matt Maloney is a former third round draft pick from Mississippi and won 16 games this season at Lakewood with an almost microscopic 2.03 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 169 innings of work. He has the demeanor of a pitcher who knows what he is doing on the hill and reminds many long time Phillie watchers of Randy Wolf. Both have a strong feel for pitching and a mound presence that can't be taught. Maloney could skip Clearwater and head right to Double-A Reading in 2007. He could be pitching in Philadelphia late in 2008.

Perhaps no story in the Phillie minor league system has been more heartwarming than the continued comeback of right-hander Zack Segovia, a former second round draft pick after Cole Hamels in 2002. Segovia had major arm surgery in 2004 and is just now regaining a fastball that regularly touched 95 MPH. Segovia was one of the pitchers who flourished when promoted as his 5-1 record at Clearwater was improved to 11-5 at Reading. Although his complete 16-6 record was outstanding, the chances are excellent that he could have approached a 20 win season if not for his inclusion in the World Games this summer. He missed almost three weeks of the season due to this commitment.

Is there a more appropriate name for a hurler than Josh Outman? Probably not, and his 14-6 record and 161 strikeouts in 155 innings of work at Lakewood tell only part of the story. A mid-season adjustment in his pitching motion made Outman nearly unhitable during his final six starts and the Phils are privately anticipating that he could become the most dominant lefty not named Cole Hamels in the entire organization. In a system that includes Wolf, Maloney, Happ, Derek Griffith and Giovany Gonzalez, this is heady company indeed.

Speaking of Gonzalez, his numbers are deceivingly bland this year after a much anticipated arrival from Chicago as part of the Jim Thome deal. While his 7-12 record is decidedly mediocre the Phils were more than satisfied with his progress and the 166 hitters that he whiffed in a mere 154 innings of work. On the negative side, he struggled with his off-speed pitches this year and will need to work hard in the Florida Instructional League if he hopes to move to Triple-A next season.

One of the more ballyhooed high school signings a few years ago was right-hander Kyle Kendrick from Washington. A former high school All-American quarterback, Kendrick rejected a collegiate football scholarship to sign with the Phils and then proceeded to struggle for two seasons before putting things together nicely in 2006. Another hurler who benefited from a challenging promotion, Kendrick finished with a 12-9 record at Lakewood and Clearwater and showed his stamina by pitching 176 innings this season. He probably will open the '07 season at Clearwater but could be moved to Reading by mid-season of next year.

Fully recovered from the dreaded Tommy John surgery of a few seasons ago, lefty Derek Griffith showed enough in 2006 to suggest he may have a future at Citizens Bank Park if he continues to improve. Although he struggled at times with his command, the Phils were encouraged by his good health as befits a pitcher who threw 151 innings at the minor league level. His overall record at Clearwater was 9-11.

J.A. Happ is the epitome of a lefty who never dazzles with stuff, but seems to pitch well wherever he goes. A former third round pick from Northwestern University, Happ had a combined 10-9 record at three levels this season and did better at each level. He opened the year at Clearwater and pitched much better than his 3-7 record would indicate. The Phils obviously felt this way also and moved him up to Reading where he was a standout with a 6-2 record and 81 strikeouts in a mere 74 innings of work.

The Phils decided to challenge Happ once more during the final week of the minor league season and moved him up to Triple-A Scranton where he won his only start and allowed merely one run in six innings of work. He will open the year in Triple-A in 2007 but is the most likely of the minor league neophytes to make his major league debut sometime next season.

Of course, the names Scott Mathieson and Gavin Floyd are familiar names to local Phillie phans as they both took turns attempting to solidify the number five starting role on the Phil staff this season. Although neither was particularly consistent, both had their moments and figure prominently in the team's 2007 plans, good health permitting. A late season injury to Mathieson, one that threatened to include elbow surgery, may delay his return until late next summer. The results of his arm injury were to be determined late this week.

Still, Mathieson was quite impressive during his stints at Reading and Scranton as his 10-3 record attests. Many think that young Mathieson possesses all that is necessary to become a dominant closer in Philadelphia. Blessed with a 97 MPH fastball and a mean streak to his nature, he could eventually become a closer out of the Steve Bedrosian ilk. Time will tell but whether it is as a starter or closer, Mathieson's major league future is a bright one indeed.

Certainly no pitcher in the organization provokes greater debate among the masses than does Gavin Floyd and the various merits of his talent or lack thereof. Count me as one who still believes that one day his head will catch up with his arm and he will become a solid number two or three starting pitcher in the major leagues. Unfortunately, that list is dwindling quickly and Floyd could well end up traded this winter.

Floyd's numbers at Scranton were somewhat pedestrian for a hurler of his talent. His overall record was 7-4 with a four-plus ERA and only 85 strikeouts in 115 innings of work. The Phils may soon rue the day when they forced young Floyd to pitch without his once dreaded curve ball so he could learn to spot his fastball better. This seems to have been a monumental mistake as he has never again dominated with the curveball while his fastball has remained steady but uninspiring at about 91 MPH. Clearly, Floyd's future in Philadelphia is very much in doubt.

The two gems of the lower minors are undoubtedly Edgar Garcia and Kyle Drabek, followed closely by Andy Carpenter and lefty Daniel Brauer. While Carrasco is still the consensus top of the class of Phillie minor league pitchers, there are many within the system who believe that Garcia's ceiling is still higher indeed. The Phils have wisely moved him slowly through the system but he will be challenged next year with a full-season assignment to Lakewood. Edgar Garcia is a future name to remember.

If the name Kyle Drabek sounds familiar, that is because his father is former Pittsburgh Pirate hurling star, Doug Drabek. The Phils were pleasantly surprised when Drabek was still around when they drafted with the eighteenth pick in the 2006 amateur draft and decided his multi-talents could best be utilized on the hill. Predictably, after a long spring of high school ball, Drabek struggled in the Gulf Coast League but the Phils were not one bit concerned. They fully expect him to flourish next year when he returns to rookie ball, probably at Batavia.

Andy Carpenter and Daniel Brauer were college standouts drafted this June and both had solid debuts this summer. Both look well equipped for the long haul and might be pitching in full-season Lakewood next spring. Other '06 draftees who did well were Andrew Cruse, Ben Pfinsgraff, and Jarrod Freeman. Both Darrin Byrd and Matt Olson were returnees from the Class of 2005 and did well this summer.

The ultimate fate of the 2006 Philadelphia Phillies remains very much in doubt as they enter the home stretch of what has to be considered a remarkably successful transition summer this year. Yet, the fate of future Phillie teams seems less hazy if pitching continues to be the landmark line for big league success. In this list lies at least a half-dozen hurlers who promise not just to be successful but standouts. It was not done of sheer luck but by astute design.

While the cries of future Phillie phans may still begin and end with the names Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the likelihood of future Phillies winning streaks may begin with the bats but probably end with hurlers who may could come with the warning...armed and dangerous.

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will attempt to respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast


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