CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms..Relief In Sight

For nearly six months the Phillies have searched high and low for relief help to bolster a beleaguered bullpen. In vain, they auditioned such assorted types as Joe Borowski, David Weathers, Derrick Turnbow and Dustin Hermanson. More often than not, the answer lies not beyond the horizon but at your front door. As the time changes so may the fortunes of a bullpen that may have...relief in sight.

At first glance the names don't inspire a bit more than a yawn and a shrug. After all, the combined totals of their major league experience amounts to nine games, one win, no saves and an earned run average that would tend to scare away even the most confident of baseball managers. Yet, if early returns are any indication, and they might just be, then Phillie phanatics might just place the names Justin Germano, J.A. Happ, Joe Bisenius and Zack Segovia on their speed dials when it comes to instant bullpen relief help.

The chances are that at least two of them will see Citizens Bank Park before daylights savings time has run its course this spring and summer and they might just be the answer to a bullpen bridge that gaps a strong starting staff to closer Tom Gordon. At worst, one of them is likely to go north with the team when the Phils open their 2007 campaign on April 2 at CBP against the archrival Atlanta Braves.

The quartet have all made interesting journeys through their professional baseball life which has led them to this unique situation, one that calls for consistency, the ability to throw strikes at a moments notice, ice water in their veins, and the ability to throw a 92 mile per hour fastball on the outside black of home plate when desired. If baseball scouts were to rate their chances of making the team right now, the list would probably read Germano, Bisenius, Happ and Segovia in that order. Still, the situation is fluid and one bad outing or one stellar spring performance could alter the list completely, in less than a day's time.

Justin Germano has not been pitching professionally forever, it just seems that way. That's what happens when you sign out of Claremont High School in California at 18 years of age and toil for three clubs in less than seven seasons. Originally drafted and signed by the San Diego Padres as a thirteenth round pick in the 2000 draft, Germano won his big league starting debut in 2004 and has been searching for big league victory number two ever since.

Still, it would be a huge mistake to discount the 6' 3" lanky righty from the equation without proper examination as he might just turn out to be General Manager Pat Gillick's "lightning in a bottle" trade acquisition that all baseball executives usually just dream about. Germano was acquired in late July of 2006 from the Cincinnati Reds for lefty reliever Rheal Cormier in one of Gillick's seeming "fire sale" deals, and since day one of the trade this deal has had the look of a possible steal for the Phillies.

Germano has suffered more from misperception than misplaced talent and a closer look at his numbers suggests that "diamond in the rough" might not be the worst category to place him in at this moment. A consistent double digit winner in the minor leagues, Germano has had seasons of 10, 10, 9, 11, 12 and 8 win seasons in the minors while putting on display a crackling fastball, decent curve and the ability to pitch deep into games, even at the minor league level.

What appears to have happened is similar to the case of ex-Phillie righty Gavin Floyd, the disease known less than affectionately as the Great Expectations Disease. It afflicts many young hurlers and can occasionally leave them discouraged and ineffective for their entire careers. The symptoms are easy to spot...solid early success at the minor league level, great pomp and circumstance when they do well in their debuts, and the knowing look of disdain when they struggle soon thereafter.

This seems to have been what happened to Justin Germano and now that he is pitching in a low pressure situation with the Phils, his true talent seems to once again be resurfacing. Should this continue, he is an odds on favorite to make the club as a middle inning reliever, given his experience and ability to pitch more than one inning effectively.

The worst case scenario for Germano seems to be an option to Ottawa with the knowledge that he could be recalled at a moments notice and still play a major part in any Phillie success they may have this summer and on into the Fall. This would certainly seem poetic justice for a hurler too often cast aside because of far too little patience and far too many expectations of grandeur.

Justin Germano was once considered a prized prospect in the Padres' organization before the team soured on him and eventually traded him to Cincinnati in the summer of 2005. In truth, he had not been as much a disappointment as simply a pitcher learning his trade at an early age, and with the burden of having one his first major league game at the tender of age of 22.

While in the Reds system, he continued to display his wares effectively and was pitching well when the Phillie scouts noticed him and relayed the information to Gillick. The Reds were in a playoff push and needed a dependable veteran lefty reliever and had their eyes on Cormier of the Phils. The Phightins', left for dead and gone in July of 2006, were in a trading mood and asked for a list of players from which to choose.

When Pat Gillick saw Germano's name on the list he quickly agreed to the deal and while the Phils were appreciative of the class and skill displayed by the Canadian lefty during his service with the club, they were not inclined to keep Cormier once his contract was up. Clearly, this seemed like a win-win situation for all parties involved, and in fact it has been. The Reds did not make the playoffs in '06 but were happy with Cormier's production and have included him as a key member of their '07 staff.

The Phils woke up from a four month slumber last August to find themselves as just about the hottest team in the National League when the season reached its final week. Unfortunately, some bad luck, and bad baseball kept them at bay that final week and the team watched the unlikely saga of the St. Louis Cardinals become champions of the baseball universe come October.

For Germano, the change proved timely as he opened eyes within the Phillie organization with six stellar starts in Scranton and a 2-0 record and 2.82 ERA to add to the luster. He certainly wasn't being fitted for a major league uniform this spring, but to say the Phils had no inkling of his skill would be equally untrue. In fact, the Phils figured another year of Triple-A experience would benefit all parties involved, a belief that Germano is doing his best to dispel this spring.

With the need for at least one more arm in the pen, and frustration on the trading front becoming more apparent by the day, the Phils might just decide that a Germano in hand is worth nine on the vine. Stay tuned as this is a story worth watching, especially should Germano continue to retire spring training hitters with the regularity he has shown up to this point.

Back in the June 2002 Amateur Draft the Phils felt they had struck California Gold when they saw the name Cole Hamels available late in the first round of the draft. Hamels, a smooth as silk lefty from Rancho Bernardo HS in San Diego had top of the line talent and a seeming propensity to get injured as often as not. This had caused several teams, most notably the Anaheim Angels to shy away from the talented lefty.

Yet, if Hamels was California Gold, then the Phils felt equally fortunate to have struck Texas oil with their next selection, another high school pitching phenom by the name of Zack Segovia. In truth, there were more than a few Phillie officials who felt it was Segovia, and not Hamels, who would eventually see the light of day at the big league level first, and if not for a serious arm injury suffered during the 2003 season, the horse race to the big leagues for the two young talents might have ended up in a dead heat finish.

Zack Segovia began his professional career with solid results [ 3-2, 2.10] in the Phillie Gulf Coast League Rookie League but struggled badly in his sophomore year and finished with a dismal 1-6 record at Lakewood. Worse yet, his crackling fastball, which topped out at about 93-94 MPH had diminished into the 87-88 MPH range and the Phils knew something was amiss. Sure enough, it was discovered that he was suffering from a serious arm injury and Tommy John surgery incapacitated him for the entire '04 campaign.

Historically, this type of surgery takes 18 months to completely work its miracles and the pitcher eventually returns with even more strength and velocity. This seems to have been the case with Segovia. After struggling with a 4-14 record at Clearwater in the Florida State League in 2005, the heavy set righty came back with a vengeance last season to the tune of an organizational best 16 wins and tied a bow around his year with an 11-5 record at Reading and some outstanding work at the World Games late last summer.

Clearly, he is a pitcher now in a hurry and the Phils have always projected him as a reliever, and many within the organization feel he will someday take the reins as bullpen closer. He has a bulldog personality, a fastball that now regularly tops out again at 93 MPH and a slider and changeup that should improve with experience. Ironically enough, the main present concern with Segovia involves not his arm, but his waistline. Segovia must watch his weight constantly and has a propensity to pitch at or above his announced weight of 220 pounds.

Still, the talent is there for him to eventually grab one of the remaining bullpen slots available with the Phils. His performance this spring has been outstanding and while his chances of going north with the club in April are considered much less than 50-50, his will be a name worth remembering come the Dog Days of August, when a fresh arm is as valuable as ice water on a steamy hot summer afternoon.

At present, the plan is for Zack Segovia to begin the year as a starting pitcher in Ottawa of the Triple-A International League and allow him to continue working on his secondary pitches. Should he prove to be an exemplary student, he could quickly become part of the Rookie Class of 2007 with the Phils. If not, then he will be given every opportunity to make the club out of spring training in 2008 and might even receive a late season call up this September.

It is a little kept secret that the June Amateur Draft is, if anything at all, merely a luck of the draw name game. Oh, teams spend millions scouting, cross checking and even computerizing likely prospects, but the rule of thumb in any draft is that if 1.5 players make it to the big leagues [exactly 3 every two drafts] the draft has been a successful one and if even one player becomes a major league star, the draft is considered a bonanza.

Thus, the Phillie drafts of Chase Utley in 2000 and Ryan Howard in 2001 are considered major heists by the team, regardless of the fact that such forgettable names as Terry Jones, Keith Bucktrot, Danny Gonzalez and Taft Cable were included in the mix. Truth be told, the Phillie report card with draft success is an impressive one, given the derisive talk among the masses when it comes to the inevitable discussion of the minor league pharm system.

A quick glance at the roster reveals a steady stream of home grown products, with names like Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Jimmy Rollins, Scott Mathieson, Cole Hamels and the aforementioned Utley and Howard at the forefront. Yet, purely from a battery mate standpoint, few Phightin drafts in recent memory can match the summer of 2004 when the team selected within the first twelve rounds two pitchers, J.A. Happ and two catchers, Jason Jaramillo and Louis Marson who might all someday become household names in PhillieLand.

Jason Jaramillo is considered the odds on favorite to be the starting backstop sometime in 2008 and the younger Marson is not far behind. Yet, it is both Happ, a lefty, and Bisenius, a righty, who deserve special mention for their possible contribution to the cause this year. Indeed, while neither is considered a lock cinch guarantee to make the club, both have shown enough talent and poise to be thought of as likely members of the bullpen cast at some point this season.

Of the two, Happ is the more recognizable name. A collegiate pitching star at Northwestern University in the Big Ten, Happ was a third round draft pick in the 2004 draft and signed immediately, amidst the comparisons to another Phillie of some repute, Randy Wolf. And, in reality, Happ has displayed nothing but the same talents that eventually thrust Wolf into big league success, and quickly!

Indeed, there are many in baseball circles who consider Happ to be the very best prospect in the entire organization. Yes, better than Mathieson, Segovia, or other hurlers like Kyle Drabek, Carlos Carrasco, Edgar Garcia or the appropriately named Josh Outman. His professional success has been immediate and consistent and his demeanor speaks of a hurler who knows exactly how skilled he is and precisely what he will do with those skills.

Happ has made an almost mercurial ascent through the Phillie pharm system, eventually moving from Batavia in the Rookie New York-Penn League to Scranton in Triple-A in a bit over two seasons. All along the way he has displayed a solid fastball, decent curve and almost unhittable change-up which has delighted the Phils from the first day they saw him pitch.

He has continued to dazzle this spring and has the added advantage of pitching from the left side, a talent considered in short supply with the Phils right now. Oh, a case could be made for portsiders Matt Smith and Fabio Castro but Smith has struggled mightily this spring while Castro is still thought of as an unfinished and unrefined product. While the team seems committed to letting Smith pitch through his spring woes and make the club, the same will not be said of Castro and he seems better served with a year in Triple-A.

This would seem to leave Happ with a golden opportunity for quick fame and fortune, though wisdom is usually the better part of valor and the team may deem it unwise to invite disaster by auditioning the skilled Happ to the big leagues before his anointed time. His Triple-A experience consists of one solid start last September, after a 6-2 record at Reading in Double A. His star continued to shine this winter when he proved one of the outstanding hurlers in the Arizona Fall League, an ensemble of talent historically known for far more hitting than pitching due to the thin desert air.

Happ does have the ability to locate his pitches with exceeding accuracy and has a pitching pedigree that is easier to spot than it is to acquire. Common sense dictates that JA Happ will open the '07 year with Ottawa and might even be their opening night starting pitcher. Still, the matriculation process begins early in PhillieLand under the auspicious Pat Gillick baseball and it would be no major surprise if the name J.A. Happ resurfaces quickly should the team get out of the gate slowly, or should Smith continue to struggle.

Perhaps the most intriguing candidate for bullpen residency in Philadelphia is a young right-hander who a year ago wasn't even on the Phillie radar screen and seemed unlikely to ever register even a blip. His name is Joe Bisenius, and if phans wish to write down for future reference the name of a likely bullpen ace, this is the name to remember. Oh, his collegiate resume was impressive enough, to the tune of a 12-0 record on an Oklahoma City College NAIA team that won 70 games.

Yet, on draft day 2004 he was still around when the Phils came time to make their twelfth round selection and took a chance on this 6'5" 210 righty with the eye catching credentials. Bisenius signed quickly and made 11 starts for Batavia of the NY-P League while compiling an outstanding 1.43 ERA although he was winless at 0-1. This was due to a strict pitch count administered by the Phils after tossing over 100 innings during his collegiate season in Oklahoma.

To say that he regressed in his sophomore season as a pro would be an understatement, with a 5.88 ERA at Lakewood despite a 6-4 record. Nothing he did that season prepared the Phils for what was about to happen to him once he made a simple change in his delivery which further accentuated his fastball, one that he continually pounds in on right handed hitters. He also puts on display a hard curveball and a consistent 91-93 MPH fastball.

Bisenius has "future closer" written all over him and more than one Phillie scout proclaimed him as a "dark horse" candidate for a bullpen spot with the team after his outstanding '06 season at both Clearwater and Reading. In fact, he improved as he progressed and finished with an 8-3 record and 95 strikeouts in 84 innings pitched while compiling an ERA of about 2.70.

He then continued his progress with an outstanding winter league season in Venezuela and reported to camp in excellent shape. The Phils are in a quandary about what to do with the talented Bisenius. Logic dictates they give him some experience in Triple-A but logic often flies out the window when a pitcher is consistently getting hitters out with the stuff that he exhibits. Also likely to fit into the equation is a decision that must be made about Rule 5 Draftees Jim Ed Warden and Alfredo Simon.

It does seem that the Phils favor Warden over Simon at the moment and as such are likely to have a roster composed of 12 pitchers and 13 position players. This might allow the Phils to carry Warden while still elevating one of the previously mentioned quartet on the major league squad. Of course, with Pat Gillick, one never knows what will transpire between now and early April.

Rumors are still rampant of an impending deal involving both center fielder Aaron Rowand and starting pitcher Jon Lieber with names like outfielder Alex Rios and relief hurlers Scott Linebrink and lefty Boone Logan. The rumored deal for Rios would be a most fortuitous gift to Phillie phans as this is a 25 year outfielder on the cusp of becoming a full fledged star. He made the American League All-Star team last year and his numbers would seem to beg the question of just why would the Toronto Blue Jays even dangle him in a deal.

Most likely they wouldn't and it might only be Gillick's sheer persistence that might save the deal. He seems to want Rios badly but might settle for fellow outfielder Reed Johnson in return for Lieber and prospects. Still thought to be a long shot is a deal for Padres reliever Scott Linebrink, a workhorse of the first order. The Phils have been offering Rowand in the deal but with outfielder Termell Sledge having a banner spring for the Pads, they seem less inclined to part with Linebrink at this time.

The whispers that might have the most credence involve Rowand's old team, the Chicago White Sox. They seem in need of a centerfielder and have always longed to have the feisty Rowand return to scene of his greatest baseball triumphs. The Phils have inquired about Boone Logan, a 22 year old lefty reliever with nasty stuff and a promising major league future.

Logan alone for Rowand won't get the deal done and the Phils has asked the ChiSox to sweeten the pot and add fellow veteran reliever Mike MacDougal to the deal. MacDougal, a former closer with Kansas City, would seem to be exactly the type of reliever that Gillick covets, a sturdy arm with the ability to close should Tom Gordon suffer a reoccurrence of arm woes this summer. Logan would add another lefty to the equation along with Smith, Castro and possibly Happ.

As spring training enters its mid stages and another baseball campaign lurks ever closer off in the distance, Gillick can still be seen, binoculars in hand, searching for that hidden golden bullpen arm that will punctuate what appears to be an otherwise powerful baseball squad. While it behooves him to leave no stone unturned in his search it might just be that the arms he will eventually discover need no binoculars to study.

In fact, arms belonging to pitchers Justin Germano, Zack Segovia, J.A. Happ and Joe Bisenius can be seen on a daily basis right there in Clearwater, Florida, the exact location where Gillick now sits perched in anticipation. There is an old baseball adage that often times "the best deals are the deals not made" and should Gillick decide to trust what he already has in camp instead of bringing in a pitcher from elsewhere the ultimate resolution may still be the same.

For the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies, clearly the fog is lifting on a clouded bullpen with more than ample...relief in sight.

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

Editor's Note: Allen Ariza will be a guest on Philly Baseball News Radio hosted by Chuck Hixson on Saturday March 17, 2007. The show is heard Saturday mornings at nine on 1230 and 1320 AM WEEX and WTKZ in Easton, PA.


Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories