Phillies Prospect #1: J.A. Happ

Finally, we're at number one. Last season, it was Giovany Gonzalez and this season, the honor goes to J.A. Happ, another left-hander. Happ is spending his spring in big league camp and making a good impression there.

After three straight seasons of success in the minors, J.A. Happ has brought his successful pitching style to the Phillies major league camp and is showing that he might just be ready for a spot with the big league club. While that remains somewhat remote, many of the Phillies scouts, coaches and front office personnel have stated both publicly and privately that Happ is going to be worth watching in the very near future. One of the questions now is whether the Phillies would be better off adding him to the big league bullpen or keeping him in the minors and letting him pitch in his more accustom role as a starter. The smart money figures to be on Happ spending some time in the minors with a late season call-up to see what he can do with major league pitching. His emergence would also make it possible for the Phillies to put him into the rotation during the season if one of their starters were to be injured.

Happ is the ideal sort of pitcher for Citizens Bank Park; a left-hander who keeps the ball down in the strike zone and doesn't give up a lot of long balls. The Phillies have filled their organization with pitchers like this, knowing that they need to work within the confines of their home field. Happ also gets a good amount of strikeouts and has smooth mechanics that have impressed the pitching coaches he's worked for.

J.A. Happ's career stats

'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
'06 Clearwater 3 7 2.81 0 13 13 80.0 63 35 25 9 19 77
'06 Reading 6 2 2.65 0 12 12 74.2 58 27 22 2 29 81
'06 Scranton 1 0 1.50 0 1 1 6.0 3 1 1 1 1 4
Career 16 15 2.49 0 52 50 274.2 206 98 76 16 95 277

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

Repertoire: Happ doesn't throw very hard, but he gets good movement on his pitches, particularly his fastball. His change-up is good and makes his fastball look a little faster and tougher to hit. His slider has gotten much better and is now just about as good as his curve, which is above average. He throws all four pitches for strikes and will throw them at any point in the count.

Pitching: Happ not only works down in the zone, he will pitch inside. Actually, he pitches throughout the strike zone, but doesn't leave many pitches up and out over the plate. His pitches are described as "heavy" and hitters have a tough time getting any lift on them to take him deep. He gets a good amount of ground balls and won't issue many walks (2.7 free passes per nine innings).

Projection: Because of his ability to get ground balls, many scouts have noted that Happ could be a closer prospect, but the Phillies have kept him in the starting rotation and are likely to continue that. He has enough talent to pitch at or near the top of a major league rotation and has the attitude to switch to the bullpen and would likely succeed in that role if the Phillies were to go that way with him. A little more work at the minor league level wouldn't kill Happ, but the Phillies are going to have to find somewhere to put him on their major league club next season if they're not going to waste his talents. It's actually not out of the question that the Phillies will have Happ start at Double-A Reading and move him to Ottawa with the warmer weather, so as to keep him on a better schedule. If he were to move to Triple-A by around Memorial Day, that would be plenty of time for him to pitch at that level and get the work that he needs to prepare him for the majors.

Comparison: Happ is very much like Jamie Moyer, who also doesn't throw hard, but uses all of his weapons to get hitters out. He's also very poised on the mound and won't make many mistakes. It's not out of the question that he'll put up numbers much like Moyer as long as he stays healthy and can find the longevity.


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