Big Shoes To Fill In Lakewood

The 2006 Lakewood BlueClaws were marked by a great pitching staff that accomplished things others could only dream about. This season, the pitching staff is even younger, but there is still a lot of promise.

They say pitching wins championships and that was certainly the case for the 2006 Blueclaws. If the same thing is going to happen in 2007, Lakewood's pitching staff has a solid blueprint for success. There are some big shoes to fill with three of the top pitchers in the South Atlantic League moving up in the Phillies organization. Matt Maloney, Carlos Carrasco, and Josh Outman led the 2006 staff to a 3.11 era, which ranked first in the SAL. The big three also went 1-2-3 in the SAL in strikeouts last year, each had more Ks than any pitcher in BlueClaws history.

The bar has been sent high and the 2007 staff is ready to go.

The faces are new and so is their leader, pitching coach Ed Hodge. Hodge enters his first season in the Phillies organization after spending the past five years in the Cincinnati Reds organization. Hodge brings his veteran leadership to Lakewood in hopes of developing this young pitching staff. "This staff is very young, last year's pitching staff was a college veteran type pitching staff," Hodge said in reference to the oldest member of this season's starting rotation being 21 years old and none of the five having played college baseball.

The 21 year old is Carlos Monasterios, who was named the starting pitcher for the opener. Monasterios, who came over from the New York Yankees in the Bobby Abreu trade, had a strong spring and earned the number one spot in the rotation. Following Monasterios will be Edgar Garcia, Darren Byrd, Jarrod Freeman, and Kyle Drabek, who was the Phillies first round pick in 2006 and son of former NL Cy Young winner, Doug Drabek.

The roles at the back end of the bullpen have yet to be defined. Three guys that should figure prominently in the bullpen are Garet Hill, Ronald Hill, and Andrew Cruse. Closer by committee will be the name of the game early in the season until someone steps into the role. The pitching staff exudes a youthful exuberance and should be fun to watch in 2007.

The weather in Lakewood is a far cry from sunny Florida at this time of year and the players got a taste of that Tuesday night during the Blueclaws open practice. The pitchers got their work in and the hitters took batting practice into the early evening. Asked how his pitching staff would handle the cold weather, Hodge responded "I told the guys they could still be in Florida at extended spring training or here with the Blueclaws." The players may have chosen Florida over New Jersey, but the goal of spring training was to make the minor league team. Spring training will be a distant memory in the weeks to come for those who made the trip northward with the BlueClaws.

The BlueClaws open up SAL action Thursday night April 5th hosting the Greensboro Grasshoppers. The pre-game festivities will feature a Championship Banner Raising to honor the 2006 SAL Champion team. There should be a great crowd on hand for the opener as the game is already sold out. The weather promises to be cold by game time, but the players and fans are ready to go.

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