Much like most organizations, the Phils operate six minor league franchises, and they range from the full-season Triple-A club, the Ottawa Lynx all the way down to the two rookie league clubs, which will begin play in mid-June. At present, there are four teams performing and they opened play last week. The teams are the AAA Ottawa club in the International League, the Reading Phillies in the AA Eastern League, the Clearwater Threshers in the High-A Florida State League and the Lakewood Blue Claws in the Low-A South Atlantic League.
Unlike a few of the minor league teams in the past, these season all four clubs are stocked with future major league talent, though the Phils continue to use more than their share of veteran minor league players who have little chance of ever making it to the big leagues. Still, the story of Chris Coste should inspire every minor league player that it is never too late to get your first chance. Coste made his major league debut in Philadelphia last season at 33 years of age and hit .328 in 65 games.
Unfortunately, this performance failed to move the Phillie brain trust this spring and when he suffered a hamstring injury in March, his fate was sealed. Coste opens the '07 season at Ottawa but it will be a huge surprise if he is not soon summoned to the major leagues, either with the Phils or as part of a multi-player trade. He was a valuable addition to the team last summer, and it seems inconceivable that he would not have an opportunity to build on his success last year. Watch for Coste to be one of the first call-ups should the big club need reinforcements.
Other players to keep an eye on in Ottawa include left-handed hurlers J.A. Happ, Fabio Castro and Eude Brito as well as righties Zack Segovia, Joe Bisenius, Yoel Hernandez and Rich Bauer. Happ and Segovia project as future starting pitchers while Bisenius, Brito, Hernandez and Bauer will be working out of the bullpen. The future fate of Castro remains undecided at present as there are those within the organization who see the tiny lefty as a starting pitcher while most feel he does not have the stamina to pitch more than an inning or two at a time.
The chances are that Castro will eventually pitch out of the bullpen as the history of starting pitchers under 5'8" tall is not a long one. Three hurlers who do come to mind quickly were all lefties themselves and ironically enough, all had a Philadelphia connection. Bobby Shantz was a past Philadelphia great, who pitched for both the old A's as well as the ill-fated 1964 Phillies, and dazzled hitters for nearly 20 years with his slow and slower stuff. Shantz was also a cat on the mound with his instincts and defensive skills.
Harvey Haddix was a very solid pitcher in the major leagues for over a decade and once tossed 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves before losing a heartbreaker in the thirteenth inning. The tiny lefty won 12 games for the 1956 Phillie club before being dealt to St. Louis following the season. He was also a member of the 1960 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates.
The other tiny lefty that quickly comes to mind was Alvin Jackson, a hurler who pitched for many of the most woeful New York Mets teams of the early '60's. Jackson was then a pitcher who was highly sought after by the Phils and they nearly acquired him on several occasions. He had a very solid career with the Mets and Cards and once tossed a 15 inning complete game against Philadelphia, albeit in defeat.
So, if Castro is to make it as a starting pitcher, these are the type of hurlers he must emulate and, truth be told, he is more power arm than finesse type, the kind that made Shantz, Haddix and Jackson so effective. Still, the Phils love his arm and will give him the opportunity to start with the Lynx and see what happens.
Zack Segovia and Joe Bisenius have already made their major league debuts and it would be no surprise if both of them were back in Philadelphia before the season ended. Given the Phils ongoing pitching problems, the same could hold true for all but Happ, who would benefit from a full season of minor league hurling.
Rich Bauer is a name to remember, a 30 year old veteran with some major league success. He was recently signed as a free agent by Phillie GM Pat Gillick, and it seems unlikely that Bauer would have agreed to a minor league deal without some assurances of a call-up at some point this year.
The two position players of note are catcher Jason Jaramillo and outfielder Chris Roberson. Admittedly, one seems on the upward slope while the other seems to be headed southward, at least at the moment. The smooth Jaramillo is the heir apparent to the starting catching job in Philadelphia and should make his debut in September of this year. His defensive skills are outstanding, his ability to call a game improving, and he has shown an improved bat during the past several months. This includes an outstanding stint in the Arizona Fall League when he hit well over .300.
Chris Roberson's star seems to be dimming now after several years on the ascent. His problem seems to be an inability to transfer his outstanding athletic skills into the type of day-to-day player that most big league clubs covet. He is back in Triple-A after disappointing spring training in Clearwater and remains a good bet to be used as part of a multi-player trade to another organization. His best chance at a return to the Phils would be if he has an outstanding start to his season and the Phils move Aaron Rowand in trade and decide to send speedster Michael Bourn back to the minor leagues.
The Double-A Reading Phillies would seem to have the smallest number of major league prospects, but one of them, third baseman Mike Costanzo, might have the best chance to start with the Phils at some point in 2008 after Jaramillo. The lefty-hitting Costanzo has already homered twice in three games and might be ready for the breakout season expected of him since the Phils signed him as their top draft pick back in June 2005. Should the sweet swinging Costanzo hit well at Reading, a promotion to Ottawa by August is not out of the question. This would enable him to jumpstart his chances with the Phils for 2008.
The other prospects include pitchers Anderson Garcia, Kyle Kendrick and Matt Maloney as well as another speedy outfielder, Javon Moran. All of the these players have the potential to someday make it to the major leagues. Maloney is one of the top pitching prospects in the entire system and is projected as a future middle of the rotation starting pitcher. The same is true for the right-handed Kendrick while Garcia is being groomed to become a closer. With the Phils current bullpen woes, it would not be a surprise if the organization began preparing Anderson Garcia for closer work in anticipation of future work at Citizens Bank Park.
Javon Moran began his career with the Phils and was dealt to Cincinnati a few years ago. He was reacquired in the winter for Jeff Conine and has continued to display the hitting skills that have consistently made him a .300 hitter in the minors. Moran is already off to a .500 start [6-12] and has 3 stolen bases and projects as a natural center fielder and leadoff hitter.
Perhaps the deepest club prospect wise in the entire organization resides in Clearwater with the Class-A League Threshers. No less than 16 players are worthy of mention, including no less than nine pitchers. In fact, some of the very best prospects in the system will open the year with the Threshers. Given the Phils propensity for promoting players who do well, at least a few of these hurlers, as well as a few of the position players might make their Double-A debuts in Reading sometime this year.
The list includes top hurlers like righty Carlos Carrasco, Andrew Carpenter, Bret Harker, Pat Overholt and William Savage as well as a slew of lefties, Josh Outman, Derek Griffith, Daniel Brauer and chunky Michael Zagurski. All of these hurlers have solid potential and Carrasco is widely considered to be the top prospect in the entire organization. He certainly lived up to his billing with a 5.2 shutout inning performance in his debut with Clearwater.
Carpenter, Brauer and Outman also project as starting pitchers while Harker, Overholt, Griffith, Savage and Zagurski will pitch out of the bullpen. The Phils are especially high on Carpenter, Brauer and Outman and at least one of them is likely to be promoted to Reading before spring turns to summer.
Position players of note include 20 year old catcher Louis Marson, infielders Brad Harman, Welinson Baez, Clay Harris and Fidel Hernandez and outfielders Greg Golson and Jeremy Slayden. Marson has been rock solid now for almost three seasons and the Phils are quite impressed with his improvement. Baez has been disappointing to this point and must assert himself this year or fall behind Costanzo and C.J. Henry in the third base race.
Harris and Hernandez had displayed varying degrees of potential during the past year and might elevate themselves to solid prospect list with strong seasons in Florida. The same goes for Slayden, who has always been a hitter deluxe but has not always played well defensively. Slayden is off to a strong start, hitting .583 [7-12] with a home run and 5 RBI. He will go as far as his bat takes him.
If there is one prospect in the entire system who might just take a quantum leap to stardom this year, it would appear to be the mercurial Greg Golson, a player the Phils have patiently waited for every since making him a number one draft pick back in the summer of 2004. His progress has been staggered at times and more than a few Phillie phans have openly questioned the future potential of this 5 tool prospect.
Not so people like Mike Arbuckle and Marti Wolever, two of the men who staunchly defended Golson since his rookie season. He began to improve after his call-up to Clearwater last July and his improvement in plate discipline continues to grow, as does the power in his bat. Golson has opened the season at .429 [6-14] and already has two doubles, a triple, home run and 2 stolen bases to his resume. Still only 21 years of age, he and Costanzo would appear to have the best chance of making an impact at the major league level among all the organization's positional players.
Last but certainly not least on the Phillies full-season minor league slate of pharm clubs are the Blue Claws from Lakewood. This club won the system's only championship last year, and did it remarkably enough after an abysmal 0-9 start. Yet, led by the pitching efforts of Carlos Carrasco, Matt Maloney and Josh Outman, the B-Claws became a dominant club by mid-season and easily won the SAL playoffs in September.
This year's team appears to have another strong nucleus, including last summers top two draft picks, pitcher Kyle Drabek and second baseman Adrian Cardenas. Both should play important roles in any success the Blue Claws have in 2007. Drabek is expected to help anchor a starting staff that should include Darren Byrd, Jarrod Freeman and Michael Dubee. Still, the ace of the staff is expected to be 19 year old Edgar Garcia, rated the number three prospect in the entire system after Carrasco and Drabek.
Garcia combines a 92 MPH fastball with an outstanding breaking pitch, a solid change up and tremendous mound presence. The Phils will move cautiously with Garcia and his development will move much slower than is likely with the precocious Drabek, the son of former big league standout Doug Drabek. He could move quickly through the system, given his past exposure to the world of major league baseball and his tremendous athletic skills.
The bullpen will be anchored by two potential prospects, righties Carlos Monasterios and Ben Pfinsgraff. Monasterios was one of the four players acquired in the Bobby Abreu deal last July while Pfinsgraff was a solid performer after being drafted from the University of Maryland last June.
Assigned to catch this strong nucleus of young hurlers is standout backstop Tuffy Gosewisch, of Arizona Wildcat fame. Gosewisch seems the perfect catcher for this group and reportedly is one of the best defensive catchers in the entire system. He will also be expected to contribute offensively and was hitting in the cleanup position in the early going.
Perhaps no player will be more closely scrutinized this year at the minor league level than will 20 year old third baseman C.J. Henry. Not only is Henry a former number one draft pick of the New York Yankees but was the centerpiece of the Abreu deal. Simply put, Henry will eventually dictate whether or not this deal pays off for the Phils. Oh, lefty Matt Smith may have major league success this year and catcher Jesus Sanchez looks to have a major league future.
Yet it is Henry who will likely tip the scales in one direction or the other. Should he fail, and many baseball scouts think he will, the deal could go down as one of the worst in Phillie history. However, should he succeed, and there are an equal number of scouts who think he will, then the Phils may still come out ahead in the deal when all the cards are eventually laid on the table.
Henry has often been compared to a young Vernon Wells, the megastar outfielder with the Toronto Blue Jays. He is a superb athlete, with power plus and a strong arm. Many of the scouts who expect eventual stardom felt he would struggle in his first two seasons before putting it together in his third season. That third season would be 2007 and the Phils hope these scouts are correct.
They moved Henry from shortstop to third base this winter due to his 6'5" frame and he seems to have taken well to the position change. He is off to a strong start at .429 [3-7] with a double, triple and two RBI already. His progress, or lack thereof, will be closely monitored this season with the Blue Claws.
The Lakewood infield could be a veritable thing of beauty this year as Adrian Cardenas and Jason Donald will be forming the double play combination at second base and shortstop. The Phils expect both of these two players to eventually make it to Citizens Bank Park and feel Cardenas may one day rival Chase Utley in hitting prowess. Donald is a smooth fielding shortstop from the University of Arizona and will move up rapidly if he hits.
One other player of note is outfielder Gus Milner, a 6'5", 240 pound outfielder with surprising speed and outstanding power. Much like Slayden, Milner will go as far as his hitting takes him, but his is a name worth noting due to his extreme power potential.
The two rookie clubs, Batavia and Gulf Coast, will begin operation after the June draft and will feature several of the Phils top younger talent. Names like Jesus Sanchez, Michael Durant, D'Arby Myers, Heitor Correa, Dominic Brown, Darin McDonald, Derrick Mitchell, Yin-Feng Lin and many of this years top draft picks will improve their wares in the rookie leagues this summer. Of special note are outfielders Myers and Brown.
Myers is widely considered a future plum and seems to be the latest in the Phils line of potential 5 tool players while Brown was the standout of spring training and turned heads repeatedly with his outstanding play. Myers, who is still 18 years old, hit over .300 last summer while the 19 year old Brown struggled with the same Gulf Coast League Phillie club. Both are expected to advance to Batavia this summer and are currently performing in the Phil's extended spring training session in Florida.
While it does seem inevitable that the fortunes of the parent club Phillies will shortly turn around after yet another horrendous April start, all is not lost for the forlorn and long frustrated Philadelphia phanatic. Though names like Howard, Utley, Myers and Gordon continue to bring consternation and concern, names like Golson, Costanzo, Carrasco and Jaramillo might well bring comfort and closure.
Losing can be difficult to take but is less painful when the future appears rosier and more promising than the present or the past. Phillie phans could use a break right now, and should they choose to seek one out, they need look no further than the minor leagues for their most desired of remedies...a quick fix.
Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to email@example.com and I will attempt to respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast