CD's Connect The Dots... The Master Plan

As the clock ticks ever closer towards that July 31 trading deadline, Phillie phans are curious as to the direction their heroes will ultimately take. They anxiously await any news that might indicate an impending deal, if ever so tiny. Yet, it might just behoove all involved to remember the big picture and not lose sight of...the Master Plan.

Yes, in the frenzy that often is the mid-summer pennant push, teams can often forget the long term goals for the short term pleasures. And, indeed, there is some semblance of truth to James Baldwin's contention that "the future is like heaven; everyone exalts it but no one wants to go there now." The truth is that since the advent of free agency, teams and their fans have taken a more present oriented philosophy, often with disastrous results.

With this in mind, perhaps it might be better for Phillie GM Pat Gillick to pay small attention to the words of Baldwin and instead focus on the thoughts of a certain Ted Levitt. To Levitt, "the future belongs to people who see possibilities before they become obvious."

What is obvious to almost any Phillie phan is that as currently constructed, their favorite baseball nine is in dire need of pitching, pitching...and more pitching. During the spring and early into the 2007 campaign, it was thought that the bullpen was short a few arms and that Gillick should put his focus in that area.

Then spring turned to summer, and with the changing season came the arm injuries to starting pitchers Freddy Garcia, Brett Myers and Jon Lieber. Oh, technically Myers was injured while pitching in relief, but had the bullpen not been such a source of utter consternation early on there would never have been any thought given to moving him there.

In fact, Myers was a starting pitcher masquerading in the bullpen and when he went down along with Garcia and Lieber, the Phillie starting staff of six was reduced in half, lefties Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer as well as righty Adam Eaton. Since then rookies Kyle Kendrick and J.D. Durbin have attempted to place their fingers in the widening dike with somewhat positive results.

Still, the cries come from as far away as places like Allentown, Scranton and Harrisburg of the need for the Phils to address their pitching woes before the July 31 deadline runs its course. These voices speak of the need to bring in at best a Carlos Zambrano and at worst a Kyle Lohse. They demand that Gillick throw away his often used "Stand Pat" nickname and magically reconstruct a staff that has destructed in ways that no one could have foreseen six months ago.

Yet, before the cries become too loud, before the knee jerk reaction to "do something, do anything!" mantra takes hold it might just be time to step back for a moment and take a long term global view of just where the Philadelphia Phillies are today and just how far they have come in merely one year.

The timing couldn't be more simple for merely a year ago the team looked old, worn and ready to dismantle. Names like David Bell, Rheal Cormier, Sal Fasano, Arthur Rhodes, Cory Lidle, Ryan Franklin and yes, Bobby Abreu were all prominent names on the big league roster. The team was wallowing well below .500 with not even the scent of a playoff push in the foreseeable future.

In merely a bit less than one year all but Rhodes were moved at the trading deadline and not only did the "new look" Philadelphia Phillies, now lead by youngsters Chase Utley and Ryan Howard nearly steal a National League wild card berth but have tossed away the term "also rans" completely.

Admittedly, no one can be pleased with this season's .500 record but again, it is important to see beyond the forest and into the trees. This team, as presently constructed has an offense as powerful as any in baseball, a club with youth and versatility on their side, and for the first time in eons, some future help in the minor leagues at precisely the places where the parent club needs future help the most.

With this as a caveat, let's take a look at how this team might well look in the not too distant future should Gillick and Company refrain from the noises of the gathering masses and instead stand steadfast and stern towards the continuing master plan.

The current club is now brimming with the pieces to assemble an offensive juggernaut for years to come. Players like Utley, Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are only now entering their baseball prime and should continue to star in PhillieLand for years to come.

Behind the plate, what once was a black hole of mammoth proportions is now probably protected for much of the next decade. Not only has rookie Carlos Ruiz taken hold of the starting catching spot but he will soon be joined by young Jason Jaramillo, a switch-hitting defensive master with a higher upside than even Ruiz.

These two should man the catching spots for the Phils next year and will eventually be challenged by potentially the two best catchers in the Phillie system, Lou Marson and Travis d'Arnaud. Marson is currently playing well at Single-A Clearwater while d'Arnaud is performing extremely well as a recently signed first round draft pick in the Gulf Coast League.

Perhaps the only disappointment to this point in the catching ranks would be young Jesus Sanchez, the 19 year old Venezuelan who was acquired along with three other players in the July 30 deal last summer for Abreu and Lidle. Currently, Sanchez is toiling in the GCL and has yet to show the offensive skills that excited the Phillies when they brought him over from the Yankees in the deal.

In Howard, Utley and Rollins, the Phils have three quarters of what might soon constitute the best infield in baseball while Victorino, and fellow outfielders Aaron Rowan and Michael Bourn have performed well both offensively and defensively this season. Of course, the jury remains out of slugger Pat Burrell in left field but he has recently begun to hit like most think he can and should he continue to do so, the Phils will have solved a bit of their dilemma over finding a right-handed hitting power bat.

Of course, even the most ardent Phillie phan, the one who constantly places his rose colored glasses squarely on his nose, would acknowledge a need for a third baseman and even here the Phils might have their answer from within the organization.

Mike Costanzo is currently vying for the home run lead in Double-A Reading as the teams third baseman and is still on track for arrival at Citizens Bank Park sometime in late 2008. Truth be told, Costanzo still has his critics, the ones who point to his high strikeout totals and low batting average against left-handed pitching.

Still, there is much to like about Costanzo, from the way he generates electric power from the left side of the plate to his strong and usually accurate arm at third base. Even more impressive is the way he seems to improve at every level of competition once he takes root and becomes comfortable.

While his batting average remains problematic in the mid .240 range, Costanzo has shown a willingness to take a walk recently without any noticeable loss of power from his bat. If his numbers continue at their present rate, he will have hit about 25 home runs and knocked in about 80-85 runs by seasons end and will have earned a promotion to the Phillies new Triple-A franchise in Allentown next year.

From there, the next step is entirely up to him. If he shows he can hit Triple-A pitching, if even mostly against right-handers, then he will soon join the present group of Howard, Utley and Rollins as an entire infield of home grown products. Of this are master plans implemented and perfected.

Further down the road, but not too be far as to be indistinguishable from the shadows are such outstanding infield prospects as shortstop Jason Donald and second baseman Adrian Cardenas. Both were selected as high round draft picks in the June 2006 amateur draft and neither has done anything to show that they weren't both well worth the high rankings.

Jason Donald, a former All-American collegian at Arizona is currently performing at Clearwater, after a distinguished early season in Lakewood. He has displayed a strong .300 bat and outstanding glove in both places and could come quickly should he remain consistent.

The Phils see Donald as a shortstop but might think about moving him to third base if he begins to display a bit more power. Of course, should Costanzo eventually prove worthy of the starting spot in PhillieLand, the Phils might well have the most delicious of dilemmas on their hands...too many infielders for not enough spots.

As well as Donald has played, and currently he is wielding one of the hottest bats in the minor leagues, most baseball scouts readily acknowledge that that cream of the crop in the Phillie system continues to be 19 year old Adrian Cardenas, a player who does nothing but remind nearly every Phillie coach and scout of a "young Chase Utley."

Perhaps no later than next season, Cardenas will be ranked as one of the Top 10 Prospects in baseball. Yes, he is that good. While still a teenager, Cardenas is hitting over .300 at full-season Lakewood and displaying the confidence and demeanor of a player several years his elder.

Soon enough the Phils will really have a situation on their hands, as young Cardenas meets Chase Utley in Philadelphia. Make no mistake, the day is coming and it might be here sometime in 2010. The Phils will happily let things take their course but it would surprise no one if Adrian Cardenas were eventually be moved to left field, a place where the organization could well use another power bat eventually.

Speaking of the outfield, the system seems to now have a veritable plethora of young, speedy and skilled outfielders. Greg Golson, D'Arby Myers and Quentin Berry are three that quickly come to mind and all are having success in the minor leagues, albeit admittedly still in the lower levels.

Add to this list the names Tyler Mach, Mathew Spencer, Michael Taylor and Mathew Rizzoti, four collegiate players who recently signed from the Draft Class of 2007 and the Phillies appear serious about addressing their needs for more power bats at the minor league level this year.

In particular, Mach has opened many eyes with an early season offensive production at Williamsport that includes an average of over .380 and the power numbers to match. His is a name to remember after a very successful collegiate career in Oklahoma.

Still, the masses cry out for pitching help and point to the fact that the team cannot compete for a 2007 National League playoff berth without reinforcements. Perhaps the masses are correct, but the question of the future remains the same. Should tomorrow be sacrificed for the potential gains of today. It is a troubling and perplexing question for Gillick, and one that will be answered soon.

That said, it should be noted that the strength of the entire system has always been young pitching prospects and that has not changed despite the ill-advised deal that sent Gavin Floyd and Giovanni Gonzalez to the Chicago White Sox for Garcia during the off-season. Add to that the loss of Justin Germano to the San Diego Padres in the spring and Gillick has not had the best of off-seasons when it comes to retaining young pitchers.

Still, the stable is hardly empty and the recent success of Kendrick and Durbin should only reinforce this belief. In fact, Kendrick was no more than the ninth best pitching prospect in the system this spring and Durbin was not even with the club. Names like Carlos Carrasco, Kyle Drabek, Edgar Garcia, Scott Mathieson, Josh Outman, J.A. Happ, Matt Maloney and Zack Segovia were all rated higher than Kendrick and, indeed, most still are.

It would do well for the Phillies to just attempt to weather the Storm of '07 with hurricane force gales that caught the likes of Garcia, Lieber, Myers, Mathieson and Tom Gordon in its aftermath. Although the storm probably cost the team a chance at the NL playoffs this fall, it might well have speeded the development of youngsters like Kendrick and Durbin as well as fortified the confidence level of many of the aforementioned hurlers.

In fact, recently signed number one draft pick, Joe Savery, noted the promotions of Kendrick and Durbin as proof positive that the Phillie system seems resolved to reward young hurlers with quick promotions should they warrant it. It would not be hard to imagine a rotation led by Hamels and Myers and consisting of such standout youngsters as Kendrick, Carrasco, Savery, Happ, Maloney or Outman.

All of these pitchers seem destined to perform at the big league level soon and the Phils will probably move Mathieson and Segovia to the bullpen to prepare them as closers. The second tier of young pitching prospects include Garcia, Drabek and Drew Carpenter.

Speaking of draft picks, the Phils might well reveal much about their Master plan philosophy soon with the ongoing negotiations of high school hotshots, Brandon Workman and Julian Sampson. The Phils have signed 17 of their top 19 draft picks and only Workman and Sampson remain. Yet, what they choose to do may well speak volumes about the Phils commitment to building from within, and the master plan.

Both Workman, a third round draft pick, and Sampson, selected in the twelfth round due to signability issues, have collegiate options should they choose and in fact, both seem to be leaning in that direction right now. Yet, the Phils can sign one or both of them should they choose to sweeten the pot on the signing bonuses, and it is hoped that this is what they do.

Workman and Sampson are both projectable high school right-handers, the kind that baseball scouts love to watch pitch. Both come with huge upsides, and would immediately elevate the Phillie draft from a solid one to an outstanding one. Combined with the signing of Savery, d'Arnaud, third baseman Travis Mattair and power bats like Mach, Spencer, Taylor and Rizzoti, the Phils will have shored up an entire system in two short drafts.

The deadline to sign the high school hurlers in August 15 and if the past is any indication, the Phils will have a hard time singing either one. As mentioned, it will take a huge signing bonus, one that is probably well deserved but one that the organization has in the past been loathe to offer.

Indeed, old habits die hard and equally as the predictable stalled negotiations with Workman and Sampson, so too is the inclination within the Phillie system to "go for broke" and mortgage the future for today's potential wealth. Names such as Bourn, Happ, Carrasco and Cardenas will undoubtedly be bantered about whenever a potential trading partner comes Gillick's way.

Given the fact that the team is on course to easily draw over three million phans it will be oh so tempting to move a Bourn or Happ should someone like Bronson Arroyo or Matt Morris become available. It can only be hoped that Gillick refuses to budge on these temptations and instead remains steadfast with due course full speed ahead.

For far too many summers, the Phillies would tease their phandom with a tempting morsel in the name of Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook, Mike Williams, Todd Jones or Felix Rodriguez. A quick glance at the current roster reveals none of these names and only Jones is still active and effective.

Instead, it might behoove the Phils to take a glance backward and see just how far they have come in the past year. Far removed from the old and poorly constructed group that constituted the roster last year, this team now seems built to withstand the test of time if only due diligence is served.

As much as the organization has been criticized for its seeming inability to build from within, the current roster would seem to scream otherwise. Players like Utley, Howard, Hamels, Victorino, Ruiz, Rollins, Myers, Madson and Bourn are direct products from their pharm system, and as previously noted, the stampede is nearly on the way.

Not that long ago, it was suggested in this column that the best way to capture and win the hearts and minds of a rabid Philadelphia phanbase would be to "paint a picture" and then sell it to the Philly critics. Incredibly, merely a year removed from that last week in July when an entire organization seemed to dismantle before our very eyes, the team appears ready to present that picture to the public.

The picture promises to be a bright and colorful one, filled with images of Howard home runs and Utley theatrics, of Victorino verve and Rollins rhapsody. It promises images of Hamels heroics and Myers mastery and it soon may promises images of Carrasco, Cardenas and perhaps prophetically, pitcher Josh Outman.

Yes, this is the picture the team should continue to paint and not choose to begin again with yet another portrait of faded colors and dreary scenery. After far too many seasons in the wilderness, the team and organization seem to have finally discovered daylight, not yet bright and shining but certainly with the promise of daybreak instead of nightfall.

It is this mindset that must dominate all discussions and trade talk over the next few weeks, '07 playoffs notwithstanding. it would best be served to remember the painting, remember the images, and most of all, remember...the master plan.

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


Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories