CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms: Center Stage

Perhaps nowhere was the resurgence of the Phillie pharm system more apparent than in the middle levels of the system, in Clearwater and Lakewood. Both teams fielded strong teams and had several prospects worthy of mention. While the top two clubs had varying degrees of success, as did the rookie clubs, the middle two teams took a giant step forward stage.

The demise of the long storied and deep Philadelphia Phillie pharm system was really a story decades in the making. It started after the sale of the club by the Carpenter family in 1981 and really did not reverse itself completely until a few seasons ago when top scouting and drafting gurus Mike Arbuckle and Marti Wolever were given greater access to the purse strings of an often time tight Phillie budget.

Although Arbuckle took command of the scout, draft and development program back in early 1993 and quickly displayed a brilliant eye for talent, he was often hamstrung by a lack of the finances necessary to draft or sign key amateur talent. No greater example of this is the story of the loss of All-American outfielder J.D. Drew from Florida State back in the summer of 1997.

Drew's struggles and constant movement via free agency have somewhat diminished his shining star but no one can dispute that the Phillies' inability to sign Drew, the number two draft pick in the entire country back in '97, clearly set the franchise back several years after the debacle.

Added to this was the propensity of former General Manager Ed Wade to sacrifice top draft picks in order to sign top free agents like Jim Thome, David Bell and Jon Lieber and the system was continually left with less that a cornucopia of top minor league talent.

However, with the advent of the Pat Gillick Era, one that will end at the finish of the 2008 campaign, the Phils have now had two very strong drafts in a row and have begun the long and often arduous process of restocking a system with outstanding talent. Clearly, it is working and no greater example of that can be found than in a quick study of both the Clearwater and Lakewood clubs in 2007.

The Lakewood Blue Claws, a low full season Class-A club in the South Atlantic League, were the champions of the SAL in 2005 and followed that title up with another strong season in 2006. The Blue Claws finished with a 69-65 record and had several outstanding Phillie prospects on the roster. Of those players, none had a finer season than Phillies Minor League Player of the Year, outfielder Quintin Berry.

Quintin Berry, a sixth round draft pick out of San Diego State in 2005, had an outstanding season, culminating with a .312 batting average and 55 stolen bases in 73 attempts. He also scored 86 runs from the leadoff spot and displayed excellent speed and range in the outfield. Berry will move up to Clearwater next season and should have a bright Major League future ahead of him.

While Berry was the player of the year in the system, most scouts do not believe Berry was even the best everyday prospect on the club in '06. That designation probably belongs to second baseman Adrian Cardenas, another gem plucked out of the amateur ranks in the draft of 2005.

Cardenas played A-ball while still a teenager and might just be the best hitting prospect in the entire Phillie organization. He reminds many scouts of Phils second baseman Chase Utley and one day soon the team will be faced with the dilemma of what to do with two carbon copy standout infielders. Still, that is a debate for another day. What cannot be debated is the outstanding skill that Cardenas displayed while at Lakewood.

He not only hit a solid .295 as a southpaw swinger, but had 30 doubles and 9 home runs to go along with his 79 RBI. His understanding of the strike zone is another reason to appreciate his talents as he struck out a mere 80 times in almost 500 at bats.

Yet one final position player worth mentioning is outfielder Gus Milner, who hit .286 with 10 home runs and 66 RBI while playing mostly right field. Milner is a strong, stocky player who runs well for his size and might just be a player who sneaks under the radar screen because of his seeming lack of noticeable athletic skills.

Without a doubt, the major disappointment this year in the Phillie system was the play of heralded C.J. Henry, the centerpiece in the Bobby Abreu deal with the Yankees. Henry, a former number one draft pick by the Yanks, was expected to have a breakthrough campaign with the BlueClaws, but instead spent the summer in a series of prolonged offensive slumps. These slumps culminated in a .184 batting average for Henry, and with it an unceremonious release in early October.

In all, there are six pitchers worth noting on what was a strong pitching staff. Antonio Bastardo seemingly came out of nowhere to fashion a 9-0 record and a minuscule 1.85 ERA in 92 innings of work. Bastardo, a lefty, also struck out 98 batters while walking 42. His amazing season was rewarded with a late season promotion to Clearwater, where he continued his winning ways with a 1-0 record.

The two most highly rated hurlers on the staff were young righties Edgar Garcia and Kyle Drabek. Both had streaks of success while occasionally struggling with control and command, not unlike most young hurlers. Garcia fashioned a 4-9 record at Lakewood with a 4.12 ERA in 20 starts.

Kyle Drabek was the top draft pick from that outstanding '05 amateur draft and was seemingly on his way to a solid season when he suffered elbow problems that eventually led to surgery. Before the injury his record was 5-1 in 10 starts with 46 strikeouts in 54 innings of work. Drabek is reportedly rehabbing well and might be ready to pitch again by July or August of 2008.

In any event, both Garcia and Drabek remain two of the top five or six prospects in the entire minor league system and will be moved very slowly through the system in order to allow them to grow mentally as well as physically. Garcia may begin the 2008 season back at Lakewood but should he improve his control he will quickly receive a promotion to Clearwater.

Other pitchers worthy of note include righties Darren Byrd, 9-11 with a 4.04 ERA in 156 innings of work and Carlos Monasterios, another youngster acquired in the Abreu deal. Monasterios may now rank as the best prospect left from that deal and finished with an 11-11 record and 4.62 ERA in 26 starts with the Blue Claws.

Special mention should go to right-hander Scott Mitchinson, who once was considered a top notch prospect before suffering arm woes. He has slowly returned to his previous form and did fashion a 3-3 record in 8 starts while striking out 50 enemy batters in a mere 44 innings of work.

Undoubtedly the strongest club in the Phillie minor league system was the High-A League Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League. The Threshers not only fashioned an outstanding 83-57 record during the regular campaign but won the FSL championship. This was a team with several top prospects, players worth watching for in the near future, perhaps as early as 2009.

The top two players on the Threshers, and maybe two of the best players in the entire system were infielder Jason Donald and pitcher Andrew Carpenter. Again, both Donald and Carpenter were high round picks in that bonanza of a '05 amateur draft.

Jason Donald received a mid-season promotion from Lakewood and never skipped a beat as he combined to hit .305 with 149 hits, 31 doubles, 8 triples and 12 home runs. Donald was also outstanding at shortstop and showed off a powerful arm and scintillating range. As a solid right-handed hitter, there has been talk that Donald may soon be moved to third base with the hope that he could platoon with left-handed hitting Mike Costanzo at third base in Philadelphia.

While this may be an admirable short-term goal, Donald has the skills and demeanor to soon become an everyday regular at the Major League level. It may be an indication of his collegiate skills at Arizona State that super agent Scott Boras decided to add Donald to his lengthy list of clients.

As for Carpenter, there was no better pitcher in the entire pharm system than the lanky righty. He pitched the entire season with the Threshers and fashioned a brilliant 17-6 record with a 3.20 ERA in a mere 24 starting assignments. He also completed 3 games and had 116 strikeouts in 163 innings pitched.

Carpenter relies on outstanding stuff rather than a 95 MPH fastball and has always displayed a great feel for pitching. Gillick has already included Carpenter in a short list that includes Carlos Carassco and Josh Outman as hurlers who could vie for starting spots on the 2009 Phillie pitching staff.

While catcher Jason Jaramillo seems the heir apparent to the starting backstop spot in Philadelphia, he will eventually be challenged by another outstanding minor league catcher, Lou Marson. Many within the Phillie organization consider Marson to be the best all around catcher in the system and after a strong .288 season with the Threshers, who can blame them?

Lou Marson is a solidly built backstop with a strong and accurate arm and a bat that promises to produce more power as he matures. He will probably win a promotion to Reading to begin the '08 year and should receive a late season call-up sometime in 2009.

Two other solid citizens at Clearwater included infielder Brad Harman and outfielder Jeremy Slayden. Both were members of the championship BlueClaw club in '05 and have had a history of success since joining the Phillie organization.

The powerful hitting Slayden, who bats from the left side, was an outstanding collegiate hitter before injuring himself during his senior year. This has possibly slowed his development some, but clearly he is a hitter worth watching next season.

Slayden hit .287 this past season with 14 home runs and 73 RBI in the cavernous Clearwater home ballpark. His defense is only average and his lack of a strong throwing arm will keep him in left field throughout his professional career. Still, he has hit wherever he has played and could finally be on a quickened path the Major Leagues after seemingly being held back for reasons that are still not entirely clear.

As for Harman, he is yet another outstanding product of the Phillie Australian Connection. Perhaps no player had a better post season with the Threshers than did Harman, who culminated a solid season with a great last month offensively. In 122 games, Harman hit .281 with 13 home runs and 62 RBI. Yet another strong minor league second base prospect, Harman has all the qualifications to someday become a major league platoon player, capable of performing at no less than four or five defensive spots.

Even in their "down cycle" at the minor league level, the Philadelphia Phillies have shown the ability to develop ready made major league performers when needed. Players such as Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson and Geoff Geary are all products of the system.

Yet, the cycle appears to have reversed itself completely and should Arbuckle and Company have one more solid and deep amateur draft in June of 2008 the Phillies may finally have completely replenished their system. Most of the names just mentioned, from Donald to Carpenter, Bastardo to Cardenas, Berry to Marson, are merely a few seasons from Citizens Bank Park and while some of them might derail along the way, most of them will not.

Admittedly, the top end of the system at Ottawa and Reading left much to be desired in the way of strong young talent, and the two rookie clubs at Williamsport and Gulf Coast League have players literally years from the major leagues.

Not so the two teams from Clearwater and Lakewood, which represent the very best in the revival of the long dormant Phillie pharm system. No less than a dozen players are names worth watching in the coming months and years, players that are clearly worthy of taking their place among the systems elite stage.

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

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