Fans of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs should be much happier in 2009. While the excitement of the inaugural season is gone, many top prospects will be set to perform on the stage that is Coca-Cola Park.
Here's a look at some of the changes that could be in store for the IronPigs.
Even though his offensive numbers at Double-A Reading weren't quite what the Phillies had hoped for, Brad Harman figures to make his Triple-A debut with the 'Pigs in 2009. Harman hit 17-56-.210 with Reading, playing primarily at second base, but sliding over to both shortstop and third base on occasion when needed. After seeing 'Pigs second basemen hit a combined .197 (101-for-513) with 4 home runs and 51 RBI, Harman's bat would be an improvement. It's possible that Harman will start the season back at Reading and move to Lehigh Valley when he shows that his bat has improved enough to play at that level, but sometimes, the Phillies prefer to challenge young players with a seemingly unwarranted promotion.
Jason Donald may be the hottest name in the organization right now after his performance in the Arizona Fall League. Donald lit up opposing pitchers and showed enough poise and leadership both on and off the field to be awarded the league's Stenson Sportsmanship Award. Donald hit .407 with a 1.223 OPS in the AFL and played not only at shortstop, but started taking up time at both second and third. His added versatility may mean that the IronPigs will have to wait for him to arrive since it's likely that he'll be filling in for either Pedro Feliz or Chase Utley with the big league club to start the season.
It's very possible that Rich Thompson will be the only returning member of the IronPigs outfield. Thompson hit .264 with the IronPigs and has re-signed a minor league deal with the Phillies, although he's still eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft next month. Also eligible is Slayden, who projects primarily as a fourth outfielder, but has enough skills that someone might take a shot with him as a Rule 5 player.
Moran will be the big addition. He played in 13 games for Lehigh Valley in 2008 and hit .303 before returning to Reading. His addition will give the 'Pigs the speed - and more - that they'll lose with the likely exit of Watson.
Here's a nice problem to have; too many good catchers. While Jason Jaramillo started slowly at Lehigh Valley, he ended well and hit .266 on the season. His defense was as good as expected and once he worked out some mechanical issues behind the plate, his ability to throw out base stealers returned. Even if Marson doesn't arrive at Triple-A, Jaramillo should be able to at least equal what he did in 2008.
The odds of Marson not being at Triple-A are not very good. Marson showed last season at Double-A Reading that he's able to add offense (5-46-.314) to go along with his superior defensive skills. He got a cup of coffee with the big league club and launched his first major league home run on the last day of the 2008 season.
So, what will the Phillies do with all of these catchers?
Don't be surprised if someone - most likely Carlos Ruiz or Jaramillo - are dealt elsewhere during the off-season. Marson almost has to play at Lehigh Valley and should be behind the plate for the vast majority of the games and the only reason why he wouldn't be there is if he's at the major league level. Jaramillo could conceivably be Ruiz' backup in 2009 for the Phillies to open the Triple-A spot for Marson, but then what do the Phillies do with Chris Coste?
It's very likely that either Happ or Carrasco will be battling for a spot in the Phillies rotation and either one could wind up sticking with the big league club. Happ (8-7, 3.60) pitched well at Lehigh Valley last season and pitched well when called upon in Philadelphia. Carrasco was moved up to Triple-A in early August and went 2-2, 1.72 in six starts, striking out 46 in 36 2/3 innings of work. Either is likely ready for Philadelphia, but it's likely that only one of them will be with the big league club while the other provides insurance with Lehigh Valley.
While Carpenter had a disappointing season, he seemed to get himself righted late in the year and the Phillies are hoping for a big return from him. Like Harman, Carpenter could be back at Reading to gain some early season confidence before surfacing with Lehigh Valley.