Youth Is Being Served In Lakewood

The Lakewood BlueClaws have a bunch of good, but very young prospects that are set to spend the season at the Jersey shore. All of those young players could mean the 'Claws are in for some growing pains this season.

The Lakewood BlueClaws are one of those teams that can make a relatively young person feel suddenly very old. Their roster is filled with young players, many of whom don't know anything about things like not having a computer, passing notes to friends in class rather than texting them or the joys of taking all of your favorite songs along with you wherever you go, because you recorded them onto a cassette tape. Yes, these are a young bunch of players and with that youth will come some struggles.

On Sunday, they trotted out Jesus Sanchez to start their fourth game of the season. While Sanchez has been in the Phillies organization since the summer of 2006, he's still just 21 and is now facing his first professional season as a pitcher. When the Phillies acquired him from the Yankees organization as part of the Bobby Abreu deal, he was a fairly highly touted catcher who was just 18 years old. He never did develop into the catcher that the Phillies had hoped he would be, so they decided that since he did have a strong arm and couldn't hit much, maybe pitching was more suited to his abilities.

They started the process last summer and he pitched one inning in the Gulf Coast League, giving up just one walk and no hits. His progress has actually gone quite well and he showed in both the Florida Instructional League and in spring training that he was taking to this latest idea. So, the Phillies decided to start him at Lakewood this season and he made his first start Sunday for the BlueClaws.

It didn't go well.

While he did record two strikeouts, they were the only outs that Sanchez would record. He gave up a hit, three walks and hit a batter on his way to surrendering three earned runs and posting a 40.50 ERA. That's going to happen with a kid like Sanchez. He's young and learning not just a new position, but a whole new set of skills and it's going to be a learning process. Don't be scared away from what happened to Sanchez on Sunday. While nobody can know for sure whether he'll make it as a pitcher or not, he's young enough to give it a good try and he's talented enough that it's not out of the question.

On the other hand, there was Jason Knapp. The second round pick for the Phillies last season, Knapp is just 18 and starting his first full season of professional ball and may wind up hitting some bumps in the road, but his first start for Lakewood was impressive. Knapp threw 5 2/3 innings for the 'Claws and struck out ten hitters.

Lakewood's pitching staff consists of one 20 year old, three 21 year olds and two 22 year old pitchers in addition to the 18 year old Knapp. Their lineup also consists of three 18 year old hitters in Sebastian Valle, Zach Collier and Anthony Gose. Collier and Gose were both drafted just last June and are playing everyday for Lakewood. So far, both have had some struggles, with Collier hitting .250 and Gose struggling at .167 in the early going.

The early going has been a little tough on Lakewood, whose offense was only able to score ten runs through their first four games of the season until exploding for 11 runs against Lake County on Monday. Prior to their offensive outburst, Lakewood was hitting just .206 on the season, but boosted that to .246 heading into Tuesday night's game. Meanwhile, the pitching has had some decent individual outings, but overall, hasn't provided much help for the BlueClaws, with a team ERA of 5.36 in the early going.

Youth is going to play a big role for Lakewood this season. Odds are that the BlueClaws will struggle through the early going, but show improvement later in the season when some of these young players start to adjust to the South Atlantic League. While many of their players are young and have gotten moved along to Lakewood quickly, they are talented enough to play at the Low-A level and deserve to be with the 'Claws. Fans will just have to be patient and know that brighter days are likely coming as these young players show improvement over the course of the season.

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