Pitching, pitching, pitching. It's all about pitching. The Phillies are showing that to be the case so far in the early going, with some of their young pitchers turning in strong outings in the minor league system.
Perhaps most impressively is the fact that the only thing likely holding Kyle Drabek (2-0, 1.50) at Clearwater is warmer weather in the northeast. Drabek has had two good starts, including his last outing that consisted of seven shutout innings against Lakeland when he allowed just four hits and no walks, while striking out nine hitters. He has allowed just six hits and three walks in 12 total innings and his velocity is coming back nicely from Tommy John surgery 21 months ago. Once the weather warms at Reading, Drabek will likely make that jump and potentially will wind up at Triple-A Lehigh Valley at some point during the season as well. For now, it's just a matter of continuing to build arm strength.
Drabek's teammate, Carlos Monasterios (1-0, 0.00), also beat up on Lakeland, throwing a seven-inning complete game shutout against the Flying Tigers. Monasterios, 23, has some work to do this season to prove that he is a legitimate prospect. He hasn't shown the type of promise that the Phillies had for him since he was acquired from the Yankees in the Bobby Abreu deal in 2006, but keep in mind that he did just turn 23 and some pitchers do take longer to develop. Since he spent all of last season at Clearwater, a fast start could get him promoted to Reading as well, so the Phillies can gauge how he can perform at the next level.
Vance Worley (1-0, 2.53) is already at Reading and pitching well for the R-Phils. In two starts, Worley has thrown 10 2/3 innings and has allowed eight hits and five walks, while striking out 12. Worley needs to cut down on the walks a little, but he's been impressive so far, especially when you consider that he was jumped over Clearwater to go to Reading to start the season. Oh, and when he's not pitching, Worley is hitting .400 (2-for-5) with a home run at the plate. It's always a good sign when a pitcher has a higher batting average than hitters do against him and has given up less home runs than he has hit on the season. Reading also has Mike Stutes (1-0, 0.00) made an impressive Double-A debut after he also skipped Clearwater to start the year with Reading. Stutes allowed two hits and three walks in five innings in his first start of the year.
Reading's bullpen features a couple of left-handers who have both pitched well in relief for the R-Phils this season.
Sergio Escalona - three saves in four appearances - has been impressive as Reading's closer, posting a 3.18 ERA in the early going. It hasn't all been easy for Escalona though, because he's had some wildness (four walks in 5 2/3 innings) and opponents are hitting .286 against him this season. In the end though, Escalona has converted three straight save opportunities after blowing a save on opening night. His bullpen mate, Antonio Bastardo (1-0, 0.00), who is being converted to relieving after pitching as a starter until this season, has thrown four innings, allowing two hits and a walk, while striking out four.
"We thought that he [Bastardo] ultimately didn't have a deep enough repertoire to be successful as a starter," explained Phillies minor league director Steve Noworyta. "But on the other hand, he would fit well in the bullpen, especially if his slider comes around."
At Lakewood, Jason Knapp (0-2, 3.18) has pitched well in his first two starts, but just hasn't gotten a lot of help. Knapp, who is just 18 and pitching in his first full-season league, has thrown 11 1/3 innings, has 16 strikeouts and opponents are hitting just .211 against him, but he's been unable to pick up a win. He might have gotten one in his last start, but he committed an error that led to two unearned runs in Lakewood's 4-2 loss to Lake County.
Teammate Tyler Cloyd (1-1, 3.75) has been impressive and has fared a little better than Knapp in that he has been able to pick up a win. Cloyd, 20, has pitched six innings in each of his first two starts and opponents are hitting just .227 against him.
Overall, Phillies minor league clubs have a combined 4.31 ERA. If you factor out Lehigh Valley's 5.03 start, which is primarily because of their bullpen, the three other minor league clubs have a combined 4.05 ERA.