Three Key Prospects Start New Jobs in 2011

Jonathan Singleton

As the Phillies equipment truck departed from Philadelphia on Friday, the fact that spring training is getting closer becomes more evident. For three Phillies prospects, there will be some new gear to send off to the Sunshine State in preparation for the 2011 season.

For former first round pick Joe Savery, there will be a large shipment of bats headed to Florida as the left-hander makes the full transition to being a non-pitcher this season. First baseman Jonathan Singleton is now outfielder Jonathan Singleton, but the good news is that he likely already found a buyer on eBay for his first base glove. Another first rounder, Kelly Dugan, will be in need of that glove when he converts from the outfield to first base in 2011.

Savery, Singleton and Dugan all share the distinction of either having been or being one of the Phillies top prospects. They also share the distinction of having new jobs in 2011.

For Savery, the transition started late in the 2010 season when he found himself again struggling on the mound. Just prior to the end of the season, the Phillies shifted the left-hander to a transitional role as a designated hitter. The move was partly out of necessity, dictated by a shortened roster at the Triple-A level, and was partly out of the need to help salvage Savery's career. After all, the Phillies have a lot of money, time and effort invested in Savery and it's never a great public relations move to have a former first-rounder fizzle out and hit the waiver wire.

The move to DH went well for both Savery and the IronPigs, as Savery contributed not only as a DH, but as a pinch-hitter late in the season. When all was said and done, there wasn't anything official on what Savery would be doing in 2011, but a good showing in the Florida Instructional League convinced the Phillies that Savery might have a career as a position player. After all, Savery was a two-way star at Rice prior to being drafted by the Phillies with the 19th overall pick in the 2007 Draft. Savery hit .348 (16-for-46) with Lehigh Valley in 2010, including a pinch-hit home run. His stroke got even better in the FIL and the Phillies are officially giving him a chance to become a first baseman - the position he played in college - this season. The most popular theory back at the end of last season  was that Savery would start either at Lakewood or Clearwater as he worked to show he could hit minor league pitching. With his off-season success though, Savery could start as high as Double-A Reading if all goes well this spring.

Savery is still just 25 years old and could well become a good enough hitter to help himself get to the majors. When he was drafted, the Phillies thought his strong suit was pitching and they were eager to see how quickly he could reach the majors. Unfortunately, Savery never really became the dominant style pitcher that the Phillies thought he would be and he was quickly being lapped by younger prospects who were moving quicker and showing more potential than Savery was in the minors. In many ways, it's a shame that Savery and the Phillies both had to go through three minor league seasons full of mediocre results to find out that Savery was best suited to be a hitter all along. On the bright side, the Phillies realized it in enough time to perhaps salvage something from Savery, who is ecstatic about the idea of resurrecting his career and getting to hit on an everyday basis.

With Singleton, there has never been a doubt about his offensive prowess. The slugger has a mighty swing packed with power and the ability to hit for a nice, sturdy average. His abilities at the plate are good enough that he can drive the ball to all parts of the field and he's shown that he's enough of a prospect that the Phillies have to think about his not-too-distant future. With a likely start at High-A Clearwater in 2011, Singleton would have been severely blocked by the presence of one Ryan Howard at first base. With that in mind, the Phillies went to work on getting Singleton to transition into being a left fielder and the transition showed all the signs of early success in the Florida Instructional League. Singleton still figures to start the season at Clearwater, but now finds no true obstacles between him and a starting job with the big league club before too long. In fact, Singleton's time frame may work out just about right for the Phillies. With left fielder Raul Ibanez on the final season of his deal with the Phillies, there should be an opening in Philadelphia as early as 2012. There's no guaranteeing that Singleton will be able to show enough to fill that void for the 2011 season, but he shouldn't be too far off of that pace. The Phillies may just need a stop-gap type player for a season or two in left field before Singleton proves ready to crack the Philadelphia lineup.

One scenario would have Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown platoon in right field this season, with Francisco taking over full-time in left field following Ibanez' departure. A season with Francisco in left could be followed by the arrival of Singleton, whose power has already shown itself to be the kind of power that leaves fans with plenty to talk about.

While Singleton is moving off of first base, former first round pick Kelly Dugan is moving to first base. Dugan seemed to get his offensive game under control in his second pro season and while his defense wasn't bad, he doesn't truly have the range to play any of the three outfield spots and his arm is also a little under average. All that spells a move to first base and that's what the Phillies plan to do with Dugan this season. Perhaps ironically, Dugan could well take the spot of Singleton as the first baseman for the Lakewood BlueClaws when the season opens.

After his first season, there was some concern over the start that Dugan got off to in his professional career. He hit just .233 and didn't seem to have the awareness at the plate that the Phillies figured he would show early on. While an injury limited him to 28 games between the Gulf Coast League and Williamsport, Dugan hit a combined .366 and notched his first professional home run.

The 2011 season will be a big one for Dugan, who may well start the season at Lakewood, even though he had an unsuccessful stint in the Gulf Coast League in 2009 and a shortened campaign in 2010. The Phillies may feel the temptation to challenge Dugan with a start in the full-season levels to see if he has truly become a better hitter and can handle the physical rigors of a full minor league season. The move to first base should help Dugan defensively and he would seem to have conquered the offensive demons that haunted him in 2009.

Savery and Singleton will be especially interesting to follow this season. The transition for Singleton is obviously going to be easier than the one that Savery has ahead of him, since he will be treated differently by pitchers around whatever league he starts the season with, plus, he's going to be relearning to play at first base, which he hasn't done since his college days. Rest assured that Savery will put every ounce of effort he can into making the transition. Last season, Savery flashed the smile of a young prospect getting his first shot at recognition when he was inserted into the IronPigs lineup as a DH. That excitement combined with the natural talent that was already there will make for an interesting season for Savery.


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