CD's Connect the Dots... Reading Between the Lines

CD's Connect the Dots... Reading Between the Lines

Yesterday, the Phillies, OUR Phillies, made a very un-Phillie like move. If you fail to read the transactions section of the paper, you may even miss it. Yet, there it was for all to see…recalled from Class A Clearwater was pitcher Elizardo "The Lizard" Ramirez, he of the easy motion and outstanding control. Add to this the recent call ups of Chase Utley, Geoff Geary and Josh Hancock, and we can rightfully ask, "What is up in Phillieland?" Let's try and read between the lines…

A few weeks ago, in this very column, I wrote about a Phillie system rich in minor league talent, often overlooked minor league talent. Though the system has been criticized in the past year for a lack of position help and a general diminishing of the talent base, I disagreed. I felt that with hitting guru Charlie Manuel's philosophy taking hold after a year with the system, we would begin to see the hitter's improve.

In fact, this has happened, as Lakewood scored 12, 14, 13 and 9 runs in their last four games. Clearwater had a 15 run game on Saturday, Reading scored 12 runs on Sunday, and Scranton Wilkes-Barre had dual eight run games in a double header on Friday. Clearly, the hitting is improving, and will continue to do so as the weather gets warmer.

I also felt that the system was harming its prospects by generally disregarding them in favor of more high priced free agents like Roberto Hernandez, Doug Glanville and Shawn Wooten. Players like Utley, Geary and Hancock had more than paid their dues in the minor leagues and deserved a chance to show their skills at the big league level.

Perhaps the Phils are beginning to agree if the past few weeks are any indication. After a 1-6 start the team has completely turned around its season despite injuries to such luminaries as Billy Wagner, Jim Thome, Placido Polanco and Randy Wolf. This turnaround is due in no small part to the efforts of such youngsters as rookie Ryan Madson and recent call-ups Utley, Geary and Hancock.

Madson has been a revelation out of the bullpen, and may someday be the ace closer that the Phils need when Wagner leaves. Utley is merely batting in the fifth slot in the order, hit four home runs in a week, and has knocked in an amazing 16 runs in only 11 starts!

Geary and Hancock have helped stabilize a staff that has seen Wagner, Wolf and Hernandez go down with various ailments. Even though both are probably only temporary performers in Philadelphia for now, the efforts they showed and the confidence they received can only help them in the future, hopefully a Philadelphia future.

However, as welcome as the recent additions have been to the parent club, they do not even compare to the shock sent to long time Phillie watchers with the announcement of the recall of Elizardo Ramirez from Clearwater. Even with the justification that he is here in case Vicente Padilla's elbow acts up, this is still a HUGE story.

Why did the Phil's make this move? What do we know of Ramirez that may give us a clue as to his recall and how does this portend other moves in the future? And how will this affect a suddenly rejuvenated farm system? Let's see if we can't shed some light on the recent transactions.

First and foremost, these recent moves within the organization have sent a wonderful message to the players in the minor leagues. Although there can be no positive evidence, it does not seem coincidental that just when the Phils showed a renewed interest in promoting their own, the minor league teams began to win with more regularity. It would only be a natural human emotion to know that if you work hard, perform well, and improve daily, then you would stand a good chance of being rewarded with a promotion.

What paid employee would think differently? Are professional baseball players any different, especially at the minor league level where the hours are long, the travel hard, and the pay small? Of course not! And players talk at the minor league level. They know if the system they play for promotes from within or not.

Truth be told, Utley was Exhibit A, and his story is a still unfolding one. Clearly one of the best 25 players in spring training, he was sent out to play at SWB for the third year in a row. As a former number one draft pick, it can be assumed that he would get every opportunity to succeed or fail at the big league level. Yet, his career seemed in neutral before Polanco's injury.

Now that he is performing well, it is hoped that his career will take off where it belongs…in Philadelphia. The same can be said for Geary and Hancock. Although they may found their way back to SWB in the short term when all the Phillie pitchers get healthy, they have shown their talent and should get another chance eventually.

This will only help the entire minor league system, from pitchers like Greg Kubes to Eric Junge, Keith Bucktrot to Elizardo Ramirez. Ah, Ramirez. Indeed, this is where our story started and it is now where the story continues.

Just who is Elizardo Ramirez and why should we be excited about the recall of a 21-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic? Especially a player who was toiling in Clearwater, home of the weakest team in our farm system. To begin with, Ramirez may well be the third best pitcher in our system. Since the top two are mega prospects Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd, this is high praise indeed.

Ramirez made his state side debut in 2002 with the GCL Rookie Phils and was an immediate sensation with his wonderful 7-1 record and phenomenal control. In 73 innings of pitching he merely sported a 1.10 ERA, with 73 strikeouts…and only two walks! This is no misprint. The man walked only two hitters. Add to this a complete game shutout in the GCL playoffs and clearly he was a pitcher to be watched.

Common sense dictated a year at Lakewood in 2003, or maybe even Batavia, a short season club in New York. However, the Phils were so impressed with Ramirez in spring training last year that they threw common sense out the window and started him at Clearwater in the tough Florida State League.

If Ramirez was awed, he hardly showed it. Although playing for a weak hitting club, Ramirez formed with Hamels, Bucktrot and Rob Tejeda a version of the Phil's Young Guns. His final season numbers were a 13-9 record and 3.78 ERA in 157 innings of pitching.

This season the Phils decided to have him repeat High A ball at Clearwater, but his 5-1 record and low twos ERA showed that here was a pitcher who had learned his lessons well. As always, he continued to be a human strike throwing machine…and this may be the key to the whole equation of why him and why now?

With a combined record of 25-11 over the past two plus seasons, Ramirez has displayed a proclivity to win. With statistics of less than two walks per nine innings, he has shown an ability to throw strikes. With a nickname of "Easy", he has shown that he is not "easily" awed by new surroundings.

Finally, pitching in an organization that may see as many as five or six new pitchers on the staff in 2005, bringing up a youngster like Ramirez sends an exciting message…pitch well, throw strikes and you may be next! It is probably no coincidence that he was brought up the day after Roberto Hernandez's wildness in relief helped seal a Phillie defeat, a game that might have been won with a pitcher throwing strikes. A pitcher like Ramirez.

This columnist has bled Phillie red since childhood. I suffered in '64 and '77 and rejoiced in '80 and '93. I have complimented them on their successes and criticized their failings. I have championed the minor league system of the late 70's and early ‘80's and lamented the minor league failings of the late ‘80's and early ‘90's.

My loyalty to this team and organization has been resolute and consistent. Yet, while applauding the free agent acquisitions of players like Thome, Bell, Worrell and the trades for players like Millwood, Wagner and Milton, I never lost sight of the value of a minor league system that could replenish itself with the likes of a Burrell, Rollins, Byrd or Myers.

With developments over the past few years that saw the Phils bring in older players like Mike Williams, Turk Wendell, Dennis Cook and Dan Plesac, I began to feel as if the minor league system was somehow being ignored. I wrote about this at length.

Yet, with these recent developments, with the promotions of Utley, Geary, Hancock and Powell, I sense a renewed commitment to the farm system. This bodes well for the future of players like sluggers Ryan Howard and Jake Blalock, outfielders like Javon Moran, Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson, and pitchers like Hamels, Floyd, Bucktrot and Ramirez.

Yes, Phillie fans, the recall of Elizardo "The Lizard" Ramirez should and will be saluted here and now. It provides further evidence of a renewed and accelerated vision of an organization that rewards its own and gives ample incentive to every player at every level…do well and you won't be ignored.

Oh, many will think I am delving too deeply into the inner workings of a Phillie brain trust. Many will insist that with Padilla's aching elbow, the Phils were a pitcher short and a dollar wise. Calling up Ramirez was the easiest and cheapest short-term solution. Perhaps.

I choose to think otherwise. I choose to believe the Phils know exactly what they are doing and what message they are sending. I choose to believe the Phils entire organization will benefit from these recent transactions. I choose to think GM Ed Wade is rewarding a farm system that has received far too much criticism.

I choose to read between the lines.

Columnist's Note: Please send any comments or suggestions to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast

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