CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms...Class of '03 Review

<center>Batavia's Derek Griffith.</center>

There was a general sense that after the free agent signings of slugger Jim Thome and third baseman David Bell that the teams subsequent loss of the top two draft choices in '03 would result in a total washout in future talent from this draft. Many top-notch draft pundits predicted that no player drafted from the Class of 2003 would even show enough ability to even make the major league roster. A washout draft was the phrase frequently heard immediately after the June selections were made.

Happily for Phillie fans and the team itself, this seemingly dire prediction appears false as no less than six players have shown future big league potential, and at least one player appears to have become one of the best three or four prospects in the entire organization. Not only that, but two more players from this draft were used as trading chips to acquire pitcher Cory Lidle in the mid-August deal that paid off well for the team down the stretch.

With this in mind, let's look back at the Phils class of '03 and see not only where we have been, but where we are likely to go with this group. The team certainly had a central goal when they formulated plans for the draft…. speed, speed and more speed. Draft gurus Marti Wolever and Mike Arbuckle had made it their goal to draft and sign as many speedy young leadoff hitter types as possible early in the draft.

After this, they hoped to pick up at least one and preferably two young catching prospects for an organization that lacked skill at this spot throughout the minor league system. Their third goal was to draft and sign at least two high school pitchers who could project as future "power pitchers" in the big leagues.

History has shown that they largely succeeded in these hopes, though one young catcher did get away, and force the Phils to refocus efforts at the backstop position in the '04 draft. Catcher Rob Johnson, a highly rated catcher from a JC in California spent the summer sending mixed signals to the Phils about whether or not he would sign a contract. In the end, he accepted a baseball scholarship to the University of Houston and re-entered the draft in 2004.

As previously mentioned, speed was the top priority and the Phils wasted no time fulfilling this goal with their first three picks, second baseman Tim Moss, and outfielders Michael Bourn and Javon Moran. Moss has largely been a disappointment to the Phils during his two seasons in the system but both Bourn and Moran have been resounding successes and it will surprise no one if one day they both become solid leadoff type hitters in the big leagues.

Bourn has become one of the young stars of the organization, rated no worse that the fourth best prospect in the system behind pitchers Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd and slugging first baseman Ryan Howard. Moran parlayed his skills into becoming the centerpiece of the three for one deal with the Cincinnati Reds that netted us Lidle.

In all, the Phils signed 30 players from this draft, selecting a total of 48. With the free agent signings of Thome and Bell, the team did not have a pick until the third round, and quickly selected a collegiate All-American from the University of Texas named Tim Moss. Phillie fans had the luxury of watching their pick in action quite quickly as he was participating in the College World Series at the time of his selection.

A smallish sort, Moss had difficulty adjusting to the wooden bat and then developed some illness problems. His rookie season was a complete disaster, and he began the '04 season much the same way. However, he began to play better at Lakewood in July of this year and finished with a .256 average.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in his game has been his inability to steal bases with the same vigor that he displayed in college. He stole only ten bases this year and much more was expected from him. Clearly, the upcoming season looms large for Moss. He will open the 2005 season at Clearwater, and must soon show the skills he put on display in college or his future could be limited to the minor leagues.

Not so Bourn, drafted in the fourth round out of the University of Houston. His numbers were absolutely scintillating and excited Phillie executives throughout the organization. In fact, if not for the mega season of Ryan Howard at Reading, Bourn likely would have been the Phillie Minor League Player of the Year.

Not only did he hit .315 and score 91 runs in just a bit over 100 games, but he stole 58 bases, knocked out 14 triples, and walked an impressive 84 times. Add to this his wonderful instincts defensively in center field and Phillie fans may soon see Bourn patrolling the middle of the outfield in Philadelphia.

Bourn is slated to open the upcoming season in Reading and he is clearly moving on the fast track to the big leagues. A repeat of his Lakewood season in Reading could have him in the big leagues by September. He is head and shoulders above any other Phillie prospect from the class of '03.

Javon Moran was selected in the fifth round, and showed skills similar to Bourn, though not quite so spectacular. His rookie season in 2003 was solid, and he followed this with similar numbers at Lakewood this past summer. Alternating with Bourn in the leadoff spot and often playing center field himself, Moran was hitting .285 with 41 stolen bases when the news came in August that he had been traded to the Reds.

If the trade bothered him, it certainly didn't show as he hit .380 the rest of the way in the Reds organization. Basically the Phils knew that in Bourn and Moran they had similar type skills and only one could fulfill the team's future needs in center field. Most baseball scouts feel Bourn has the higher upside so the decision to trade Moran, though difficult, was not totally surprising.

However, Moran is clearly a major league talent of the future and it is likely that the day will come when the Phils play Cincinnati with both Bourn and Moran hitting leadoff and playing center field for their respective teams.

The Phils lost out on their number six pick, Jordan Parraz, who eventually signed with Houston this summer. This may prove a costly mistake as Parraz showed good power potential as an outfielder in the Astros system this year.

With picks seven through nine, the team selected two power high school arms and city college power hitter. So far, the results on these selections have been mixed at best. Pitchers Kyle Kendrick and Matt Linder both were outstanding high school hurlers, especially Kendrick.

In fact, Kendrick turned down a football scholarship in Washington to sign with the Phils and no less an authority than Assistant GM Mike Arbuckle projects Kendrick as a "Jason Schmidt type" hurler. Kendrick did win five games while splitting time between Lakewood and Batavia, and had several dominating starts.

However, he did lose 16 games and has not yet shown the consistency necessary for big league success. He is still highly rated, and could tune it around soon. Probably not so with Linder, who has clearly disappointed the Phils after a standout high school career.

He has rarely pitched since signing a contract in the summer of '03 and must begin to move quickly if he is to reach the potential seen in him by Phillie scouts in the past. On a positive note, he did strike out 21 hitters in 22 innings, an impressive total.

Jason Crossland was picked in the ninth round out of a Colorado City College and his power numbers in college were legendary. A versatile player, capable of performing at third, first or the outfield, he quickly became possibly the best Phillie power prospect in the rookie leagues. After a promising rookie season in the GCL, his numbers this summer were very poor.

Although he did hit six home runs, he struck out an alarming 90 times in 208 at bats while hitting only .183. He must improve greatly to warrant future looks at the higher minor league levels. Watch for Crossland to make his debut at a full season minor league team in Lakewood and his bat will quickly determine his future.

Mid-round picks of note include college lefties Kyle Parcus, Derek Griffith and Joe Wilson, as well as right-handers Nate Cabrera and C. J. Woodrow and catcher Chico Cortez. These players have varying degrees of big league potential but all have done enough to warrant more than a casual glance next season.

Of these players, Cabrera and Cortez seem to show the most potential. Cabrera had a standout year at Lakewood, with a 6-4 record in 131 innings pitched and an outstanding walk to strikeout ratio of 40-113. His ERA was a sparkling 2.82. He will open the '05 campaign in Clearwater where his battery mate will be catcher Chico Cortez.

Cortez was clearly the best backstop in the Phils organization prior to the drafting of Jason Jaramillo, Louis Marson and Charles Cresswell this past June. He is a fine defensive player and showed a solid bat with eight home runs and a .291 average. Although not as highly rated as the three catchers recently selected, Cortez does project to become a top prospect to someday make it to the big leagues.

Along with Bourn and Cabrera, he was clearly one of the best three players this year from the 2003 draft. Speaking of three, that is how many lefties the Phils signed from this draft, southpaws Parcus, Wilson and Griffith. Wilson was part of the Moran for Lidle trade and is no longer in the organization but Parcus and Griffith both had some success this past year.

Parcus is a crafty lefty reliever who parlayed a 4-4 record and four saves into a solid year at Lakewood. Even more impressive were his 78 strikeouts in 76 innings of work. Left-handed relievers are always in short supply so watch for Parcus to be given every opportunity to make his mark at the big league level someday.

Griffith is an interesting study in perseverance. A highly rated collegiate hurler in Alabama, he hurt his arm late in the '03 season and ultimately needed Tommy John-type surgery. The Phils signed him anyhow, and their patience was rewarded when Griffith pitched pain free in this his rookie year.

Although his 1-7 record was not impressive, his ERA was only 4.41 and he improved as the Batavia season progressed. He is highly thought of by the Phillie staff and was invited to participate in the team's Fall Instructional League. Griffith is a name to remember this season.

A good trivia question to ask Phillie followers would to name the two top winners in the team's minor league organization this past season. They both won 12 games. Names like Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd or Keith Bucktrot might be the names most frequently mentioned, but in fact, it was reliever Dan Giese… and starter C.J. Woodrow.

Drafted in the twenty-fifth round out of the University of Minnesota, Woodrow was 12-4 this season at Lakewood and Clearwater. Not blessed with an outstanding fastball, he parlays outstanding control and a great knowledge of the strike zone to baffle opposing hitters. His ceiling may only be Double or Triple A, but if he continues to win, he will continue to advance up the organizational ladder.

The same is true of gritty infielder Marc Tugwell, a third baseman who hit .291 before injuries slowed his season. A former Virginia Tech standout, Tugwell has done nothing but hit since entering pro ball in the summer of 2003. Not particularly blessed with speed or power, he understands the game and makes good use of the skills he has. Tugwell and Woodrow have similar upsides and both will be in the organization as long as they continue to perform effectively.

No mention of the Phil's class of '03 would be complete without talking about an obscure 40th round pick from Kirkland, Washington, former catcher Andy Barb. Blessed with an outstanding arm and limited offensive skills, Barb signed late early in 2004 and was converted to a pitcher. The Phils could not have imagined how successful this move would be.

Opening as a reliever for the Phil's rookie GCL team, he quickly became a strikeout machine. In all, he struck out an astounding 56 hitters in only 35 innings of work, and walked only seven. By the end of the season he had taken his place in the starting rotation and seems to have found a home on the pitchers mound.

Needless to say, it's a long way from the dusty fields of Clearwater to the polished grounds of Citizens Bank Park, but Barb's opening year was a revelation and one that bears watching. If nothing else, his success will encourage the team to play closer attention to late round draft and follow players similar to Barb.

Far from being the washout predicted by many, the Class of 2003 deserves at least a C+ for the depth and skill level of players like Bourn, Cabrera, Cortez and Barb. Add to that the expected progress of the departed Moran and Wilson and the potential development of youngsters like Crossland, Kendrick, Griffith and Moss and this draft may one day be remembered for it solid depth rather than for its dearth of talent.

Stay with Phuture Phillie Phenoms as we follow the progress of these and all the Phillie farmhands as they make their way to the big leagues. The journey is always fascinating and none more so than many of the under-rated players from the Class of '03.

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


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