To die hard Phillie minor league aficionados, most of these half dozen names will be familiar; indeed this column has at one time or another discussed all six. Not all of them will ever make the major leagues but to be placed on the 40 man roster is to receive the opportunity to attend spring training with the big boys. It is a chance to rub elbows with Jim Thome and Randy Wolf, and perhaps either strike them out or hit against them.
Even more important, it is a stamp of approval from the organization that the player is worthy of protecting, and worth keeping a close eye on. Each of these players has either been in the organization for three seasons, or was signed after their nineteenth birthday and has played two full seasons. If these players had not been placed on the 40 man roster, they would have been available in December for any team to select in the Rule 5 draft.
This draft has been a historic problem for the Phils, and this will be discussed in a future article. For now, let’s celebrate the six players and see how they may or may not fit into future Phillie plans. Just how good are they, and what are their chances of ever crossing the white lines at Citizens Bank Park?
In no particular order, the six players are pitchers Eude Brito, Francisco Butto, Zack Segovia, Rob Tejeda, catcher Carlos Ruiz and outfielder Chris Roberson. Although a few of these players made major strides in 2004, the simple fact is that this is not a particularly strong group, and is ample testimony to the fact that the Phils paid a huge price in prospects with their deals for Todd Jones, Felix Rodriguez and Cory Lidle.
In those deals the Phils relinquished standout pitching prospects Elizardo Ramirez, Josh Hancock and Alfredo Simon, all of whom probably have more long term potential that the four young hurlers recently placed on the North Philly 40. However, Lidle and Rodriguez seem to be major components in the 2005 pitching plans for the Phils so the deals can be defended at the big league level.
Of all the players, Ruiz seems the most intriguing. Not only does he play a position, catcher, of almost immediate need, but his performance has continued to improve as he has moved up the minor league ladder. Signed in the winter of 1999 as a free agent out of Panama, Carlos Ruiz had a breakout campaign at Reading this year.
Not only did he hit a solid .284 with 17 homeruns and 50 RBI in a bit over 100 games, but he showed a powerful arm and a fine sense for defense behind the plate. Ruiz is one of five young catching prospects in the organization and certainly the most advanced.
He will open the 2005 season in Scranton at Triple A and could receive a late summer call up if his numbers even faintly resemble the numbers he put up in Reading. Not only will his bat be watched carefully, but he will be expected to guide young hurlers like Gavin Floyd, Keith Bucktrot and Tejeda as they master their craft at the minor league level.
If Ruiz is the most intriguing of the group, then Roberson is perhaps the most talented. Much like Ruiz, he had a breakout campaign at Clearwater this year and was voted the Most Valuable Player at the Florida State League All-Star Game. His numbers, though impressive, were accomplished in just a bit over half a season as he suffered a year ending leg injury in July.
Until his injury, Roberson was hitting .307 with 52 runs scored, 9 homeruns, 38 RBI and 16 stolen bases. Always considered one of the fastest players in the organization, he used his speed to patrol center field with grace and aplomb in Florida. Much like Ruiz, he is currently doing well in the tough Arizona Fall League and is a player “in a hurry.”
Roberson, who stole 59 bases at Lakewood in 2003, recently turned 25 years of age, and needs to advance quickly if he is not to miss his chance at the major leagues. It behooves him to do well in spring training before opening the ’05 season in Double A at Reading. Given the Phils dearth of center field depth, it is not inconceivable that a strong start in Reading could lead to a mid season promotion to Scranton.
This might allow him to compete for the center field spot with the 2006 Phils, a spot that might warrant much competition in a few years when speedsters Michael Bourn and Greg Golson move up the minor league system. At any rate, the chances are good that one of the three youngsters will someday be the everyday centerfield fly chaser in Philadelphia.
The addition of Segovia to the list was a bit of a surprise, but it certainly bodes well for the news on the health of his arm. Drafted in the second round in 2002, just behind mega prospect Cole Hamels, Segovia had a stellar rookie season, followed by a poor sophomore season at Lakewood. Those who had seen him pitch as a rookie suspected something was wrong with his arm, and this proved to be true.
Major off season shoulder surgery kept Segovia inactive for the entire 2004 season, but he is throwing freely and without pain and the Phils felt that he might be selected by another team if he was not protected. Given the past losses of young hurlers like Derrick Turnbow and Miguel Ascencio, this was probably a wise course of action.
When healthy, Segovia combines a bulldog mentality with a 93 MPH fastball that easily projects into a future closer with the Phils. Still only 21 years of age, he will be moved slowly through the system and will probably open the 2005 season in Clearwater, where the warm weather is conducive to assisting with the rehabilitation process of a past arm injury.
The Phils venture into the Latin baseball market has met with mixed success. Although youngsters like Ramirez, Ruiz and Simon look like genuine finds, the team has yet to develop a player of the stature of past Latin players like Juan Samuel, Julio Franco and George Bell. However, with the addition of Tejeda to the roster, the team could see a positive return on a major financial investment.
Few players signed in Latin America by the team in recent history was met with such excitement as the signing of Tejeda back in 1999. This Dominican Republic righty was considered a hurler of extraordinary potential and Phillie fans watched with anticipation as he made his professional debut in 2000. To this point, he has generally been a disappointment, despite glimpses of overpowering form.
However, Tejeda seemed to mature in the 2004 season and finished his year with a stellar 12 strikeout performance in Reading. Solidly built at 6’3” and 185 pounds, Tejeda is still only 22 years old and will open the Triple A season at Scranton. His ’04 numbers were not outstanding, at 8-14 with a less than stellar 5.15 ERA but he has always been considered a work in progress, and he is a hurler worth watching.
Undoubtedly the most surprising players added to the North Philly 40 are young hurlers Brito and Butto. Eude Brito is a left handed relief pitcher from the Dominican Republic and Butto is a right handed starter/reliever from Venezuela. Brito is the more advanced, while Butto probably has a bit more promise.
Left handed relievers are always in demand and the Phils undoubtedly felt that if left unprotected, Brito would be snatched up by a team looking for a “situational” lefty hurler. His numbers at Reading were decent at 8-6 with four saves and one complete game, but he was quite tough on left handed hitters, and could have a future with the Phils in that realm.
In an organization that is shy on lefty hurlers, Brito could come quickly if he does well at Scranton. If nothing else, he could prove a valuable trading chip if the team has an opportunity to improve in other areas.
Butto is remembered as the darling of an absolutely abysmal Lakewood team in 2003. Pitching behind a lineup almost completely devoid of prospects, he still won 10 games with an outstanding 3.03 ERA. While his numbers at Clearwater were a bit more pedestrian this year, he continued to show poise and talent while pitching for another poor club.
His 5-11 record belied the improvement he showed and his performance at Reading this season will be worth watching as he will have solid teammates for the first time in three years. Much like Brito, he is an important part of a rebuilding Phillie organizational pitching staff and it is important to the system that they do well, either as future cogs in Philadelphia or as trade pieces.
It should be noted that the Phils still have only 35 players on their 40 man roster, so they are undoubtedly saving room for either a few free agent signings or expect to select a minor league player from another organization in December. It also is worth noting that among the players left off the roster are such notables as pitchers Lee Gwaltney and Nick Bourgeois as well as third baseman Terry Jones.
Formerly considered three of the bright lights in the system, they have suffered from injury and poor performance and must rebound to once again be considered for a future North Philly 40. Perhaps even more alarming for the Phils is what will transpire after next season.
If this group of six appears less than inspiring at first glance, the next group of players promises to be just the opposite and the Phils might have some difficult decisions to make next off season. Among the players who will need to be protected or possibly lost are Hamels, slugger Jake Blalock, speedsters Michael Bourn and Tim Moss, smooth swinging Kiel Fisher, catcher Chico Cortez and young hurlers Scott Mathieson and Nate Cabrera.
Watch for the Phils to clear out as much room as possible to insure that most of these highly touted youngsters find their way on next season’s North Philly 40.
Columnist’s Note: Please send comments or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Thanks! Allen Ariza aka CD from the Left Coast