As has been mentioned many times here at Phuture Phillies Phenoms, the outlook for the future in center field couldn't be brighter. No less than three solid prospects, Bourn, Roberson and Golson currently grace the green grasses of that position and all seem to have all it takes to make it to the big leagues. The Phillie minor league brass seemed to agree and gave them all resounding votes of confidence by placing them at Reading [Bourn and Roberson] and Lakewood [Golson] respectively.
While it seemed apparent that Roberson would make the jump from Clearwater in the Florida State League to Double A Reading, the promotion of Bourn from Lakewood to Reading represented a major leap. The same can be said for Golson, who moved from Rookie League GCL to a full season campaign in Lakewood. Golson is a player to watch! No less an authority than long time Phillies minor league coordinator Larry Rojas said that Golson reminded him of Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.
This is high praise indeed from Rojas, a man not known for hyperbole. In his over 30 years with the Phils he has only given similar praise to three players, Mike Schmidt, Scott Rolen and Mike Anderson. Schmidt is a Hall of Famer, Rolen will get there someday and Anderson was once considered a can't miss prospect with the Phils until a serious beaning in spring training seemed to take away much of his outstanding potential.
If Rojas is correct [and I think he is!] Golson will soon display at the big league level the five tool skills that made the Phillies so anxious to draft him with their first pick in last June's amateur draft. After a solid .295 season in rookie ball, Golson reported to camp in great shape and with an attitude that the Phils call "off the charts." He is a player to watch this season at Lakewood.
Equally exciting for Phillie phanatics is the double promotion of the mercurial Bourn, who had a tremendous season at Lakewood in 2004. The Phils are notorious for their almost slow motion promotions of their prospects so this move of Bourn to Reading indicates two things. The most obvious one is that the Phils recognize that Bourn is a major talent and needs to be challenged.
The other less obvious aspect of this move is that the Phils are hoping that Bourn might be ready to start in Philadelphia by late 2006. A centerfielder with style and grace, he would seem to be the heir apparent to the leadoff spot at Citizens Bank Park. This elevation of Bourn to Double A also seems to indicate that the Phils have all but given up on Marlon Byrd as their centerfielder of not only the present but the future. Not only is Bourn a better outfielder than Byrd, but the Phils seemed to indicate their feelings on Byrd quite clearly by sending him back to Scranton this week.
With Bourn and Roberson in the outfield at Reading, this club will have an exciting and productive top of the order. The Phils will probably alternate them in centerfield and right field to get a feel for their skills at both positions. Currently, Roberson is the more polished outfielder but Bourn covers more ground and has a stronger and more accurate throwing arm.
Expect both players to run with abandon and Bourn should steal 50-60 bases with the R-Phils. Roberson will probably bat second and this 1-2 combo will be fun to watch. The R-Phils also expect to have Ryan Barthelemy and Danny Gonzalez in the lineup, as well as Michael Floyd, so the offfense should be an improved one.
The news was not so good for third basemen Richardson, Fisher and Jones. All three of them seem to be suffering from similar shoulder troubles, and Jones recently had surgery which will sidelined him for the entire season. This is terrible news for both Jones and the Phils. When healthy, Terry Jones was one of the best athletes in the organization and herein lies the rub. Terry Jones has rarely been healthy, and this latest injury may mean the end of his major league aspirations.
No player in the Phillies organization has a sweeter swing than Kiel Fisher and he excited the entire minor league brass in 2003 with an average far north of .300 at the lower minor league levels. Combined with players like Bourn, Jake Blalock and Tim Moss, the smooth swinging Fisher was counted on to progress successfully through the system with an expected major league debut sometime in 2008-09.
Unfortunately for Fisher, he suffered a disabling back injury last season and missed the entire campaign. Hopes were high for a full recovery in '05 but he reported with shoulder pains which appear to make his season questionable at best. Latest reports seem to indicate that it will be late July at the earliest before Fisher is ready to play third base. This is another setback for a player who needs all the experience he can get after a high school career at a small school.
Before Ryan Howard's breakout campaign in 2004, Juan Richardson was widely considered the best power hitter in the organization, with 15 home runs in merely 60 games at Reading in 2003. As with Jones and Fisher, the injury bug has been an almost constant companion of Richardson since June of '03 and although he is playing at the minor league complex the Phils will open with him at Reading this year instead of Triple A Scranton.
This has to be a major dissapointment to Richardson, who at 26 years of age, is clearly at the crossroads of his career. Many Phillie organization types are projecting Richardson as the next Phil's hot corner player but if this is to happen he must show he is healthy and prepared for advancement to Scranton...and in a hurry.
Of course, as mentioned previously, the news was mixed, and for players like starting hurler Tejeda and catcher Carlos Ruiz the news was pleasant. Both were promoted to Scranton from Reading and are expected to play major roles in the Barons upcoming season. Tejeda has shown major improvement this spring in his pitching command and could be starting in Philadelphia before the 2005 season is over.
Ruiz has excited Phillie brass up and down the organization with his strong throwing arm and solid bat. Although the Phillies would like to give him a full season in Triple A before promoting him, an injury to at the major league level could elevate Ruiz to backup catcher in Philadelphia this year. Either way, he is expected to make a major run at the major league roster in '06.
Although most of the excitement surrounding Phillies baseball involves the exploits of the major league club there is much to like about this current crop of minor league players. As a whole, the organization took a major hit last July when no less than six prospects were traded for players like Cory Lidle, Todd Jones and Felix Rodriguez. It behooves the Phils to address these issues this year and the forward movement of players like Bourn, Roberson and Golson bodes well in this regard.
Stay with Phuture Phillies Phenoms all season to follow the exploits of these and many other players who will one day take their place at Citizens Bank Park as members of our Phightin' Phils!
Columnist's Note: Please send all comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast