With the recent call up of slugging first baseman Ryan Howard, expectaions were lowered at Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Almost amazingly, the team has seemed to take it upon themselves to attempt to make up for their long lost slugger and the Barons have played quite well these past few weeks.
Leading the charge is an unheraleded minor league Rule 5 pickup, infielder Danny Sandoval, a name Phillie fans might well remember come this September. Sandoval does nothing in spectacular fashion but does everything well as a middle infielder and a spate of multi-hit games has lifted his average to .361, and a legitimate .361 at that. In 72 games, Sandoval has accumulated an impressive 97 hits and is currently hitting almost .500 this past week.
It would surprise no one if Sandoval reeived a well deserved September call up to the parent club. His versatility and hitting skills suggest he might just become the multi-position utility player that the Phils thought they had when they acquired Ramon Martinez from the Tigers. If justice is served, then Sandoval, at 24 years of age, may well get his chance to show he has what it takes to become a major league infielder.
Also performing impressively both at the bat and behind the plate is heralded Carlos Ruiz, hitting at a .308 clip in 51 games after knee problems. Ruiz is a late bloomer to the system but has quickly catapulted himself into the front runner spot to be Mike Lieberthal's backup catcher in 2006. Ruiz should also receive a September promotion and could get one sooner if a Phillie catcher went down for an extended period.
Speaking of Rule 5 draft picks, the Phils selection of outfielder Shane Victorino in the December draft seems to have been a wise one. Victorinio has developed poweer during the past two seasons and currently has 13 home runs and an impressive 55 runs scored in 82 games played for the Barons. He is also handling the leadoff spot with aplomb for the Barons. He is another strong candidate for callup, especially if Kenny Lofton is moved in a July deal to a pennant contender.
On the pitching ledger, three youngsters have emerged from the shadows this summer and well may be worth watching in the coming months. As heralded Gavin Floyd has struggled mightily and seems to have regressed in his mechanics, Pedro Liriano, Eude Brito and Yoel Hernandez have performed brilliantly of late in Scranton. Liriano is a hard throwing righty whose 4-7 record belies his effectiveness lately.
Brito is the possible gem, a lefty who seems to have emerged as a strong candidate for a southpaw position in the Phillie bullpen. He has always had good stuff, but has been transformed since moving to the starting rotation. he is currently at 4-1 with a 4.92 ERA that has dropped 2 runs per game in the past month.
Yoel Hernandez is a prime example of why a minor leaguer should never give up. A tall, thin righty who has been in the system for several years, Hernandez was once highly thought of as a starting pitcher. His slow stuff and lack of a strikeout pitch hurt him as he moved up the ladder, but now as a reliever in Scranton, his 5-1 record and 2.01 ERA speaks volumns about the progress he has made.
In fact, with the success of Robinson Tejeda at the major league level, all three hurlers may well have a chance to help a beleaguered Phillie staff in the not too distant future. Brito would probably get the call if lefty Rheal Cormier is dealt before the July 31 trading deadline.
If there is a buzz anywhere in the Phillies minor league system it is
undoubtedly being created at Reading, where three of the Phil's top prospects currently reside. Although casual fans may not be aware of such names as Cole Hamels, Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson, they soon will. All three are expected to make their major league debuts no later than 2006 and possibly this September.
Bourn and Roberson are the speedy outfielders who have created such a stir in the Eastern League this year. In fact, both were recently voted to the EL All-Star Game, an unlikely event for two outfielders from the same team. Yet, with good reason they both will be going.
Roberson is the more experienced of the two and has gone through the usual growing pains of a superior athlete with little baseball experience. Although he struggled after being selected in the ninth round five years ago, he always displayed the talent necessary to someday make it bit. In fact, even in a season in 2003 where his average hovered under .250 he still had time to steal 76 bases.
His breakthrough season was last year in Single A Clearwater where he hit over .300 and was voted the Florida State League Most Valuable Player at the All-Star game. He has continued this onslaught in 2005 to the tune of a .313 average, with a most impressive 60 runs scored in 88 games played, while finding time to steal 22 bases and lead the league in outfield assists.
Although it has never been discussed, it may behoove the Phils to consider moving Roberson to second base this winter in the Florida Instructional League. A superior athlete, Roberson well could become a Mariano Duncan tyoe utility player, enhancing his value as well as helping his team. This move might be precipitated by the fact that Bourn is an even superior outfielder, if not the athlete that Roberson is.
The Phils have privately ticketed Bourn for center field, between stalwarts Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreau , possibly next season. Bourn is adapting nicely to Double-A pitching and has hit .285 with 99 hits in but 86 games and 27 stolen bases tossed in for good measure. He also has yet to commit an error in the outfield.
If Roberson and Bourn have created a stir, it has been nothing compared to the firestorm created by Phillie mega prospect, lefty Cole Hamels. After thoroughly dominating Clearwater hitters, Hamels has brought his magic to Reading for what promises to be a quick stop. Although admittedly nervous in his Reading debut on Wednesday night, Hamels showed the same brilliant change up, dazzling curve and 94 MPH fastball that has scouts raving.
Make no mistake, Hamels is headed for major league stardom, and soon, if he remains healthy. Of course, given his recent misfortunes, this remains problematical but the Phils are hopeful that Hamels may well take the mound at Citizens Bank Park sometime in September.
With Hamels, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, a rejuvenated Gavin Floyd and Robinson Tejeda, the pitching rotation looks bright for the Phillie future. Hamels is the type of hurler who can lead a staff and has ace-in-waiting status written all over him.
As positive as the news has been concerning Bourn, Roberson and Hamels, it has been as equally distressing concerning former power hitter, third baseman Juan Richardson. Straddled with a low batting average and only six home runs, he might have found his stroke with two home runs on Sunday to raise his total to eight. The Phils have been close to giving up on the former minor league slugger, but have tried top remain patient after his injuries.
Perhaps the two home run game will jump start what seemed to be a stalled career for the talented Richardson. With David Bell only one season removed from free agency, it would seem that Richardson may well be the Phillies best hope to replace Bell, at least on a short term basis. His progress, or lack thereof will be carefully watched by Phuture Phillies Phenoms for the rest of the summer.
Next week, we will take a look at the Full Season Class-A clubs at Clearwater and Lakewood, places where Hamels, Bourn, Roberson and Ryan Howard first attained stardom. Stay with Phuture Phillies Phenom all season as we track the progress of a group of players needed to form the next generation of stars at CBP.
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