CD's Phuture Phillie Phenoms... Short-Season Clubs

Derrick Mitchell

It is said that self reflection is good for the soul. With this in mind, allow this writer a moment of self reflection on the current state of our Philadelphia Phillies, from top to bottom. Frankly speaking, I love this team, but currently I don't like them very much, a not so uncommon occurrence among the best of mates.

Given this dilemma, it has been more than a bit difficult to write with passion about an organization currently devoid of much reason for said passion. Yet, if there is a reason to see brighter days ahead, to see the sun through the dark clouds, it may well lie in their two Short Season clubs at Batavia and the Gulf Coast League.

As a long time member of the "baseball is more than numbers department" I will endeavor to write a column bestowing all deserved accolades on the many fine prospects on these two clubs without the single mention of a statistic. Given that baseball is a game almost universally revered for it's devotion to numbers, this may prove quite a task, but we shall see if it is possible. Here goes.

Any mention of the Batavia MuckDogs, the Phil's top short season club, must start with it's top draft pick from June, Mike Costanzo. A local Philly product, who grew up a big Phillies fan, Costanzo started slow, not unlike many collegians using a wood bat for the first time. A low batting average, little power and too many miscues in the field may have set off alarm bells in some people's eyes, but not within the organization. Perfectly put, the Phils think they got a "steal" in this year's second round with the selection of the third baseman and his recent exploits seem to have justified this confidence.

During the past few weeks, Costanzo has begun to look like the player that Phillie organizational scouts thought was a "can't miss" prospect, a player with not only the right physical tools, but the even disposition and temperament for this demanding role. Expect a strong finish from Costanzo, then watch for him to get some seasoning in the Florida Instructional League. Not yet on the fast track, a solid winter could see him promoted to Clearwater next year, and be in the majors by 2008. Yes, he is that good.

While certainly the centerpiece of this year's amateur draft, Costanzo is hardly the only rookie who is earning his spurs in Batavia this summer. Catcher Tuffy Gosewich, a member of the collegiate world series Arizona Wildcats, is slowly adjusting to professional life after a long and demanding spring season. He is not yet among the elite catching prospects in the system, but this could change if his bat catches up with his solid defensive skills.

Another ex-college player who is hitting with authority is right fielder Jeremy Slayden, a strapping power hitter with surprising pop in his bat. Another hitter who was slowed early by "wooditis" a disease caused when a player immediately changes from the confidence inducing aluminum bat favored in amateur ball to the more demanding wood bat. The wood bat can be unrelenting in its expectation that a solid hit must be solidly hit, unlike the aluminum bat that causes balls to jump off bats like youngsters bouncing up and down on pogo sticks.

A very interesting prospect has finally emerged at Batavia, one Welinson Baez, for far too long a highly touted player from Latin America who seemed forever trapped in the rookie league of the Gulf Coast. No longer that young, though still highly prized, Baez has been a welcome addition to the MuckDogs and has once again established himself as a player to watch in the coming years. In fact, no player not named Costanzo or Louis Marson has more potential for stardom in Batavia than does the talented Baez, a shortstop by trade.

Mention the name Marson around many Phillie minor league officials and they speak in hushed tones about this skilled catcher. Still in his teens, Marson was one of a troika of top notch catchers drafted in the 2004 amateur draft. Along with Jason Jaramillo and Charlie Cresswell, this trio represented the hope that the dark black hole that was Phillie minor league catching would become but a distant memory. Consider that memory distant.

Not only has Jaramillo and Carlos Ruiz proven to be excellent major league prospects, but many Phillie insiders believe that eventually Marson will become the best of the bunch. Equipped with a strong bat, solid defensive skills and a powerful arm, Marson lacks only professional experience to make it big in Philadelphia. The Phils have set no timetable for the advancement of Marson preferring to allow his talent to dictate his progress. Nevertheless, Louis Marson is a name to remember.

Another recent draft pick enjoying a banner campaign is infielder Clay Harris of LSU. The term infielder certainly applies to Harris as he has played all but shortstop this season though second is his preferred position. Although drafted fairly high, it would not be wrong to describe the Phils as more than pleasantly surprised at Harris's quick transition from college to pro. Unlike Costanzo, Gosewich and Slayden, he had little trouble adapting from wood to aluminum and with one month to go, he is the Muckdog's top hitter.

On the pitching ledger, the ace of the staff is undoubtedly Kyle Kendrick, another player like Baez who seems to have become reawakened with his stint in Batavia. Long considered a "Jason Schmidt" clone, Kendrick turned down a full football scholarship in Washington to sign with the Phils in 2003 and until now was a bitter disappointment. Not so this year, his crackling fastball and sharp breaking curve have once again made him one of the most coveted hurlers in the Phil's system. Kendrick is oh so close to that one breakout year that may elevate him to the class just a notch below the hallowed names of Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd.

Not yet ready for prime time but still making steady progress are hurlers Matt Maloney, Scott Mitchinson, Andy Barb, Brett Harker and Justin Blaine. The most talented may be Maloney, the most recognizable, Mitchinson, the most spectacular, Barb. In truth, all five of these hurlers have the potential to eventually make it to Citizens Bank Park. Their talent alone has given them a look, now it will be up to them to refine their skills and prove that the team's confidence in them has not been misguided. Time will tell.

As talented as the MuckDog roster may be, it still probably pales in comparison to the one minor league club that may be referred to as "teeming" with prospects. In a system depleted by trade, defection and injury, the crown jewel of the organization may well be the Gulf Coast League Phillies. Unfortunately, as skilled many of these players are, the reality is that for most of these athletes, the Clearwater diamond that houses the Phillie major league spring complex may be as close as they get to the major league team.

Still, hope springs eternal, and it will be no surprise if at least a few of the largely unrecognizable names of today become Phillie household names of the morrow. Let's take a look at a few of them. Certainly the most ballyhooed of the bunch would be pitcher Edgar Garcia, already touted by many as a top prospect after signing last year. Equipped with a great mound presence, and the required repertoire of fastball, curveball, change up and slider, Garcia is already being given notice as a "young Pedro Martinez" type. This in now way indicates that Garcia will ever enjoy the unquestioned success of Martinez, merely that his early age development closely resembles that of Martinez.

Though Garcia is the most skilled of the group, several other hurlers deserve special mention. Repeating their success in the GCL last year, both Kelvin Picardo and Lenin Gazo were thought worthy of a repeat performance in Florida so as to refine the skills they showed last year. Both Picardo and Gazo are doing well and have shown that they may well be ready for Batavia in the not too distant future.

The Latin Connection is well represented in the GCL Phils team and hurlers Alexander Concepcion and Reymond Cruz may be the most impressive of a most compelling group of you hurlers. If the Phils have a minor league strength, it may well be their ability to develop young hurlers into solid major league winners. Robinson Tejeda, Geoff Geary and Brett Myers are just the latest three to emerge from the Phils pharm system to develop into solid major league contributors. Of course, next in line is Hamels and Floyd, and the two former high school players to watch are Matt Olson and Darren Byrd.

Both Olson and Byrd were selected in the mid rounds in the recent draft and neither has disappointed to this point. In fact, both have taken their regular turn in the rotation with great success and should earn invitations to the FIL this fall. Both have great poise on the mound, and sharp crisp fastballs and will progress as their success warrants. It would not be a surprise if at least one of them, and possibly both, repeated the GCL next summer. With young hurlers, it is much better to err on the side of caution and both Olson and Byrd are worth the wait.

In the GCL, numbers matter little, it is development and playing time that are the main goals of the club. Still, this year's edition of the rookie Phillies has corralled more than a fair share of solid bats that may soon emerge in the higher regions of the organization. Perhaps the most impressive is an Australian import named Tim Kennelly, a third baseman with solid instincts and equally solid hitting skills.

Along with Costanzo, Kennelly may represent the future hot corner stalwarts in a system that was once teeming with them. No longer, as injuries to Kiel Fisher and Terry Jones and the stalled performance of Juan Richardson signals a call to the youngsters to emerge...and soon! Certainly, Costanzo and Kennelly appear more than ready to answer the call.

The Phils made a major effort to concentrate on high school hitters in the recent June draft and outfielder Jermaine Williams and first baseman Michael Durant were two of the more highly decorated high schoolers signed. Both Williams and Durant played their high school careers in California, with Williams hailing from Los Angeles and Durant from Oakland. Williams was the HS Player of the Year in Los Angeles and Durant was hailed as one of the best power hitting HS prospects in the entire nation.

Not surprisingly, both struggled early in the summer, the victims of one part home sickness and equal parts adaptation to professional life in the minor leagues. While Williams is now playing extremely well and Durant continues to struggle, both are expected to make their marks beginning next season. As with Olson and Byrd, both Williams and Durant are strong candidates for the favored status of FIL invitees.

Another recent high school signee is infielder Derrick Mitchell and he has just begun to show the skills that made him such a top HS talent in Michigan. A smooth fielding shortstop, Mitchell has begun to hit like he did in HS and his ability to play the middle infield positions makes him a valuable resource in the future. If catching was once a Phillies black hole, middle infielders at the minor league level have become endangered species and Mitchell will get every chance to remedy this situation.

Two interesting prospects from last year's amateur draft are catcher Charlie Cresswell and strapping outfielder, Curt Miaso. Cresswell got his feet wet last summer while Miaso did not sign until shortly before fall ball began. Ironically enough it is Miaso who is having the more solid season, even though Cresswell played a bit in the GCL last summer. Miaso is a typical power hitting right field candidate, who will go as far as his bat will take him.

Cresswell, on the other hand, finds his path to major league stardom blocked by the likes of Carlos Ruiz, Jason Jaramillo and Louis Marson. Still, with catching in short supply throughout the big leagues, it never hurts to have too many solid catching prospects in the minor leagues as they could some day bring valuable pitching or infield prospects in a trade return. Cresswell shows a real aptitude for the catching position and the Phils know to be patient with this former Arizona HS star.

It is well known that the rookie GCL is a teenagers league and few college players begin their professional careers here. With this in mind, two of the most impressive hitters have been collegiate standouts, Aaron Cheeseman and Cooper Osteen. While neither is considered a banner prospect and their success is diminished somewhat by the younger competition, it is worth mentioning that success at any level of pro ball is difficult and the exploits of both Cheeseman and Osteen must be applauded.

There is yet one name left to mention and this yours truly is remiss in waiting so long to do it. While discussing the merits of many of the Clearwater players in my last edition of Phuture Phillies Phenoms, I failed to mention one Clary Carlsen, a hurler enjoying a fair amount of success on an otherwise woebegone team. The failure would have gone unnoticed if not for the loyal following of brother Ben Carlsen, who rightfully took me to task for the undeserved omission.

In the proper vein, if I were mentioning statistics this week, Carlsen's would be plenty impressive, especially lately. It is a tribute to people like Brother Ben, to keep me on my toes for future undeserved omissions and my heartfelt apologies to Brother Ben were submitted in proper time. Clary Carlsen in many ways represents all of us who ever had the dream of someday playing major league baseball.

Often overlooked in the more glamorous shadow of high draft picks, the Carlsens of the system not only deserve our attention but our praise. Far from being an afterthought, the performance of Carlsen is what makes writing this column so exciting for me. I, for one, will not only be following, but cheering for him in the coming years. Thanks to Brother Ben.

Well, it seems as if my goal has been completed. I completed my latest edition of Phuture Phillies Phenoms without the mere mention of one statistic, and yet it is hoped that the players now toiling at the lower levels of the Phils system have become just a bit less obscure to those who don't follow them on a daily basis. All have performed well enough to be mentioned, and all but Carlsen are hoping for a promotion to a full season minor league assignment come next year.

My column now complete, and nary a mention of a statistic, here wishing the best for all players mentioned in this article, rookie league players all, save Carlsen. Save for 1....oops! Seems I made not just one mistake...but 2.

Columnist's note: Please send all comments and questions to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast

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