Certainly, there were more than a few disappointments this season, none more disheartening than the continuing injury problems of lefty Cole Hamels and the seeming stalled development of righty Gavin Floyd. These two young hurlers, along with the slugging first sacker, Ryan Howard, were often sited as the only true premium prospects in the entire system, at least at the higher levels. Obviously, with these three, it has been a mixed bag, as Howard is now a central part of a quite imposing middle of the Phillie order, while Floyd, despite his
minor league struggles, is currently a starting pitcher for a team with playoff aspirations.
On the other hand, Hamels once again has seen injury and bad luck hound him almost from the beginning of 2005. This has proven unfortunate not only for him, but for a Phillie team that was quietly counting on him to lend a southpaw presence to their playoff drive. Anyone who thinks that the Phils projected Eude Brito as the southpaw of choice to battle such foes as the Marlins, Braves and Astros down the stretch has not read of the Hamel's talent.
Simply put, this is a rare hurler who has such a feel for pitching that many baseball scouts felt that Hamels could have won 12-15 games in the major leagues this season if healthy, regardless of his seeming lack of minor league experience. No one will ever know this, and the 2006 season is a crossroads campaign for him. Simply put, with youngsters like Floyd, Brito and Robinson Tejeda moving forward, it is time for Hamels to show his true form and elbow his way into the rotation or risk falling back due to a combination of ill fortune and a possible unwillingness to truly reach for the limits that seemed so
attainable in the spring of 2004.
Still, if Hamels was a disappointment, and Floyd stalled in his development, the success of Brito and Tejeda when called to the big leagues speaks to the pharm system in it's best light. Truth be told, the strength of a minor league organization is not based purely on wins and losses, but in the way that it can manufacture major league players when needed. With Howard, Brito, Tejeda and now Floyd and outfielder Shane Victorino contributing for the Phils, it can be said with some assuredness that the system is far from the bleak desert of talent that has been pictured in far too many scenes this season.
In fact, Victorino may be Exhibit A of a system that may be showing an ability to churn out unfinished products into viable and competent major league regulars. He was drafted from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Rule 5 Draft last December and was given little chance of making his mark despite a solid season in 2004 at Double A. When he failed to make the Phillies out of spring training the Phils had to offer him back to the Dodgers, who declined to take him back.
This may eventually prove a most fortuitous decision for the Phils as Victorino was recently voted the International League Most Valuable Player after a truly remarkable season in 2005. He not only hit well over .300 but had double figure numbers in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases. In fact, his 16 triples led the league and showed the kind of extra base power and speed that makes him an excellent center fielder.
Shane Victorino is only 5'9" tall but generates great power with his strong wrists and quick bat. He may well get an opportunity to make the parent club as a center fielder next year due to the uncertain status of Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels. He has already made his mark with the Phils as a pinch-hitter this September. Like the girl with the curl on her good days, Victorino was very, very good in 2005.
Another Triple A player with a Phillie Phuture is catcher Carlos Ruiz, who showed his offensive and defensive skills throughout the '05 season. Ruiz finished with a .300 batting average and a most impressive nine triples. This number is astounding for a catcher, but Ruiz is no ordinary slow footed backstop. He runs well, shows decent power and was the best defensive catcher in the International League. Watch for Ruiz to make the Phils as a backup catcher to Mike Lieberthal
in 2006 and could well be the heir apparent to the job should Lieberthal depart via trade sometime next year or in '07.
As well as Victorino played this season, and his play was very, very good, he was not even the most impressive player in the Phillie minor league system. That award went to outfielder Chris Roberson at Reading, another sleek and swift center fielder in the system. Roberson was recently selected as the Phillie Minor League Player of the Year and has placed himself squarely in the Phil's future plans with back-to-back solid years.
Roberson parlayed a 172 hit season into a most impressive .311 batting average with 90 runs scored, 15 home runs and 34 stolen bases. As with Victorino, he was a solid and strong armed outfielder who showed he could play center or right field with equal aplomb. He will open the 2006 season at Scranton if he is not traded in the off-season and could be in The City of Brotherly Love some time next summer.
As skilled as Roberson is, many in the Phillie organization still rate him slightly behind fellow outfielder Michael Bourn, despite Roberson's seemingly more impressive campaign. For one thing, Bourn is younger, faster and has a greater understanding of the strike zone. He hit .268 in '05 and stole 38 bases while scoring 80 runs. His arm is one of the most powerful in the system and he may be the best defensive center fielder in an organization with no less than four of them.
The battle between Roberson and Bourn next year to see which of the two is the first to make it to Philadelphia from Scranton will be a fascinating one and it will surprise very few observers if they both don't make it to the majors sometime next year, probably in September. Expect Bourn to one day be the Phillie leadoff hitter as his combination of speed and batting eye make him a natural leadoff candidate on a club that is sorely in need of one.
If Roberson and Bourn were Reading standouts, then third baseman Juan Richardson and pitcher Cole Hamels were much like the girl with a curl on a bad day...their seasons were very, very bad. Richardson has been touted many times in this column for his potential and power but seems to have stalled in Double A and will probably leave as a six-year minor league free agent at the end of the year. His 15 home runs were half of what he seemed capable of hitting, and his arm still seems bothered by the shoulder surgery he got over the past winter.
In an organization with a seeming "black hole" at third base, the slump of Richardson was a crushing blow and makes the acquisition of a young third sacker quite important for the Phils this winter. With the injuries and poor play of such former stalwarts like Richardson, Terry Jones and Kiel Fisher, what once was the deepest position in the system is now clouded with question and uncertainty.
Hamels 2005 year was the epitome of frustration and setback. Easily the most skilled hurler in the system, and once considered the best pitcher in minor league baseball, Hamels was impressive when he was healthy but was almost never available. His 2-0 record at Reading indicated he might be ready to help the Phils in their September push for the playoffs. Indeed, one can only imagine the sight of Hamels in a rotation that already has included Brito, Floyd and Tejeda this month.
As talented as these three hurlers are, and they are very, very good, they pale in comparison to Hamels ability to dominate with a fastball, change-up and curve ball. Truth be told however, the jury is out on Hamels for 2006 as after two successive injury plagued years, it is time for him to step up and prove that the hype was not just that, but a precursor to what could be a long and storied career as the bellwether of a Phillie staff that seems deep in talented young hurlers.
No player made greater progress this year than did second baseman Tim Moss at Clearwater. After a dismal first season and a half as a pro, Moss began to turn it around in the summer of 2004 and made this season his breakout campaign. His batting average was a somewhat pedestrian .269 but he showed solid pop with the bat to the tune of 17 home runs and also stole 28 bases in 123 games.
With Chase Utley firmly entrenched at second for the Phils, Moss appears a man without a position in the future. Still, as a former high draft pick, Moss could still become an important tool in the Phillie infield plans or might make an inviting target for a future trade for a third baseman or lefty hurler. Moss will open the 2006 season in Reading.
If Moss' future with the Phils is unclear, such is not the case for slugging outfielder Jake Blalock. This strapping corner outfielder has continued to improve in all aspects of his game and only a late season slump kept him from possibly attaining a .300 season. He improved his strike zone judgment and continued to improve as an outfielder. Watch for Blalock to have a breakout power season at Reading next year.
Pitchers Zack Segovia and Scott Mathieson represented the Girl with a Curl on her very, very bad and very, very good days. Segovia struggled a year removed from major arm surgery and his 4-14 season befit a hurler attempting to come back so quickly after injury. Still, the Phils were encouraged that he pitched pain free and by the end of the year he was slowly regaining the fastball that once made him one of the top hurling prospects in the organization.
Mathieson pitched very, very good this year with but three wins to show for his efforts, hurling for a very, very bad Clearwater club. He pitched in the World Games and many in the organization now consider him the best pitching prospect in the entire system. In a system with Hamels, Floyd, Brito and Tejeda this is high praise indeed.
Lakewood had several fine prospects in 2005, including catcher Jason Jaramillo, shortstop Brad Harman, outfielders Greg Golson and Ryan Frith and hurlers Derek Griffith, Andy Baldwin and Maximo De La Cruz. All of these players are considered by the Phils to be solid prospects, and Jaramillo and Harman both hit over .300.
Griffith was easily the best pitcher on the club and gives hope to hurlers like Segovia by overcoming arm surgery in college to display solid potential as a pro. His 7-11 record is not indicative of how effective Griffith was, and his 3.95 ERA and 131 strikeouts in
162 innings of work are a better indicator. If Hamels remains healthy and Brito continues to improve, then these two along with Griffith and fellow minor leaguer J.A. Happ will help to alleviate what appeared to be a startling lack of left-handed depth within the organization.
No team in the Phillie system played better baseball in August than did the Batavia MuckDogs. Their offensive exploits were a thing of beauty and no less than five players showed solid offensive potential. At the top of the list was top Phillie draft pick Mike Costanzo, who overcame a dismal first month of professional ball to fashion a very solid initial season. In 73 games, Costanzo hit an impressive 11 home runs and knocked in 50 RBI while hitting .274.
His August numbers were very impressive and it is hoped that he may be on the Phillie fast track to the big leagues as the future third sacker. Regardless of the time it takes for him to eventually make his mark, it does appear that the Phils made a wise choice in selecting this local player with their top pick in June. Mike Costanzo appears a keeper in the best way.
Equally impressive were such sluggers as infielders Welinson Baez and Clay Harris, outfielder Jeremy Slayden and catcher Louis Marson. All are players worth watching in the coming years as are hurlers like Kyle Kendrick, Scott Mitchinson, Andy Barb, Matt Maloney, Phil Overholt and Justin Blaine.
No team in the entire organization has more future big league prospects than does the MuckDogs, but the Rookie Gulf Coast League Phillies were also deep in young talent this season. While it is a long way from rookie ball to the big leagues, several players deserve mention for their potential and play this summer.
The best player on the club was third baseman Tim Kennelly, an Australian import with a solid bat and decent glove. He hit .295 and was consistent throughout. Outfielder Curt Miaso showed good power and a strong arm in right field and first baseman Michael Durant showed his power potential with 6 home runs though his .190 batting average will need some work.
On the pitching front, their were several top hurlers, with the best of the bunch being teen-agers Edgar Garcia, Carlos Carrasco, Derrick Byrd and Matt Olson. This is a team that was very deep in talented young hurlers and despite the trades in the past two seasons of several fine young hurling prospects, the Phillie pitching pipeline does appear in very, very good shape.
There is little doubt that the Phillie pharm system took several slings and arrows this year, and many with good reason. However, it is unwise to ever judge a system merely on the wins and losses the respective teams may garner. Some organizations place less emphasis on winning than in developing and the recent and sustained success of such minor league graduates like Ryan Howard, Robinson Tejeda, Gavin Floyd, Eude Brito, Geoff Geary and Shane Victorino suggest that all may not be lost within the system.
It should be remembered that much like the Girl with a Curl, the Phillie system may be very, very bad or very, very good depending on what day of the week it is and how it is judged in context to how it produces. Far from being a wasteland, the players mentioned in this column seem to portend better days ahead for the Phils, a team much resembling the little Girl with a Curl.
Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast