At first glance, the list appears woefully incomplete. Gavin Floyd, erstwhile future right-handed staff ace, and a pitcher who has already tasted some success at the major league level? Not listed. Carlos Ruiz, a catcher with enough pop to hit ,300 in Triple A and enough speed to garner nine triples at Scranton? Must have missed the roll call. Chris Roberson, he of the wonderful season at Reading and a player who many felt deserved consideration for Eastern League MVP honors? Not this year, not this list. Shane Victorino, merely voted the MVP of the Triple A International League and recently selected as Topps Baseball's Triple A Player of the Year? Sorry, Shane.
Amazingly, these were but four of possibly a half dozen fully qualified players who failed to make the 2006 Phillie Top Ten Prospect list and from where I sit this can't be all bad for a team that has continually been mentioned as having one of the worst pharm systems in the entire baseball industry. Need more names? How about young slugger, Jake Blalock, he of the great baseball pedigree and possible 25 home run per season talent. Or lefty J.A. Happ, merely one of the more polished lefties to enter the Phillie system in years and who scouts compare favorably to a young Randy Wolf.
This begs the question...if minor league standouts like Victorino, Floyd, Blalock, Ruiz, Roberson and Happ failed to make the cut, just who were the crown jewels to make the "Ten Most Wanted List?" In all, the list includes three hurlers, four infielders, two outfielders and one catcher. The list also tends to confirm that the real strength of the pharm system lies in the bottom half of the organization while the surprise may be that a system thought short on middle infielders may indeed be deeper than was first thought.
If youth is indeed served to those who wait, then Prospect 10 will wait
patiently to be one day served. Eighteen year old Edgar Garcia is a right-hander with poise, talent and a fastball that sits at between 91-94 MPH consistently. The Phils could barely contain their glee when scouts Sal Agostinelli and Wil Tejada signed the teenage phenom late in October of 2004. The Phils made no secret of the fact that they viewed Garcia as a future number one or number two type starting pitcher and his 4-4 record with a 3.56 ERA in 10 starts in the Gulf Coast League did nothing to dim their spirits. Watch for Garcia to advance slowly through the system, but if he remains healthy, he will one day be a starting pitcher with the Phightins.
It will surprise no one if Garcia is tossing his deceptive slants to catcher Jason Jaramillo when he makes it to the City of Brotherly Love. Jaramillo, a standout defensive catcher, comes in as Prospect Nine and is on a steady course to make it to Philadelphia sometime in early 2008. Drafted in the second round in 2004, Jaramillo hit a steady .304 while demonstrating the best defensive ability of any catcher in the Phils’ system. Jaramillo will probably never be an offensive juggernaut at the big league level, but he has starting catcher stamped all over him and should combine with the more experienced Ruiz to form a top notch catching duo in Philadelphia before too long.
From bust to bust out, that is the story of Prospect Eight, second baseman Tim Moss, the top Phillie pick in the third round of the 2003 June Amateur Draft, Moss and his early struggles have been well chronicled and it appeared the Phils had made a colossal mistake in taking the former University of Texas All-American with their top pick. He struggled all of his rookie season and well into his sophomore season until it was discovered that his problems were illness related and that medication could cure what ailed him.
Moss suddenly became a different player beginning in July of '04 and has prospered ever since, to once again give the Phils hope that he may one day provide the club with top of the order speed and middle infield depth. He even displayed surprising power this season at Clearwater, with 17 home runs to go along with his 28 stolen bases. Even more surprising, scouts felt Moss had actually regained the speed he had in college and the Phils eagerly await his upcoming campaign in Reading.
Although he probably will never overtake the slugging Chase Utley at second base, the Phils are buoyed by the fact that middle infielders with pop and speed are highly valued and it would not be surprising to watch Moss be an excellent trading chip for a future pitching prospect or corner infielder. Another possibility, though remote at best, is a move to center field for the gifted athlete Moss. The Phils have discussed this before and if they someday believe a lineup with both Utley and Moss is deemed imperative, then Moss might trade his infielder's glove for outfield leather.
The Phillies are quite proud of their Australian connection with such standouts as Tim Kennelly and Scott Mitchinson numbering among the Aussie prospects. Still, none rank higher than shortstop Brad Harman, who comes in as Prospect Seven on this season's list. Harman is an offensive standout at shortstop and Phillie scouts think he could easily move to second base if need be. Another in a long list of Phillie .300 hitters at the minor league level, Harman also hit 11 home runs and scored 63 runs in but 105 games for Lakewood in the full season Single A League.
The term "local boy makes good" may someday well apply to Prospect Six, third baseman Mike Costanzo, the top pick in the recent June Amateur Draft of 2005. While it is true that the Phils selected him in the second round, they fully acknowledged that they would have chosen Costanzo in the first round if they had been able to select that high. Costanzo, who grew up a huge Phillies phan, more than justified the pick with a standout power season in short season Batavia.
After a dreadfully slow start, as rookies are wont to have, he came on strong during the final month of the Batavia season to finish with very respectable numbers. Costanzo ended with 11 home runs and 50 RBI in a mere 73 games and hit .274 for the season. He also displayed solid range for a third baseman and gave every indication that he will one day be the regular hot corner player the Phils so desperately covet.
Watch for the collegiate experienced Costanzo to "skip" a league in 2006 and open at Clearwater. If his progress doesn't stall, he will be in Philadelphia sometime in 2008. When he makes it, the chances are excellent that the Phils will have another third baseman to continue the excellent tradition set by the likes of Mike Schmidt and Scott Rolen.
Recognized by scouts as the player with the "highest ceiling" of any athlete in the entire Phillie organization, shortstop Welinson Baez comes in as Prospect Five on this year's top ten chart. The Phils have long suspected that Baez would someday blossom after signing him for $250,000 in August of 2002. Only 21 years of age, Baez struggled at third base in the Gulf Coast League for over two seasons until a promotion to Batavia and a change of positions to shortstop suddenly transformed him from raw tools to raw power almost overnight.
Not only did Baez hit a stunning .324 with solid power numbers with the
MuckDogs, but the team played at a .650 winning pace once the talented Baez became their shortstop. In fact, the Batavia club became an offensive powerhouse once Baez settled into the lineup. The Phils still don't wish to rush him but he is more than ready for full season baseball so he should make the Lakewood roster out of spring training next April.
The Phils are talking of moving him back to third base, a switch that seems quite ill-advised. For one thing, Baez was never the player at third that he became at shortstop and with Costanzo all but guaranteed to one day hold down the third base position in Philadelphia it behooves the Phils to leave Baez where he is most likely to excel...shortstop!
Coming in as Prospect Four is the standout righty from Canada, Scott Mathieson, who hurled in Clearwater this season. His numbers are quite deceptive as a weak team betrayed his skills all summer. A 3-8 record masks an impressive 118 strikeouts in but 122 innings of work. Even more impressive, the scouts say he has picked up nearly 10 MPH on his fastball since he turned pro a few years back. Mathieson is expected to pitch at Reading this year and the Phils are still undecided if he will one day convert to a potential bullpen closer or remain in the starting rotation.
Either way, Mathieson ranks as the top Phillie righty in the organization and one that seems destined to one day make his mark at Citizens Bank Park with the Phightin Phils. He just finished a successful stint in Arizona as one of the Phillie representatives in the tough Arizona Fall Instructional League. After starting very strong, Mathieson slumped near the end of the league indicating that he may need some valuable rest before heading for Canada and a spot on the
Canadian All-Star team.
Now that slugger Ryan Howard is fully entrenched at the major league level, perhaps the best Phil’s minor league position player is Prospect Three, outfielder Michael Bourn. He performed the difficult task of "skipping" a league this past summer, going straight from Lakewood to Double A Reading. Although his average probably suffered from the jump, he more than showed he belonged with a .268 batting average, 38 stolen bases and the strongest outfield arm in the league.
The Phils still believe that Bourn will one day become their everyday lead off hitter while displaying Gold Glove instincts in center field. There is talk of keeping him at Reading to begin the '06 campaign so Chris Roberson can play center field at Scranton. While this move may seem logical for both talented youngsters to be able to perform at the position they both play best, it again seems short sighted and ill-advised.
Bourn showed no awe in Double A and then topped it off with a banner performance in the Arizona Fall League. Hard working and diligent, it seems that he is ready to perform at the Triple A level with a possible call up to Philadelphia by September of 2006. Still, be it Reading or Scranton to open next year, it still seems highly likely that Bourn will be performing in PhillieLand come 2007.
As previously mentioned, Shane Victorino was the International League MVP while Chris Roberson performed with almost equal aplomb at Reading. Yet neither is as highly esteemed by baseball scouts as is Michael Bourn. All are skilled and all play center field. If this was the extent of the Phillie center field riches in the pharm system they would be rich indeed.
Nevertheless there is one that scouts maintain is even more skilled and with a higher ceiling than any of the aforementioned threesome. Prospect Two is 20 year old Greg Golson, the only legitimate "five-tool" player in the entire system. Drafted in the first round as a Texas high school star in '04, Golson excites Phillie personnel throughout the organization with his demeanor and desire for greatness.
The story is still told of Larry Rojas, long time Phillie scout and minor league talent guru. Rojas is known for being quite difficult to impress and has only witnessed five players in his entire career that he felt sure would attain major league super stardom. Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Mike Schmidt were two of the chosen few while near Hall of Famer Richie Allen and potential future Hall of Famer Scott Rolen are two of the others. The fifth player is Greg Golson and if expectations are high, the talent is real.
Despite an injury marred season, Golson scored 51 runs in only 89 games while stealing 25 bases at Lakewood. The Phils are inclined to have Golson repeat his Lakewood experience to open the '06 campaign but if he starts off strong he will be advanced to Clearwater. At any rate, Greg Golson is a name to remember for phuture Phillie phanatics.
Prospect Number One is a name that almost every Phillie phan knows well...lefty Cole Hamels. The story of Cole Hamels could encompass a novel but suffice it to say that the same overpowering stuff and genuine natural feel for pitching still applies when the name Hamels appears. Though Phillie officials are loath to acknowledge it for public consumption, they felt that had Hamels remained healthy enough to pitch in September the Phils might well have advanced to the playoffs and possibly the World Series.
Yes, Hamels is that good and his numbers for 2005 tell only a small fraction of the story. His combined numbers at Clearwater and Reading were 4-0 with a sub 2.50 ERA and 37 strikeouts in a mere 35 innings of work. Ah, and here is the rub that makes Hamels such a mystery candidate. Though talented as any hurler in minor league baseball, Hamels has found it absolutely impossible to stay healthy since he turned pro in late summer of 2002.
Perhaps no question has more relevance in PhillieLand than this one, "Whither Hamels?" When healthy he remains that ace-in-waiting southpaw that comes along all too rarely. When healthy, his curveball and changeup are the things that make scouts salivate with envy. When healthy, Hamels is a dominating hurler waiting to debut in Philadelphia for at least the next half dozen seasons.
Yet, equally distressing is the very real possibility that Hamels will never hurl a major league game, as injuries and strange ill fortune combine to add his name to the long list of failed "can't miss" prospects. Truth be told, many of Hamels injuries seem almost self inflicted, a combination of youthful enthusiasm and just plain childish behavior. But the Phils realize he is still but 22 years of age and so they are willing to be patient...up to a certain point.
Common sense dictates that this year is the Year of Decision for Hamels. Oh, he will open at Reading, and if he does as well as expected he will soon advance to Scranton. What remains so enticing for Phillie phans is the very real possibility that Hamels could be assisting a staff of Brett Myers, Jon Lieber, Randy Wolf and possibly Gavin Floyd by September if he can remain in one piece. Few doubt his ultimate success if he can just stay healthy.
As Phillie Prospect Number One, perhaps more than any other player, Cole Hamels is the epitome of the Phillie pharm system. Loved for their potential but loathed for their performance, the Phils top to bottom organizational record was the worst in baseball yet still produced such major league ready players as Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard as well as hurlers Robinson Tejeda and Eude Brito.
The path that Cole Hamels follows this upcoming season could well mirror the ultimate fate of the Phillie system and the major league team along with it. If Hamels is once again overcome with injury, the system may well drop to the depths predicted by many minor league baseball doomsayers. If, however, Hamels can remain healthy, he should once and for all display those mysterious and almost magical powers that make him so enticing to Phillie phandom everywhere.
The ultimate question of Hamels provides a fascinating backdrop to what remains an intriguing group of talented young players. Under the direction of new GM Pat Gillick, the pharm system will once again become a priority instead of an afterthought in the upper reaches of management at Citizens Bank Park. Still, Hamels will have much to do with the final answer to what seems a perplexing question..."Is the Phillies minor league Top Tem List a cause for celebration or concern?"
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