Carlos Carrasco (Photo:Gene J. Puskar/AP)
After over a decade of neglect and abuse, the Philadelphia Phillies have slowly, almost haltingly, begun the long road towards rebuilding what once was a bumper crop farm system. And, while it is true that the strength of the system is still at the bottom, there are a few players ready for prime time. The tide is coming in for...the next wave.
Admittedly, gone are the days forever when there was a Phillie prospect
seemingly hidden under every pebble on the seashore but for the first time in
over a decade, the organization can truly be proud of the fact that there is a
top notch prospect somewhere in the system at almost every position.
Particularly strong are the middle infield positions, catching and the depth in
starting pitching. As mentioned, most of the possible impact prospects are still
at the mid [Clearwater, Lakewood] or lower [Williamsport, Gulf Coast League]
levels, but there are several players that Phillie phanatics can be prepared to
see at Citizens Bank Park by the end of next season.
Under the Pat Gillick Regime, players as low as Double-A Reading have often been
brought up to Philadelphia if there was a need and unless he unexpectedly
retires following the 2007 campaign the Phils can be expected to continue this
policy next season.
With this in mind, let's examine several prospects at Triple-A Ottawa and Double-A
Reading who might soon grace the sports pages of Philadelphia Phillie baseball
next year. A few of the names are quite familiar as they received at least a cup
of coffee in the major leagues this season while several of them have yet to
smell the rarified air of the big leagues but probably will soon.
The Ottawa Lynx in the Triple-A International League were perhaps the weakest
team in the system this year and this probably befits an orphan franchise that
will relocate to its permanent home in Allentown, Pennsylvania next year. The
club finished a dismal 55-88 and had no more that a handful of real prospects on
Players like Chris Roberson, Eude Brito, Anderson Garcia and Yoel Hernandez made
periodic stops in Philadelphia by way of Ottawa but none are considered long
term solutions to any Phillie problems and none are expected to make the club
Not so catcher Jason Jaramillo, a former second round draft pick, who has
continued to work his way up the system and might very well share the catching
duties with incumbent Carlos Ruiz next year. Jaramillo has always been
considered a top notch defensive signal caller and has improved enough
offensively that he might no longer be considered deficient in this area.
Playing regularly for the Lynx this year, Jaramillo hit a decent .271 with 6
home runs and 56 RBI in 118 games. As a switch hitter, he offers solid every day
protection against either right or left-handed pitching but seems to make better
contact as a right handed hitter while showing more power left handed. In fact,
all of his home runs  came while hitting from the left side while his .293
batting average from the right side of the plate showed that he is equally at
home hitting that way.
Defensively, Jaramillo calls a good game and has a very strong and accurate arm.
The Phils have been more than satisfied with his progress and unless he has a
poor spring he should make the team along with Ruiz and either Rod Barajas or
Chris Coste. Of course, the Phils would prefer to move Barajas and keep Coste
but that is a story for another day and should have little effect on Jaramillo's
chances of making the team next spring.
Center fielder Javon Moran is no more than a Chris Roberson-like fringe prospect
but his top of the order speed and solid glove in the outfield make him a player
worth keeping tabs on. Moran began the season in Reading and finished in Triple-A.
Combined in 106 games played he hit .275 with 78 runs scored and 29 stolen
Moran has little or no power and might never become more than a late inning
defensive replacement with the Phils but should they lose Aaron Rowand to free
agency and decide to trade either Shane Victorino or Michael Bourn for starting
pitching, Javon Moran could possibly become a candidate for a bench spot on the
2008 Phillie roster.
The pitcher from Ottawa who could have the greatest chance of making the parent
club out of spring training next year is lefty J.A. Happ. Admittedly, Happ
struggled this year with a 4-6 record and 5.02 ERA but he was recovering from a
tender elbow and was rarely in top form. Still, his 117 strikeouts in 118
innings of pitching showed that he does have the stuff even when not at top
Happ and righty Scott Mathieson, who also spend most of the 2007 season
recovering from elbow surgery, are the two hurlers with the best chance of
making their way onto the Phillie squad come next April. With Freddy Garcia, Jon
Leiber and probably Kyle Lohse all leaving the team via free agency, there will
certainly be more than a few spots available in the rotation.
Other hurlers from Ottawa that could be in the mix for spots in Philadelphia
include lefty Fabio Castro and righty Joe Bisenius. Both made cameo appearances
with the Phils this season but neither made much of an impression while on
display and neither did particularly well with the Lynx this season.
Still, both are considered prospects with good arms and youth on their side.
Castro is being groomed as a starting pitcher despite his size [5'8"] and
was 5-5 with a 4.01 ERA in 21 appearances with Ottawa. Bisenius, a reliever all
the way, was 3-4 with a high 5.48 ERA and occasional control issues.
The Phils thought Bisenius was one of the best pitchers they saw last spring in
Clearwater and should he recapture his form over the winter, he could surprise
and make a name for himself out of the bullpen next year. Certainly the Phils
will have at least three openings in the bullpen come next spring.
Lefty Matt Smith, one of the centerpieces in the controversial Bobby Abreu deal
in 2006, had major arm surgery this summer and is not expected back for most of
the '08 campaign. This was a bad break both for Smith and the Phils, as they
were counting on him to fill a key southpaw slot in the pen. Now Smith, at 29
years of age next season, faces a very uncertain future.
The news is considerably more bright at Reading, where no less than four or five
top-notch prospects grace the landscape. Brightest of them all is either third
baseman Mike Costanzo or right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco. Both, if healthy,
are certain to soon make it to Philadelphia and once there, are counted on to
become key members in PhillieLand.
Costanzo will soon become the Phillies' starting third baseman and complete an
all Phillie organizational infield along with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Costanzo, a left-handed hitter, packs solid power, a strong arm and
good glove, and has shown the ability to adjust and improve at every level
during his 2.5 seasons as a professional ballplayer.
This season at Reading, Costanzo finished second in the league in home runs with
27 and also knocked in 86 runs while hitting .270. Even more impressive was his
post All-Star break totals which included hitting over .300 and decreasing both
his errors and strikeouts while increasing his ability to draw a walk.
Costanzo credits Phillie catcher Chris Coste with helping him with his
adjustment to Double-A and could soon join Coste as a teammate in Philadelphia.
He will begin the '08 season in Allentown and the Phils will probably let his
progress dictate how soon he is called up. If his past is any indication, watch
for him to struggle early as he did at Batavia, Clearwater and Reading and then
recover nicely once he settles in.
His quick power stroke seems ready made for Citizens Bank Park and he should
soon add yet another strong bat to a lineup already filled with them. Not so
coincidentally, third base has been a patchwork of players like Wes Helms,
Abraham Nunez and Greg Dobbs while the Phils waited patiently on Costanzo.
Happily, the wait should soon be over and watch for the youngster to make his
debut next September.
Carlos Carrasco is generally considered the number one prospect in the entire
Phillie organization, and did nothing to dispel this notion with his '07
campaign. His combined record at Clearwater and Reading was 12-6 and included a
rain-shortened six inning no-hitter. In all he tossed 140 innings and allowed
only 114 hits while striking out 102 batters and walking 68.
Carrasco is thought of by most scouts as a top of the rotation starting pitcher
but is still only 20 years of age and will be treated with kid gloves while he
develops. He has a fastball that consistently reaches 92-93 MPH and has a great
changeup. Once he develops better control of his curveball the Phils will move
him up to Allentown but for now he is expected to open the 2008 season back in
Another starting pitcher making headway at Reading is lefty Josh Outman, who
combined for a 12-7 record at Clearwater and Reading this year. At 23 years of
age, the southpaw is much further along physically than is Carrasco and might
make it to Philadelphia sometime next year should he continue to improve.
Outman features a fastball that occasionally touches 90 MPH but has a great feel
for pitching and uses his changeup and slider effectively. In 159 innings of
work this year, Outman struck out 151 enemy hitters and relies more on pitching
savvy than outright overpowering stuff.
One Phillie prospect who regressed this season is righty Zack Segovia, who was
one of the top pitching prosects in the organization going into the campaign.
Many people suspected that Segovia was never right physically this year and his
end of the season stint on the disabled list probably confirmed this.
Still, Segovia is now coming off two injury plagued seasons in the past four and
his 6-12 record and very high ERA of over 5.00 indicates that he has become more
question mark than exclamation mark at this point in his career. Should he
resurface next season, look for the Phils to move him to the bullpen.
Certainly one of the most ballyhooed prospects in the entire Phillie system for
the past several years has been young centerfielder Greg Golson, a player often
touted for his five-tool potential. Golson, still only 22 years of age, finished
the season in Double-A Reading and will undoubtedly open next season at the same
Golson still shows signs of becoming a top notch major league player and with 15
home runs, has begun to fill out physically as most scouts felt he would. In a
combined 136 games with the Threshers and R-Phillies he hit .273 and scored 86
runs while stealing 35 bases in 43 attempts.
All the while he continued to show the best range and outfield arm in the
system, attributes he has carried with him since the first day he signed back in
2004 as a first round draft pick out of high school. Yet, he continues to show
an alarming lack of plate discipline [173 strikeouts and only 23 walks] and
could soon be passed on the outfield prospect list by youngsters D'Arby Myers,
Dominic Brown and Quintin Berry if he does not improve in this area.
Golson will open the '08 season in Reading and this will be a very important
season for him. He is clearly at the crossroads of his career and many people
within the organization who have staked much of their reputations on his talent
will be watching with more than just a passing interest.
Special mention must be given to a not so young outfielder with Reading who
might well have been the most outstanding player in the system this year. Greg Jacobs, 30 years of age, was signed last winter out of the Independent Atlantic
League after an outstanding '06 season there.
While at Reading, the lefty swinging Jacobs did nothing to show that the signing
was a mistake and hit a strong .310 with the R-Phils while slugging 21 home runs
and knocking in 83 runs. He is certainly not considered a top-notch prospect by
any means but after the late career success of Chris Coste, the name Greg Jacobs
is one to remember next spring when the teams assemble in Clearwater.
With a strong nucleus of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell,
Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and Brett Myers, the Phils can now be classified as
into the retooling stage of their development after far too many seasons of
rebuilding. Certainly the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves will continue to be
willing and dangerous adversarial foes within the National League Eastern Division
but the Phils appear will fortified to challenge the supremacy of these teams
with some of the names just mentioned.
Mike Costanzo, J.A. Happ, Carlos Carrasco and Jason Jaramillo are merely the
first group of what promises to be a deep and talented influx of minor league
talent headed for Philadelphia over the course of the next few years.
After far too many seasons where the sun over the horizon always appeared to be
setting rather than rising for top notch Phillie minor league talent, the sun
finally seems to be on the rise once again. Take a step onto the sand, look out
onto the sunrise and watch for the tide that finally has turned and headed
toward shore along with...the next wave.
Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to email@example.com
and I will attempt to respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast