Marcus Hayes wrote today on how despite the excitement over the youthful core of the Phillies, it has so far been the veterans that have provided the spark this season. Truth be told, I don’t think anyone, including Marcus, is giving up on Howard, Utley and company, in fact the future looks bright with them in the lineup. To complement these two in the coming years, the Phillies have a reinvigorated farm system with much potential. Let’s take a look at how its doing this year.
Standing-wise the young Phillies are collectively not off to any better a start than the big boys. The soon to be divorced Red Barons are 6-6, the Reading Phillies are 3-8, the Threshers are 6-5, and the BlueClaws are 1-9. Individually however, there have been a few bright spots; as Scout.com recently commented, "while the pitching has been almost universally standout from top to bottom, they haven’t received much offensive support."
To begin, let’s jump straight down to Clearwater (the only Phillies club with a winning record) where the guy everyone’s been talking about, Cole Hamels, is scorching. There was talk during the off-season of having him start in Reading or possibly even Scranton, but his constant injuries required another look at the single A level. In his first two starts of the season, he recorded 16 strikeouts in 11 innings while allowing 0 runs scored. Yesterday, in his third start, he was knocked around for 7 hits, 4 runs (3 earned) but still fanned 8 banners. In taking the loss, his ERA jumped to a mere 1.72. Baseball Prospectus likes to remind us that striking out batters is much more difficult the further up the farm league you progress and Florida State League pitchers average 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. But even they would be impressed with Hamels’ current ratio of just over 13 Ks per 9.
Other Threshers worth mentioning are Rule 5 pickup Chris Booker and the Phillies 2005 second round draft pick and Archbishop Carroll grad, Mike Costanzo. Booker, on injury assignment, has given up 4 earned runs with 10 strikeouts and just one walk over 6 innings of relief so far. Although the Phillies desperately need some bullpen help, he’s going to have to improve a bit more if he expects to join the Phils soon and avoid being returned to his previous team. Costanzo meanwhile started off strong, but has cooled off as of late and is batting .217/.250/.348 with 13 strikeouts and 10 hits in 46 at bats.
Moving up a level to Reading, the troika in the starting rotation of Scott Mathieson, Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood have all looked sharp. Although Mathieson and Haigwood have ERAs in the 5.00-6.00 range but with high strikeout counts, Gio is the one making the most noise. Although he has yet to record a decision in his two starts (each of which lasted 6 innings), he has allowed 0 runs on 7 hits with 13 Ks and 4 BBs. I could see these three pitchers being promoted to Scranton before the end of the year, but as soon as someone from Scranton is moved to Philly, the 20-year old Gonzalez should be the first to fill that roster spot. Before moving on to Scraton, it should also be noted that relievers Dan Geise and Steve Langone are also pitching well, neither of whom have surrendered run this year (only the least-used reliever, Rheal Cormier, can make that claim on the Phillies). Also, Jason Jarmillo – who may give Carlos Ruiz a run for his money as the next Phillies catcher – currently has a .733 OPS and centerfielder Michael Bourn is a perfect 9-0 in stolen base opportunities.
In Scranton, Chris Roberson (.238 AVG) and Chris Coste (.186 AVG) who battled for the 25th spot on the Phillies roster this Spring Training have shown that perhaps they belong in Scranton for the time being. But the big name is of course Carlos Ruiz, Mike Lieberthal’s heir-apparent. Offensively, he’s exploding so far with a .368/.405/.763 line, a team-leading 4 HRs and just 5 Ks in 38 ABs. He is certainly showing that if Lieberthal or Fasano go down, he’d be ready to jump behind the plate. To Lieberthal’s credit however, he is keeping Ruiz at bay with a decent start to the season – offensively at least. One of the major attributes scouts have commented on is Ruiz’s ability to call a good game, so the sooner he gets a chance to gel with the current staff the better. Within his current staff in Scranton, Matt White is impressing with a 2-0 start and a 1.38 ERA. Clay Condrey and Travis Minix have pitched sufficiently in relief, but the most likely band-aid for the Phillies pen, Yoel Hernandez, has a win to go along with 3 saves and a 0.00 ERA. Eudo Brito has not pitched particularly well in his two starts, but as should be remembered with all these updates, the seasons are still young and these are all minor league statistics.
The Phillies farm system certainly have potential but not all the most talked about players coming into the season have lived up to expectations; but so goes the Phillies organization in general. Let’s hope the youngsters can provide some fresh blood and energy to the major league team sooner rather than later.