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35 For 2008: 5 Rubber Rodents

This week, I’m previewing the 2008 Phillies by presenting the 35 players — as of today — who will mean most for repeated success. I say “as of today” because this list will definitely change. Last year, a list like this wouldn’t have mentioned JC Romero or Kyle Kendrick, and would’ve mentioned Matt Smith and Rod Barajas.

For the series, I divided the 35 players into seven groups, each one to be presented daily. The groups have a common thread, which each player seems to follow as his 2008 mission. So I present to you part four of the week-long series.

Day 1: Something To Prove
Day 2: The Villagers
Day 3: Great … Or Good Enough
Today: Rubber Rodents
Day 5: More Integral Than You Think
Day 6: B-Minus
Day 7: The Foundation

Rubber Rodents: Scott Mathieson, JA Happ, Josh Outman, Fabio Castro, Mike Zagurski
They may be green, but they have potential. The following five hurlers all are expected to make waves in the farm system and hopefully the big league club in 2008.

Scott Mathieson (RP)
Role: Sixth-inning Reliever
Acquired: Drafted by Phillies, 2002
The story of Scott Mathieson is a turbulent one, so I’ll deliver the most recent stuff: He was brought up to the big club in 2006 as part of the Gavin Floyd/Ryan Madson troika that completely stunk. He had one nice performance, bombing everything else, including a memorable meltdown against the Mets. Then came an injury that ended 2006 and kept him from seeing 2007. He returned very late in the year.

Now, in 2008, Mathieson will have to prove himself, but not as a starter. It’s been documented the Phils see his near future in the bullpen, very likely as a closer or setup man. A good 2008 will make him the setup man on the 2009 club and beyond.

I think Mathieson will respond, but have a few rough patches. Basically, he’ll do enough to prove himself worthy of a future up top, but shouldn’t be put into many big spots. Leave those for Gordon and Romero — I say cautiously.

Predicted 2008: 53.1 IP / 4-2 / 0 SV / 47 K / 4.09 ERA / 1.211 WHIP

JA Happ (SP)
Role: Emergency Starter or Bullpen Arm
Acquired: Drafted by Phillies, 2004
Happ’s ascencion to the Major Leagues was swift, maybe too swift, as the lefty saw himself starting a practically emergency game against the Mets in June. Unfortunately for Happ, it wasn’t the greatest start (4 IP, 5 ER) and he was quickly demoted back to AAA Ottawa.

But 2008 may see Happ get another — and longer — shot with the club. If anything, Happ is on the very short list of candidates for fifth starter/long-relief man. Though Adam Eaton and Chad Durbin are currently favorites for those spots, Happ could find himself the first option up to the Majors, if someone were to go down with an injury.

At 24, Happ is closing in on the season where he has to demonstrate Major League abilities. The younger and seemingly more talented Carlos Carrasco, Josh Outman and Joe Savery could leapfrog him sooner than later, so 2008 could prove vital for Happ’s longterm hopes.

Predicted 2008: 41.1 IP / 2-3 / 5.66 ERA / 0 SV / 1.591 WHIP

Josh Outman (SP)
Role: Emergency Starter or Bullpen Arm
Acquired: Drafted by Phillies, 2005

Outman, 23, is one of the Phillies’ top prospects, and likely the first prospect to see the Major Leagues in 2008. He’s moved silently but steadily through the Phils’ Minor Leagues, toting a nice fastball and slider.

While Outman isn’t an absolute stud, he could be more durable than Kyle Kendrick, who came from nowhere armed with nothing too flashy. At least Outman has an out pitch. And, of course, he has one awesome name for a pitcher.

In 2008, I expect Outman to get considerable time starting for the Phillies, with the very real chance of opening 2009 in the rotation. If Eaton doesn’t work out, or Moyer breaks down, Josh could be the first permanent fixture in the rotation.

Predicted 2008: 72 IP / 3-5 / 5.00 ERA / 0 SV / 1.409 WHIP

Fabio Castro (RP)
Role: Left-handed One Out Guy
Acquired: Traded by Texas Rangers to Phillies for Daniel Haigwood

Castro had a cup of decaf with the Phils in 2007, in which he wasn’t quite effective, but showed what he carried: A hellish fastball and a beauty of a changeup. The young and still green Castro is close to a final realization, and 2008 should be his year to discover it.

Castro, in my mind, is not merely the LOOGY of the future, but the team’s future closer, if the cards are played well. His stuff is worthy of the closer role, but for now, that has to be Brad Lidge. Only 23, Castro still needs some seasoning, so some trips up and down may be in order.

Still, it’s a hope of mine that Castro — with Matheison and Zagurski — rises to form a young, potent stable of relievers to compliment Lidge, JC Romero, Ryan Madson and Tom Gordon. This is the year he could do such a thing.

Predicted 2008: 34 IP / 1-0 / 0 SV / 4.21 ERA / 1.393 WHIP

Mike Zagurski (RP)
Role: Left-handed One Out Guy
Acquired: Drafted by Phillies, 2005

The rapid ascension of Mike Zagurski from the University of Kansas to the Philadelphia Phillies came to a halt after a bomb against — ironically — the Kansas City Royals. While Zagurski will likely open 2008 in AAA Lehigh Valley, a call to Philly will be one to await.

Zagurski is a big boy with decent control and a nice fastball. He’s not electric, not lights-out. He really projects as a sixth inning guy, but could, with his nice splits, develop into a formidable LOOGY. Hopefully he can be that guy in 2009. For now, try him out there and in the sixth.

Of the three main candidates for LOOGY, Zagurski — to me — is the most unlikely to win. But by late season, it could be him in the driver’s seat. He’ll see some time with the club, no doubt, but not in pressure situations.

Predicted 2008: 20.1 IP / 0-1 / 0 SV / 4.84 ERA / 1.498 WHIP

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