The rumors began flying weeks ago. If the Phillies were going to pick up a frontline starter at the trade deadline it would ravage the farm system, picking off all the top prospects in one fell swoop and leaving the club’s future uncertain. While it did take a quartet of minor leaguers to bring Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco into the fold yesterday, it wasn’t exactly the four players that had the Delaware Valley split on whether a trade was necessary. Top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek will still be wearing red pinstripes in the near future. Top position prospect Dominic Brown can still look forward to a career in the Phillies outfield, as can the man with the monster stats, Michael Taylor. And J.A. Happ, the potential NL Rookie of the Year, still has a comfortable spot in the rotation – at least for now.
So what did the Phillies give up to acquire the reigning AL Cy Young winner? According to Baseball America, they sent their 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 10th-ranked prospects to the Midwest. The package they gave up is considerable, primarily because three of those players – Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and Jason Donald – were playing at triple-A Lehigh Valley, just a call-up away from joining the big club. But the actual impact on the Phils minor league system is not as big as it might seem. Here’s a look at what Philly is losing with each of these prospects.
Carlos Carrasco, RHP – At age 22, it is still far too early to say whether Carrasco is a disappointment, but it is fair to say that his progression through the ranks was not smooth. He boasted the best fastball and changeup in the system, two pitches that made Cole Hamels a World Series MVP. There was plenty to like about the stuff Carrasco brought onto the mound for each of his starts. But with that fantastic arm came a lack of composure, the one characteristic that almost always defines quality major league pitchers. He was infamous in the minors for letting one bad pitch snowball into a disastrous inning, allowing his great ability to get lost in the fray. Though he made three trips to the Futures Game before this year, Carrasco’s performance with the Iron Pigs was inconsistent. He left Lehigh Valley with a 6-9 record and a 5.18 ERA.
There is plenty of reason to believe that Carrasco will settle down, mature as a pitcher and harness his skills. If he can, he could very well be a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter with a slightly higher ceiling. But after 5 years of ups and downs in the Phillies organization, he became expendable when a consistent ace came calling.
Lou Marson, C – There will always be high demand around baseball for a catcher that can hit the ball, and Marson was just that. Last season he hit .314 in a full season at double-A Reading and in his first taste of triple-A this year he was hitting .294 in 63 games. Marson even showed glimmers of his offensive prowess in brief call-ups to Philadelphia, hitting .286 in 21 AB. Defensively he was more than capable, earning praise from scouts and coaches alike for his ability behind the plate. It was very likely that he would be competing with Carlos Ruiz to be the starting catcher for the Phillies on Opening Day 2010. But while Marson was a prized prospect, rated No. 3 by Baseball America, projecting his talent to the major league level was not easy. In 1609 career AB in the minors he hit just 26 home runs and slugged just .388. He also did not have much doubles power, which often translates into home run power once a player reaches his physical peak.
It looked like Marson would be a light-hitting major league catcher with a decent average and little to no pop. He could have competed with Ruiz, but not necessarily stolen the job away from the Phils’ current catcher. The Phillies need not worry about losing their top catching prospect, as Travis d’Arnaud is rising through the system. At age 20 in single-A Lakewood he has already slugged 12 homers and 56 RBI with a .419 slugging percentage. Many scouts had him rated as the best catcher in the system even with Marson still involved. By the time d’Arnaud is ready, the Phillies might be glad they don’t have Marson blocking his path to the bigs.
Jason Donald, SS – For many reasons, Donald was the easiest of these four prospects to let slip away. There was no need for his services at shortstop in the immediate future, with mainstay Jimmy Rollins still dazzling with his glove even when his bat goes silent. Donald was a bit old for a prospect at 24, meaning he has likely gone through almost all of his development already. He is a smooth fielder at short, but had no experience shifting over to third base where the Phillies could have used him. This season has been a difficult one for Donald, after missing time due to injury and struggling with just a .236 average. Scouts have raved about his overall game, saying that he profiles as a starter for several years in the majors with good offensive potential.
That potential would never be reached in Philadelphia, where applicants for middle infield positions need not apply. He could very well be up with the Indians in the near future, but fans won’t miss his services. Much like 2B Adrian Cardenas, who was shipped to the Athletics last season for Joe Blanton, two All-Star roadblocks in the Phillies’ infield made Donald expendable.
Jason Knapp, RHP – A fireballer at age 18, Knapp is the type of high-ceiling prospect that the Indians were clamoring for, hoping to hit it big years down the road. They’ll have a good chance, but projecting any pitcher’s effectiveness in three or four years is a difficult process, especially such a young pitcher. A quick breeze through Knapp’s stats with Lakewood this season make it clear why Cleveland fancied him as the best pitching prospect the Phillies could offer, even above Kyle Drabek, according to some reports. In 85.1 innings he struck out 111 batters and allowed just 63 hits. For an inexperienced pitcher with such a power arm, his 39 walks were not high at all. Somehow he left Lakewood with an ERA of 4.01 and a 2-7 record despite such impressive peripheral numbers. He checked in at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds with some more growing to do, so the dominant arm is very real.
Knapp could turn out to be a frontline starter, as his 11.5 K/9 is already elite. Or he could be sidetracked by injury along the way, as he is right now and as Kyle Drabek was in 2007. Either way, he is far from his pro debut and likely won’t be ready until the Phillies current nucleus has already dissipated.
Final Thoughts – The four players going to Cleveland all have the potential to become solid major leaguers. There is always a hefty price tag on Cy Young winners. By holding onto J.A. Happ and Kyle Drabek, the Phillies managed to keep the homegrown talent for their rotation intact. And with Taylor and Brown – and Anthony Gose – still in the system, the future of the Phils’ outfield looks very bright. They lost plenty of talent in this deal, but they could afford to. The farm system takes a hit, but not one from which it can’t bounce back quickly.