Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Monday, January 22, 2007

The Farm Report, Part I (GCL Phillies) 

As many of the readers of this blog know, I typically don’t focus on minor league players or discuss the progress minor leaguers make through the system until they arrive in Philly. Simply put, I didn’t have Cole Hamels on my radar until he arrived on the team and they gave him his first start. While nearly every other blog was buzzing about Hamels and his imminent impact on the Phillies I was largely oblivious and generally missed one of the biggest Phillies stories of 2006.

After Ryan Howard and Bobby Abreu’s departure, the biggest story of the Phillies season was the unexpected contributions the rookies made in 2006: Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz were the Phillies de facto starting catchers for much of the season and both played very well in addition to Hamels splashy arrival. The Phillies also got to see players like Danny Sandoval, Chris Roberson and Michael Bourn play.

I am vowing to pay more attention to the Phillies farm clubs and the players that come up this season. To that end, I intend to make The Farm Report, a monthly recap of the Phillies minor league doings, a regular part of A Citizens Blog in 2007. Starting today I intend to discuss a little of what happened with the Phillies farm teams in 2006 and give some ideas about what 2007 holds. We’ll start with the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Phillies.

In case you are wondering, the Phillies minor league situation is somewhat in flux. For years … well, more specifically … since 1989 the Phillies Triple-A affiliate has been the Scranton Red Barons, but the Phillies broke off that agreement this season and bought the Ottawa Lynx as their Triple-A team in the International League (IL). The Lynx will play in their current home of Ottawa before moving to Allentown to become the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in 2008. Not the greatest name, I grant you, but one that acknowledges the Allentown area’s iron industry and might be kind of fun.

After the Lynx / IronPigs are the the Eastern League Reading Phillies, the Phillies Double-A affiliate, followed by the Phillies Single-A affiliates: the Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League (advanced Single-A ball), the Lakewood Blue Claws of the South Atlantic League, and the Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League (short season Single-A ball). The GCL Phillies also are a rookie-league (Gulf Coast League) entry-level team the Phillies have. The Crosscutters are, by the way, a new team. The Phillies old short season single-A team, the Batavia Muckdogs, are now an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Muckdogs had been a Phillies affiliate since 1989 as well. Here is basically how the hierarchy goes:

1. Ottawa Lynx (AAA)
2. Reading Phillies (AA)
3. Clearwater Threshers (A+)
4. Lakewood Blue Claws (A)
5. Williamsport Crosscutters (A-)
6. Gulf Coast League Phillies (R)

Now there are other leagues like the Arizona Winter League and the Mexican League, but all of that is way too complicated to explain. Those six teams are going to be what we pay attention to in 2007.

We’ll start with the GCL Phillies. It was not a good season for the GCL Phillies. They finished dead-last in the GCL North at 18-31, 13 & ½ games behind the GCL Tigers.

The Phillies ranked dead-last in the GCL in runs scored with 180, 19 fewer than the next-worst team, the GCL Marlins. The GCL Phillies were also dead-last in OBP and second-to-last in slugging percentage. They were, however, tops in the GCL in stolen bases with 93. Goes to show you: small ball doesn’t consistently score runs. There seems to be an emphasis on speed in the Phillies system, which I hope does not portend to trend towards small ball in the future. I’ll discuss that a little more when I talk about Michael Bourn and the Red Barons, but here I’ll note that the GCL Phillies had four of the top fourteen GCL base-stealers on the roster in 2006.

Pitching-wise, there wasn’t much better news. The GCL Phillies ranked second-to-last in terms of Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). They accumulated the fewest strikeouts in the GCL as well. It was a grim season and hopefully not an indication of the future direction of the Phillies minor league system.

We’ll focus mainly on the performance of two players here: Kyle Drabek and Adrian Cardenas. Baseball America ranks Drabek and Cardenas as the Phillies number two and three prospects respectively, behind Lakewood Blue Claws (Single-A) pitcher Carlos Carrasco.

Drabek, the Phillies first choice in the draft (eighteenth overall) and son of former major leaguer Doug Drabek, had a rough start to his professional baseball career in the GCL. Drabek was a two-time Baseball America First-Team All-American, and the Louisville Slugger Pitcher of the Year, having gone 14-0 with a 0.92 ERA in 2006 as a pitcher for his high school’s baseball team.

Unfortunately, he started his minor league career by going 1-3 with a 7.71 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP in his first six GCL starts. Drabek allowed two home runs (0.77 HR/9), which isn’t as impressive as it sounds: the GCL is very pitching-friendly. In twenty-three and two-thirds of an inning Drabek allowed eleven walks (4.24 BB/9) and fourteen strikeouts (5.40 K/9). Drabek struggled badly and never left the GCL. He ought to improve and move onto Williamsport in 2007 or he might be a flop.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching: (13*HR+3*BB-2*K / IP) + League Factor Evaluates a pitching by how he would have done with an average defense behind him by keeping track of things that a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts, home runs allowed) as opposed to things he cannot (hits allowed, runs allowed).
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP

and for batters...
Gross Productive Average (GPA): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
Isolated Power (ISO): .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)

Adrian Cardenas, a shortstop, was the Phillies second pick in the 2006 draft, after Drabek. Cardenas was named the Louisville Slugger Player of the Year and the Baseball America High School player of the year, so people have recognized his skills. The thirty-seventh overall pick of the draft, Cardenas had a .384 OBP which was good for fourth-best in the GCL. Cardenas had a .283 GPA, much, much better than the team average of .210, with thirteen steals in sixteen attempts. Cardenas seems to have good contact skills (just 28 strikeouts in 154 At-Bats, a 1.65 K/BB ratio, better than the league average of 2.22), and some speed. He performed so well he was named to the 2006 GCL All-Star team. He seems to have a bright future ahead of himself.

It will be interesting to see if Cardenas and Drabek develop into major leaguers: from 1996 to 2002 nearly all of the Phillies top picks made the team:

2002: Cole Hamels
2001: Gavin Floyd
2000: Chase Utley
1999: Brett Myers
1998: Pat Burrell
1997: J.D. Drew
1996: Adam Eaton

Naturally Drew isn’t a Phillie (yeah, bad karma there), but he is a starter with the Red Sox, and all of those others players made the Phillies (in the case of Adam Eaton it just took a while) and played at Citizens Bank Ballpark.

Andrew Carpenter, the Phillies second-round pick and third overall selection hurled just three innings before being promoted to Batavia. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about the Phillies pitchers in the GCL: eleventh-round draft pick Jarrod Freeman was the staff workhorse, going 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA in 45 & 1/3 innings of work. Matthew Olson, the team’s thirteenth selection in the 2005 draft, hurled the most innings on the team after Freeman, throwing 41 & 1/3, with a 2-4 record and a 3.48 ERA. Olson went 3-3 with a 3.07 ERA with the GCL Phillies in ’05 as well. Nineteenth-rounder Darren Byrd threw 36 & 1/3 innings and went 2-1 with a 3.22 ERA.

Freeman: 3.14
Byrd: 3.69
Olson: 3.85
Drabek: 4.91
Team: 4.07
League: 3.63

Other than Freeman, none of the Phillies GCL pitchers did much in 2006.

After Cardenas, the GCL Phillies position players dropped off dramatically: Outfielder Dominic Brown, the Phillies twentieth pick., displayed some speed, getting thirteen steals in sixteen attempts, but his .292 OBP kept him off the bases too much. If he wants to make it to Williamsport and Lakewood, he’ll have to raise that OBP by sixty or seventy points. The only player on the GCL roster who came close to Cardenas was fourth-rounder D’Arby Myers, an outfielder who had a .353 OBP and stole eleven bases in fifteen tries. Expect to see Myers and Cardenas in Williamsport this season.

That’s Part I, tomorrow we’ll discuss the season the Batavia Muckdogs had in the New York-Penn League.

Good break down on the lowest of minor league teams. Sounds like 4 good players there. I have heard of Myers, Cardenas, and Drabek. Byrd maybe a potential major leaguer too from what I hear. If I ever go down to Florida maybe I watch a game or 2. But for now I'll watch Reading, Lakewood, and Leigh Valley when they return.
Love the new focus on the farm systems!
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