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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Farm Report, Part V: Reading Phillies 

It occurred to me as I began to write this article that the Phillies have had remarkable success with their draft choices in the recent past. Between 1998 and 2002, the Phillies took as their top draft choice, Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Chase Utley, Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels. Of those five players, four are currently playing on the Phillies roster and are major contributors, while Floyd is busy rehabbing him career in the Chicago White Sox system.

The Phillies, whatever their faults, do a good job of identifying and grooming talent for the big leagues. It makes me wonder then why the Phillies don’t have more talent in their system at Reading, which turned in a decent 71-69 record in the 2006 Eastern League, fifteen games behind Akron.

I’m a little baffled about how the Reading Phillies wound up ranking fourth of twelve Eastern League teams in runs scored. They ranked fifth in On-Base-Percentage, but were eleventh of twelve teams in terms of Isolated Power, and they ranked eleventh in stolen bases attempted and gained. They were a little better than most teams in terms of getting on base, but that’s about it. Otherwise they were a very boring, below-average team.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
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

The position-player talent is a little thin at Reading. Nary a one mentioned well from the scouts, though I noticed that first baseman Gary Burnham hit well in 2006. His .235 ISO was impressive and his .987 OPS is about two hundred points higher than any other relief pitcher. After Burnham, you’d have to focus on outfielder Michael Bourn, whom Baseball America rates as the Phillies seventh-best prospect. Bourn showed good skills in getting on base – .350 OBP – and showed real speed on the base-paths, stealing thirty of the thirty-four bases. Not a power-hitter – 72 of his 87 hits were singles – he seems destined to be the Phillies fifth outfielder in 2007, beating out Chris Roberson for the job. Call it a hunch, but the Phillies will want Bourn in Philly in 2007.

Meanwhile, the pitchers were slightly below-average as well. The team ERA – 3.86 – was just under the league average of 3.81. The team FIP was slightly worse: 3.96. Here is how the Phillies stacked up with the rest of the league:

Eastern League / Reading
HR/9: 0.76 / 0.93
BB/9: 3.24 / 3.01
K/9: 7.38 / 7.45

Gio Gonzalez pitched for the Reading Phillies and struggled in 2006 (7-12, 4.66 ERA), but he’s now gone, traded to the White Sox. The Phillies had three other prospects at Reading that we want to focus on: Zach Segovia, Scott Mathieson and J.A. Happ.

Segovia is a top prospect in the Phillies system, a pitcher who had Tommy John surgery in 2004 and seemed to really regain his form last season, going 11-5 with a 3.11 ERA in Reading. He struck out 6.31 batters per nine innings, under the league and team averages, but displayed phenomenal control, allowing just 2.02 walks per nine innings and 0.67 home runs. Segovia, who doesn’t place in Baseball America’s Top Ten Phillies prospects, is nevertheless a good bet to make it to the Phillies late this season or definitely in 2008.

Scott Mathieson pitched briefly with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006, but struggled and will miss the 2007 campaign with Tommy John surgery. Mathieson did pitch extremely well in 2006 in Reading, going 7-2 with a 3.21 ERA. What was really impressive were Mathieson’s 9.62 strikeouts per nine innings. Hopefully he’ll regain his form once he returns in 2008.

J.A. Happ is probably the best prospect in Reading at the moment. Happ, whose 3-7 record in Clearwater didn’t reflect that fact that he had a 2.81 ERA there, pitched very well with the Reading Phillies. How well? Happ’s 6-2 record doesn’t tell the full story: his ERA was 2.65 and he K’d 9.76 batters per nine innings. He also surrendered just two home runs in seventy-four and two-thirds innings of work. Check out how well Happ pitched relative to Segovia, Mathieson and Gonzalez:

Gonzalez: 4.71
Segovia: 3.51
Mathieson: 3.19
Happ: 2.61

Like Segovia, expect to see Happ in Philadelphia either by the end of 2007 or definitely in 2008. Tomorrow we bring our series to a close with a look at Scranton.

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I've seen Burham play and he seems like a pretty good prospect. Of all of the pitching prospects the Phils have, Sergovia is the best of those who are likely to be on the major league team this year. Happ is a control pitcher that throws from the left side, so his upside is really good as well. Both of these guys could be a major league starter, but to be with the Phils they would likely be in the pen.
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