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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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Farm Report 2007: Berks County Baseball 

And so – with last night’s 5-2 loss to the Braves – the Phillies finish the month of April with a 11-14 record, basically the exact same record that that Phillies have had every April for the last three or four years. Like every other season the Phillies will get better. Let’s hope this soft start is something they can recover from …

Anyway, let’s talk some minor league baseball. The Phillies April is a topic for another day. Our eye will be turned towards the Phillies Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League, the Reading Phillies. Just a couple of hours from Citizens Bank Ballpark, deep inside Berks County, lies a collection of future Phillies stars. We are going to talk about three in particular.

How are the Reading Phillies doing? At the moment the Phillies are 12-10 and are patiently sitting in second place in the Eastern League’s Southern Division, a game behind the Akron Aeros. The class of the EL right now are the Trenton Thunder, the New York Yankees affiliate, currently sitting at 17-2 over in the Northern Division. The Phillies are playing .500 baseball, pretty middle of the road in terms of ERA (5th of 12 teams). They are third in OPS (OBP + Slugging Percentage) in the EL. Trenton, the powerhouse, is building their 17-2 record on a solid foundation of pitching. Not only are they first in the EL in ERA, they are first by a good margin: their 1.81 ERA is over a run lower than the Connecticut Defenders, a team with an absurdly bad offense, which sits in second. The Thunder’s ERA is half that of the Phillies (4.02).

But the Phillies have a lot of great players who are coming through the pipeline. Let’s keep the pitching trend going by talking about Matt Maloney.

Matt Maloney was a dominating pitcher last season in Lakewood. (See, my discussion of the Lakewood Blue Claws from last week.) In 2006 he was 16-9 with a 2.03 ERA and impressed the Phillies so much that they allowed him to skip Advanced Single-A Clearwater and go straight to Reading. The Ohio native is off to a soft start with the Reading Phillies, going 2-1 with a 3.42 ERA in his first five starts. The six foot – four inch hurler is struggling with his control somewhat. After getting 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings in Lakewood, Maloney is getting 6.49 in Reading. His 2.47 K/BB ratio has dropped to 1.27. These are all skills he’ll have to reacquire to advance to Allentown in 2008 to play with the Iron Pigs. An April 2009 arrival date in Philadelphia is a definite possibility.

Kyle Kendrick is an interesting subject. Kendrick, a relatively unheralded right-hander from Houston, Texas, is actually the Phillies best pitcher right now. His 2-2 record in five starts obscures a solid 3.94 ERA and a nice 2.83 K/BB ratio. Kendrick has demonstrated very good control over his pitches throughout his minor league career: 3.6 K/BB in Lakewood, 2.14 K/BB in Clearwater. At the moment his BB/9 (walks per nine innings) is 1.69. If he can improve his strikeout ratio (4.78 K/9), he’ll do well. With all of the great arms coming up through the Phillies system I wonder if Kendrick will get lost in the mix. I certainly hope not. He seems like a strong pitcher.

Mike Costanzo is a great story and one of the few real prospects the Phillies have in the minors in terms of position players. Costanzo was born in the Philadelphia area (Springfield) and was a Phillies fan growing up. After attending college at Coastal Carolina, he was selected by the Phillies in the 2005 draft and was sent to Batavia, where he played with the Muckdogs. In 73 games in Batavia Costanzo hit eleven home runs, seventeen doubles, and fifty RBIs. He had 47 Runs Created, or 5.99 per 27 Outs. He impressed the Phillies brass enough to skip Single-A Lakewood and advance to Clearwater in the Florida State League and play with the Threshers. In 135 games in 2006, Costanzo hit fourteen home runs, thirty-three doubles, and eighty-one RBIs. Costanzo had 72 Runs Created, or 5.14 per 27 Outs.

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.
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). If you use ESPN’s version be advised that it is pitifully is out-of-date, however. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.

Thus far this season, Costanzo has struggled a little. In 22 games he has four home runs and three doubles. The key to Costanzo’s path through the minors is his sustained ability to hit for power:

Batavia: .199
Clearwater: .153
Reading: .181

These are pretty good stats given that minor league power stats are much, much lower than major leaguers. The problem with Costanzo this season is that he’s not drawing walks the way he ought to:

Walks as % of PA:
Batavia: 10.8%
Clearwater: 12.6%
Reading: 7.8%

That will help Costanzo get that OBP of his up from .311 towards the .364 he had in Clearwater.

Costanzo’s rise through the system is something that ought to be followed with great interest by Phillies fans. While the Phillies have a number of great arms rising through their system – Maloney, Kendrick, Kyle Drabek, J.A. Happ, Zach Segovia, Josh Outman, Carlos Carrasco – the position players are spread few and far between. In Lakewood the highly touted Adrian Cardenas is impressing people with his skills, but won’t arrive in Philadelphia until 2010 at the earliest. Gregory Golson in Clearwater is a quick outfielder with a lot of speed, but seems mired in the minors. Costanzo is the only real prospect the Phillies have above Single-A to play a position with the Phillies. Not coincidentally, third base is a position where the Phillies are somewhat in flux. Let’s hope Mike Costanzo makes it, because the Phillies sure need him.


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