Monday, May 21, 2007
Clearwater, is a small town located on the Gulf of Mexico a little north of the city of Tampa and Tampa Bay. The Threshers are the Phillies Advanced Single-A team in the Florida State League (FSL) and play in close proximity to the Phillies Gulf Coast League (GCL) team in Clearwater. While those of us in the frigid Northeast look longingly on the pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico and watch people walking around in t-shirts and bathing suits, the Threshers play ball trying to get north to join the Phillies affiliates in Reading and Ottawa before making the move to the Phillies themselves. Advanced Single-A is the next step up from the Phillies lower-rung affiliates in the GCL (Rookie League), in Williamsport (Short Season Single-A) and in Lakewood (Single-A). Most of the players in Clearwater this year are in their third year of minor league baseball, having graduated from rookie league or Single-A short-season ball in 2005 and having played in Single-A in 2006. A lucky few, usually guys who started in Short-Season Single-A, are starting just their second season when they join the Threshers. These guys are hoping to show enough stuff to jump to Reading or Ottawa sooner rather than later. Cole Hamels impressed the Phillies enough to leap from Clearwater in 2006 to Scranton to the Phillies despite hurling just twenty innings for the Threshers.*
* Hamels is a special case. His abortive rise through the Phillies system was due to injuries which slowed his ascent. He had actually briefly pitched in Reading – Double-A ball – in 2005 before starting the season over in Clearwater in 2006.
At the moment the Threshers are 24-19 and are in second-place in the six-team FSL West, five games behind the Sarasota Reds. There is some real talent on the Threshers roster right now, although most of it is in the form of pitching. For whatever reason, the Phillies minor leagues are stacked with hot pitching prospects and the Phillies have a bunch in Clearwater. The team faces a real dearth of position-player talent, with a couple of exceptions. Adrian Cardenas, the Phillies much-ballyhooed shortstop currently at Lakewood, is that notable exception. Aside from Mike Costanzo, the Phillies have few players in Ottawa and Reading capable of making an impact with the Phillies.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
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
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.
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)
Walks per plate appearance (BB/PA): BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
The Threshers most talented position player is Gregory Golson. Golson, a centerfielder, is an immensely talented player who keeps doggedly working his way through the Phillies system, having recently sent time with the Phillies Single-A affiliate in Lakewood, New Jersey. After Cardenas and Michael Bourn, who already plays with the Phillies, Golson was ranked by Baseball America as the Phillies top position-player prospect, placing tenth overall after Cardenas, Bourn and seven pitchers. I was surprised to see that the Phillies promoted Golson in 2005 to the Threshers, despite turning in a terrible performance, hitting just .220. Golson had just 33 Runs Created with the Blue Claws in 2006, or 2.9 per 27 Outs. To my surprise, Golson turned that around in the Florida State League, hitting .264 in 2006 and .281 thus far this season. His Runs Created per 27 Outs rose to 5.3 and 4.8. My surprise at Golson’s success in the FSL is further deepened by the fact that the FSL is, generally, considered to be a pitchers league, with the humidity and the large ballparks constraining the offenses.
I am not entirely sure that Golson would make it in the majors however, because his upswing at the plate is largely a product of more luck at the plate. As a Blue Claw in 2006, Golson’s batting average on balls he put into play was .286. That has climbed to .360 and .397, even while Golson has only marginally improved his batting eye, drawing walks in .046 BB/PA with Lakewood and .064 and .059 in Clearwater. Like Bourn, Golson looks like he’ll be well-suited to pinch-running and entering games as a defensive substitution. So far this season Golson has swiped twelve of fifteen bases, and last year he took thirty of forty (23 of 30 in Lakewood and 7 of 10 in Clearwater). Baseball America rates Golson as the Phillies best base-runner, best outfield arm and best overall athlete. I think Golson will at least make it to Ottawa. I’d like to see a better hitting eye from Golson before I believe that he has a shot at making the next step to Philadelphia.
After Golson, there is a real talent drop-off, although the Phillies have a real talent that has flown under the radar of most observers. The Threshers main power threat is outfielder Jeremy Slayden, who has hit six home runs in 142 At-Bats. In a league where the average slugging percentage is .362, Slayden is bashing at .543, good enough for seventh in the entire FSL.
Impressively, Slayden is displaying a terrific eye at the plate, striking out just thirty times, compared to Golson’s 53. Slayden is that rare power hitter with a good eye: he actually has 32 walks, two more than strikeouts! … Naturally, a closer reading of Slayden’s numbers from 2005 and 2006 reveal that this selectivity at the plate is a recent development – his .190 BB/PA in Clearwater is over twice as good as his .091 BB/PA in Lakewood. Slayden’s Runs Created per 27 Outs is a robust 9.4 this season (7.1 in Lakewood). Similarly Slayden has nice power stats from Batavia (the Phillies old Short-Season Single-A team) and Lakewood. Here are Slayden’s ISO numbers:
2005 (Batavia): .196
2006 (Lakewood): .200
2007 (Clearwater): .209
There is a lot of power to Slayden’s swing and I am a little baffled that no-one has looked at his solid performance inside of the Phillies system and mentioned his major-league prospects. From a pure reading of his stats, Slayden has a real future.
Keep an eye on this Jeremy Slayden kid.
As I noted, there isn’t a ton of position player talent within the Phillies system. The Threshers right now are an arsenal of pitching and probably have the finest pitching staff of any team in the Phillies minor league system right now. Leading the way is twenty-year old Carlos Carrasco, the Phillies top prospect according to Baseball America. Carrasco, along with Josh Outman and Matt Maloney, obliterated the competition in the South Atlantic League (SAL) in 2006, helping to lead the Blue Claws to the 2006 SAL title. Carrasco was an impressive hurler in 2006, going 12-6 with a 2.26 ERA. It was an terrific performance especially given that Carrasco had gone 1-7 with a 7.04 ERA in Lakewood in 2005. Carrasco’s minor league record in Lakewood and Batavia in 2005 had been 1-10 with a 8.41 ERA, so the dominating performance in 2006 was even more impressive.
Thus far this season Carrasco is doing well, with a 4-1 record and a 4.28 ERA. After having such a nice season in 2006, Carrasco has fallen a little to earth in 2007, striking out 16.7% of the batters he faces (1-in-6), a decline from 24.7% in 2006 (1-in-4). Still, he has the finest fastball in the Phillies minor league system and ought to be a near-lock to make it to Triple-A and probably to make it to Philadelphia.
Josh Outman, the third member of Matt Maloney and Carlos Carrasco’s triumvirate in Lakewood last season, is a player I am very intrigued with. Outman pitched very well alongside Carrasco and Maloney, going 14-6 with a 2.95 ERA. Outman pitched just as well as Carrasco, the much-discussed prospect, and Maloney, the hard-throwing hurler who pitched the final game to win the SAL title:
The Triumvirate: FIP
Outman has, according to Baseball America, the best slider in the Phillies system, which is a pitch that might suit him well when he comes to Philadelphia. Outman is 3-3 with a 3.89 ERA thus far in Clearwater and is doing a nice job getting strikeouts, striking out about 20% of the batters he’s facing in the FSL, about what he accomplished in 2006 (25%). If he could keep his walks lower (5.25 BB/9), he’ll be in great shape to move onto Reading next season.
Finally we come to Andrew Carpenter. Carpenter, the Phillies second-round pick and third overall selection out of Long Beach State University, had gone 7-4 in his last year of college before the Phillies selected him and he went to Clearwater to start with the GCL Phillies. Carpenter pitched just three innings and found himself on his way to beautiful Batavia, New York, to begin his career with the Muckdogs. In Batavia Carpenter hurled just eleven and two-third innings before the season ended. He jumped Single-A ball in Lakewood and these innings he’s throwing in Clearwater are the first real glimpse of his talent we are getting. Thus far he’s out-pitching the Lakewood alumna, Outman and Carrasco, as well as the other members of the Threshers five-man rotation, Daniel Brauer and Patrick Overholt:
Starting Pitcher FIP:
At the moment Carpenter has a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and has been doing a great job of keeping his walks allowed low (2.49 BB/9). Carpenter is a sure bet to move on and has a bright future ahead of him.
There you go, the 2007 Clearwater Threshers. Enjoy them now, Floridians, because they’ll be in Philly before you know it …
Nice little 2-1 series win over the Blue Jays gets the Phillies to 22-22. Ah, .500 baseball. The 2006 team was actually doing a little better at this point last season, having won 13 of 14 games to start the month of May. I like how the ’07 Phillies have bounced back and I especially like the fact that they’ve largely done it without Ryan Howard. This is a better, stronger team that last season’s.