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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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Astros vs. Phillies: Comeback 

The Phillies dramatic 4-3 comeback last night against the Houston Astros last night at Citizens Bank Ballpark was one of the most stunning outcomes to a Phillies game that I've seen in a long, long time. After trailing 3-0 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, the Phillies had mustered just four hits and two walks in against Shawn Chacón and looked sunk. Enter Jose Valverde, who promptly allowed two home runs to get the game to a 3-3 tie before Pedro Feliz doubled Geoff Jenkins in to get the 4-3 win for the Phillies. The win was dramatic and thrilling and just the sort of miracle finish the Phillies need to pull out from time-to-time to win the N.L. East in 2008.

A couple of thoughts:

-Don't look now, but Adam Eaton hasn't done a bad job this season. Not good, mind you, but Eaton is clearly improved over 2007. Thus far Eaton has three no-decisions in his three starts, but his ERA is a respectable 4.12. While Eaton's K/BB ratio is pretty terrible (10 strikeouts vs. 8 walks, or 1.25 K/BB, actually worse than last year's 1.37 K/BB ratio), he's allowed just one home run in his 19 and two-thirds of an inning worked. Eaton's ERA will probably move towards the 4.50 mark as the season wears on, but he's no longer the Phillies worst pitcher.

-Pat Burrell is hot, hot, hot at the plate. Last night's two-run shot to tie the game at 3-3 was his fifth home run and fifteenth RBI of the season. His OBP is nearly .500 too. When are people going to give this poor guy his due?

-Eric Bruntlett was 1-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base, but the Phillies need to think about adding some depth in the middle infield after Jimmy Rollins gets back. The lost production from J.Roll's bat is going to hurt the Phillies sooner rather than later and the Phillies are going to need someone with the ability to hit the ball out of the infield if J.Roll or Chase Utley go down.

-Speaking of Chase Utley, thus far this season he's committed four errors after committing ten all last season. And what is up with the Phillies awful fielding?

-Bourn Watch: Bourn's OBP is just .310 ... But he makes up for making outs on the bases when he actually does get on base. So far Bourn is 7-for-7 in stolen bases, which means that he could steal 70-75 bases by the time the season is finished. Unless Bourn increases his ability to get on base he's going to be this generation's Vince Coleman, a speedy threat who never get on base enough to utilize his full potential.

Still, you have to be impressed with Bourn's production and wonder, now that Victorino and J.Roll are out of the lineup, if the Phillies might miss Bourn's abilities more than they realize.

Tonight the battered Roy Oswalt (0-3, 9.00 ERA) matches up against Kyle Kendrick (1-1, 6.14 ERA) is a battle between two pitchers who have gotten roughed up pretty badly thus far this season. Kendrick's struggles are no surprise: I think even before Spring Training I was speculating that Kendrick wasn't going to have the same success he did last season. With eight walks and one strikeout thus far this season, Kendrick is going to have to start finding his control and doing so quickly. Interesting fact: Kendrick has an ERA of 6.14 despite not surrendering a single home run this season. Oswalt, who has struck out twelve to two walks, his a 9.00 ERA because he's given up five home runs. Don't be fooled by the ERAs of Oswalt and Kendrick: this is a major mismatch in favor of the Astros. If the Phillies are going to win, they need to drive Oswalt from the mound with home runs or they'll need another miracle comeback.

No more for the week. I'm out of town for a few days. More on Monday.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Farm Report Preview: the Minors in 2008 

The Farm Report, a semi-regular focus on the Phillies minor league system, was born out of Cole Hamels meteroic rise through the Phillies system in 2006. Much-discussed by others, Hamels burst upon the scene in an explosion that largely took me by surprise and made me realize that I knew practically nothing about the Phillies minor-leaguers. In recent years we've seen many prospects move through the system and become productive members of the Phillies roster: Chase Utley, Chris Coste, Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, etc. The Phillies have an under-appreciate farm system that has been producing most of the team's stars. I resolved to never let another minor-league hot-shot catch me by surprise again.

With the 2008 Season under way I thought that I'd take a break from talking about the activity at Citizens Bank to focus on the Phillies four active minor league teams*.

* The Phillies actually have six established minor league teams: the four mentioned above as well as the Short-Season Single-A Williamsport Crosscutters and the Rookie League Gulf Coast League Phillies. The Crosscutters and GCL Phillies don't get their seasons started until the MLB Draft this summer because their rosters are filled out by the Draft.

We start first in beautiful Allentown, Pennsylvania ...

I. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Triple-A). The IronPigs begin their inaugural season as the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, the third move of the Phillies Triple-A site in the last three years. Previously the Phillies Triple-A team in the International League (IL) had been the Scranton Red Barons (now the Yankees Triple-A team), and then the Ottawa Lynx last season. The Lynx are now defunct - the final Canadian team in the fourteen-team IL - and the team moved to the Lehigh Valley area and was redubbed the "IronPigs" in honor of the Allentown-area's rich steel industry heritage.

I hope that the fans in Allentown aren't expecting a great baseball team because the 2008 IronPigs will likely struggle. The '07 Lynx finished the regular season with a 55-88 record, worst in the IL, and many of the same players return from a team that posted the highest ERA in the IL and featured the worst OPS in the IL.

Notable prospects:
Jason Jamarillo - Catcher
J.A. Happ - Pitcher

Jason Jamarillo is a player that really wasn't on my radar until he was listed on Baseball America's list of Top Ten Phillies prospects at #10. Jamarillo, a second-round pick by the Phillies in the 2004 Draft, was a 2005 South Atlantic League (SAL) All-Star with the Lakewood Blue Claws. He also also a 2007 mid-season All Star with the Lynx last season, hitting .271 (.350 OBP), with six home runs, 56 RBI and 52 Runs Scored. Jamarillo seems like a solid and dependable catcher, the sort of player who might be backing Carlos Ruiz up in 2009, or later this season if Ruiz or Chris Coste go down. What impresses me about Jamarillo is his bat control: 1.58 K/BB ratio at the plate ... J.A. Happ, who was picked in the third round of the 2004 Draft after Jamarillo, will be in his second season in Triple-A this year, having gone 4-6 with a 5.02 ERA with the Lynx in 2007. Happ's sole major league appearance was a catastrophic drubbing at the hands of the New York Mets last June at what might have been the low point in the season for the Phillies. The experience seemed to kill Happ for 2007, as he had swiftly risen through the ranks of the Phillies minor league system in 2005 and 2006, posting a 2.81 ERA with a 4.05 K/BB ratio with the Clearwater Threshers and a 2.64 ERA with a 2.79 K/BB ratio with the Reading Phillies. Can Happ regain his form with the IronPigs? He's the most likely minor league candidate to make the Phillies rotation and contribute in any meaningful way this season ... After that the IronPigs roster looks a little thin of talent. Never fear, people of Allentown, because future members of the IronPigs include ...

II. Reading Phillies (Double-A). If you live in the Reading metro area my advice to you right now is to go down to the Reading Phillies stadium and buy yourself some tickets. A lot of tickets. A slew of future major leaguers will be playing in beautiful Berks County, Pennsylvania, and you shouldn't miss out on seeing the stars of tomorrow ... Today.

Notable prospects:
Carlos Carrasco - Pitcher
Joshua Outman - Pitcher
Andrew Carpenter - Pitcher
Greg Golson - Outfield
Jeremy Slayden - Outfield
Jason Donald - Infield
Lou Marson - Catcher

Carlos Carrasco is the consensus pick by the experts as the Phillies top propect and Outman is right behind. Don't be surprised to see both occupying the #3 and #4 slots in the Phillies rotation as early as Opening Day 2009. Donald is a terrific prospect to occupy shortstop or second base in the event that Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley go down and Slayden is a major talent flying under the radar of most people. Let's start with Carlos Carrasco ... Carrasco is the consensus pick as the gem of the Phillies farm system these days. Baseball Prospectus (click here for Baseball Prospectus' article on the Phillies top prospects), Baseball America (click here for Baseball America's write-up on the Phillies) and Top Prospect Alert (click here for Top Prospect Alert's article on the Phillies prospects) all rank Carrasco #1 in the Phillies system, and Keith Law of ESPN made Carrasco the only Phillie prospect on his list of the Top 100 Prospects in the minor leagues right now. Carrasco was spectacular in 2006 along with Outman and Matthew Maloney, as the trio smashed the opposition on their way to a 2006 SAL title. Carrasco went 12-6 with a 2.26 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 159 innings in 2006. Carrasco advanced into Advanced Single-A with the Threshers early last season and dominated again, going 6-2 with a 2.84 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 69 innings. Carrasco struggled in Double-A with the Reading Phillies, going 6-4, but seeing his ERA spike two runs to 4.86. His formitable K/BB ratio dropped:

K/BB ratio:
Single-A ('06): 2.45
Advanced-A ('07): 2.41
Double-A ('07): 1.06

as long as possible, so don't expect to see him in Philadelphia with Brett Myers and Cole Carrasco needs to work on his control more and expect him to go back to those terrifyingly good numbers he posted in Single-A and Advanced-A ball soon. The Phillies want to protect CarrascoHamels until 2009 at the earliest. It seems likely that he'll spend most of 2008 in Reading before getting the call to go to Allentown until later in the season ... Vastly underrated is Josh Outman, a talented pitcher who was Carrasco and Maloney's teammate in Lakewood in 2006, where he went 14=6 with a 2.95 ERA. Outman joined Carrasco in Clearwater and was every bit as impressive, going 10-4 with a 2.45 ERA. Impressively, Outman struck-out 117 batters in 117 innings of work. Like Carrasco, Outman joined the Reading Phillies and struggled a little, going 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA. In many respects though, Outman out-pitched Carrasco in Reading: his K/BB ratio was 1.47. Despite his obvious talent and proven track record, Outman has largely flown under the radar of most observers, ranking fourth in Baseball America's, Baseball Prospectus' and Top Prospect Alert's looks at the Phillies farm system ... Andrew Carpenter is the third pitcher in the Reading Phillies rotation and he ought not to be ignored. Carpenter, who ranks ninth on Baseball America's list of Phillies prospects, went 17-6 with a 3.20 ERA in 2007 with the Threshers. Durable, tough, Carpenter got stronger as the '07 season wore on, going 10-2 with a 2.05 ERA after the Florida State League mid-season All Star Game. Not quite the strikeout pitcher Outman or Carrasco are, Carpenter is a solid pitcher who doesn't allow many walks (2.93 BB/9) ... Gregory Golson first selection in the draft out of John enters his fifth season in the minor leagues, hoping to finally make the majors after battling his way from rookie ball in 2004, when he was the Phillies draft choice out of Connally High School in Texas. Golson is an extremely talented individual who might make a great major-leaguer one day, but for a massive problem with his game. Let's start with Golson's pluses. The guy is fast. In 2007 he stole 25 of 33 bases (76%) with the Clearwater Threshers and hit three triples. After joining the Reading Phillies later in the season Golson hit two more triples and stole all five bases he attempted. Golson went to Arizona to play in the Arizona Winter League and was eight-for-eight in steals with the Peoria Saguaros and hit three more triples. All of this was on the heels of a season in 2006 where he stole 30 of 40 bases and hit six triples with Lakewood and Clearwater. Golson has speed. And Golson has some power at the plate: he hit fifteen home runs in 136 games last season. Golson has power. What Gregory Golson does not struck-out 173 times in 571 minor league At-Bats and drew just 23 walks. As a consequence player-of-comparison, had a minor league have is the ability to get on base. In 2007 Golson's .273 batting average looked much less impressive when compared to his .305 OBP. In 2006 Golson K'd 160 times in 546 At Bats and walked just 30 times. His OBP was a mind-bogglingly awful .277 ... Golson's usefulness to the Phillies, beyond being an occasional pinch-hitter and defensive substitution, is rather limited. Before Golson can hope of being Michael Bourn II (who had a minor league OBP of .377) , he needs to learn how to draw walks and avoid striking out. When he does that, he'll shine ... How Jeremy Slayden has flown under the radar of the pundits - he appears on no Top Ten list for Baseball America, for Baseball Prospectus or for Top Prospect Alert - and Billy Beane and the Oakland A's, I'll never understand. The 2005 Draft choice out of Georgia Tech had a break-out season in 2007, smashing 14 home runs and 73 RBI in 118 games in the pitching-friendly Florida State League with the Threshers. Slayden's OPS+ was a robust 117. Slayden has exceptional slugging skills (.171 ISO in 2007), draws walks (60 in '07, coupled with a .376 OBP), and even occasionally steals bases and moves speedily (seven-of-eight in steals and four triples in 2007). Despite hitting so well at the plate, Slayden doesn't strikeout as much as a player like Greg Golson. Slayden might not be the best defensive outfielder in the Phillies system, but he's the classic Moneyball walks-and-home runs player. Perhaps Slayden has never appeared on the radar of Billy Beane, but he ought to. I hope Slayden, who is probably my favorite Phillies minor leaguer, makes the Phillies eventually ... Jason Donald is an interesting case. Completely ignored by Baseball America, he's #8 on Baseball Prospectus' list and #10 on Top Prospect Alert's. The 2006 draft pick out of the University of Arizona is extremely talented middle infielder and ought to have a bright future in the Phillies organization backing up Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley in 2009. Donald began his minor league career in the New York - Penn League (NYPL) with the Batavia Muckdogs (the Phillies former Short-Season Single-A franchise) and did some impressive work: .347 OBP, 12 steals in 13 tries, two triples ... He joined the Lakewood Blue Claws and found himself in the awkward position of playing the same position - shortstop - as the Phillies highly touted prospect Adrian Cardenas (see, Clearwater). The Phillies liked Donald enough they shifted Cardenas over the second base in Lakewood and let Donald play short. Donald responded with a .409 OBP and three triples (though, bizarrely, he was caught stealing five of seven times). Donald played well enough that the Phillies moved him to Clearwater to play with the Threshers. Again, Donald played well: .386 OBP and five triples. In Clearwater, where he spent most of the season, Donald actually developed something of a power stroke, posting a .191 Isolated Power (ISO) at the plate, impressive in the FSL, where the league average for ISO was .122 ... It is a little difficult to evaluate Donald's defensive skills (see, Freddy Galvis, below) but he seems to be a solid player. If Eric Bruntlett struggles as the backup middle infielder, it would not surprise me at all to see Donald in Philadelphia by the end of the season. At a minimum, he'll be a member of the IronPigs ... Finally, we come to Lou Marson, the talented catcher who is on the Reading Phillies roster. Marson caught Maloney, Outman and Carrasco in '06 when the Blue Claws obliterated the opposition on their way to the SAL title and he continued to catch them in 2007 with the Threshers. Along the way he's posted some solid stats, including a .373 OBP with Clearwater last season and an impressive .336 batting average with runners in scoring position (BA/RISP). I'd expect to see Marson on the Phillies roster in 2010 ... As you can see, there is a lot of talent currently in the Phillies system at Reading. Reading residents are lucky that so many terrific players who will be occupying important roles with the Phillies in 2009 and 2010 currently on the Reading Phillies roster right now.

III. Clearwater Threshers (Advanced Single-A). After Reading the second treasure trove of Phillies prospects sit in Clearwater. The Phillies have three terrific prospects who could have every bit as significant of an impact on the Phillies as Carrasco, Outman and Donald, although the prospects laboring under the hot Florida sun this year won't factor into the Phillies plans until 2010, at least.

Notable Prospects:
Joe Savery - Pitcher
Kyle Drabek - Pitcher
Adrian Cardenas - Infielder

We'll start with Joe Savery, the Phillies first selection in the 2007 Draft out of Rice University. The left-handed Savery went 2-3 with a 2.73 ERA with the Williamsport Crosscutters last season. Savery didn't surrender a single home run and struck-out 22 in 26 innings of work (7.5 K/9). Savery also allowed 13 walks, or 4.4 BB/9, which suggests that he's either still trying to get his control down or that he's going to be the type of pitcher who tosses a lot of pitchers because he tends to work the corners ... Kyle Drabek, the Phillies first selection in the 2006 Draft out of high school in Texas, will be hurling alongside Savery. Drabek threw well for the Lakewood Blue Claws before going down with an injury: amassing a 5-1 record with a 4.33 ERA. Drabek allowed 1.5 HR/9, 3.83 BB/9 and 7.7 K/9 and had a 2:1 K/BB ratio. He had the added benefit of pitching in 2006 for the Gulf Coast League Phillies so he had some experience coming into 2007. The Phillies have high hopes for Savery and Drabek to contribute to the Phillies in 2010 and beyond or to be valuable trade bait in the event that the Phillies need to make a push for the playoffs ... The prize of the Threshers roster is Adrian Cardenas, the exceptionally talented high schooler from Florida whom the Phillies took in the supplemental round of 2006 Draft after Drabek. Cardenas, who destroyed high school pitching in Florida and accumulated awards like they were going out of style, has gotten off to a swift start in his first two seasons of minor league ball. Last season with the Blue Claws he had an OBP of .354 and hit 9 home runs and 30 doubles (.417 Slugging Percentage), along with 79 RBI and showed a lot of speed: 20 steals in 27 tries. Cardenas also posted impressive numbers in 2006 when he was drafted out of high school, stealing 13 of 16 bases in the Gulf Coast League and hitting four triples with a batting average of .318. He's a fast player who makes contact, plays terrific defense and has a little power. In terms of position players, Cardenas is clearly the prize pick in the Phillies system. Baseball America to Chase put him as the best position player in the Phillies system and second-best as a prospect to Carrasco, an opinion Baseball Prospectus and Top Prospect Alert shared. He bears a striking resemblenceUtley and will likely man a position in the outfield in 2010 or 2011 at Citizens Bank Ballpark ... After Savery, Drabek and Cardenas, the quality of the talent in Clearwater falls off a little. It is possible that while the quantity of talent isn't as deep in Clearwater, the quality might be better in the long run, as the Threshers might produce three terrific players.

IV. Lakewood Blue Claws (Single-A). Finally, we come to the Lakewood Blue Claws, who will be featuring players entering their first full season of minor league baseball in 2008. Nearly all of the players on the Blue Claws roster will be 2007 Draft choices who cut their teeth in Clearwater and Williamsport last season after they were drafted.

Notable Prospects:
Dominic Brown - Outfield
Travis Mattair - Third Base
Karl Bolt - First Base
Tyler Mach - Second Base
Freddy Galvis - Shortstop

Dominic Brown usually graduate to Single-A ball, not Short-Season Single-A in their second year) and played very well, stealing 14 of 21 bases and hitting five triples. Brown seems to have a lot of speed and a knack for getting on base, as he hit .295 in 2007 (.356 makes a nice starting point for our analysis of the Blue Claws roster. The 2006 Draft pick played in Williamsport last season (why, I am unsure, as Rookie LeaguersOBP) and managed to score 43 runs with a team that really struggled at the plate. Brown is the only prospect on the Blue Claws roster to earn much recognition from the pundits, ranking #6 on Baseball America's list, the second-best position player after Cardenas. Many have compared him to Darryl Strawberry ... The shame of it is that there is plenty of other talent on the Blue Claws. Freddy Galvis, the talented shortstop, deserves mention here as perhaps the finest defensive player in the Phillies system. Galvis can't hit - an abysmal .255 OBP in 2007 with the Crosscutters - but he can field and has won praise for his terrific fielding, being called the Phillies best defensive infielder by Baseball America. In a pre-season interview with the Daily News' Bill Conlon, Phillies minor league director Steve Noworyta stated that if the Phillies had to find a replacement in 2008 for Jimmy Rollins and if defense were the primary consideration, Galvis would be promoted to Philly over the other infield prospects in their system, quite a statement ... Karl Bolt, a 2007 draft pick out of the U.S. Air Force Academy, is another Jeremy Slayden-type who has flown under the radar of the scouts and pundits. Bolt was astonishing with the Gulf Coast League Phillies, hitting eight home runs and 31 RBI in 57 games. Bolt's Isolated Power (ISO) at the plate was a terrific .203. Bolt's OPS+ was 115, an impressive total in the weak-hitting GCL ... Another Blue Claw I am very impressed by is Tyler Mach, their new second baseman, who had a .362 OBP in the NYPL last season and hit five home runs and 38 RBI in 65 games. What really impresses me is that Mach drew 21 walks against 33 strikeouts, despite being a power-oriented hitter ... And finally, Travis Mattair, who struggled a little in the GCL last season (.297 OBP) but has great promise, and might be a worthy heir to Mike Schmidt as a Phillies Third Baseman ...

Conclusions: The Phillies systems don't really rate much notice from the pundits the way the Angels and their focus on high school players and the A's and their much derided fixation on college players occupy the attention of the punditry around Draft time. It is hard to argue with the development of players that the Phillies have made from within their system: Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Victorino, Ruiz, Utley, Myers ... These are all homegrown players, homegrown talent that honed their skills in Scranton and Reading and Clearwater on their way to Philadelphia. I doubt anyone beyond Happ or Jamarillo will make much of an impact from the farm system in 2008, but starting in 2009 and 2010, there will be an influx of talented players arriving in Philadelphia. Imagine a Phillies roster with Adrian Cardenas hitting behind Utley, J.Roll and Howard. Imagine Greg Golson stealing bases. Imagine Hamels and Myers getting teamed up with Outman and Carrasco in the rotation. The groundwork has been laid for a team that might not be merely good, but great in 2010. We shall see, but the future is bright, says I.

The interesting thing looking at the Phillies system is where the talent is distributed. The team's phobia about pitching, born out of four long seasons of watching home runs sail out of Citizens bank Ballpark, was to respond by devoting tremendous resources to getting pitching. Right there in the upper three levels of the Phillies system is a glut of pitching: Carrasco, Outman, Carpenter, Drabek, Savery, Happ. The team's realization that they needed to restock the position players within the system led to the Drafting of Donald and Cardenas in '06 but a real focus on position players in '07, when Mach, Galvis, and Mattair were taken.

So that's the farm report. We'll revisit this in a few weeks. Tomorrow I'll recap the Cubs & Phillies and give some thoughts on the week ahead.

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