So, the organization sent out their annual press release indicating this year's Paul Owens Award winners. Intended to provide recognition to the top hitter and top pitcher in the farm system in a given year, those criteria were obviously either eschewed or simply changed to also include major league players for candidacy.
First of all, let me congratulate Chris Roberson and Robinson Tejeda for being recognized. Both had fine years and are more than deserving of recognition. The question that I had, though, was this: Why did the Phillies give a major league player a minor league award?
Robinson Tejeda was recalled from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 7 and has remained on the 25-man roster since that time. He pitched exactly a month in AAA and made five very strong starts, going 2-0 for the Red Barons with a 2.22 ERA in 28 1/3 IP. Hopefully, you can see my point of contention. How can you award him with the top organizational honor of a minor leaguer when he is not one? Sadly, this is just standard operating procedure for an organization that consistently fails in many areas, but particularly in their handling of young talent.
The Philadelphia Phillies do not view Robinson Tejeda as a major leaguer. To them, he is a fluke, a minor leaguer who has lucked his way through four months of duty but who was likely going to crumble under the immense pressure of September had he not (maybe even thankfully) gotten hurt. You saw this same phenomenon several weeks ago when the decision was made to skip him in the rotation in favor of the significantly less effective Cory Lidle. You saw it all year long when he was removed from games far too early with pitch counts in the low 80s and maybe 5 shutout innings already logged (after one such game, Charlie Manuel, in his post-game press conference, upon being questioned about the decision to remove Tejeda with a lead and a low PC, he eloquently answered: "I thought he had already pitched good." The team lost that game, by the way). There is nothing that Robinson Tejeda could have done that would have changed this opinion of him.
It's not something that has only affected Tejeda, though. See the jerking about of Chase Utley for three years before he was given a chance to play and excel on a regular basis. See Ryan Howard, again relegated to obliterating AAA pitching while the team's top two left-handed options off the bench for most of the year have combined for zero home runs. The Phillies are scared of youth. I'd go so far as to say that it is the single biggest discrepancy between the success of the Wade & Co. compared to that of the Braves and, to an extent, the Marlins.
The secondary issue raised by this announcement is the awful state of pitching in the farm system. Looking at the season stats for the four full-season clubs, the closest you come to a strong enough for recognition full-years body of work is Scott Mathieson in Clearwater, and, even there, he ended up with a 4.14 ERA. Looking at other top prospects: Cole Hamels pitched only 35 innings (although that should have qualified him, apparently), Gavin Floyd was beyond terrible, Carlos Carrasco was beyond terrible, Keith Bucktrot continued to prove to everyone that he is not a prospect, Scott Mitchinson was terrible...and it really does just go on like this.
The one exception, and the should-have-been winner, was Lakewood's J.A. Happ. Yes, he only logged 78 1/3 IP due to a couple of nagging-type injuries, but when he did pitch, he was excellent. His last week of the season promotion to Reading gives me hope that that is where the organization plans for him to pitch in 2006, putting him in a very reasonable timetable to reach the major leagues.
Essentially, for all I've written here, what we have is a complete non-shocker based on the Phillies long-time position on that old chestnut of Youth vs. Veterans. He won't be, but Robinson Tejeda should feel very disrespected by this award. The people who should feel the highest level of disrespect, however, are people like Mike Arbuckle, Marti Wolever and Ed Wade who have managed to completely destroy a once solid farm system. Don't be shocked, and I believe I saw where it has already started to happen (Baseball Weekly?), when you start reading minor league rankings and evaluations in national publications to find that the Phillies is considered the worst in baseball.