A big pile o' pitcher right there. (Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE)
A major component of the thrill and agony of following baseball prospects is how quickly things change. A year ago, it seemed a legitimate question whether Phillies minor-leaguer Phillippe Aumont would ever show up in a major league ballpark other than as a paying customer. A monstrous physical specimen (6'7", 255) who’d entered the previous three seasons in the lower ranks of baseball’s top hundred prospects, Aumont was the centerpiece of the widely panned Cliff Lee trade in December 2009—and he’d made his new employers look dumb during a nightmare 2010 season in which he went 3-11 with a 5.68 ERA at two levels, averaging nearly 6 walks per nine innings.
One year later, Aumont isn’t likely to resurface on any top prospect lists at age 23. But he’s firmly re-established himself in the Phillies’ future plans after a very successful 2011 campaign in which he struck out 78 batters over 53.2 innings at the two highest levels of the minor leagues and begun to harness his superior raw stuff.
Aumont utilizes the basic power-pitcher arsenal: a sinking fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90s and a hammer curve that could develop into a devastating putaway pitch. He’s working on a split-fingered change as a third option. His uneven and somewhat protracted development shouldn't be a big surprise: Aumont came to professional ball with less seasoning than most top prospects, owing both to the cold-weather conditions of his native Quebec and a rough childhood that saw him pass through foster homes and in and out of trouble with the law before settling in with his adopted family.
Adding distance to Aumont's developmental journey is the fact that both the Mariners organization, which selected him 11th overall in the 2007 draft, and the Phillies have shifted him between starting and relief. Aumont’s 2010 move to the rotation, along with a change to his mechanics and the adjustments of joining a new organization, had a lot to do with his struggles that season.
Now confirmed in the relief role he prefers, Aumont stands at the forefront of a large cohort of near-ready relievers in the system. (Maybe this is the new market inefficiency? No, I guess not.) He’s likely to open 2012 closing for triple-A Lehigh Valley, but should be first or second in line when the Phils need a reliever, and could emerge as a legit seventh or eighth inning weapon by the time the leaves start to turn.