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Minor Thoughts-- July 14, 2005

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This week's edition of Minor Thoughts offers a midseason report card for our top 10 prospects, as ranked last December by Baseball America. What I've done is try to offer an estimated time of arrival to the big leagues (which really isn't possible for a couple of the guys at the end of the list), as well as offer what are hopefully insights about their seasons-to-date, before closing things out with a letter grade and their season stats thus far. At the end of the season, I'll post a similar column grading the overall season for our top 30 prospects, and will develop my own top 30 list over the winter, so I can stop leeching off the admittedly fine writers at BA. So, without further ado, here is the 2005 Phillies Minor League Mid-Season Report Card.



#1. Ryan Howard ? 1B
Acquired: 2001 (5th round, 140 overall)
Age: 25
ETA: Now

Howard became our top prospect by default last season when he slugged 48 homers between three levels and Cole Hamels injury situation allowed him to pitch only 16 innings. That speaks more to Hamels' incredible talent, because Ryan is probably the best power prospect the Phillies have developed in the last 30 years. He has hit at every level and is doing so currently in the major leagues while Jim Thome is shelved again due to injury. I'm not going to go over the Ryan Howard story because it's been covered ad nauseum on this site and elsewhere. I will only say that Howard deserves to play every day in the major leagues. 2005 First Half Grade: A+

YEAR TEAM LVL G   AB   R   H   2B  3B HR  RBI BB  SO  SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
2005 S/WB AAA 61  210  38  78  19  0  16  54  39  66  0  0  .371 .467 .690 1.157
2005 PHI  MLB 21  64   8   16  4   0   3  11   5  18  0  0  .250 .300 .453 .753


#2. Gavin Floyd ? RHP
Acquired: 2001 (1st round, 4 overall)
Age: 22
ETA: April 2006

Since signing for $4 million in 2001, the highest bonus ever paid to a draft pick by this franchise, Floyd has been a very solid performer--until this year, that is. To me, Gavin Floyd is sort of an unknown. Consistently good, but rarely great, he doesn't look to me like the staff ace many seem to believe he will inevitably become. His rep has been built on his power curveball, a pitch that is historically much more effective against the inexperienced and less talented hitters found in the minors. His fastball, though good, is not the mid-90s heat that people spoke of when he was drafted out of high school, sitting much more regularly between 89-92, and his changeup is very inconsistent without great deception. What has plagued him most is his questionable command. From high-A to AA and from AA to AAA, Floyd's K-rate has decreased while his BB-rate has increased. These are bad signs and indicate that the better hitters in the upper minors have learned to be more patient and force Floyd to throw his pitches for strikes, something he has not been able to do, especially this year.

A lot of blame has been laid at the feet of Charlie Manuel and Ed Wade for using him out of the bullpen once Vicente Padilla was activated in late April, many feeling as though Floyd should have been sent back to Scranton to stay on a starter's schedule and routine. But that was months ago, and readjustment back to starting (he only made two relief appearances with the Phils) should have been made by now. His numbers through 14 AAA starts are horrible and, though he has pitched an occasional good game, the overall line says that there is something wrong here beyond what he himself has blamed on mechanical problems. 2005 First Half Grade: F

YEAR TEAM LVL  G  GS  IP    H   R   ER  BB  SO HR  ERA   WHIP  K/9
2005 SWB  AAA  14 14  74.0  90  59  57  38  54  5  6.93  1.73  6.6
2005 PHI  MLB  4  2   14.0  17  22  22  12  4   4  14.14 1.50  2.6


#3. Cole Hamels ? LHP
Acquired: 2002 (1st round, 17 overall)
Age: 21
ETA: September 2005

Between 2004's elbow strain/tendonitis and 2005's barroom brawls, , Hamels had fans and analysts alike returning to the old acronymic axiom of TINSTAAPP (translation: There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect). Miraculously, his time away from meaningful action did not take away from the stunning combination of stuff, command and mound presence that enabled him to record a 1.31 ERA in 117 professional innings coming into this season. On a seemingly fast track towards the major leagues, Hamels has the best changeup in the minor leagues and an impressive 93-mph fastball. His curve is still developing but is a viable pitch nonetheless. Now at AA-Reading, Hamels' post-game comments following his first start above A-ball last week suggest a refreshing and previously non-existent level of maturity for the 21 year-old. Regarding his off-field indiscretions referenced above and what he might have learned from the experience, Cole had the following to say: "[B]aseball is the one thing I want to do in my life. If it takes away from having fun away from the field, then I have to do it."

My personal preference would be to not rush him to Philly and let him know that he does not have a chance to reach the majors this season. When he strained his elbow last year, it was because his contract stipulated that he attend major league camp and he overexerted himself in an attempt to make an impossible jump to the majors from low-A. However, continued dominance or desperation for improved starting pitching by a possible lame duck GM could very well land Hamels a gig in Philadelphia between now and the end of the season. His body of work thus far, though limited in size, remains beyond reproach. 2005 First Half Grade: A

YEAR TEAM LVL  G  GS  IP    H   R   ER  BB  SO HR  ERA   WHIP  K/9
2005 CLW  A    3  3   16.0  7   5   4   7   18  0  2.25  0.88  10.1
2005 REA  AA   1  1   6.0   5   2   2   3   6   1  3.00  1.33  9.0
2005 totals    4  4   22.0  12  7   6   10  24  1  2.45  1.00  9.8


#4. Greg Golson ? CF
Acquired: 2004 (1st round, 21 overall)
Age: 19
ETA: September 2008

The team's 2004 first-round selection, Greg Golson is slightly overrated by Baseball America. Right now, he is a terrific athlete and an average baseball player. Luckily for him, he is only 19 and has a lot of time to develop his baseball skills. For the moment, though, he is a decent average hitter completely lacking in power. Although his .254 BA does not look very good, as recently as July 1, it was .275, which says to me that he is simply beginning to tire as he reaches the dog days of his first full professional season. Much uglier is the .368 in his slugging column-- but, again, this does not overly concern me, because his body is still maturing, and most people will rightfully tell you that power is very often the last tool that develops.

What has impressed me most this season is his above-average plate discipline. With 22 walks in 185 ABs, he has more than met my expectations, which were admittedly low based on what he had done in rookie-level GCL last season (10 BB in 183 ABs). He is not the player I would have drafted, but I think his development to this point has been fine, and it is next year that I will expect to see some marked improvement in his offensive ability. 2005 First Half Grade: B

YEAR TEAM LVL G   AB   R   H   2B  3B HR  RBI BB  SO  SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
2005 LWD  A   46  185  23  47  10  4   1  12  22  47  14  5 .254 .346 .368 .714


#5. Michael Bourn ? CF
Acquired: 2003 (4th round, 115 overall)
Age: 22
ETA: September 2006

I can't remember what expectations I had of Bourn heading into the season, but I am nonetheless satisfied with what he has done in a year when he jumped from low-A to AA. Unlike Golson, I am not expecting a significant SLG increase; then again, as a fourth-round pick, expectations in general are lower for him. His prospect status is linked to his above-average on-base skills. Last year, he led the South Atlantic League with a .433 OBP, but as a relatively polished 21 year-old college player, he was expected to excel in that league. The question, then, was, how will he perform at higher levels, and, so, for once, the Phillies challenged a prospect and skipped him straight past high-A Clearwater to AA-Reading. His numbers at Reading are not at the level they were last year, but, when you consider the big difference in talent from low-A to AA, I am satisfied with what he has done in a league where he is now much more age appropriate. Already a major league caliber defender, Bourn is third in the Eastern League in walks and second in stolen bases, putting him on a perfect trajectory to assume the role of starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter come 2007. 2005 First Half Grade: B+

YEAR TEAM LVL G   AB   R   H   2B  3B HR  RBI BB  SO  SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
2005 REA  AA  86  350  56  99  11  5   4  27  46  79  27 10 .283 .366 .377 .743


#6. Scott Mathieson ? RHP
Acquired: 2002 (17th round, 509 overall)
Age: 21
ETA: July 2007

Fresh off a trip to Detroit and a successful two-up, two-down appearance in the All-Star Futures Game, Scott Mathieson has had the breakout year I and others expected from him. Coming off a 4.32 ERA last year in the Sally League, his potential was obvious when reports came out that he was touching 97 with his fastball and turning in some seriously dominating games. Drafted as a 17th-rounder from British Columbia in 2002, Mathieson has a projectable body and, according to his pitching coach in Clearwater, is "an animal workout-wise." This, along with a message board account from the webmaster of the Phillies Draft Report, who met, spoke with, and had glowing things to say about Scott when he was in Lakewood last year, paints a very good image of the 21 year-old's character.

As much as I like a kid to have a good make-up, I care a lot more about what he's doing on the field, and this season Mathieson has not disappointed there either, posting the best K/9 rate in his career (9.6), while at the same time significantly improving his walk ratio (3.43 last year, 2.72 this year). He has a live arm with developing secondary pitches (his change is better than his curve right now) and will be a major league pitcher, provided he can stay healthy. 2005 First Half Grade: A

YEAR TEAM LVL  G  GS  IP    H   R   ER  BB  SO HR  ERA   WHIP  K/9
2005 CLW  A    14 14  76.0  71  35  29  23  81  5  3.43  1.24  9.6


#7. Jake Blalock ? LF
Acquired: 2002 (5th round, 149 overall)
Age: 21
ETA: September 2007

Blalock appears to be the opposite of a Mathieson, in that he has not yet tapped into his potential as a hitter. His average and OBP numbers are actually quite good--both up from what he did last year at Lakewood--but his slugging has taken an unexpected hit. Playing in what has anecdotally been a fairly extreme pitcher's park (that of Lakewood), Blalock was able to hit 40 doubles and 16 home runs in 2004. This year, playing half the time at a park with the same dimensions as Citizen's Bank, he is on pace for about half that number of doubles and several fewer homers.

Now, what I am hoping has happened here is that Bright House Networks Field plays similarly to CBP and the drop in doubles can be blamed on the smaller gaps that take away a significant amount of non-home run extra base hits. Jake hasn't hurt his prospect status, but he has not enhanced it at all, either. Next year in Reading is when we will be able to better gauge Blalock's potential in the major leagues. 2005 First Half Grade: B-

YEAR TEAM LVL G   AB   R   H   2B  3B HR  RBI BB  SO  SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
2005 CLW  A   84  313  35  88  11  0  10  39  43  63  7  1  .281 .371 .412 .783


#8. Carlos Carrasco ? RHP
Acquired: 2003 (Amateur free agent)
Age: 18
ETA: Not Projected

Carrasco is second only to Gavin Floyd in terms of disappointments this year, but it's a distant second, as he is still just 18 years old. I don't blame the Phillies for giving him a shot at Lakewood, because I prefer seeing prospects challenged to slowly promoting them one level, one year at a time. Back now in GCL after a nightmarish stop in Batavia, hopefully Carrasco can compose himself, put up some numbers there and get ready to make a trip back to Jersey in 2006. The concern you have with a young kid having such a bad year is that it hurts his emotional and mental development and makes him scared to throw the ball near the plate. How he responds in '06 will say a lot about what kind of a prospect he is. 2005 First Half Grade: D

YEAR TEAM LVL  G  GS  IP    H   R   ER  BB  SO HR  ERA   WHIP  K/9
2005 LWD  A    13 13  62.2  78  50  49  28  46 11  7.04  1.69  6.6
2005 BAT  SS   4  4   15.1  29  25  23  5   12  8 13.50  2.22  7.0
2005 totals    17 17  78.0  117 75  72  33  58 19  8.31  1.92  6.7


#9. Edgar Garcia ? RHP
Acquired: 2004 (Amateur free agent)
Age: 17
ETA: Not Projected

Garcia was signed this past November for $500,000 out of the Dominican Republic before a tournament in Florida. He is just 17 and only recently made his professional debut in rookie-level GCL. Scouting reports on him have all been glowing, praising his low-90s fastball and hard, mid-80s slider. Just the fact that BA put him in the top 10 says a lot about what kind of ceiling he has. (Although it really says a lot more about the lack of depth in our system.) It's far too early to make any kind of judgments on him or even plan out a course for promotion. He's started off decently, but, as Carlos Carrasco showed us this year, GCL success at a young age doesn't mean anything as far as being ready for higher levels. 2005 First Half Grade: C+

YEAR TEAM LVL  G  GS  IP    H   R   ER  BB  SO HR  ERA   WHIP  K/9
2005 GCL  Rk   3  3   16.0  18  9   7   2   17  0  3.94  1.25  9.6


#10. Scott Mitchinson ? RHP
Acquired: 2003 (Amateur free agent)
Age: 20
ETA: Not Projected

I like to think of Mitchinson as a lesser, Australian version of erstwhile phenom Elizardo Ramirez, traded to Cincinnati last season in the Cory Lidle deal. Both were 19 year-old righties when they buzzed through the GCL in 2002 and 2004, respectively, each with sub-2.00 ERAs and sick K/BB ratios. Their repertoires are also quite similar, in that they each throw a fastball, curve and change. Neither has a true plus pitch and their fastballs are low-90s and pinpoint when on. That's where similarities really sort of end, for now. After his GCL campaign, Ramirez double-jumped to high-A Clearwater, whereas Mitchinson opened 2005 hurt and has only recently started pitching in short-season Batavia, and not very well. Though comparable, as I said, I would rate each of his pitches a notch below Ramirez's, meaning that I don't envision him matching the success that "Easy" had straight through each minor league level. Don't be surprised if this is Mitchinson's last top 10 list. 2005 First Half Grade: D

YEAR TEAM LVL  G  GS  IP    H   R   ER  BB  SO HR  ERA   WHIP  K/9
2005 GCL  Rk   1  1   3.0   1   0   0   0   4   0  0.00  0.33  12.0
2005 BAT  SS   3  3   16.0  21  13  13  4   7   0  7.31  1.56  3.9
2005 totals    4  4   19.0  22  13  13  4   11  0  6.16  1.37  5.2

Closing Thoughts
While I'd grade the overall farm system an F (check out my last column for more on that ugliness), for these ten, in particular, it has been a pretty average year, around a C overall. Mathieson's emergence has been exciting, as has Hamels' return to past dominance following multiple injuries. Gavin Floyd has been the only big disappointment, with Blalock, Carrasco and Mitchinson being only minor ones. Bourn and Golson have both had solid, if unspectacular campaigns and appear to both be on track developmentally-- always a good thing. So, as with most things in this life, it could be worse, but it definitely could be better.

Finally, if anyone has anything they'd like to add, or if you don't agree with something, please, comment below and I'll gladly discuss any issue regarding these or other minor leaguers. Remember, these aren't my top 10 prospects (you'll have to wait until the season is over for that list), but the ones ranked by Baseball America in December. I'm especially interested in hearing any first-hand reports on Edgar Garcia, or if anyone can tell me more about stuff/poise/deliveries for guys like Carrasco or Mitchinson, who I have not yet seen pitch in person. Opinions on what's eating Gavin Floyd, reasons why Blalock's slugging is down, first-hand accounts about what made Michael Bourn a AA All-Star despite overall mediocre numbers...these are all the things I'd like to hear about, but, like I said, feel free to discuss anyone and anything.