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Top 10 Prospects Watch (Pt. 1)

For me, one of the highlights of the long baseball off-season is when Baseball America releases its annual list of top 10 Phillies minor-league prospects. I'm no minor-league expert, and my views (such as they are) tend to diverge a bit from those of the BA staff, who are more enthusiastic about "tools" and raw athleticism than I generally am; give me guys who know how to play. But as Phils phans, really, we don't have much but hope--and the top 10 prospect list always informs that hope.

As the minor-league season always concludes about a month before that of MLB, the Phils' affiliates are more than two-thirds of the way through their 2006 campaigns. While we wait for a hopeful new influx of talent into the farm system, let's briefly take a look at how our five best and brightest prospects have fared in 2006, working off the BA list. It's important to note that the list came out last November, shortly before the Jim Thome trade, so Gio Gonzalez does not appear. I'll mention Gonzalez and a handful of other prospects overlooked on the list at the end of the next installment, looking at prospects 6-10.

1. Cole Hamels, LHP

High-A: 1-1, 1.77, 20.1 IP, 16 H, 9 BB, 29 K
AAA: 2-0, 0.39, 23 IP, 10 H, 1 BB, 36 K
MLB: 2-4, 5.44, 44.2 IP, 44 H, 24 BB, 44 K

Hamels was BA's top choice for the second time, as he'd first won the honor going into the 2004 season. It was then, of course, that he really jumped on the radar screen with an overpowering spring performance against the Yankees, before starting the calamitous two-year run of injuries that had many of us--me for sure--wondering if he'd ever reach the bigs, much less star there. While he's faced the difficulties common to highly touted pitchers upon first competing at the top level, his stuff has translated--just under a strikeout per inning--and he figures to benefit from the Phils' improving stability in the rotation and behind the plate. Best of all, he's evidently healthy.

2. Greg Golson, OF

Low-A: 78-358 (.218), 50 R, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 18 BB, 94 K, 20/26 SB/A, .255 OBP, .332 SLG

Here's the good news about Greg Golson: he won't turn 21 until September. And that's really about it. Using the wonderful Minor League Splits database, we can delve further into Golson's performance; still pretty much nothing good to report. He's sub-par (.239 BA) against righties, and absolutely helpless (.154) against lefties. He's been bad at home (.625 OPS) and worse on the road (.584). Aside from his youth, diehard optimists can hang their hats on his supposed "teachability" and occasional rumblings that he really struggled to adjust from an aluminum bat to wood. But remember, this is his second year at low-A... and his numbers are actually worse.

Golson was the Phils' first-round pick in 2004, their only such creature between 2002 (Hamels) and 2006 (Kyle Drabek); they took him two picks ahead of Yankees phenom pitcher Philip Hughes, whom the Bronx Bombers reportedly refuse to trade for Bobby Abreu. Bottom line is that the Golson pick could haunt this club for a very, very long time.

3. Michael Bourn, OF
AA: 87-318 (.274), 62 R, 4 HR, 26 RBI, 36 BB, 67 K, 30/34 SB/A, .350 OBP, .365 SLG
AAA: 15-40 (.375), 8 R, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 6 K, 6/7 SB/A, .444 OBP, .555 SLG

A 23 year-old speed merchant with a great glove, good plate patience and virtually no power, Bourn could be that approximation of Juan Pierre who haunted Ed Wade's dreams lo those many years. Surprised and disappointed to be back at Reading after an all-star campaign in 2005, Bourn's splits suggest that he moped out of the gate, batting just .259 with a .649 OPS in April before picking it up a bit in May (.275/.715) and really starting to come around in June (.294/.795) to earn a promotion earlier this month. Bourn started at AAA in scalding hot fashion, ripping three triples in his first week, and could be playing his way into the Phillies' 2007 plans--assuming Pat Gillick's Aaron Rowand fetish doesn't obscure the recognition that the team needs a real leadoff man more than a face-planting clubhouse asset who doesn't actually get on base much. Here's a recent article from Scranton on Bourn.

4. Scott Mathieson, RHP
AA: 7-2, 3.21, 92.2 IP, 73 H, 29 BB, 99 K
AAA: 1-0, 3.00, 6 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 7 K
MLB: 0-2, 5.48, 21.1 IP, 24 H, 5 BB, 14 K

Before 2006, Mathieson was always the guy whose obvious talent hadn't translated to results. Last year at Clearwater, he went 3-8 with a 4.14 ERA despite racking up 118 strikeouts in 121 innings; overall as a pro, he entered this season with a Ryan Franklin-esque 13-26 lifetime record, with a 4.44 ERA. No more. One of the most dominant pitchers in the Eastern League through the first two months, Mathieson earned an emergency callup to Philadelphia and more or less held his own in four games, including three starts. His last one, an 8-inning no decision against San Diego, was by far his best. Now back in the minors at AAA, he's likely to see Philadelphia again in September, possibly for good.

5. Welinson Baez, ss/3b

Low-A: 63-285 (.214), 28 R, 2 HR, 33 RBI, 24 BB, 113 K, 2/5 SB/A, .280 OBP, .325 SLG

About here is where all hell breaks loose on BA's list. Last winter, Baez looked like an exciting mix of patience and power; he'd hit .324 at Batavia, drawing 22 walks and slugging 6 homers in just 170 at-bats for a .932 OPS. Whether a third baseman or shortstop, he'd have value somewhere. Then he reached north Jersey and evidently contracted Taylor/Jackson syndrome, perhaps from Golson. The splits offer one slender reed of hope: in his first eight games in July, Baez went 15-42 (.357) with five walks, a homer, and a 1.033 OPS. Maybe it's a blip; maybe he's figured something out.

Next time: the Phils' disastrous 6-9 "top prospects," and a bunch of pitchers who have emerged in 2006.