TGP doesn't pretend to offer the abundance of Phillies minor-league knowledge that some sites, most notably the superb PhuturePhillies, can boast. But for the observer looking at the value of the farm system through the ruthless prism of how much help it can offer to the big-league club, we present this look at what's transpired through two weeks of play in the relatively rustic (and cold) confines of the International and Eastern Leagues, home to the Ottawa Lynx and Reading Phillies respectively.
First, a quick review for context: after the end of the 2006 season, the Phillies cut ties with their former International League affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, in light of plans to place a new triple-A club in Allentown. Unfortunately, the stadium there won't be ready for use until 2008, so the club was forced into a one-year marriage of inconvenience with Ottawa. This stretched the distance between the top farm club and parent team from 100 miles--a matter of a few hours by car--to about 465 miles (or 772 kilometers, eh?), a journey requiring air travel and a border crossing. Even as we speak, young Fabio Castro is evidently making this trek.
Given the increasing trend of big-league teams using their top affiliate as an extension of the major-league bench, some fans wondered whether the Phillies might stash some players with a better chance to provide short term help at Reading simply for the sake of convenience. But whether because they aren't concerned about the distance, want to disprove those long-term allegations of excessive thrift by unnecessarily paying airfare, or for other reasons even more obscure, the Phils don't seem to have gone this route.
Anyway, on to the players who might show up in Philadelphia sooner than later:
C Jason Jaramillo
The 24 year-old catcher, a second-round pick of the Phillies in 2004, is off to a great start for Ottawa (.375/.458/.450) after tearing up the Arizona Fall League in 2006. Over his last 100 or so at-bats in the AFL and IL, Jaramillo's prospect profile has changed from "plus defender, so-so bat, borderline starter" to something potentially a lot more exciting. Boosters ascribed Jaramillo's 2006 struggles with Reading (.248/.320/.388) to a nagging hand injury and adjustment issues after being double-jumped; that view seems easier to defend given how he's hit one level up. At this point, Carlos Ruiz has done nothing to play himself out of the job in Philadelphia, but Jaramillo could be poised either to step in for Ruiz or Rod Barajas in the event of an injury, or to present the team with the pleasant dilemma of having two solid, very inexpensive catchers for 2008 and beyond.
IF Joe Thurston
A former top prospect for the Dodgers, Thurston saw some time with the Phillies in 2006 and has played in the majors in parts of four seasons. Through his minor-league career, he's done everything fairly well but nothing extraordinary; he's off to a good start again (.340/.415/.404) for the Lynx, but as with the next guy on the list, how he performs in AAA isn't likely to have a big impact on his chances of earning the MLB per diem at some point this season. You could probably make the case that Thurston would add as much value to the Phils' bench as Greg Dobbs or Abraham Nunez; if a Phillies infielder gets hurt, he'd likely be the guy recalled. Of course, if a Phils infielder gets hurt for any period of time, their ship is probably sunk regardless.
C/1B Chris Coste
Demoted this spring after a storybook rookie season at age 33, Coste isn't a happy camper, and it's hard to blame him. Evidently, Pat Gillick doesn't think he catches well enough to fill that role in the big leagues, and Charlie Manuel likes his bat, but not more than Michael Bourn's glove or Greg Dobbs' je ne sais quoi. Coste isn't hitting well with Ottawa (.225/.340/.300), but then he was awful for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last spring before Alex Gonzalez's retirement prompted his recall to Philly and emergence as a cult hero to those of us thrilled to see a "rookie" who was older--even if by just a couple months--than we were. Here's hoping he gets the chance for an encore.
OF Chris Roberson
This 27 year-old outfielder also spent considerable time with the Phils in 2006, and wasn't particularly impressive with just 8 hits (and no walks) in 41 at-bats. He got off to a terrible start in spring training this year, and was reassigned in early March. Roberson's hitting woes have continued through April, and his fate as a fringe major-leaguer at best seems all but sealed. Still, it's arguable that he'd do as well as Michael Bourn in the role of "Pat Burrell's legs and glove," and Bourn retains a lot more promise as a contributor down the road who could use daily at-bats, so it remains possible they might yet swap roles down the road.
P J.A. Happ
Through his first three starts (1-0, 1.08), this lefty with Randy Johnson's height but Randy Wolf's fastball velocity is doing to Triple-A hitters what he did to their Single-A and Double-A counterparts last year. Happ threw five no-hit innings in his 2007 debut, and has maintained an average of better than a strikeout per inning. If nothing else, he should come up in September, but injuries could prompt his appearance in Phillies pinstripes before then.
P Zach Segovia
Segovia made one spot start for the Phillies this month, losing his major league debut but hardly embarrassing himself. He's yet to notch a win for the Lynx either (0-2, 4.85), but has a complete game to his credit. A sinkerballer, Segovia nevertheless has surrendered three home runs in 13 innings for Ottawa. He's probably behind Happ in line to fill any rotation vacancy.
P Joe Bisenius
Like Segovia, Bisenius began 2007 with the big club as a result of injuries. He didn't allow a run in two games for the Phillies, but the experience might have thrown him off: in his first two appearances after being demoted, Bisenius allowed 5 runs in 1.2 innings. He's made three scoreless appearances since, and remains a viable internal option for relief help.
OF Javon Moran
A 2003 Phillies draftee who was traded to Cincinnati for Cory Lidle and brought back for Jeff Conine, Moran has cooled down after a scalding start to his 2007 campaign. Still, he's hitting .315 with 17 runs scored and 8 steals in 9 attempts for the R-Phils. At some point, he could play himself into the mix for that reserve outfield/pinch-runner gig held formerly by Roberson and currently by Bourn.
3b Mike Costanzo
The hometown would-be hero has generated enough wind to power a small farm early on, with 30 strikeouts in his first 72 plate appearances. Costanzo's defense has been ugly too; he's made 7 errors in 17 games. On the plus side, his 4 home runs are tied for the Eastern League lead, and he's started to draw walks again. Costanzo remains surprisingly raw for a 23 year-old who played in college, and it would be surprising to see him make more than a September cameo with the 2007 Phillies, if that, but his power and patience continue to offer some grounds for hope.
OF Greg Jacobs
A 30 year-old outfielder who has destroyed the independent Northern League over a couple different stretches, Jacobs was a low-profile minor league free agent signing this past winter. He's off to a good/not great start for Reading (.298/.365/.526); if he's promoted to Ottawa, and hits there, he could figure into the mix for the big-league bench.
P Anderson Garcia
This 26 year-old fireballer, a former Mets and Orioles farmhand, has been a strikeout machine in the early going with 13 in 12.1 innings--and no walks. He also has six saves. Garcia has never previously approached a strikeout per inning, so the question is whether he's developed another pitch to complement that mid-90s heat. If so, he could emerge; if not, he'll be another Brian Sanches, hell on minor leaguers but defenseless in rare big-league appearances.