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Prospecting, Part 1

I haven't written much about the minors this year, mostly because if you're really interested the place to go is PhuturePhillies, an excellent blog updated daily that features correspondents for all four full-season Phillies affiliates as well as lots of other great content. The generally shoddy quality of the Phillies system is part of it as well; collectively, the four teams (AAA Lehigh Valley, AA Reading, high-A Clearwater, A Lakewood) have a cumulative record of 67-104, for a .392 winning percentage. That's almost unimaginable. All four clubs are under .500. 

That isn't to say, however, that the first seven weeks of the season have been totally bereft of good news. Many of the Phils' best prospects are off to strong individual starts, and could be positioned either to serve as trade bait for midseason help or to compete for jobs in Philadelphia next spring. We take a look at some of those performances after the jump. 

 

Name (Level) Age*  Pos Avg/OBP/SLG 
Greg Golson (AA) 22 OF .331/.374/.503
Lou Marson (AA) 22 C .325/.438/.419
Jason Donald (AA) 23 SS .296/.409/.409
Adrian Cardenas (A+) 20 2B .338/.390/.465
Michael Taylor (A) 22 OF .347/.418/.567

 

*I use the player's age on July 1 here--a measure that arguably disadvantages Lou Marson, whose 22nd birthday is in late June

Golson is probably the best-known name on this list. A first-round pick in 2004, this is his fifth season in the system, but really the first where the performance is matching up to the talent he's universally believed to possess. Baseball Prospectus minors maven Kevin Goldstein memorably called him a "toolshed,"  pointing out that this is a compliment, not an insult. Golson's biggest problem has been his selectivity at the plate; with just 11 walks (and 48 strikeouts) in 174 plate appearances, he hasn't yet entirely mastered this, but the current numbers are a huge leap forward from his two walks in 150 PA at Reading after a mid-season promotion in 2007. Golson is also regarded as a standout defender, and he's 14 for 17 in steal attempts. It's not out of the question that he'll show up for the Phils in September, and could battle for a job as soon as next spring. 

Marson doesn't have his teammate's hype, but he might have an even better shot at big-league stardom. With a strong defensive reputation and a superb batting eye to go with a gaudy batting average, he's starting to resemble the early-career path blazed by Dodgers catcher Russell Martin. As BP's Joe Sheehan noted recently , Martin put up a .311/.430/.423 line in AA, playing all year at age 22--scary close to what Marson has done thus far. Three years later, Russell is an all-star Gold Glover with a great eye and emerging power; the Phils would take that. 

Donald missed time earlier this year after getting hit on the hand with a pitch; if it hadn't been for that, it's likely that he, not Reading teammate Brad Harman, would have been promoted while Jimmy Rollins was out. Baseball people still diverge on Donald's ceiling--whether he'll hit enough to play third base in the majors (Mike Arbuckle seems to have his doubts), or whether he's destined for life as a Mark DeRosa-type utility man. Either way, he could be challenging Pedro Feliz or Eric Bruntlett for a job next spring. 

Adrian Cardenas, regarded before the season as the Phils' top position prospect, is off to a strong start as well. Like Donald, the 2006 draftee missed time in April and May (back strain), but is hitting for average and some extra-base power in Clearwater. The question is where he'd play in Philly. Cardenas already has moved from shortstop to second base, but that job is taken well into the next decade. Might he have the arm to play third? It's not yet clear. Few doubt that Cardenas could handle an outfield corner, but his likely big-league offensive projection--something like .290/.360/.450 with 15 or so homers--looks a lot better in an infield spot. If the Phils enter serious trade talks in the next two-plus months, expect to hear his name come up a lot. 

Finally, there's Michael Taylor, one of a few talented outfielders at Lakewood in the South Atlantic League. At 22, he's on the old side for that circuit, but with the kind of power he's shown--including five homers in his last ten games--a promotion to Clearwater could be forthcoming. Dominic Brown (.284/.349/.408), a 20 year-old with speed and power but shaky defense (9 errors), might be the better prospect long-term. Lakewood is also home to a few other touted prospects who are struggling early on, including 3B Travis Mattair (.222/.295/.244), SS Freddy Galvis (.188/.246/.229) and OF D'Arby Myers (.188/.250/.242), all of whom are still in their teens. 

Next week we'll take a look at the pitchers.