Inside the Phillies: Five arms that could provide relief soon

Justin De Fratus has made a quick rise through the system.The Phillies like his attitude as well as his pitching.
Justin De Fratus has made a quick rise through the system.The Phillies like his attitude as well as his pitching. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 08, 2012

This time a year ago, the names Vance Worley and Michael Stutes were barely on the Phillies' radar. Even by the end of spring training, Worley had long been ticketed for triple-A Lehigh Valley while Stutes was teased with a trip north to Citizens Bank Park merely for two exhibition games before he, too, was an IronPig.

Then they combined for 1932/3 major-league innings in 2011, quickly gaining the trust of manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee. Vance became Vanimal and Michael became Mike. The Phillies had two unexpected but reliable contributors.

That's not to say the Phillies will discover two more rookie pitchers with similar results in 2012. Only Worley and J.A. Happ have recently made marks as Phillies rookie starters. Stutes' 62 innings were the most for a Phillies rookie reliever since Ryan Madson in 2004.

And while the strength of the Phillies' minor-league system is pitching, the big-ticket items will spend the majority of the season at double-A Reading. That's where the Baby Aces - Trevor May, Jonathan Pettibone, Julio Rodriguez, and eventually Brody Colvin - will pitch.

But the organization does have some arms closer to the majors, specifically some possible relief help. Here are five names who could make waves in 2012 - whether it be in spring training or beyond:

Phillippe Aumont. The original Cliff Lee trade centered on Aumont, and that made his name a commodity from the day he stepped into the organization's plans. Those plans, of course, failed from the start. Former farm director Chuck LaMar apologized after an experiment in the starting rotation doomed Aumont's 2010. It may have been LaMar's most notable failure.

It was only fleeting, though. Aumont returned as a reliever in 2011 and his power sinker played well, just as it had before. His curveball can be an out pitch and the change-up is developing. But the hulking 22-year-old righthander throws in the mid to high 90s and has been labeled by some as a future closer. With Jonathan Papelbon under contract for at least the next four years, Aumont can still make his mark before the ninth inning. In 2011, he struck out 78 in 532/3 minor-league innings.

Justin De Fratus. The 24-year-old tasted the majors last September with five appearances, including one in Game 162, when he notched his first major-league victory to eliminate the Atlanta Braves from postseason contention. Phillies officials have always spoken highly of De Fratus' attitude, and his pitching has made for a quick rise. He began 2010 in single-A Clearwater and ended 2011 in the majors.

His fastball sits in the mid-90s and his slider is his best secondary pitch. Also a big strikeout guy like Aumont, De Fratus fanned 99 in 751/3 minor-league innings last season. He will attend his second major-league spring training with a legitimate shot at making the team on opening day.

Jake Diekman. By now, most are familiar with Joe Savery's story. The former first-round pick became a reliever, then a hitter, then back to a reliever. And when he went to pack his truck for a drive home to Texas in early September, the Phillies promoted the lefty to the majors.

Diekman, another lefthanded reliever, had a fine season without as much fanfare. He turns 25 in January and posted a 3.05 ERA at double-A Reading with only 47 hits allowed in 65 innings.

His performance in the Arizona Fall League (one earned run in 111/3 innings) merited a promotion to the 40-man roster this winter. Diekman held lefties to a .099 batting average in 91 at-bats. He did walk 17 against 40 strikeouts but allowed only one extra-base hit to a lefty. The Phillies did not guarantee Dontrelle Willis' contract, so if Diekman or Savery outperforms him in spring training, the second lefty spot could be a heated competition.

Austin Hyatt. Starting-pitching depth above the Baby Aces is limited, but Worley was proof that hype and prospecting can be a crapshoot. Hyatt, recently invited to major-league spring training, turns 26 in May. He was a 15th-round pick in 2009 and never a ballyhooed player.

Kyle Kendrick will be the sixth option in the Phillies rotation, but there is no clear seventh starter. Hyatt has made 53 minor-league starts over the last two seasons and maintained decent numbers, enough to wonder if he could one day be an innings-eater or swing man in the majors.

Most troubling is that his hits, home runs, and walks per nine innings all increased with the jump to double-A Reading. The increases weren't terribly alarming, but Hyatt will be judged on how he handles triple A.

Tyler Cloyd. He is in the same boat as Hyatt. Cloyd turns 25 in May and enjoyed a surprising 2011 spread across Clearwater and Reading. He walked only 22 in 146 innings (with an even better walk rate in double A than single A) and struck out 138.

Cloyd was an 18th-rounder in 2008, and the Phillies thought enough of him to send him to the Arizona Fall League, where he made eight more starts. Against tougher competition, he posted a 4.35 ERA.

Cloyd did not take to a relief role in 2010. But in 2011, he bounced between the bullpen and rotation in Clearwater with success before his promotion to Reading. That bodes well for a possible future as a swing man for rotation depth. His control will be the ticket.


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at 215-854-2928, mgelb@phillynews.com, or @magelb on Twitter.

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