Phillies believe in unproven talent

Posted: February 22, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - We live in a world where a Top 100 list seems to be a prerequisite for any entity that has a halfway-decent Google page rank. This year, most of those lists rank the Phillies near the bottom of the majors in overall talent. Ruben Amaro Jr. has a relatively simple explanation for this.

"It's all a bunch of crap," he said earlier this week.

If Amaro's dismissal is a case of sour grapes, he is certainly going to great lengths to disguise it. When the Phillies general manager agreed to trade away starter Vance Worley and one-time top pitching prospect Trevor May in December, it is hard to imagine he did so to clear a rotation spot for John Lannan. Without a doubt, the crux of the deal was the acquisition of a young, cheap, controllable centerfielder in Ben Revere. But the subhead was the loud display of confidence in the pitching talent in the Phillies system that the deal represented. While Worley had already started 46 games and posted impressive strikeout, walk and home-run rates (7.7 per nine, 3.1 per nine, and 0.7 per nine) to go with his 3.50 ERA, and while May had entered the 2012 season as Baseball America's No. 69 prospect at 22 years old, Amaro felt comfortable with young depth that included lefty Adam Morgan and righties Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin.

"We wouldn't have done it otherwise," Amaro said.

On Friday, the Phillies will compete in an intrasquad game in which all three of the aforementioned pitchers - 22-year-old Pettibone, 22-year-old Morgan and 23-year-old Martin - are scheduled to make their spring-training debuts. The outings will be their first opportunities to distinguish themselves in front of the major league coaching staff; the right impression could end up paying dividends later in the season, when the annual bout with injuries will likely lead the Phillies to tap their minor league system on at least one or two occasions.

In fact, if you look around the training complex at Bright House Field, you will see a number of young, homegrown players who enter the exhibition schedule with a chance to win major league playing time. In the outfield, Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown are the early favorites to play in the corners, at least until Delmon Young completes his return from ankle surgery (he is expected to start the season on the disabled list). In the infield, Freddy Galvis is the early favorite to enter the season as the Phillies' utility man. In the bullpen, righties Justin De Fratus, Phillippe Aumont and Mike Stutes are competing for a spot in the bullpen. Lefty Jake Diekman is competing for another spot.

Whatever happens, the Phillies seem likely to enter the season with a total of first- and second-year players on their roster that is unprecedented in the post-World Series era. That would seem to indicate one of two things: Either the talent in the minor league system is better than the national pundits think or the Phillies are going to be in for a long season.

Amaro and his trusted personnel men think reality lies in the former scenario. While major publications like Baseball America, and ESPN all deemed the Phillies to be lacking much in the way of blue-chip, high-ceiling talent, the organization does feature five players who made an appearance on at least one of those company's Top 100 lists. The only unanimous pick was lefty starter Jesse Biddle, who seems likely to head to Double A Reading this year. ESPN actually rated Morgan higher than Biddle, while included Martin on its Top 100 list. Baseball America liked young shortstop Roman Quinn, who checked in at No. 100 on its list.

The Phillies think their talent extends well beyond whatever names end up in bold in magazine centerspreads and website packages. They are particularly excited about the last couple of drafts. In addition to Quinn, 2011 featured the addition of outfielder Larry Greene and shortstop Mitch Walding, both of whom the Phillies consider high-celing players. Morgan, who will start Friday's intrasquad game, was a third-round pick in 2011. In the fourth round of that year, the Phillies snagged third baseman Cody Asche, who opened a lot of eyes last season and is in big-league camp this year. Over the last couple of years they have added two high-ceiling international free agents in outfielders Carlos Tocci and Jose Pujols, while landing catcher Tommy Joseph in the Hunter Pence trade.

"I feel good about what we've got," assistant GM Benny Looper said. "We've got some in the upper levels, and we've got some down below. Guys like Quinn and Greene and Walding - Pujols, the kid we signed last summer. And then at the upper levels: Asche, Martin, Joseph. I feel pretty good about what we've got."

Amaro and Looper are both effusive in their praise of assistant GM Marti Wolever, who oversees the draft, and international scouting director Sal Agostinelli. Indeed, the Phillies have done an impressive job of continually reloading their system during a 4-year stretch that has seen them trade blue-chippers Kyle Drabek, Jonathan Singleton, Travis D'Arnaud and Anthony Gose along with several other Top 100 types. And when you consider recent history, you are tempted to defer to their judgment.

When the Phillies traded for Roy Halladay prior to the 2010 season, Baseball America had outfielder Michael Taylor and Drabek among the 30 best prospects in the sport. Yet in the conference room at Citizens Bank Park after Halladay's introductory press conference, you got the sense that catcher D'Arnaud was the player that Amaro and Looper most dreaded losing. Two-and-a-half years later, Taylor is a 27-year-old with 56 big-league plate appearances, and Drabek is on the mend until at least the second half of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery for a second time (before the injury, he struggled with his command while posting a 5.34 ERA in 34 appearances for Toronto). D'Arnaud, meanwhile, has emerged as a potential frontline offensive catcher (although he missed half of last season with an injury and was traded to the Mets in the offseason as the centerpiece of a deal that landed the Blue Jays NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey).

Out in Arizona, Carlos Carrasco has recovered from his first Tommy John procedure, which ended his 2011 season after 21 starts and a 4.62 ERA. He will be 26 years old this season, but does not appear to have a spot on the Indians' revamped roster. One of the key pieces of the 2009 trade for Cliff Lee, the righty has a 4.93 ERA in 33 career big-league starts. Righthander Jason Knapp, another big piece of that 2009 trade, is not at spring training; Cleveland released him last August after he logged a total of 40 innings in three injury-plagued seasons in Class A.

Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick have already experienced much more major league success, and neither was considered an elite prospect. That's not to say that the Phillies will not come to regret the loss of a Gose or a D'Arnaud or a Singleton or a Jarred Cosart, who is scheduled to face his old team on Saturday as a member of the Astros. But they say they are quite pleased with the talent level in their system. The young faces here at spring training will soon get a chance to prove them right.


On Twitter: @HighCheese


comments powered by Disqus