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By Will Kimmey
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. Gavin Floyd, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210.
Background: Floyd likely would rank as the top prospect in at least half the other organizations. He signed for a club-record $4.2 million as the fourth overall pick in 2001—one spot before fellow Mount St. Joseph High product Mark Teixeira—and the Phillies haven't regretted it. Philadelphia signed Gavin's older brother Mike, an outfield, as a 22nd-round pick out of the same draft.
Strengths: Floyd entered his pro career with two plus pitches, a 92-95 mph fastball with movement, and a shoulders-to-shoelaces hard curveball that rates a top-of-the-line 80 on the scouting scale at times. His main focus since has been developing a changeup, which now rates average and shows flashes of being better than that. Floyd works hard at improving his skills and shows above-average makeup.
Weaknesses: A longtime fan of Kevin Millwood, Floyd tried to emulate his idol’s deliberate delivery after watching him in spring training. It cost Floyd his rhythm and deceptiveness, and it took a month to remedy the problem. He was as good as ever thereafter before developing a tired arm late in the season. He must continue to hone his location and ability to repeat pitches, but he’s still ahead of most pitchers his age.
The Future: Floyd’s development is right on track. He'll move up to Double-A in 2004, and the pitching depth in the organization means the Phillies won't have to rush him.
3. Ryan Howard, 1b
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 230.
Background: Howard followed Rangers prospect Jason Hart as Southwest Missouri State's first baseman, and was projected as a 2001 first-round pick before a junior slump that included a school-record 74 strikeouts. He ended up being a nice prize in the fifth round, leading the Florida State League in batting and homers in 2003, and missing the triple crown by seven RBIs.
Strengths: Howard has legitimate power to all fields, especially on low pitches, and even launched a blast over the batter's eye behind the 400-foot center-field wall at Clearwater's Jack Russell Memorial Stadium. He also has made steady progress in his approach as an all-around hitter, opening his stance to better handle inside pitches. He has proven to be a surprisingly good defender for a big man, with average range and plus hands that allow him to pick throws out of the dirt.
Weaknesses: Howard still has work to do in identifying pitches. As a power hitter, he'll always strike out some, but Phillies officials would like to see him trim his lofty totals. As he matures as a hitter, Howard should learn to wait for specific pitches and to take or foul off those he can't drive. While he struck out less frequently against lefthanders, Howard hit 20 of his 23 homers against righties.
The Future: There's no reason Howard can't reach 35 homers per year in the majors. His power met the stiff test of the pitcher-friendly FSL and should play fine in Double-A in 2004. He won't be rushed through the system because of Jim Thome's presence in Philadelphia, but likely will be ready for the majors before Thome's contract expires after 2008.
4. Ryan Madson, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 180.
Background: Madson has reached double digits in wins three times since 2000, and rebounded from an off year in 2001 by becoming more aggressive and attacking hitters on the inside half of the plate. He probably should have been born a lefthander, because his best attributes on the mound--command, poise and finesse--are befitting of southpaws. He started the 2003 Triple-A all-star game for the International League.
Strengths: Madson's father wouldn't let him throw a curveball in Little League, so he had to settle for a changeup. It has emerged as a plus-plus pitch, barely edging Cole Hamels' as the system's best. It has natural movement, and some hitters think it's a splitter or breaking ball. Madson's solid-average two-seam fastball sits at 90 mph and touches 92. It has sinking action and runs away from righthanders. He junked his curveball for a slider, which is an average pitch that improved over the season.
Weaknesses: Phillies officials would like Madson to add muscle to his lanky frame, especially his lower half, to increase his velocity and durability. Injuries haven't been a major concern, but he did miss time with a tired shoulder in 2001 and began the 2003 season in high Class A because of a sore arm he developed during spring training.
The Future: Madson is ready for the big leagues and will have a shot to win the fifth starter's role in Philadelphia this spring. He made a positive impression with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan during his September callup, giving him a slight advantage in the competition.
5. Keith Bucktrot, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205.
Background: Bucktrot always has shown the makings of plus stuff, but his mechanics have been so inconsistent that some teams liked him better as a hitter during his high school career. The Phillies were confident they could straighten him out and have done so. He improved his command and trimmed his walks per nine innings from 4.4 in 2002 to 2.5 in 2003.
Strengths: Bucktrot improved as much as anyone in the organization in 2003, and part of the credit goes to his makeup. Asked to repeat high Class A, he worked hard to catch up and even improved the quality of his pitches after getting to Double-A. His heavy fastball sits in the 92-94 mph range with sinking action. It started touching 95-96 more often in instructional league. Bucktrot's changeup rates as a solid-average pitch.
Weaknesses: One month into the season, Bucktrot switched from a power curveball to a slurve, an intermediate step before he transitions to a hard slider with a sharp, late break. It projects to be solid average or better but is still inconsistent. Despite his power repertoire, Bucktrot has yet to approach a strikeout per inning and must miss more bats.
The Future: Bucktrot reported to the Arizona Fall League, but felt an elbow twinge and was pulled off the roster. He checked out fine and it's no longer a concern. He'll begin 2004 back in Double-A but once he's ready, the Phillies won't hesitate to make room for him in what could become a crowded Triple-A rotation.
6. Alfredo Simon, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 215.
Background: Simon posted three solid seasons in the organization while known as Carlos Cabrera, before visa problems revealed his true name and birthdate (21 months earlier than originally believed). Once he was allowed to re-enter the United States in June, he pitched well and continued to mature physically. His massive 6-foot-4 frame has grown from 174 pounds when he signed to 215.
Strengths: Simon runs his fastball into the 93-96 mph range and should reach 98 when he finishes filling out. His heater bores in on hitters, sawing off bats and making solid contact difficult. His physical size and arm strength give him plenty of durability.
Weaknesses: Simon must develop consistency with his secondary pitches. His changeup is too soft right now, allowing hitters to recognize it and tee off. He has gone from a curveball to a power slider while trying to find an effective breaking ball. Repeating his delivery better, and the mechanics on these two pitches specifically, would be a large step in the right direction. He also must work on his patience, as his aggressive nature sometimes gets the best of him.
The Future: Simon’s size and repertoire used to remind Phillies officials of Carlos Silva, but now he might have more upside than that. While he could still emerge as a middle-of-the-rotation starter, it’s more likely Simon will become a late-inning reliever working off his plus fastball and whichever secondary pitch comes along the quickest. He'll work on all three pitches as a high Class A starter in 2004.
7. Michael Bourn, of
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 180.
Background: An excellent high school athlete and scholar, Bourn turned down the Astros as a 19th-round pick in 2000 in favor of a scholarship to Houston. Though hampered at times by a broken hamate bone and sore hamstring, Bourn stole 90 bases in three seasons with the Cougars and ranked fifth in the short-season New York-Penn League in his pro debut. Unlike many speed-first players, Bourn also showed impressive plate discipline in college.
Strengths: Bourn is a Kenny Lofton-type player and he knows it. He doesn't try to do too much and is content to work a walk or lay down a bunt, a skill he worked to improve with minor league instructor Milt Thompson. Bourn's top-of-the-line speed comes with almost-instant acceleration, making him play even faster. His wheels make him an obvious threat on the bases and allow him to track down everything in center field.
Weaknesses: Bourn's arm strength is just fringe average, but his reads and instincts still make him an above-average defender. Bourn didn't show much pop as a college junior, and a triple was his only extra-base hit for Batavia. He's not a home run hitter by any means, but he can shoot balls into the gaps when he gets his pitch.
The Future: Bourn and fellow 2003 draftee Javon Moran are similar players. They'll continue alternating between left and center field at low Class A Lakewood in 2004. The Phillies hope Bourn can become a leadoff hitter with game-changing skills.
8. Elizardo Ramirez, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175.
Background: Ramirez jumped from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League all the way to high Class A in 2003 and made the move look much like his nickname, "Easy." He didn't repeat his insane 73-2 strikeout-walk ratio from 2002, but still registered a fine 101-33 mark. His composure, command, desire and build recall a young Pedro Martinez, but Ramirez doesn't have that kind of stuff.
Strengths: Ramirez has a loose arm and an easy, compact delivery that should allow him to be a workhorse. His fastball sits at 90 mph and tops out at 91-92. He also throws an average curveball and changeup. Ramirez succeeds because of his advanced feel for pitching and excellent location. He holds runners exceptionally well, permitting just one steal in seven attempts in 2003.
Weaknesses: While his command and walk numbers are impressive, Ramirez' strikeout and hit rates were troubling, owing to average stuff across the board. He must start regularly to stay sharp and maintain a consistent delivery. He must be careful not to be too precise by working around batters he can retire. Ramirez also can become more consistent with his breaking ball.
The Future: There's a possibility Ramirez could repeat high Class A because of his youth and a glut of pitchers already ahead of him in the system. If there's an open spot in the Double-A rotation, however, he'll be ready for it.
9. Juan Richardson, 3b
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1998.
Background: Off-the-field developments have hampered Richardson’s progress the last two years. He had two years added to his age, then in 2003 he slipped on the stairs at his home and badly sprained his ankle. The injury ended his season in June, just after he had been named to the Eastern League all-star team while leading the circuit in home runs.
Strengths: Richardson ranks behind only Howard for pure power in the organization. He probably won't ever hit for much average, but he could produce 30-35 homers annually. He’s a solid average third baseman with an average arm, and he improved his range in 2003.
Weaknesses: Plate discipline has been Richardson’s undoing. Like many power hitters he's eager at the plate, and he must lay off breaking balls in the dirt. His defense often mimics his performance at the plate.
The Future: Because he missed half the year in Double-A, Richardson might begin 2004 there to make up for lost time. A solid spring training could land Richardson in Triple-A, and he should end his season there in any case. The best all-around third baseman in the system, Richardson could take over in Philadelphia by 2005.
10. Terry Jones, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190.
Background: The Phillies used a $500,000 bonus to buy Jones out of a University of California scholarship in 2001, and his skills finally are starting to catch up to the athleticism that turned scouts’ eyes during his prep career. He's also a second cousin of NFL quarterback Rodney Peete.
Strengths: Jones has drawn comparisons to Chipper Jones, as both were high school shortstops with solid power. Having the same surname didn’t hurt, either. He showed the ability to turn on, lift and drive balls better in 2003. Defensively, he’s the best third baseman in the system, owing to his athleticism and average to plus arm.
Weaknesses: Looking at Jones' raw numbers, it’s hard to see a lot of bat potential in a .233 career hitter. But he made strides in 2003, especially after a dreadful .192 average in April. Jones must develop more selectivity at the plate. He often gets overaggressive and tries to do too much.
The Future: Phillies officials say Jones can be an above-average major league hitter capable of hitting .280 with 20-25 homers annually. He’ll work on his patience in high Class A next year.