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Top Ten Prospects: Philadelphia Phillies
Complete Index of Top 10s
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, 2005.
Background: Howard enjoyed a standout sophomore season at Southwest Missouri State and looked poised to be a 2001 first-round pick. But he slumped with a wood bat while with Team USA, and the struggles continued into his junior year. On the verge of setting several school records, he wound up breaking only the record for strikeouts in a season with 74. Teams backed off until the Phillies took a chance on him in the fifth round. They were rewarded when he regained his power stroke. Howard fell seven RBIs shy of winning the high Class A Florida State League triple crown in 2003, then crushed 46 homers to lead the minors last season. He went on a couple of homer binges, launching 10 in a nine-game span at Double-A Reading and eight over 11 days in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was leading the minors with 131 RBIs when he left to make his big league debut and finished second in that category, as well as fourth in total bases (309) and fifth in slugging (.637). Howard continued to make an impression in the majors, drilling homers off Bartolome Fortunato and T.J. Tucker, and then led the Arizona Fall League with 14 doubles.
Strengths: Howard’s prodigious power rivals that of any prospect. He can hit home runs from foul pole to foul pole, and when he gets his pitch—especially one low and inside—he rarely misses it. Howard used to be vulnerable to inside fastballs, but he made that adjustment and can jerk those pitches over the wall now as well. He also made strides in laying off bad breaking balls on the outer half. He’s willing to take walks when pitchers refuse to challenge him. Howard plays better defense than most give him credit for. He’s surprisingly nimble for such a big man and possesses average hands and average range.
Weaknesses: Howard strikes out a lot, including 179 times in 524 at-bats in 2004. He has tried unsuccessfully to put more balls in play, but the Phillies won’t mind lofty strikeout totals as long as he brings that lefthanded power to the plate. There’s still concern about how he’ll handle quality fastballs in on his hands. Jim Thome’s presence prompted the organization to send big league coach Milt Thompson to the AFL to work with Howard on a possible position change. Howard showed just enough range and a solid arm to be able to play left field occasionally, but he’s not going to be able to move there full-time. He doesn’t run well, but he has decent instincts and isn’t a baseclogger. For all his success, Howard is 25 and always has been a bit old for the leagues he has played in.
The Future: Realistically, Philadelphia knows it must trade Howard because Thome is signed through 2008. Even if he could handle left field regularly, Pat Burrell would block him. The Phillies won’t give away one of the game’s best power prospects, so if they can’t find a good trade he’ll have to settle for a major league reserve job or a return to Triple-A in 2005.
Background: Floyd was the first of three Mount St. Joseph High products selected in the 2001 draft, going fourth overall, one pick before Mark Teixeira and 21 rounds before his brother Mike. Gavin and Mike Floyd both signed days before they were to attend classes at South Carolina, with Gavin getting a club-record $4.2 million signing bonus. Though he was out of gas in September, he pitched well in his major league debut.
Strengths: Floyd’s 12-to-6 hammer curveball rates as one of the best in the minors and proved effective against major leaguers. His fastball sits at 89-90 mph, topping out at 94. His changeup has improved to a consistent solid-average pitch that’s a plus offering at times.
Weaknesses: Floyd’s velocity tailed off and his delivery was less consistent at the end of 2004. He must improve his stamina and lower-half strength. Floyd also needs to command his fastball better.
The Future: Floyd could make the 2005 rotation, but will return to Triple-A if he’s not ready. He projects as a No. 2 or 3 starter.
Background: The organization’s top prospect after posting a 1.34 ERA in his 2003 pro debut, Hamels looked just as good in big league camp last spring. But he tried to throw too hard too early, pulling his left triceps muscle. He never felt right and made just four appearances all year.
Strengths: Hamels will throw his plus-plus changeup in any count, sinking and fading it away from righthanders. Hamels pitches at 88-91 mph and can reach 93-94. His poise and feel for pitching are advanced.
Weaknesses: Hamels’ curveball shows the makings of a third plus pitch, but he needs to locate it more consistently. Though the Phillies have no long-term concerns about his health, he has a checkered medical history. He broke the humerus bone in his left arm in high school, scaring some teams off in the 2002 draft. He also pulled a muscle behind his right shoulder in 2003, costing him a spot on the U.S. Olympic qualifying team.
The Future: Hamels has a slightly higher ceiling than Gavin Floyd but is more of a risk. He got back on the mound in instructional league, where his arm and stuff were fine. He’ll start 2005 in Double-A.
Background: The best athlete in the 2004 draft, Golson turned down the University of Texas to sign for $1.475 million as the 21st overall pick. There were some questions about his swing, but he made adjustments and finished eighth in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting race.
Strengths: Golson displays excellent baseball instincts along with blazing speed that gets him from home to first base in 3.8 seconds. Those feet, along with an above-average arm that would play in right field, make him a top-flight center fielder capable of stealing doubles from hitters and bases off pitchers. He also has the strength to become a 20-homer threat. Golson’s older brother Justin is a Naval Academy graduate, and he shows similar makeup and work ethic.
Weaknesses: Though he fared well in the GCL, Golson needs to see more professional-quality breaking balls to get better at hitting them. He struck out too frequently in his debut, which cut down on his chances to use his speed.
The Future: With the similar Michael Bourn two steps ahead of him, the Phillies have no need to rush Golson. If he has a good spring he’ll open the season at low Class A Lakewood.
Background: The Astros chose Bourn in the 19th round out of high school, but he opted to attend Houston, where he stole 90 bases in three years. He picked up two hits, two walks and three steals in his first game of 2004 and never looked back. He tied for third in the minors in triples while leading the South Atlantic League in walks, on-base percentage and steals.
Strengths: Bourn knows his role as a leadoff hitter. He works counts, hits the ball on the ground and then makes use of his excellent speed. He beat Greg Golson by a step in a 60-yard dash in instructional league. He’s also an above-average defender with good instincts. His arm is average.
Weaknesses: Hitting instructor Donnie Long reminds Bourn not to always beat the ball into the ground because he has enough strength to drive low, inside pitches for extra-base hits. Bourn’s a solid bunter but the Phillies want him to get better.
The Future: Bourn’s first two pro seasons impressed the Phillies enough that they now consider him their long-term center fielder. He’ll move to high Class A Clearwater and could reach Double-A by the end of 2005.
Background: Mathieson played with fellow British Columbia natives Adam Loewen and Jeff Francis on Canadian national teams, and he went 16 rounds after them in the 2002 draft. His grandfather Doug tried out for the Athletics during the Connie Mack era and played first base for the Air Force at Pearl Harbor. After going 2-9, 5.09 in his first two seasons, Mathieson made considerable progress in 2004.
Strengths: Mathieson threw 84 mph as a high school senior, but the Phillies gambled on his projectability because he had a lanky frame, loose arm and smooth mechanics. It’s paying off as he hit 96 mph last season while consistently pitching in the low 90s with average life. His changeup has improved to an average pitch.
Weaknesses: Mathieson is finally done growing into his body, so now is the time for him to fine-tune his command across the board. His curveball breaks straight down but not consistently enough. It’s still a below-average pitch.
The Future: If Mathieson masters his curve, he could emerge as a No. 2 or 3 starter. Otherwise, he shows the makings of a power reliever. He’s ready for high Class A Clearwater.
Background: Blalock played with Cole Hamels at San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo High. He’s more associated with his all-star brother Hank, but Jake couldn’t be more different as he possesses more raw power but not the same ability to hit for average. A high school shortstop, Blalock moved to third base and then the outfield as a pro.
Strengths: Blalock worked hard on his defense, playing an average left field and showing solid arm strength in 2004. Relaxing on defense helped him do the same at the plate, where he boosted his average by making more contact. He also learned to keep his front side closed longer against breaking balls, allowing him to show plus power to the opposite field. He led the South Atlantic League in doubles.
Weaknesses: Blalock is still a streaky hitter. He didn’t homer until May and ran hot and cold all season long. Though he cut down on his strikeouts, he still whiffed 126 times and may be exploited by more advanced pitchers.
The Future: The Phillies will continue to show patience with Blalock. He’ll go to Clearwater, where the spacious Florida State League parks should test his power output and hitting skill.
Background: Carrasco signed for $300,000 out of a Venezuelan tryout camp and did nothing but improve during his first year with the organization. He added 20 pounds and really turned a corner from extended spring training through instructional league.
Strengths: Carrasco works at 92-93 mph now and should add velocity over the next few years. He throws his fastball on a downhill plane with average life. He showed consistent improvement with his curveball, which should develop into a plus power pitch. His smooth delivery and good changeup are reminiscent of a much older pitcher. He’s an excellent athlete, which enables him to repeat his delivery.
Weaknesses: Carrasco needs to relax on the mound. Early in the season when things didn’t go well, he tended to get amped up rather than thinking about what adjustments he needed to make to throw quality strikes. His breaking ball needs more consistency and depth.
The Future: Carrasco should be ready for a full-season league, but an organizational logjam of starting pitchers probably will keep him at short-season Batavia. Considering his age, there’s no rush.
Background: Sal Agostinelli and Wil Tejada doggedly tracked Garcia’s progress for a year before he headed to the Perfect Game/Baseball America World Wood Bat Championship last fall. Garcia made a quick pit stop to pitch at the Phillies’ training complex in nearby Clearwater, and the staff regarded him as the equivalent of a second- or third-round pick. They signed him for $500,000.
Strengths: In his Clearwater workout, Garcia showed off a plus fastball that reached 94 mph and flashed a power 12-to-6 curveball at 80 mph. His delivery and arm action are clean, especially for a 17-year-old pitcher with limited experience. His big, strong frame should lend itself to durability and more velocity down the road. The Phillies also like his tenacity on the mound.
Weaknesses: Garcia’s changeup still has a ways to go before it’s considered average. His biggest need now is more experience to learn how to make in-game adjustments. His arm slot is a little high, but that should be easily correctable.
The Future: Garcia will make his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2005. He should emerge as a No. 2 or 3 starter.
Background: The Phillies signed Mitchinson on the first of what has become an annual scouting trip to Australia for youth tournaments. He was one of four Aussies to debut in the U.S. in 2004, with four more coming in ’05. Mitchinson received a $10,000 bonus and spent a year at Major League Baseball’s academy in Australia before tying for the Gulf Coast League lead in wins in his U.S. debut.
Strengths: Mitchinson’s fastball has improved from 85 mph to the low 90s in two years and there’s room for more velocity. But his heater takes a backseat to his command, and he posted a jaw-dropping 60-1 strikeout-walk ratio in the GCL. He throws his curveball and changeup for strikes.
Weaknesses: Mitchinson succeeds more because of his feel for pitching than raw stuff. That was enough to dominate young hitters, but he’ll need to improve the quality of his pitches to succeed as he rises up the ladder.
The Future: He appears ready for the challenge of low Class A. But as with Carlos Carrasco, a backlog of starters could lead to Mitchinson spending 2005 at short-season Batavia.