Mathieson, Gonzalez anchor Reading staff
See Also: Previous Double-A report
CLEARWATER, Fla.--Walking around the Carpenter Complex at Phillies camp this spring, high Class A Clearwater pitching coach Scott Lovekamp seemed like a dejected man.
"Don't mind me," Lovekamp said. "I've been going through Scott Mathieson withdrawal."
Lovekamp, who worked with Mathieson, 22, last season in Clearwater, also had him most of the spring before the Triple-A coaches came down from big league camp with about two weeks to go in spring training.
"He's a special kid," Lovekamp said. "And now it seems like he's on everybody's radar."
That was more or less inevitable after what Mathieson has done in the last nine months. He left Bright House Field last year to pitch for his native Canada in the World Cup in Amsterdam last August, then headed to the Arizona Fall League, then pitched for Canada twice more--once for the Olympic qualifier in Arizona and then in the World Baseball Classic, where he appeared for an inning of relief in the Canadian victory over the United States.
After logging all those frequent-flier miles, Mathieson now finds himself with a new challenge--anchoring the staff at Double-A Reading.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Mathieson said. "They draw a ridiculous amount of fans, just like when I was in (low Class A) Lakewood two years ago. That really gets my adrenaline flowing. Nothing against (Clearwater), but since I left here at the end of last year, it seemed like I was playing in front of an awful lot of people every time out. It just gets you excited to pitch. I'm also kind of glad to be in one place for a while. I mean, I hope I'm not there too long, but it will be a great place to go out and pitch in."
Mathieson already featured a 95 mph fastball and solid changeup, and the biggest step in his development came when he dumped his curveball in favor of a slider near the end of last season.
"The stuff is certainly quality," Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said. "Him scrapping the curveball and getting the slider in his arsenal has been huge. To me, the key for him is commanding the fastball a little better than he has and then continuing to develop the secondary pitches. When those two elements are where they need to be, he's a big league pitcher."Two For One
In addition to Mathieson and his mid-90s fastball, the Reading rotation also features lefthanders Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood. Both came over from the White Sox in the Jim Thome deal in the offseason, and both should figure into the Phillies' success at the Double-A level this year.
Gonzalez went 8-3, 3.56 in 73 innings at high Class A Winston-Salem after being called up from low Class A Kannapolis last season. The supplemental first-round pick from the 2004 draft has stuff that makes scouts drool--from the low 90s fastball to his signature curveball to a quality changeup--but tends to draw red flags because of durability questions.
"I just feel that injuries are going to happen, and I've been working my butt off to the bone this offseason to come in to camp in the best shape of my life," the 20-year-old lefty said. "I don't want that reputation to follow me anymore. But all I can do is give it everything I got and do my best to try to prevent it."
In Haigwood, the Phillies got an innings-eating lefthander who tossed 143 innings last season between Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, with 6-1, 1.74 numbers in Double-A.
"He really impressed our staff during camp," Arbuckle said. "But we felt like it was best to get him out, get him acclimated to the organization in Double-A. He pitched half a season at that level last year and did very well. But he's a guy we target for being in Triple-A over the course of the season.
"His velocity's improved a little and he has that two-seamer that dives down to the bottom of the zone. We really feel good about both guys we got in that deal."Three The Hard Way
Rounding out the rotation are righthander Tim McClaskey and lefhander Brian Mazone, giving the Phillies three lefties to work with.
McClaskey, 29, is no stranger to the upper levels of the minors, having spent parts of the last four seasons at either Double-A or Triple-A with the Athletics and Astros. He spent the bulk of last season with Corpus Christi in the Texas League, going 8-10, 3.33 in 160 innings.
Mazone, 28, adds veteran leadership to the rotation after pitching at Double-A Norwich last season. Mazone found his way back to pro ball in 2003 in the Brewers organization before signing with independent Joliet. The Giants picked him up in 2004 and he finished last season with the Navigators, going 11-8, 3.10.
"What these guys bring is balance and experience to a very young Double-A rotation," Arbuckle said. "And they need some other brains to pick. They need positive influences and they are two pitchers who can provide that as they continue on the path."
As for the three prospects, Mathieson is perhaps the biggest sponge of the bunch.
"I take in everything from everywhere about the game," he said. "I'm always trying to learn new things, new edges in this game. Coaches and veteran pitchers are the best avenue of doing that. They've been around and you respect that. Anyone who has been around this game offers something to the younger guys."
• One name that will be familiar to Eastern League fans this summer is Altoona infielder Simon Pond
. Pond, 29, first broke into the EL in 1998 with Harrisburg and spent most of last season in Bowie before signing a minor league deal with the Pirates during the offseason. The Canada native hit .266-19-75 for the Baysox last season.
• Also returning to the Curve is righthander Matt Peterson
, who hasn't lived up to expectations since coming over from the Mets in the Kris Benson
deal in 2004. Peterson, 24, went 11-9, 5.51 in 144 innings with Altoona last season and followed that up with 0-4, 10.71 numbers in the Arizona Fall League. He allowed a whopping 32 hits in 21 AFL innings and the Pirates hope he can turn it around in his third straight Double-A season. "Pete just hasn't regained the velocity he had when we traded for him--he's been inconsistent," Pirates farm director Brian Graham
said. "At some point, it's got to click in, but we just haven't found the right button to push. He's been 86-88 (mph) and we're talking about a guy who was consistently 93 at one point. If we knew the answer we'd get it fixed. Two or three different pitching coaches have taken a shot at him and it hasn't worked yet."Southern Accents
• Most of Jacksonville's 2005 championship team has moved on to Triple-A Las Vegas, but the Suns will boast one of the Dodgers' best prospects in outfielder Matt Kemp
. Kemp tore up the Florida State League last season, hitting .306-27-90 in 418 at-bats. The sixth-round pick in 2003 followed that up with a strong AFL season, batting .383-3-16 in 94 at-bats. He's a big guy that can run and we're going to keep him in center field until he plays himself off it," Dodgers vice president of scouting and player development Roy Smith
said. "He looks fine out there, shows good instincts. I think he can, but if he doesn't, that's OK. He's going to hit for enough power."Texas Leaguers
• As the season gets under way, the performance of Arkansas shortstop Brandon Wood
will be under the microscope. Wood, who mashed 58 homers last year between high Class A and the AFL will now experience Double-A pitching for the first time in his career.
"A lot of eyes will be on him to see how he adjusts," a scout with an American League club said. "But with his bat speed and plane to the ball, I don't see a problem with him making the necessary adjustments as he starts to see more offspeed pitches.
"It'll still be interesting, though. Anytime a guy like that comes on the scene at such a young age, you want to see him against better competition."