Spring Training Dish: Phillies Camp
by Chris Kline
March 24, 2006
Editor's note: Assistant editor Chris Kline is spending
three weeks covering spring training in Florida's Grapefruit League.
Today's stop: Phillies camp.
CLEARWATER, Fla.--The Phillies might not have the deepest
system around, but they are deepest where most organizations fall
A lot of that has to go with netting lefthanders Gio
Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood from the White Sox in the Jim Thome deal
over the winter, and an equal amount falls on the shoulders of a
healthy Cole Hamels--but the Phils have reasons to be excited about
their lefthanded depth.
As for the rest of the system, it has been depleted over the
years through various trades and forfeiting draft picks as compensation
for free agent signs. But Mike Arbuckle, the team's assistant
general manager for scouting and player development, is back on the
amateur beat for the scouting department for his most extensive tour of
duty in at least three years. With a first-rounder slated for June as
compensation for losing Billy Wagner, Arbuckle is adamant about
reloading through the draft and being aggressive on the international
Arbuckle and another in-house candidate, Ruben Amaro Jr., were
passed over when the Phillies hired a new general manager after last
season, as they went outside the organization to bring in Pat Gillick.
Arbuckle says there is no animosity from either as the Phillies focus
on restocking the system.
"I've incredibly happy to be back out on the amateur side of
things more than I have over the last couple years," Arbuckle said.
"And I've learned more from Pat Gillick in the last few months than I
think I ever have in a long time in this game. And once you stop
learning, you're done."
We sat down with Arbuckle to talk about where the system is
now and where it's headed, the nice crop of lefthanders already in tow,
and righthander Scott Mathieson--who's advanced by leaps and bounds in
what can only be termed as a well-traveled offseason.
Baseball America: The system really doesn't look too
great on paper, but there are obvious reasons for at least part of
that. How do you see the depth in the organization overall?
Mike Arbuckle: I feel we're starting to
restock. We had thinned the system out over the last couple years and
not having some high picks for about three years. So things were
thinner than we would prefer, but I think we're starting to get better.
We have a decent balance of position players and pitching. We've got
some pretty good arms that we like, but now we're starting to get the
(Jason) Jaramillos and the (Mike) Costanzos and Wellinson Baez, (Brad)
Harman--some position guys we like as well. So I think we're starting
to get back to some balance between the two. We're not where we need to
be yet depth-wise, but I think we're headed in the right direction. And
having an extra pick in the draft this year will be nice. We want to
continue to be aggressive in signing players and I think we're going to
BA: And even so, you do have a nice group of lefthanded pitching when most other clubs are always salivating for it . . .
MA: Absolutely--and you can never have enough and everyone
always says that because it's true. We've got some good lefthanded arms
now starting with Cole Hamels, who's had a real positive spring. He's
had no issues physically, so we're optimistic that he's on a good
track. If we get him pitching like we know he's capable of doing, throw
Gio (Gonzalez) into the mix, (Daniel) Haigwood--who I think is a solid
prospect--then you get down to guys like (J.A.) Happ and (Matt)
Maloney. We've got some lefthanders in the system that we feel like
have a chance to pitch. Even kids like (Justin) Blaine and some of
those guys that we think have a chance to be big leaguers.
BA: The Double-A rotation in Reading looks especially
good, especially if you throw Hamels in the mix, at least to start.
Where does Hamels fit in right now?
MA: We're still debating it, to be honest. We'd thought about
him starting there and then the more we've talked about it because of
weather and bus trips we've had some talk about starting him here in
Clearwater. So I would view it as fairly a short-range thing here and
very well could be in Reading or above that if he keeps throwing like I
think he's going to. That Double-A staff is going to be a good one with
Scott Mathieson, Gio, Haigwood's still between there and (Triple-A)
Scranton. So we could end up with a good staff to extremely good staff
in Reading from a prospect standpoint.
BA: Scott Mathieson must have earned quite a few
frequent-flier miles this offseason with the Arizona Fall League, the
Olympic qualifier and then the World Baseball Classic. What have you
seen in him this spring and how much does pitching against all that new
and different competition affect his confidence level?
MA: I think it's really helped him confidence-wise and it's
helped him mature as a person. Because obviously at the lower levels
they're in somewhat of a protected environment and now having pitched
for Team Canada and Arizona against better competition, it's really
helped him. And the stuff is certainly quality. Him scrapping the
curveball and getting the slider in his arsenal has been huge. I was
just talking to (scouting director) Marti Wolever and he said Mathieson
threw a couple sliders yesterday that were just nasty. He's on a real
positive track. He'll start out in Reading. 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.
BA: Is there any are of emphasis you're working on with position players this spring?
MA: One thing we're trying to do is we want our speed guys to
do a better job of reading pitchers, getting leads and learning the
finer points of stealing bases. We feel like our speed guys want to be
too reliant on pure speed, so we've tried to really focus on helping
the (Chris) Robersons, the (Greg) Golsons, the (Michael) Bourns--all
those kids--with early work sessions on basestealing to try to enhance
their confidence level in getting better and smarter leads, reading
pitchers; those kinds of things.
BA: Those are all some intriguing outfielders . . .
MA: Well, we feel real good about our center field situation
now. Roberson's played extremely well (in big league camp), so well
that he's still in the mix as a fifth outfielder. Now the question
becomes is it more valuable for him to be a fifth outfielder there or
play every day in Scranton. So we're going to have to sort all that
out, but has really opened some eyes in big league camp.
Michael Bourn is on a real positive track and I think he's
right on course. I haven't seen much of Golson yet this spring, but the
reports have been positive. Those guys are all players we feel have a
chance to be big league center fielders. We're pretty deep in that area.
BA: Another outfielder who came on real strong last
season is Shane Victorino, and his background is also intriguing--being
Rule 5'd twice and finally breaking out. What are his chances of
earning a spot on the big league club?
MA: He really took a step forward. I think he has a very good
chance of making the club. The problem you run into a lot of times when
you Rule 5 guys at an earlier age, the last thing usually to come is
the bat and that was the situation with him. He can go get it in the
outfield, he can run the bases, but the bat was really the last thing
he was prepared to utilize at the big league level. And with the
progress he made with the bat in Triple-A last year, that's what
separated him from where he had been in previous years. He and Roberson
are similar in a way in that they are both athlete-speed guys that were
kind of late-bloomers with the bat. They're similar in that regard.
BA: We mentioned the WBC earlier and Carlos Ruiz also played in the tournament for Panama. Similar confidence-booster?
MA: I think it's good because those kids get to play in a
different environment for their country and they get that little bit of
extra pressure that they have to learn to handle. It's definitely a
positive for those kids to have that kind of experience. He had a great
year for us in Scranton last year, but the key with him is we've got to
keep him on the field all year. He's had little nagging injuries,
gotten taken out at the plate a couple times on collisions, he's had
concussions and what have you. If we can keep him on the field on a
regular basis, he's very close to being a major league catcher. He can
throw; he's a good receiver; he's a contact hitter, and he's got the
energy you want in a catcher. There are a lot of things there that you
BA: Last question--this organization probably has more
prospects hailing from Australia than any other. Being active on the
international market is one thing, but being a player in Australia has
to be somewhat different. Why focus so much attention on Australia?
MA: We've been very active there in the last number of years.
We brought on board Kevin Hooker, who played in our system and is from
Australia to scout that area and Marti is a big believer that it's kind
of an untapped area. So we decided to jump in and get more active and
we feel pretty good about what we've gotten. Obviously Harman, a
big-bodied righthander in Mark Kelly, a catcher in Joel Naughton--who
might have shown as much improvement from the first day of spring
training until the end of the summer last year as anyone in the
organization--and (righthander) Scott Mitchinson. Mitchinson came out
of camp last year with a tender arm and kind of got behind and never
caught up. We're hoping he'll be fully healthy and get to see the real
guy this year.
• Lefthander Gio Gonzalez has looked
impressive this spring. It just took him a while to buy into the fact
that he really was a Phillie. When the White Sox dealt Aaron Rowand, Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood to Philadelphia for Jim Thome, Gonzalez received a call from Chicago farm director David Wilder,
who broke the news. But Gonzalez didn't flinch. He thought it was a
practical joke. "It's the organization you grew up with, so you
honestly think to yourself, 'Why in the hell would they trade me?' "
Gonzalez said. But after the two hung up the phone, the Phillies called
him five minutes later with a welcoming call.
"I told them they'd really gone a long way to plan this joke
on me and they could stop whenever they wanted. I just thought the
White Sox went a long way to bust my chops with this crank call. When
they told me I was part of the Thome deal, I was completely speechless."
• Righthander Scott Mathieson has
pitched just about everywhere over the last year, and combined with
that experience and his hard-biting, 86 mph slider, the Phillies expect
big things out of the 22-year-old this season. But he still wishes he'd
pitched better during his one-inning stint against Team USA in the
World Baseball Classic--especially against Chase Utley when Canadian centerfielder Adam Stern made a game-saving catch with runners on base to preserve Canada's lead heading into the ninth.
"I'm not going to lie--I was definitely nervous out there, but
I could have done a lot better than I did," Mathieson said. "The
weirdest thing was as soon as Utley came up, I was like, 'Oh, I've
faced this guy before--he's nothing.' I faced him over here a couple
times and I wasn't worried at all and then he just crushed that one
ball and Stern bailed me out big time."
Mathieson struck out eight over five innings on Tuesday in the
Double-A game against the Devil Rays, but was back out on the field at
7:30 a.m. Wednesday working on pitcher's fielding practice. "I have a
tendency to throw a little too hard to the bases sometimes, so we were
just trying to work on easing it over there a little bit," Mathieson
said. "I just came out to see if I could do some more work."
• One name to watch in the organization is righthander Julio De La Cruz.
The 25-year-old Dominican is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery
and the Phillies expect to move him quickly this season, probably
starting him out at high Class A Clearwater. De La Cruz tops out at 95
mph with his fastball, commands it well and backs it up with a hard
slider. "We're going to try to fast-track him because he's essentially
missed two years," Arbuckle said. "He's an older kid, but all of the
sudden what we initially saw looks like it's back with command. We may
start him to get him innings, but he probably profiles as a reliever."
• Another arm to be on the lookout for is righthander Edgar Garcia.
Garcia is still working on his secondary pitches, but sits in the 92-95
mph range with his four-seam fastball. He will pitch the entire season
at 18 years old and is coming off a Rookie-level Gulf Coast League
season when he went 4-4, 3.56 in 56 innings.