This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.
The Phillies have been one of the strongest teams in the Major Leagues for the past several seasons, so it comes as no surprise that their Minor League system has been just as competitive. Between Class A and Triple-A this year, only the Lakewood BlueClaws finished with a record below .500 -- and they went 68-69. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs had the best season of any club in the organization, making it all the way to the International League championship before falling just two wins short of the title, while the Reading Phillies also made the playoffs.
Despite trading away a number of talented prospects over the past three years in order to acquire stars like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Hunter Pence, Philadelphia is far from bare down on the farm. Below are the players who enjoyed the best 2011 seasons in the Phillies' Minor League system.
Phillies Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Erik Kratz, Lehigh Valley (103 games), Philadelphia (two games): Kratz was a rock behind the plate for the Triple-A IronPigs, setting career highs in average (.288), hits (103), runs (56), homers (15), RBIs (54), total bases (167) and walks (38). He led catchers in the system in homers, while also pacing the group in total bases (167) and OPS (.838). His strong offensive performance earned him a spot on the International League midseason All-Star team for the second straight year.
"Eric was a leader in the clubhouse and on the field," said Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper, who is in charge of player personnel. "He swung the bat well and he handled our pitching staff well. We brought some younger bullpen guys up. It's great to have a guy with his experience behind the plate to handle those guys."
First base -- Matt Rizzotti, Reading (139 games): The 25-year-old had one of the best offensive years in the Phillies' system, tying for the organization lead with 24 homers while ranking alone in first with 84 RBIs, 255 total bases and a .903 OPS. He also displayed a discerning eye at the plate, drawing a system-leading 79 unintentional walks -- 15 more than the next-best mark. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound first baseman swiped four bases in five attempts as well, doubling his career total coming into the season.
"He's always hit," Looper said. "His defense has improved. He needs to continue to improve on defense. He showed power this year -- Reading's ballpark plays a little more for hitters. He's the type of guy that needs to hit to get his chance at big leagues. He should get chance at Triple-A to show what he can do at then next level."
Second base -- Josh Barfield, Lehigh Valley (123 games): Barfield didn't have a season to write home about, but his was the best among a weak crop of Phillies second basemen. The Major League veteran belted only six homers and 23 doubles, but those numbers were enough to lead the position in the organization. He also topped the group with 55 RBIs and tied for the lead with 47 runs scored.
"He was a veteran guy that did a nice job for us at Triple-A," Looper said. "We put together more of a competitive club there, and he certainly did a pretty good job for us."
Shortstop -- Freddy Galvis, Reading (104 games), Lehigh Valley (33 games): Galvis easily led his positional competition, pacing Phillies shortstops with eight homers, 28 doubles, five triples and 23 steals in 36 attempts. He also ranked second in the organization overall with 78 runs scored and checked in at 10th with a .278 average. Always a strong defender, Galvis was named the Phillies' Minor League Player of the Year after his offensive breakout.
"We kept him for a couple weeks in a strength and conditioning program last year," Looper said. "To his credit, he went home to Venezuela with his own trainer and continued the program until camp opened. We believe and he believes that the additional strength showed up in all areas of his game. His throwing was better, he ran better and, at the plate, he had more strength with the bat. It paid off for him."
Third base -- Carlos Rivero, Reading (129 games), Lehigh Valley (seven games): Rivero was another infielder who enjoyed an offensive breakout in 2011, hitting more homers (16) than he had in the previous two years combined (13). The 23-year-old ranked first among Phillies third basemen in homers, RBIs (71) and runs (71). He also came in third in the organization with 228 total bases on the season.
"It's about his third year in Double-A," Looper said. "We moved him up to Triple-A briefly but had some roster changes. He got off to a slow start there, but it was more of a roster issue than anything. He finished off good and helped the club get into the playoffs."
Brandon Moss, Lehigh Valley (124 games), Philadelphia (five games): Moss proved to be one of the most powerful Minor League bats for Philadelphia, ranking third in the organization with 23 homers and 80 RBIs. He also placed third with an .877 OPS and fifth with 222 total bases. He started out with just six long balls in the first two months, but then recovered to launch 17 dingers between June and August.
"He had a tremendous year there for us, driving in runs and hitting home runs," Looper said. "In the clubhouse and on the field, he's a good makeup guy. He just helped the ball club. We brought him to the majors after playoff run, so he did get some Major League time out of it."
Derrick Mitchell, Reading (135 games): A former 23rd-round Draft pick, Mitchell hit .265 with a career-high 19 homers (fifth), 79 RBIs (fourth) and 211 total bases (eighth). He also tallied 67 runs scored and 20 steals. Playing almost exclusively in center field for the first time, he posted a .986 fielding percentage and racked up five outfield assists.
"He does all there is," Looper said. "He did a nice job driving in some runs and playing a pretty good center field. He's a good makeup kid. ... We moved him to the outfield and he's taken off since then. We're happy he's progressed."
Rich Thompson, Lehigh Valley (124 games): Thompson doesn't have a whole lot of power, but his speed is more than evident. He led the Phillies with 48 steals on the season, getting caught just four times to post a 92.3 percent success rate. Though he only recorded five home runs, he did tally 25 doubles and eight triples en route to scoring a system-leading 81 times.
"He's a good outfielder," Looper said. "He's got such good range out there, and he's got pure speed on the basepaths. He can steal a base when you need him to. I don't know that his bat will be enough for an everyday guy in the Majors, but he could be an extra outfielder or a pinch runner late in the game."
Utility/Designated Hitter -- Darin Ruf, Clearwater (133 games): After hitting .307 and .290 in the past two seasons, the 25-year-old first baseman batted .308 to place third in the organization in 2011. He also ranked second in the system with 82 RBIs, 245 total bases and .894 OPS. He earned a Florida State League Player of the Week honor after collecting 14 hits, two homers and 10 RBIs in a seven-game span and was named an FSL postseason All-Star.
"He makes solid contact," Looper said. "He's got a good approach up there, good balance, and he can drive the ball to the opposite field. He's improved defensively, which he's working hard on. He should get his opportunity to see what he can do at the next level."
Right-handed pitcher -- Trevor May, Clearwater (27 games): After dominating at Class A Lakewood in 2009, May earned a promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater and struggled: He posted a 5.01 ERA in 70 innings, striking out 90 but walking 61. This season, he had no such problems. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound hurler fanned 208 in just 151 1/3 frames, leading the Phillies and ranking third overall in the Minors. The 22-year-old kept the walks in check this time around, issuing 67 in more than twice as many innings, while pitching to a 3.63 ERA. He was named a Florida State League midseason and postseason All-Star, then took home the Phillies' Pitcher of the Year honor.
"Part of growing up as a player is learning to deal with failure," Looper said. "He started in the Florida State Leauge and was miserable. He went back to Lakewood, fought through it and ended up having a good year. He came back this year, and not too often do you have a pitcher strike out more than 200 hitters -- in A-Ball or at any level in the Minor Leagues.
"He's got a good arm, can extend the ball and has a good changeup. He's a guy that looks like a pitcher that can give you a lot of innings every year."
Left-handed pitcher -- Jesse Biddle, Lakewood (25 games): Selected in the first round in 2010, Biddle performed up to his Draft status in his first full professional season. The 20-year-old placed fifth in the organization with a 2.98 ERA, allowing just a .219 opponents' batting average. He also put together a strong whiff rate, striking out 124 in 133 innings pitched. Though he started out the year looking lost -- he posted a 7.16 ERA in four April starts -- he went on to compile an ERA under three in each subsequent month.
"We're certainly happy with the way he performed over there," Looper said. "He got better with different things. His changeup really improved -- he had used it a little but not much coming out of high school. Again, he's a guy that fought through some tough early games. He didn't get off to particularly good start. Even during the year he had some rough starts, but overall he put it all together. He had a good year, especially for his age. He's got some things to work on -- holding runners, fielding his position -- but he took a big stride forward this year."
Reliever -- Justin De Fratus, Reading (23 games), Lehigh Valley (28 games), Philadelphia (five games): The 24-year-old was a shutdown reliever for the entire season, posting a 2.99 ERA while striking out 99 in 75 1/3 innings. He was a regular at the end of games as well, placing second in the system with 15 saves and 39 games finished. He performed well in a brief showing with the big league club at the end of the year, allowing one earned run in four innings pitched.
"He's got the stuff, a good fastball and slider," Looper said. "He's a competitive guy -- he's not afraid. You never know for sure how they're going to react at the end of games. ... If he stays healthy and keeps moving forward, he's going to be a productive Major League pitcher."