Phillies pitching goes from rags to riches

After bottoming out in 2005, Philly has conducted a system arms race

(Al Behrman/AP)

By Jonathan Mayo / | March 28, 2007 5:37 AM ET

The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, each preseason, takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.

Clearly, the Phillies believe the old "pitching wins championships" adage. If it's true, and the depth in their farm system continues to develop, they'll be hoisting many a trophy in Philadelphia in the near future.

The renewed commitment to building pitching from within has already paid dividends at the Minor League level. Back in 2005, the Phillies' system had the next-to-worst winning percentage in all of baseball. In 2006, they were eighth. And the young hurlers at the various affiliates were a big reason why. Three affiliates -- Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Batavia and the South Atlantic League-champion Lakewood BlueClaws -- led their leagues in team ERA.

In 2007, every level will have at least one, if not multiple, legitimate pitching prospects taking the mound every fifth day. That kind of depth leads to competition, which leads to better performances. It also allows the big-league general manager the luxury of trading from that depth if he sees fit. Case in point: Sending Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez to the White Sox to get Freddy Garcia, the piece Pat Gillick felt was necessary to have the Phillies finally win the NL East.

In the past few years, the Phillies have nearly filled their entire infield with homegrown talent. There isn't as much position player strength on the farm, though Michael Bourn is nearly ready to step in and play the outfield every day. But Philadelphia might be able to boast about a homegrown rotation in the near future, or at least a championship caliber club that all that pitching enabled them to bring together.

Climbing the Ladder

Triple-A Ottawa

Michael Bourn, OF
Bourn wasn't happy at the start of the season after getting a ticket back to Double-A Reading for a second tour. Instead of sulking, he played his way up the ladder. His outfield defense and base-stealing have always been his fortes -- he's led the organization in stolen bases three years running -- and in 2006, his bat started to catch up. He hit .274 and swiped 30 bases in 80 games for Reading, earning a bump to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He kept on going at the new level, hitting .330 over his first month there before cooling off in August. Still, he hit .283 in Triple-A and went 15-for-16 in stolen-base attempts, earning his first big-league callup. Bourn is still in Phillies camp, hitting .278 over 22 games and going a perfect 6-for-6 in steals. There's still a chance he could stick as a fourth outfielder, though the Phillies will likely rather have him play every day. Rumors of an Aaron Rowand trade persist and if that were to happen, everyone is confident Bourn is ready to step into a starting role when needed.
Video: Outfielder outlines his '07 game plan
Video: Bourn on the Rookie Career Development path

J.A. Happ, LHP
The Phillies' third-round pick in 2004 out of Northwestern began the year in the Florida State League, but ended it in Triple-A. Along the way, he threw 160 2/3 extremely effective innings, finishing with a 2.69 ERA and 162 strikeouts. Most of them came in Clearwater and Double-A Reading, but he capped the season off with a win for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before pitching in the Arizona Fall League. He now has a 2.49 career ERA in the Minors, thanks to outstanding command of his fastball and a plus changeup. The Phillies have a deep rotation now in the big leagues, so there's no reason to rush Happ up, but if things break down in Philly, Happ could be among the first to get the call.

2006 Organizational Record
A (Adv)








* Won league championship

Others to watch: It took a while for RHP Zack Segovia to come back from Tommy John surgery, but he showed he's almost ready to contribute at the big-league level by winning 16 games with a 2.82 ERA last year and throwing 150-plus innings. He and Happ could compete for that first callup should the need arise. . ... Former Rule 5 phenom LHP Fabio Castro was sent down so he could work on being a starter. ... They'll all get to throw to C Jason Jaramillo. Despite a subpar 2006 that was hurt by a broken hand early in the season, he's still the organization's catcher of the future.

Double-A Reading

Mike Costanzo, 3B
What a story this could be, a local kid who grew up a Phillies fan making his way through the system and becoming their third baseman. It's not going to happen imminently, but Costanzo, the club's top pick in 2005 (second round) will move up one rung to Reading this year. He's got some pop as a left-handed hitter, especially to the pull side, and while his 14 homers and 81 RBIs seem modest from 2006, he was fifth in the pitching-friendly Florida State League in the latter category. He's a terrific defensive third baseman and should get a full year of Double-A ball to work on his offensive flaws (133 K's last year).

2006 Organizational Leaders
Home Runs
Stolen Bases
Branden Florence
Gary Burnham
Branden Florence
Michael Bourn
Matt Maloney
Maloney, Z. Segovia
Matt Maloney
Chris Key
Complete MiLB statistics

Matt Maloney, LHP
Somewhat surprisingly, Maloney spent all of 2006 in Lakewood and went on to be the South Atlantic League -- and Phillies organization -- Pitcher of the Year. He too won 16 games and his 2.03 ERA and 180 strikeouts led the system. Not surprisingly, the Phillies plan to let him skip Clearwater and go straight to Reading. They think he'll be able to handle the leap because of his great feel for pitching and a terrific ability to mix his four-pitch repertoire well. He doesn't have plus stuff, but that pitching know-how -- good ol' pitchability -- could enable him to continue to move up the ladder quickly.

Others to watch: RHP Kyle Kendrick should be joining Maloney in the Reading rotation. He's a workhorse who threw 176 innings last year and finished with a 3.17 ERA across two levels. ... While in college, RHP Pat Overholt both relieved and started, with more success coming out of the bullpen. That continued to be true in 2006, his first full season in the Phils system. He struck out 93 in 72 innings across two levels and is poised to help Kendrick, Maloney, etc. finish off games. ... Aussie shortstop Brad Harman had a rough season in 2006 after a huge first full season in 2005. Despite the off-year in Clearwater, he could make the jump to Reading.

Class A Advanced Clearwater

Greg Golson, OF
It's not typical that a promotion is in order for a guy struggling at a level, but it worked for Golson last year. He was hitting just .220 after 93 games in his second season with Lakewood when the Phillies decided to see whether challenging him with a jump to Clearwater would wake him up. It did. His OPS jumped 200 points in the 40 games he played in the Florida State League as all aspects of his offensive game improved. Still, he hit just .233 overall for the year with a .651 OPS. The Phillies are quick to point out that he's still only 21 and would be just coming out of college now, so they'll continue to be patient. At the same time, they're hopeful that Golson will be able to pick up where he left off at the end of last year as things continue to click for him.

Carlos Carrasco, RHP
The Phillies tried to send Carrasco to Lakewood in 2005 with disastrous results. To his credit, he regrouped and pitched all season there at the ripe old age of 19 last season, finishing with a 2.26 ERA, a strikeout per inning and a .182 batting average against. He made some great strides over the course of the season, culminating with a South Atlantic League title (Carrasco contributed two strong starts to that end). He'll move to the FSL at 20, but if he pitches anything like he did a year ago, he might not be there long. If all goes well, Carrasco will take his fastball, changeup, curve mix to Double-A Reading at some point during the year. From there, the sky is the limit.

Others to watch: Joining Carrasco to make a terrific 1-2 punch in Clearwater will be lefty Josh Outman, who had a 2.95 ERA in Lakewood last year, along with 161 strikeouts in 155 1/3 innings. He could ride the Reading express with Carrasco at some point this year. ... RHP Drew Carpenter, a 2006 second-round pick, would make for a nice No. 3. He barely got his feet wet last summer after a long season, but the advanced college hurler can handle the leap to the FSL. ... They could be a fortunate trio, getting to throw to C Lou Marson, the backstop who handled the outstanding staff in Lakewood last year. His offense is behind, but he's an oustanding receiver. ... The Phillies got C.J. Henry from the Yankees in the Bobby Abreu deal, then moved him to third during instructs. As he gets more comfortable in his new organization, the Phillies think his confidence will rise and his production will take off.

Class A Lakewood

Adrian Cardenas, 2B
Scouts came to Monsignor Pace High School to see Chris Marrero, but in many ways his teammate Cardenas had a better senior season. Marrero went in the first round, but Cardenas wasn't far behind, going in the supplemental first round to the Phillies. He hit well, albeit without the power he showed in high school, with a .318 average during his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League. A shortstop in high school, the Phillies had Cardenas try out second in instructs and he took to it well. As a result, that will be his home in Lakewood this season, even if it's not his long-term home. The Phillies are pleased for him to have some versatility because that will make it easier for his bat to allow him to move quickly. He'll be in full-season ball at 19 with the hopes his offensive potential will hit Philadelphia at a very young age.

Kyle Drabek, RHP
Drabek was considered to have perhaps the best arm in the 2006 draft, but there were concerns about maturity and makeup that allowed him to slip to Philadelphia at No. 18 overall. The Phillies are thrilled to have him. He got in a few outings in the GCL last summer, then did some nice work in instructs over the fall. This spring, he came to big-league camp and was immediately taken under the wing by veteran Jamie Moyer, who did everything from talking pitching to explaining the benefits of playing catch. It was a real eye-opener for Drabek and the Phillies haven't had a single issue with him since he signed. They're hoping they can take what he learned from Moyer and a leadership program he attended in January and apply it to his mental game. Physically, his stuff is impressive, with a nasty curve and plus fastball. In instructs, he improved his changeup greatly. While his dad, Doug, had a very good big-league career, this Drabek has the chance to be even better.
Video: Drabek on his imminent future

Others to watch: RHP Edgar Garcia had a 2.98 ERA in Batavia last year and will pitch in Lakewood at 19 alongside Drabek. ... SS Jason Donald, taken out of the University of Arizona in the third round in June, will team up with Cardenas to make a very intriguing double-play combination. ... Not happy enough to have Bourn and Golson as toolsy center-field types? Then try D'Arby Myers on for size. The fourth-round pick from last June, he showed the ability to hit for average and with some pop in the GCL in his debut. He also can flat-out fly.

Under the Radar

Joe Bisenius, RHP
A 12th-rounder in the 2004 draft out of Oklahoma City, an NAIA college, Bisenius has snuck up on some people. A starter initially, he's taken to a bullpen role, especially in 2006. He began the year in Clearwater, but earned a promotion to Reading. For the season, he had a 2.25 ERA, 95 strikeouts and a .207 batting average against in 84 innings. He got a long look this spring and pitched well, but will start the year with Ottawa. As soon as the Phillies need 'pen help, though, they won't hesitate to call the big right-hander up.

Zack Segovia, RHP
Second-rounders aren't usually under-the-radar types, but Segovia jumped off the radar when he had Tommy John surgery in 2003. He only had thrown about 60 innings that year and then missed all of the 2004 season. In 2005, he had that "coming back from TJ surgery" season, finishing healthy, but with a 5.54 ERA. Last year, it started to come back together, with a 2.19 ERA in Clearwater and a 3.11 ERA in Reading. His velocity hasn't come back, but he's become a better pitcher with improved command and location. Now he's knocking on the door.

Jeremy Slayden, OF
Slayden began his college career at Georgia Tech extremely well and looked poised to be one of those college bats who would be drafted well. Injuries didn't help him, especially a torn rotator cuff. He didn't sign with the A's in 2004 when they took him in the 18th round, but joined the Phillies in 2005 when they took him in the eighth round. He had a nice year with Lakewood, hitting .310 and slugging .510, but he's going to turn 25 in July, so he was a little old for his level. This could be the year he really makes a name for himself with a leap up to Reading.

2006 Draft Recap

Fourth-round OF D'Arby Myers hit .313 with 11 steals in 31 Gulf Coast League games. ... OF Quintin Berry, a speedster out of San Diego State taken in the fifth round, stole 19 bases for Batavia last summer. But he'll have to hit better than the .219 he put up in his debut. ... LHP Dan Brauer (6) had a 1.96 ERA and struck out 65 in 55 NY-Penn League innings, earning a spot on the league All-Star team and and an eventual promotion to Lakewood. ... RHP Andrew Cruse (9) had a 2.57 ERA over 13 starts for Batavia. ... Infielder Zach Penprase (13) stole 19 bases in 59 games for Batavia, but hit just .211. ... RHP Ben Pfinsgraff (22) had a 1.55 ERA over 64 IP between Batavia and full-season Lakewood. He struck out 69 and held hitters to a .187 batting average.


Organizational Player of the Year -- Mike Costanzo
While he hasn't put up the numbers perhaps some hoped for when he was drafted, he's still right on pace and heading to Double-A. He was very impressive this spring and will use that as a springboard to lead the organization in homers and RBIs and cement himself as the third baseman of the future.

Organizational Pitcher of the Year -- Carlos Carrasco
There are so many arms to choose from, to be honest, with any of a number of southpaws vying for the award. Instead, we'll go with the right-hander who's just 20 years old. Look for Carrasco to make quick work of the Florida State League and keep on dominating the Eastern League after a promotion.


"It made it very easy because of what's coming through our system. It's definitely something we talked about in the draft a few years back, that we had to get the pitching back. As you know, good pitching always beats good hitting. Plus, it allows you to trade up like we did, so we could get someone like Freddy [Garcia] and still not hurt the system. It took a couple of years, I know our system was down a little bit because we had a couple of trades, any time that happens, it puts you in a little bit of a hole. We've rebounded a bit, our Latin American program has produced some great pitching, being able to go out and deal with the Asian areas and Australia has helped a little. We've gone in all the markets to get the system back up again." -- Phillies Minor League director Steve Noworyta on the pitching depth that allowed them to trade away Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez this offseason.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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