This offseason, MiLB.com is 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.
In a year that saw the Major League club drop from a 102-win total in 2011 to a disappointing 81 in 2012, there was at least some cause for optimism in the Phillies pipeline this year, especially due to two farmhands who had monster years.
Darin Ruf racked up both Eastern League MVP and Rookie of the Year honors after leading the Minor Leagues with 38 homers to go along with his .317 average and 104 RBIs for Double-A Reading. Meanwhile, Tyler Cloyd went 12-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 1.01 WHIP during his time with Triple-A Lehigh Valley en route to being named International League Most Valuable Pitcher.
On the team side, Reading, who are now called the Fightin Phils, qualified for the Eastern League playoffs after finishing as the Eastern Division runner-up, thanks to a host of quality bats and arms. Six of the players listed below spent time there this season, leading to the team's 76-66 record. As a whole, the Phillies Minor League system combined for a 423-404 record (.511 winning percentage), good for 12th among baseball's 30 organizations.
Phillies Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Cameron Rupp, Clearwater (104 games): Two of Philadelphia's top seven prospects -- Sebastian Valle and Tommy Joseph, top prize in the Hunter Pence deal -- are home here, but the 24-year-old Rupp gets the nod here. His .770 OPS ranked second among all Florida State League catchers, thanks to a resurgent second half that saw the stat inflate to .932.
He earned spots on the circuit's midseason and postseason All-Star teams, his first pair of honors since being taken by the Phillies in the third round of the 2010 Draft. But it wasn't just some offensive numbers that earned the Texas native praise, according to Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan.
"If you're talking about our catchers, no one came further defensively than Rupp," Jordan said. "Talking to people before the year began and afterward, they all talk about how much he did behind the plate. People talked a lot about our arms in Clearwater, and he was a big part of that. Throw that together with his bat and he had a pretty good year."
First baseman -- Darin Ruf, Reading (139 games), Philadelphia (12 games): Along with the aforementioned power numbers, the right-handed slugger, who also spent time in the outfield, put together a .317/.408/.620 slash line that earned him eight accolades in all this season, including most recently a mention on Topps' Double-A All-Star Team. Still his 38 homers -- 20 of which came in August -- more than doubled his previous high of 17, set last season at Clearwater.
"Things just came together for him," Jordan said. "You could see his two-strike approach was better, and when he did a get a pitch he liked, he rarely made a mistake with it. There's nothing really magic about it. He just got to a point where he understood his approach. Sure, it's deeper than that, but this guy's good. He's dangerous."
Ruf eventually earned a September callup to the Majors, where he went 11-for-33 (.333) with three homers and 12 RBIs in 12 games. He is expected to compete for a spot in the Major League outfield come Spring Training.
"They were all very excited to see what he could do, and he didn't disappoint. There were some pitchers' pitches that he was able to get to, and sure, he was able to put some balls in the seats. But the big thing was in batting practice, when you're around a cast of established guys, he was hitting balls as far as anyone else. He was going the opposite way like anyone else. This guy fits in."
Second baseman -- Cesar Hernandez, Reading (103 games), Lehigh Valley (30 games): The 2012 season represented a bounceback year for the 22-year-old infielder. After batting just .268 with a .639 OPS for Clearwater in 2011, Hernandez rebounded to .291 and .733 between two levels. His 11 triples led the Eastern League, where he earned midseason and postseason All-Star mentions.
"I believe the guy didn't know how good he can be," said Jordan. "He can be an average-to-above average fielder, an average-to-above average runner. He's definitely going to be an above-average hitter. We challenged him in Spring Training, and we told him to show us something. This guy went out and did everything we asked him after that."
Shortstop -- Roman Quinn, Williamsport (66 games): The 2011 second-round pick batted .281 with a .370 OBP in his Minor League debut for the Crosscutters, but he made a name for himself with his speed. His 30 stolen bases ranked third and his 11 triples fourth among all Class A Short-Season position players. Quinn's 27 errors in 66 games make defense a concern, but Jordan thought those mishaps can be ironed out as the shortstop gains more experience in the full-season leagues.
"Roman Quinn has every physical ability to be an impact player in the Majors. Obviously, you look at the run tool, but there's also his ability to hit as a switch hitter. Every time you see him play, you learn something new about him. ... It's hard not to be a little giddy about his prospects."
Third baseman -- Cody Asche, Clearwater (62 games), Reading (68 games): Speaking of a player who improved with a move to full season, Asche owned a .324/.369/.481 slash line in equal time between the Threshers and R-Phils, a marked progression from the .192/.273/.264 numbers he put up in Williamsport a year earlier. His power numbers were much better in Reading, where he hit 10 homers and slugged .513 compared to two and .447 in Clearwater.
"In Spring Training when camp started, we didn't know exactly where he fit," Jordan said. "We liked his bat obviously but didn't know exactly where to place him. We decided to skip Lakewood, put him in Clearwater, and I couldn't have dreamed up a better year for him. When he started, he wasn't totally in a comfort zone, but he took care of us as the year went on."
Kelly Dugan, Lakewood (117 games): The only player on this list to spend his entire season with the BlueClaws, Dugan showed promise as the team's primary No. 3 hitter. He exhibited a little pop (33 doubles), some patience (.387 OBP) and an ability to move where needed (played first base until making a permanent shift to right field in early June). The 22-year-old particularly excelled in the second half, thanks to a .331/.415/.485 line in the last 69 games. The Phillies only hope he can carry that momentum into Clearwater, where Dugan is expected to start the 2013 season.
"I got a bad read on him in the spring," Jordan said. "He had a hurt hamstring, and we were playing him at first base where he couldn't do much of anything. We kept him back to get the leg healthy, but after that, he showed that he has some ability. He can throw, something we wouldn't see at first base. It was fun to watch my first impression be so wrong. ... He could have hit 30 homers in Reading if he were there."
Leandro Castro, Reading (133 games): Charged with protecting Ruf in the Reading lineup, Castro held his own in the No. 5 and No. 6 holes. He batted a solid .287 with 35 doubles (second-most in the Eastern League) and 71 RBIs (eighth). Despite a low .316 OBP, his All-Star nod in the middle of the season was his first since receiving the honor for Williamsport in 2009.
"A lot of the concerns we had with him were about him swinging too much," said Jordan. "But you could see that he grew and stopped getting himself out so much as the season went on."
Larry Greene, Williamsport (70 games): A lot of eyes were on the 39th overall pick in last year's Draft as he entered his first Minor League season, and the 19-year-old Georgia native certainly flashed some promise. Like Dugan, he exhibited an affinity for doubles (22, third in the New York-Penn League) and walks (41, fifth) during his abbreviated rookie campaign. Hitting only two homers, Greene's power isn't quite all the way there yet, but the organization is hopeful that he'll develop that too.
"He made a lot of progress and became a much better player by the end of it," said Jordan. "You could see what our scouts saw in him. He definitely understands more about himself, and there are no worries whatsoever that he won't be a real solid player."
Utility/DH -- Christopher Duffy, Lakewood (60 games), Clearwater (44 games): Duffy's season was rather bipolar, but his numbers with the BlueClaws were just too impressive. The first baseman, who got most of his starts as a designated hitter, batted .384/.466/.620 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs in 60 games with the Class A club, although that time was sporadic at best. His numbers at Clearwater -- .236/.314/.331, two homers, 15 RBIs -- weren't nearly as attractive, but his Ruthian stats in Lakewood can't be ignored.
"From Day 1 in Spring Training, he took a lot of pride in his appearance and what he looked like on the field and worked his [butt] off to get there. That's something Chris carried all the way year," Jordan said. "Listen, the kid can hit. What he's going to have to do is not give the Florida State League pitchers too much credit."
Right-handed pitcher -- Tyler Cloyd, Reading (four games), Lehigh Valley (22 games), Philadelphia (six games): As much of a slam dunk as Ruf was for this list, Cloyd was equally so. He ranked in the top 10 among all full-season Minor Leaguers in wins (15, third), ERA (2.26, sixth) and WHIP (1.01, sixth). He led the International League in the latter two categories en route to the circuit's most prized pitching award, along with two All-Star mentions and a spot on Topps' Triple-A All-Star Team.
"You can't run a guy out there for five months and do any better than he did," said the Phillies executive. "In my 15 years of experience, he was as good as anyone I've seen. He did such a good job at pitching to his strengths, and what you saw was such a credit to the work he did."
Because of that success, the 25-year-old made his MLB debut on Aug. 29 and finished 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA over six starts with the Phillies. For a pitcher who had difficulty breaking out of Double-A ball in 2010 and '11, Cloyd was able to accelerate his track to the Majors in '12. Now the trick will be sticking at the game's highest level.
"I don't think it was the plan, but that's baseball," Jordan said. "Sometimes you have to recognize what a guy has done. It's all about finding 25 guys who give you the best shot at winning, and given the way he pitched, he showed he could be one of them."
Left-handed pitcher -- Jesse Biddle, Clearwater (26 games): The Phillies' top prospect already had a nice story as a Philadelphia native taken in the first round of the 2010 Draft. But in 2012, he built on an impressive resume. He led the Florida State League with 151 strikeouts in 142 2/3 innings and finished with a 10-6 record to go with a 3.22 ERA.
"Being with some of the older guys in Clearwater, it was a good thing to help him get going," said Jordan. "But by the end, he didn't need anyone else to help him. There is not a better worker in our system. Jesse's very focused, hardworking and emotional. I'm not sure if being a kid that grew up here, that kind of plays into it more than most guys."
Relief pitcher -- Justin Friend, Reading (38 games), Lehigh Valley (12 games): The 26-year-old right-hander dominated Double-A bats this season, holding Eastern League opponents to a .178 average to go with his own 0.23 ERA. Those kinds of numbers led to 24 saves in 38 appearances for the R-Phils. A 12-game spell with Lehigh Valley between late June and early July didn't go as well -- 4.40 ERA, .339 opponents' average -- but that doesn't take away from Friend's masterful Double-A campaign.
"He's a big leaguer, a real bulldog," Jordan said. "You look into his eyes, and you can tell he knows he's good. He's not the sexiest guy perhaps; he's doesn't throw 95. But just watch him pitch and you can tell he's a big leaguer. His heart, his guts, it's what you wish all the others had."