They say that pitching wins championships. Attempting to prove that very point this year in Clearwater are five hurlers, all of whom possess slightly different backgrounds but the same ultimate goal - getting their team wins by keeping the other squad off the scoreboard. Meet the members of the 2012 Threshers rotation:
Morgan was the fourth overall player selected by the Phillies in the 2011 draft, as they snatched up the University of Alabama lefty in the third round. Eager to get started on his pro career, the 6'1", 195-pounder signed on the dotted line and was subsequently assigned to the Williamsport Crosscutters in June.
Morgan wasted little time proving his worth to the organization, as he quickly became an anchor in the 'Cutters rotation. With a wide arsenal of pitches, Morgan flashed extremely impressive poise and command on the mound. He finished his debut season with a 3-3 record, boasting a stingy 2.01 ERA. The Phillies were so impressed with his performance that they rewarded Morgan by jumping him past Class-A Lakewood and straight to Clearwater.
"To me it means they have a lot of confidence in me," he said about his double-promotion. "I'm working hard and it's an honor to be here and bypassing Lakewood. I'm not taking that for granted, and I'm trying to take every advantage of this opportunity."
Despite skipping an entire level of play, Morgan has certainly held his own in the early goings.
"The hitters are more disciplined here," he explained. "You don't get away with pitches in the dirt or high. You've got to make a lot more pitches and be consistent."
Part of the highly-esteemed "Baby Aces" group that made up the Threshers rotation in 2011, Colvin is back in Clearwater in 2012 to begin the season. A seventh-round pick in 2009, Colvin was expected by many to head to Louisiana State University, but the Phillies convinced him to go pro later that summer. And they're glad they did.
After posting impressive numbers at Lakewood in 2010, Colvin helped make up a rotation in 2011 that included other top prospects Trevor May, Jonathan Pettibone, Jarred Cosart, and Julio Rodriguez. He begins 2012 back in Clearwater, and hopes to build more consistency after finishing with a 4.71 ERA here last season.
"Mainly just fastball control and being consistent with my mechanics," he said, when asked what improvements he's looking for in 2012. "Last year was an up-and-down season for me - I struggled sometimes, and sometimes I threw well."
Colvin also knows the competitiveness and camaraderie of his teammates in the rotation, whether they're called Baby Aces or not, is always an important factor.
"Both staffs I've been with are all great guys," he explained. "This staff is just as good, and I love playing with these guys."
With a hot start to the first half, the 21-year-old could soon find himself reunited with May, Pettibone, and Rodriguez in Double-A Reading.
Perhaps the most recognizable name amongst the starters, Biddle arrives in Clearwater carrying a host of accolades along with him. The 6'4", 200-pound left-hander became a household name in 2010 when the Phillies drafted him in the first round out of Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia.
Proving that high-schoolers from the northeast can compete with the best of the best, Biddle quickly opened eyes, retiring batters by the bunches in his first two pro seasons. After finishing 2011 in Lakewood with a 2.98 ERA and 124 strikeouts, Biddle was ranked as a top-100 prospect in baseball, and the second-best in the Philadelphia system by Baseball America.
Despite the fact that his success has led him to the spotlight, the mature, well-spoken 20-year-old knows he still has plenty to prove. The youngest member of the Threshers roster, he likes to be considered simply "one of the guys."
"Just because you're drafted somewhere doesn't give you a better chance to make it to the big leagues," he said. "You still have to go out there and pitch."
"It's a lot of fun when it gets down to it," he went on. "But I'm just a High-A baseball player right now, and there's been a lot of those."
Biddle also understands the value of the experience his teammates provide, and is doing all he can to learn from his current peers.
"I know that I don't know everything," he said. "I'm trying to be a sponge and pick up everything I can. I feel like everybody has something to teach me."
Another product of a highly promising 2011 draft haul, Wright launched himself onto the prospect radar last season by carving up batters across two different leagues. An eighth-round pick out of the University of Mississippi, the 6'3" lefty dominated New York-Penn League competition upon landing with the Crosscutters in June.
It didn't take long for Wright to earn a promotion to Lakewood, where he fired 33.2 innings for the BlueClaws and finished with a miniscule 2.67 ERA to go with 41 strikeouts. The hard-throwing southpaw is eager to show that he can continue his dominance in the Florida State League, and early results have been quite impressive.
Built like an NFL linebacker, the powerful 22-year-old enjoys challenging hitters by attacking them with a lively fastball to go with his offspeed pitches. He knows that trusting that stuff and going with what got him here will be his ticket forward in 2012.
"I just have to keep pounding the strike zone with those three pitches," he said. "Obviously there's better hitters in the lineup the higher you go. I just have to go out there, pound the zone, and let my defense do the rest of the work."
Garner, like Morgan, jumps to Clearwater after finishing 2011 as a member of the Williamsport Crosscutters. While the right-hander began the season with just 44 pro innings under his belt, his impressive arsenal has proved thus far that he can certainly succeed at this level.
A second-round pick in 2010, Garner was a two-way athlete at Ball State University, where he played baseball and football. Formerly a three-sport star for Dover High School in Ohio, Garner took his natural athleticism to the collegiate level and succeeded again. Although he has battled various injuries since beginning his pro career, he enters 2012 feeling healthy and confident.
"It feels great they thought I was ready to play at this level," he said. "I felt I was ready, and I'm glad we were on the same page. I'm honored to be in this position and I'm working every day to reassure them they made the right decision."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.