Pharm Watch: The Top Prospects in the Phillies Farm System

Pharm Watch: The Top Prospects in the Phillies Farm System

Introducing a guest feature by James M., Founder and Executive Editor of PhuturePhillies.com. We've enjoyed James' work at PhuturePhillies and The Fightins, and we're happy to have him as a contributor this season.

As the Phillies get set to open their big league campaign in search of
their 6th straight division title, their minor league affiliates also
prepare to open up what should be a very interesting season for the
organization. As the big league club has ascended to the top of the MLB
mountain, claiming division title after division title, as well as a
World Series and a Pennant in the last 5 years, the minor league
affiliates have served as a great source of young talent both for the
big league club and through trades. Due to the shear volume of trades in
the last 4 seasons, the Phillies system is no longer overflowing with
elite talent.

However, one look at various top prospect lists shows just
how good the Phillies have been at scouting and developing talent,
despite not paying the huge premiums that many teams have chosen to pay
in recent drafts. Names such as Travis D'Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Jon
Singleton were not given much fanfare on draft day, but turned in to
extremely valuable bargaining chips allowing the Phillies to acquire Roy
Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence, among others. While many of the
prospects in the system may not be on your radar just yet, they should
be there by the end of this season. I will be contributing articles to The700Level this year, as long as they'll have me, and my hope is to
help keep you informed about the workings and status of the farm. Of
course, for more detailed features and daily writeups, you can check out
my site, phuturephillies.com.

Just as MLB players are competing for jobs in spring
training, minor leaguers are looking to make an impression on the
Phillies brass and coaches to try and get themselves a more advanced
assignment, or in the case of guys who were just drafted last June, an
assignment to a full season league. For those who are unaware, the
Phillies have 4 full season minor league affiliates. Triple A Lehigh
Valley is the highest level and closest to the majors, followed by
Double A Reading, Advanced A Clearwater, and Low A Lakewood.
Additionally, the Phillies have 2 half-season affiliates, one at
Williamsport in the New York Penn League (which predominantly features
college players just drafted) and the rookie level Gulf Coast League
Phillies. Both of these leagues start in June, and I'll have more on
them as we get closer to the draft. In an ideal world, each prospect
would advance at least 1 level per year. Thus, if you ended 2011 in
Advanced A, you want to start in AA. As of right now, minor league
rosters have not been finalized, but we have some idea where certain
guys will start. My first article here will highlight some of the key
guys to watch, and my guess as to where they will start in 2012. Of
course this is subject to change.

AAA - Lehigh Valley

Phillippe Aumont, RHP - Aumont was
considered the prize of the Cliff Lee deal, and that is probably still
the case. The Phillies moved him to the starting rotation in 2010 for a
number of reasons. Starters are generally more valuable than relievers,
and because of health issues, Aumont had not thrown a lot of innings
after being drafted in the first round in 2007. The Phillies wanted to
get him innings and give him a chance to work on his secondary pitches.
The results on the stat sheet were not pretty, but when they moved him
back to the bullpen in 2011, he seemed to make great strides. His bread
and butter, as you may have seen in spring training,
is a mid 90s fastball with very heavy sink. It looks like a 2 seam
fastball due to its horizontal movement. He also features a very hard
curveball with solid life and break. He has been working on a
splitter/changeup hybrid pitch, and when he finishes the pitch, its a
true swing and miss offering that will help him against lefties.
However, he doesn't fully trust the pitch yet and will need to work on
it more this season. He probably has an outside shot to make the bullpen
out of ST, but like Mike Stutes last year, he will probably head to AAA
at the beginning of the season and be one of the first guys to get
called up.

Joe Savery, LHP - Savery's career has been quite an odyssey. After
his freshman year at Rice, he looked like a star in the making. Injuries
derailed his college career, and then threatened to end his minor
league career as his arm strength never bounced back, leading him to
switch to hitting full time at the beginning of 2011. He performed well,
but then started to pitch again and his velocity came back, as he sat
90-93 at the end of the year, including his brief big league stint. Like
Aumont, he may have a chance to crack the big league bullpen out of ST,
especially with the departure of the D-Train, but the more likely
option is he heads to Lehigh Valley and comes up sometime this summer
when/if the Phillies decide they need a 2nd LHP.

Michael Schwimer, RHP - Schwimer got his first taste of the majors
last year and held his own. He's a smart pitcher who always has a
gameplan and works to generate weak contact while also generating swings
and misses with his deceptive delivery and plus slider. While he lacks
the pure arm strength of Aumont or the lefthandedness of Savery, he has
the smarts and ability to pitch key innings for the Phillies in 2012 if
needed.

Jake Diekman, LHP - Diekman was a traditional LHP early in his
career, but after stalling out in the low minors he decided to alter his
delivery, shifting to more of a pure side arm slinging motion.
The results have been excellent, as he is basically death to lefties.
Diekman's big issue is command, as he's struggled to harness his raw
stuff from the low arm slot. His fastball can touch 93 and his slider
shows promise, but throwing strikes will be critical for him. Rich Dubee
has taken a liking to him, and his emergence probably also weighed in
to the Phillies decision to cut the cord on Willis this early in the
spring. Like everyone mentioned before him, he has a shot to make the
team now, but the more likely result will be a turn in AAA before
getting the call.

Justin De Fratus, RHP - As you can see, the LHV bullpen should be an
obvious strength. De Fratus has put up excellent numbers throughout his
minor league career, and has as much or more upside than most everyone
on this list. His fastball doesn't have the raw strength or movement of
Aumont's, but he locates it better and can move it around the zone
efficiently. His slider and changeup have both made excellent progress.
Some minor elbow soreness derailed his spring early on, but he should be
fine and the Phillies are obviously playing it safe. That will likely
take him out of the running for a bullpen spot at the onset, but he
should get his turn in 2012.

Austin Hyatt, RHP - Hyatt is the Phillies best MLB ready SP
prospect, and will look to build on a nice 2011, which saw him make a
number of big improvements in the 2nd half of the season. He throws one
of the best changeups in the system, which helps him compensate for only
an average fastball and a fringy breaking ball. He doesn't have the
upside of a #1 or 2 starter, but if given the chance, he should be a
reliable, solid #4/5 SP. He's posted excellent strikeout rates
throughout his minor league career and he made improvements in limiting
the longball in the 2nd half of the season last year.

AA - Reading

Sebastian Valle, C - Valle has been
anointed the Phillies catcher of the future, partly because he has very
little competition for the spot right now. Valle's game has improved
since signing, as he was very crude defensively and thought of as an
offense first guy who may have to switch positions. His arm strength is a
few ticks above average, and he's improved in calling games and
blocking pitches, though that aspect of his game still needs work. At
the plate, his approach is....well, lets call it sub-optimal. He likes
to grip and rip early. He has very strong hands and wrists, which should
allow him to hit for power as he matures and improves. He didn't hit
for much power at all in 2011, but part of that may have been the very
pitcher friendly Florida State League. Valle will need to make
improvements, but he is young and has time, as Chooch does not appear to
be going anywhere any time soon.

Trevor May, RHP - May is one of the Phillies two best prospects, and
after struggling at Clearwater in 2010, he repeated the level in 2011
and took a number of big steps forward. May has a power arsenal,
starting with a 90-95mph fastball that he can elevate in the zone to get
swings and misses. He also has a solid curveball and changeup. His
strikeout numbers have been extremely impressive, and he made solid
gains with his command and control last year. However, Reading's
ballpark will be much less forgiving than the spacious fields in
Florida, and if May does not locate better, he may struggle a bit in his
first taste of AA. He's still young enough and the Phillies do not have
to rush him, but he appears to be the next key guy to watch, both for
the big league club or in a trade, as everyone will be asking for him in
a potential blockbuster.

Tyson Gillies, OF - Another key piece in the Cliff Lee deal, Gillies
has struggled to stay healthy and on the field in the last 2 years, but
still shows tantalizing ability. If all goes well, Gillies has the
chance to hit between .280-.300, steal 30-40 bases, and play gold glove
caliber defense in CF. Of course he's still shaking off the substantial
rust that has accumulated the last few seasons, and with leg/hamstring
injuries, the worry for aggravating the injury is always there. Gillies
needs to stay healthy in 2012 and play a full year, and will likely
spend most of it at AA Reading.

Jon Pettibone, RHP - Pettibone has pitched well since being drafted,
but took a step forward in 2011 as he added a few miles per hour to his
fastball. He now regularly pitches in the 91-94 range, and he locates
his fastball as well as anyone in the system. His secondary offerings
still need refining, and he should strike out more guys than he has, but
he's young and he's making steady progress.

A+ - Clearwater

Jesse Biddle, LHP - I'm in the
minority, but I consider Biddle the Phillies top prospect. He is
lefthanded, a few years younger than Trevor May, and now only 1 level
behind. He does have adjustments to make, but he has everything you want
to see in a potential mid-front of the rotation pitcher. He's a big
dude (6'5/225) and despite that, he's shown aptitude in repeating his
delivery and showing above average secondary offerings. He throws a big
curveball as well as a solid changeup. His velocity fluctuated quite a
bit in 2011, not uncommon for a prep pitcher in his first full pro
season, but as he develops a solid workout plan and grows accustomed to
logging 150-160 IP per year, he should consistently pitch in the 90-94
range from the left side. May struggled in his first taste of A+, and it
will be interesting to see how Biddle fares.

Lisalberto Bonilla, RHP - An under the radar signing out of Latin
America, Bonilla showed flashes of brilliance last year at Lakewood. He
has a solid average fastball along with an excellent changeup and a
developing breaking ball. He has a chance to really elevate his status
in 2012 with a solid season.

Austin Wright, LHP - Wright was one of the biggest surprises of the
Phillies 2011 draft. After a so-so college career, his stuff ticked up
after being drafted, as he was consistently pitching in the 92-94 range
at Lakewood with a sharp slider. The longer college track record says
that it may have been just a flash, but if he can piece things together
he has a chance to settle in as a potential middle of the rotation
starter.

A - Lakewood

It's tough to say who will end up at
Lakewood, as some guys who performed in the GCL and at Williamsport last
year may be ready, but they may be held back in extended spring
training for the first month of the season. Larry Greene Jr, OF and
Roman Quinn, SS are two guys with a shot at starting at Lakewood, and
2011 draftees Tyler Greene, SS and Mitchell Walding, 3B, are also
potentials. Harold Martinez, also drafted in 2011, saw time at
Williamsport and could move to Lakewood, or the Phillies could be
aggressive and push him straight to Clearwater. Another name to watch
for, if not at the beginning of the season than mid-season, is Kenny
Giles. Drafted and signed out of junior college last year, Giles has
premium arm strength and is capable of dialing his fastball up to 99 in
short bursts. As a starter, he could pitch in the 94-96 range. His
command/control and secondary offerings will determine his assignment
and how quickly he moves. We should have a better idea of what the
Lakewood roster will look like at the end of spring training.

This season figures to be an exciting one for the Phillies minor
league affiliates. Most places that get paid to write about and rank
prospects are down on the Phillies system, highlighting all the trades
that have stripped much of the talent from the system. However, the
Phillies have continually shown that they do a fantastic job in the
draft, and that guys who were under the radar suddenly pop up and thrust
their way in to the prospect discussion. The Phillies have a mix of MLB
ready bullpen arms, but also a bunch of excellent athletes in the low
minors who could be primed for breakout seasons. With so many teams to
watch and so many guys to pay attention to, this should be a fantastic
minor league season, and I'll be happy to provide you periodic updates
here at the 700 level. Thanks for reading, and I'll be back again in a
few weeks.

And many thanks to James of PhuturePhillies for dropping his major minors knowledge on us. You'll find more from here periodically throughout the season.

Photos by US Presswire

NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder push Warriors to brink of elimination

BOX SCORE

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Suddenly, these Golden State Warriors who have been compared all season to the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s are on the brink of elimination.

Russell Westbrook had 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Warriors 118-94 on Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Golden State, which won a league record 73 games in the regular season, lost consecutive games for the first time this season.

The Warriors must win Game 5 on Thursday in Oakland to keep their season alive.

"We all have to bounce back," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "The good news is, we go home. Obviously we play well at home. The idea now is to go home and get one win. Do that, and we put some pressure on them and we'll see what happens."

Klay Thompson led Golden State with 26 points, but two-time league MVP Stephen Curry was limited to 19 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Curry's shooting performance was so uncharacteristic that reporters asked if he was hurt.

"He's not injured," Kerr said. "He's coming back from the knee, but he's not injured. He just had a lousy night. It happens, even to the best players in the world."

The Warriors lost consecutive playoff games by at least 20 points for the first time since Games 2 and 3 of the 1972 Western Conference semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Golden State's Draymond Green, who was fined for kicking Steven Adams in the groin in Game 3, finished with six points, 11 rebounds and six turnovers.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City got a boost from an unlikely source. Andre Roberson, a player the Warriors have ignored at times during the series, scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Kevin Durant added 26 points and 11 rebounds and Serge Ibaka added 17 points and seven rebounds.

As for Westbrook, it was his first triple-double of the playoffs after posting 18 in the regular season. It was his fifth career playoff triple-double.

"I play every game like it's my last, regardless of who's in front of me," he said. "That's my job, and my job is to worry about my team, and that's all I do."

The Thunder know they have to close. Nine teams have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win.

"I think we're in a good place, but like I said, this game is over," Westbrook said. "We've got to move on to the next game. Every game is different."

The Thunder led 30-26 at the end of the first quarter, then gained control in the second. In the most unlikely of connections, Adams threw a bullet pass to Roberson near the basket for a dunk that gave the Thunder a 56-43 lead with just over four minutes left in the first half.

Oklahoma City finished with a flurry and led 72-53 at halftime. The Thunder matched the most points they have scored in a first half in franchise playoff history, a mark they set the previous game against the Warriors. It also matched the most points Golden State has allowed in a half this season for the second straight game.

Westbrook had 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds in the first half, and Durant had 18 points and six boards.

Thompson tried to keep the Warriors in it, scoring 19 points in just over seven minutes to start the third quarter. But the Thunder maintained their composure, led 94-82 at the end of the period and remained in control in the fourth.

"This is a tough situation to be in, but the series isn't over," Curry said.

Quotable
Kerr, on the pressure of trying to win a title after setting the regular-season wins record: "We had a tremendous regular season, our guys competed every single night and did something no one has ever done and they're proud of that. But in the playoffs, everybody starts 0-0. So there's no extra pressure, whether you're talking about defending our title or trying to back up the regular season."

Stat lines
According to Thunder Public Relations, the last team to score 72 or more points in the first half of two straight playoff games was the 1987 Los Angeles Lakers.

Tip-ins
Warriors: Curry went 1 for 7 in the first quarter, and made just 1 of 4 3-point attempts. ... Thompson committed his third foul with 7:55 left in the second quarter, and C Andrew Bogut committed his third about two minutes later. ... Curry made a 3-pointer for his 48th consecutive playoff game, extending his NBA record. ... The Warriors were 12-0 this season the game after a loss.

Thunder: Westbrook had five points, six assists and three rebounds in the first quarter. ... Oklahoma City forced 13 turnovers in the first half. ... The Thunder improved to 19-0 this season when Westbrook gets a triple-double. ... The Thunder outrebounded the Warriors 56-40 and outscored them 31-19 from the free throw line.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7

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NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins made good on Evgeni Malkin's pledge to force Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, and Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series with the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-3.

Game 7 is Thursday night, with the Penguins hoping to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009 and the Lightning looking to advance to the Cup Final for the second straight year.

"I just told them to embrace the moment. It's a great opportunity for us. These are the type of circumstances to where you have an opportunity to write your own story," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.

"They had a certain mindset going into this tonight: `We're going to leave it all out there and do everything we can to bring this back to Pittsburgh,'" Sullivan added. "And, certainly that's what they did."

Malkin was the most demonstrative of the players expressing confidence the Penguins could take the series back to Pittsburgh, saying he believed in himself, his teammates and that they could return home for a seventh game "for sure."

Crosby stepped up with his third game-winning goal of the series. The Penguins captain assisted on Kessel's 5-on-3 power-play goal in the opening period and later skated around Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman into the clear before sending a wrist shot between goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy's legs for a 3-0 lead in the final minute of the second period.

"We know the circumstances. It makes you go out there with a mindset of playing desperate," Crosby said. "I think we had confidence in the whole group. I think everyone played great.

"Everyone contributed in their own way. In a big game like this you, don't do anything special, just do your job. I think that's gotten us this far."

Rookie goaltender Matt Murray returned to the lineup after being replaced as the starter for Game 5 by Marc-Andre Fleury, but his 10th playoff victory did not come without a bit of suspense.

Brian Boyle scored twice in the third period for Tampa Bay, with one of the goals bouncing off Kessel before getting past Murray, who finished with 28 saves. The second score drew the Lightning within one goal with 7:17 remaining.

Instead of flinching, the young goalie who turns 22 on Wednesday retained his composure down the stretch to help the Penguins avoid relinquishing a third-period lead for the second straight game.

"I just think it's part of his DNA. He has a calming influence. He doesn't get rattled if he lets a goal in. He continues to compete," Sullivan said.

"That's usually an attribute that takes years to acquire. And to have it at such a young age is impressive. I think one of his biggest strengths is just his ability to stay in the moment."

Rust's breakaway goal at 17:52 of the third gave Pittsburgh breathing room, and Bonino added an empty-netter to finish it off.

"We had a great chance tonight and just tip-toed around a little bit," Boyle said. "We were tentative and weren't aggressive."

Kessel's goal was his team-leading ninth of the playoffs. Crosby had the primary assist, his first point since delivering game-winners in Games 2 and 3, and Malkin also had an assist to extend his point streak to four games after a slow start in the series.

The Lightning had an apparent goal by Jonathan Drouin waived off a little more than five minutes into the game, when Sullivan successfully challenged that the young Tampa Bay winger was offside on the play before tapping in a rebound off Ondrej Palat's shot that bounced off Murray's pads.

Sullivan announced the decision to go back to Murray following Tuesday's morning skate.

Murray started the first four games of the series. Fleury replaced him during the third period of Game 4, then made his first start in nearly two months in Game 5, which Tampa Bay won 4-3 in overtime.

Before Game 5, Fleury had not started a game since March 31, when he suffered a concussion.

Tampa Bay entered the game determined to not come out flat in Game 6 of the conference final for the second straight year.

The Lightning beat the New York Rangers on the road to go up 3-2 in that series, but were badly outplayed at home the next game and had to return to Madison Square Garden to finish the series.

Now, they'll have to win on the road again to make the third Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.

"I know we can. I've got confidence in this group. We believe we can do that," Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan said. "We've had success on the road in the playoffs. We've had success in their building already. It's going to be a good one."

Notes
The Penguins were 1 for 3 on the power play and are 4 for 19 in the series. The Lightning were 0 for 1, dropping to 2 for 12. ... Malkin was penalized in the first period for slashing Tampa Bay Bay's Ryan Callahan in what appeared to be retaliation for the Lightning forward whacking him across the wrist with his stick. ... Murray improved to 4-0 following a loss. He's 10-4 overall in the playoffs.

Best of MLB: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

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Best of MLB: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

BOSTON -- David Price scattered five hits over seven innings and Jackie Bradley Jr. had a pair of hits to extend his streak to 28 games as the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 8-3 on Tuesday night.

David Ortiz had a two-run double and a two-run single, and Dustin Pedroia added three hits to help Boston win its third straight game. Price (7-1) allowed three runs, walking one and striking out six to earn his third consecutive win.

Colorado lost for the fifth time in six games.

Jorge De La Rosa (1-4) made his first start after spending almost a month on the disabled list with a left groin strain. He gave up two runs in the first, two more in the second and left with one out in the fourth with two on and one run already in (see full recap).

Polanco, Pirates crush Diamondbacks
PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco hit a three-run homer and drove in a career-best five runs as the Pittsburgh Pirates rolled by the Arizona Diamondbacks 12-1 on Tuesday night.

Polanco's shot to the concourse in right-center field off Shelby Miller (1-6) in the first inning gave Pittsburgh an early boost. Francisco Liriano (4-3) scattered two hits in 5 2/3 innings and added an RBI single as the Pirates improved to 6-2 during a 10-game homestand.

After a short adjustment period, Polanco has thrived batting third in the lineup, hitting .317 (20 of 63) with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 15 games. The Pirates spread their 17 hits among 11 batters.

Miller's recent recovery from a miserable start with the Diamondbacks took a step backward. Less than a year removed from an All-Star appearance with Atlanta, Miller's ERA ballooned to 7.09 after surrendering six runs in five innings (see full recap).

Strasburg strikes out 11 in Nationals' win
WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg remained unbeaten with an 11-strikeout performance, and the Washington Nationals hit three of their season-high five home runs off struggling Matt Harvey in a 7-4 victory over the New York Mets on Tuesday night.

Strasburg (8-0) gave up two runs and four hits over 6 2/3 innings in defeating Harvey and the Mets for the second time in six days. Strasburg has five games this season with at least 10 strikeouts and 26 over his seven-year career.

Harvey (3-7) stumbled through a third straight ineffective start, allowing five runs and eight hits over five rocky innings. The right-hander has yielded 16 earned runs and 31 hits over his last three outings.

Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon hit successive solo shots to put Washington ahead in the fourth inning, and Daniel Murphy added a two-run drive off his former teammate in the fifth for a 5-1 lead (see full recap).