This is Prospecting, a Monday column written by Ben Seal. Welcome Ben as he writes each week about the minor leagues. Get in touch with him via our contact form.
There was a time not long ago when the Phillies farm system was incomplete. Sure, the major league roster is full of home-grown talent, but as the big names got the call every year or so they left behind a shallow developmental pool. The Phillies were weak players in trade-deadline talks, not willing to part with their top guns such as Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels, and incapable of offering up much more than that. The most important aspect of a farm system is depth, the ability to watch a handful of players grow to meet their potential. The Phils were stuck watching one guy at a time – Howard, Hamels, Gavin Floyd – and hoping they would work out.
But over the past five years the combination of Scouting Director Marti Wolever and former Assistant General Manager Mike Arbuckle revamped the farm teams with a new approach. By taking high-ceiling high school players early and college players in the mid-to-late rounds, Wolever and Arbuckle (who moved on to Kansas City) filled out the system to give the Phillies an exciting pool of prospects playing at all levels.
The benefits of a strong system can be seen on the major league club right now, where rookie pitchers have compiled an 8-0 record this season. There may not be another Howard or Chase Utley developing in the minors, but the overall level of talent is right where it needs to be to support those players.
When the Phillies needed to grab another starter for the stretch run last year, they dipped into Clearwater and Reading to send second baseman Adrian Cardenas, pitcher Josh Outman and outfielder Matthew Spencer to the Athletics for Joe Blanton. They could afford to take the hit, with Jason Donald, Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor rising through the ranks, and Blanton went 4-0 and helped the big club win the World Series.
It’s this depth that will allow the Phils to engage in serious talks for a frontline starter at the deadline this year. Or, if Antonio Bastardo and JA Happ continue to keep the offense within striking distance in games, they can keep the minor leagues intact and watch their young guns burst onto the scene over the next few years.
With great talent from Lakewood to Lehigh Valley, the Phillies farm system is right where it needs to be. Every week in this space you can find a profile of a specific minor leaguer making a name for himself, or an analysis of certain aspects of the system that are either strengths or weaknesses. By the time the July 31 trade deadline rolls around, you’ll know all the pawns involved in the Phils moves.
Assessments: Drabek, Taylor
Today, a quick look at two Reading Phillies who have the team drooling over their potential:
Kyle Drabek, RHP – The son of NL Cy Young winner Doug Drabek, Kyle made the jump from Clearwater to Reading last week. After posting a 2.48 ERA and 74/19 K-to-BB ratio in 61.2 innings with the Threshers, he threw seven shutout innings in his first start with the R-Phils. Tuesday he struggled a bit against the Trenton Thunder, but showed some good damage control. Though he allowed seven hits and five walks in five innings, he managed to limit the Thunder to two runs and picked up his second win at double-A. Drabek might soon surpass Carlos Carrasco as the most exciting pitching prospect in the system.
Michael Taylor, OF – Take one look at Taylor’s line at Reading this season and it’s clear that he is one of the cornerstones on the farm. As of Tuesday he sat with a .346 average, .590 slugging percentage and 1.000 OPS, slugging 23 extra-base hits and stealing nine bases in 53 games. His plate discipline is also good, as he has just 27 strikeouts against 19 walks. Here is a good look at Taylor’s path to Reading, including dealing with juvenile diabetes.