It was mid-February, just four months removed from a World Series parade, and pitchers and catchers were reporting to Clearwater. The usual suspects would be in attendance, but there was one exciting addition to the Phillies spring training roster. Carlos Carrasco, the top pitching prospect in the system for the past three years, had his shot to head north with the big club once the season began.
It is now four months later, the dog days of summer baseball are nipping at the Phillies heels, and Carrasco is no closer to the major leagues than he was in February. In fact, he might even have distanced himself from the opportunity to pitch in 2009.
Though the Venezuelan hurler is young – he turned 22 during spring training – it seems he has been at the forefront of the farm system for as long as Cole Hamels has been the ace. There have been glimpses along the way of his potential brilliance on the mound. Carrasco’s hot stretches at all levels are as impressive a minor league display as can be. But between the five- or six-start patches of excellence, Carrasco’s inconsistency bogs him down, relegating his great changeup to wow fans in Lehigh Valley rather than Philadelphia.
Carrasco works off of three pitches, all of them capable of helping him in the major leagues.
His fastball ranges in speed, generally sitting in the 92-93 range, a touch faster than Cole Hamels, and occasionally bumping up to 94-95 when he reaches back for something extra. Without much life on the fastball, it is really just a pitch to establish the count and work off when throwing his curveball and changeup.
The curveball – which has been a slider at times but rolls in too slowly to carry enough slice to function as a true slider – is still a work in progress. When he uses it as a low-70s curve it becomes hittable, but when he can get it up closer to 80 mph with late life, it is a top-notch pitch. This, however, is rare. Brett Myers taught him to use a four-seam grip rather than his usual two-seam grip in spring training, so it’s fair to assume that he’s still working things out. That should give it enough bite to work as a strong slider and a second out pitch if he perfects it.
Carrasco’s changeup, the best in the organization as rated by Baseball America (so is his fastball), is the pitch that might put him in a major league rotation next season. It comes in about 10-12 mph slower than his fastball, and drops off the table late. After Cole Hamels and Ryan Madson, Carrasco’s changeup would likely be the best on the Phillies right now.
Projecting the Prospect
Carrasco is an enigma in every sense. He has had three great stretches over the past three years, posting a 2.26 ERA in Lakewood in ’06, a 2.84 ERA in Clearwater for part of ’07 and a 1.72 ERA in six starts last year for Lehigh Valley. His ERA also sat at 4.86 during the second half of ’07 in Reading, 4.32 to start ’08 with the R-Phils and is 5.20 with the Iron Pigs this year.
It would be impossible to say with any certainty, based on these numbers, that Carrasco will succeed or fail at the major league level. He has the arm, that has never been a question; but how he uses it will determine when he ultimately arrives, and how long he stays.
The organization clearly feels that he is not yet prepared to pitch at the big league level, as they have passed him up several times when a promotion was on the table. Drew Carpenter had his chance, as did Sergio Escalona and Kyle Kendrick while JA Happ and Antonio Bastardo are set in the rotation for the time being. Meanwhile, Carrasco is still figuring himself out, searching for consistency in triple-A.
By the end of 2009 Carrasco could very well be in the majors. He could be a September call-up to slot into the bullpen. Or he could slide into the rotation if help is needed. Or he could be on the Padres, Indians, Blue Jays, Astros or any other team coveting him in a trade. Most likely though, he will still be in Lehigh Valley, fixing his curveball and working to find success. At this point it seems unlikely that Carrasco will be the No. 2 behind Cole Hamels that many had expected. A solid No. 4 or No. 5 is certainly possible – and the big club could use that right now.