Monday, February 28, 2011

Halladay & Phils Beat Toronto in Dunedin

On Monday afternoon, in Dunedin, FL, the Phillies won their second Grapefruit League game, as they defeated the Toronto Blue Jays by a score of 6-3. Read ahead for some key notes from the match up.

-Roy Halladay made the start against his former team, earning the win with 2 shut out innings of work. Halladay allowed 2 hits, walked 1 and struck out 1.

-Ben Francisco continued to make a firm case to be the Phillies' everyday right fielder to start the season. Through 3 spring games, "Benny Fresh" is batting .571. He collected his fourth RBI in two days with an RBI single off of Jays hurler Carlos Villanueva in the 4th inning.

-JC Ramirez, who was named the Phillies' #15 prospect recently by PhoulBallz.com and PhilliesNation, looked tremendous, throwing 2 shut out innings against the Blue Jays starting lineup. Ramirez struck out 4 and walked 1, while allowing a hit and reached 95 MPH with his fastball on the stadium radar gun.

-Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco each drove in 2 runs in the victory for Philadelphia.

-Domonic Brown played the entire game in right field, going 0-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in the contest. Brown is now 0-for-8 in Grapefruit League action.

-Former Phillies prospects Anthony Gose and Travis d'Arnaud each went 0-for-1, striking out. Gose drove home a run with a sacrifice fly in the 9th inning against Scott Mathieson. Gose was dealt to Houston in the Roy Oswalt trade last July, before being flipped to Toronto in a separate deal. d'Arnaud was part of the trade that brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia in 2009.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday School: Phillies History Lesson 88

Octavio "Cookie" Rojas spent seven seasons as a member of the Phillies during the 1960's. Rojas came up in the Cincinnati organization, where he notched his first Major League hit against Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.

Acquired from the Reds in a trade for pitcher Jim "Bear" Owens after the 1962 season, Rojas helped the Phillies come out on top in that deal, as he became a productive player with Philadelphia for the rest of the decade and Owens never won a game for Cincinnati.

At the age of 24, Rojas batted .221 while playing in just 64 games in his debut season with the Phillies. By the next year, though, Rojas began contributing steadily at the plate. In 109 games played in 1964, Rojas batted .291 with 2 homers and 39 RBI.

In 1965, the righty hitting Rojas had his best season as a member of the Phillies and became an All-star as he posted a career high .303 average, .736 OPS and 78 runs scored.

Rojas was a terrific contact hitter. He struck out just 245 times in 3,104 at bats with the Phillies.

A versatile fielder, much of Rojas' value to the club was on the field. Initially during his time with the Phillies, Rojas was a jack of all trades. The native Cuban played every single position except pitcher while serving his duty as utility master from 1963-1966. However, in 1967, Rojas landed a steady gig at second base for the Phils, although he did pitch one inning that season, completing his tour of the baseball field.

In the four seasons that followed Rojas' 1965 All-star bid with the Phillies, his offensive production cooled down and his batting averaged dropped each year, dropping down to .228 in 1969.

After the 1969 season, Rojas was dealt along with Richie Allen to the Cardinals in the ill-fated Curt Flood trade.

In 1970, Rojas was traded again and landed with the new MLB club in Kansas City. As a member of the Royals, Rojas made four consecutive All-star teams. In fact, he hit a pinch homer in the 1972 game to become the first non-American born player to smack a HR in the All-star Game for the American League.

After retiring from playing in 1978, Rojas coached with various teams and managed the California Angels for a full season in 1988. He also managed the Florida Marlins for one game in 1996 and was the acting manager for 3 games with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001.

These days, Cookie Rojas works as a Spanish language broadcaster for the Florida Marlins.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Phils Win Exhibition Opener, De Fratus & Mathieson Comment

On Thursday, the Phillies opened their exhibition schedule as they do every year with a match up against the Florida State Seminoles. The ACC's top squad wasn't quite a tough challenge for the defending NL East division champions, as the Phillies won by a decisive score of 8-0.

Not surprisingly, the Phillies took control early against hurler Tyler Everett when they jumped on the youngster for four runs in the first inning. The key blow in that frame was a two-run double by Ryan Howard.

Additionally, other Phillies that drove in runs on Thursday were Carlos Ruiz, Brian Schneider, Pete Orr, Freddy Galvis and Michael Martinez.

Aussie pitcher Drew Naylor started the game for the Phillies and struck out 2 while allowing just 1 hit and no runs. Eddie Bonine also pitched 2 scoreless innings. Lefty Juan Perez along with right-handers Mike Stutes, Michael Schwimer, Justin De Fratus and Scott Mathieson each added a scoreless inning of work.

Following the win and retiring all three batters he faced, De Fratus was excited. The California native, who is enjoying his first full big league spring camp, stated, "It was good to get my feet wet in a nice, laid back environment today and get the first outing jitters out of the way, before I face the Yankees on Sunday."

Mathieson, who struck out two and walked one of the five batters he faced, felt like this game was more than just a relaxed tune up against a college team. For a guy like Mathieson, who is trying to make his way back to the Majors after three elbow surgeries, each of these outings is extremely important.

"Every game for me this spring is a chance to try to prove to the brass and the people making decisions that I'm good enough and I can compete and I can help the team out this year," Mathieson stated.

The right-handed Mathieson utilized his new split-finger fastball, that he learned from Bruce Sutter, to his own satisfaction, mixing it in 7 or 8 times during his inning of work.

After taking strides to improve his pitch repertoire, which also includes a change up and a slider that may be phased out depending on the success of the splitter, Mathieson feels the augmentation to his arsenal of weapons will be key for him to make an impact with the big club this season.

"I just want to get the opportunity to pitch and, for me, it's a chance to show that my off-speed stuff, which has always been a question, is good enough to pitch at the Major League level. That's my goal to do that all throughout camp and I feel that if I can do that, I'll hopefully land a spot on the team."

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

ProspectNation 2011: #1 Jon Singleton- OF

One of 2010's breakout stars in all of minor league baseball was Phillies' prospect Jonathan Singleton. Drafted in the 8th round of the 2009 amateur draft out of Millikan High School in Long Beach, CA, Singleton was already well regarded within the Philadelphia organization before roughing up South Atlantic League pitching last season.

The left-handed hitting Singleton made his professional debut as a member of the Gulf Coast League Phillies as a 17-year-old after signing with Philadelphia. In 31 games there, Singleton batted .290, slugged 2 homers and drove in 12 runs.

Nicknamed "The Boss", Singleton really emerged as he helped lead the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws win a second consecutive South Atlantic League title. Singleton actually began the season in extended spring training, but made a massive impact once he was assigned to the Lakewood roster, posting a .423 average in 19 May games.

In 109 regular season games with Lakewood, Singleton posted a .290 batting average with 14 homeruns and 77 RBI with 9 stolen bases.

The steals production could hit the double digit range as he moves up the ranks, but Singleton's speed is not one of his best assets.

Singleton has a significantly more thorough approach at the plate than most players his age. He trusts his hands and recognizes off-speed pitches, enabling him to pull breaking pitches and drive fastballs to all fields. In addition, Singleton's discipline at the plate keeps his walk-to-strikeout ratio (62-to-74, in 2010) at a good level for a power hitter. As Singleton matures and develops more physical strength, his power should increase as well.

Singleton was a first baseman until instructional league ball that followed the 2010 postseason, where he was given a trial in left field. Singleton will continue to play left field going forward this year. The 6'2", 220-pound Singleton is certainly athletic enough to make the transition to the outfield. He has solid instincts and should be able to display enough range to make folks wonder why he wasn't in the outfield to begin with.

Speaking about Singleton's move to the outfield, earlier this month, Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. stated, "If (Singleton) can do it and continues to hit, then he'll be a left fielder (from now on). It looked like he took to it fairly well at the instructional league. He seems excited to do it. I think he knows there's a very big first baseman sitting out there in the Major Leagues that's not going anywhere. He has a very good bat and he has a chance to be a big leaguer."

Singleton garnered a ton of recognition with his 2010 campaign. Honors included being named the Phillies' top prospect by multiple outlets, being named to the full season SAL All-star team and being declared as the league's most outstanding prospect by the South Atlantic League.

"The Boss" even impressed "The Big Piece" when he had the opportunity. In August, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard made a one-game rehab appearance in Lakewood, while recovering from an ankle injury. Howard spent time with Singleton talking about life and baseball, during batting practice. Howard then watched Singleton closely during the game and was thrilled with the youngster's swing and his approach, especially at the age of 18.

Moving forward, expect to see Singleton, who turned 19 years old the same day that the BlueClaws clinched the Sally League title in September, as a member of the High A level Clearwater Threshers in 2011.

Everyone within the Phillies' organization is excited about the type of ceiling the young slugger Singleton has. However, with the exception of outfielder Domonic Brown, the Phillies' new approach to baseball seems to be dealing away their top prospects for proven big league talent, as is evidenced by the organization parting ways with the likes of Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Travis d'Arnaud, Carlos Carrasco, Anthony Gose and others.

With the type of potential that Singleton possesses, it seems to be quite likely that he'll play in the Majors some day. However, I would be somewhat surprised if "The Boss" makes it happen in red pinstripes.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ProspectNation 2011: #2 Jarred Cosart- RHP


Righty hurler Jarred Cosart was selected in the 38th round by the Phillies in the 2008 amateur draft. Cosart, who turned 20 years old during the 2010 season, has been extremely impressive since joining the Phillies organization, despite some physical hindrances.

Cosart's draft position is quite deceiving. He was projected as an early round talent, but the Texas native's firm commitment to attend the University of Missouri had Major League teams avoiding him throughout the selection process. The Phillies took a gamble later in the draft, then followed Cosart, who played outfield and pitched as an amateur, around as he played rec league baseball during the Summer months. At the signing deadline, the Phillies made a hefty $550,000 offer, that both sides view as an investment, and coaxed Cosart to sign a contract.

In 2009, Cosart, who stands 6-feet-3-inches and weighs around 180 pounds, made his professional debut as a member of the Gulf Coast League Phillies, but was limited to just 24 1/3 innings of action due to a nagging groin injury. In 7 games, 5 of which were starts, Cosart posted a 2-2 record, a 2.22 ERA and an amazing 0.78 WHIP.

The following season, Cosart was in the midst of a tremendous campaign with Class A Lakewood that had him shooting up in the rankings of Phillies prospects, when his season was cut short. This time it was due to an elbow injury. In a late June road start at Delmarva, Cosart went just 2/3 of an inning when he had a rough opening frame and felt some elbow discomfort. After that, Cosart visited Phillies doctors in Philadelphia and was shut down. Cosart later visited with renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews for a diagnosis and surgery was not required.

Overall, as a member of the Lakewood BlueClaws is 2010, Cosart posted a 7-3 record with a 3.79 ERA and a .224 batting average against in 14 games, which were all starts.

Given the honor of appearing in the MLB Futures Game, which takes place as part of the annual Major League All-star activities, Cosart was unable to attend, due to his ailing elbow.

The pitching repertoire at Cosart's disposal includes a sharp fastball with movement that ranged from 96-98 MPH during the 2010 season, a curveball that Cosart considers his out pitch and a change up that he has been working to improve. Along with refining his pitches, Cosart was open this year about developing his intelligence on the mound. He worked closely with Lakewood pitching coach Steve Schrenk, on his own off days, to learn hitters' tendencies and become more of an analyst on the mound.

A power pitcher in the making, Cosart has averaged 9.6 strike outs per 9 innings in his 21 professional outings to date.

Cosart's work ethic and focus on the future is remarkable. Initially disappointed that the Phillies wished to shut him down last year, due to his elbow issues, Cosart began to appreciate the thought process behind the decision and was eventually pleased that the organization and its doctors chose to be so cautious. He worked hard to complete his rehab work with trainers in Clearwater and was able to rejoin the BlueClaws for their championship series clincher at home, prior to pitching at instructional ball following the postseason.

In December, Cosart said of his time at instructional ball, "There were absolutely no setbacks in instructional league, just a little bit of rust having not thrown to live competition for a few months. The arm felt great, though. And overall, the coaches were very pleased with my outings and, obviously, that the arm felt good."

Cosart has since followed up a restful off-season by reporting to Spring training roughly four weeks early in order to get in the best possible shape for the upcoming season.

Although he is expected to begin the year on the class High A Clearwater Threshers roster, Cosart has no preference for which level the Phillies may decide he is best suited. He simply wants to make progress by staying injury free, in 2011. As he ascends toward the big leagues, it will be up to Cosart and his body to determine a potential arrival date on the Phillies' roster.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

ProspectNation 2011: #3 Brody Colvin- RHP

A 7th round draft selection in 2009 out of St. Thomas More High School, in Louisiana, Brody Colvin was originally committed to attend Louisiana State University, but signed with the Phillies at the deadline.

The right-handed Colvin made his professional debut late in 2009, throwing 2 innings in a game for the Gulf Coast League Phillies. He then followed up his brief stint in the GCL by pitching at instructional ball for a month following the season.

In 2010, Colvin spent the year as a member of the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws' starting rotation. Colvin began the season poorly in the South Atlantic League, as he sported 2-5 record with an 8.40 ERA after a start against at Greenville on May 12th, in which he failed to go 2 full innings. After that rough start, however, Colvin proceeded to rattle off an amazing string of 13 starts in which he posted a 3-1 record, a 1.38 ERA and 68 strike outs in 78 innings.

Colvin's overall regular season ERA of 3.39 in 27 starts was very strong, especially considering he struggled early in the season and had an 11.15 ERA through his 4 April starts.

His 6-8 regular season record with the BlueClaws doesn't quite show it, but Colvin proved to be one of the premiere pitchers in the SAL once he straightened himself out. He allowed 0 or 1 runs in 11 different starts in which he did not earn a win during the 2010 season, so it's clear that Colvin wasn't blessed with much offensive support at times.

By mid-season, the Phillies had placed an inning limit of 5 per outing on Colvin, in order to keep his innings total for the season down. This preventive measure was perhaps sparked by injuries to Colvin's staff mates, Jarred Cosart and Nick Hernandez.

Throughout the second half of the season, Colvin worked on his mechanics with Lakewood pitching coach Steve Schrenk. Adjustments made to Colvin's delivery reduced his tendencies to throw across his body and enabled him to add some velocity to his fastball. Colvin's performances in 2010 showed an improved efficiency as he worked hard to develop his pitches and his delivery.

Colvin's pitch repertoire features a fastball that reached 96 MPH steadily by season's end in 2010, a circle change up and a curveball with good 12-to-6 movement.

Control is another strength for Colvin, who averaged just 2.4 walks per 9 innings after his bumpy April.

At 6-feet-4-inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds, Colvin has an ideal size for a pitcher. With all the tools and the physical presence there, Colvin's biggest improvements will be made between his ears. Small mental lapses were what troubled him early in the 2010 season and the cranial slacking made a return in a late August start, where Colvin neglected to back up third base on a lead-off triple in the 5th inning by an Augusta batter. The mental mistake got Colvin removed from the game immediately and cost Colvin his assignment as the team's number 1 starter going into the postseason. The duty was then given to teammate Trevor May.

In two postseason starts, Colvin threw 10 innings, while allowing just 1 earned run and striking out 9 batters to help his squad clinch a second consecutive South Atlantic League title.

Headed into the 2011 season, Brody Colvin is expected to be a part of the High A Clearwater roster along side many of his 2010 SAL Champion Lakewood teammates, where they could likely contend for the North Division title. The time table for his ascension to higher levels is not clear. However, an estimated time of arrival in the Majors of 2014 sounds fair for a hurler with the make up that Colvin possesses.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Rollins Back to Forecasting Phils' Season

If you missed it over the weekend, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins is back at it again...offering up his predictions for the upcoming season.

In 2007, the Phillies were in the midst of a 14-year postseason drought when Rollins began the season by asserting that the Phillies the team to beat in the National League East division. In the end, Rollins and his teammates clinched the division title on the final day of the season.

A year after that, Rollins promised 100 victories. The Phils didn't quite reach that mark during the regular season, but were able to reach the goal during the postseason and eventually brought home their second World Series championship as well.

On Saturday, the former National League most valuable player told members of the media, "We'll win 100 games. You know, I really plan on going after, who is it? I know Seattle won 114 or something....we're gonna get somewhere, hopefully, in that range. But that requires everybody doing their job."

This sort of talk can instill confidence in the team and can help drive Rollins himself, according to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

"I like him talking because I think, when he talks, a lot of times, that shows that he's really focused on what he's doing, he's really into it and, to me, that's kind of a good sign," Charlie told Comcast Sportsnet.

"Jimmy's personality is really part of who he is and also it's kind of what helps him at times. Especially when he's happy and he's really concentrating and really up into the game and everything. I think that's when he's at the top of his game."

So, now that Rollins has set the bar higher, for this club that already seems to unanimously feel that anything short of a World Series berth is failure, it's time to get this 2011 campaign underway to see if Rollins is still a man of his word.

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Photo- ESPN

ProspectNation 2011: #4 Sebastian Valle- Catcher

Mexico native Sebastian Valle has emerged as a premiere prospect in the Phillies organization. Valle is a promising young catcher who was signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent in 2006 at the age of 16.

The right-handed hitting Valle began playing professional ball in the Dominican Summer League in 2007. While there, he batted .284 with an OPS of .802 in 54 games.

In 2008, Valle played for the Gulf Coast League Phillies, where he batted .281, hit 2 homers and drove in 18 runs in 48 games. There, he helped guide the GCL Phils' pitching staff to a league championship.

The following year, Valle, who stands 6-feet-1-inches tall and weighs around 175 pounds, split time between Class A Lakewood and Low A short season Williamsport. In 50 games for the Williamsport Crosscutters, Valle shined, posting a .307 average with 6 homeruns and 40 RBI. Valle's .866 OPS with the Cutters was impressive as well. The production wasn't quite the same with the Lakewood BlueClaws, however, as Valle struggled for playing time behind eventual Roy Halladay trade chip Travis d'Arnaud. In 45 games for the eventual SAL champion BlueClaws, Valle batted .223 with 1 HR, 15 RBI and a .644 OPS.

The 2010 season presented a chance to play more for Lakewood and Valle, who entered the season at 19 years of age, produced very solid numbers, as one of the leaders of the team's offense. Valle began the year a bit slow, notching just a single homerun in his first 40 games. Once he heated up, though, Valle hit 8 homers over the next 18 games and kept it going for the remainder of the year. In 117 regular season games, Valle posted a .255 batting average, mashed a team leading 16 homers and knocked in 74 runs to help his club lock down a second consecutive South Atlantic League title.

Valle spent his off-season playing for his hometown Los Mochis Caneros in the Mexican Winter League. In order to save his knees for his more important gig in the Phillies system, Valle spent some time playing the outfield. Coming up as a youth player, Valle also played third base and pitched.

The now 20-year-old Valle saw a dip in batting average this past year, as he worked closely with his hitting coach Greg Legg on hitting pitches the other way. Despite his generally fluid swing, Valle adjusted his approach at times. He saw his best success when he kept things simple by keeping his front shoulder down and his head on the ball. As the season went on and Valle ironed out the things he was working to improve, along with Legg and his manager Mark Parent, his production became more reliable.

With a low walk rate of 5.6% in 2010, Valle will need to focus on being less aggressive at the plate and taking more pitches in order to become a more complete offensive threat.

Defensively, Valle is developing at a steady rate and was a clear leader for the strong BlueClaws pitching staff that impressed so many scouts, media members and executives last season. Lakewood pitchers repeatedly credited Valle, during the 2010 season, with helping them excel. His terrific rapport with his hurlers and knowledge of each pitchers' strengths enabled him to direct the outstanding group of young fireballers toward a championship.

Look for Valle to climb the minor league ladder aside his army of well regarded hurlers that include Trevor May, Jarred Cosart, Brody Colvin and Jonathan Pettibone. Each of those men are expected to begin the 2011 season in High A Level Clearwater, where they'll very likely take the Florida State League by storm and contend for another postseason crown.

In the long term, Valle projects to be a Major League catcher and has the power potential to become a highly sought after prospect in the meantime.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

ProspectNation 2011: #5 Justin De Fratus- RHP

Right-handed pitcher Justin De Fratus, a California native, who was drafted in the 11th round in the 2007 amateur draft, has shown steady progression since signing his first professional contract with the Phillies.

In 2007, as a member of the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies, De Fratus posted a 2-3 record with a 4.30 ERA and a .273 batting average against in 10 games, 8 of which were starts.

The following season, De Fratus pitched with the short season Low A Williamsport Crosscutters. In 14 games as a starter, the man known to his brothers and friends as J-Bone went 6-5 with a 3.67 ERA and a .260 batting average against.

In 2009, De Fratus was a key piece of the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws pitching staff, taking on both starting and relief duties. In 36 games (12 starts) that season, De Fratus went 5-6 with 3 saves, a 3.19 ERA and a .258 batting average against.

After beginning the 2010 regular season with High-A level Clearwater and posting a 2-0 record with 15 saves and a 1.79 ERA in 29 games, De Fratus was promoted to Double A Reading in early July. Over the last two months of the season, as a member of the R-Phils, he went 1-0 with 6 saves and a 2.19 ERA in 20 games. Combined at the two levels and pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, opponents batted .208 against De Fratus.

De Fratus stayed hot throughout the off-season, pitching for Team USA in the Pan-American qualifiers held in Puerto Rico, helping the Americans finish with a 9-1 record. He also posted exceptional statistics for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, holding opponents to a .125 batting average in 7 scoreless outings.

Often recognized for his control, De Fratus walks very few batters. However, he has seen a small increase in his free passes, as the Phillies have had him working on throwing pitches out of the zone, trying to bait opponents into chasing pitches, rather than pitching to contact. De Fratus in his minor league career has averaged 1.77 walks per 9 innings, in 109 total regular season games.

His improved ability to get batters to chase has increased his strike out rates. While De Fratus averaged 7.51 strike outs per 9 innings through his first two season in the minors, De Fratus has bumped that number up to 8.84 strike outs per 9 in his past two seasons and shot up to 9.83 K/9 in 2010 alone.

De Fratus' pitch repertoire includes a fastball that maxes out at 96 MPH, a slider and a solid change up.

While in the AFL, De Fratus was focused on improving his slider that he felt was lacking at times in 2010. Former Major League hurler Ricky Bones, the pitching coach for the Solar Sox, worked closely with De Fratus and adjusted his grip to help restore his confidence in the pitch.

The 23-year-old De Fratus, who projects to be an impact late inning reliever, now feels that his secondary pitches have progressed extremely well and believes in each of the weapons in his arsenal.

"My trust is really based on what the situation calls for. I'm confident to throw any of my pitches at any time...as long as I feel it's the right pitch," De Fratus said this week.

De Fratus, who stands 6-feet-4-inches tall and weighs about 220 pounds entering spring training, will be striving to prove himself to Phillies coaches in big league camp, down in Clearwater. De Fratus stands a great chance of being Philadelphia's premiere impact prospect this coming season. If he doesn't make the opening day roster, expect De Fratus to get his shot at some point later in the season. The Phillies have averaged 20 pitchers a season in recent years according to team general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., and De Fratus is primed to be one of those hurlers in 2010.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

All in the Family

22-year-old pitching prospect Nick Hernandez's father helps him stay fit during the off-season


Phillies pitching prospect Nick Hernandez spent much of the 2010 regular season on the disabled list with an injury to his throwing shoulder. The 6'4", 215 pound lefty, who was named a mid-season South Atlantic League all-star with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, attempted comebacks twice during the season, making rehab outings for the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies, but experienced setbacks that curtailed his return to the mound and kept him from helping his teammates lock down a second consecutive league championship for Lakewood.

In 8 starts with the BlueClaws last season, the 12th round draft pick from 2009 posted a 3-1 record with a 1.61 ERA and averaged 7 innings per start.

Hernandez's strength is throwing a lot of strikes and he owes some of his success to his father, also named Nick (Dad's full first name is spelled Nicolas, while son's name is spelled Nicholas). The elder Nick was drafted in the first round by the Brewers, as a catcher, back in 1978.

Papa Nick is long retired from baseball, but that doesn't stop him from helping his son strive to excel by working out during the off-season as his personal bullpen catcher. Whether it's a day of long toss or a bullpen session, father and son propel one another. The older Nick benefits from the workouts nearly as much as his son. Nick finds that his duty as his son's Winter battery mate motivates him to stay fit both physically and mentally.

"What Nick's doing now (in the minors), I did 30 years ago. I'm 51 years old, but when I put on the mitt and the mask, I pretend I'm back when I'm 20 years old," the older Nick said.

He adds that he'll go as long, and as frequently, as his son needs him to, in order to get his work in.

"I don't let him let up. I tell him to do his thing and not to worry about me," said the senior Nick.

Dad's own dream unfortunately fell short, as he never played higher than Double A. However, the elder Nick now has new hopes. Nicolas would love to see Nicholas reach heights that he didn't, but his son's achievements are not something that Dad will use to live vicariously through.

"I don't look at Nick's career, or his success through my eyes. This is his dream. It's what Nick puts into it that will determine what Nick gets out of it. I push him a bit, but he works hard already. He's a kid who's really focused. He knows that hard work and dedication is what's going to help him reach his goals," Nicolas stated.

Papa Nick tries to be a motivator for his son and realizes there are limitations to what he can teach him at this point. The older Nick stopped teaching and offering baseball tips to young Nick when he was about age 15. He never wanted to interfere with any of his coaches' teachings or curtail anything he has worked on.

The senior Nick feels as though his son Nick's learning skills have greatly improved, since he has been with the Phillies. He points out a noticeable increase in younger Nick's maturity and credits the Phillies organization with helping him grow as a pitcher.

"I've seen a big change in that- in his attitude, in his demeanor, the way he approaches things. It's definitely 100 percent better than he was when he was in college at the University of Tennessee," Nick stated.

The Nicks have another relative that officially qualifies the sport of baseball as something that runs in the family. Major League umpire Angel Hernandez is brother to Nicolas. Papa Nick says of his son, "He comes from a good breed."

During the season, Nicolas keeps the family unity going and makes time to see his son pitch, thanks to his job. Papa Nick works as a truck driver and incorporates his son's playing schedule into his own itinerary. He traveled from south Florida to Lakewood, NJ three separate times and was able to see Nick pitch on the road in three different road cities during the 2010 season. Having that support there to steadily back him helps the less ripe Nick bear down and really display his talents.

Going forward, younger Nick, who says he now feels that his shoulder is at 100 percent, is focused on having a full season, free of injuries, in order to make the most progress and learn as much as he possibly can. Dad feels that is just what this year holds in store.

"He's focused on having a healthy year and giving the Phillies a whole season. Baseball is definitely his biggest priority in life right now, so 2011 should be a good year for him."

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

ProspectNation 2011: #6 Trevor May- RHP

Washington state native Trevor May appeared to be on an extremely fast track to the big leagues after two season in the Phillies' system. However, a rough patch in High A ball followed by a demotion seemed to bring May back down to Earth a bit and served as somewhat of a reality check. Now, following improvements in the second half of his 2010 season, May seems to be back on the rise.

A 4th round draft choice in 2008 out of Kelso High School, May has won minor league championships in each of his three seasons as a pro in the Phillies system.

After signing with Philadelphia, May helped lead the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies to their league title in 2008. In 5 regular season games in the GCL, May went 1-1 and had a 3.75 ERA.

The right-handed May began the 2009 season in extended spring training then later was assigned to Class A Lakewood and swiftly became one of the Phillies top rated pitching prospects by blazing through opposing batters with a 4-1 record and a 2.56 ERA in 15 starts. May also struck out 95 batters in 77 1/3 innings pitched en route to the BlueClaws' South Atlantic League title.

May began his 2010 campaign with High A level Clearwater, but struggled with his grip in Florida's humidity and had great difficulty throwing strikes, which resulted in an uncharacteristically high 61 walked batters in 70 innings. Overall with Clearwater, May posted a 5-5 record with a 5.01 ERA in 16 games, 14 of which were starts.

Phillies assistant general manager in charge of player development Chuck LaMar chose to return May to Lakewood, where he quickly bounced back and received a boost in his confidence, returning to excellent form. In 11 regular season games, May went 7-3 with a 2.91 ERA. On July 27th at Delmarva he struck out 14 batters to tie a team record for strike outs in a game.

May again helped lock down a Sally League title for the BlueClaws. In the 2010 postseason May was strong, whiffing 13 and walking 1 in 6 2/3 shutout innings against the Hickory Crawdads in the opening round to earn a win. In Game 1 of the championship round against the Greenville Drive, May gave up a run and struck out 8 over 5 innings and took a loss. The BlueClaws locked down the SAL title before May was needed in game 5.

Combined in two postseasons with Lakewood, May, who stands 6-feet-5-inches tall and is listed at 215 pounds but likely weighs more, allowed just 1 run in 22 2/3 innings.

The 21-year-old's pitch repertoire consists of a heavy fastball that steadily reaches the mid-90's, a sharp curveball and a change up that has come along nicely since May began throwing it in 2009. Considered a power pitcher at times, May has tried to work some finesse into his game with placement and by using each pitch in any given count. Despite that though, his strike out rates have stayed high throughout his three pro seasons, as May has averaged 11.55 strike outs per 9 innings in his minor league career, and he averaged 12.13 strike outs per 9 innings in 2010.

The Phillies could wish to take their time moving May upward in the system, but it will ultimately depend on May's drive. If May continues to mature and learns to cope with the varying climates he'll have to deal with at higher levels, he could be in consideration to break into the big leagues in a couple years.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Aussie Prospect Schoenberger Ready For Spring After Big Off-season

Keeping the rust off during the off-season is a struggle for some players. Phillies infield prospect Alan Schoenberger didn't have that problem. The switch-hitting Schoenberger spent his North American off-season in the Summer heat, down under, playing in the inaugural season of the new Australian Baseball League.

Schoenberger, who is 22 years old, returned home to his native Queensland to take part in the Australian Baseball League as a member of the Brisbane Bandits. The ABL had previous incarnations that failed. The current version debuted in 2010 as a new entity that is jointly owned by Major League Baseball (75%) and the Australian Baseball Federation (25%).

Australian players all learned of the reinvention of the ABL back in June, while many were playing for their Major League affiliated clubs in the United States. Schoenberger and others were all very excited to learn about professional baseball in this capacity returning to their homeland. It gave them all something to look forward to for the off-season.

In 96 games as a member of the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws in 2010, the versatile Schoenberger, who played second base, shortstop, third base, right field and left field during the regular season, batted .253, with 5 homers and 35 RBI.

Schoenberger's season with the BlueClaws was a breakout one, as he previously had just 1 professional homerun in 270 career plate appearances over 3 years.

During his time with Brisbane, Schoenberger, who was signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent in 2006, posted a .250 average with 3 homers and 18 RBI in 31 games played in the league that Schoenberger says is the equivalent to Class A ball in the United States.

Other Phillies minor leaguers that participated in the ABL, as members of the Bandits this season, were catcher Joel Naughton, righty pitcher Drew Naylor and 18-year-old pitcher Josh Warner.

In ABL play, Schoenberger faced off against another familiar face from the Phillies' organization, manager of the Canberra Cavalry, Steve Schrenk, who was the pitching coach for Schoenberger's club in Lakewood last season. It was Schrenk's first time working in Australia and Schoenberger took it upon himself to prepare his coach a bit for life down under. The two even enjoyed a bit of a rivalry during the season.

"I got along with (Schrenk) very well in the States. I spoke to him and his wife a little bit, over in the States, just before they came out. We chatted a bit and I told them a few things to expect in Australia. Once I got down there to play against him it was good fun because he obviously knew my strengths and weaknesses from the season in the States, so it added a little bit more to the game. We got lucky and won the series, so that was good also," Schoenberger said in an exclusive interview.

Unfortunately for Schoenberger and Schrenk, the Bandits and the Cavalry were the only two of the league's six clubs that did not qualify for the postseason.

While games in the ABL frequently draw crowds that are considerably smaller than attendance figures for minor league games in America, the fans attending ABL match ups are generally more attentive to game action than a crowd in the United States. Many Americans attending minor league contests regularly seem to be more focused on a casual family outing or perhaps are more interested in the menu on the concourse than the action on the field. Players like Schoenberger that are used to more fans don't mind smaller turnouts when a crowd 1/5 the size can produce the same level of volume.

Schoenberger cited the Bandits' opening game at home against the eventual league champion Perth as the highlight of his season, crediting the spectators in attendance with producing a level of intensity that was fun and sparked patriotism for the players.

The season wasn't all enjoyable for the players in the ABL, however. In December and January, many areas of the continent were impacted by treacherous flooding that carved a massive path of destruction throughout eastern Australia. Drenching rain rocked Schoenberger's native Queensland for weeks and left many people stranded and homeless. Others perished.

The Brisbane schedule was shortened by six games due to the impossible playing conditions in the surrounding areas. In fact, a pair of Schoenberger's teammates, Josh Roberts and Andrew Campbell, were trapped away from the team, in their home town of Ipswich, due to flash flooding. Mainly, though, the players on the Bandits were lucky enough to not be personally effected by the terrible disaster.

Schrenk's Canaberra team, faced with opponents that couldn't travel, held a charity exhibition game to raise money for troubled regions.

"It was just a very eerie feeling (to see the devastation). Especially just having a look around at certain areas that we usually go to. Just to see it so close really made more of an impact," Schoenberger stated.

The Bandits managed to play 34 of their 40 scheduled games by organizing double headers in the latter weekends of the season.

Despite the difficult times, however, Schoenberger feels the competitiveness in the ABL helped him improve and stay ready for pro ball in America, where he will continue to take steps toward his ultimate goal of reaching the Major Leagues.

"The league was really competitive," Schoenberger said. "We've got really good pitching. It's not a league you can just walk straight into it, and be a bit out of shape and hit. You've got to stay on your game. I'll be reporting to spring training for physicals on March 1st and I'll be ready to go."

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

ProspectNation 2011: #7 Jiwan James- OF

Switch-hitting Phillies prospect Jiwan James earned plenty of recognition last season, as he set the Class A Lakewood hitting streak record at 24 straight games and led the team in runs scored with 85. James, who will turn 22 years old in April, has reported early to Clearwater, well ahead of the March 1st report date for minor league spring training camp.

Drafted out of high school as a pitcher in the 22nd round of the 2007 amateur draft, James made the switch to the outfield in 2009 where he played in 30 games with the short season Williamsport Crosscutters. As a member of the Cutters, James batted .264 with a homer and 13 RBI. The positional switch was necessary due to a lingering arm issue that James dealt with during 2008.

In 2010, while helping the Lakewood BlueClaws lock down a second straight South Atlantic League title, James, who stands 6-feet-4-inches tall and weighs around 185 pounds, shined batting at the top of the order in manager Mark Parent's lineup. In the longest season of his career, James posted a .270 average with 26 doubles, 6 triples, 5 homers and 64 RBI in 133 games played.

James is naturally a left-handed hitter and feels more comfortable from that side, as shown by his 2010 season splits- .281 avg/.719 OPS vs. righty hurlers, .238 avg/.598 OPS vs. lefty hurlers.

Fatigue seemed to be a factor for James, down the stretch, as he went from a .361 average in July to a .220 batting average in regular season games after July and began the postseason with a 1-for-16 slump, before collecting three hits in game 2 of the SAL championship series against Greenville. As James gets used to playing such lengthy campaigns, it's not likely that his production will continue to suffer as time goes. Instead he will develop his strength and stamina to go along with his adaptive athleticism.

Areas of his game that James should focus on include his pitch recognition and his stolen base percentage. James struck out 132 times in 133 games during the 2010 regular season. As he learns to pick up opposing pitchers' off-speed pitches and improves his ability to make contact, his offensive production will surely receive a huge boost. His .347 batting average on balls in play, during the 2010 regular season, is evidence of that.

In addition, James stole 33 bases with Lakewood, but was caught 20 times. As players move up to higher levels, coaches will assist more with scouting the opposing battery and augment stolen base success for their players. The extra help will benefit James, whose speed is one of his assets.

Among James' other tools are a respectable throwing arm and his tremendous defensive range in centerfield. With his long strides, James reaches balls hit into the gaps, corrals balls hit well over his head, reaches batted balls in front of him and successfully makes diving catches about as easily as he schools his teammates in poker during downtime.

Lakewood's hitting coach and longtime member of the Phillies' developmental staff Greg Legg does not view James as a gamble. Instead, Legg sees a load of potential in the toolsy lead-off man. Asked about the Florida native, James, late last season, Legg stated, "(Jiwan)'s a pillar of consistency. He pays attention to the game. I think he's only going to get better. As time goes on, he's going to learn the strike zone better, he's going to get stronger, he's going to get more power. He's got a real bright future. When he gets his man-strength, look out!"

Indeed we will look out for Jiwan James, as the highly athletic youngster is expected to move up to High A level Clearwater this season to play in the Florida State League. There's definitely much hard work ahead for James if he is to reach the highest level of baseball. The progress he achieves on the way there will determine if he can stick around and what role he will play, once he reaches the big leagues.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Phillies Pitchers Press Conference Highlights


Here are some quotes from this afternoon's press conference in Clearwater, FL, where the Phillies' starting rotation met with the media.


Joe Blanton on the potential advantages of matching up against other teams' fifth starters:

I don't know if it really gives an advantage. I'm kind of facing the other lineup, not the other pitcher. So, maybe, hopefully, the other lineup falls asleep and thinks they don't have to face these four guys. I'll just kind of slip right in. It's just great to be a part of this rotation, like everyone said. We all want to win and I think that's the most important thing.

Roy Halladay on the starting staff pushing one another to perform well:

I want to go out there and do my best regardless. I hope we have shutouts every single day, no doubt about it. Obviously, the better they pitch, the better our team does. That's great. Whether the guy who pitched the day before me pitched a complete game shutout or gave up 5 (runs) in the first inning, I'm still gonna go out there and do the same thing. I want to get deep into the game, put up as many zeroes as I can and give the team a chance to win. That's really it, for me. I don't really try to compete against these guys, I'm trying to compete against the other team. That's the way I look at it. There's a lot of guys that look at it like they want to one up the next guy. If that works for you and that brings the best out of you, then that's great...more power to you. Personally, I don't look at it that way.


Cliff Lee on the expectations for the Phillies this year. Is it "World Series or Bust"?:

If we're healthy and take care of business and focus on our routines and what we need to do to prepare, then we're gonna give ourselves a good chance. If we're saying right now that we're gonna win the World Series, that's kind of getting the cart ahead of the horse. That's for (the media) to say that kind of stuff. We're focused on spring training and preparing. We expect that to happen, but nothing's going to be given to us because we've got a good rotation and a great offense.

Lee on his decision to return to Philadelphia:

I could have got more money in other places, but that really wasn't what it was all about for me. It was more about what team gave me the chance to win world championships over the life of the contract and I think this is it.

Obviously, the Rangers, where we went to the World Series last year, was a good option too. And the Yankees with their history and what they've done, that's a good option. It was three really good options, to be honest with you. I stepped back and looked at each team and evaluated, and I felt like this is the team that's going to give me the best chance to win a ring. And hopefully, multiple rings.

Obviously, the fans had a lot to do with it. They sell out every game, the stadium's packed, there's a lot of hype every game. It's a great feeling playing in that park and I wanted to come back and do more of it.


Lee on the rest of the Phillies' roster measuring up to the great expectations that people have for the pitching rotation:

I hope they prepare and come in and do everything they need to do. If they do that, then our talent should play out. We've got good pitching, we've got a good bullpen, we've got a good offense and we play good defense. If everyone comes in prepared and does what they need to do...good things should happen. It's not about us five, or even those eight. It's 25 guys. We've all got to contribute.


Roy Oswalt on what we picked up from Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, when they were all teammates in Houston and if he can still learn from the guys around him now:

I think the biggest thing (I learned) from Pettitte and Clemens was preparation. Those guys had a plan before they ever got to the field of what they were trying to do during a game. Stuff on the field...everyone pitches their own style, you don't really get mechanics from anyone on the field. I come here and these guys do the same thing. From the first day I get here, I'll see Cole and Doc in the video room taking notes on different things they're going to try and do in the game. I think good pitchers that are trying to get better, you try to do every little thing to get the odds on your side. I think you can learn any time. Any time you see these guys throw, you can pick up a lot of stuff. Actually, I've picked up a few things last year, watching Doc on some of his pitches. I think any time you go out, you can watch and learn.


Cole Hamels on the Phillies' ability to acquire such solid pitching talent, with the trades for Blanton, Lee, Halladay and Oswalt, as well as Lee's free agent signing:

The organization's done a phenomenal job of getting guys. Everybody really talks about, in the postseason, it's all about pitching and we have guys with postseason experience and you want that. I think we're just fortunate to be in this situation. Because I know, when I was drafted by the Phillies, the whole team's (now) almost completely different. Everything evolves and we were able to pick apart a team and then get a few of the top guys throughout the league and then put them all together.


Hamels on being the youngest of the group:

I am young and if I can learn from these guys, then I feel that I can get better.


Lee on the various nicknames for the pitching staff:

All those add up to four, it seems, and there's five of us, so I haven't heard one that sounded any good yet.


Halladay on how his emotions regarding losing in the postseason after playing in it for the first time last year compared to having a longer off-season and not reaching the playoffs every other year of his big league career:

It was definitely harder this year. I think a lot of us are at a point in our careers where you feel like the biggest thing left for you to do is to win a championship. Whether you've already done it, or you haven't. That was my only goal going into last season, was to try to win a World Series. So, coming close and coming up short is definitely hard. You have your heart set on that all year. My ultimate goal again this year is to win a world championship. Not forgetting about the steps that it's going to take to get there, but that's why I still want to play this game...I want to be a part of a world championship team. It would be tough if we got close again and didn't win it.


Unfortunately for Delaware County Times reporter Ryan Lawrence, the "lowlight" of the event came at his expense, when he clearly forgot about Joe Blanton on the live broadcast and asked Cole Hamels about being the only one among the starting staff who had won a World Series ring. Blanton, of course, was also a member of the Phillies in 2008, when they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in the Fall Classic. Cole quickly reminded Ryan that, "Joe's got one too." After the presser, Lawrence apologized to Blanton, who said it was no big deal.

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Lidge Hopeful for Durbin's Return

As a new season, that Philadelphia players and executives alike feel is "World Series or Bust", approaches, all Phillies pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater, FL for their entry physical examinations on Sunday, prior to the start of workouts.

The biggest story in all of Major League Baseball this off-season, the Phillies' pitching rotation, will jointly be on the field and answer questions from the media for the very first time on Monday. The return of Cliff Lee to Philadelphia completed what many say could be the greatest pitching rotation in modern baseball history, adding him to last year's group of starters, Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton.

With the rotation filled to the brim, the Phillies' bullpen has some potential vacancies. Reports out of camp on Sunday had closer Brad Lidge actively campaigning for the return of his close friend, pitcher Chad Durbin, whose contract with the Phillies was through after the 2010 season. It's understandable that a player might wish for a friend to return to the club, however, the organization must come before friendship. Lidge should realize that what's best for the Phillies is to get a some of their up-and-coming pitchers a considerable amount of experience this year.

Pitchers like Dave Herndon, Scott Mathieson, Antonio Bastardo, Mike Zagurski and possibly Justin De Fratus as well as Mike Stutes, plus others, will all be striving to make the big club this year. Experience for those hurlers will benefit the club more in the long run than giving innings, and millions of dollars, to Durbin.


Following the 2011 season, the only Phils reliever under contract is right-hander Jose Contreras. The Phillies have to provide big league innings to their deep collection of reserve arms in order to properly evaluate what they have for the future.

Allowing a guy like Mathieson, whom the Phillies have a lot invested in, after three elbow surgeries and years of recovery, to take on opponents at the highest level would enable the team to determine if Mathieson is still an asset that could be valuable in the future. Using any of the prospects listed would also allow the Phillies to save money on the team payroll, as the players without years of Major League service time would command much smaller salaries than a veteran like Durbin.

While the righty Durbin remains a free agent and Lidge feels Durbin's return is still a possibility, it's up to the Phillies' front office to realize the importance of not re-signing him and providing their young pitching depth a chance to develop further.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Weekend Sports Guide, 2/12/11

Get ready for spring training! Tune in around 1:25pm today (Saturday, February 12th) to hear me talking Phillies baseball with the one and only Tyrone Johnson. With the first pitchers & catchers workout just a couple days away, we'll be discussing the pitching staff, the team's outfield situation and more.

If you're not familiar with Tyrone, he is a multi talented Millennium Radio force. Music, politics, current events and sports are all topics you can hear Mr. Johnson discussing on Millennium owned outlets. He hosts The Weekend Sports Guide each and every Saturday, from noon to 3pm, on Atlantic City's 97.3 ESPN.

You can listen each week, on the air or ONLINE. Check it out!

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Friday, February 11, 2011

ProspectNation 2011: #8 Austin Hyatt- RHP

Previously drafted by the Braves out of high school, Austin Hyatt was selected as a 15th round draft choice by the Phillies in 2009, having attended the University of Alabama where he pitched as a starter.

In his senior season with Alabama, Hyatt posted an 8-3 record with a 3.76 ERA in 15 games in the tough Southeastern Conference before signing his first professional contract with the Phils.

Almost immediately, Hyatt began his pro career with the short season Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League. The right-hander dominated as a 23-year-old, posting a 3-0 record with a 0.66 ERA and a .141 batting average against in 17 games, 5 of which were starts. With Williamsport, Hyatt struck out a beastly 81 batters in 54 1/3 innings.

The tremendous efforts upon his arrival in the Phillies organization earned Hyatt a bump up to Class A Lakewood where he served as the BlueClaws' set up man for the team's postseason run en route to the South Atlantic League title. Hyatt pitched in all 5 Lakewood wins in the 2009 postseason without allowing a run.

As a member of the High A level Clearwater Threshers in 2010, Hyatt posted an 11-5 record with a 3.04 ERA and a .220 batting average against in 23 games, 21 of which were starts. In 124 1/3 innings in the Florida State League, Hyatt struck out 156 batters and walked just 35.

In one May start against Jupiter (Marlins affiliate), Hyatt forced the baseball world to take notice of his talents, as he struck out a career high 14 batters, while allowing just 1 hit over 8 innings.

Over Hyatt's final 10 starts with the Threshers, he won 5 and lost none, while notching an astounding 0.83 ERA.

The 6'2", 180-pounder was named the Florida State League's pitcher of the year for his exceptional efforts in 2010, despite being promoted to Double A Reading in early August.

With Reading, Hyatt started 4 games, going 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA and a .247 batting average against. While in Double A, Hyatt added more solid strike out numbers, posting 25 K's in 22 innings.

Now 24 years old, Hyatt's pitch repertoire includes a fastball that tops out in the mid-90's and a very good change up that has movement. Hyatt's third pitch is a slider that he worked to gain more confidence in last season. The success of the slider, among other factors, could determine Hyatt's future status, whether as a starter or a reliever.

Expect to see Hyatt back in Reading in 2011. At this point his future with the Phillies does not seem to be as a starter. With considerable depth among starting pitchers at the Major League level (the starting 5 locked in, with Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley on standby, in case they are needed), the Phillies could likely move Hyatt back to a relief role, going forward, with hopes he will continue to progress quickly. If Hyatt can take some strides and impress the higher ups this year, fans could see the Georgia native insert himself into the conversation with other relievers the team has as bullpen options.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

ProspectNation 2011: #9 Jesse Biddle- LHP

Last year's first round draft pick, Jesse Biddle, moved up the Phillies' prospect rankings in a hurry once he debuted in the pros. The highly regarded left-handed hurler was the Phils' target from the jump in last season's amateur draft.

Biddle, a Philadelphia native and life-long Phillies fan, has had the goal of pitching for the Phillies since he was 12 years old. And it is an ambition that Biddle's always taken seriously, as he wants baseball to be his life.

After he began getting attention in high school and received visits from scouts that represented other professional organizations, Biddle remained a Phillies fan, attending World Series games in both 2008 and 2009. Biddle cites another Phillies number 1 draft choice, current starting lefty pitcher Cole Hamels, as someone he looked up to prior to signing his first pro contract.

"I went to game 5 of the 2008 World Series, where Cole Hamels pitched in the rain. It was the game that got delayed, the two-parter. I went to both parts. I have to say, it was one of the most incredible moments of my life. I saw him, and I saw the way he handled it and the way he won MVP and I just thought, 'That's what I want to do.' It was incredible," Biddle said in an interview last week.

As a senior in high school, at Philadelphia's Germantown Friends School, Biddle went 9-2 with a save and a 1.06 ERA. Even more impressive, Biddle struck out an astounding 140 batters in 59 1/3 innings.

Prior to the draft, Biddle committed to play for the University of Oregon. However, faced with the opportunity to fulfill a dream that he'd had since little league, Biddle decided to sign with the Phillies rather than attend college. He weighed his options and was confident that he could handle professional baseball, so the decision was easy.

Now 19 years old, Biddle's best pitch is his fastball which has some solid movement and reaches the mid-90's. Biddle also throws a curveball that will improve as he throws it more in the minor leagues. He had gotten away from using the curve, despite his high comfort level with it, after some scouts had told him it might hurt his draft position. He began using a slider as his breaking pitch. The Phillies, however, like Biddle's curve and he has brought it back to his pitch repertoire in place of the slider. Also in the mix is a change up that Biddle says he will work hard to improve, as he didn't use it much in high school, where a slower pitch would only have helped opposing batters' timing.

The 6'4", 245 pounder, Biddle, began his career with the Gulf Coast League Phillies, where he posted a 3-1 record and a 4.32 ERA with a complete game shutout and 41 strike outs in 33 1/3 innings (9 starts). Prior to the GCL playoffs, Biddle was promoted and he wrapped up his first pro season with 3 starts as a member of the low Class A Williamsport Crosscutters. In those games, Biddle went 1-0 and held opponents to a .152 batting average. One statistic of concern with the Cutters, though, was his strike out to walk ratio...9 K's, 11 walks in 10 1/3 innings.

The transition, from high school competition to rookie league match ups, wasn't as difficult as Biddle expected. Although, he feels the umpires and their smaller strike zones were the biggest thing he needed to adjust to. As Biddle gains more experience, high walk totals should be a thing of the past.

Expect Biddle to see action as a member of the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws in the South Atlantic League this coming season. It's not a lock that Biddle will begin the season on the defending league champs' opening day roster. The Phillies' method of holding back younger talent at extended spring training, during April, proved extremely successful for the likes of Julio Rodriguez and Jonathan Singleton in 2010. Jesse Biddle may follow suit this year as a player who waits until May to make his debut with Lakewood.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

ProspectNation 2011: #10 Tyson Gillies- OF

Tyson Gillies is the third of the three players acquired from Seattle in December 2009, in the trade for Cliff Lee, to appear on this countdown. Gillies struggled with leg injuries during his 2010 season while with the Double A Reading Phillies, but still projects to be a solid contributor at higher levels.

Gillies, a lefty batter that primarily plays center field but has played all three outfield positions in his professional career, had multiple stints on the disabled list due to a recurring left hamstring ailment in his first season in the Phillies organization. The injury limited Gillies to just 28 games played in 2010, an issue that Gillies somewhat blamed himself for, as he felt he came back too soon from the hamstring ailment, which caused him to aggravate it a second and third time.

A ground ball/line drive hitter that is known for using his speed to help him reach base, Gillies is also pretty well known for his hearing impairment. Diagnosed at an early age with significant hearing problems, Gillies grew up using hearing aids and has become accustomed to playing baseball with a slight disadvantage. At times, outfielders could rely on the sound of the crack of the bat to judge the distance of a ball, but Gillies makes up for that with his quickness and great range on defense. Gillies says for him, it's just natural.

Growing up in British Columbia, Gillies played both hockey and baseball. However, when he reached his teenage years, Gillies felt that it was best to choose one sport to focus on and, as determined by his size at the time, he selected baseball. As he progressed as a player, his love and passion for the game of baseball developed along with his talents and he has never looked back.

A 25th round selection in the 2006 amateur draft, Gillies has been compared to Curtis Granderson and Shane Victorino at times. With a bigger frame than both of those players, one wonders if the 6'2", 195-pound Gillies could develop into an offensive threat that could surpass each of those men. That's certainly a tall task, but not impossible if the 22-year-old can stay healthy and continue to mature on the field. On the low side, perhaps Dave Roberts is a more reachable type of level for Gillies.

Gillies began his pro career in 2007, as a member of the Arizona League Mariners and later with Everett of the Low A Northwest League. Combined at both levels, he batted .255 with 11 steals and a .688 OPS in 39 games.

He followed that up with an improved 2008, where he spent time with Everett before earning a promotion to High Class A High Desert. In 72 combined games, Gillies' production shot upward as he batted .302 with 25 steals and an .831 OPS.

In a 2009 return campaign with High Desert, Gillies became a highly regarded prospect, as his offensive output excelled even more. Gillies posted a .341 batting average, good enough for third highest in the minors, with 44 steals and a .916 OPS in 124 games.

What seemed to improve the most over Gillies' first few seasons in the minors was his ability to get on base. His solid eye at the plate saw his on-base percentage rise in each of his initial three seasons in the pros, with marks of .358, .421 and .430.

Following the trade to the Phillies, Gillies played in 26 games with Reading and 2 rehab games with the Gulf Coast League Phillies in 2010. During his injury shortened season, Gillies batted .243 with 2 homers, 7 RBI and 2 stolen bases.

The summary for Gillies is that he's got all the right tools to, someday, reach the Major Leagues. He has exceptional speed, has shown progression at the plate and has solid instincts with a strong throwing arm on defense. This year, Gillies should return to Double A for a full season. Provided he can continue to progress, Gillies could see an estimated time of arrival in the Majors of 2013.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

New Novel by Allen Schatz

Friend of this site, Allen Schatz has a brand new novel available exclusively online from SmashWords.com. The backdrop of the murder mystery, titled GAME 7: DEAD BALL, is the 2008 World Series that featured the Philadelphia Phillies. If you are a fan of crime mysteries, books, baseball and especially a combination of those three, this is the story for you.

Check out the information from the press release below and click the link to support a local author and baseball fan.

Washington, Pennsylvania - February 7, 2011 - Allen Schatz, Philadelphia native and current resident of western Pennsylvania, mixes a love of the game to spin a mystery-suspense yarn where revenge hides at the core. The book, titled GAME 7: DEAD BALL, targeting mystery fans and baseball fans alike, takes place before and during the 2008 World Series. The lead character, umpire Marshall Connors, believes a vacation cut short is a reasonable price to pay for the opportunity to work the games, but that price rapidly increases when he finds himself in the middle of something more intense than the games on the field.

Roger S. Williams, Managing Director at Publish or Perish Agency, Inc. and New England Publishing Associates, has described the book as "a mystery with baseball overtones; think Dick Francis meets America’s Pastime."

The book was released by Smashwords.com and is available as a multi-format eBook by clicking this link. The purchase price is $2.99 and readers may download the first 30% for free. There is also a limited-time coupon available for 25% off (code WJ47F).

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Mathieson Ready to Help Phillies

Scott Mathieson is a long-time Phillies pitching prospect that fans have grown familiar with for the wrong reasons, unfortunately. The right-handed Canadian, who was drafted by Philadelphia in the 17th round of the 2002 amateur draft, had his Major League career sidetracked due to serious injuries and is still battling his way back to the big time.

It took Mathieson, who went on the operating table three separate times for his pitching elbow, roughly four years to get back to being a true contender to earn a spot on the Phillies' Major League roster. As a starting pitcher, Mathieson broke into the Majors with the Phillies, at age 22, in 2006. However, his season was cut short when he required Tommy John surgery to repair ligament damage in his elbow. The following season, as Mathieson began rehab work, it was discovered he also needed an ulnar nerve transposition procedure. Then, in 2008, Mathieson had a second Tommy John surgery.

In 2009, Mathieson rehabbed and pitched a combined 22 games in relief at three levels of the Phillies' minor league system. He looked sharp, posting a 4-0 record with 2 saves, a 0.82 ERA and a .149 batting average against.

Mathieson was outstanding again in 2010 and was named the winner of the Paul Owens Award, an honor bestowed upon the top pitcher and the top position player in the Phillies' minor league system each season. As a member of the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Mathieson was named to the International League North Division All-star team. With the IronPigs, Mathieson posted a 3-6 record with a 2.80 ERA and 26 saves. His 83 strike outs in 64 1/3 innings were additionally impressive.

Upon receiving a call up to the big club in June last season, Mathieson did not stick around very long, finding himself designated for assignment after allowing 2 earned runs in 2/3 of an inning in one appearance. Luckily for the Phillies, Mathieson cleared waivers and was reassigned back to Lehigh Valley. However, it did leave Mathieson feeling like perhaps he was not being given enough of a shot to stick around on the Major League roster.

"I'd be lying if I said (I didn't feel held down). I was definitely frustrated. I didn't make the best of my opportunity, while I was up there, and that bothered me more than anything."

It's obvious that the elbow issues have cost Mathieson, who will turn 27 years old this month, a great deal of time. However, he is clearly pitching better and faster than ever. Mathieson's fastball speed ranged in the low-to-mid-90's prior to the surgeries. These days he's regularly clocked in the high 90's and occasionally higher than that. His 83 strike outs in 64 1/3 innings in 2010 were a clear example of Mathieson's dominance.

Mathieson has a clear goal ahead, stating that he wishes to post those same numbers at the big league level.

Some individuals around baseball assert credit for success that recovering Tommy John patients have toward the surgery. Certain journalists, some coaches or even parents of many young players, who think that the surgery is advantageous to all pitchers, get under Mathieson's skin and he wants people to understand that advances to a hurler's performance are not guaranteed by the surgery and credit can be attributed to pitchers' own hard work.

"I've been lucky enough to be able to (add velocity after surgery). I don't believe that's typical. There's a lot of people out there saying that you throw harder after surgery and they're 100% wrong, in my mind. For most people that go through all the rehab, they're in the best shape they've been in (because) it's the hardest they've ever worked in their lives. And in my case, that's definitely true.

"I just feel like I'm in better shape than I was before. I had to become a lot smarter of a person and a pitcher, and have better mechanics and increase my extension and I think that has helped my velocity. And especially, now, being a reliever...I can let it all go for one or two innings," Mathieson said in an exclusive interview.

This off-season, Mathieson spent a considerable amount of time at the Phillies training complex in Clearwater, FL, working closely with Shawn Fcasni, the team's minor league conditioning coordinator, with a focus on building stamina and getting his body more lean. Mathieson feels this extra effort will increase his durability and improve his chances of holding down a big league job in the long run.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., speaking on various topics at last week's winter tour banquet in Lakewood, NJ, stated that the Phillies will be counting on their collection of minor league hurlers, including Mathieson, to contribute out of the bullpen this coming season.

"We need them to have impact for us. We're not going to be able to field 11 or 12 pitchers all year long. I think we averaged about 20 pitchers every year. So, somebody from the minor leagues is going to have to help us. They'll be able to make an impression and get a chance to pitch this spring. In particular, I'm curious to see Mathieson pitch," Amaro said.

Arriving back in Clearwater on Monday, following some time off in his native British Columbia, Mathieson is ready to show everyone that the competition he's likely to receive from other 25-man roster hopefuls won't distract him and that he rightfully belongs on the Phillies' roster.

"I'm coming off my best year ever in pro ball. I'm confident in all my stuff, I just need to bring that into camp. As far as the other guys, (I try to) compete against myself, not the other guys. I root for all those guys, some of them are my best friends in baseball. The better they do, the more they're going to raise (my) game. I'm always trying to compete against myself and push myself to the next level."

Working closely with established Major Leaguers in training camp is something that Mathieson has found to be beneficial for his progress. Last spring, Scott commissioned the assistance of long-time Phillies reliever Ryan Madson, who assisted Mathieson with his change up. The updated change up grip, that Mathieson adopted from Madson, became a go-to weapon in 2010 for him, especially against left-handed batters.

Despite being ranked on 2011 prospect rankings released by PhoulBallz.com and PhilliesNation.com, Mathieson no longer considers himself a prospect. Headed into spring training this year, the 6'3" 190-pounder is confident that a big league roster spot will be his.

"I definitely feel like I am going to make the team. And that's kind of the mindset I am going into (spring training) with. There are a lot of young guys coming up that are, kind of, more the prospects now. Now it's my turn to show that I need to stick in the Major Leagues and contribute there."

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