Aug 112011
 

Lakewood BlueclawsLast week, I wrote about a few hitting prospects remaining in the system after the Hunter Pence trade. Without Jonathan Singleton, Sebastian Valle likely takes over the top spot among positions players. Domingo Santana isn’t far behind, and there are a number of players in the lower minors that have upside. In nine games since the trade, Singleton is batting .324 with a .378 OBP and .618 SLG. We all know he has power, and the hitter friendly environments in the Cal League will allow him to show that.

This week, I’ll focus on the pitching. After the trade, Jarred Cosart was promoted to AA, likely to keep him out of the hitting environments Singleton will be taking advantage of. In his first start, he showed what good Cosart is capable of doing: he struck out four and only allowed two hits in six scoreless innings. The next time out, he showed what bad Cosart is capable of doing: allowing 15 baserunners in 3.1 IP and seven runs. He hasn’t developed any consistency from start to start this season, but he is healthy. Cosart is nearly 50 innings above his career high, so the Astros will probably be thinking of shutting him down for the year soon.

Without Cosart, the Phillies lost their highest ceiling arm despite a disappointing season statistically. Fortunately, they have pitching depth, both in pitchers with higher ceilings and ones that don’t, so they should he able to handle this loss. Ideally, they won’t need more than a back end of the rotation starter over the next few years with Roy Halladay under contract through 2013 with an easily attainable option for 2014, Cliff Lee under contract through 2015 with an option for 2016 and hopefully soon a contract extension for Cole Hamels. The Phillies have an opportunity to be patient with their prospects and let them develop without having a pressing need at the major league level.

Top Pitchers

Trevor May, RHP high-A

May was selected in a potentially impact 2008 draft that included Vance Worley, Michael Stutes, Anthony Gose, Jonathan Pettibone, Julio Rodriguez, Michael Schwimer, Jarred Cosart and others. In 2009 at Lakewood, he was overshadowed by the then healthy and superior Jason Knapp until he was traded away. After that, the focus was on May and his lofty strikeout numbers. 2010 was expected to be his breakout season, but it proved to be anything but. He started the season with Clearwater and walked a comical 7.8 batters per nine innings. His strikeout rate was better and his hit rate was fine, but no one can have success walking that many batters. His ERA was 5.01, and he averaged under five innings per appearance. For the last half of the season, the Phillies sent May back to Lakewood where he dominated and regained confidence.

May got his second shot in Clearwater this season, and he got off to an interesting start in April. His walk rate was down, but he struck out fewer than one batter per inning, and he was a bit unlucky too. In May, maybe he was a bit lucky. He struck out a ridiculous 50 batters in 32 innings, but with a 1.50 WHIP, he managed a 3.09 ERA. June was likely his best month. His WHIP was 1.00, his K/9 was 12, and his ERA was just 1.50. His opponents’ batting average jumped up a bit, but he maintained a great strikeout ratio, and his walk rate was better than it’s ever been. Overall on the season, he’s third in the minor leagues in strikeouts with a BB/9 of 4 which isn’t great, but it’s an improvement. With nearly 200 innings at Clearwater between 2010 and 2011, he’s due for a promotion to Reading soon, but it might not come until next year.

With his size and stuff, May offers #3 starter potential. At 6’5 and 215 pounds, he should have the durability to handle a full 200 inning workload. His fastball is his best pitch, comfortably sitting in the low to mid 90’s throughout a game. The pitch has movement, but he doesn’t really generate ground balls. Despite that, he doesn’t give up many home runs later. He allowed 10 in 135 innings last season, and so far he’s only allowed six in 124.1 IP this season. His curveball should be an above average pitch, and that’s what allows him to get strikeouts. His changeup should only be an average pitch, but May has an interesting statistical oddity that indicates it could be better. Changeups are typically used to get batters of the opposite hand out, and his K/9 against lefties is nearly 15 compared to a more modest 10 per nine against righties. However, his hit and walk rates are worse against lefties, so it could just be a fluke.

The Phillies have an interesting choice to make with May for the remainder of the season. He’s probably ready for a challenge in AA, but if they feel like he may be more comfortable finishing the season with Clearwater, he’ll make his last few starts there. Both teams are in the playoff hunt, so in that regard, nothing would be gained by promoting him. In the past, he’s had trouble adjusting to a new level, so fans shouldn’t panic if he gets off to a slow start in Reading in 2012. AA is the level where prospects can really start tasting the majors, and May can prove that he’s a top 100 prospect by performing well in Reading.

Jesse Biddle, LHP, low-A

A local product, Biddle was taken in the first round by the Phillies last year. He signed for slot quickly which is vital for any high school pick, but especially those from the northeast where high school baseball seasons are shorter. He finished up the 2010 season with 43.2 innings, more than just about every other high school pitcher selected in the 2010 draft. In 33.1 IP in the GCL, he struck out 41 batters. He gave up over a hit per innings, but his walk rate was very good. His K/9 was good for 10th in the GCL, and only three pitchers ahead of him pitched more innings. The rookie league Phillies had one of the league’s best rotations, and several starters including Biddle were promoted to Williamsport to finish the season. He pitched 10.1 IP that weren’t very good, but it was valuable experience.

Some teams are patient with young first rounders, assigning them to short season leagues in their full season debuts, but the Phillies are generally the opposite; just about every high school player taken high in the draft starts the following season with Lakewood. Kyle Drabek and Brody Colvin both did it. Like Colvin, Biddle had an awful month of April. His ERA was over 7.00, batters hit .277 against him, and his K:BB ratio was only 15:12. Like Colvin, he settled in after that to improve his stock. His BAA dropped over 60 points in May, he continued to strike out batters at a very good pace, and his walk rate declined. June and July were also great months for Biddle, and he’s among the SAL leaders in strikeouts and H/9. He’s battling a minor hip injury now, but that should not be a problem moving forward.

Biddle has a promising combination of size and velocity projection not commonly seen in lefties. At the end of his senior season at Germantown Friends, Biddle’s fastball was touching the mid 90’s, but most of that season and this year, it’s more of a high 80’s, touching 92 pitch. That should improve over time with his size and athleticism. That velocity increase he showed is what had him flying up draft boards in the weeks before the draft because scouts saw that he is capable of adding a few ticks to his fastball. His changeup has shown improvement over the past couple years which is rare for pitchers as young as Biddle. He’s going to need a third pitch to be average or better, and that could be a curveball or slider. He used the curve in high school, but according to Baseball America, he started working on a slider in the offseason.

Statistically, the one thing Biddle has to work on most is cutting down his walks. He’s walking 4.7 per nine innings, and that’s unacceptable moving forward. Scouting reports prior to this season indicated he had mechanical issues that needed ironing out, and that could certainly lead to a loss in command. If he can get that straightened out, Biddle has #2 starter potential, potentially the highest ceiling in the system. In 2012, he’ll be assigned to Clearwater in the pitcher friendly Florida State League. He’ll be looking to avoid the disastrous follow up season that Brody Colvin is going through, and his work ethic and competitiveness should aid him.

Sleeper

Kevin Walter, RHP, short season A

Walter was one of three overslot signings the Phillies made on the day of last year’s signing deadline. He was expected to be taken in the 4th-6th rounds, but he slipped all the way down to the 20th round. Due to his late signing, he was only able to pitch two innings in the GCL. Of course there aren’t any conclusions to be drawn from two innings, but he allowed a run on one hit with no walks or strikeouts. In 2011, he hasn’t pitched an inning. He’s listed on Williamsport’s DL, but there hasn’t been any information on his injury. Obviously a lost year of development is a lost year no matter the reason, so hopefully he can return soon and get on track, or he can’t be much of a sleeper at all.

In some aspects, Walter is still raw, but in others, he’s more advanced than his peers. At 6’5 and 210 pounds, he has great size and should have the durability starters need in the future. With that size, he should be able add velocity to his very average fastball which sat at 88-90 as an amateur. Like a lot of other high school pitchers, his changeup wasn’t utilized much, but he’s thrown enough that make scouts think it could be average in the future. Walter got batters out with his breaking ball combo, a plus curveball and an above average slider. All of this together results in a package that’s a potential #3 starter, but he has to get on the mound and pitch.

One more sleeper: RHP Lisalberto Bonilla

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out!  Scott also regularly updates the PSC Minor League Thread with player stats, game results, and more…

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