Jan 082013
Former Phillies prospect and Blue Jays RHP Kyle Drabek

Former Phillies prospect and Blue Jays RHP Kyle Drabek (photo: Goaliedudegreg)

It’s time once again for an update on prospects the Phillies have traded away.  While the team has worked to apply several band-aids this season, it’s starting to become clear that a rebuild is likely coming soon.  They were unable to land a middle of the order bat through free agency, and even though the farm system has improved, it probably doesn’t have the pieces to land one through a trade with other teams competing.

Now would be the time for young, cheap talent to come up to complement expensive veterans exiting their primes, but little will be coming.  Yes, Travis d’Arnaud is a top 10 prospect in baseball, but when he’s traded for Roy Halladay?  The Phillies make that trade 10 out of 10 times.  They did what they could to maximize their chances of winning, and even though they were only able to win one World Series which is a disappointing result, it doesn’t necessarily mean every trade is a failure.  However, it’s still fun to look back and see what could’ve been.

Phillies trade 2B Adrian Cardenas, LHP Josh Outman and OF Matt Spencer for Joe Blanton

This was not a particularly popular trade at the time, but it ended up working out for the Phillies.  Blanton has moved on, maybe a year or two too late, but he gave them four average or so seasons that included a championship.  At the time, Cardenas was a top 100 prospect having a solid season with high-A Clearwater, batting .307 with a .812 OPS.  Outman was moved to the bullpen because he was struggling with his command, and Spencer was really just an organizational player.

Oakland got little to no value out of the prospects they received, and neither did any other team.  As Cardenas moved up the Oakland organization, his flaws became apparent: he really had no power, and he didn’t have the athleticism to stick at a position besides second base.  He has 67 ML plate appearances, and at 25 he’ll probably get more at some point, but he’s going to top out as a good AAA player.  Partly because of elbow injuries, Outman’s strikeout stuff hasn’t really translated to the majors with Oakland and Colorado so far, but with an effective slider and above average fastball velocity, he could find a niche getting left handers out.  Thanks to a strong arm, the Cubs moved Spencer to the mound where he has not shown much.

Phillies trade RHP Carlos Carrasco, SS Jason Donald, C Lou Marson and RHP Jason Knapp for LHP Cliff Lee and OF Ben Francisco

While the online Phillies community dedicated thousands of posts to discuss trading for Roy Halladay, they actually ended up swinging a deadline deal for Cliff Lee for this modest package.  It was hard to find fault with this one; Lee was having another good season one year removed from being AL Cy Young, and they didn’t have to part with any can’t miss talent.  Carrasco was struggling mightily with his consistency in AAA but still very young.  Marson and Donald were both at AAA, and although they weren’t repeating their success from the previous season in AA, they still had some value.  Knapp had the highest ceiling in the trade, but due to delivery concerns, also came with the most risk.

Like the Blanton trade, the prospects haven’t provided much ML value, but there’s a little more hope for the future.  Carrasco missed the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery, and that snapped any momentum he had developing into a consistent big leaguer.  A lack of focus and poor fastball command will prevent him from ever becoming more than a back-end starter, but his breaking ball and changeup should keep him in a rotation if he’s healthy.  Donald was expected to catch on as a bat-first infielder, but aside from 143 plate appearances in 2011 way above his career norms, he hasn’t been bat first or second.  He’ll try to add value as a supersub all over the infield and outfield, but he appears to be a 25th man on a roster.  Marson has also essentially peaked as a bench player after his feel for contact didn’t translate to the majors.  He has patience but no power, but decent defense will keep him in the majors.

Knapp best exemplifies the difficulties pitching prospects can go through.  He had the size and stuff of a frontline starter, but he developed shoulder problems because of his delivery, and he only pitched 40 innings for the Indians organization before being released in 2012.  He was injured at the time of the trade, but Cleveland demanded him anyway because of his upside.  He couldn’t get back from two shoulder surgeries, and his potential will never be realized.

Phillies trade RHP Kyle Drabek, OF Michael Taylor and C Travis d’Arnaud for RHP Roy Halladay

Two top 30 prospects and another with high potential was a pretty hefty price to pay, but they were finally able to land the ace they were targeting for almost a year.  Drabek had just completed his first full season coming off Tommy John surgery, and he was very close to being ML ready as a potential number two starter.  Taylor had an All-Star ceiling himself as a five tool player that was just about ready for the majors, and Toronto immediately flipped him to Oakland for Brett Wallace.  d’Arnaud was a top 100 prospect at the time, but coming off a season where he batted .255 with a .738 OPS, the tools hadn’t entirely shown up in games yet.

Now it certainly appears that d’Arnaud will be the best of the bunch, not for Toronto, but the Mets after this offseason’s R.A. Dickey trade.  Those tools did translate to in-game production in 2011 with a breakout season in AA, and he’s probably a top 10 prospect in baseball now as an all-around catcher that can defend and hit.  Drabek still has a little hope, but after undergoing Tommy John surgery again, he should be ticketed for the bullpen upon his return.  His command problems won’t be as glaring there, and he won’t need a changeup or cutter, pitches he’s always had trouble developing.  Despite back to back solid performances in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Taylor has been unable to regularly crack the lineup in Oakland, and with their depth in the outfield, probably never will.

Phillies trade LHP J.A. Happ, CF Anthony Gose and SS Jonathan Villar for RHP Roy Oswalt

This trade really seemed like a steal at the time.  Happ certainly had his supporters, but trading a back-end starter plus two very risky prospects was a no brainer.  Houston acquiring Happ never really made sense.  He was 27 years old and just about ready for arbitration eligibility, and that’s a bad combination for a rebuilding team.  That wasn’t even the oddest thing about the trade from their perspective.  Gose was risky for sure, but his upside was huge.  Trading him for Brett Wallace because they had a need at first base was bad from the start.  Villar was the kind of player they should be getting; high upside at a position up the middle.

Ultimately, Happ added little value to Houston, and it appears that the Blue Jays will benefit from this trade the most.  His control improved a bit, and he appears again to be a back-end starter in the majors.  With the Phillies’ search for a center fielder, Gose would look nice in the organization.  His tools developed into in-game ability, improving his plate approach to tap into his power and becoming a better baserunner.  He’s never going to make the kind of contact a player with his speed should, but his power, speed and defense could make him a valuable big leaguer.  Villar is a player that will have to make more contact though because he doesn’t have Gose’s power.  He still has a shot to be Houston’s future shortstop thanks to an improved plate approach and better defensive play, but he still has a lot of work to do.

Phillies trade 1B Jonathan Singleton, RHP Jarred Cosart, OF Domingo Santana and RHP Josh Zeid for OF Hunter Pence

Needing another bat to try and support the team’s great pitching staff, Ruben Amaro made this desperate trade involving two top 50 prospects, an upper minors reliever and a high ceiling outfielder.  Seemingly without much available on the trade market, the Phillies capitulated and met all of Houston’s demands.  There were justifications for moving all of them; Singleton was blocked at first base, they had enough pitching depth to survive the loss of the risky Cosart, and Santana was far enough away that his loss wouldn’t be felt.

After the Phillies enjoyed a half season of Pence producing well above his career norms, he cooled off in 2012, and he was out the door almost as fast as he came in. While Singleton improved his stock and solidified his position as a legitimate first base prospect, Cosart’s probably got worse.  His command and control still need a lot of work, and his stuff is still translating to only meager strikeout rates.  Thanks to persistent blister problems, he only pitched 114.2 innings, down 30 from 2011 between the Phillies and Astros organizations.  Meanwhile, Singleton showed the most power in his career in AA for Houston, and he could be making his ML debut at some point in 2013.  He still strikes out a tad much, but he’s a patient hitter who still puts bat on ball enough for the Astros to look past it.

It was Santana that improved his stock the most in 2012, with the caveat that it came in the best hitters park in the minors.  He showed the best power of his career so far by eclipsing the 20 home run mark, and he managed to cut down on his strikeouts just a little bit.  In that regard, he still has a lot of work to do, but he’ll only be 20 years old when he debuts in AA next season, so there’s plenty of time for that to happen.  With his power and arm strength, he’s a fringe top 100 prospect entering 2013.  Zeid, however, clearly is not.  Although some of his statistics beneath the surface like good strikeout and walk rates indicate he could have more success next year, he’s been far too hittable in the upper levels to reach the majors soon.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out!