Things look bleak for the Phillies, if you are still looking at all. If you've decided that summer league basketball is more important, it is understandable and entirely the Phillies' fault. They have not won more than two games in a row in a month and have just two winning streaks longer than two games the entire season. That is how you get to be the worst team in baseball.
There is at least one man, however, who can see beyond the doom, the gloom and the avalanche of losses. Dusty Wathan, manager of the triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, can see a better tomorrow for the Phillies because he has been living the dream of the future every day for the last three years. He has seen the talent at the upper levels and believes it will translate to victories in the big leagues sooner than you might think.
"Yeah, absolutely," Wathan said during a recent Lehigh Valley homestand. "If you look at it as an organization, our job here is to get some young guys up there and have some guys hopefully behind them, which I think we do, even in the lower levels. And then you give (general manager) Matt Klentak the opportunity to add to the club where he needs to. We all know what the payroll flexibility is … so if we get some of these guys up there and they have some success, we can add some guys and all of a sudden things turn around fast."
The 43-year-old Wathan has been managing in the Phillies' farm system since 2008, climbing the minor-league ladder in the same fashion as so many of his players. He started at the rookie-league level in Williamsport, moved up for one season to low-A Lakewood, then spent two seasons at high-A Clearwater. He logged five seasons at double-A Reading before getting to Lehigh Valley this season.
No manager in the organization knows the high-level minor-league players better than Wathan. Consider this: He has managed 17 of the 25 players currently on the active major-league roster as well as second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who is on the disabled list. He has also managed seven of the team's top 10 prospects according to Baseball America.
Most important, he has had success managing them. In his final two seasons with Reading, the Fightin Phils went a combined 169-113 and reached the postseason each year. Wathan has taken his teams to the postseason four times in his nine seasons and even won a championship with Lakewood in 2009.
Barring a collapse, Lehigh Valley will be Wathan's fifth playoff team in 10 years and his third straight. The IronPigs entered play Thursday night with a 53-33 record, a half-game behind the New York Yankees' affiliate at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Given his success, his contributions to the organization and his relatively young age, it is easy to envision the day when Wathan becomes the manager at the big-league level. It would, in fact, be shocking if it did not happen. That is not meant as a call for Pete Mackanin's job, either, because the Phillies' problems this season have little to do with the manager.
Nine players on Lehigh Valley's opening-day roster have made it to the big leagues this season, and that has more to do with the Phillies' problems than any decision Mackanin has or has not made. Any team with that much influx from its triple-A team is bound to struggle, but it's also likely to grow for the future.
More promotions are sure to come, and Wathan said his players realize they are living in the land of opportunity.
"We try to impress that upon them," the manager said. "I think the number one prime example is that we (recently) sent three guys to the big leagues in a matter of an hour, and two of them (Cameron Perkins and Hoby Milner) weren't even on the (40-man) roster. If that doesn't tell you, 'Hey, I've got a chance to go to the big leagues whoever I am,' here or in Reading, then I don't know what does. If you get hot now, and the time is right, well, ask Cam Perkins."
The help wanted sign in Philadelphia is not coming down any time soon. If first baseman Rhys Hoskins and second baseman Scott Kingery keep hitting for average and power, their day with the Phillies will come soon enough. And if J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro can finish strong after disappointing starts, they still have plenty of time to get to Philadelphia.
And Wathan was wise to remember the Phillies' "payroll flexibility," which is a euphemism for owner John Middleton's burning desire to spend money when the time is right. That time seems like a long way off, but the minor-league manager with a wealth of knowledge about the farm system believes it might be closer than you think.