READING - Over the last several years, the Phillies have made midseason deals to acquire pitchers Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Lohse and Cory Lidle.
In coming seasons, the Phils might not have to go the trade route to stabilize their pitching staff. Or, if the organization still wants to make a deal, it may have pieces to shop.
That's because something interesting is happening in the upper levels of the Phils' minor-league system.
Suddenly, there is pitching depth.
Homegrown, on-the-rise pitching depth.
You can see it at triple-A Lehigh Valley, where Drew Carpenter and Carlos Carrasco have dazzled lately, and Kyle Kendrick remains someone that organization leaders believe has an upside.
The homegrown depth really stands out at double-A Reading, where the organization's most prized arm, 21-year-old righthander Kyle Drabek, picked up the win in an 8-6 victory over Altoona last night. Reading's staff also includes a pair of highly regarded righthanders in Vance Worley and Mike Stutes, as well as lefthander Joe Savery, who has 10 wins.
On Tuesday night, Reading added another interesting prospect to its rotation when lefthander Yohan Flande, the organization's mystery talent, made his double-A debut in a 6-5 win over Altoona.
"We have eight major-league pitching prospects starting for us at triple A and double A," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "These are guys that will pitch in the big leagues, though the quality of big-league pitcher they become is still to be determined."
Of the group, only Drabek projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter.
But that's OK. All the pieces matter on a pitching staff. Reliever Clay Condrey was a big contributor to last year's World Series title team. Ryan Madson, another big contributor, was a starter in the minors for the Phils. Is it a bad thing if Stutes becomes a Condrey-like bullpen piece in the majors someday? Heck, no. All the pieces matter, and the Phillies have some pitching pieces in the high minors.
"All these guys project as a major-leaguer in some role," said Steve Schrenk, Reading's pitching coach.
"It's exciting," added Schrenk, who pitched for the Phils in 1999 and 2000. "We haven't had this kind of staff in the Phillies organization in a long time. They're all our own guys, and they all have a chance to help the Phillies over the next few seasons. I've been in the organization for five years, and I haven't seen a staff like this."
Drabek and Savery are products of the Houston area. Both are former first-round picks, Drabek in 2006; Savery in 2007. The similarities stop there.
Drabek is a power guy with a 93-to-96-m.p.h. fastball, a hard, sharp curveball, and an improving change-up. Two years removed from elbow reconstruction surgery, the righthander entered last night 8-1 with a 2.46 ERA in 15 games between single A and double A. He had allowed just 77 hits while striking out 100 in 95 innings. Drabek is the hottest prospect in the Phils' system, completely untouchable in trade requests. He could get a look in the majors later this season and might be just a year away from the big-league rotation.
Savery, 23, has not shown the velocity or pure stuff (he has just 58 strikeouts in 842/3 innings) he did at Rice University, but he is winning. The lefty is 10-1 with a 3.08 ERA. The record has lifted Savery's spirits after he went 9-10 with 4.13 ERA in the Florida State League last season.
"I'd be lying if I said this season hasn't been a little bit of a relief after the way last season went," Savery said. "My velocity was down last year, and my arm wasn't feeling real good. That left some uncertainty coming in."
Savery has an 87-to-91-m.p.h. fastball. He makes up for a lack of pure stuff with a strong competitor's will.
"He gives you innings and he competes," Schrenk said. "His stuff doesn't jump out at you, but he finds a way to get hitters out. He makes pitches when he needs to. As he moves up, though, he's going to have to throw more strikes because it's harder to pitch out of trouble at higher levels."
Worley and Stutes are intriguing because they were pitching college ball a little more than a year ago. Both were products of last year's draft, skipped advanced single A, and are holding their own against double-A competition. Worley, 21, was picked in the third round last year. Stutes, 22, was picked in the 11th round.
Flande, 23, allowed five runs (all in the second inning) over six innings in his double-A debut Tuesday night. The wiry Dominican spent three years in the obscurity of the Dominican Summer League, then made it to the Gulf Coast League last summer. In four seasons, he never had an ERA over 2.76.
In spring training this year, some team officials wondered who Flande was and where he'd been hiding. They took notice of him when they saw him flash an above-average change-up and fastball, then go 7-1 with a 2.52 ERA at single-A Clearwater before his promotion.