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A progress report on some of Phillies’ top prospects

WE KNOW, lots of long faces down at Citizens Bank Park these days. First to worst in one season will do that. So, is there any reason for optimism?

Tyler Cloyd (left) is 8-1 since joining Triple A. Justin Friend was promoted to Lehigh Valley in June. (File photos)
Tyler Cloyd (left) is 8-1 since joining Triple A. Justin Friend was promoted to Lehigh Valley in June. (File photos)Read more

WE KNOW, lots of long faces down at Citizens Bank Park these days. First to worst in one season will do that.

So, is there any reason for optimism?

Plenty, says Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development.

"There's some good things going on in the organization," the minor league boss said. "Our top three affiliates [Lehigh Valley, Reading, Clearwater] are about 30 games over .500, so we have some good things going on. I'm proud of our guys. The [minor league] staffs have done a great job."

In baseball circles, "prospect" is a word that is not tossed around lightly. It's reserved for the few players who have a legitimate shot of making an impact in the major leagues. With that in mind, several players have emerged with, let's call it, "potential" to help the big club one day, either on the field or via trade.

Two guys at Triple A Lehigh Valley are causing radar screens to blink: righthanded starter Tyler Cloyd and righty reliever Justin Friend. And with good reason. Both continue to get promoted and both continue to put up gaudy numbers. Jordan sees similarities in both.

"If there's one quality that [Friend] and Cloyd both have, it's 'conviction,' " Jordan said, noting that neither has particularly overpowering stuff. "I think that Justin and Tyler believe that every pitch that leaves their hand is going right where they want it to go. We need some more guys who have that belief."

Cloyd, 25, is a 6-3, 190-pounder picked in the 18th round in 2008. He's been quietly successful since. He was assigned to Reading to start the season, but his first appearance was an emergency start for Lehigh Valley in the season opener on April 5 against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He promptly hurled six perfect innings, earned International League pitcher of the week honors, and was shipped back to Double A Reading. He lasted four starts in Reading (3-0, 1.80 ERA) and earned a ride back to Allentown by mid-May. For the IronPigs, he is 8-1, with a 2.01 ERA.


"Oh, I would say so," Jordan said. "You really have to pay attention to what he's been doing. He's just really throwing the ball the way he's trying to. His command, his conviction is as good as anyone in our system. He's not an overpowering guy, he doesn't have a big arm, but his execution really has been about as good as you can have in a minor league pitcher. And he's not doing it in low-A. He's doing it at Triple A and just continues to do it."

The Phillies got Friend, 26, as a Rule 5 castoff from Oakland in 2010 after he put up so-so numbers in 4 years in the A's system. The 6-1, 200-pounder divided his 2011 season between Clearwater and Reading, where he racked up 28 saves with a 2.75 ERA.

This year, 14 saves in 25 appearances in Reading opened some eyes, as did one earned run in 27 innings with the R-Phils. A late June promotion to Lehigh Valley followed.

"Justin absolutely believes that his stuff can get anyone out," Jordan said. "That's how he approaches every hitter. He'll throw breaking balls in fastball counts, he'll throw fastballs in breaking-ball counts. He has command of a couple pitches. He'll throw a changeup when he needs to, but he's mainly fastball-slider. He feels like he can throw any pitch in any count. In the short-look, back-of-the-game, one-inning-type role that he's been in all year, he's been phenomenal. He's a very, very competitive, confident guy. He's a bulldog."

Prospect? With only five games with the IronPigs (5 2/3 innings, three earned runs and a save), the jury's still out. We'll keep an eye.

Meanwhile, Jordan points out several players at Reading and advanced Class-A Clearwater who have the organization paying attention.

"At Reading, there have been a lot of success stories on that club: Cesar Hernandez, [Lisalverto] Bonilla, [Jonathan] Pettibone is starting to turn it around. [Manager] Dusty Wathan and the staff have really done a good job."

The Phils have been talking about Hernandez, 22, for a couple years now and he's finally living up to the hype. He's a speedy, 5-10, 175-pound second baseman who's hit above .300 the entire season.

Bonilla, 22, a hard-throwing righty reliever, has simply been dominant in 31 games at Clearwater and Reading this year (combined 3-2, 1.55, four saves, 64 Ks in 46 1/3 innings). He was picked to represent the World team in last weekend's All-Star Futures Game, but was a scratch when he injured his thumb horsing around with teammates before the game. All fingers are crossed that it's not too serious. Meanwhile, Pettibone, 22 next week, a highly touted 6-5 righty, is 7-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 16 starts. Those are good numbers, considering he got off to a rough start this season.

Jordan offered some particularly kind words for outfielder Leandro Castro and first baseman Darin Ruf.

The Phils have always liked Castro, 23. They loved his enthusiasm, his hustle … but sometimes that led to some reckless play. The 5-11, 175-pounder has put up some fabulous numbers for Reading (.313, six homers, 44 RBI, nine steals), but Jordan sees a little something beyond the stats.

"I think you're seeing a guy who's starting to play with control," Jordan noted. "The game is slowing down for him. He can play. He can do a lot of things to help a ballclub win: three outfield spots, he can throw, plays with tremendous energy. His progression at the plate, from spring training to today, has been as good as anyone in our system. He's not swinging out of control, not trying to do too much, he's taking what the game gives him."

And Ruf? The guy's nearly 26 now but has hit at every level in four years with the organization (check out that career .303 average). This year is no exception for the 6-3, 220-pounder out of Creighton University. He's hitting .315 with 15 homers and 55 RBI and finally getting some attention.

"It's hard to deny what Ruf has done so far this year," Jordan said. "He's a hitter, and he's not hitting .260 with a bunch of home runs. He's hitting over .300 and has been all season, in addition to the home runs. He's been driving the ball (20 doubles). He's a success story."

Unfortunately, going by the numbers, big righthander Trevor May has not been a success story thus far at Double A. May, 23, earned the Paul Owens Award as the Phillies' top minor league pitcher after a big year at Clearwater last season. He, of course, entered 2012 as the Phils' top pitching prospect. He's trudged to a 7-6, 4.92 showing in 17 starts with the R-Phils (he's actually shown flashes of improvement recently). Command has been his enemy: 91 strikeouts and 43 walks in 89 2/3 innings is not a formula for success.

But the Phillies haven't given up on the 6-5, 215-pounder.

"May's shown some good stuff, but his execution isn't as good as it needs to be," Jordan said. "We have about six weeks and hopefully we can get him turned around. He's been tinkering with some things in his delivery and I don't think he's quite found that happy place yet. He's feeling his way around now, he's probably overthinking some things, but if you just rate his stuff, he's throwing harder than he did earlier in the year. His breaking ball is there. It's not consistent. His changeup is better than it's ever been. I've seen a lot of good things, but his execution is not where it needs to be right now; whether he's overthinking things or just trying to make some small adjustments."

Coming into the season, May read and heard all the nice things observers had to say about him. It can get into a guy's head. Jordan knows that.

"I think Trevor is a very smart guy," Jordan said. "He's very aware of his status in this organization. I think he's been a little disappointed in himself and his performance, and maybe that burden has gotten in his way a bit. But he's fine. He's going to click off a good one anytime. I really believe that. Hopefully, that'll get him on track and he can finish the summer the way we want him to and the way he wants to. He's healthy. There's nothing physically wrong with him. We'll get him on track."

Down in Clearwater, Germantown Friends lefty Jesse Biddle has the front office smiling. The 6-4, 225-pounder is 5-3 with a 3.23 ERA in 16 starts, averaging a strikeout per inning. And the walks - his nemesis last year at Lakewood -- are way down.

"Biddle has done very well for a young pitcher in the Florida State League," Jordan said.

Two Clearwater guys who are certainly approaching "prospect" status are outfielder Zach Collier and catcher Cameron Rupp.

Collier, 21, was nailed with a 50-game suspension in September after testing positive for amphetamines. The Phillies picked him 34th overall in 2008, but injuries and subpar play made him more of a suspect until this year. The 6-2, 185-pound lefty hitter returned May 29 and has hit above .300 since - with a new attitude.

"To me, Collier getting back on the field and what he's doing has been really good," Jordan said. "This kid's a major league player one day. He can hit, he can run. He served his 50 games and really, from the day he came back, he's done great. He's been hitting over .300, having a real solid year."

Rupp, meanwhile, has emerged as the team's top catching prospect, Jordan said. Sebastian Valle got all the headlines after an outstanding year in Clearwater last season. This year, with Valle struggling at Reading and Rupp's vastly improved defense, big Cameron (and we mean 6-1, 240 big) is getting a look.

"Although his offensives numbers aren't great as far as batting average (.253), he's hit some home runs (eight) and he's been as good a catcher as we've had in our system this year," Jordan said. "As good as he was defensively last year, he's even better this season. You break it down defensively, he's been our best catcher in the minor leagues this year."

Then there's Williamsport outfielder Larry Greene. The Phillies got the 6-foot, 235-pounder with the 39th overall pick last year. He's only 21 games into his pro career, but he's off to a decent start (.293). No homers, though, and power is why the Phils drafted the 19-year-old from Nashville, Ga.

Not to worry, Jordan said. Greene showed up at spring training a little soft, but that problem appears to have been solved.

"He's looking fine," Jordan said. "He's had some struggles along the way and that's OK. I'm telling you: He has a chance to be a dangerous hitter. A dangerous hitter. We just have to get him on the field every night, get him his at-bats. We like Larry. Larry's going to be all right."