The Phillies have offloaded a boatful of minor league talent in the last few years to bring in players like Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. The payoff has been back-to-back World Series appearances and a shot at a fourth straight division title. Not bad for a franchise that had never before finished first in consecutive seasons with the exception of 1976-77-78.
Still, the farm system is the lifeblood of any organization, whether it's used to restock the big- league club or used as bargaining chips in trades.
With the minor league seasons ending yesterday - the Phillies' rookie-level entry has already won the Gulf Coast League championship and the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws have made the South Atlantic League playoffs under first-year manager Mark Parent - here's an overview of the system from assistant general manager, player development and scouting Chuck LaMar.
Most outstanding player
Outfielder Domonic Brown.
No surprise here. Touted as the organization's top prospect for the last two seasons, Brown started the season at Double A Reading where he batted .318 with 15 homers and 47 RBI before being promoted to Triple A Lehigh Valley where he was .346-5-21 in 28 games before being called up. And he's just turned 23.
LaMar: "When you look at the numbers he put up and the prospect level and what he can be, he sort of has become the centerpiece of our organization.
"From Day 1 in spring training, he handled himself extremely well. You know, we challenged him. He was coming to his first [big-league] spring training and I told him, 'You know, I don't want our major league staff to say how talented that Domonic Brown is. I want them to say how hard he works.' I said, 'Everybody can see your talent, but I don't think everybody knows you as a guy who can really play the game and also has the work ethic to get the most out of his ability.'
"And from the first day of spring training, that's what you heard. 'Boy, this is a good kid. He's a hard worker. He's going to get the most out of his ability.' And even now, at the major league level, you still hear those comments.
"His upside is tremendous. He's not a finished product by any means and I hope the fans in Philly will be patient, because some young players hit the ground running at the major league level and some grow into their ability. I think Domonic is going to be a batter player at 24, 25 than he is right now. He's still a year or 2 away from everybody really seeing how special he's got a chance to be."
First baseman Matt Rizzotti.
There was little to suggest at the end of the 2009 season that the 24-year-old was poised for a breakout season, batting just .268 after three seasons in the minors. But his .343 average at Class A Clearwater, Reading and Lehigh Valley led all Phillies minor leaguers.
LaMar: "He's a young man who's always had some hitting ability. He let himself get out of shape, very candidly. And last instructional league, [field coordinator] Mike Compton and [minor league conditioning coordinator] Shawn Fcasni and the people who run our minor leagues from a strength and conditioning standpoint put him on a program.
"He took that and as the offseason progressed went to his own personal trainer back home. And he came in stronger than he had ever been and it started to pay dividends right from the start. He went to the [Class A] Florida State League and his numbers [.358-1-10] speak for themselves. He went to Reading and the numbers really speak for themselves [.361-16-62]. And until he got banged up in Triple A [Lehigh Valley] was holding his own there. So for a player who was a suspect and now has made himself into a prospect, he would be the most surprising."
Outfielder Aaron Altherr.
The German-born 19-year-old was drafted by the Phillies in the ninth round in 2009 and batted an unimpressive .214 in the Gulf Coast League. This year, though, he was .287-0-10 in 28 games for short-season Class A Williamsport.
LaMar: "He started out in extended spring this year. Outstanding athlete who just needed, like all of them, to continue to play our game and get at-bats. I just saw him along with Benny [Looper] and Marti [Wolever] and the group and he's going to be the next name that surfaces that the folks who follow us closely may not have heard of. Next year, when he goes to Lakewood, they're going to start to hear about him.
"Not only keep an eye on him. I don't know how low you can pick rotisserie guys, but I'd get him in my farm system somewhere."
Cream of the crop
Righthanders Jarred Cosart and Brody Colvin, first baseman Jonathan Singleton.
While understandably hesitant to label any minor leaguers as can't-miss, LaMar chose a trio of BlueClaws as the three players he believes should lead any list of the organization's best prospects. Colvin's 3.38 ERA was fourth best among pitchers in the system. The pitchers are both 20, Singleton doesn't turn 19 until later this month.
LaMar: "I hate to single anybody out, because I can remember in years past when Baseball America would pick its Top 10. When I started back with the Braves guys like Kevin Millwood and John Rocker, some of those names didn't make the Top 10 and yet had longer careers than some of the guys at the top.
"But these three guys, if they stay healthy, have a chance to make an impact at the major league level. Cosart's been hurt [elbow] the last couple months, but those three have the physical ability to have an impact."
Righthander Phillippe Aumont.
After starting the season at Double A Reading, the 6-7, 21-year-old struggled so badly (1-6, 7.43 in 11 starts) that he was sent back to Clearwater where he still tried to find himself (2-5, 4.48 in 16 games, 10 starts).
LaMar: "This is the one young man we need to do a better job with. Forget about the [Cliff Lee] trade. We don't need to hear about that again. But this young man is a major league prospect. He's big, strong, good arm action, good velocity, showed signs of secondary stuff that can get hitters out at the major league level. And, resultwise, did not have a good year in Reading or in Clearwater. And it's our job to get that ability out of him.
"We're not disappointed in him at all. It's that he's got more ability than his numbers indicate. So next year I would expect much better things than we saw out him.
"Unless a big, tall pitcher is an outstanding athlete - if they're just normal athletically there are more moving parts and it can take longer. I could say the same thing about big, tall hitters. Or power hitters, for that matter. There's more that can go wrong mechanically. A tall pitcher can take time to grow into himself and Phillippe may fit into that group."
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