The three biggest names to know as the Arizona Fall League ticks toward conclusion?
Justin DeFratus, Josh Zeid and Matthew Rizzotti.
Two of those names are probably familiar to those with at least a passing knowledge of the Phillies' farm system. Rizzotti, a sixth-round pick in 2007, murdered pitching at Double A Reading in 2010, hitting .361 with a .452 on base percentage and 16 home runs before earning a late-season promotion to Triple A. DeFratus, meanwhile, saved 21 games with a 1.94 ERA at Reading and Clearwater.
Zeid, on the other hand, spent the entire 2010 season at low-A Lakewood, where he went 8-4 with a 2.93 ERA. A 23-year-old who was drafted in the 10th round out of Tulane in 2009, he might not have the public profile of his two fellow fall leaguers, but the Phillies are hopeful that he can contribute as a power bullpen arm at some point in the not-too-distant future.
"Right now, his arm strength is his big plus," said Phillies assistant general manager Chuck LaMar, who recently returned from scouting in Arizona.
Zeid has spent most of his 2 years in the minors as a starter - in four starts for the AFL's Mesa Solar Sox, he is 3-0 with a 3.86 ERA, 12 strikeouts and one walk in 14 innings - and figures to enter 2011 in a similar role. But he could end up making his mark as a reliever. In Lakewood's clinching win in the South Atlantic League championship, he came out of the bullpen to throw two innings, with his last pitching clocking in at 97 mph. He pitched well as a reliever on Saturday in the AFL's Rising Stars game, throwing a scoreless fourth inning (no hits, walks or strikeouts) in the East's 3-2 victory over the West.
DeFratus also appeared in the Rising Stars game. He faced just one batter, but it came with two outs in the eighth inning and the go-ahead run on third base. (He fell behind Devin Mesoraco in the count, allowing a hard-hit foul ball before getting the Reds prospect to fly out to deep centerfield.)
DeFratus, a hard-thrower with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, is a lock to get an invitation to big-league spring training. And while the Phillies maintain interest in re-signing veteran righthanders Chad Durbin and Jose Contreras, DeFratus could pitch his way into consideration for one of the other open spots.
"Whether he is truly ready or not is yet to be seen, but I think he'll open up some eyes in major league camp," LaMar said.
Rizzotti's future in the organization is unclear. He's a fascinating case, a sixth-round pick in the 2007 draft out of tiny Manhattan College (his coach with the Jaspers once described him as "the Barry Bonds of the MAAC") who didn't break onto the radar until this season.
He is a work-in-progress defensively, and he shares the same position as Ryan Howard. He struggled in his short stint at Triple A Lehigh Valley, hitting .200/.308/.267 with no home runs and 14 strikeouts in 45 at-bats, and has just two extra-base hits (both doubles) in 42 at-bats in the AFL. But he continues to hit: .405 with a .509 on base percentage and five strikeouts in his 11 fall league games for the Solar Sox. If Rizzotti rediscovers the power he displayed at Double A, he could become a trade chip in a deal with an American League team looking for a DH-type.
"He just continues to hit," LaMar said. "His defensive skills need to continue to improve. Hasn't shown the power in the AFL that he's going to need to to be the type of player that he is, but he continues to hit."
In other news, outfielder John Mayberry Jr. played in just one AFL game before suffering a strained calf that brought a premature end to his offseason schedule. Mayberry was examined by team doctor Michael Ciccotti, who determined that the injury was not serious. But the Phillies have shut Mayberry down for the rest of the offseason.
Domonic Brown is scheduled to report to Escogido in the Dominican Republic in about a week. He is expected to play until Christmas, then take the next month off before reporting to big-league spring training. *