Philadelphia Phillies: Which Prospect Can Be the Next Michael Stutes?
Entering the spring training, the Phillies bullpen looked to be mostly in place. Brad Lidge was expected to close with Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras as his top set up men.
Kyle Kendrick would fill the long man role while J.C. Romero and presumably Antonio Bastardo would be the lefties. There was one opening which ultimately was filled by 2010 Rule 5 draftee David Herndon.
However an onslaught of injuries opened the door for a few minor league arms and no one took better advantage than Michael Stutes. He has been nothing short of sensational thus far. His strikeout stuff has translated very well to the MLB level as he has struck out 8.7 batters per nine IP. While his 5.6 walks per nine IP is cause for concern he has been able to maintain a 2.38 ERA nonetheless.
Stutes was not the only reliever waiting in the wings though. The Phillies farm system has been doing a very good job developing young impact relievers over the last few years. In the next year or so many of them will be MLB ready. Here are some names to look out for.
Many people recognize the name Phillippe Aumont as one of the centerpieces from the second Cliff Lee trade. Aumont is a tall, well-built right hander who in the past has displayed potential top of the rotation stuff as the ace of the Canadian team at the World Baseball Classic.
After the trade, the Phillies placed Aumont in their Double-A rotation and promptly watched him implode. His season went so poorly that even after being demoted to A ball his performance barely improved.
Coming into Spring Training this year the Phils brass decided the bullpen was the best place for him and they could not have been more right. Sporting an strong fastball and a power curve, he has been nothing short of dominant in Double-A Reading.
After posting a 2.32 ERA, 1.097 WHIP and striking out 11.2 per nine IP he has recently earned a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Much like Aumont, Carpenter is someone who rose through the minor leagues as a starter before being shifted into the bullpen this season. Since 2008 Carpenter's ascent through the Phillies system has stalled with him as a mediocre Triple-A starter.
This season, the 26 year old has been reinvented as a dominant reliever for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. Through 43.2 IP he is sporting a 1.65 ERA and a 0.939 WHIP.
These appear to be no fluke as he is striking out a career high 9.9 batters per 9 IP while cutting his walk rate in half to a mere 1.6 batters per 9 IP.
Justin De Fratus
The 2007 11th round draft choice also began in the Phils system as a starter but has really taken off since moving into a relief role during 2009. He has been touted as a future closer as he throws a mid 90s fastball with a plus slider and still developing change up.
Over parts of the last two seasons, the 23-year-old has posted a 2.14 ERA and 1.085 WHIP while striking out 10.8 batters per nine IP in Double-A.
Because of this strong performance he was considered a dark horse candidate to make the big club out of Spring Training. While that did not happen he went right back to dominating the Eastern League and along with Aumont recently earned himself a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
After taking time while in the low minors to write on fan blogs about his approach to pitching, Schwimer has become a favorite among minor league enthusiasts.
Taken in the 14th round of the 2008 draft, the Virginia product has surprised many with his meteoric rise through the minors.
The 25-year-old is now in his second season at Triple-A and somehow has managed to improve his already terrific numbers from last season.
At present through 41.1 IP he is sporting a 1.96 ERA, 1.089 WHIP and striking 11.5 batters per nine IP. These strong numbers make him a likely candidate as next in line should the Philadelphia bullpen come calling.
Best of the Rest
Those four individuals along with Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes are poised to make the Phillies bullpen a force for years to come. However, there are potentially other arms developing on the farm that while not as highly touted may still have an impact in the future as well. These are a few of them.
Mike Zagurski. The portly southpaw has been nearly unhittable this year with a 2.22 ERA and striking out 12.2 batters per nine IP in Triple-A. While the strikeouts have translated the big leagues (13.1 per nine IP the last two seasons) he has fallen victim to shaky control having walked 7.0 batters per nine IP the last two seasons and posting an 8.71 ERA in the bigs.
There is no doubt that he has potential but at 28 years old the organization may be running out of patience for him to reign in his wild command.
Scott Mathieson. Despite dominating in Triple-A, several short stints with the Phillies have led the club to believe that even though he has triple digit heat, he needs another pitch for success at the next level.
For that reason, the Phils brought in Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter last fall to teach the 27-year-old how to throw a splitter. While recently the Phils shifted him to the starting rotation in Lehigh Valley, make no mistake about it, his future lies in the bullpen.
Mike Cisco. Selected in the 36th round of the 2008 draft by the Phillies. He had moderate success in the low minors as a starter before struggling in Double-A and Triple-A. Made the move to the bullpen this season and the results speak for themselves.
This year in Double-A Reading he has managed a 1.46 ERA, 1.014 WHIP while striking out 6.6 batters per nine IP. If he can maintain this type of production the 24 year old may have a future with the Phillies.