If the future of the Philadelphia Phillies' bullpen was foreshadowed by a long home run from a mediocre power threat to straight away center field, the future is bleak. It may be time to hop back into the DeLorean, travel back a few riffs and see if there isn't a better draft strategy to be had.
Luckily, that's not the case in the least bit.
After yet another solid start from a member of the Phils' rotation was spoiled by foul weather, the team called on relief prospect Michael Schwimer to soak up a few innings on Sunday afternoon, making his well anticipated Major League debut.
A first glimpse of the tall right-hander really puts some of those scouting reports into perspective. At 6'8", 246 lbs., Schwimer towers over home plate, with his figure nearly casting a shadow over the batter's box, and almost instantly, you can see where all of the life in his fastball comes from. A man that has no time for pampering, Schwimer's face was covered in a scruffy beard and his hat pulled way down over his head, casting a shadow upon his eyes. It was clear that intimidation was his game.
After missing his spot with his first Major League pitch, however, it was clear that even the menacing Schwimer was susceptible to a bit of nervous energy, and as he delivered a fastball right into Danny Espinosa's happy zone, he was humbled very quickly.
One pitch, one home run.
At that moment, it was rather clear that baseball is a funny game. After months upon months of waiting for the call and a few days stashed in the back of the bullpen, Schwimer's first batter launched a mammoth home run to the deepest part of the ball park. Could a lifetime's worth of hopes and dreams be shattered by the worst imaginable first impression?
Luckily, by most "old school" standards, a reliever's worth is measured by his integrity. After missing his spots by more than just a little bit to his first batter, would Schwimer cave against the Washington Nationals, or show that he could be relied on?
Even as he pointed towards Espinosa's home run like it was a lazy fly ball heading towards Shane Victorino, Schwimer knew it was gone. He glared for a moment before taking his cap, holding it over his face and pushing it back over his head. There was work to be done.
As Jonny Gomes stepped in to oppose Schwimer, the nervous energy dissipated. His location straightened itself out like his career depended on the outcome of this batter, and he was easily dispatched. In a nut shell, that's the story of the Nats' offense versus Schwimer.
After allowing that monstrous home run to Espinosa, Schwimer would put on something of a clinic, allowing just a bloop single. In three innings of work, saving a worn down bullpen, he'd allow just the two hits, striking out four along the way.
With the home run in his rear view mirror, Schwimer's control quickly became an asset, and he allowed us all to take a glimpse into the vast reservoir of potential that lies ahead. The greenhorn whose career began by allowing a game tying home run quickly gave way to the prospect who compiled an ERA of just 1.88 for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
But all along, regardless of the outcome of his Major League debut, Phillies' fans knew that the potential was there. After all, Schwimer is just one of three highly touted relief prospects in the organization, and just the first to receive his cup of coffee.
As he packed a travel bag for Philadelphia, Scwhimer certainly must have looked over his shoulder at Phillipe Aumont and Justin De Fratus, a pair of IronPigs teammates that will be with the big league club before long.
Aumont, who was acquired in the trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners a couple of offseasons ago, has been quite impressive in his time with the Phillies' AAA affiliate. Posting an ERA of just 2.95, he's struck out an average of more than 14 batters per nine innings, and while his control is still a work in progress, an electric fastball and devastating off-speed pitches will have him in red pinstripes before long.
The same could be said for fellow right handed reliever, De Fratus, who compared to Schwimer and Aumont, is a short 6'4". After a rough start to his AAA career, he's mowed down the competition, showing better control than Aumont and striking out batters at a similar clip (11.31 K/9.) While his ERA reads 4.11, do not be misled—he has pitched much better than his peripheral stats show, as evidenced by a BABIP of .348.
Even in the midst of one of the finest seasons in the history of a storied franchise, it isn't too soon to look ahead. While they've been one of the best in baseball this season, the Phils' bullpen is set to go through some drastic changes moving forward.
The oft-injured Brad Lidge is almost guaranteed to become a free agent, as the Phils are very likely to decline his hefty $12.5 million club option. Ryan Madson, who is represented by the renown Scott Boras, is headed for a big pay day as well. Add to that the uncertain health of the aging arm of Jose Contreras, and Antonio Bastado is the only man with a guaranteed spot in the 2012 bullpen.
That certainly puts the Phils in a tricky situation moving forward. With numerous holes and little money to fill said areas of need, the bullpen is the one spot on the roster the team could logically improve by getting younger. With a trio of right handers possibly nearing the end of a tenure with the Phillies (Madson, Lidge and Contreras), a new trio of righties (Schwimer, De Fratus and Aumont) could be set to take over.
All we can do is hope that an era that began with a long home run to center field ends with a swing and a miss at home plate.
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