Philadelphia Phillies: Pennant Fever Stretches Down to the Farm
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Since 2007, the Philadelphia Phillies have been one of the elite organizations in baseball. They have a laundry list of team and personal accomplishments in the span that goes unmatched by any other franchise in baseball.
The success was built upon by a homegrown core supplemented by trades to acquire additional star power and occasional free agents.
However, this will to win does not exist solely on the major league level. During these past five years the minor league system has seen a lot of success, too.
The minors are generally seen as a place where you try to develop your talent, which sometimes comes at the expense of winning. Any winning you can do is seen as a bonus.
For a team like the Phils, winning in the minors functions as an opportunity to get the prospects more acquainted with the high leverage situations you will find with the big club late in the season.
Fortunately for the Phillies, they have had a strong farm that has seen a lot of team success. Here is an overview showing where each affiliate currently stands.
GCL Phils after winning the league title in 2010.
The Phillies actually have three rookie league teams. The first is in their spring training home of Clearwater and plays in the Gulf Coast League (GCL).
The GCL Phillies have seen a lot of success in recent years. Going into this season they had won two of the last three league titles. They were unable to repeat this year.
This team typically consists of first year or second year players drafted out of high school and newly arriving Latin American prospects.
In addition, the Phillies are one of six organizations to field a team in the Venezuelan Summer League (VSL). While the VSL Phils missed the postseason they did have their best showing since the finished first in 2006.
This team usually consists of teenage prospects native to Venezuela. If they show promise while playing there they will get a promotion to the GCL. Most of these players never make it to the States.
Finally the Phillies also run out a team in the Dominican Summer League. The DSL Phillies are a generally competitive team. Over the last five seasons they have had three third place finishes, one second place finish and one division crown.
Much like the VSL, this is a league for young Dominican signings. Players in this league are often very talented but extremely raw. Show promise in this league and you will find yourself heading stateside. Struggle, and you may never make it out of the Dominican.
Manager Mickey Morandini with Crosscutters' MVPs Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr
The Phillies have their short season affiliate playing in the New York-Penn League (NYPL). Since 2007, that team has been the Williamsport Crosscutters.
Currently the team is being managed by former Phillie Mickey Morandini.
The players on the team come from two places. First the high school draftees who have advanced from from the Gulf Coast League make up a good portion of the roster. Often this is the second or third year pro for these players.
In addition, most of the college players drafted will go directly to the NYPL. Being that they are a few years older than the average age, they are expected to outperform their younger rivals.
Throughout the season this team was a contender but ultimately fell just short of both the division crown and a wild card berth.
Unfortunately for the Crosscutters, this is the third year in a row they were the first team out of making the postseason. Good news though is this is a team that is in contention on yearly basis.
Much like in the GCL, there is a big roster turnover from season to season here. Consistently being in contention is an indication of strong drafting.
The 2009 and 2010 SAL Champion Lakewood BlueClaws.
For the last few years, the Phillies' Low-A affiliate, the Lakewood BlueClaws, has been the crown jewel of the system. So much so, that ESPN's minor league evaluator Keith Law declared the BlueClaws the most talented team in the minors last season.
They backed up that talent with back-to-back South Atlantic League (SAL) championships in 2009 and 2010. The repeat titles gave the BlueClaws three titles in a five year span.
Unfortunately, there was no three-peat in the cards this year as the team fell back to a near .500 finish.
This is the first level of the minor leagues where a full season is played. Where the Gulf Coast and NY-Penn Leagues start in May and June, the SAL begins immediately in April.
This is where prospects really begin to separate themselves. The Phillies when making their series of trades the last number of years have often plundered talent that was either currently still in or had just graduated from Lakewood.
The Baby Aces of Clearwater's vaunted pitching staff. Jarred Cosart has since been dealt.
The Phillies High-A affiliate are the Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League (FSL).
The Threshers are the inheritors of the championship tested Lakewood squads of the last few years. And as a result they were in the pennant race the entire season. Unfortunately, late in the season they slipped behind and finished just a shy of the wild card.
No doubt the losses of Jarred Cosart and Jon Singleton may have been a factor. Regardless, this was the team's best finish since winning the league title in 2007.
The story of the year in Clearwater was not the near playoff berth nor the trades of their two top prospects. Instead it was one of great pitcher performances.
The Phillies 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Trevor May, resided in Clearwater for the season. May became the first Phillies farmhand to strikeout over 200 batters in a single season in over 30 years. His chief rival for the award, Julio Rodriguez, also played in Clearwater.
You can expect both pitchers to get a bump up to Double-A next season.
The R-Phils are hoping to take their first Eastern League crown since 2001.
The jump from High-A to Double-A is considered the most difficult transition in the minor leagues. This transition is even more difficult on Phillies' pitchers because Clearwater is a pitcher's park and the Florida State League is a pitcher's league whereas Reading plays in a hitter's park.
For the second time in three years the Reading Phillies have secured a birth as an Eastern League wild card.
They will be taking on the Washington Nationals' affiliate Harrisburg Senators for the right to advance to the league championship.
The R-Phils managed to make the postseason despite seeing some of their key cogs get promoted throughout the season. Starting shortstop Freddy Galvis, amidst a breakout campaign, was given a well earned ticket to Triple-A late in the season.
Slugger Cody Overbeck also found himself promoted to the International League. Their shutdown back of the bullpen of Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont both were sent to the IronPigs as well.
Yet, despite these big losses, the team was able to rally around the likes of Austin Hyatt, Tyler Cloyd, Matt Rizzotti and Carlos Rivero to complete the playoff push.
The IronPigs eliminated the Gwinnett Braves from playoff contention. Phils fans hope to see a repeat of the story on the MLB level this October.
Where the Lakewood BlueClaws has been the gem of the system in recent years, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have for the most part been the dredges.
Since moving from Ottawa to Allentown in 2008, the new IronPigs had been nothing short of terrible. The product put on the field often lacked legitimate prospects and was instead a team of career minor leaguers and over the hill major leaguers.
After three disappointing seasons that managed to maintain strong fan support the Phillies decided to make a change. In came former Phils farmhand and MLB Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg to manage.
Ryno brought a renewed energy to the ballpark as he focused on strong fundamentals and aggressive baseball. The result was not only the IronPigs first winning season, but a playoff berth.
Lehigh Valley was able to hold off the Braves Triple-A affiliate to secure the final playoff spot. The only downside, is that the playoffs will postpone the Phillies from making any September call ups.
Somehow, I think the Phils will be okay with that.