Top catching prospect Sebastian Valle seen here playing in the 2011 Futures Game.
After many years of substandard production, the Phillies farm system has served the team very well during the past decade. It provided the core to the 2008 World Series squad and has since been tapped time and time again in trades to improve the big club.
Despite those trades, the system remains in a good position and is by no means barren, as some naysayers have suggested.
Recently, draft guru John Sickels and Baseball America each released their prospect rankings for the Philadelphia minor league system. It is very interesting that after the initial three prospects, they had a very difficult time agreeing on the top ten prospects.
In my opinion, this is very indicative of the current state of the farm. There is a lot of talent, but most of it is in the low minors and needs more time before we can get a clearer picture of what exactly the Phillies have there.
So rather than doing a traditional top ten prospects ranking, I have decided to change things up a bit. Instead, here is a list of the top prospect at each position—plus a few other names to watch.
Players who have spent enough time in the MLB to qualify as a rookie will be excluded from this overview, even if they spent significant time in the minors this season. This means players like Domonic Brown, Michael Stutes, John Mayberry Jr. and Scott Mathieson are not eligible for inclusion here.
Sebastian Valle is the Phillies' top non-pitching prospect.
The big name to watch behind the plate is Sebastian Valle. Valle signed with the Phillies in 2006 out of Mexico and has been in the farm system ever since.
For years, the scouts have predicted significant power from the very raw Valle. But the big question has always been whether he had the defensive capabilities to stick at catcher over the long haul. Valle has worked hard the last couple years and has shown significant improvement in his defense.
In 2010, Valle showed the first glimpses of that power while in Lakewood by hitting 16 home runs in just 447 at bats. Then in 2011, Valle saw the power numbers dip as he moved up to High-A Clearwater—but showed an overall improvement in his offensive numbers.
For three quarters of the season, Valle was nearly unstoppable at the plate. For most of the summer he had an average around .330, before wearing out late in the year. While this season demonstrated overall positive development, it has raised concerns about his plate discipline.
Going forward, Valle will be the starting catcher as a 21-year-old in Double-A Reading. Reading has a much more hitter-friendly environment than Clearwater, so expect to see Valle's power numbers increase. If all goes well, his expected arrival in Philadelphia is 2014.
Cameron Rupp—Is 22 years old and will be in Clearwater next season. After a disappointing first year in the system, the former collegiate All-American experienced a breakout season this year. He is a solid defender that has some pop in his bat. Going forward, he projects to be at least a major league backup.
Matt Rizzotti and Cody Overbeck may be auditioning this spring to fill Ryan Howard's roster spot.
Unfortunately, with the trading of Jon Singleton, the Phillies lack any true first base prospects at the moment. That is—as long as Larry Greene is considered an outfield prospect.
The Phillies do have a couple of players in the upper minors who have put up numbers, though. All other things being equal, I will take the one playing in a higher level right now.
Cody Overbeck started last season as a third baseman. Over the years the Phillies gave him every opportunity to stick at third base. But at the end of the day, he just could not cut it defensively.
After giving him a shot in left field, it appears the Phils have settled on him at first base. Overbeck was leading the Reading Phils in homers last season before being summoned to Triple-A.
With the rupturing of Howard's achilles, there may be a short-term opening for Overbeck. Smart money is on the Phils making a small move to pick up 1B insurance or playing John Mayberry Jr. there, but don't rule out someone like Overbeck making the team if he has a strong spring training.
Matt Rizzotti—Is also 25 years old, but is an even worse butcher in the field than Howard or Overbeck and appears to be a future DH. Has consistently put up strong offensive numbers the last few years and will compete with Overbeck for an opportunity to replace Howard.
Cesar Hernandez has been compared to the likes of Erick Aybar of the Angels.
This is one of the weaker positions in the Phillies farm. Should the rumors prove true that 2011 second-round draft choice Roman Quinn will be moving off shortstop to second base, then he will instantly take the top spot here.
In the meantime, Cesar Hernandez gets the nod. He was signed by the Phils in 2006 out of Venezuela when he was just 16 years old.
Last year, he put up excellent numbers in the New York-Penn League. However, in his first year of full-season ball, those numbers dropped off quite a bit.
The name of Cesar's game is defense and speed. He is a slap hitter who wants to use his legs. In the past he has done a great job putting the ball in play, but his strikeout total jumped quite a bit this year.
At only 21 years old, there is plenty of time for Hernandez to develop. There are two ways the Phillies can go with him next year. They can be aggressive and continue to push him despite evidence that his bat is not ready for the next level. This is how they have handled fellow 2006 middle infield signing Freddy Galvis.
Or they can stay patient and let him repeat High-A ball in Clearwater. A strong performance may lead to a midseason call up to Reading. My money is on the latter. They have been patient with him so far and I don't see that changing now.
Harold Garcia—There was a case to be made that Garcia was a better prospect than Hernandez, but after missing virtually the entire 2011 season with an ACL injury, there is no argument to be made in his favor anymore. Garcia's arrival to the major leagues will depend entirely on how well he has healed up. At this point, the best-case scenario for him is a career as a big league utility man.
A year ago, third base very well may have been the most barren position in the entire organization. The only person remotely close to being a prospect was Cody Overbeck, who, despite good power, just could not hack it defensively and consequently is now a first baseman.
What a difference a year can make, though. Now the Phils have three players with legitimate potential to be their long-term third baseman.
The best of which is by far Maikel Franco. In fact, Franco is a top ten prospect for the club. At just 19 years old he tore up the New York-Penn League and hit so well that he earned a midseason promotion to Lakewood.
After struggling in his short stint in the South Atlantic League, he returned to Williamsport where he ultimately was named the fourth best prospect in the entire league.
Expect Franco to start next season back in Lakewood. However, with older and more developed Harold Martinez also likely to be there, he will be fighting for playing time and is likely to drop back down to Williamsport once the New York-Penn League season begins.
Harold Martinez—Drafted in the third round out of Miami at 21 years old. Should start next season at Low-A Lakewood. Has flashed power in the past and showed great plate discipline once he entered the the minors. More developed than Franco but has less upside.
Carlos Rivero—Rivero was an unheralded pickup last offseason after the Indians put the now 23-year-old on waivers. He had been a solid glove but no-bat shortstop in the Cleveland organization. Due to his size, the Phillies decided to slide Rivero to third base where his bat prospered. However he strugged with the adjustment defensively. Rivero should get the opportunity to man the hot corner for Lehigh Valley next season.
Galvis is already a gold glove caliber defender right now.
Once again, this is a position that was considered to be barren last year. One breakout season and a strong draft class later, it very well could be the position at which the Phillies have the most depth now.
The best of the class at present is 21-year-old Freddy Galvis. Up to this point, the Phils had been very aggressive with the stellar-defending but weak-hitting Galvis.
He made it to Double-A at just 19 years old, despite not hitting well. But the Phils stuck with him and something clicked this year.
He blew away his career numbers in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. He hit so well he earned a promotion to Triple-A, where he continued to hit.
Galvis has a glove so good that scouts say it is Gold Glove-caliber on the major league level right now. As a hitter, though, he probably needs at least one—if not two—more years to be ready. However, with Jimmy Rollins slated to hit free agency this offseason, there is going to be a temptation to bring him up now.
The Phils would be best served to let him stay in Triple-A another season to continue to progress and mature.
Tyler Greene—Tyler Greene just might end up being the steal of the 2011 draft for the Phillies. They managed to pick him up in the 11th round despite him being a second-round talent. Has the potential to be a five tool player.
Mitchell Walding—His offensive abilities were not in question when he was selected in the fifth round of this year's draft. The biggest question regarding Walding is whether he will be able to stick at shortstop in the long term. He can handle the position right now but is expected to fill out and may ultimately end up at third base.
Roman Quinn—In many ways, Roman Quinn is a Jimmy Rollins clone. Same size, build and game. Blazing speed with surprising pop in his bat despite his diminutive size. Like Walding, the biggest question surrounding Quinn is whether he can stick at shortstop. Many scouts project him to slide over to second base or center field.
Tyson Gillies in the 2009 Futures Game shortly before being dealt to the Phils.
The Phillies do not really have true outfield prospects in the upper minors. Most of that talent is concentrated in short season and A-ball. In addition, their philosophy for the most part has been to acquire extremely talented but raw five-tool outfielders.
These players are sometimes known as lottery tickets because, in essence, you have no clue what you will get out of them, so it's like playing the lottery. Most do not pan out, but if even one hits their potential, then you have struck gold.
A result of having a lot of premium athletes is that almost all of them play center field or right field. So rather than go through the traditional positions, which are subject to change as guys develop, I am going to break them down into three different categories.
The first category is "closest to the majors." The answer to that is Derrick Mitchell. Mitchell is the only outfielder with prospect status outside of the low minors. He is a great defender in center field and has shown some power and speed.
The only problem is that he is 24 years old and needs to be protected on the 40-man roster, and that is unlikely to happen. He is close enough to the bigs that he might be ready now to be a fifth outfielder and is a candidate to be picked up by another organization in the Rule 5 Draft.
Tyson Gillies—Gillies was viewed by many people as possibly the prize of the Cliff Lee to Seattle deal and possible heir apparent to Shane Victorino in center. Two injury-plagued seasons later, Gillies has barely played in the Phils organization and is falling out of the club's plans for the future.
Gillies is hands down a better prospect than Mitchell —when he can stay healthy. He is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League and scouts have been optimistic about what they have seen from him there. Next season will likely be make or break for him.
Anthony Hewitt is an enigma the Phillies hope to one day solve.
When it comes to the best power bat in the Phillies minor league system, regardless of position, the answer is left fielder Larry Greene Jr.
The big man was selected by the Phils as a sandwich pick as part of their compensation for the departure of Jayson Werth. It has been said by scouts that he has the best power of any prospect in the 2011 draft, and he has drawn comparisons to Ryan Howard.
However, he is very raw and is considered by experts to be as many as five years away from being major league ready. He did not face elite high school competition, so many scouts expect him to have early struggles as he learns to adjust to higher quality competition.
The only other question is whether he can stick in left field or eventually has to move to first base. As a former University of Alabama football recruit, he has the athleticism to play left field. However, scouts are worried that, as he ages, he will add too much weight onto his frame and slow down.
But if his power develops as the Phillies hope, they will have no trouble finding a spot on the field for him. Expect to see Greene joining the Williamsport Crosscutters by the time the New York-Penn League gets going in June.
Brian Pointer—Pointer was a 28th-round draft choice in 2010 and was given significant overslot money not to go to college. After missing last season he played in the Gulf Coast League this year. He absolutely terrorized the league to the point where he is a candidate to skip short season ball altogether and start in Low-A Lakewood next year.
Anthony Hewitt—Hewitt is the perfect example of a lottery ticket not paying out. He has a tantalizing power and speed combination but is unable to make consistent contact. He strikes out nearly one out of every three at bats. On the bright side, he was a South Atlantic League All-Star before fading in the second half.
Hewitt is likely to start next season in High-A Clearwater. The Phils hope that if they stick with him long enough, a light will go on in his head and he will start raking.
This might be the toughest spot on the board to determine. The Phillies truly do have a glut of similar type outfielders at similar positions in their careers.
At present, since the departure of Domingo Santana in the Hunter Pence deal, the edge for best outfield prospect goes to Jiwan James. James is a stellar defender in center field who exhibits speed on the basepaths as well.
He basically replicated his Lakewood numbers when he moved up to High-A, which is not a bad thing considering he moved up a level into a very pitcher-friendly ballpark and league.
It's also worth noting that the Phils have reason to be extra patient with James because he started his pro career as a pitcher.
Moving forward, James played well enough to earn an opportunity to move up to the more hitter-friendly environment in Reading. While the power has yet to come and he needs to work on his strikeout totals, there may be a boost in performance that accompanies the promotion next season.
Kyrell Hudson—At 20 years old, he finally started to put together the tools that made him the Phillies' third-round selection in 2009. Should be starting center fielder next season in Low-A Lakewood. Call it a hunch, but he is my pick to have a breakout season next year. Zach Collier was initially considered here, but he will be serving a 50-game suspension next season for use of a banned substance.
Leandro Castro—Had a very good season and was rumored to be the "Player To Be Named Later" in the Pence trade—but was unable to be dealt because he was injured at the time. Could start in Reading but because of that injury is more likely to start back in High-A Clearwater before hopefully earning a midseason promotion.
Aaron Altherr—Even when excluding guys from the previous slides, there are still probably another three of four guys who could be included here. Altherr gets the nod—but barely. He followed up his breakout 2010 season with a disappointing performance in Lakewood, forcing him to drop down a level and repeat Williamsport.
Despite that, he is just 20 years old and will get another shot at Lakewood next season.
Going into this season, the Phillies had the "Baby Aces." Of the top four, three were right-handed, and Trevor May was generally considered to be the least accomplished of the bunch.
How things can change in just one year. After struggling so much with his command in Clearwater last year that he was demoted, May once again found himself in the Florida State League this year.
But the results were entirely different. He turned in one of the most dominating performances of any pitcher in the entire system and was given the Paul Owens Award as the Phillies top minor league pitcher.
His performance this season has taken him from a borderline Top 100 prospect in baseball to likely Top 50 prospect status.
With an overpowering fastball and strikeout stuff, May is someone to watch next year as he starts the season anchoring the Double-A Reading rotation. The only knock against him is that he still needs to improve his command.
Brody Colvin—Another example of the difference a year can make. This time last year, Colvin was one of the darlings of the system. Now questions about his work ethic exist after he reported to spring training out of shape and subsequently struggled.
Hopefully, improved offseason conditioning combined with a repeat season in Clearwater will get him on the right track and in Reading before the end of 2012.
Julio Rodriguez—Scouts keep doubting him, but he just continues to perform. Naysayers claim he lacks enough velocity to succeed, yet at every level he advances to he just continues to perform. Gave May a real run for his money on the Paul Owens Award this year.
J-Rod is said to have a lot of movement on his pitches and a very deceptive delivery that helps mask his velocity deficiency. This season will be the biggest test for him yet. Should he succeed in Double-A, scouts will have no choice but to begin believing in him.
Jon Pettibone—Pettibone was drafted in the third round of the 2008 draft and has been a steady but unspectacular arm in the system ever since. When drafted, he was seen as a good pick, as he has an ideal pitcher's build and scouts believed there was room for him to add velocity.
That hasn't yet happened, but it was reported that his fastball was hitting 95 mph by the end of this past season. If true, that could be a game changer for Pettibone, who is slated to join May and Rodriguez in the Reading rotation next season.
There should be no surprise that Jesse Biddle fills this spot. This was his spot last year and all he did was turn in an improved performance at a higher level this season.
Where players from states like California, Texas and Florida can play year-round, prospects like Biddle have a very limited amount of time to play due to weather. As a result, they are usually developmentally behind their warm weather counterparts at this stage.
However, Biddle has shown to be unusually advanced for a prep school kid from Philadelphia. His fastball sits in the low 90s with the ability to touch the mid 90s. In addition, he has been developing a changeup and breaking ball.
Up until this point, the biggest knock against him has been lack of command. He has walked a lot of batters and has been able to overpower hitters to overcome it.
But during the middle of the season, Biddle experienced a drop in velocity down to the 80s with his fastball. This was likely caused by the fatigue of his first full season as a pro.
Once his velocity returned, he was nearly unhittable the rest of the season and showed improved control as his walk rate went down. Some scouts speculate the loss in velocity forced him to focus more on hitting spots with his pitches and he has thus emerged a more complete pitcher.
Regardless, tall, hard-throwing left-handers of this caliber do not grow on trees. The Phillies have one of the top southpaw pitching prospects in baseball here. Baseball America agrees and named him the sixth best prospect (and top left-handed pitcher) in the the South Atlantic League.
Biddle will start next season in High-A Clearwater.
Austin Wright—Wright was viewed as something of an enigma when the Phillies selected him this year in the third round. Scouts watched him throughout high school and college, waiting for him to put it all together.
When he entered the Phillies system, something must have clicked for him because, after a dominating summer spanning across both Williamsport and Lakewood, it appears the southpaw finally is tapping into his extensive potential. Likely to start the season with Biddle in Clearwater.
Adam Morgan—Has been called at times "Cliff Lee Light." The similarities are that they both are southpaws with a easygoing delivery. Morgan, like Lee, finds success by hitting spots and not necessarily overwhelming hitters with raw stuff. Had a very good summer after signing and is likely to start next season in Low-A Lakewood.
De Fratus leads the way among a group of very talented up and coming relievers.
This is an area in which the Phils have seen some recent success developing MLB contributors. The 2011 closer, Ryan Madson, was a product of the farm, as were his top setup men, Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes.
The Phils have a couple of potential high-impact arms in the system. At the moment, Justin De Fratus appears to be slightly more advanced than Phillippe Aumont on account that he was more dominant in the Triple-A playoffs and received a September call-up to the Phils.
During his time with the Phils, he flashed some of the ability that has led people to believe he may be the closer of the future.
Going forward, De Fratus will be in contention for a spot in the bullpen next season and is favored by many to break Spring Training with the team. He may not be quite ready yet to step into the closer role, but expect him to turn some heads next season.
Phillippe Aumont—Aumont may actually turn out to be the best of the bunch in the long run. The 22-year-old has even better strikeout stuff than De Fratus—he's just a little more raw. Should start the season in Triple-A with the possibility of a midseason call up to the majors.
Michael Schwimer—At 25 years old, Schwimer finally got his long awaited call-up to the Phils. What followed was a mixed bag. There was the guy who, at times, was dominant and, at other times, was hit hard. Schwim has less upside than the other two, as he is seen as more of a seventh inning, Chad Durbin-type reliever. Going forward, he will be in contention for a spot on the big club next year.
From first round bust, to first base prospect, to major league reliever.
What can be said by Joe Savery that has not already been said? He was a highly-touted first-round draft choice, but he lost his velocity and stalled out in Triple-A. Late in the 2010 season he was switched to a hitting role and he hit Single-A pitching at a torrid rate in 2011.
After a 20-inning game in which he was forced to come into the game in relief, the organization apparently started to have second thoughts of him as a pitcher. Turns out that the missing velocity returned.
Upon promotion to Double-A, he split time as a hitter and reliever with surprising success on the mound. He was so good in Reading that he was quickly right back in Triple-A, but solely as a pitcher.
His success continued to the point where he found himself in a Phillies uniform during the month of September. He pitched well enough that there were murmurs he may be included on the postseason roster.
At all levels he showed great control and dominant strikeout totals.
The Phils were hoping just to get a lefty specialist out of him. But with the way he pitched this year, he might be even more than that. He is looking like another Antonio Bastardo. As a result, Phils fans can expect Savery to get strong consideration to start the season with Bastardo in the Philadelphia bullpen.
Jacob Diekman—At 24 years old, Diekman has reached a point where he needs to be protected on the 40-man roster or be subject to the Rule 5 draft. He has shown tremendous strikeout abilities but has hefty walk totals. This makes him tough to judge. He could end up the next Mike Zagurski, who dominates in the minors but MLB hitters are too disciplined for him. Or he could put it all together and be a legit lefty reliever on the MLB level.
My guess is the Phillies don't protect him and a bottom feeder takes a flier on him in the Rule 5 draft.