What do you call a 34-year-old baseball player in Clearwater, Fla.? A prospect.
The Philadelphia Phillies strip-mined their farm system in a series of trades that brought back big names of yesterday (Hunter Pence, Roy Oswalt) and today (Cliff Lee) while chasing an elusive second World Series title.
Since then, the strategy employed by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has seemed almost exclusively to rely on the "back of the baseball card" theory. That is, look at the baseball cards of the available free agents and sign the ones who recently had good seasons.
Which is how you end up with a starting nine on Opening Day where, if Lee gets the start, six of the nine are going to be 34 years of age, or older.
At least we do not need to spend too much time or too many bytes here on kids who probably will not make the club out of spring training.
One who might, though, is corner infielder Maikel Franco.
Franco, who hit a combined .320 with 31 home runs and 103 RBI during stints in Single-A and Double-A last season, "has caught some eyes with his glove, arm and bat" in Clearwater, per Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com.
Manager Ryne Sandberg, who could clearly use some youthful energy on this moribund team, is happy with what he has seen from Franco thus far.
"He’s getting some good rips at live pitching. I just like the way he uses the whole field. He’s not a one-way type of a hitter," said Sandberg, per Salisbury's report.
With live exhibition action looming, Sandberg told Salisbury that he is eager to see what the kid will do against better competition: "I'm looking forward to seeing him in game action. I want to get a good look at him."
Salisbury's report also indicated that "Jake Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg and Justin DeFratus have thrown the ball well in workouts."
At this point, though, these three pitchers are not really prospects any more. They will either earn their place in the Phillies bullpen or trudge back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Again.
The real prospects in the Phillies system—along with Franco—are probably a year or two (or three) away from making an impact in Philadelphia.
Keith Law of ESPN.com rated the top 10 Phillies prospects in January (subscription required). The list was headed by J.P. Crawford, the team's first-round draft pick last summer. Crawford has terrific tools (per Law, particularly at bat), but he probably needs a lot more playing time in the minor leagues before coming to Philadelphia.
As for left-handed starter Jesse Biddle, Law speculated that he "probably makes his major league debut this summer, boosting the back of the rotation."
That's about the best you can hope for, since the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb recently reported, "This spring is about education for Biddle, who will not make the team."
Right, because whenever you can hold a potential budding star like Biddle down to give Kyle Kendrick more starts, you have to do that.