Farm system takes hit, but talent remains
Phillies have plenty of players with upside in lower levels
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Superior talent comes at a steep price.
The Phillies have acquired Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton in the past 19 months, which helped them win the 2008 World Series, '09 National League championship and become favorites to return to the World Series in '10.
"We were fortunate to be in a position to do it," Phillies assistant general manager Chuck LaMar said Sunday at the Carpenter Complex. "Secondly, we were able to do it because we weren't completely wiping out the system."
The Phillies traded Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d'Arnaud to Toronto in December for Halladay; Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and Jason Donald to Cleveland in July for Lee; and Josh Outman, Adrian Cardenas and Matt Spencer to Oakland for Blanton in July 2008. They tried to restock their system when they shipped Lee to Seattle in December for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez, but the upper levels of the Phils' system clearly have taken a hit.
Baseball America, which named the Phillies its organization of the year in 2009, said the club had the fifth-best Minor League talent in baseball before they traded Drabek, Taylor and d'Arnaud for Halladay. The Phils could rank anywhere from 15th to 22nd when its rankings are updated in March.
"It was hard to find an organization that had the same mix of a lot of young, high-upside guys at the lower levels and a decent amount of guys who were going to be impact guys proven at Double-A or above," Baseball America editor John Manuel said. "To me, that's what sets apart a farm system. But after the Halladay trade, there just isn't much left at the upper levels."
Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown ranked 15th in the magazine's top 100 prospects list. Aumont is 93rd.
The rest of the top 100 is scattered with former Phillies. Drabek is 25th, Taylor is 29th, Knapp is 64th and d'Arnaud is 81st.
Marson could be Cleveland's Opening Day catcher, although he could be keeping the position warm until top prospect Carlos Santana is ready. Donald is likely to start the season in Triple-A after missing time last season with injuries. He is competing for a utility job, which might be his future in the Majors. Carrasco struggled with the Indians in September, and appears likely to start the season in Triple-A.
|"It was hard to find an organization that had the same mix of a lot of young, high-upside guys at the lower levels and a decent amount of guys who were going to be impact guys proven at Double-A or above. To me, that's what sets apart a farm system. But after the Halladay trade, there just isn't much left at the upper levels."|
|-- Baseball America editor John Manuel|
Taylor, whom Toronto traded to Oakland for Brett Wallace, could be with the A's at some point this season, although they aren't in a rush. Outman went 4-1 with a 3.42 ERA 14 games (12 starts) last season before he injured his left elbow and required elbow ligament replacement surgery. Outman hopes to return to the mound midseason. Cardenas might be a September callup.
"They've traded just about everybody who had accomplished anything at the Double-A level," Manuel said. "But they still have a ton of young upside guys."
Aumont, Gillies, Ramirez, outfielder Anthony Gose, right-hander Trevor May, catcher Sebastian Valle and right-hander Jarred Cosart are just a few names that stand out behind Brown.
That talent will take time to mature.
But what about the immediate future?
If the Phillies have a need before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, can they make a move?
"It becomes a little bit more difficult to continue to pull from your Minor Leagues," Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "You keep doing that, and you kind of defeat the purpose of what we're trying to do, which is try to extend our ability to contend for more years than just 2010, 2011 and 2012. We want to extend it beyond that. But time and circumstance will dictate what we want to do and what we'll be able to do. We have some depth in certain areas. We have less depth in others, just like every other organization. But we've moved a lot of talent from our system and you want to try to preserve the talent as much as you can."
The Phillies have outfield and right-handed pitching depth, but lack power bats, left-handed pitching depth and catching.
"You're not going to be deep and have prospects in every position," LaMar said. "It just doesn't work that way. The great situation we're in is that it's not a full recovery. We were fortunate enough to be deep enough because of the job the organization has done in scouting and player development to even consider making those trades. Most of the organizations in baseball, no matter how bad they would have wanted to make those trades they just couldn't have. Even some of the contending clubs who have money to spend on free agents in the offseason, they just weren't deep enough to make those trades."
The Phillies were, but now they have to hope that lower level talent develops into big league talent because their current core at the big league level won't stay young forever. And even when they continue to produce, they can be tough to sign when they hit free agency.
"It's hard to tell how long that stuff takes," Amaro said. "Clearly I have a lot of confidence in what [director of scouting Marti Wolever] and his guys do. And they've really done a very special job of drafting high-ceiling athletes. We've got some kids coming that people don't know about that we really like.
"Even though we've moved some prospects, part of the ability to do that is confidence in Marti and what he's done -- and [international supervisor] Sal Agostinelli. I have great confidence in both of those guys and their people. As long as we do what we expect to do in bringing talent into our system I think we're going to be fine."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.