Philadelphia had spent the past week talking about nothing but E-A-G-L-E-S and how far they might go in the NFL postseason. Could the Eagles make a push for the Super Bowl in a “weak NFC” or would they have to struggle every week to squeeze past another opponent? Well the Green Bay Packers seemed to answer those questions as all of Philadelphia and Eagles Nation sat dumbfounded in their mancaves, sports bars or at Lincoln Financial Field. Some left the stadium early or turned off their television in disgust but those who stuck around carried hope right up to the final play of the game. The ball hadn’t been in Tramon Williams’ hands for more than a second when Philadelphia sporting wags, almost in unison, pronounced, “Thirty-five days till pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.”
While the end of the Eagles’ season – Williams’ interception of a Michael Vick pass finalized Green Bay’s playoff win Sunday – started the countdown to spring training for many Philadelphia fans, it began long ago for a handful of young Phillies prospects who are spending a few days in town learning some of the subtleties that come with being a major league baseball player. Think of it as Rookie Camp for big league Spring Training Invitees.
“I’m excited and nervous, all at the same time,” Matt Rizzotti said of his first trip to big-league spring training camp. Rizzotti, a 25-year-old first baseman who swings a strong bat, is one of six Phillies’ prospects taking part in a two-day seminar at Citizens Bank Park. The other players in attendance are infielder Harold Garcia and pitchers Michael Schwimer, Michael Stutes, Chris Kissock and Justin De Fratus. Shortstop Freddy Galvis could not make it because of travel issues in Venezuela.
While in Philadelphia, players receive instruction on many phases of big-league life – “What it is to be a Phillie,” De Fratus pondered aloud, thumbing through the literature provided. The seminar includes such skills as logistics of team travel, accommodations, proper attire and behavior at public events, participating in charitable work, giving back to the community and handling the glare of media attention – most of which is rather foreign to minor league ballplayers. Many of these “kids” are accustomed to playing in front of 5,000 fans per game, traveling via chartered bus within a given region and trying to scrape together enough meal money for a weekly poker game at the team’s motel.
This event is geared toward prospects that are close to the majors and the lessons they learn could come in handy as they get ready to attend major-league spring training for the first time in their careers.
The first workout for pitchers and catchers is Feb. 14 in Clearwater, Fla., and while established major leaguers might cherish the final month of the offseason, those making their first trip to big-league camp can’t wait to get started.
“I think about it every day,” De Fratus added. “I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t. It was my dream growing up – not just going to big-league camp, but playing in the big leagues. This is a ginormous step.”
Schwimer, De Fratus, Stutes and Kissock are all right-handed relievers who had promising seasons in 2010. The Phils’ bullpen could undergo some transition in the next year or two. It would seem that once-departed J.C. Romero has been signed to a new deal, but departed free-agent Chad Durbin is headed elsewhere – and club officials will be monitoring in-house possibilities closely this season. To get a head start on that process, the team invited Schwimer and Stutes, both 24, to big-league camp. De Fratus, 23, is on the 40-man roster which that includes an automatic invite. Kissock, 25, is most likely scheduled to attend minor-league camp but that is not final as yet.
Schwimer, a University of Virginia product, went 7-5 with a 2.85 ERA in 48 games at Double-A and Triple-A last season. Stutes, who pitched for the NCAA champs at Oregon State, was 7-1 with a 3.42 ERA in 53 games at Double-A and Triple-A.
De Fratus, who pitched for Ventura College in California, may be the most intriguing pitcher of the lot. In his first full season as a reliever, he went 3-0 with a 1.94 ERA in 49 games at Single-A and Double-A. He is often mentioned as a sleeper to make the club out of Spring Training or someone who could help as the season unfolds. De Fratus is aware of that talk.
“I guess it’s flattering,” DeFratus said. “I have to take care of my business. Right now, I have the opportunity to go to big-league camp. It’s up to me to take advantage of it and see what kind of position I can put myself in. If I don’t make the team out of camp, that’s fine. I just have to go to the minor leagues and work hard so I can one day be part of this team.” De Fratus, who saved 21 games in the minors in 2010, has a power arm. His fastball reaches the mid-90s and he throws a slider.
All of the players taking part in this week’s seminar met with reporters in the Phillies’ clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park. De Fratus looked around the room at some of the names above lockers – Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt.
“It’s overwhelming to think that any of us might have an opportunity to one day be a part of a staff that might be one of the greatest of all time,” DeFratus said when asked in the locker room. “All I can do is put myself in a position to make the club. Being here makes it feel closer but we still have to earn our way onto the Big Club before any of this is possible.”
Matt Rizzotti and Harold Garcia both had memorable minor league seasons in 2010. Garcia, a 24-year-old Venezuelan, set a Florida State League record by hitting in 37 straight games. (old record stood for 49 years). For the season, Garcia hit .305 with 8 HR and 64 RBIs in 101 games at Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading.
Rizzotti had one of the best offensive seasons in all of minor-league ball when he hit .343 with 17 homers and 76 RBIs in a season that took him from Single A through to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. A left-handed hitter, Rizzotti batted .333 with 12 RBIs in 19 games in the Arizona Fall League.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES Top 20 Prospects for 2011
1) Domonic Brown, OF, Grade A: He may have some adjustment pains, but he’s come a long way from being unable to hit rookie ball pitching.
2) Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Grade B+: Concern over poor second half splits but can he adjust to the outfield? How will bat play in Florida State League?
3) Brody Colvin, RHP, Grade B+: Best of the hard-throwing high school pitcher cadre the Phillies have gathered recently.
4) Jarred Cosart, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+, would get the higher grade but I’m concerned about his durability given elbow soreness. Chosen for Futures Game in 2010 but DNP because of elbow soreness. What does THAT tell you?
5) Trevor May, RHP, Grade B: Like Cosart, considered higher grade due to his incredible dominance potential, but command issues cost him a notch. It is after all a learning process
6) Jesse Biddle, LHP, Grade B: One of best players from the ’10 draft class, power-armed lefty (92 MPH fastball) and a local talent (Germantown Friends) to boot. This 6’6″ prospect has the tools and desire to circumvent college for the draft and was the Phils first pick in 2010 so how quickly will they be tempted to rush him to the Majors? Hopefully it is a 3-year-plan at least!
7) Sebastian Valle, C, Grade C+: He has intriguing defense and power combination, but strike zone judgment needs a lot of work. 16 HR and .255 AVG are promising improvements but nearly four seasons has only gotten him as far as Class A. 20 years old. Has a .990 fielding percentage and will continue to get better.
Domingo Santana, OF, Grade C+: Very, very young (turns 19 in 2011) for his levels last year. Quite “toolsy,” will need more development time. Once he grows into his 6’5″ 200 LB body, his development will accelerate.
9) Vance Worley, RHP, Grade C+: Should be a competent fourth starter. Doesn’t have the ceiling of some of the guys below, but a much safer bet to make it. Has seen MLB innings and projects to be the long relief out of bullpen. Vying with Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick for 5th starter’s spot but needs more seasoining in AAA.
10) Julio Rodriguez, RHP, Grade C+: Sleeper prospect, great numbers and late season scouting reports indicate velocity increase. 8th round of the 2008 MLB amateur draft as a 17 year old, right handed pitcher out of Puerto Rico. Physically, he is tall (6’4’’) and very lean (around 200 pounds). With his frame, it is imperative for him to build muscle. Features a fastball clocked between 90-93 MPH, sitting primarily at 91. Uses 4 seem fastball up in the zone, utilizing very good rising action. 75 MPH curveball is fantastic complimentary pitch.
11) Cesar Hernandez, 2B, Grade C+: Excellent speed and defense in the difficult-to-hit-in New York-Penn League. I think he is overlooked.
12) Justin De Fratus, RHP, Grade C+: At worst a very good reliever, at best there is a good chance he could close eventually. Think Ryan Madsen.
13) Josh Zeid, RHP, Grade C+: Was a bit old for the Sally League, but numbers are excellent, scouting reports are good, and he pitched well in Arizona Fall League. He is underrated by other sources but needs to get to AA in order to find out.
14) J.C. Ramirez, RHP, Grade C+: Great arm, still working on learning how to pitch. At his age (23), still learning how to pitch may not be the best reality. Another year at Reading (AA) will truly tell us if he is worth a longer look. This was one of the “prospects” garnered in the Cliff Lee to Seattle trade that was supposed to “re-stock” the farm system. Remember that, Ruben Amaro?
15) Perci Garner, RHP, Grade C+: Raw for a college pitcher, but hasn’t found his ceiling.
16) Austin Hyatt, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline C, Changeup artist could be fifth starter or useful bullpen asset within the next year (a la Doug Jones).
17) Jiwan James, OF, Grade C: Borderline C+, Yes, Yes, he has tools, but he didn’t make much progress turning those tools into skills in 2010. On upside-only he would rank in the top ten, but performance counts too. Show us something.
18) Aaron Altherr, OF, Grade C: Borderline C+, Like James, excellent tools, and like James he would in the top ten on tools alone. His skills are still quite raw.
19) Leandro Castro, OF, Grade C: See James and Altherr. Sense a pattern? Domonic Brown these guys are NOT.
20) Matt Rizzotti, 1B, Grade C: Flipside of the last three prospects. Rizzotti can hit and hit with monster power but is limited defensively and blocked in Philadelphia by the biggest of big men, Ryan HJoward. Maybe Rizzotti can supplant Ross Gload while he learns to play right field?
OTHERS OF NOTE: Phillippe Aumont (Seattle Lee deal), RHP; Drew Carpenter, RHP; Zach Collier, OF; Kelly Dugan, OF; Gauntlett Eldemire, OF; Freddy Galvis, SS; Harold Garcia, 2B; Tyson Gillies, OF (Seattle Lee deal); Mario Hollands, LHP; Bryan Morgado, LHP; Jonathan Musser, RHP; Jon Pettibone, RHP; Brian Pointer, OF; Cameron Rupp, C; Michael Schwimer, RHP; Kevin Walter, RHP; Matt Way, LHP. All are lower-minors prospects (AA in 2011 at best). There is a future in Philly but this team is focused on right now. High-level prospects are rare and aside from Domonic Brown, there is a huge dropoff to John Mayberry, Jr. and not a lot more.
The Phillies have a large mass of raw tools guys: James, Santana, Altherr, Castro, plus Collier, Dugan, Eldemire, and Pointer. They have unrefined power arms like Ramirez and Garner. They also have several polished pitchers (Scot Mathieson doesn’t get much press but is ready for the majors) with excellent performance records but less praise from scouts, but who could help in the majors sooner than the raw tools guys.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org