Phils' Class A rotation loaded with potential
Strong group of starters follows last year's 'baby aces' in Clearwater
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Left-hander Jesse Biddle is rated the Phillies' second-best prospect by MLB.com. Right-hander Brody Colvin is third and right-hander Perci Garner is 16th. Which is sort of a boring recitation of dry facts until you consider that all are members of the Class A Florida State League Threshers rotation.
Other teams have noticed. When Clearwater played at Palm Beach, Cardinals manager Johnny Rodriguez teased the opposing skipper about having so much talent. "Because of the pitchers I was throwing out there. 'How hard can it be?' Stuff like that," Chris Truby said with a smile.
In 2011, the Clearwater starters -- Colvin, Jarred Cosart, Trevor May, Jonathan Pettibone and Julio Rodriguez -- were given the nickname Baby Aces. It was a reflection of the big club's four aces who were getting so much attention.
Most of the names have changed since then. Cosart was traded to Houston as part of the package that fetched Hunter Pence. May, Pettibone and Rodriguez are all at Double-A Reading. But what remains the same is that the Phillies development staff believes they may have a hit sequel now showing at Bright House Field: Baby Aces 2, starring Biddle, Colvin, Garner, Adam Morgan and Austin Wright.
"They're all young prospects we think can be starters," said assistant general manager, player personnel Benny Looper. "They have to get their innings in. As they work their way up some will probably eventually move into the bullpen and some will level out. But we think they all have a chance to pitch in the big leagues."
Added Threshers pitching coach Dave Lundquist: "They're younger, but talent-wise they're right up there with the group we had last year. Last year you had guys who were either straight power or deception. This year you've got a little bit of everything in all of them. It's a very interesting group."
The 20-year-old Biddle gets most of the attention, not surprising since he was the 27th player selected overall in the 2010 Draft and is a Philadelphia native and graduate of Germantown Friends School. When he was selected, the Phillies compared him to Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. Truby has been with him each of the last three seasons as both have advanced through the Phillies system.
"To see the improvement he's made, he's a guy you can picture pitching in the big leagues for a long time, makeup-wise and stuff-wise," the manager said. "His fastball location and command have been getting better. His changeup, I think, is ultimately the pitch that's going to carry him. He's just one of those guys that's been fun to watch because he competes his butt off every time he goes out there."
Biddle has been working on pitching to contact instead of trying to amass impressive strikeout totals because it will keep his pitch count down and allow him to pitch deeper into games. He's also looking for more consistency.
"The difference between a big league pitcher and a Minor League pitcher is being able to go out there every single game and focus on every single pitch," he said. "Those are the things that I'm working on right now. When I lose focus is when I get in trouble. Lately I've been having one bad inning and it's kind of killed me. I'll have four or five good ones and then have that one bad one. It's going to happen, but I'd like to limit it as much as I can.
"I think one of the biggest things is to just find your checkpoints, your things that you feel comfortable thinking about when you're on the mound. When things are going badly, you need to be able to say, 'OK, right now I'm just going to focus on my balance point and everything else is going to fall into place.' Having that confidence and that ability to maintain consistency is so important. Having your rhythm in your delivery, things like that, they're just little things that you wouldn't notice from the crowd. But as a pitcher they're very, very important."
On his list of things to do: Read Harvey Dorfman's "The Mental ABC's of Pitching" (which Phillies ace Roy Halladay swears by) and "The Sixth Tool" by Dr. Jack Curtis.
Colvin, 21, has shown what he's capable of. He just has to do it on a more regular basis. He showed his potential with seven shutout innings against Lakeland on June 28. "That was as good as I've seen him throw," Truby said. "You know it's in there. It's just a matter of consistency with him, going from one start to the next and learning something off his last start and getting better. He's got the ability. He's got as good ability as anybody out there. It's just the consistency part is what would hold him back a little bit."
Garner, 23, dealt with injuries his first two years in the Minors but is now showing why the Phillies took him in the second round in 2010. "He's a pretty inexperienced guy in terms of pitching going through the college ranks [at Ball State]," Truby said. "But just getting him out there on the mound, he's got good stuff. He'll flash it. It's just a matter of getting him inning after inning after inning and getting that experience under his belt."
Said Lundquist: "In the last month, he's really turned it on."
Morgan and Wright are both 22-year-old left-handers who were taken in the third and eighth rounds, respectively, in 2011.
"Adam's fun to watch," Truby said. "He's got some developing to do, obviously, but he's got polish. He's got good command. This is a guy with a great arm and a good mix. He should shoot through the system. Austin is the same way. Big, strong left-handed pitcher who can spin a breaking ball with the best of them."
Colvin said the biggest difference between the Threshers rotation this year and last is that there are now three lefties. "But, honestly, I feel like this rotation is just as good as the one we had last year," he said.
Not that he would mind seeing May, Pettibone and Rodriguez again, you understand. "I love this team. But I played with those guys the last couple years and I definitely would like to get up there with them," he admitted with a laugh.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.