Phillies Top Prospect Odyssey: Primer

You people love lists and rankings. It’s why Bleacher Report has become the McDonalds of sports blogs. It’s why Forbes has as many slideshows on their website as they do actual business news and I bet you can you can guess which Maxim issue sells the most copies each year. Prospect lists are no different. These lists garner clickage with extreme prejudice. While they’re often misleading and almost immediately obsolete, top prospect lists are actually footed in reality. Major League organizations have their own lists on hand (and look at lists compiled by the more respected outlets to see how the industry perceives certain players) should a situation arise in which rapid decision making is of the essence. It is for this reason that I recently considered compiling such a list for Crashburn Alley. You probably want a list, and the legitimacy of such rankings combined with the eyes it would bring to Bill’s site leave it too enticing to pass up. So I’ll be doing a list of yet-to-be-determined length.

But I’m going to do it the right way, a way that provides you with a bevy of information and opinion about the Phillies farm system from several people whose careers are dedicated to pondering such issues.

Over the next several weeks I hope to bring you conversations with some of the industry’s most esteemed independent talent evaluators and information hubs. Voices from Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com and our mothership at ESPN are all actively engaging with me about participating in this activity. We will discuss the author’s top 10 (or 20 or 30 or however many) Phillies prospects, the methods they used to compile this list, the individuals that lie therein as well as some other aspects of the organization. I want to use this little, inconsequential late night post to act as a little primer (which it has) and, eventually, a convenient hub that will house links to all of these discussions in one location.

Interviews

Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus

Jim Callis of Baseball America

Hudson Belinsky of Lindy’s Phillies Annual

Keith Law of ESPN

Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com

The Offseason That Awaits

Times were a bit tough for the Phillies in the 2012-13 offseason. A subpar season followed up with smaller-scale moves designed to give the team years of control in some areas and stopgaps in others isn’t the best way to build hype and excitement, but that’s the state of the union right now. Now that the dust has (likely) settled, these potential pitfalls still remain: four players are making $20 million or more, the farm is thin, numerous players have considerable injury concerns, the bullpen and bench are uncertain and the outfield is anybody’s guess.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…

But yet, in spite of all that, this offseason’s frustrations and walking-on-eggshells approach pales in comparison to the difficult decisions that await after the 2013 season concludes.

Impending Free Agents

The following players are set to hit free agency after the coming season:

*Halladay has a vesting option that’s unlikely to kick in. According to Cot’s, he needs to pitch 258.2 IP to meet the 415 combined 2012-13 IP requirement and avoid the DL.

Of course, the possibility always exists that an extension could be worked out, whether it happens before, during or after the season. With a weak farm, Halladay, Ruiz and Utley appear to be more competitive choices moving forward, although each comes with their own set of risks and an uncertain price tag. If the squad isn’t competitive, is maintaining a high payroll viable? Consider the in-house heirs apparent for the big three of that group:

Others who might be missing from those lists are likely too far away to make an impact in 2014, should those respective players leave. Now, looking at that, the Phillies clearly can’t expect to field a competitive squad relying solely on options that are currently team property. Free agent options aren’t great either; Brian McCann and Robinson Cano headline potential catcher and second base free agents, but neither seems likely to hit the market.

Potential Trade Assets

The Phillies experienced their first foray into the seller’s market under Ruben Amaro’s guidance when Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino were dealt prior to the 2012 non-waiver deadline, with Joe Blanton following not long after. Should 2013 not represent a fairly substantial improvement, and should the front office deem this roster in need of a bigger overhaul (which is feasible), more trades could come. What do the Phillies have that could be of value, that could net pieces that would facilitate a faster transition or rebuild?

Lee’s name was already tossed about briefly after the Dodgers put a claim in on him last summer, as well as that wonderful one-sided internal discussion of being dealt for Justin Upton more recently. He would likely fetch the most value, but this list is not devoid of potential asset grabbers.

On the flip side, should the Phils find themselves in buying mode, their lower-tier farm system has little left to fetch a prize. Jesse Biddle, the best of the bunch, projects as a No. 3 starter with a shot at No. 2, which is not conducive to making another big acquisition, even though he seems likely to crack a few top 100 lists.

The Conclusion

One way or another, the Phillies are primed for an interesting season and denouement. Most of the viability of any of those names either being extended or traded depends, obviously, on health and production. Value is reflexive based on those things. The linchpins are Halladay and Utley, but if Ruiz can replicate his 2012 production, his net worth as an affordable rental may never get higher.

None of this is set to be moved to the front burner, but as the calendar pages turn, you can bet the brass will have next winter on their minds more and more.