A minor league roundup with the seasons winding down:
LEHIGH VALLEY (AAA)
The IronPigs spent much of the last few seasons with the bottom feeders in the International League. That all changed this year with the arrival of Ryne Sandberg. The Hall of Famer added confidence and pulled together a team laden with veterans and youngsters almost immediately. Lehigh Valley spent much of this season in first place in the IL’s North Division before injuries, promotions and roster shuffling brought it back to the pack. Still, as the regular season draws to a close, the ‘Pigs remain locked in a battle with Pawtucket for first place and Gwinnett in the wild card race. Brandon Moss has been a pleasant surprise in the outfield, tying a career high with 22 homers, while slick-fielding infielder Freddy Galvis has discovered his stroke, hitting .307 through his first 21 games with the ‘Pigs. Dom Brown is just now starting to show signs of breaking out of the month-long slump he’s been in since coming back from Philadelphia but former first-round pick Joe Savery has thrived in his relief role, going 4-0 with a 1.86 ERA and a save in 14 appearances. He’s helped anchor what has been a generally very reliable, a bullpen that includes much-maligned Phillippe Aumont, who has pitched well this season when healthy.
The R-Phils continue to chase New Hampshire for the Eastern League’s East Division title but catching the Fisher Cats won’t be easy. Austin Hyatt (11-6, 3.94) remains not only one of the premier pitchers in the league but in the entire Philly system. He’s the closest starter Philly has to the major leagues and could have an impact similar to that of Vance Worley once he gets there. Hyatt will likely start next season at Lehigh Valley – if Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn’t deal him over the winter – and he could be in Philly at some point next summer should the need arise. He’s tied for the league lead in victories, is second in strikeouts (157) and is fifth in WHIP (1.19). Fellow starter J.C. Ramirez continues to be a huge disappointment. He came over as part of the Cliff Lee trade with Seattle and leads the league with 13 losses. He has little or no future with the Phils and isn’t even among their top 10 pitching prospects at the moment. Matt Rizzotti’s numbers are down this season, but he still leads the team in homers and RBIs following his monster 2010 effort. Rizzotti has a keen eye at the plate and can drive in runs but his future lies somewhere other than in Philadelphia.
The Threshers have featured some of the best pitching in the minor leagues all season and even now, with the loss of Jarred Cosart, they still haven’t missed a beat. Dave Buchanan came up from Lakewood after leading the South Atlantic League in victories and has filled in beautifully for Cosart. He’s 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA through four starts and has proven to be a nice complement to hard-throwing Trevor May, who has a franchise-record 197 strikeouts through 143 1/3 innings, and Jon Pettibone, who has a 3.08 ERA through 24 starts. Undoubtedly, though, the biggest surprise, not only at Clearwater but in the entire Philly farm system, has been Julio Rodriguez. His 15 victories lead the minor leagues. He’s got a 2.99 ERA through 24 starts and has only two no-decisions this season. He’s got a marvelous cut fastball with which opposing hitters just can’t seem to make contact. Though he’s not as big a strikeout pitcher as May, Rodriguez has emerged as one of the best and brightest in the organization this season and should be a nice fit at Reading in 2011.
The ‘Claws are also fighting to make the playoffs in the South Atlantic League but the defending champs don’t appear to have enough offense to complete their second-half run at the post-season. Like the Threshers, pitching has been at a premium in Lakewood this year. Former top pick Jesse Biddle has done a splendid job adapting to life in a full-season league. He picked up his seventh win on Wednesday while lowering his ERA to 2.94. Take out his four April starts and his ERA is 2.32. He’s allowed one earned run or less in 11 of his 23 starts. Garett Claypool’s record (4-7) is also deceiving. He’s pitched very well and has fanned 145 in 131 1/3 innings. Youngsters Lendy Castillo (4-2, 2.43) and Lisalberto Bonilla (4-4, 2.83) have been impressive all year and should be the anchors at Clearwater next season along with Biddle and Claypool. Catcher Cameron Rupp has had a big second half – he’s like Reading’s Tuffy Gosewisch only with a better bat – but players who were once considered top prospects continue to struggle. Zach Collier is hitting only .247, while Anthony Hewitt is hitting .230 with 142 strikeouts though he does have 34 steals.
WILLIAMSPORT (Short-Season A)
Many of this season’s top draft picks have started at Williamsport and some of them have struggled. Infielder Cody Asche was hitting .194 through 57 games, while outfielder Harold Martinez is hitting .249 through 56 games. Conversely, outfielder Pete Lavin has thrived, hitting .313 in 20 games since coming up from the Gulf Coast League. Catcher Bob Stumpo, a 2010 draft pick, has had a surprising season, hitting just above .300 for much of the year while driving in 22 runs. Aaron Altherr tops the club with 29 RBIs. The Crosscutters are also shooting for a playoff spot, battling with Auburn and Brooklyn for the a division title and wild card berth, respectively.
-Written for Beerleaguer by Kevin Czerwinski, who writes the blog On the Pharm for CSNPhilly.com