I spent seven years covering minor leagues baseball in Scranton, and those first four years were spent with the Phillies Triple-A affiliate. I saw Ryan Madson start an all-star game, I saw Chase Utley linger in the minors for far too long, I saw Ryan Howard hit baseballs to previously unreachable places and I saw Shane Victorino make one of the great catches I’ve ever witnessed.
A few thoughts on the Yankees World Series opponents…
• Utley is the only player I covered in Scranton who left no doubt he would be a star in the major leagues. I wondered if Howard might strikeout too much, wondered if Cole Hamels and Joba Chamberlain might have moved too quickly, but there was never a doubt with Utley. As gritty and gutty as Brett Gardner, but with an all-star caliber bat.
• Victorino has been one of my favorite players to watch. Nice combination of power and speed, with an outstanding arm in center field. To me, this is the kind of player the Yankees are hoping Austin Jackson becomes.
• Carlos Ruiz had never caught a day in his life when the Phillies signed him. A scout liked his arm, didn’t like his mobility at second base and decided to sign him as a catcher. It’s now his work behind the plate that has kept him in the Phillies everyday lineup. He does a great job working with pitchers, and he’s had a knack for big hits in big situations.
• The pitching staff is significantly revamped from my days covering the team, but I got to see a little bit of Hamels and quite a bit of Madson. Both lean heavily on their changeups, with Madson adding a funky delivery that seems to make the ball difficult to pickup. Hamels mixes in different changeups that move different ways. It’s a dangerous pitch, and he’s a dangerous pitcher. Cliff Lee is obviously the star of this staff, but Hamels can cause very real problems.
• I only saw J.A. Happ a few times, mostly in spring training. I always thought he could play a role in the major leagues, but I never thought he’d be a Rookie of the Year candidate. I saw him on TV a few times this year and he’s been significantly better than I remember. I especially don’t remember him having such a good breaking ball.
• The Phillies core was built from within, and I’ve always appreciated that. The organization did a great job finding Victorino in the Rule 5, they gave Jayson Werth a chance to become an all-star and they pulled off great trades for Lee and Brad Lidge. The organization did a nice job putting this team together. I still think the Yankees will win this series, but Philadelphia has a dangerous group.