Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cole Hamels - Part I

Cole Hamels. He has been hyped up more than any other young player in the Phillies system on this site (and elsewhere, of course), he is the only current minor leaguer in the organization who has been deemed important enough to have his minor league stats updated in special posts devoted solely to him, and he is such an exciting young player that Phillies phans have even created a website in his honor. As you can see, his minor league numbers merit this kind of adulation:


188.1 IP 109 H 30 ER 72 BB 263 K 2 HR

This season:

36.1 IP 21 H 4 ER 10 BB 55 K 0 HR (24 GO/28 FO)

As any baseball fan can plainly see, Cole Hamels has been dominant. However, as any slightly more in touch baseball fan will surely clarify, Cole Hamels has been dominant when healthy. Here are his innings pitched per season as a professional:

2003: 101 IP
2004: 16 IP
2005: 35 IP
2006: 36.1 IP (so far…)

So what do we have here? Looks like we’ve got an extremely promising, though fragile, 22-year old lefthanded pitcher who has already shown a mastery of the low minors along with signs of dominance at AAA (two starts against poor hitting teams, but two incredibly successful starts). Where do we go from here? What does the future hold for Cole Hamels? How will the Phillies handle him in 2006…and beyond? There are no easy answers to these questions (none that I know anyway), so while I bide time in figuring out what I think is the best possible course of action, let’s start at the beginning of Hamels’ pro career and work our way up to May of 2006.

Hamels was drafted by the Phillies in 2002 out of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego. He was a much talked about high school prospect, but not just for his exploits on the diamond – a snapped humerus bone in his left arm during his junior year of high school made him the unquestioned biggest risk/reward gamble in the draft. In his own words (from 7/28/04):

“If it happens again, it’s all over for me,” Hamels, “I’ve progressed a lot since it happened…But if it even happens again, that’s it.”

The nature of the injury scared off nearly every pro team with a high pick in the 2002 draft – 7 pitchers (Bryan Bullington, Chris Gruler, Adam Loewen, Clint Everts, Zach Grienke, Jeff Francis, Joe Saunders, and Scott Kazmir) were off the board before Colbert Hamels was selected. 9 position players (B.J. Upton, Prince Fielder, Scott Moore, Drew Meyer, Jeremy Hermida, Khalil Greene, Russ Adams, and Nick Swisher) were also chosen ahead of him. It’s funny to look back and think about it, but Hamels was only the third lefthanded high school pitcher taken in the draft – not that Loewen and Kazmir have been anything less than excellent themselves, but still. The comment for Hamels from the 2002 Draft Tracker page:

COMMENT: Angular, wiry, lean muscles, long extremities. High three-quarter release. Obvious quick, live arm. Natural lefty sink action. Fastball takes off last 10 feet. Occasional 12-6 break on curve. Good follow through and extension out front. Deceptive circle change occasionally backs up. Crafty, mixes pitches well. Excellent mound presence.

The article about the drafting of Hamels dated 6/4/02 introduced Phillies fans to the newest member of the farm:

Hamels, who will graduate from prospect factory Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego on June 13, was ranked the ninth-best prospect by Baseball America.

"We were surprised he was still on the board," said Marti Wolever, Phillies director of scouting. "But I think his injury pushed him down a little bit and people were concerned about that. We all were hoping he would be there. He was a guy we really wanted and felt good about."

Apparently the 18-year-old would run through a truck to play for the Phillies -- a parked car to be exact. Hamels smacked into the back of one playing street football with friends. He injured his arm then but did nothing about it. Three weeks later, he broke the humerus bone in his throwing arm while pitching in a game.

Padres team doctor Jan Fronek performed the surgery on Hamels, who missed his junior season.

"I thought my career would be over but I knew after having the surgery and from the prognosis the doctor gave me that I could come back even better. He said since I'm still growing, it'll be easier for me to feel stronger and the recovery rate would be a lot better."

Hamels said a phone call from former Devil Rays pitcher Tony Saunders, who broke his arm twice while on the mound, helped him realize that he could still succeed. Hamels returned to go 10-0 with an 0.39 ERA his senior season, impressing the Phillies with his 94-96 mph fastball and plus curve and change. Still, the pitcher's health may have scared teams away.

"He had surgery and has been fine ever since," said Wolever, who went to see Hamels pitch three times. The Phillies contacted other team doctors, including Fronek. "He's very proud of his work and says [Hamels] is going to be fine. So we're very confident."

Marti Wolever, Phillies director of scouting had this to say about Hamels immediately after the pick was made:

Cole Hamels, LHP, Rancho Bernardo H.S., Calif.: "He's got an average to above curveball and this spring we've seen an average to above change. So he's got three pitches that are at least average to above. We're pretty confident about his health."

Additional information from the Baseball America 2005 Prospect Handbook:

Rated as having the best changeup and best control in the system

Third overall Phillies prospect (behind Ryan Howard and Gavin Floyd)

“Hamels will throw his plus-plus changeup in any count, sinking and fading it away from righthanders. He pitches at 88-91 mph and can reach 93-94. his poise and feel for pitching are advanced. Hamels’ curveball shows the makings of a third plus pitch, but he needs to locate it more consistently.”

From the Baseball America 2006 Prospect Handbook:

“Hamels is a lefthander with three above-average pitches and the command, feel and mound presence of a veteran. His changeup, which sinks and fades away from righthanders, is a plus-plus pitch that may be the best in the minors. His fastball hovers around 90 mph and tops out at 93-94 with good life, and he has shown a knack for being able to reach back for extra velocity when needed. His curveball has shown more consistency with its break and location. Hamels maintains an even keel on the mound, never letting his emotions tell the tale of the outing. He’s also a very good athlete with clean mechanics and the ability to field his position and hold runners well.”

“Durability is a major concern with Hamels. The good news is that all his injuries have been unrelated and that only his high school break involved his arm. The bad news is that he has lost so much development time.”

“His 2004 spring-training success remains in the minds of the Phillies’ decision makers, however, keeping him on a very fast track. A quick jump to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and eventually Philadelphia are both possible. Despite the setbacks, the Phillies still envision Hamels as a top-of-the-rotation starter.”

From John Sickels’ The Baseball Prospect Book 2006:

“Cole Hamels invested a large portion of his signing bonus in medical equipment supply companies. How else to explain his constant rash of strange injuries?...If his body holds up, he has every chance to be a fine, fine pitcher. But who knows if his body will hold up? I sure don’t. Grade: B+

And finally, from Baseball Prospectus 2006:

“The talented Mr. Hamels seems to be something of a hardball Jekyll and Hyde case. On the field, his poise and his three plus pitches draw universal raves. Off the field, the 22-year-old seems to be an accident that is not only waiting to happen but is compelled to happen by some invisible, malevolent force. After missing most of 2004 with elbow problems, he strained his back in the Fall Instructional League. Then he broke a metacarpal bone in his hand in a bar fight in February, making him hors de combat until June. It was later reported that Hamels instigated the brawl, and was not provoked, as he had spun the story. This brought up the hold rumors that his famous broken arm in high school did not occur in a pickup football game, but was really the result of a fight.”

So the kid is a player, but a huge injury risk and, according to details seemingly exclusive to BP (believe them at your own risk), a bit of a knucklehead. Here’s a slightly different rundown of all the injuries Hamels has dealt with as a professional:

"Despite unquestioned talent, Hamels career has stalled through a series of unrelated injuries. He pulled a right shoulder muscle at the end of 2003, injured his triceps in 2004, broke his hand in January of 2005 and missed the end of the 2005 season with a stress fracture in his back."

The stress fracture in his back was the biggest worry within the Phillies organization heading into 2006, but Hamels has been the picture of health so far. He is now averaging just over six innings per start after tossing a 114 pitch complete game shutout on May 2nd. Concerns about his health will always follow him, but he appears to be in good shape for the time being. It would make sense if the Phillies have some kind of set number of innings that Hamels is allowed to throw especially considering the structured care they have taken with his young career to this point. On the other hand, the Phillies did push Hamels to throw 114 pitches in his latest start – this caused many to speculate that they were working on increasing his in-game stamina to prepare for his pending arrival in Philly.


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