>Season 9 saw the Dead Milkmen post a solid campaign, winning 90 games and recording their third AL North pennant in the last five years. Unfortunately, Philadelphia fell short in the playoffs, losing a tough series to the Anaheim Natural Disasters in five games.
Philadelphia will field a potent offense once more in the decennial NABCL season, with veteran first baseman Shooter Farrell soon to become the first ever 500-home run hitter in the league and a deep lineup led by perennial MVP candidate Walker Wilkins. Pitching, as always, will be a question mark in the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park however. The Milkmen have to expect another playoff appearance in S10, and falling short would be painful.
Gone from the Milkmen lineup for S10 are several big names. Third baseman Bernie Uribe (225 AB, .240/.302/.378, 6 HR, 27 RBI, 32 RS) was released instead of being offered arbitration; he had recently lost his regular role as a third baseman and couldn’t crack the lineup anywhere else. Designated hitter Homer Buddie (561 AB, .285/.367/.556, 42 HR, 117 RBI, 103 RS) led the team in RBI last season and was a great value signing for two years, hitting 88 homers and driving in 231 runs, but Philadelphia decided to go in another direction for S10. Catcher Rolando Belliard (351 AB, .282/.350/.504, 20 HR, 74 RBI, 51 RS) had an excellent 7-year career in Philadelphia, hitting 160 home runs and posting an .891 OPS, but was considered too expensive as only a platoon player. The final, and perhaps most significant despite his short stay in Philadelphia, departure was second baseman Teddy Fischbach (270 AB, .319/.364/.463, 4 HR, 21 2B, 28 HR, 50 RS in PHI). Acquired midseason after previously playing for both San Diego and Boston during S9, Fischbach’s presence leading off the Milkmen lineup was a major factor in the team’s playoff push. His weak playoff performance (.534 OPS, 3 RS) and doubts about his ability to play a full 162 games led to his departure.
Two veteran free agents were brought in to plug these holes: second baseman Steve Rivers (503 AB, .231/.304/.306, 8 HR, 51 RBI, 63 RS) from San Antonio and first baseman/designated hitter Bennie Castillo (464 AB, .291/.359/.498, 23 HR, 91 RBI, 62 RS) from Las Vegas.
Rivers, despite his struggles last season, is almost certain to be leading off on opening day. Coaches think he can regain the All-Star form he flashed in S5-6, when he scored 101 runs in back-to-back seasons, posting .380 and .390 OBPs. Rivers has little power, but is a patient hitter who makes good contact. Coaches also like his defense, and consider him a significant upgrade compared to recent Milkmen 2Bs.
Hitting second for Philadelphia is phenom right fielder Walker Wilkins (605 AB, .342/.421/.549, 25 HR, 42 2B, 113 RBI, 124 RS). A perennial All-Star, Silver Slugger, and MVP finalist, last year was no exception for the 27-year-old superstar. Wilkins is among the most dominant hitters in the AL, and Philadelphia is counting on another dynamic season.
The middle of the lineup is slightly in flux, with three potential candidates, each filling a slightly different role. Third-year third baseman Jacob Dunn (491 AB, .303/.359/.544, 27 HR, 87 RBI, 96 RS) had a breakthrough sophomore season, and at his best offers a good power and speed combination. Catcher Sean Thomson (.299/.365/.548, 26 HR, 88 RBI, 64 RS) will take over primary catcher duties with Belliard’s departure; he’s never played more than 120 games but will have a much more significant role in S10.
Newly signed Bennie Castillo, likely to serve as designated hitter, doesn’t have exceptional power, but with his great contact should easily hit 25 bombs at CBP. Finally, veteran first baseman Shooter Farrell (626 AB, .270/.353/.514, 42 HR, 106 RBI, 108 RS) continued to post good numbers last year, recovering from a .238 average in S8. Farrell, the NABCL’s most prolific and durable slugger, has played 162 games in six consecutive seasons and knocked in at least 100 runs every year of his career. He’ll hit his 500th home run early this season, and should score his 1,000th run around the All-Star break.
Erstwhile shortstop Benito Sosa (531 AB, .228/.295/.437, 30 HR, 82 RBI, 74 RS) transitioned to centerfield last season after an injury affected his arm strength. Sosa is a free-swinger with good power and, therefore, wildly fluctuating numbers, but is a reliable 25-30 HR threat at the bottom of the lineup. Replacing Sosa at short was trade acquisition Eric Rigby (393 AB, .300/.352/.425, 8 HR, 57 RBI, 56 RS), a light-hitting defensive specialist. Rigby exceeded expectations by posting career numbers last year, but should still hit enough to justify his glove.
Occupying the bench are veteran minor league catcher (and S1 6th-round draft pick) Clay Webster (310 AB, .323/.405/.490, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 46 RS at AAA), a career .319 hitter in the minors with fair defense; 2B/CF Geoff Riedling (228 AB, .241/.312/.268, 21/24 SB), last year’s Rule 5 pick and a pinch-running specialist; COF Victor Costilla (207 AB, .357/.420/.565, 7 HR, 31 RBI, 49 RS), a quintessential fourth outfielder who’s hit exceptionally well in limited duty the last two seasons; and rookie COF Kurt Benjamin (541 AB, .277/.353/.449, 16 HR, 35 2B, 73 RBI, 86 RS at AAA), a 3rd-round draft pick in S5 who’ll get a chance to stick at the majors as a switch-hitting utility bat.
Philadelphia said goodbye to three starters and two relievers after S9 as the team continues to try to find a successful pitching strategy for CBP. Al Badilla (158 IP, 12-11, 1.58 WHIP, 5.75 ERA) started the season well but will ultimately be remembered for his momentum-killing 2 IP/6 R performance in the playoffs. Allan Philips (39 IP, 2-4, 1.46 WHIP, 6.13 ERA for PHI) was acquired midseason by trade, but spent most of his time in Philadelphia on the DL and was generally unimpressive.
Rubber-armed reliever Billy Robinson (84 IP, 6-3, 5/7 SV, 1.51 WHIP, 5.34 ERA) was unable for the second-straight season to recover the form that made him so effective in S6-7. Clarence Sears (70 IP, 4-4, 15/19 SV, 1.31 WHIP, 3.60 ERA), a veteran FA pickup last year, pitched better than anticipated and even served as a solid emergency closer but was showing age-related decline.
The only notable free agent pickup for S10 is veteran Ralph Decker (173 IP, 10-11, 1.61 WHIP, 5.35 ERA for Fargo), who has never pitched particularly well over his career but was considered worth a shot as a long reliever or emergency starter. Also returning to Philadelphia is 39-year-old fan favorite Gordon Justice (144 IP, 1.39 WHIP, 3.87 ERA), the once-dominant Milkmen starter. Justice missed all of S8 to injury and is far from his heyday, but can still pitch a little and will close out his long pro career in the friendly confines of CBP.
Starting his second opening day will be 29-year-old Haywood Jodie (211 IP, 16-10, 1.36 WHIP, 4.85 ERA), who has developed into a reliable workhorse, starting 96 games and pitching 622 innings over the last three seasons. Fellow 16-game winner Louis Durham (194 IP, 16-10, 1.42 WHIP, 4.58 ERA) looks to improve in his second full major league season. At only 25, Durham still has room to improve but has pitched effectively in his year and a half in Philadelphia.
After Jodie and Durham, the rotation essentially consists of whoever’s pitching well at the moment. The two most likely starters are Rafael Moreno (183 IP, 13-12, 1.55 WHIP, 5.34 ERA), who improved from consecutive 7.50+ ERA seasons but remains a serviceable pitcher at best, and Ronald Cota (92 IP, 4-4, 1.58 WHIP, 5.24 ERA), who started only ten games and was demoted during S9. Geraldo Nunez (24 IP, 1-2, 1.88 WHIP, 9.00 ERA) and William Simpson (41 IP, 3-2, 1.44 WHIP, 5.05 ERA), who both pitched most of the season at AAA but had short stints in the majors, are other possibilities, as is the free agent Decker. Finally, 23-year-old rookie southpaw Candy Titan (208 IP, 16-8, 1.26 WHIP, 3.80 ERA at AAA) will make his major league debut some time this season. Titan has compiled a solid 58-28 record over five minor league seasons, but there are questions about how well he’ll pitch in Philadelphia.
The back of the bullpen is anchored by Derrek Jensen (22 IP, 14/16 SV, 0.82 WHIP, 2.86 ERA), who missed most of last season to injury but still looks to have some gas in the tank at age 36. Darrell Buckley (53 IP, 1.37 WHIP, 4.73 ERA) was picked up in a trade last season and pitched effectively, as did five-year veteran Bret Jackson (77 IP, 1.31 WHIP, 4.40 ERA). Julio Rosado (62 IP, 3/3 SV, 0.95 WHIP, 3.03 ERA) had an excellent season cut short by injury last year; he returns as a much less dominant but hopefully still effective reliever.
The Milkmen are particularly excited about 22-year-old rookie Earl Lincoln (37 IP, 32/34 SV, 0.76 WHIP, 1.22 ERA at AAA; All-Star and Fireman of the Year), the potential star closer of the future making his major league debut. Lincoln will get at least a shot at closing for the Milkmen this year, although the veterans in the bullpen will be available if he struggles.
Top Pitching Prospects
Last season’s top 5: Valentin, Lincoln (ML), Titan (ML), Boone, Brennan.
5 RHP Alex Ibanez (21, HiA): 57 IP, 3-2, 1.24 WHIP, 3.30 ERA at Rk. ETA S12+
4 LHP Curtis Brennan (22, AAA): 122 IP, 9-8, 1.16 WHIP, 2.95 ERA at AAA. ETA as needed
3 LHP Victor Canseco (20, AA): 20 IP, 14/17 SV, 1.48 WHIP, 4.87 ERA, Fireman of the Year at Rk. ETA S12
2 RHP Rob Boone (22, AAA): 68 IP, 33/35 SV, 1.24 WHIP, 3.71 ERA, All-Star, Fireman of the Year at AA. ETA as needed
1 RHP Del Valentin (22, AAA): 158 IP, 16-5, 1.32 WHIP, 3.97 ERA, All-Star, All-Star Game MVP at AA. ETA S11
Top Position Prospects
Last season’s top 5: Phillips, Spivey, Machado, Estrada, Benjamin (ML).
5 LF Trenidad Estrada (21, AAA): 496 AB, .357/.443/.601, 23 HR, 50 2B, 121 RBI, 115 RS, All-Star at AA. ETA as needed
4 LF Rolando Machado (20, AA): 429 AB, .336/.421/.569, 22 HR, 93 RBI, 90 RS at LoA. ETA S11
3 CF Shane Spivey (20, AA): 472 AB, .347/.432/.597, 22 HR, 48 2B, 87 RBI, 126 RS, All-Star, Silver Slugger at LoA. ETA S11
2 2B Billy Ratliff (23, AA): 298 AB, .372/.452/.758, 23 HR, 34 2B, 114 RBI, 81 RS at LoA. ETA S11
1 RF Hughie Phillips (22, AAA): 562 AB, .327/.414/.625, 35 HR, 56 2B, 149 RBI, 128 RS, All-Star, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove at AA. ETA as needed