The “Make or Break” series is something I’m going to try out, taking a look at guys who are entering a season which, in my opinion, will help determine their future (or lack there of) with the Phillies organization. As some of you may have noticed, with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the rules for minor league roster management/40 man roster management have changed, and the changes are significant. Under the old agreement, players signed at age 19 or older were required to be placed on the 40 man roster after their third season of pro ball, while players signed at age 18 or younger were required to be added to the 40 man after their fourth season of pro ball. If players weren’t protected, they were eligible for the Rule 5 draft. With the new change, each classification was given an extra year, so the 19+ signing group now has 4 years of eligibility, and the 18 and under group 5 years. This change is significant in that it gives organizations an extra year of time to figure out what to do in terms of player assignments. Raw, toolsy guys who might need additional time now have that extra year before they need to be placed on the 40 man roster, while guys who are close, but maybe not ready yet, can be kept in the minors an additional year without using a 40 man spot. From a player’s perspective, this hurts them a bit, in that they are kept under control of their drafting/signing org for an extra year. It would seem to also hurt the Phillies a bit, mainly because Pat Gillick is one of the more prominent Rule 5 GM’s, however, the new configuration didn’t slow him down in the 2006 draft. So, the “Make or break” column will highlight guys entering their last “freeroll” season, meaning they don’t have to be protected. At the end of their 2007 season, they will either have to be added to the 40 man roster or be left unprotected, and thus eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
I’ve decided to start with Tim Moss, for no real reason other than he’s a guy I’ve kind of watched closely since he was drafted. Moss, as of this writing, is not on the 40 man roster and is entering his 4th season of pro ball, having been drafted out of the University of Texas in 2003. Baseball America ranked Moss the 22nd best prospect in the Phillies system at the conclusion of the 2003 season, and still considered him rather raw for a college player, especially one coming from a prominent division I program. In only 160 AB at Batavia in 2003, he put up a miserable .445 OPS. 2004 didn’t prove to be much better, as he was given the assignment of starting 2B at Lakewood and responded by posting a .683 OPS in 273 AB. He drew a mediocre amount of walks (24), but struck out a ton (75) in only 273 AB, and his .342 OB% was largely inflated by his 12 HBP. He showed almost zero power, posting an anemic .341 slugging % with just 15 doubles and 2 HR. He subsequently dropped out of the Phillies top 30 prospects, which says something considering the lack of depth in the system.
Nevertheless, the Phillies decided to promote Moss to Clearwater to begin 2005, his age 23 season. Moss responded by having a vastly better season (thanks partly to a hot start), posting an .811 OPS and showing a large improvement in the power department,, smacking 17 HR in 469 AB. Will Kimmey of Baseball America bumped Moss all the way up to the 8th best prospect in the system at the conclusion of 2005, but gave this caveat
It remains to be seen whether Moss’ breakout was a fluke. He’ll move to Double-A in 2006 and try to show that a smallish second baseman can keep punishing baseballs.
Well, it looks like 2005 was a fluke. In his age 24 season, Moss bombed at Reading, putting up a .606 OPS in 206 AB. He was sent back to Clearwater, where he “rebounded” with a .796 OPS in 264 AB. His walk rate hasn’t improved, his strikeout rate is still waaaaay too high for a guy with little power. One of his biggest strengths since being drafted was his athletic ability and speed, (69/98 in SB in his pro career), but if he can’t hit as a 2B, his bat will certainly have a tough time playing at any other position.
So, what will happen with Moss? He turns 25 in January, and will probably start at Reading. If he flouders, he may find his way back to Clearwater, and barring some sort of miracle, will be left unprotected next December. Then again, if he hits in 2007 like he did in 2006, will anyone waste the $25,000 on him (he’ll go in the minor league portion if he gets picked at all) or just pass him over? He will always have the distinction of being the first Phillie selected in the 2003 draft, in the third round, because of a number of free agent signings during the 2002 offseason. Unfortunately, it looks like he will never crack the big leagues, unless he somehow re-invents his entire game.
Prediction: Break. Left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, 50/50 chance he’s taken by someone in the minor league phase.