Previewing the top Phillies prospects

Top Phillies prospects (clockwise from top left) Andrew Carpenter, Sergio Escalona, Phillippe Aumont, Anthony Hewitt, Domonic Brown and Antonio Bastardo.

The Phillies’ core players are all another year older in 2010, and Jayson Werth could be headed for free agency after this season. So, while the Phillies largely emptied their farm system in 2009 to acquire Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, they hope that the remaining prospects will progress in their development, and give the team a chance to remain competitive beyond the next few years.

This year’s spring training will offer the coaching staff a closer look at the players most essential to the Phils’ future. Here are five questions the team hopes to answer in camp this year:

When will Domonic Brown be ready?
Brown, 22, has impressed the Phils enough that the team insisted on excluding the outfielder from a potential package to acquire Halladay in July. In December, they parted with highly regarded outfielder Michael Taylor as a way to keep Brown and still snag the ex-Toronto ace. Despite being named to this off-season’s Arizona Fall League all-star team, Brown faltered near the end of that short season, and ended up batting just .229. That demonstrated that he must still develop before being ready to contribute in Philadelphia. Manager Charlie Manuel and staff will have an opportunity to see the top prospect for themselves beginning this week.

Will Antonio Bastardo and Sergio Escalona be ready to contribute this season?
It was an intense introduction to the postseason, but Antontio Bastardo passed an important test last October, when Manuel summoned the 24-year-old lefthander into a bases-loaded two-out situation to face Jason Giambi. It was a pivotal moment in Game 2 of the division series against Colorado, and Bastardo struck out Giambi swinging. The moment cemented the team’s impression of Bastardo as a confident, promising live arm. But it remains to be seen if the rookie can develop his slider and remain healthy enough to replace the departed Scott Eyre this season. If Bastardo falters, Escalona, 25, will have to show more promise than he did last season, when he posted a 4.10 earned run average. Escalona pitched well on several occasions, but appeared to lack the strong fastball/breaking ball combination that distinguished Eyre.

Will former No. 1 pick Anthony Hewitt show progress at a new position?
The Phils’ top draft choice in 2008, Hewitt batted .214, with a 132 strikeouts in 350 at-bats over the past two seasons in the low minors. A high school shortstop, Hewitt had been working to learn third base, and the organization decided last fall to make him an outfielder. The Phils hope that another year of experience and a change of position will help Hewitt, but another unproductive summer could dampen their original optimism about the 20-year-old’s chances of making it to Philadelphia.

How will the Cliff Lee guys look?
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and team president David Montgomery insisted last December that they traded Lee in order to replenish a farm system diminished by the trades that netted them Lee in July and Halladay last winter. By saying that, team brass placed the onus on pitchers Phillippe Aumont, and J.C. Ramirez, and outfielder Tyson Gillies, to emerge as solid prospects. Aumont is universally considered the most promising of the three — perhaps a future closer in the post-Brad Lidge era — and he and Gillies could contribute in 2011. Ramirez is further behind. The Phillies organization will soon have its first opportunity to work with and evaluate these important acquisitions.

Can Andrew Carpenter force his way into the fifth-starter conversation?
Carpenter won his first major- league start, against Washington on May 16, then continued a successful season in the rotation at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Carpenter, 24, is a long shot for the Phils’ rotation, but he could pitch well enough to force entry into the underwhelming competition between Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick. Even if he does not accomplish that, he has a chance to become more essential to an organization experiencing a sudden shortage of top arms.

Contact staff writer Andy Martino at 215-854-4874 or