During the day Friday, Chuck LaMar, Steve Noworyta, and the rest of the Phillies' minor-league staff met to discuss next season.

It's a meeting they have every year around this time. LaMar, the Phillies' assistant general manager for player development, and his staff look at the organization, decide what holes will need to be plugged by minor-league free agents in the off-season, and prepare reports for the scouting staff to use in the second half.

"It's a process by a lot of people," said Noworyta, the assistant director of minor-league operations. "But it's fun to see a night like [Friday] come true."

Later that night, long after the meeting, Cody Ransom homered in his seventh at-bat as a Phillie to cap a wild, six-run ninth-inning rally. Ransom was one of those minor- leaguers identified by the scouting staff late last season as a target. He was signed Dec. 14 and began the season at triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Rarely will minor-league free agents have a measurable effect on a team's season. But the Phillies, devastated by injuries, have already had four - Ransom, Wilson Valdez, Paul Hoover, and Dane Sardinha - play for them in 2010.

"We're only as good as the scouts and the reports they give us," Noworyta said.

Those reports were dead-on this year: The four players have combined to start 58 games for the Phillies. All four have contributed on some level. They have not put up incredible numbers by any means, but they are still meaningful, considering the Phillies couldn't have expected much.

Valdez is the prime example. He has played in a career-high 53 games, starting 42. While he has hit into a team-leading 14 double plays, Valdez has provided fine defense to go along with a .256 average, 4 home runs, and 21 RBIs.

Valdez signed 16 days after the Phillies were defeated by the Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series.

"What I wanted to do was find a team where I could sign and go to big-league camp," Valdez said. "Hope they could see me, and if I have any chance to go up, they'd remember."

The Phillies jumped on Valdez after superscout Charlie Kerfeld saw him play winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Kerfeld made a call to the Phillies' minor-league staff. Noworyta said shortstop can be a difficult position for the organization to fill because players see Jimmy Rollins at the top of the depth chart and go to franchises where more playing time is a possibility.

After two calls to Valdez's agent, an invitation to major-league camp was assured and a deal was struck.

"Charlie was very instrumental on that, to see it and get it right away before anybody else really jumped on it," Noworyta said of Kerfeld. "It worked out really well."

Both Hoover and Sardinha ably filled in when the Phillies suffered injuries to both of their regular catchers, Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider.

Hoover was with the Phillies in 2009, and he re-signed Dec. 11. This season, in six games, he set career highs in runs scored and extra-base hits.

Sardinha hit three home runs and drove in eight runs in 13 games. He started six in a row before being designated for assignment Saturday.

"I'd say his stock went up," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

Sardinha wasn't signed until Jan. 6, far later than he normally signs. The calls from teams, he said, used to come earlier. This off-season, both the Phillies and Yankees called on the same day with offers. He was familiar with the Yankees' system and knew they had quite a few catching prospects. With the Phillies, he could split time with another veteran, Hoover.

"Unfortunately, guys went down," Sardinha said, "but it worked out pretty good for me."

Mike Ondo, the Phillies' director of professional scouting, said the organization decided during the winter they needed another veteran-type catcher. Two scouts suggested Sardinha. He accepted the offer.

Noworyta said the minor-league staff meets now so the organizational reports are ready for the scouts. Once the frenzy of the trading deadline is over July 31, the professional scouts will take the rest of the season to look at potential free agents, including minor-league players.

It's the same way guys like Joe Roa, Clay Condrey, and Chris Coste were scouted and signed by the Phillies.

No one will say those players or the four minor-league free agents who have played for the Phillies this season make or break a season. But when a team's depth is tested, much like the Phillies' has been in 2010, the fill-ins can become vital.

"We look at every player that's on the free-agent market," Noworyta said. "Then we grade them out. You see the list dwindle. It's a process. It's a lot of names, a lot of reports to read. It's a lot of stats to look at, too."

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
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