Prospect Report: Phillippe Aumont

Drafted 11th overall in the 2007 draft, Phillippe Aumont was transitioned to the bullpen by the Mariners in 2009 and has the potential to be a future closer for the Phillies.  That’s a far cry from the expectations heading into 2009, however, with many believing he could develop into an ace starter.

Prior to the season the Mariners Director of Minor League Operations, Pedro Grifol, said, “He’s a potential workhorse with well above-average stuff. He has the ability to develop into a top-of-the-rotation type pitcher.”

Of course, pitching in Single and Double-A in 2009 he worked strictly as a relief pitcher with mixed results.  He was solid in Single-A, posting a 3.24 ERA while striking out 35 over 33.1 innings.  At Double-A he was significantly more hittable, posting a 5.09 ERA while allowing 21 hits over 17.2 innings.  Of course, he still generated strikeouts, whiffing 24 batters, but his control eluded him.  While he walked just 12 prior to his recall, he handed out 11 free passes after in nearly half as many innings.

He’s going to need to adjust, that goes without saying.  It’ll be his ability to do that that will dictate just how good he will be.

He’s armed with a fastball touching 95 mph and a curveball with the potential to be considered a top pitch.  He also throws a changeup, but his lack of potential there helped generate his move to the pen.  With just two pitches to rely on to get hitters out, he certainly appears better suited to stick and have a long and meaningful career.

Facing a batter once in a game, you certainly can get by with a minimal arsenal.  Look no further than Mariano Rivera as proof.  Asked to get batters out two, three or more times in a night with just two pitches at your disposal and it’s a completely different story.

Of course, at 6’7″, it simply could just be that he needs time to gain control of his full arsenal.  Taller pitchers just seem to take longer to develop, so it is still possible that he becomes a starting pitcher down the road.  For now, however, I have to believe that he’s viewed as a relief prospect.

There are a few injury concerns, as he was injured in both 2008 and 2009, which also helped guide his move to the bullpen.  In 2008 he was plagued by a sore elbow, finding himself on the DL on two occasions (and ending his season on August 21).  Last season he broke his hand after blowing a save (he punched a wall).  That injury is less concerning in regards to durability questions.

Prior to the 2009 season, Baseball America ranked Aumont as the Mariners third best prospect, saying:

“Aumont cuts an imposing figure on the mound, and his stuff is just as intimidating. He already throws 90-95 mph with plus-plus sink and boring action, and he may be able to throw even harder as he matures physically. If batters sit on his sinker, he can blow a high-90s four-seam fastball by them. Aumont’s crossfire delivery and low three-quarters arm slot can make it tough for batters to pick up his pitches. His low-80s breaking ball has plus potential.”

That make-up seems perfect to blow people away at the end of the game, a need that the Phillies certainly have.  Brad Lidge is a disaster waiting to happen, with no one ever knowing exactly what you are going to get.  Will you get the pitcher who was perfect in 2008 or the one who was a disaster in 2009?

Then there’s Ryan Madsen who had an opportunity to seize the job for himself yet, when inserted into the role, failed to do so.

Of course, the Phillies could go out and add another arm to the backend of their bullpen, but there’s no one on the open market who figures to be both a long-term solution and a financially reasonable option.  That means that, in time, they will look from within to fill their gaping hole to close out games.  With Aumont now in the system, their solution could not be in house.

Would it surprise me to see Aumont get a chance in the Major Leagues in 2010?  Absolutely not.  For a team that is in need of bullpen help, it seems more like when, not if, he will make his debut (assuming the Phillies continue to utilize in relief).  While it’s unlikely that the team entrusts him as their closer, it is not unheard of (think Francisco Rodriguez or Bobby Jenks in the past).  That makes him a player to monitor in all formats.

What are your thoughts on Aumont?  Will he make his debut in 2010?  What are the chances the Phillies give him a chance to close out games?

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