Position: LHP Height: 6-3 Weight: 170 Born: 12/27/83 Bats: Left Throws: Left
A very successful high school pitcher, Cole Hamels was considered by many experts to be the best lefty available in the 2002 draft class. But his medical history (see below) scared many teams off, and he ended up going "just" 17th overall. Hamels signed in late August of '02, and didn't make his pro debut until this May. He was literally unhittable at times this year, and may be the best LHP prospect in the game right now.
Hamels has a very good fastball. He throws it anywhere between 89 and 94 mph. The pitch has good movement, yet he often has pinpoint command of it. The combination of velocity, movement, and location was too much for A-ball hitters to handle this year. Hamels is more than just a good fastball, though. His curve and changeup are both above average pitches and he mixes them well. His mechanics are clean and he repeats them consistently. He's very efficient for a young pitcher and has excellent presence on the mound. Hamels is still physically projectable and could add another inch plus 20 pounds to his frame. This would likely boost his fastball even more.
The South Atlantic League provided very little competition for Hamels, who went through the circuit like a knife through butter. In 74.2 innings at Lakewood, he allowed just 32 hits. He fanned 115. Left-handed hitters managed just a .101 average against him, righties .150. The Florida State League was a stiffer challenge, but he still held his own in five starts for Clearwater, though he walked a few too many people. In a combined 101 innings, he struck out 147 while walking only 39, giving up just 61 hits. His K/IP and H/IP marks are off the charts.
This is the rub on Hamels. He broke his pitching arm as a high school sophomore. The injury healed properly, and wasn't the same type of break that ruined the careers of Dave Dravecky, Tom Browning, and Tony Saunders. Doctors say he should have no ill effects from it, but the Phillies are understandably cautious with him. They invested $2 million dollars in his signing bonus, and given his undeniable talent, it would be tragic for both the player and the team if he gets hurt. I don't know enough about these sorts of injuries to make any sort of direct, medical/historical judgment. But it seems unlikely that the Phillies (or any other team) would invest in him if there were any actual doubt about his arm. The odds are that if health issues derail his career, it will be the standard elbow or shoulder woes that attack young pitchers, and will have nothing to do with the sophomore break.
What to expect
Hamels is one case where the numbers and the scouting reports agree: this guy is a stud. His ratios are not merely good, but are outstanding across the board. He throws hard, throws strikes, and knows how to pitch. He's the crown jewel of the Phillies' farm system. Hamels still need to prove he can stay healthy, but that's true of any pitcher his age.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.