Clearwater Countdown: Meanwhile Down on the Farm

Spring is just around the corner and so are warmer days, walks in the park and baseball.

That's right Phillies pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater in just five days and in honor of the start of Spring Training is doing our top-10 countdown of issues to be settled before Opening Day.

No. 5:

The Phillies World Championship team is a great example of what it takes to build a winner -- a big part of the winning team was homegrown talent.

Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell and Ryan Madson were all once just minor leaguers dreaming of big league glory.

So, which current minor leaguers could be the next big league contributors?

There are four guys that every Phillies phan should be excited to hopefully see in red pinstripes at some point this season.

There are a handful of blogger sites out there that focus specifically on what is happening down on the farm including the Scouting Book and Phuture Phillies.

The name that both sites seem to believe is a sure thing is Carlos Carrasco. The 21-year-old Venezuelan should compete this spring for the fifth spot in the rotation but he is expected to eventually be a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Carrasco is a right-handed fireballer who averaged more than a strikeout per inning in AA and AAA last season.

The Phils will be hard-pressed to not call on Carrasco to start some games if one of the regulars goes down to injury.

Lou Marson is another minor-league prospect who should find himself in the Majors this year.

Marson is already in the mix to back up Ruiz at catcher because of his hitting stroke. Last season at AA-affiliate Reading he batted .314 with 18 doubles, five homers and 54 RBI in 322 at bats.

Mars Man's number would have been even loftier if he hadn't taken some time to represent Team USA at the Beijing Olympics.

The big knock on Marson is his ability behind the dish. Last season he posted a respectable .985 fielding percentage but he needs to work to get near to Ruiz's .993 fielding percentage.

The third "almost sure thing" in the Phils farm system is shortstop Jason Donald.

The 24-year-old righty is near a career .300 hitter in the minors who has also exhibited some power with a career .459 slugging percentage that is higher than Pedro Feliz (.429) -- who he may wind up spelling at third base.

The key for Donald is to try and work at the hot corner. Feliz has a balky back and if the Phils don't sign Nomar Garciaparra then they will need extra help at third base.

Donald could be swinging for the Phils right out of Spring Training but more likely will get some seasoning before being called up during the year.

The fourth name on this list might not be as well known as the other three.

Outfielder Dominic Brown has never played above A-level ball, but could make a big jump this season. The 21-year-old speedster has so much raw talent that it will be difficult to not see him up in Philly at some point in 2009.

He could supply some much-needed speed to the Phillies outfield should starting centerfielder Shane Victorino or right fielder Jayson Werth go down to injury.

Brown could be the next Michael Bourn or the next Rickey Henderson -- this season will be vital in his development.

There are so many other names in the Minors who could one day help the Phillies but for now the Phils are the champs and most of the team is back to defend the title. They can let some of the young guys season in the minors and not rush them to the majors.

Time is a great luxury to have and the Phils are living large.

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