A Taste Of The Big Time

Gavin Floyd: The Mount St. Joe alum, 19 and a millionaire, has a major-league arm but won't be rushed by the Philllies.

March 20, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Each practice field at the Philadelphia Phillies' minor-league training complex is graced with the name of some legendary Phillies player from yesteryear, which is a subtle way to instill an appreciation of the past in the young players who form the organization's future.

So subtle that the club's top 2001 draft choice, Severna Park's Gavin Floyd, probably didn't notice he was sitting under a sign that read "Steve Carlton Field" as he watched a group of fellow prospects play a camp game against a team of Canadian high school all-stars this month.

Floyd still is settling into his first professional training camp, trying to keep a low profile as he applies himself to the challenge of tapping his vast potential, but it will be difficult to hide from the great expectations that rose up around him during his fabulous prep career at Mount St. Joseph.

"I think I fit into the group," said Floyd, who was the fourth player selected overall in the draft. "This is just the way I pictured it. I have never thought of myself as an outstanding player. I was taught to stay humble."

No easy task when you're 19 years old, already a millionaire and everybody's looking at you.

Floyd was the best high school pitcher in the country a year ago. He might grow up to be a right-handed Randy Johnson. He might be the most valuable commodity in the Phillies' system - a distinction that could be both a blessing and a curse.

That's why the team is not in any hurry to send him out into the cruel baseball world. He has the added advantage of getting comfortable in a player development situation that also includes older brother Michael, an outfielder who was a 22nd-round draft choice out of the University of South Carolina. The two of them moved together to Florida during the off-season to get in shape for their first professional seasons.

The plan is for Gavin to spend the next few months in an extended spring training situation at the Clearwater complex before starting his minor-league career with a half-season Rookie league team.

A chance to succeed

"We don't want to throw him into a situation against kids who already have a season under their belts," said Phillies scouting and player development director Mike Arbuckle. "There is pressure that comes with being a No. 1 pick. We try to put players into an environment where they have the best chance of succeeding."

Floyd might hear some bonus-baby razzing from the more established minor-league players he plays with and against, but he just wants to let it fly.

"I'd like to take it at my own pace," Floyd said, "but I'll be happy wherever they put me."

Not that anyone doubts Floyd can hold his own in the minors. The Phillies just know there is no percentage in rushing a blue-chip pitching prospect - especially one they paid a record bonus of $4.2 million to sign.

"There was a time when we did push guys because there weren't a lot of great pitchers in the system," Arbuckle said. "We're now at a point in this organization that we don't need to accelerate guys."

Floyd might be farther along, but it took so long to sign him after last year's draft that he was not able to participate in any summer ball. He spent some time at the Florida Instructional League, working on his changeup and getting acclimated to his new career, but he clearly is starting from square one.

"That's the process," Arbuckle said. "I would have preferred that he have a summer of development. He would have had a better chance to make a full-season Class-A club if he had been here. It does make a difference in a developmental setting."

First things first

Of course, the first thing a top-five draft choice has to do is secure his financial future, something Floyd did with the help of Baltimore attorneys Ron Shapiro and Ira Rainess. But the negotiations took him right up to the deadline to enroll in college.

"It would have been nice to play ball during the summer," Floyd said, "but in the end, it all worked out. For it to work out, it had to go that long. I can't do anything about that now."

The normal developmental period, Arbuckle said, is four to five years for a high school draft choice. Floyd, at 6 feet 5 and 210 pounds, has the physical maturity and the fastball to make it sooner, but the long-term benefits of accelerating a young player in the free-agent era (when he can bolt the team after six major-league seasons) are questionable.

"Some kids are on a faster track," Arbuckle said. "We don't know what his track is. He will show us that over time."

He showed the Phillies - and every other major-league club - a lot in high school. He was 8-2 with a 1.11 ERA in 10 starts for Mount St. Joseph last spring, striking out 103 batters in 63 innings and impressing scouts with his unflappable presence on the mound.

"I saw him twice," Arbuckle said. "We saw him about 15 times. You could see the ingredients - a good fastball, pretty good curveball and he's a kid that competes well. He looked like he knew what he wanted to do.

"Every time you're a No. 1 pick, you've got 30 or 40 sets of eyes on you when you pitch in high school. He handled it. He took it all in stride. There had to be a lot of pluses to select him fourth in the country. We believe he can be a top-of-the-line pitcher in the big leagues."

He may be just a kid, but he has had to grow up quickly in the big-money world of professional sports. His contract is large enough that it benefited Floyd and his brother to move their permanent residence from Severna Park to Florida, where there is no state income tax.

"We were thrilled to be able to come down here and get used to it and have some fun before it got serious," he said. "It's really nice to be here with Mike. We do everything together. Support-wise, it definitely helps to have somebody you can really trust to help you through things."

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