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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 24, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Phillies will work Aumont as a starter — for now

aumont.jpg

Last spring, the Mariners made the decision to switch Phillippe Aumont (pictured above doing some stretching in Phillies’ camp) full-time to the bullpen, hoping it would accelerate his path to the major leagues.

“We felt that this was a guy, who, if used in a relief role, could be on a real fast-track to the major leagues,” Jack Zduriencik said last April. “And we’re talking a real fast track.”

As it turned out, it wasn’t fast enough to get Aumont to Seattle in a Mariner uniform. He never rose higher than Class AA. And Aumont, the centerpiece of the three-prospect package sent to Philadelphia in December in exchange for Cliff Lee, is now being eyed as a starter by the Phillies.

Here’s how Benny Looper, the Phillies’ assistant GM — and part of the Mariner front office when they drafted Aumont No. 1 (11th overall) in 2007 — explained the decision to me today at Phillies’ camp, the second stop in my Grapefruits of Wrath tour of Florida camps:

“Several of us saw him as an amateur; we liked him as a starter, and thought he had a future there. We think it will allow him to work on his other pitches. He needs to get in a consistent arm slot, and develop his other pitches. Even if he ends up in the pen, he’ll still have that. But we think he can start, and we will start him.”

In the best-case scenario, Looper said, Aumont will be “a front end of the rotation guy, and at worst, a late-inning guy — for a championship ballclub.”

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro said he wasn’t overly concerned about Aumont’s hip issues, which the pitcher discussed with Geoff for a story from Arizona Fall League in October.

“We actually did assessments on his hip,” Amaro said today. “We don’t think there’s any structural damage. We have to just keep an eye, making sure his core is strong, be aware of it, but we think it’s something we can manage.”

Aumont, who turned 21 last month, had an up-and-down career with the Mariners. He showed flashes of the form that caused Baseball America to rank him the No. 94 overall prospect in the minors this week, but also had injury and consistency issues. There also was a temper outburst, documented by Geoff in the above link, that resulted in a broken left hand from pounding a locker after a bad outing last August. That cost him the final three weeks of the 2009 season.

Aumont had a 3.24 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings last year at Class A High Desert, but struggled after a promotion to Class AA West Tennessee (5.09 ERA, 1.81 walks and hits per nine innings). In the Arizona Fall League, Aumont had a 12.00 ERA in 10 games, giving up four homers in 12 innings.

I’ll have a lot more about Aumont in a future story about the Mariners’ three traded No. 1 draft picks (Aumont, Brandon Morrow, Jeff Clement). He said he’s on board with the move back to the rotation — not that he wasn’t on board with the move to the bullpen. In all, Aumont has started just eight of his 59 professional games over the past two seasons.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said of starting. “I had some setbacks the past few years. I knew some people over here that scouted me when I was with the Mariners, now they’re over here, like Benny. I think they know what’s best for me. I think going back to a starter is going to get me more innings, more time on the mound, more time to work on my stuff.”

Added Aumont, “It’s an adjustment, but it’s like riding a bicycle, I guess. You never really lose it. It was good to go into the bullpen. I got a taste of both, experience with both, and now I can just pull everything together and make it one, and then work on that.”

When the Mariners proposed the move to the pen last year, Aumont said “I pretty much told them, whatever it takes to get me up there. Whatever you guys think is going to be best for me. That’s what I want. I don’t care. I guess their move was to put me in the bullpen, and my path to the big leagues would have been quicker. But now, going back to a starter with the Phillies, I don’t mind at all. I’m still young, still have a lot to learn. I think they’re going to take the time to show me the right way. When they’re ready, they’ll know, and they’ll make a move.”

Amaro said the Phillies have the pitching depth to take their time with Aumont. But there’s also a possibility his fastest path to the majors could still wind up in relief. Their thinking is that even if that’s the case, Aumont will still benefit from expanding his repertoire.

“We just felt, developmentally, this is a guy that had the ability to be a starter,” Amaro said. “We really weren’t in rush mode with him. For us, if he ends up becoming a reliever, that’s something that may happen later on. But we wanted to give him every opportunity to be a starter. We think he has a chance to be a pretty special guy if he continues to develop.”

(Photo by McClatchy Newspapers)

Don’t forget Thursday’s live chat at 1 p.m. Pacific time!

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