CLEARWATER, Fla. -- While this year's newer, sexier pitching prospects Joe Savery, Josh Outman and Carlos Carrasco garner the attention, J.A. Happ, last year's model, quietly walks in and out of the clubhouse. Stationed in the back of the clubhouse, wearing No. 66, Happ realizes how close Triple-A is to the Major Leagues, but he understands it is also quite far away. Maybe rushing things, like he did last season, isn't the right idea.
"Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself," Happ said. "I thought it was the year I had to put up great numbers, because I wanted to get [to the Major Leagues]. I was focused on a week ahead instead of what I needed to do that day. I had to concentrate on Triple-A instead of worrying about getting to the big leagues. "Obviously, that's still what I'm aiming for, but day-by-day is the biggest thing." The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Happ took a lot from his June 30 debut last season, when he allowed five runs on seven hits in four innings. That callup came soon after the lefty returned from the disabled list with a sore elbow. Though he may not have been 100 percent for that start, no player wants to turn down a shot at impressing at the big league level. Happ struggled upon returning to Triple-A, finishing 4-6 with a 5.02 ERA in 24 starts, and said his elbow injury never quite went away. In hindsight, honesty may have been more beneficial. "I didn't want [an opportunity] slip past me again," Happ said. "It was a thing where maybe I came back too quick and it never completely felt the way it should. That's not an excuse, either. It's a lesson learned, as far as what you can tolerate and maybe take a break." After a winter of inactivity, Happ said he's more relaxed this spring and more patient. He's made two Grapefruit League appearances and allowed one run in 4 1/3 innings. In his fourth professional season since being drafted in the third round of 2004's First-Year Player Draft, Happ lifted weights and did exercises to strengthen his left arm.
Most importantly, he knows he'll get another call ... someday."All the people you know ask, 'When am I going to see you in the big leagues?' and they don't know about the Minor Leagues," Happ said. "That's the goal for all of us. But it's a long road, and you have to realize that you have to have the results. Being around and knowing the guys, the pitchers, I feel like I can compete. It's a matter of consistency." Names in the game: Eric Valent, a former supplemental pick by the Phillies (1998), has returned to the organization as a coach for Class A Williamsport. A former UCLA teammate of Chase Utley, Valent played parts of five seasons in the Major Leagues for the Phillies (2001-02), Reds (2003) and Mets (2004-05), hitting .234 with 13 homers and 37 RBIs in 205 games. This is his first season as a coach. They're No. 1: Greg Golson, the team's top Draft pick in 2004, has made strides this spring and is working toward a more complete season. The organization raves about his raw ability, and the question remains whether Golson can achieve the plate discipline needed to succeed in the Major Leagues. Class of '07: Second-round Draft pick Travis Mattair hit .235 with three homers for the Gulf Coast Phillies in 2007. He's viewed as the potential third baseman of the future. What they're saying: "There were some things that stuck out about last year -- the high strikeouts and low walks. Mainly, I want to have a solid year where there's not one thing that's glaring." -- Golson
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.