CLEARWATER, Fla.Ask most Phillies officials which pitching prospect they believe is closest to making a difference in the majors and the name Phillippe Aumont rushes off their tongues.
The power-armed 23-year-old righthander projects to open the season as closer at Triple A, but could be in Philadelphia before the year is over.
The ball jumps out of his hand, man, manager Charlie Manuel said. I love his talent. Once he gets consistent with his command, his stuff will play real big.
Aumont showed off his talent in Wednesdays exhibition opener against Florida State University. He needed just 13 pitches to complete an inning of work. He allowed a single and struck out a batter.
It was a much better performance than the last time he faced the boys from Florida State.
I could only go up from that one, Aumont said with a smile.
Two years ago, Aumont did not make it through an inning in the annual FSU exhibition game. He was batted around for five runs on two hits and three walks in two-thirds of an inning. That performance started a difficult season in which Aumonts prospect status dimmed.
But there were mitigating circumstances.
Aumont, a first-round draft pick in 2007, had joined the Phillies that winter from Seattle in a much-publicized trade for Cliff Lee. As a key piece in what was an unpopular trade with Phillies fans, Aumont put pressure on himself and it showed in his performance in the FSU game and throughout the 2010 season as he tried to make the conversion from reliever to starter. He ended that season with a 5.68 ERA.
I wanted to please people and I just tried to do too much, Aumont said.
Despite the poor season in 2010, no one gave up on Aumont. He was still young. And his arm, which is attached to a 6-foot-7, 255-pound body, was just too good to give up on. As part of the reclamation of Phillippe Aumont, the Phillies moved him back to his comfort zone, the bullpen, where he didnt have to pace himself, where he could blow mid-to-high-90s fastballs by hitters and show off his curveball and improving splitter. The move paid major dividends as Aumont posted a 2.68 ERA in 43 games at Double A and Triple A in 2011. He had a 78-25 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and allowed just 44 hits in 53 23 innings.
The bullpen is where I want to be, Aumont said. Its what suits me. I feel more comfortable. Im able to be aggressive. As a starter you need to be more relaxed.
There was another factor in Aumonts resurgence last season. His name is Jack Curtis. He is a mental-skills coach who works with Phillies minor-leaguers. He taught Aumont to relax and that unlocked much of the Quebec natives natural talent.
Dr. Jack helped me tremendously, Aumont said. Without a doubt working with him made the most difference. He taught me to see the positive in everything, to leave the negative behind and visualize myself having success. Before I worked with Dr. Jack, Id think, I cant walk this guy. Now, I think, Im going to get this guy out. Everything was negative in 2010. Now, everything is positive.
The arrow is pointing up for Phillippe Aumont.
Dont be surprised if he follows it to Philadelphia this season.
The Phillies beat FSU, 6-1. Non-roster player Hector Luna had a two-run home run. Starting pitcher Austin Hyatt pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three. Domonic Brown was hit on the right forearm by a pitch but said he was fine after the game. The Phils play their first official Grapefruit League game Saturday against the Yankees in Clearwater. Cole Hamels starts that game (see story).
E-mail Jim Salisbury at firstname.lastname@example.org.