Confirmed: Chase Utley to begin rehab assignment today

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UPDATE: Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer confirms that Chase Utley will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Single-A Clearwater on Saturday. He is expected to play five innings in the field.

Friday, 11:48 PM: When asked by Todd Zolecki of MLB.com if Chase Utley was going to begin a minor league rehab assignment Saturday, Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said the following:

“It depends how he feels.”

Another source tells Zolecki that Utley could play tomorrow, meaning that he would be a go as long as his surgically-repaired thumb responded well to a Friday workout.

Friday, 11:19 PM: Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com dropped some word earlier tonight that Chase Utley told some teammates that he could return to the starting lineup as soon as next Tuesday. It seemed overly optimistic at first, but the other shoe has dropped since then. According to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, Utley will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Single-A Clearwater on Saturday.

It all depends on how the thumb responds to game activity, but according to Salisbury, Utley “is so far ahead of schedule” that he could return at some point during the team’s 10-game homestand which kicks off Tuesday against the Giants.

When Utley underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb on July 1, he was originally projected to miss eight weeks, which would have put his return somewhere around the end of August or early September. The All-Star second baseman insisted he would be able to beat that timeline all along. And it looks like he’s about to do it.

The Phillies were shut out against the Mets on Friday night, however they are 16-5 in their last 21 games and currently sit just three games behind the Braves in the National League East. It’s nothing the Phillies haven’t overcome before. And now that they are about to get two of their biggest bats back, it’s going to be awful tough to doubt them.

Major League Baseball to launch an elite league for high schoolers

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This morning Major League Baseball announced a new elite league for high school baseball players who are likely to be drafted. It’s called the Prospect Development Pipeline League. It’ll start next summer and it’ll invite 80 of the best current high school juniors to play in a league in Florida from June through early July, culminating in an All-Star Game during MLB’s All-Star week.

The idea behind the league: to combat the current system in which a couple of pay-to-play, for-profit showcase leagues dominate the pre-draft season. Major League Baseball, schools and a lot of players’ parents have criticized this system because it favors rich kids who can afford to play in them. Major League Baseball is also likely quite keen on having greater control over the training, health and physical monitoring of prospects.

As Jeff Passan notes in his report about this, there will be a component of the program which involves live data-tracking of players during games and drills. Major League Baseball has become increasingly interested in such things but is limited in how much it can do in this regard due to labor agreements. There is no such impediment with high schoolers. Your mileage will vary when it comes to how you feel about that, I presume.