Phillies Spring Training Battles

Posted: March 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

Image(The following is an article that will be available soon on IronPigsBaseball.com)

As the weather warms in the Lehigh Valley, the crisp, spring air is upon us in sunny Florida. The Philadelphia Phillies’ Grapefruit League schedule is underway, which means a make-or-break month is ahead for many players aiming to grab a coveted 25-man roster spot in Philadelphia for opening day. As it stands, the Phillies likely have just two or three bullpen spots open for competition. Their bench, if one takes into account that Delmon Young and Carlos Ruiz will not start the season on the active roster, will also have limited holes to fill. Those who are unable to grab a job in Philadelphia will likely spend their April showers in Lehigh Valley, hoping that with May flowers comes new opportunities in the major leagues.

() = Indicates MLB spring statistics through 3/3/13

At catcher, the Phillies will likely have one spot to fill in April. With Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz suspended for the first 25 games of the season, someone will have to step up in a backup role to 2009-11 I.L. All-Star Erik Kratz (.091-1-2). The 32-year old cemented his position as the team’s sole backup catcher with a strong .248-9-26 showing in 50 games last year. Without Ruiz, the team likely expects veteran Humberto Quintero (.000-0-1) to serve as Kratz’s backup in April. The 33-year old Venezuelan has played in four games this spring, flashing the leather behind the dish but failing to register a hit so far. Steven Lerud (.200-0-1), a backup for much of last season in Reading (AA), played three games in Philadelphia last summer when Ruiz and recently retired Brian Schneider were injured. He has no other MLB experience, but could feasibly take Quintero’s job with a strong spring. He is 1-5 so far with his lone hit a single off Yankees RHP Hiroki Kuroda.

Sebastian Valle’s (.000-0-0) stock has fallen over the past year, as his contact and walk rate plummeted in 2012. The 22-year old still has his supporters in the organization, and will likely begin the season as the starting backstop at Lehigh Valley.  After coming over from San Francisco’s organization with much fanfare last summer, Tommy Joseph (.375-1-2) continues to impress as a non-roster invitee to camp. The 21-year old hit his first HR of the spring in his first game, a two-run shot off Yankee Zach Nuding. Both Valle and Joseph could be teammates with the IronPigs at some point this year, but do not expect to see either in Philadelphia until September unless injuries wreak havoc at the position.

The infield contains another intriguing positional battle, with one or two spots likely available outside of Ryan Howard (.417-3-10), Chase Utley (.400-0-1), Jimmy Rollins (.200-0-2), and Michael Young (.211-1-5). A fan favorite and Lehigh Valley All-Star, Kevin Frandsen has picked up where he left off in 2012 with a .364 average and 5 extra-base hits in just 22 at-bats this spring. He has all but cemented a bench spot to begin the season. The team will likely want one more spot to come from infielders. That means the competition will continue between Freddy Galvis, Yuniesky Betancourt, and others.

Galvis, who came on strong before missing the second half of 2012 with a back-injury, has also impressed in camp. Not known for his power, the switch-hitter slammed a solo-shot off Baltimore RHP Todd Redmond on 3/3. Whether or not he makes the team depends largely on the team’s philosophy with such a young player. They might want to keep Galvis in Lehigh Valley so that he gets consistent at bats. He and Frandsen would be a very capable backup duo for the veterans at second, third, and short. Betancourt, meanwhile, has not let anyone down, hitting .357 with 4 RBI in just 14 at-bats. If Ruben Amaro chooses to send Galvis down for more seasoning, Betancourt would be the most likely replacement on the roster due to his proficiency at shortstop and experience. Veterans like Michael Martinez (.286-0-1), Pete Orr (.222-1-1), and Josh Fields (.167-0-0) are in camp as well. However, the team’s depth at these spots likely means that these three will be IronPigs to start the season. Youngsters Cesar Hernandez (.200-0-0) and Cody Asche (.300-0-0) have high ceilings, but are nowhere near being ready to contribute to the MLB club at this time.

The outfield has been the Phillies’ biggest burden this offseason. Gone are the days when Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Raul Ibanez gave the franchise a bona fide trio of All-Stars in the outfield. Instead, the team entered the spring with just one spot guaranteed. That, of course, belongs to Ben Revere (.304-0-0). Acquired from Minnesota for RHPs Trevor May and Vance Worley, Revere is short on power (zero career homers) and long on hustle. His ability to change a game with his legs is what attracted the Phillies to him. The youngster has lived up to the hype, amplifying his .304 average with two stolen bases and seven runs in just 23 at-bats. Domonic Brown (.350-3-4) has been the most pleasant surprise of camp. The former top-prospect was receiving criticism for not publically acknowledging how critical this spring was to his career. Instead, the 25-year old let his bat do the talking. Showing that he did not want to begin another season in Lehigh Valley, Brown has raked three home runs in 20 at-bats. Even more impressive is his eye, as his six walks and 10 runs have heavily contributed to Philadelphia’s early success this spring.

Despite his struggles last season, John Mayberry (.273-1-5) likely has a spot locked up for opening day. Big John has played a lot this spring, with 22 at-bats in nine games. His five RBI and three extra-base hits are impressive. But, Mayberry will need to improve his approach against RHP if he hopes to remain an everyday player once Delmon Young returns from injury. Laynce Nix (.067-0-1) and Darin Ruf (.143-0-3) both came into camp with roster spots in their back pocket. So far, they have both played themselves out of a guaranteed job. Nix, signed to a two-year contract from Washington last year, underwhelmed in his first year with Philadelphia and has yet to dig himself out of the hole. With just one hit in 15 spring at-bats, Nix is as bad as any hitter has been so far. Still, his guaranteed contract and past record of success suggests that he will make the club at least until Young returns. Ruf is a different story. After a breakout 2012 with Reading, Ruf joined Philadelphia last September without even a passing glance at Lehigh Valley. His MLB stats were impressive, with three homers and 10 RBI in just 33 at-bats. But, 2013 has not been as kind. The hype may be getting to Darin, or maybe pitchers are just figuring him out. But, the slugger has hit just .143 (3-21) with no home runs and just one extra-base hit. At this rate, Ruf is more likely to find himself back at Reading than at Citizens Bank Park on April 5th. One would expect the team to let Ruf work out his kinks in Lehigh Valley; at least until he proves that he is not merely a one-hit wonder. The last potential candidate is Ender Inciarte (.500-0-0). The 22-year old Rule 5 draft pick has played his entire career in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization. He has shown tremendous speed (111 stolen bases in 456 games) and defensive prowess, which suggests he would be a bench piece in the mold of Michael Martinez, another former Rule 5 pick, circa 2011. But, Inciarte has never once played above A ball, and seeing him at Citizens Bank Park remains a highly unlikely scenario.

Youngsters Zach Collier (.000-0-0) and Tyson Gillies (.111-0-0) are also in camp. But, they have yet to make much of an impact. They will both likely report to Reading to begin the season. Veteran non-roster invitees Joe Mather (.000-0-0) and Jermaine Mitchell (.500-0-2) are unlikely to see Philadelphia in April as well, barring a major injury. Mitchell has looked strong, with two triples in limited action. But, his lack of experience (no MLB at-bats) suggests otherwise.

Assuming that the team brings their eight starters as well as a backup catcher, two backup infielders, and two backup outfielders to Philadelphia, the Phillies will have twelve spots for pitchers to begin the year. Obviously Cole Hamels (1-0, 0.00), Cliff Lee (0-0, 5.40), Roy Halladay (1-0, 4.15), Kyle Kendrick (0-1, 11.25), and John Lannan (0-0, 4.50) are going to be the men comprising the rotation. That leaves seven spots for relievers. Jonathan Papelbon (0-1, 43.20), Mike Adams (0-0, 0.00), Phillippe Aumont (0-0, 0.00), Antonio Bastardo (0-0, 3.00), and Chad Durbin (0-0, 0.00) seem likely to make the team based on experience and performance. That leaves just two spots for a plethora of capable arms including lefties Jeremy Horst (0-0, 17.18), Jake Diekman (0-0, 4.50), Joe Savery (0-0, 0.00), and Raul Valdes (0-0, 9.00) and righties Tyler Cloyd (0-1, 13.50), Justin De Fratus (1-0, 11.25), B.J. Rosenberg (0-1, 15.00), and Michael Stutes (0-0, 13.50). It is clearly very early in the process, as many of these pitchers have not thrown more than one or two appearances. But, the early returns are not favorable for Horst, Cloyd, De Fratus, Rosenberg, or Stutes. Diekman appears to be the favorite for the team’s second lefty out of the ‘pen, although Savery is also looking to earn the nod after recording the final three outs in Sunday’s victory over Toronto. Rosenberg and Cloyd, luminaries in Lehigh Valley last season, appear headed back to Coca-Cola Park after tough starts to their spring.

The bullpen is arguably the biggest mystery at this point. The youth and inexperience that the team endured through 2012 only serves to infuse depth into the position in 2013. Lehigh Valley will feel the effects of this, as capable relievers like Rosenberg, Stutes, De Fratus, and Horst would provide the IronPigs with a stable of arms that many International League teams do not possess. Spring training may have just gotten underway, but the heat is on in Clearwater as we sit less than one-month away from opening day in Atlanta.

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