2012 proved to be a lost cause for the Phillies. Subpar power, relief pitching and injuries led to the down season, and it’ll be a longer offseason than fans are used to. The offseason always gives fans an opportunity to discuss what needs to be done to improve the team, and those solutions will come from in the organization as well as outside the organization via free agency or trade. In 2012, they received some unexpected contributions from inside the organization with many young players thrust into new or expanded roles due to injuries or trades.
The same should be true in 2013. Although their farm system is still fairly weak, a handful of players will be set up to make contributions at some point during the season. With a payroll that’s one of the highest in the league and approaching the luxury tax, the need for cheap, young talent grows. With few options in free agency and a farm system that probably can’t produce enough depth for an impact trade, it seems like the Phillies will have to mostly make due with what they have in house already. Who are the top six rookies who could make an impact in 2013?
1B/LF Darin Ruf: I’ve been adamant that I don’t think Ruf will have much of a career, but it would be dishonest to say his cup of coffee hasn’t been good. It’s still been a limited number of at-bats though, and it will be up to Ruf to make adjustments once pitchers find new ways to get him out. Once again, the Phillies weren’t able to get too much production off the bench, and his right handed power could provide some production. They’ve dealt with poor defense in left for most of the past decade, and they can probably handle it with Ruf as long as he’s hitting. With the amount of different leg injuries Ryan Howard has had in the last three seasons, they may be able to keep him a little more rested.
RHP Phillippe Aumont: Phillies fans have already seen the best and worst of Aumont, and they hope he can settle in and be a little more consistent outing to outing. He clearly has the stuff to close; his fastball has great velocity, and his curveball is a swing and miss pitch. His pitches have so much movement that he needs to learn that if he can get ahead in the count and just pitch near the strike zone, he’s going to be able to get outs. With the Phillies’ struggles in the 8th inning this year, it’s possible they sign a free agent reliever to add depth, but Aumont could and should play a key role in 2013.
LHP Jake Diekman: Diekman spent plenty of time with the big club in 2012, but he’s still well short of the innings threshold to qualify as a prospect. He showed why he’s a middle relief prospect in some outings, but he also showed he has a lot to work on to stay up in the majors permanently. Like Aumont, he needs to pitch close enough to the strike zone to tempt batters. His velocity, arm angle and slider combine to make him a potential shut down lefty specialist, and they really need to do a better job limiting his exposure against righties in 2013. Along with Antonio Bastardo and Jeremy Horst, the Phillies should have options to get lefties out next season.
RHP Jonathan Pettibone: Just two seasons ago, fans were touting the team’s four aces and the incredible depth in the rotation. Now, they’ll soon be integrating new starters in the rotation unless Kyle Kendrick continues receiving indefinite contracts. Pettibone has to be protected on the 40 man roster this offseason, and that means he’ll probably have priority when it comes to injury replacements. He’s coming off another solid season across two levels, and his brief stint in AAA at the season will give him a leg up going into next season. If his breaking ball doesn’t improve, he won’t be more than a back-end starter, but ideally that’s all the Phillies need in upcoming seasons.
3B Cody Asche: Asche was one of the biggest breakout performers in the organization this season after a terrible pro debut in 2011. The Phillies hope his stint in the Arizona Fall League this offseason will be a springboard to him making his ML debut sometime in 2013. His season started by showing an impressive knack for making contact in Clearwater, and his potential power started coming through after a promotion to Reading. If he continues getting more selective at the plate, he could become a solid bat for the Phillies. He’ll have to work hard to remain at third base, but he has the arm and just enough athleticism to do it if he works hard.
LHP Adam Morgan: Asche was not the only early Phillies draft pick from 2011 to reach Reading; Morgan did too, and he could now be a top 100 prospect in baseball. The 3rd rounder dominated Florida State League hitters and made a smooth transition at the end of the year to AA. He throws a lot of strikes, and his stuff improved from his NCAA days at Alabama where his fastball velocity fluctuated from start to start, and his slider wasn’t always sharp. His success against right handed batters also indicates that his changeup is coming along. Factoring in ceiling and likelihood of reaching it, a case could be made for Morgan being the organization’s best pitching prospect.
Aside from those six, there are several other prospects Phillies fans could see in 2013. Tyler Cloyd showed he’s worth another look in the majors if he can keep the ball in the ballpark, and he’ll definitely be in the mix for the #5 spot in the rotation in spring training. After having most of his 2012 season derailed by elbow injuries, Justin De Fratus should be a factor in the Phillies’ bullpen next season. The team ran through a lot of right handed middle relief options last year, and De Fratus’ superior stuff should bolster the mid to late innings. Offensively, Tyson Gillies could provide outfield depth with his speed, defense and arm, and Cesar Hernandez should get some big league experience in his last option year, but that could be difficult with Chase Utley entrenched at second base.
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