Two of the three outfield slots are 100% without a doubt set, barring unforeseen injuries. Hunter Pence is the rightfielder and Shane Victorino is patrolling his usual centerfield. After that you have a number of players competing this spring for the leftfield job that belonged to the now departed Lord Voldemort aka Raul Ibanez. Other players no longer in the picture are Ross Gload, Brandon Moss, Ben Francisco, Delwyn Young, John Bowker, Matt Miller, Cory Sullivan, and Wilson Valdez. The new faces are Laynce Nix, Scott Podsednik, and long time Phillies nemesis and Ed Wade fantasy Juan Pierre. Word has it that the Phillies are still looking for an extra right handed bat that can play the outfield for depth so we may see another face added to the mix sometime in the future.
Victorino has been patrolling center since Aaron Rowand left town to go to the Giants. In that time Shane has blossomed from just a pesky speed guy with a little pop into an excellent offensive player who can do many things. He was the best player on the diamond last year for the Phillies for most of the year. He is a triple double threat in that he can hit doubles, triples, and home runs and he still is an excellent base runner when not injured. In the field is has won a couple of gold gloves and has an excellent arm in centerfield. If there is one drawback to his game he is a bit like Jimmy Rollins in that at times he will swing for the fences instead of using his assets better and just putting the ball in play. This is when fans can feel the Flyin’ Hawaiian can be the most frustrating.
Overall though he is a very good ballplayer and brings more positives than negatives to the team. He needs to remain healthy however. Each year near the end he has been a bit dinged up and his numbers have dropped off. Getting some rest now and then might help, especially since the Phillies have a few people capable of playing center now and then on the roster now. Victorino is in the last year of his contract but said he really wants to stay here in Philly. If this means he is willing to take a team friendly deal which allows us to keep Cole Hamels easier, I am all for it as would be most Phillie fans since Shane has been one of the better players of this golden run of baseball.
Hunter Pence came over at the trade deadline last season and proved he was a very good addition to the team. After costing a king’s ransom in Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Domingo Santana, and Josh Zeid, all he did was hit. Pence hit .324/.394/.560/.954 for the Phillies after the trade and .314/.370/.502/.871 overall. That was a very good year and if he can repeat it, the Phillies will take it and it may lessen the blow of losing so much excellent young talent to acquire him. Pence has been a very consistent player in his career averaging 25 home runs while hitting at a .280 clip for the most part. In the outfield he has a very good arm but his defense is a bit erratic. He can cover ground but often takes bad routes to balls and he has a tendency to fall down in the outfield now and then. Defense isn’t why they acquired him though and a lot of the offensive production may fall on his shoulders with Ryan Howard out for awhile. Regression is most likely from the numbers he put up last year but he should still be very productive overall for the Phillies while holding down rightfield.
Leftfield is wide open after Raul Ibanez held it down for the last three seasons. Ibanez started his Phillies career with lots of thunder and ended it with a whimper of an age caused fading of skills. The old is gone and now enters the younger.
John Mayberry Jr. gets the first crack at the job. The son of Big John has shown improvement every year since he has joined the Phillies organization and last year was no exception. Thought to be an afterthought in any plans for the team Mayberry turned in one of the best offensive performances in limited action. Playing all three outfield spots and backing up at first base Mayberry showed excellent power hitting at a .513 slugging percentage. He also showed above average defense and the Phillies are giving him a chance to prove to everyone it was not a fluke. Mayberry does not walk a lot so he may not ever be a Bonds like super stud in the outfield but he just might be able to put up Reggie Sanders numbers. This year will go a ways to proving his naysayers either right or wrong. Phillies fans and the team both hope he proves the faith in him is correct. Mayberry may also see some time at first base until Ryan Howard returns which means you may see others in the leftfield picture more often.
Most of the other players vying for at bats are left handed hitters. Laynce Nix was signed off the Washington Nationals. As I said in the first base part he is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde hitter. Decent power but his bat goes from one extreme to the other, .350 OBP two years ago .299 last year. Phillies hope he can put up the better OBP with the power he showed last season in Washington. If Charlie Manuel and Greg Gross can help him find the consistency to do it, he can be a great asset because he can play all three outfield positions and also first base. In the outfield his range is alright but nothing spectacular and his arm is average but the Phillies have had guys with a lot less range playing in the position the last few years in Ibanez and Burrell so I do not think they will mind Nix’s outfield coverage.
Juan Pierre has always been on the mind of Ed Wade from back when he was the Phillies GM. Now that Ed is back with the Phillies Ruben Amaro seems to have awarded him his life long dream. Pierre is not the same player he used to be, he is not the guy who will get 200 hits. He still has a lot of his speed but last year he got thrown out stealing at a very healthy clip. His defense has deteriorated so he is not very good in center anymore and is actually just passable in left and his noodle arm cannot handle rightfield. He never was a big take a walk guy so a lack of being able to consistently hit at a plus .290-.300 rate means he will not be an on base and able to cause havoc by stealing 60 bases like he used to and his lack of power hinders his worth at a corner outfield spot. The Phillies are hoping that he can be a high energy spark off of the bench and give them something they haven’t had in a few years, good speed off of the bench.
Scott Podsednik is in the same boat as Pierre. He is trying to be a left handed bat off the bench spark providing speed and energy. The Phillies signed him last year to an AAA contract with hopes they could bring him up after a bit but a bad foot injury destroyed his season and he never made it to Philly. This year he looks to be healthy and he will be trying to win a job. He is like Pierre in that speed is his game but he is a better outfielder defensively and actually has a little more power. He does not match Pierre’s raw speed but he seems to be a savvier base runner, getting caught less often. He is about the same as Pierre at getting on base over his career, around a .340 clip. Unlike Pierre, he can be put into rightfield without the team totally worrying about everyone taking extra bases on his arm, though it is not one that can play there on a regular basis.
The semi-forgotten man in all of this is former top prospect Dom Brown. The Phillies want Brown to spend a year at AAA after their mishandling of him at the Major League level the last two years. One of the bigger reasons is the Phillies want Brown to learn leftfield, a position he has had little experience playing as a professional. Brown was once the top prospect in all of baseball but his star has faded in the eyes of some.
For others however they still see a kid who can grow into a very good player. Gary Sheffield and Ron Gant both were sent back to AAA after playing in the bigs and both turned into very good players. I see no problem with Brown having the same rebound and success. The kid is that talented and despite the Phillies wishes that he see a full year at AAA I think Dom will be back in Philly before the full year is up, barring injury. Brown has worked this offseason with Gary Sheffield on his hitting and has come to camp hungry to win the leftfield job so he is not going quietly into the good night without a fight.
Rounding out the outfield picture is Ty Wigginton who can play both outfield corners and Michael Martinez. Wigginton will get most of his time in the infield but may see a few games in left or right if the Phillies want to try to get his bat into some extra games. He has little range in the field and his defense is sub par but his ability to play out there helps the team depth wise.
Martinez has good range and glove and can play all three outfield spots. His versatility is one of the biggest reasons the Phillies took him in the rule 5 last year. He is probably the number two guy in centerfield behind Mayberry on the depth chart.
Next we go down to the minor league levels and see the system’s options. Rich Thompson is a veteran in the minors and a guy who should have been given more of a shot long ago just for his speed and defense. Despite his age he is one of the better defensive outfielders in the entire Phillies system and he has not lost a step on the base paths having stolen 48 bases last season at AAA Lehigh. It is not a stretch to think for those who have seen him play that he could do the job Pierre and Podsednik have been brought in to do at a much cheaper rate yet the Reading native continues to toil in the minors.
Pete Orr is also in the mix here, just like he is for the infield spots. Orr is like Martinez in that he has good speed and decent range in the outfield despite not usually playing there and he can also play all three spots if he has too.
Cody Overbeck also factors in here at the outfield corners s if he is called up he may see sometime here spelling players from time to time, even though most of his time would be at first and possibly some time at third.
Derek Mitchell played at Reading last season as their starting centerfielder and the 24 year old turned in a steady and solid season showing some power with 19 home runs. He also stole 20 bases and played good defense. He should be at AAA this season and while he does not have much upside as a potential starting candidate scouts say he might be a pretty good 4th or 5th outfielder if he does make it to the big leagues.
Mike Spidale and Steve Susdorf are essentially very much a like. Both are guys who have hit in the minors, both play decent defense and can play more than one spot. Both also were at Reading last season and hit over .300 with OBPs of .375 or higher. Susdorf is younger and left handed with more power than the right handed Spidale but Spidale has more speed on the base paths. Both factor into the depth chart down at Lehigh Valley. Susdorf has a decent chance to make the team as a September call up if he can remain healthy and hit at AAA like he did in AA. Spidale has an outside chance to make it.
Tim Kennelly and Brent Clevlen are also players who spent time in Reading’s outfield. Neither player however is counted on as being able to help the Phillies at the big league level, although Clevelen does have Major League experience with the Tigers and Braves. He was once a very high prospect for Detroit.
Lower on the farm is Jiwan James, Tyson Gillies, and Leandro Castro. None of these players can help the team this season but within the next two or three they may be on the radar. Gillies is Major League ready defensively but his last two seasons since coming over in the Cliff Lee trade have been marred by injuries. He needs a full season of health and he needs to play at a high level and show the Phillies some reasons to factor him into the picture. He has the talent to do it, whether he puts it together or not we will see.
James is a young switch hitter with excellent tools. Depending on who you listen to he will be a Major League starter or he will be a really good back up outfielder. One thing he has a lot of is charisma and he does show some good poise for a younger player. His power has not shown up fully as of yet but the Phillies believe the 22 year old can develop into a 20-5-20 guy for them with good speed. The one hole in his game is patience at the plate as he hasn’t learned to take walks from the leadoff spot.
Leandro Castro is another 22 year old with lots of tools and potential. He has shown good power and speed in the minors and was having a decent season at Clearwater when he got injured. Like James patience at the plate is not his forte but he has some tools to develop into a good player. Word was he was going to be the extra player in the Pence deal but due to his injury he could not be moved so the Phillies had to throw in power hitting Domingo Santana to get the deal done. The Phillies hope that they kept the right prospect and Castro can turn into the player their scouts believe he can.
The whole status of the system may change a bit in the next few weeks because the Phillies have shown some interest in young 19 year old Cuban prospect Jorge Soler. Soler would immediately be the Phillies top prospect in their system if they do land him. He has lots of potential and his power has been likened to that of the Marlins’ Mike Stanton. If they manage to sign him he will probably start at low A ball and most likely can reach the Phillies by 2014-2015. By that time Roman Quinn and Larry Greene may also be coming up, giving the Phillies some more hope that their outfield has some hands capable of helping us continue this run of the best Phillies baseball in history.
Leftfield: John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, Dom Brown, Juan Pierre, Scott Podsednik, Ty Wigginton, Michael Martinez
Centerfield: Shane Victorino, John Mayberry Jr., Michael Martinez, Laynce Nix, Dom Brown, Juan Pierre, Scott Podsednik
Rightfield: Hunter Pence, John Mayberry Jr., Dom Brown, Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton, Shane Victorino
Multi-slot minor leaguers: Pete Orr, Rich Thompson, Derek Mitchell, Cody Overbeck, Steve Susdorf, Mike Spidale, Tyson Gillies
Be sure to check out the rest of this series:
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: First Base
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: Second Base
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: Third Base
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies – The Infield: Shortstop
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies: Catcher
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies: Pitching – The Rotation
Breaking Down the 2012 Phillies: Pitching – The Bullpen
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Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.