Jun 302011
 
Phillies 3B Placido Polanco

Placido Polanco can't play 3B forever

Last month, I looked at the Phillies’ future at shortstop. It basically concluded that re-signing Jimmy Rollins might be the team’s best option as long as the price isn’t awful. The system at that point was pretty barren, especially with ML ready talent. Freddy Galvis is in the midst of a potential breakout year, but it’s extremely unlikely he’d be ready to take over on Opening Day 2012, if ever. Since I wrote that, Rollins is hitting just .227 with a .293 OBP and .369 SLG, so keeping him at any price is looking less appealing than it did last month. The Phillies emphasized selecting infielders in the draft, but of course if anyone develops from this draft class, they won’t be ready in 2012.

A recent prolonged slump by another Phillies regular has prompted another look to the future, this time at third base. After finishing April with a .398 average and .972 OPS, it appeared Placido Polanco put an injury-riddled 2010 season behind him. Of course he wouldn’t hit nearly .400 for the entire season, so some regression was expected. In the following two months, Polanco has hit just .225 with a .555 OPS. Overall, his season line looks pretty similar to 2009 and 2010, but I think many people are expecting a more consistent performance, not one with such a disparity between the highs and lows.

Last season, Polanco battled an injury for much of the year after being hit by a pitch by Tim Hudson early in the campaign. He had surgery to correct the issue in the offseason, and then he suffered an unrelated elbow injury in spring training that caused him to miss some time. Recently, Charlie Manuel suggested that part of Polanco’s slump is due to some minor aches and pains, but this is reality for a lot of 35 year old players, and a risk that teams take when signing older free agents. Polanco will see another increase in salary to 6.25 million for the 2012 season, and then Polanco and the Phillies have a mutual option for the 2013 season at 5.5 million. Right now, it looks like the Phillies will decline that, but there are a lot of factors that go into option decisions, so a lot could change before then.

That situation makes this entry more difficult. With Rollins, his contract as of now is guaranteed to end at this year. That means the current minor leaguers are extremely likely to be here at the end of this season, and the free agent picture is pretty clear. In one year or even two years from now if the parties agree to pick up the option, nothing is clear. Minor leaguers can be traded, released or lose their prospect status. Options can be picked up, extensions can be signed. A player that is scheduled to be a free agent after 2012 or 2013 now still has plenty of time for a change in situation. That being said, I’ll take a look at the team’s future at third base the same way I did with shortstop: seeing what’s in the system at the position and looking for any potentially blocked prospects around the league.

In the organization

Once again, I’ll touch on every player in the organization that’s played third base. Many of these simply aren’t long term options, but I’ll acknowledge them anyway. It’s just for the purposes of seeing the existing depth in the organization at the position.

Wilson Valdez, MLB- Valdez has been a mainstay on the Phillies’ bench over the last two seasons. He was signed to a minor league contract prior to 2010, and he’s gotten more playing time than anyone anticipated due to injuries to Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco. He provides decent defense with a strong arm, but he really can’t hit at all and tends to ground into too many double plays. Teams can live with one player like this on the bench, but not two or three, and not as a long-term starter.

Carlos Ruiz, MLB- Obviously he will not be playing third base unless there are more 19 inning games.

Pete Orr, AAA- Like Valdez, Orr is an all-glove, no-hit utility infielder. He’s bounced around several organizations throughout his career, and that’ll probably continue once he leaves the Phillies organization. After signing a minor league contract in the offseason, he made the Opening Day roster, but he was optioned to AAA Lehigh Valley when Chase Utley returned. He has some nice speed and isn’t bad in the field, but he’ll never hit enough to be any more than a guy that occasionally plays off an ML bench.

Jeff Larish, AAA- Larish is another player the Phillies picked up on a minor league deal in the offseason. Larish had a bit of a breakout season at AA in 2007 albeit at 24 years old when he hit 28 home runs and posted an OPS just over .900. From 2008-2010, he accumulated 276 ML plate appearances with Detroit and Oakland, but he just hasn’t been able to hit enough to stick. He has very little experience at 3B, and it’s best for the team if he plays first or only hits as the DH.

Kevin Frandsen, AAA- Frandsen was mentioned in this entry for shortstops, so I won’t spend too much time rehashing his viability at third base. He’s still serving his PED suspension, but in a couple weeks he could return. Ultimately, his ceiling is still just a potential utility player like it was last month when I wrote about him.

Tagg Bozied, AAA- Many fans remember Kendrys Morales‘ serious knee injury while celebrating a home run, but Tagg Bozied actually did the same thing many years ago in the minors. Knee injuries contributed to his inability to reach the majors, but if he keeps hitting, he has a shot at a cup of coffee with someone. He has seven home runs in 33 games with Lehigh Valley, but like Larish, Bozied’s defense probably limits him to first base. It would be a feel good story for him to finally play in a major league game, but he’s certainly not any kind of long term option.

Cody Overbeck, AAA- Overbeck was just recently promoted to AAA after hitting well at AA Reading for two months. In his career, he’s shown a trend of struggling at a level at first and then taking awhile to make adjustments. With Reading, he hit 18 home runs in only 62 games, and it’s believed he could spend some time in the majors as a pinch hitter since he can hit fastballs. His defense will probably limit him to first base or maybe a corner outfield, but he doesn’t have much experience in the outfield.

Carlos Rivero, AA- Rivero has played in all but three games at 3B for the Reading Phillies this season.  This is his third year in the Eastern League but first with the Phillies organization after they picked him up from Cleveland in the offseason.  A June slump has soured what appeared to be a breakout year, and now his season stats don’t look as impressive with a .727 OPS.  In older scouting reports, it was believed that Rivero would develop power, but that hasn’t completely materialized.  He used to play shortstop, and he has the ability to play third defensively.

Paco Figueroa, AA- Figueroa has only played one game at 3B for Reading this year, and his size indicates that he’s more of a middle infield type anyway.  At 28 years old and in AA, it’s clear that he’s just around to give some players a day off at Reading.  Moving on.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out!  Scott also regularly updates the PSC Minor League Thread with player stats, game results, and more…

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