Even though they’re coming off their worst season since 2002, the Phillies probably don’t have any interesting battles going on in spring training this year barring injury. The catchers, infield and starting rotation are set in stone, and it’s probably safe to say that about half the bullpen too. That leaves some spots on the bench, but even still there probably won’t be any surprises. Ben Revere will certainly be in center, and some combination of Delmon Young, John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Domonic Brown or Darin Ruf.
By my count, there are 26 players in big league camp that still have prospect eligibility going by Baseball America’s standards; 17 are on the 40 man roster, and nine are non-roster invitees. Some of them are relievers who fans are already very familiar with but take a while to accumulate 50 innings to lose eligibility, and some are players like Steven Lerud who will probably never have 130 ML at-bats. Here are the notable players among the 26 that will be competing for jobs or doing so in the near future.
Phillippe Aumont (40) Stuff-wise, Aumont should be one of the frontrunners for one of the remaining middle relief spots. As always with him, it’s going to come down to command. His fastball and breaking ball move enough that he just has to get pitches close to the strike zone to induce swings and misses, but his 13.9% walk rate with the Phillies last year was well above the league average of 9.1%. It’s difficult to trust relievers that miss the strike zone that much. He’ll soon depart camp to join Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, a big stage he made quite an impression on four years ago.
Tyler Cloyd (40) Unless a starter gets hurt, Cloyd will either head north with the team as the long reliever or with Lehigh Valley to continue starting. His 4.91 ERA in 33 innings with the Phillies last year was unimpressive, but that was partly fueled by an absurdly high 17% HR/FB rate, something that will certainly come down as he pitches more innings. That’s not to say his stuff is good or he could ever be more than a #5 starter, but there were some positive indicators last season.
Justin De Fratus (40) The 2012 season was almost entirely lost for De Fratus, but with a good spring he could break camp with the Phillies. In the minors, he always did a good job throwing strikes, and that reliability could have the team choose him over Aumont even if his stuff isn’t as good. B.J. Rosenberg has more big league experience, but I would bet on De Fratus beating him out.
Ethan Martin (40) Martin will probably head across the complex to minor league camp not soon after it begins, but the fact that he’s even on a 40 man roster and in big league camp is impressive after some of the seasons he had in the Dodgers organization. He’ll start the year in AAA, but unless the Phillies are hammered by injuries, there’s no reason to expect him to start a game in the majors this year. If he does make it to Citizens Bank Park in 2013, it’ll be because they moved him to the bullpen.
Jonathan Pettibone (40) Like Martin, Pettibone will have a short stay in ML camp, but he will be higher than Martin on the depth chart if a new starter is ever needed. Pettibone already has quite a bit of AAA experience, and his polished, strike throwing style won’t make a promotion a difficult transition. Right now, I’d say he’s the #7 starter in the organization (behind Cloyd), but that could always change if they decide they really like Aaron Cook or Rodrigo Lopez, but that would be silly.
J.C. Ramirez (NRI) While Aumont and Tyson Gillies are attempting to salvage some value from the Cliff Lee trade, Ramirez has mostly pitched himself into irrelevancy. He was designated for assignment during the off-season but remains with the organization after going unclaimed. His 40 innings with Lehigh Valley weren’t horrible, but becoming a regular in the majors is still a long shot.
B.J. Rosenberg (40) There isn’t much to say about Rosenberg. I was actually writing about him and Michael Schwimer at the time of the trade, so that saves me a little work. Rosenberg’s fastball is good enough to put up a nice strikeout rate, but he’s probably not going to develop a second pitch good enough to pitch in the majors consistently. A good spring could still place him in the Phillies’ bullpen to start the year though.
Kyle Simon (NRI) Simon likely doesn’t have a chance to make the Phillies out of spring training, but this time will allow the team to gauge how close he is to being ready for the majors. His sinker is good enough to make him one of the better ground ball specialists in the league, and he collects his fair share of strikeouts too. He should pitch in the majors at some point this year.
Jake Diekman, Jeremy Horst and Joe Savery (40) Phillies fans have already seen plenty of this trio, and Diekman and Horst are very close to the 50 inning plateau to lose prospect status. Assuming the team wants to have a second lefty in the bullpen in addition to Antonio Bastardo, I would say Horst is the frontrunner after a very good 2012 season where he limited lefties to a .441 OPS. He was able to get righties out too, something that distinguishes him from Diekman.
Adam Morgan (NRI) Morgan has flown through the system since being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft. Like Martin, he’ll probably only make his ML debut this year if a lot goes wrong, but he’s knocking on the door. This time two years ago, he was facing batters from South Alabama and Southeastern Louisiana, and now he’s a quality arm that could help the Phillies very soon.
Tommy Joseph (NRI) Joseph will be off to minor league camp when it opens, but for now he can get valuable experience catching the ML pitching staff. An ML debut this year seems very unlikely; he’s not particularly close to being ready, and there are probably four catchers ahead of him on the depth chart anyway.
Sebastian Valle (40) Joseph is a better prospect, but this will be Valle’s second big league camp. At this point, it seems like he is what he is at the plate and will always swing far too aggressively. He can still add value with his defense, so like Joseph, getting this time to get familiar with the big league pitchers is good for his development. He should make his ML debut sometime this year.
Cody Asche (NRI) If Asche can come close to replicating his breakout 2012 campaign, he could finish this year as the Phillies’ starting third baseman. Not only did he make a seamless transition from high-A to AA last year, he actually performed better with more power and a better walk rate. His ceiling is only that of an average everyday player, but with the state of the hot corner since the team traded Scott Rolen 11 years ago, that would be a very welcome addition.
Cesar Hernandez (40) He only has 579 plate appearances above high-A, but this is actually his third time in big league camp and last year of options. This leaves them little time to evaluate if he’s an option for the organization moving forward if Chase Utley is no longer a Phillie after this year. They need power though, and that’s certainly one area where he can never match even present-day Utley.
Zach Collier (40) Collier will be in big league camp by virtue of being on the 40 man roster, and that should provide good experience for the 2008 first round pick. He’s still not very close to the majors, so his stay won’t last long. Players who have never played over high-A aren’t participants in ML spring training very often, but he’s one of them.
Tyson Gillies (40) If the Phillies want a true center fielder on the roster besides Revere, Gillies has a non-zero chance of making the club, but it’s not higher than that. He only has 311 plate appearances in AA, so the Phillies may just stick it out with Mayberry as the CF backup while Gillies gets more experience. That’s if he’s able to stay on the field. If he does, he will play in Philadelphia at some point in 2013.
Ender Inciarte (40) If the Phillies really want a true center fielder on the roster besides Revere and want Gillies to get more experience, they could try to keep Inciarte around for the season. The rule 5 pick wouldn’t hit, but he sure can run and catch. I expect him to be returned to Arizona, but as I always say with rule 5 picks now, if Michael Martinez can stick, anyone can.
Darin Ruf (40) Ruf was the breakout star of 2012 in the organization, and he should be given every chance to make the club out of spring training despite the presence of the redundant Delmon Young. His defense won’t be good and may not have a ton of upside, but Young will do nothing but take away plate appearances from Brown and Ruf’s development. Because of Young’s injury, it would be a surprise if Ruf wasn’t on the Phillies roster on Opening Day.
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