By Barry Jeffrey, Jr.:
The Phillies have solid starting players, from the on field eight through the rotation and the bullpen. No one really can question that, if everyone is healthy, but what about the bench and the depth below the major league levels. Any team that suffers injuries to key members of their starting line ups almost always has a regression in the talent it is putting on the field. It’s a natural selection type of thing. After all, if the player who is coming off the bench was as good as the player he is replacing, well he would be the starter in the first place. Last year the Phillies had several injuries, as has been mentioned, and it showed in some of the inconsistent play and numbers that the team put up. The injury bug hit several teams, the Red Sox, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Minnesota, and the Mets all had several injuries. This shows how good depth can help a team stay playing at a top level during the season.
Last year when Jimmy Rollins got hurt the first time, Juan Castro was forced into the starting lineup. Castro is an excellent glove man but his bat left a black hole in the lineup. Luckily for the Phillies they had some depth behind Castro in Wilson Valdez. Valdez played above his head and stabilized the infield filling in for Rollins, Polanco, and later Chase Utley. His play was enough that the Phillies actually released the struggling Castro and made Valdez the utility man on the bench. Going into this year Valdez is once again the utility infielder. Behind him the Phillies still have slick fielding no hit Brian Bocock and they added John Barfield, a former prospect of the Padres. They also acquired a wild card named Michael Martinez in the rule 5 draft and have Delwyn Young in the mix as well.
The bench last year had some good spots and some bad. Greg Dobbs and Castro were part of the bad, while Castro was released, Dobbs hung around. Even after being sent down to the minor leagues twice Dobbs still somehow managed to come back in September. Dobbs problems was not only hitting, his fielding also took a nose dive. This offseason the Phillies said goodbye to Dobbs and brought in a few players who can do the same things he can in Rob Quinlan and Jeff Larish. Quinlan is a right hander who had some success with the Angels, though none of it recently as he spent the majority of his time at AAA last year. Larish is a left hander who has had good minor league success but hasn’t translated it into the majors yet, though he is still under 30 years old and may surprise. Larish is my pick to be a diamond in the rough acquisition that helps the team. Both players are like Dobbs in that they can play first, third, and both outfield corner spots. Though I think Larish has a better glove at the positions than Dobbs does.
The good spots on the bench are all returning. Ben Francisco looks to have the inside track on being the 4th outfielder again, unless he is starting in right field. Francisco has a decent bat and is an adequate outfielder who is able to play all 3 outfield positions. He hits left-handed pitching well and has a good power/speed combination. He will never make an All Star team but he is someone who can hold down a position and not kill your line up. Behind him in line for the outfield depth are Delwyn Young, John Mayberry Jr., Brandon Moss, Jeff Larish, Rob Quinlan, Rich Thompson, Mike Miller, Tag Bozied, and Michael Martinez.
Mayberry can play all three outfield positions and can also play firstbase. If he could learn how to hit a major league curveball he would be a force to be reckoned with because he has really good power when he connects. He also is an above average runner on the bases and in the field. Like Francisco he is more a free swinger than a wait and walk hitter. He is out of options so he will get a long look this spring and hopefully he can put it all together or he will probably be elsewhere. One factor in his favor is, he has shown improvement every year but many doubt it has been enough to boost his career.
Ross Gload is the left-handed bat off the bench. He put in a pretty good season as the go to pinch hitter after Dobbs failed in the role. He has a good glove at first base but didn’t see much time there while Howard was healthy. His ability to play left and right fields also gave the Phillies some extra flexibility on their bench. Gload will once again be the first lefthander off the bench this year.
Mike Sweeney is gone, but in his place the Phillies have brought in the more versatile Delwyn Young. Young, a former Dodger prospect, spent the last few years across the state with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was their starting secondbaseman in 2009 and spent last year on their bench. Young can play both outfield corner positions, secondbase, and thirdbase. He is a switch hitter and has some experience pinch hitting, having 3 pinch homers and hitting .271 in that role.
Brian Schneider is the backup catcher. He is a left-handed hitting compliment to Carlos Ruiz. Like Chooch, Schneider does show some good patience at the plate and can draw a walk and does not strike out a lot. He does not make contact as well as Ruiz though and his defense is not as good. He can play firstbase if needed so he does add extra versatility off of the bench. Behind him is AAA All Star Eric Kratz, who came over from the Pirates and is a local boy who gets a chance to possibly play for his favorite team and holdover Dane Sardinha. After them it gets a bit thinner as Sebastian Valle and Cameron Rupp are nowhere close to the majors. Tuffy Gosewhich and Joel Naughton would probably be next on the depth chart.
Pitching depth is more hit or miss, while the Phillies do have strong starter prospects most of those are down at Lakewood or Clearwater. The closest starters are Vance Worley and probably Drew Naylor. I already talked about Worley in the rotation and bullpen write ups and he is probably right behind Kyle Kendrick on the depth chart. Naylor isn’t much of a prospect anymore as he has seemed to hit the wall at AA. Other than him the Phillies have journeyman Nate Bump, which isn’t much when compared to the five pitchers they will be running out there for their rotation.
Relief options however the Phillies have a plethora of arms all yearning to make the jump. I will discuss the three that have been talked about as most likely having the best chances of pitching with the team this year.
When discussing the bullpen Scott Mathieson is a name that often comes to mind. A survivor of three arm surgeries Mathieson has been converted from a starter to a reliever. At AAA he put up very good numbers while acting as the closer for the Iron Pigs. He has a well above average speed fastball, but with little movement it and his lack of real secondary pitches are what are holding him back. He was supposed to be working with Bruce Sutter on a split finger fastball and he was also working with Ryan Madson to try and refine his changeup. If he can harness either of those pitches he might force his way into the picture. Like Mayberry, he is out of options so time may be running out for him.
Justin De Fratus is another pitcher whose name is making its rounds in the mouths and typewriters of many. Another converted starter, many people are saying he will definitely be in Philly sometime this season. He has a major league caliber fast ball and his slider and changeup are improving works in progress. He put up very good numbers at high A and AA with very good control. He also doesn’t give up a lot of home runs.
Dan Meyer is a lefthander the Phillies brought in as a free agent from the Florida Marlins. Last year injury and inconsistency saw him sent down to AAA from the big leagues after 13 games. The previous year he was the best Marlins left handed reliever. With questions about Romero and Bastardo having some shoulder soreness and it not being known if he can do the job full time, Meyer just might sneak into the Phillies picture.
After these three are Michael Schwimer, Michael Stutes, Mike Zagurski, Juan Perez, and Ryan Feierabend as pitchers who may see time if someone falters or if they have an outstanding spring. Drew Carpenter was another name but the Phillies just designated him for assignment so it is not know if he will even be on the team.
While you will be hard pressed to find any Hall of Famers or even All Stars from the group above you can say that the Phillies do have some depth. At least it is a site better than last year where older retreads like Paul Hoover, Cody Ransom, and Andy Tracy were supplying the depth. One only needs to look at the team Lehigh Valley put on the field to know just how bad it really was. Kudos to Ruben Amaro for going out and trying to improve both the Iron Pigs and the organizational depth as much as he could with all of these moves.
Down below is what I view the Phillies depth chart to be. I doubt the Phillies view their depth the same but I wanted something so people can look on it and see where the depth stands at the present time.
1st base 2nd base Shortstop 3rd base Catcher
Ryan Howard Chase Utley Jimmy Rollins Placido Polanco Carlos Ruiz
Ross Gload Wilson Valdez Wilson Valdez Wilson Valdez Brian Schneider
Chase Utley Placido Polanco Brian Bocock Delwyn Young Eric Kratz
Placido Polanco Delwyn Young Placido Polanco Robb Quinlan Dane Sardinha
John Mayberry Josh Barfield Carlos Rivero Jeff Larish Tuffy Gosewisch
Rob Quinlan Pete Orr Freddy Galvis Pete Orr Joel Naughton
Jeff Larish Brian Bocock Cody Overbeck Brandon Moss Harold Garcia Matt Rizzotti Brian Schneider Raul Ibanez Leftfield Centerfield Rightfield
Raul Ibanez Shane Victorino Dominic Brown
Ben Francisco Domonic Brown Ben Francisco
Delwyn Young Ben Francisco Delwyn Young
Ross Gload Michael Martinez Ross Gload
Brandon Moss Pete Orr Brandon Moss
Jeff Larish Cory Sullivan Jeff Larish
Rob Quinlan Rich Thompson Rob Quinlan
Pete Orr Mike Miller Pete Orr
Tagg Bozied Roy Oswalt Starters Bullpen
Roy Halladay Brad Lidge
Cliff Lee Ryan Madson
Roy Oswalt Jose Contreras
Cole Hamels J. C. Romero
Joe Blanton Danys Baez
Kyle Kendrick Kyle Kendrick
Vance Worley Antonio Bastardo
Antonio Bastardo Dan Meyer
Call Pedro Martinez Scott Mathieson
Trade for someone Justin De Fratus
Drew Naylor Michael Schwimer
Nate Bump Michael Stutes
J.C. Ramirez Jason Grilli
Brian Bass Mike Zagurski
B.J. Rosenberg (if healthy)
Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.
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