Phillies: Looking ahead at Third Base in 2012 and beyond

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.

Tim Kennelly, AA- A couple years ago, Kennelly had a decent season at the plate.  He didn’t really have a defensive home, and still doesn’t, but players that can hit seem to find their way to the majors eventually, even if it’s just for a cup of coffee.  Since then, he really hasn’t hit, and he still can’t play defense.  He’s been bad in a bench role for Reading, and even though he’s still just 24 years old, his chances of ever making the majors appear slim right now.  His most common positions have been C, 3B and LF, but he didn’t have much success behind the plate.

Fidel Hernandez, high-A- Like Frandsen, I’ve already covered Hernandez in an entry like this.  Since I wrote about him last, Hernandez was demoted to Clearwater due to some other roster moves even though he was having a career season off the Reading bench.  Since going back to Clearwater, he’s been dreadful at the plate.  This is the 5th year in a row he’s appeared in a Threshers game even though his performance didn’t warrant him from moving down a level.  He is not an option at third base.

Jeremy Barnes, high-A- Barnes has been a decent hitter throughout his minor league career, but many expect their team’s third baseman to be more than just a decent hitter.  After a solid year at Lakewood in 2010, he started 2011 back in Lakewood and wasn’t good at all.  He was promoted to Clearwater after about a month and turned his season around, although it’s still not as good as his 2010.  His power and patience are down, and it’s possible that this experienced college hitter simply finally arrived at a level where he’s not the most experienced guy on the field.

Darin Ruf, high-A- I’m not sure why Ruf has two appearances at third base this season, but since he does, I feel obligated to mention him.  He’s one of several players in the organization who can be a decent minor league hitter, but his defense will limit him to first base.  Apparently this is a season of many firsts for Ruf, who has made his pro debut at 3B and pitched for the first time in who knows how long this season.

Travis Mattair, low-A- Many know Mattair’s story by now, but to quickly recap it, he was an early draft pick by the Phillies in 2007.  He’s a big player who can play defense, but he didn’t really hit in 2008 and 2009 with Lakewood.  In 2010, he left the organization to play basketball at Boise State but returned to baseball for 2011.  He started off the season in Clearwater hitting for the first time in his career.  Injuries slowed him down, and he was brought off the DL with Lakewood recently.  All of a sudden, he can’t hit again.  In the draft, they believed he had the talent to become the next starting third baseman, but it looks like he’ll never make it.

Geancarlo Mendez
, low-A- Mendez had a nice season with the GCL Phillies last year, hitting for some power and finishing with a .805 OPS as a 20 year old.  That caught the attention of some fans, but he did it mostly as a first baseman where that kind of production doesn’t cut it.  They’re giving him a shot at the hot corner this year, and although defensive statistics rarely shed any meaningful light on a player, but his fielding percentage is in danger of falling below .900, and if they thought it would be best for him to be playing first base as soon as the Gulf Coast League, it doesn’t paint a great picture of his defensive ability.

Alan Schoenberger, low-A- I wrote about Schoenberger for the shortstop entry, and nothing has changed.  If his bat can’t even play at shortstop, it certainly won’t at third base.

Carlos Perdomo, low-A- Perdomo is another player already covered, and he’s still not really hitting.  His OPS is .435 this month, and he’s still only getting occasional starts.

Matt Payton, low-A- Payton was covered last month.  He’s played in games for Clearwater and Williamsport, but he’s currently listed on the Lakewood roster without actually having played for them yet.  His last game action was on the 23rd for Williamsport.

Maikel Franco, short season- I don’t know much about him as a recent Latin signing without much U.S. experience.  He signed for a modest $100,000 bonus, and the Phillies wouldn’t assign an 18 year old to this level if they didn’t like him.  He wasn’t a good hitter at all with the GCL Phillies last year, so we’ll see how this season shapes up.

Harold Martinez, short season- Martinez was the team’s second pick in the second round, and this was considered to be a few rounds early by analysts.  The Phillies must’ve seen something that other teams didn’t because Martinez was a huge disappointment in his junior season at Miami.   He has the athleticism and ability to play defense at third, but will he hit enough?  The end of his college career indicates he has a lot of work to do.  He should have power, but switching to the new bats in college had a drastic effect on his power numbers.  Martinez is a bit of a project for the player development staff.

Carlos Valenzuela, rookie league- After three seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Valenzuela finally made it over to the states.  He’s hitting a lot of singles so far, but it’s much too small of a sample to know anything.  He’s played three positions in the infield equally, and he had 28 steals in 71 DSL games last year.

Trey Ford, rookie league- Ford is a 2011 draft pick out of a junior college.  He used to play shortstop, but he doesn’t have the defensive ability to play there.  However, he’s not expected to have the bat to play third base either.  He’s 20 years old, but with his junior college experience, he should be able to more than hold his own in the GCL. 

All of the 2011 draft picks expected to immediately play 3B have been covered.  There are always players that could move to third.  Some of the shortstops they drafted might not have the range to play short.  If they have a good arm, nice hands and quick reactions, third base could work for those players.  Of course, they’ll be expected to hit better, but this is years from now, and no one knows how any of those guys will pan out.

Out of the organization

Last time, I didn’t cover free agent options, and people wanted to see that, so I’ll touch on them here.  After the 2012 season, David Wright and Kevin Youkilis see their contracts end.  Of course, their teams hold club options for the 2013 season, and right now there’s no reason to believe they won’t be picked up.  Ryan Zimmerman’s contract runs through the 2013 season, or after 2012, the Phillies could always sign the aging, ever-popular Scott Rolen, right Phillies fans?

As for prospects, once again I looked for potentially blocked minor leaguers.  Anything could change in the next couple years, so who knows where these players will be when the Phillies think about replacing Polanco.  However, right now, it appears these players may need to change positions or be traded to reach the majors.  Once again, it’s important to point out that working out trades can be incredibly difficult, and I’m not saying the Phillies are good trade partners for these organizations.  It’s just to point out that these players exist.

Josh Bell, BAL/AAA- The Orioles acquired Bell at the 2009 trading deadine from the Dodgers for reliever George Sherrill.  In 2009, he was in the midst of a breakout year with the Dodgers and Orioles AA affiliates, nearly posting an OPS of .900.  He has a lot of power, and although he’s a switch hitter, he has a pretty distinct platoon difference, hitting much better from the left side.  In 2010 in AAA, he took a bit of a step back, but the Orioles gave him a shot in the majors anyway where he was a complete disaster.  In 159 at bats, he had an OPS of .525.  In 2011 back with AAA Norfolk, he’s taking a major step back with an OPS of .734.  He’s a big player and may not be a great defender, but he works hard and should be able to remain at third base.  Mark Reynolds is under contract with the Orioles through 2012 with a club option for 2013.

Juan Francisco, CIN/AAA- Francisco is an extremely flawed player, but if fans want power from third base, he can provide it.  From 2007 to 2009, he hit over 20 home runs in each season, covering four levels in the Reds’ organization.  What’s the downside?  He thinks he can hit almost every pitch.  His career high in walks is 23 while striking out just about once per game throughout his minor league career.  He’s a big player, and it’s extremely likely he won’t be able to play third base in the majors.  He’s had a cup of coffee with the Reds in each of the last three seasons, and they might want Scott Rolen injury insurance while he’s under contract for one more season.

Will Middlebrooks, BOS/AA- Middlebrooks was drafted out of high school in 2007, and he’s made steady progress since then.  He’s a well-rounded player with a good arm and the ability to play third base.  His batting average has improved each season, and so far it’s culminated with a .812 OPS in AA.  His power is developing, and he should set a career high in home runs this year.  His approach has gotten a bit more impatient since 2009, and that’s an area of concern.  Kevin Youkilis is now at 3B for Boston, but he’s an aging player, and the Sox could easily just hang onto Middlebrooks for a little more and make sure he’s ready to replace him.

Mike Olt, TEX/A+- Olt was just drafted 49th overall in 2010 by Texas, so there’s no reason to expect him to be playing anywhere else for a while.  He’s crushing high-A pitching so far this season with a .903 OPS, but some would say it’s expected that players from strong division 1 programs should do well at that level.  He has very good power and a nice approach, although he does strike out too much.  He’s a very good defender at third base, and it appears the Rangers have a future major leaguer on their hands.  However, Adrian Beltre is signed to a long term contract, so if he breaks in with Texas, it likely won’t be at 3B.

Those are just a few names, and it’s possible that those organizations hold onto those players and find an opening for them.  In two years, a lot can develop.  Right now, it looks like the Phillies are pretty barren at this position.  They made an effort to address the infield in the 2011 draft, so they’re hoping they can develop something out of the recent amateur crop.  If not, there may be free agent or trade opportunities to address the position when Polanco moves 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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