Opinion

Opinion: Infield Depth Is Key In Clearwater

Add Miguel Cairo to your list of potential fill ins. He joins Marcus Giles and Pablo Ozuna on the short list of infielders who could start at second base to begin the 2009 season. Though Chase Utley is fielding ground balls, he isn’t quite ready to step in the everyday role again. The outlook is better than imagined, of course, but to err on the side of caution, a mid- to late-April return seems evident.

Last season the Phillies were struck with a terrible fate when Jimmy Rollins injured himself in game No. 8 against the Mets. Though he didn’t officially take to the disabled list until weeks later, he couldn’t start at shortstop, leaving Eric Bruntlett to man the always-difficult position of infield defense leader. While Bruntlett did a yeoman’s job, he also was Eric Bruntlett, a career low-.200s hitter with moderate defensive skills despite his all-out style of play. Behind Bruntlett? No one. Maybe a hackneyed conversion of Greg Dobbs to shortstop. But even that seemed implausible.

This time the Phillies aren’t taking chances. With Utley most likely missing a week or two to start the 2009 campaign, the front office has wrangled up some seasoned gloves with a small dose of hitting prowess. Though Giles, Ozuna and Cairo aren’t exactly feared with the bat, they could step in well enough and provide a key hit or two. Of the three, Giles has the best offensive skill, though being out of the game for some time will surely hamper his ability to strike the ball like in the past. Still, if anyone could provide suitable production in place of Utley, it’s Giles.

There is the case of Jason Donald, touted prospect who was once figured to gain the second base spot once Utley went under the knife. Now it’s not so obvious; in fact, it seems more possible the Phillies want to keep Donald hidden from the big stage. Could Donald win a 25-man roster spot? Absolutely. Will he earn a lot of time in April? Probably not; in fact, consider him more of a Brad Harman addition (who was brought up when Rollins went down). He’ll get a few at bats, maybe a couple innings at second base. No more, no less. Give the kid a small showcase so the other teams’ scouts can jot down some notes; otherwise, let the experienced regulars run for the roses.

It’s refreshing to see this type of competition going into camp. And it’s refreshing to see that the Phillies have stockpiled its corps. With Utley on the shelf (and Pedro Feliz not 100 percent), there’s reason to feel relieved that there are experienced, ready-made infield fill ins to start the season. If there’s anything you can’t have enough of, it’s depth, and the Phillies have it in spades so far.

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