Phillies’ Bench Too Weak to Keep Ender Inciarte

The Phillies finalized their 25-man roster over the weekend, opting to use Humberto Quintero as backup backstop over Steven LeRud and going with Phillippe Aumont instead of Michael Stutes to round out the bullpen. The questionable decision was giving the final spot to Rule 5 selection Ender Inciarte, a 22-year-old prospect who hasn’t yet played above High-A. It’s not necessarily a bad decision but an interesting one given the current mechanics of the Phillies’ lineup and bench.

Inciarte looks like a decent baserunner and a solid defensive outfielder but the Phillies’ bench is quite weak and the team has a reduced need for the skill he provides.

He made the 25-man roster. Will he stay there?

The starting outfield has defensive maven Ben Revere covering the most ground, the defensively sound John Mayberry or the solid Laynce Nix — who has a career +6 UZR/150 — in one corner, and Domonic Brown in the other. Brown has looked more comfortable this spring and, while he won’t win any fielding awards, he could prove a decent gloveman with consistent playing time.

Outfield defense will take a hit when Delmon Young returns and presumably takes that NixBerry spot, but then John Jr. or even Nix would become available to defensively replace him in crucial late-game situations.

It seems unlikely that Charlie Manuel will replace Brown with Inciarte, at least early in the season when the goal is to give Brown every chance to nail down that starting role. It seems even less likely that he would choose Ender over Mayberry as a corner outfield replacement given the disparity in their offensive games should the game get extended.

When Young returns the Phillies will have to remove someone from the major-league roster. Mayberry is out of options, Inciarte can’t be sent down or else he is returned to the Diamondbacks, and Nix has a guaranteed major league salary and one of the only potent bats off the bench.

The questions I keep asking when trying to make sense of this decision are: When will Inciarte even play?, Is he worth potentially wasting a roster spot for the entire season in the hope that he blossoms into a worthwhile major-leaguer 2-3 years from now?, and Are there legitimate freely available alternatives, including in the Phils’ farm system, to retaining him?

The first thing that came to mind when wondering if the Phils would really keep Inciarte in that situation is that they kept Michael Martinez, another Rule 5 selection, for two years. The Phillies have done silly and questionable things in the past, and with the same GM and manager at the respective helms, it’s not as if there are new sheriffs in town to prevent another Mini-Mart fiasco from occurring. Ruben Amaro recently said he thought of Inciarte as the outfield version of Freddy Galvis, which is a very high compliment with respect to his fielding. It’s clear the Phillies really like this guy. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t stand to contribute anything with the bat this season, and he is lower on the depth charts for the area in which he would contribute.

His value to the team this year is in part determined by the value of that roster spot. And the value of that roster spot depends on the Phillies’ internal health and performance projections.

The Phillies’ offense has been spotty the last couple of seasons and the health of key contributors has been up in the air. Stashing Inciarte really only works if the team thinks that the core members of its lineup will stay healthy and remain productive. Otherwise, the team needs to be able to use its whole roster, and not just hope it can go a year with effectively a four-man bench before being able to option him down.

There are also freely available alternatives that stand to play more productively than Inciarte. The very players that grow on trees are the kinds that have mediocre bats but respective gloves. The Red Sox recently released Ryan Sweeney, he of the career +28 UZR and 94 wRC+. Casper Wells is also available and he has a career +15 UZR and 109 wRC+. Neither of those players is an all-star, but unless the Phillies believe Inciarte is a +10 fielder or a much better hitter than he has looked this spring, they represent better options.

The ZIPS projection system sees Wells as a +5 fielder with a .303 wOBA; Sweeney as a +4 fielder with a .302 wOBA; and Inciarte as a +3 fielder with a .281 wOBA. That is a material difference offensively for the same role at next to no additional cost. And sticking with the Phillies’ own farm system — is Inciarte really that much better than Jiwan James, Tyson Gillies or Zach Collier? Would he have made the team if he wasn’t a Rule 5 selection and just another farmhand? I would doubt it and he isn’t anywhere near a can’t-miss prospect to make it worthwhile for the Phils to potentially risk sacrificing a roster spot.

None of those other prospects made the Phillies’ opening day roster or was even strongly considered. Gillies is even a solid centerfielder, let alone a corner outfielder, and his bat profiles much better in the majors. Gillies is also already on the Phillies’ 40-man roster so it isn’t like they would have to go out of their way to bring him up. But the team felt it was better for Gillies, James, Collier et al to get consistent playing time in the minors, which gives this situation a contradictory feel. Inciarte isn’t ready for the majors, but the Phils like him long-term, yet are willing to punt a very important developmental year at this stage in his career.

It also seems wasteful to work out a trade with the DBacks just to be able to demote him. He represents depth at an area that is fairly deep already and there are a multitude of similar players the Phils could draft or bring in without surrendering anything at all. It was strange to select someone not yet nearly MLB ready in the Rule 5 draft for this reason.

Putting all of this together, it seems fairly strange to retain Ender Inciarte in the current circumstances. He is barely going to play, may get returned to the Diamondbacks when Delmon is activated, and offers no discernible advantage in cost or performance over Sweeney, Wells, Gillies or James. Playing him sporadically also stands to hurt his long-term development if the Phillies view him as an organizational cog moving forward.

When the most frightening bat on your bench is Kevin Frandsen, it becomes tough to justify retaining this type of player. Not all Rule 5 selections need to be retained, and while the Phils’ recent track record suggests they like to keep who they select, this is one fish they should seriously consider tossing back into the sea.



  1. hk

    April 1, 2013 at 7:24 am


    Would either Casper Wells or Ryan Sweeney project to be enough of an upgrade that it’s worth giving up Ender?

    • Eric Seidman

      April 1, 2013 at 7:30 am

      I think so — but I also don’t see where Ender fits in the short- or long-term. And I don’t consider it a big deal at all to give him up given that you have players equal to or better than him already in your system, including Gillies who is already on the 40-man and doesn’t need any service time toying or anything like that.

      I don’t see how playing once every 10 games, if that, helps Ender’s development if the Phils like him long-term, or how he’ll help in the short-term compared to others with the same defensive skillset and much better offensive profiles. It’s like a wasted year for him. And when Delmon Young returns it would seem odd to release Mayberry or Nix just to keep someone substantially worse offensively and not THAT much better in the field.

      I kind of don’t get why they took Inciarte in the first place, knowing he wasn’t major league ready and that they couldn’t send him down, but that’s another story I suppose.

  2. Mark

    April 1, 2013 at 7:58 am

    One of the reporters said they are trying to work out a trade with Arizona so they could then option Inciarte. Maybe they’re just holding on to him in hopes a deal gets done soon. I liked Jermaine Mitchell in spring and he’s only 2 years away from hitting .300 at AAA would have liked to see him as the fifth outfielder but Ender has some tools.

  3. CK

    April 1, 2013 at 7:59 am

    I agree with you but did you maybe think he is only on the roster until D Young comes back? They are going to try to work out a deal for him unless an injury to one of the other OF’s takes place. I can’t see him being on the roster the whole year.

    • Eric Seidman

      April 1, 2013 at 8:16 am

      Yep, which is why I mentioned that in the article. The only thing I’ve heard is that they may deal someone to AZ which would enable them to send him down, but that seems like an awful lot for a potential Chris Roberson redux.

      • Ian Riccaboni

        April 1, 2013 at 10:42 am

        From Roberson’s B-R Page:

        “Positions: Outfielder and Pinch Runner”

  4. George

    April 1, 2013 at 8:41 am

    I wouldn’t put a lot of faith in Gillies due to his extensive injury history. He needs to play consistently (and that could only be in the minors) if only to prove he can last an entire season.

    Things could also change in the near future, now that Wells and Sweeney are available. The Phils could have a deal in the works but had to finalize their roster at the same time those two were released, so Inciarte may be a ML stopgap until something else is worked out with either of them and Inciarte goes back to Arizona. It’s also possible they are working on a deal with Arizona so they can send Inciarte down, but details haven’t been ironed out yet. They’d probably have to keep Inciarte for the time being, in case Wells or Sweeney can’t be signed, so as not to lose him altogether and be forced to bring up another player who isn’t ready–potentiaqlly hurting that player’s development. While it’s definitely true that keeping Inciarte the entire year would hurt both he and the team, I believe the move isn’t all that mysterious and that worrying excessively about it is premature.

  5. Dave P

    April 1, 2013 at 10:52 am

    What it looks like to me is that the Phillies view this kid as a talent and don’t want to lose his upside. So the battle is really “now” vs. “future”. Does it make sense for the phillies to keep this kid on the bench for his upside a year or two down the line? I’m not sure about that.

  6. Keith

    April 1, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Inciarte is likely the backup CF right now even though Mayberry can also play it. But say the Phils end up offering him back. Besides the money, would the D-Backs be obligated to put Inciarte on the 40-man roster or something similar? That could be interesting to see. Who knows, maybe we get another “no compensation” trade.

  7. Bart Shart

    April 1, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I’m not too worried about Ender Inciarte making the team. If I had to bet, I would think that Nix gets nixed when Delman Young is ready to join the team. The Phils need a solid defensive outfielder when Young returns to playing and Incairte has the speed and glove to play all outfield positions.

  8. Lefty

    April 1, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Eric, I think you’re right, but I’ll play devils advocate just for fun.

    “The first thing that came to mind when wondering if the Phils would really keep Inciarte in that situation is that they kept Michael Martinez, another Rule 5 selection, for two years.”

    There is a big difference in the Martinez fiasco, and the possible upside in this one. Martinez was 28 when they drafted him, (now 30) and Inciarte is only 22. The extra 6 years still may not justify holding a roster spot now, but at least when he is ready in – say 2015, he’ll only be 24 with a longer career ahead.

    “It also seems wasteful to work out a trade with the DBacks just to be able to demote him. He represents depth at an area that is fairly deep already ”

    Maybe the trade piece would be one of those depth guys that the organization believes is not as good as Inciarte.

    – I think it comes down to this, either the brass was so enamored of him that they felt he was worth it, or they just weren’t yet sure who should be cut when the Delmonator arrives, so they just decided to let it play out further until he’s ready.

  9. Joe a

    April 1, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    I think if Nix and JMJ are playing well and are healthy, he’ll either go back to AZ or the Phils work out a trade. So far, the only decision they’ve made is to send Ruf down. And everyone agrees that Ruf needs to play everyday and work on his defense in AAA.

  10. Rick

    April 1, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Check out a Phillies preview on the upcoming 2013 season:

  11. Lefty

    April 1, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Revere, Rollins, Utley, Howard, Young, Brown, Mayberry, Kratz, Hamels!

    Simmons, Heyward, Upton, Freeman, Upton,Uggla,Johnson, Laird, Hudson
    Is it 7:10 yet?

    • Chuck A.

      April 1, 2013 at 4:26 pm

      I have a freaking meeting at 7 tonight! I guess that’s what DVR is for. And nobody better tell me what’s going on either….you know, by getting updates on their phones.

      As for the lineup….LOVE Revere leading off. I really think that he has the ability to be a legitimate table-setter.

  12. Dr. Dave

    April 1, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    The deal with Arizona is the key. I remember an earlier Rule 5 was made so I guy named Victorino was sent to AAA where he became the MVP of the league , was called up in September and the rest is history. Hope it happens again.

    If the deal is made, I see Inciarte going to AA.

    I like Mitchell also. Has all the tolls, just needs to bet to the big league club.

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