If not for Odubel Herrera, the Phillies outfield offense may be the worst collection of outfielders ever assembled. Together, Peter Bourjos, Tyler Goeddel, David Lough, Emmanuel Burriss and the since-optioned Cedric Hunter are 38 for 224, good for a .169 average with just 11 walks but 51 strikeouts.
And if we add Darin Ruf and his .167 average, four walks and 17 strikeouts, we’re only compounding the issue. The point is the Phillies outfield isn’t good, and soon it needs a change.
There’s been talk recently of replacing Ruf with someone like Tommy Joseph, the 24-year-old catcher-turned-first-baseman who was acquired in the 2012 Hunter Pence trade. Joseph is hitting well in Lehigh Valley (.386/.409/.687, 7 2B, 6 HR, 17 RBI in 88 PA), but Joseph also has barely accumulated 400 plate appearances since 2014. There’s higher risk putting Joseph in the majors at this point, though it’s becoming more obvious that if he continues to hit well, he’ll force the call.
But back up. “Higher risk” at this point is only a relative high risk, in that it’s a high risk to bring up any player with insufficient experience and an injury history while looking at a small sample size.
Now put this high risk in the context of the Phillies. Despite the 18-14 record, the Phils aren’t really a good team. They’re being carried by good pitching and a healthy dose of luck. Moreover, the talent on the 25-man roster isn’t very strong; either it’s still in development (Herrera, Maikel Franco, Vincent Velasquez, Aaron Nola), peaking at mediocre (Bourjos, Lough, Freddy Galvis, Jeremy Hellickson) or past its peak (Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz). Nobody yet has peaked as an elite or star player, though flashes of it are showing.
So with that context, calling up someone like Joseph doesn’t hurt the Phillies much at all, as long as it’s not at the expense of a developing talent. And let’s be serious, Ruf isn’t developing any more. He is what he is – someone with power against left-handed pitching but little else.
Moreover, most of us would’ve branded Joseph a sunk cost even before this season. Though this seems foolhardy (Joseph is only 24), there was evidence: the numerous injuries (concussions); the move from catcher to first base, which limits his potential exponentially because now he has to be a valuable offensive player; and the rise of other prospects (Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Alfaro, Andrew Knapp) making Joseph irrelevant in the eyes of most fans.
Plus the Pence trade – the first white flag raised by Ruben Amaro Jr. after the Phillies golden age ended – happened nearly four years ago. That seems like a lifetime to be invested in Joseph, who at the time was apparently a top prospect. You can forgive us for losing interest.
So with that added context, it’s perfectly fine for the Phils to call up Joseph today, or as soon as possible, to replace Ruf, who seems to have lived out his stay as a defining character of this transition period (I guarantee 20 years from now Ruf is the name we’ll use lovingly – like Steve Jeltz – to explain this bad era of baseball).
This is where we put up a stop sign. Lough (.262/.333/.381, 84 wRC+) has actually performed sufficiently enough to stay on the roster, especially as a fourth- or fifth-outfielder type. His defense is solid, he makes contact and carries a very solid 8.3% K rate.
Bourjos has played phenomenal defense, which has helped his young pitchers while giving the Phillies an advantage against most teams. Moreover, his 0.8 BsR (which measures baserunning ability) is second on the team to Herrera. He’s fast and can impact the game despite his mostly bad hitting.
Burriss? He’s been bad, yes, but his position flexibility is valuable. Sweeney has flexibility, too, but he hasn’t earned a spot yet (.232/.290/.384, 23 K, 7 BB in Lehigh Valley). He’ll get his chance soon enough.
Same goes for Williams and Quinn. The former is now beginning to tear up the International League but still carries a .291 OBP with 22 strikeouts and 4 walks. Williams needs a little more time, getting regular playing time, before coming north.
The latter, in Reading, is putting together a solid campaign (.261/.336/.374, 8 XBH, 13 SB, 3 CS) and should see Lehigh Valley before the year is out. Maybe he comes to Philly in September, but since Quinn only accrued 365 plate appearances between the minors and winter ball in 2015, maybe he’s given the full year to stay healthy and consistent.
Someone like Cameron Perkins (age 25, .310/.333/.451 with 6 XBH in 75 PA for Lehigh Valley) could also come north before the top prospects, as he profiles more as a fourth outfielder type who can stand in if Lough or Goeddel went down with an injury.
We’ll see prospects soon enough, but maybe not on June 1, unless we’re talking about Joseph. For now, that’s okay.