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PN 2009 Season Preview: Injury or Bust-Through For Werth

Of the many moments that defined the once-in-a-lifetime 2008 season, the most stupendous individual moment was likely the night Jayson Werth lit up the cloudy sky with three home runs. Like a youngster, Werth trotted around the bases with the wind tearing away from his back, a confidence growing that would balloon throughout the season. It capped in the World Series, game four, when he slammed a ball into the left field seats, exclaiming the Phils victory with a raised arm and single finger.

Yes, he broke through the glass ceiling and turned into a profitable player in 2008. But Jayson Werth remains a huge, huge risk.

The good numbers are good. In 482 plate appearances in 2008 Werth homered 24 times, drove in 67 runners and stole 20 bases. But the bad numbers stick out. In those same 482 appearances Werth struck out 119 times. That’s almost Howardesque. But that’s not the worst number — no, it’s the 482 that hurts the most.

Werth missed time between May 23 and June 6. He sat at times in June, partly in a platoon, partly still hurt. Go back to 2007, when he missed most of late June and the entirety of July. Before those seasons, Werth was often injured; in fact, injuries seemed to conclude his career until he came back with the Phillies. The bottom line: Nobody can be sure Werth will make it a whole year as a healthy commodity.

And what if Werth can’t make it? Can Geoff Jenkins pick up the slack on a dime? Is John Mayberry Jr. the solution? There’s a difference between being a conscious everyday player and having to step in immediately at the major league level. Moreover, there is small concern that Werth now remains the most important bat in the Phillies lineup, now that Pat Burrell is in Tampa Bay. Old-boy supporters of the left-right balance argue the Phils need a greater right-handed presence in the lineup. While this argument may not be fully fleshed, there is something to be said about getting production from both sides.

Of course, we all received a large helping of sighs as Werth struggled to find his form early in camp, staying out of lineups during the first two weeks. Now Werth is fully entrenched, and is finishing his Grapefruit League stint with impressive numbers (56 AB, .304 AVG, 5 HR, 11 RBI). The goal, of course, is to get him through an entire season without injury. If that happens, you could … could … be looking at a 30-home run player, a run producer with speed and defense to boot.

If the injury bug hits, though, there might not be another step up for Werth.

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