Until the beginning of the Winter Meetings (Dec. 7-10 in Nashville, Tenn.), I’ll be doing a deep dive on the Phillies with particular focus on their offseason plans. What may happen? What’s the future hold? Seriously, how excited should you be?
We’ll try to answer all the questions here.
Past – One can imagine Carlos Ruiz standing out at home plate, an empty Citizens Bank Park surrounding him, and the strains of Madonna’s “This Used to Be My Playground” playing through the PA system.
Yes, Chooch is now becoming part of Phillies catching lore, in there with “Dutch” and “Lieby,” Boone and Seminick. Whenever he finishes his Phillies career (likely after his contract ends this season) he’ll be remembered as a steadying force during an era of excellence. We’ll applaud him at a retirement ceremony, then probably add him to the Wall of Fame in six to eight years.
MLB Present – Cameron Rupp, 27; Carlos Ruiz, 37
It’s hard to imagine that Carlos Ruiz is older than, say, Adrian Beltre, but at 37 (in January), Chooch is one of the elder statesmen in the game. And he played more to his age level in 2015, hitting just .211 with a .290 on-base percentage and .285 slugging percentage. Those aren’t good numbers, well off his career averages. Ruiz also had just a .242 batting average of balls in play, well below his career average of nearly .290. Suffice it to say Ruiz is a candidate to bounce back in 2016, but probably not to his career averages.
And it was partially because of Ruiz’s poor play that Rupp took over the bulk of starting catcher duties in the second half of 2015. Rupp finished with a .233/.301/.374 triple slash, also not good but, to be fair, he has only amassed 377 major league plate appearances. Rupp’s nine home runs and .141 ISO mean he has a bit more pop. He’s also proven to be a decent receiver with a solid throwing arm, catching 20 base-stealers out of 53 (38 percent [league average 28 percent]).
If nothing changes going into opening day, expect Rupp to get slightly more starts at catcher than Ruiz. And the former could hit something like 10-15 home runs with a slugging percentage approaching .400. Ruiz hopefully can hit around .250 with a .320 on-base mark.
Does Rupp have a future as a starting catcher for a non-rebuilding club? Probably not. But he has proven to be a solid backup for most any team.
Now we’re talking. We’ve been salivating over the prospect of at least one, and maybe both, of Alfaro and Knapp in pinstripes in 2016. But it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple.
Alfaro, acquired in the Cole Hamels trade, was sidelined with an ankle injury for the latter part of the 2015 season. He’s now returning, getting his first licks in the Venezuelan Winter League this week. He has good raw power (35 home runs combined in 2013 and ‘14) and an elite throwing arm, but has terrible plate discipline (306 strikeouts to 70 walks in the last three years). He could develop into a long-term catcher of the future – or play some first base – but he still needs time in Lehigh Valley. He could see a September callup.
Knapp, meanwhile, had an outstanding offensive season for age 23. His line: .308/.385/.491 with 13 home runs and a decent 106 to 51 strikeout to walk ratio between Clearwater and Reading. The Phillies may look at him at first base (he played a little there in the Arizona Fall League) and the outfield, but his defensive tools need some work. Offensively he’s a pretty realized package. Imagine Knapp and Alfaro split some catching time in triple-A, with the former getting more chances in the outfield and at first.
Both could be called up in September, and both could be in the starting lineup in 2017. Or one could be traded. Anything can happen there.
A word on Joseph: He was the top catching prospect in the system a while ago. He moved to first base in 2015 because of multiple concussions, but is still listed as a catcher on the Lehigh Valley roster. Either way (and he’s a first baseman), he’ll get one more shot to make something of himself. It doesn’t look good, as he hit just .193/.220/.301 in 175 triple-A plate appearances in 2015.
Then there’s Lino, acquired in the 2012 Jim Thome trade to Baltimore. He fared well in Reading (.266/.333/.431 with solid defense) before being called up to Lehigh Valley last season. He struggled a bit more there, so expect a little more seasoning, potentially back in Reading.
Further Down the Line – Wilson Garcia, 22; Chace Numata, 23; Joel Fisher, 23; Deivi Grullon, 20; Jose Mayorga, 23; Austin Bossart, 22; Greg Brodzinski, 24; Jesus Posso, 21; Gregori Rivero, 19; Edgar Cabral, 20; Rodolfo Duran, 18; Rafael Marchan, 17
There’s a glut of young catchers deep in the system, mostly because there needs to be a glut of catchers deep in every system. The majority of this group will never be anything more than organizational filler, but lo, there is quality in there.
Of highest quality is Grullon, a 6’1”, 180-pound Dominican with a superb defensive skill-set at the position. Offense is a work in progress. He went .221/.273/.335 in 424 plate appearances in 2015 for Lakewood. He did sock eight home runs and 28 extra-base hits, so there’s room to grow that power. His combination of defense and raw power makes him the best of the bunch beyond Alfaro, Knapp and Lino. It’s possible Grullon starts 2016 in Clearwater, but the Phils may want to keep him with the BlueClaws for a month or so.
The Hawaiian Numata has been with the Phillies forever (since 2010) and has steadily climbed the ladder. In 2015 he started out in Lakewood, where he raked, but quickly moved up to Clearwater, where he held his own. He finished with a .263/.322/.324 line with 33 strikeouts and 20 walks. In all there’s nothing flashy about Numata. Chances are he’ll start 2015 in Clearwater before heading to Reading with a decent showing. Grullon could move behind him at the same time.
Garcia will likely be the Reading backup, while Fisher will probably sit behind Numata in Clearwater to start 2016. The Williamsport team lists a bunch of catchers, and among them Bossart (.333/.359/.420) is probably best, so he’ll likely get to play most of 2016 in Lakewood. Rivero could also move, but the Phils may want him to work on his bat. 2015 draft pick Cabral slugged .406 for the Gulf Coast League Phillies; he’s someone to watch a bit down the line. Finally, Marchan was a top international signing in 2015. At age 17 in 2016, he may head to the GCL Phils.
So as it stands, Alfaro will probably get considerable time behind the dish in Lehigh Valley. Knapp may join him there, but he could also play a bit more in Reading. Lino may head back to Reading because of the bottleneck. Behind them, Numata could use additional time in Clearwater, and Grullon should see more time in Lakewood. They’ll move up as the situation shakes out.
Present Need – The Phillies may want to add a veteran to the Lehigh Valley squad in case Rupp or Ruiz suffers an injury early in the season. Viable candidates include Carlos Corporan and Michael McKenry – that type of player. The signing may have to agree to play less time in triple-A, however, as potentially both Alfaro and Knapp could be competing with him. Still, it may not hurt (the Phils probably don’t want to call up Alfaro or Knapp too early in the season).
Future – There’s a decent chance that either Alfaro or Knapp suits up as the starting catcher on opening day 2017. The former has the defensive tools; the latter is a hitting machine. The Phillies have options on how to use both, so for now, there’s no considerable tension.
But don’t rule out a trade involving one of these guys, or possibly Lino, at some point during the 2016 season. An Alfaro or Knapp – as part of a package – could fetch the Phillies a proven everyday player. There is plenty of value here.
Next: Thursday I look at the middle infield.