Potentially without two likely opening-day outfielders, the Phillies have to pivot. They’re testing outfielders David Lough and Cedric Hunter as potential 25-man roster candidates, and utility specialist Darnell Sweeney will certainly get a long look this spring. In the meantime, Tyler Goeddel is getting an even deeper assessment, as the Rule 5 choice might have to step in right away as a starter
This isn’t a new phenomenon in Philadelphia. Odubel Herrera was the opening day centerfielder for the Phillies last season, starting 20 consecutive games after a three-game bench assignment in April. After an auspicious start – thanks partially to Herrera’s inexperience playing at a high professional level – “El Torito” grew comfortable in the majors, soon becoming the Phils’ most prolific offensive player (with good defensive chops) in 2015.
The Phillies may have to ask Goeddel to follow in Herrera’s footsteps. Currently Herrera can be penciled in as the opening day centerfielder once again, and it’s likely Peter Bourjos mans one of the corner spots. There’s a possibility Asche’s completely ready for opening day, and performs well enough in advance to secure him more early playing time, but chances right now favor Goeddel taking a corner outfield spot. Last year he was in double-A Montgomery, Ala. This year the snug centerfield of Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, awaits.
So who is Tyler Goeddel? He’s a 6’4″, 186-pound 23-year-old from Hillsborough, Calif. He was the Tampa Bay Rays’ first-round draft choice of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, and he fared well enough with single-A Bowling Green and Charlotte. In 2014 with Charlotte, Goeddel hit .269/.349/.408 with 6 HR, 61 RBI and 20 SB. He struck out 98 times and walked 46 times. But most of the time he was playing third base.
In February 2015 John Sickels of Minor League Ball rated Goeddel as a non-top prospect. MLBPipeline ranked him 23rd in the Rays system – his arm was considered his best tool, with speed and hit just behind. And Beyond the Box Score had him at 32. In a relatively deep Rays system Goeddel was considered nonessential, potentially out of position and maybe a major league regular, but maybe not.
In 2015 with Montgomery, Goeddel turned in a similar offensive season as 2014 – .279/.350/.433, 12 HR, 72 RBI, 28 SB, 98 K, 48 BB. But the big change came with his position, as the Rays moved him to the outfield (he couldn’t play third base with a high skill level). Here he could settle in by utilizing his strong arm and good speed, allowing him to work harder on his offensive game. It seemed to work – replicating steady high-A numbers in double-A is a good sign.
But Goeddel, with 3.5 seasons in the minors, had to either be protected by the Rays (40-man roster placement) or become eligible for the Rule 5 draft. The Rays deep system put Goeddel at risk. The Phillies nabbed him first overall in the Rule 5, and here we are.
While the jump from double-A to the majors is pretty wide, it’s not rare by any stretch. Goeddel proved a steady bat in Montgomery – while adapting to all three outfield positions – leading experts to believe he won’t be too dismayed with any struggles in 2016. Plus the Phillies think his tools are strong enough and will develop further in the majors.
“Not only does he play a solid defense. He can run,” said Pete Mackanin in a Matt Gelb article for the Philadelphia Daily News. “He looks like a heady ballplayer and I like his swing path. I like the way he approaches. He seems to have good pitch recognition, especially when he gets behind in the count. He doesn’t really offer at pitches that are out of the strike zone, which is really nice to see, a young player having good plate discipline like that.”
This spring Goeddel has accrued 20 plate appearances across six games. He’s hitting .333/.400/.444 with two doubles, one walk and one strikeout. Goeddel profiles as a decent hitter with projectable power that could reach 20-HR per season at peak. He has good base-stealing speed and decent pitch recognition, though it’s likely he’ll strike out at least twice as much as he’ll walk early on. I actually see Goeddel as a near-mirror image of Herrera, the major differences being Goeddel has a little more power and Herrera has a little more contact ability. Both may hit their fair share of doubles. At his best, Goeddel could be a decent No. 2 hitter, more likely a solid No. 7 bat.
While it’s unfortunate the Phils won’t get to pair Goeddel (and Herrera) with Altherr for most of 2016, they can get a nice long look at yet another Rule 5 pick with a fair probability of offering some offensive and defensive value in 2016.