For the first time in several years, Phillies fans can say that their team is entering spring training with a clear-cut plan. The beginning of the end started in 2012, when both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley started the year on the disabled list, and from that point on, Ruben Amaro Jr. – whether it came from him or the front office – added uninspiring filler to the team, acting as bandages to mask the real problem they had, which was Father Time. Father Time always wins.
This season, not a single player is left from the 2008 team, and it’s the youngest the Phils have been in recent memory. Each position will be filled with competition – some players will crack, and others will rise to the occasion. And among those positions, catcher ranks as the potentially most competitive.
Cameron Rupp, 28, will be the elder statesman among the catchers heading into spring training. Rupp established himself last season as a capable starting catcher who can hit for adequate power and anchor a young pitching staff. A hot start to 2016 caught the eye of many as his final numbers landed him a slash line of .252/.303/.447 with 16 home runs and 54 RBI. Rupp will be the opening day starting catcher in 2017, but he doesn’t have to look too far over his shoulder for competition.
With the Phillies moving on from Carlos Ruiz and opting to pass on veteran A.J. Ellis, there’s a void at the backup position, which will be filled most likely by Andrew Knapp. Knapp, 25, made noise in the Phils’ system after his promotion to double-A in 2015. For Reading, the 25-year old posted a .360/.419/.631 slash line while hitting 11 homers and knocking in 56. The Phillies rewarded Knapp with the Paul Owens Award in 2015, which honors the best position player in their minor league system. Knapp built upon his honor by having a solid season for Lehigh Valley in 2016, hitting .266/.330/.390 in 107 games as the full-time starter.
Jorge Alfaro, 23, had a September cup of coffee, which lasted all of six games (he hit .125). Alfaro’s success came in double-A Reading, where he hit .285/.325/.458 with 15 home runs and 67 RBI in 97 games. The 23-year old is the total package when it comes to hitting ability and defensive potential. With Alfaro’s intimidating 6-foot, 2-inch, 225-pound stature, collisions at the plate won’t be in the best interest of runners. Alfaro is poised to take over as the starting catcher at some point. Question is, can he challenge Knapp as the backup?
Absolutely he challenge for a roster spot, but would the Phillies be content if Alfaro wasn’t a full-time starter at the major league level? Probably not, so it’s more likely Alfaro is the starting catcher for Lehigh Valley.
Knapp will have to stave off a couple of non-roster invitees to secure a backup role. The Phils extended invitations to catchers Bryan Holaday, 29, and Logan Moore, 26. Holaday, much more experienced of the two, has spent time in Detroit, Boston and Texas with a career .245 average in five seasons. He does have postseason experience, making one appearance for Detroit in the 2014 ALDS. Moore is a former ninth-round selection of the Phils in 2011 and has spent his entire career in their system. Moore played for both Reading and Lehigh Valley in 2016, hitting a combined .220. Moore’s career minor league average is .222 in six seasons.
At this moment, it’s Knapp’s job to lose.
When do we see Alfaro? If teams around the league view Rupp as a valuable starting catcher, able to handle a rotation, he will be expendable in July. Alfaro will have three-to-four months of fine tuning before Phillies fans see him again, hopefully for good.