Philadelphia Phillies: Handicapping the Phillies' Left Field Battle
As much as Phillies fans will miss Raul Ibanez's humongous tobacco cheek, striking resemblance to guitarist Tom Morello, and tortoise-like speed, it's time we get used to the fact that the Phillies will have a new left fielder in 2012.
There are a handful of candidates to assume the vacancy in left field, and each of them will get a long look from Charlie Manuel (and all of us, since nearly every game is televised). While someone could certainly come out of nowhere to steal the job, it appears that there are five main competitors: Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednik.
Handicapping the battle for left field is a tricky situation depending on how you define "winning the job." For instance, is the "winner" the player who starts on opening day, or is it the player who gets the majority of at-bats over the course of the season? The situation is further complicated by the fact that John Mayberry Jr., in the absence of Ryan Howard, may find himself actually playing some first base early in the season.
For the sake of this article, and in order to account for platooning or games the player may play at other positions, I'll define the "winner" of the Phils left field battle this spring as the player who gets the most starts in left field in the month of April. With that in mind, here are the chances that each candidate wins the left field job, from least likely to most likely.
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Signed in the offseason by Rubén Amaro Jr., Podsednik actually had a decent chance of making the Phillies opening day roster before the team also signed Juan Pierre.
If Podsednik is healthy, he's one of the fastest and scariest base runners in all of baseball—he actually stole 70 bases in 2004. He doesn't really have any power to speak of, but has a pretty solid career average of .279.
A knock on Podsednik, though, is his durability. He has battled injuries the past couple of seasons, and actually didn't play in the Major Leagues at all in 2011. Seeing as Juan Pierre is basically a healthier, slightly younger and statistically better version of Scotty Pods, his chances of even making the Phils opening day roster are slim. It would probably take a torrid spring and an injury or two for Podsednik to see extended time in left field for the Phillies in April.
Chance of Winning the Job: 2 percent
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While you may not be shocked to hear that Juan Pierre has 554 career stolen bases (having thrice eclipsed 60 steals in a season), you may be surprised to learn he also has a .296 career batting average.
The slap-hitting, speedy Pierre played 158 games for the White Sox last season, and was brought in by Rubén Amaro Jr. to provide a solid pinch-running and pinch-hitting option (career .311 pinch-hitter). Hoping to win a good chunk of playing time in left field, Pierre has a disciplined hitting approach that meshes well with what Charlie Manuel is trying to preach to his team this season.
All things considered, Pierre is a nice piece to have, but probably not a starter on this team. While he'll likely prove to be a valuable pinch-hitter, pinch-runner, and late-game fielding substitute, the Phillies probably prefer to give more at-bats to one of their younger, more powerful options.
Chance of Winning the Job: 8 percent
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Domonic Brown just can't catch a break.
After sustaining a hand injury while fighting for a roster spot last Spring, Brown suffered another scare while diving for a ball in a game last week. Luckily, Brown expects to return to action sometime next week, after MRI's revealed only inflammation in his thumb.
Regardless of when he returns, Brown already faces an uphill battle to be the Phillies main left fielder. Rubén Amaro Jr. has stated multiple times that he'd like to see Brown get another full season of minor league ball under his belt, and he hasn't helped his cause by looking absolutely lost in the field a couple times this spring.
It's been an odd journey for the once highly-touted prospect, but he still has a shot at playing himself into a starting role with the Phillies. Granted, he probably has to absolutely tear it up this spring for the Phillies to consider starting him in left and moving Mayberry over to first base, but it's possible (for what it's worth, this is what I'd like to see the team do).
Even as a big supporter of Domonic Brown, though, I'm not too high on the odds of that situation actually playing out. With his most recent injury, his confused play in the field, and a front office that seems to have soured on him, Brown may not get a shot with the Phillies anytime soon.
Chance of Winning the Job: 12 percent
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Laynce Nix has really been a role player throughout his career, which I only say because he's never had more than 371 at-bats in a season. Assuming the part he's been cast for the majority of his career, Nix will be expected to fill a couple of roles for the Phillies in 2012: being a power bat off of the bench and being a left-handed alternative in left field to John Mayberry Jr.
Plus, if you've seen any of his photos from media day, he's surprisingly burly and rugged—two adjectives that you can never have enough of when describing players on your team.
Laynce is a long-shot to really be considered the Phils true "starter" in left field at any point this season, but he has a decent shot at meeting the criteria for "winning the job" that I laid out in my first slide. If John Mayberry Jr. ends up playing 10 or so games at first base in April, or opens the season by struggling against some tough righties, Nix could see extended time in left field; Laynce Nix just might start the most games in left field for the Phillies this April.
Chance of Winning the Job: 18 percent
John Mayberry Jr.
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What, were you expecting to see Lou Montanez on this slide?
John Mayberry Jr. is the most likely candidate, and probably the Phils' best candidate, to log the majority of at-bats in left field in 2012. The only question is how many games he will play in left field to open the season, and how many games Charlie Manuel will use him to hold down first base. However, the Phils skipper recently said he sees Mayberry playing more left field than first base to start the season.
While we'll have to wait and see whether Mayberry can recreate his impressive power numbers from last season, indications are that he'll get every shot to do so. He's gotten votes of confidence from his manager and teammates, and should be given more of an opportunity to see if he can consistently hit right-handers in 2012.
Chance of Winning the Job: 60 percent