Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Prospects Who Can Play Way into Starting Role This Fall
Now that it's practically safe to say the Philadelphia Phillies are out of any sort of playoff race, what may ensue between now and the end of the season is a series of positional tryouts, per se.
After the Phillies traded Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants, two of the team's starting outfield spots instantly became free for the taking. Add in Joe Blanton being sent to the Dodgers in a waiver trade, and yet another hole opened up on the Phillies' roster.
In the light of the team's recent transactions, the Phillies are essentially holding a positional tryout. There's currently a center field, right field, and starting pitching job up for grabs, with third base and left field also likely to see new faces next season.
Players like former top prospect Domonic Brown, recently-acquired Nate Schierholtz, longtime swingman Kyle Kendrick and recently-promoted Kevin Frandsen are being used to fill the holes in the lineup...for now.
When free agency hits, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. will have to take each of the aforementioned players' post-trade deadline play into account and must determine whether he has to make any free-agent signings or trades to turn the Phillies into a contender once again.
But what about prospects? Granted, the Phillies' farm system has been thinned due to acquisitions made over the last few years. And while the Phillies were sellers this year after being buyers in years past, their farm system still remains bleak even with the acquisitions of prospects Tommy Joseph and Ethan Martin, and minor leaguer Seth Rosin.
But there are a few bright spots in the Phillies' minor leagues, including some who could impact the big league club sooner rather than later. They will also be granted tryouts this year, either sometime later this month or as a September call-up when rosters expand from 25 players to 40.
Here's a look at five of those prospects who could make a nice impression in a major league tryout this year and work their way into a future starting job. And just so you know, no relievers will be listed in this slideshow, as this is about prospects playing their way into starting roles. Since bullpen pitchers do not start unless they're named Raul Valdes, they will be excluded from this slideshow.
*All prospect rankings are courtesy of 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook unless otherwise noted.
Darin Ruf has not only had a terrific year, he's had a stellar minor league career.
Drafted by the Phillies as a 20th-round selection in the 2009 MLB First Year Player Draft, Ruf has done nothing but hit as a professional. In 57 games in his first pro season in 2009, Ruf hit .307 with an .855 OPS.
While 2010 wasn't as generous to Ruf, as he dropped off after being promoted from Single-A to High-A, Ruf still hit .290 on the season with 67 RBI and an .814 OPS. Through 2010, he had hit only 12 home runs, though nine of them came in his first full season in 2010.
Then 2011 struck and it's been nothing but consistency ever since. Ruf surpassed his career minor league home run total last year alone with 17 bombs. He also hit in 82 runs and posted a .308 average and .894 OPS.
This year, in his first season at Double-A, Ruf has hit an astounding 27 home runs and driven in 76 runs, as well as being on par with his batting average last year at .308, and has an OPS of .971. As the challenges become greater, it seems as though Ruf does nothing but improve.
The only thing blocking a call-up already for the Phillies' 12th-best prospect (according to MLB Prospect Watch) is that he's a first baseman, and given that Ryan Howard is the Phils' starting first baseman for the forseeable future, Ruf would have to play another position or play first base elsewhere.
Seeing as he's the Phillies' only current minor leaguer with a career batting average over .300 (it stands at .302), the Phils would almost surely prefer the former; thus, Ruf has played 15 games in left field this year in anticipation of a call-up.
But Ruf, who is already 26 years old, has little left to prove in the minors, and the only way to find out if he's got a higher ceiling than as a DH is to give him a major league opportunity. Even if it's only for less than two months, what's the harm? The more time the Phillies can see Ruf in the majors, the better.
If he shows that he can hit and defend in left field (the latter being more unlikely), then the Phillies can use Ruf as their left fielder for 2013 if they so choose, or even consider him a fourth or fifth outfielder and cut the ineffective John Mayberry, Jr.
The worse that can happen is that Ruf doesn't have it in the majors, but with the Phillies having nothing to lose on the year, they've nothing to lose with trying Ruf out, either. Give him a shot, and if he succeeds, reap the benefits.
Tyler Cloyd is truly having a season for the ages. Selected in the 18th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Phillies, the 25-year-old Cloyd has always had consistency and command on his side, save for his 2010 season in which he posted a 5.17 ERA. But let's focus on the positives here.
Cloyd has been excellent as a Phillies minor leaguer and exceptional this season. In his first season in 2008, Cloyd went 7-4 with a 3.91 ERA, and for a first-timer, that's pretty good.
In 2009, Cloyd posted a 12-9 record with a 3.54 ERA. Then there was 2010, and although it does have to be factored into Cloyd's minor league career stats, I've given you the ERA, so I'll skip the rest.
2011 was a bounce-back season for Cloyd and his best to date at that time. He went 9-4 with a 2.77 ERA at both High-A and Double-A.
Cloyd also notched a career-high 138 strikeouts (I haven't mentioned strikeouts with Cloyd since he's not much of a strikeout pitcher). His WHIP was spectacular as well at 1.06, which trumped his previous career best of 1.30 by a huge margin (you can do the math, I hope).
And just when it was thought that it couldn't get any better for Cloyd, it did in 2012. Arguably one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues this season, Cloyd, in both Double- and Triple-A, has pitched to the tune of a 14-1 record with a 2.07 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 104 strikeouts.
The guy is the next-closest thing to unhittable. And he deserves a shot this year at the bigs.
Hardly a prospect anymore if one at all, Cloyd is a step above Ruf where he absolutely has nothing left to prove. Ruf still hasn't encountered Triple-A, whereas Cloyd has taken Lehigh Valley by storm.
And though he's not a pitcher with much velocity, barely topping out at 90 mph or so on the gun, he's got incredible control and has prevented the opposition from getting on base and scoring runs as a result.
With Joe Blanton's rotation spot vacant and Kyle Kendrick struggling as a starter, why not give Cloyd a chance? It's far from a sure thing that he'll be nearly as effective in the majors as he's been at Triple-A this year, but the worse that happens is that he gets hit around thanks to his slow repertoire.
But he could become the next Vance Worley, and seeing as how he's worked out for the Phillies, another pitcher comparable to the Vanimal isn't a bad option at all, especially since Cloyd could very well be in the rotation next year anyway.
While Tyler Cloyd has been lights out this year, Jonathan Pettibone has certainly held his own. Ranked as the Phillies' fourth-best prospect heading into the season, Pettibone's certainly been a ray of hope among the Phillies' "Baby Aces," if you choose to qualify him with that group.
Among the Baby Aces are pitching prospects Trevor May, Jesse Biddle, and arguably Julio Rodriguez, Brody Colvin and Pettibone. With May coming into the season as the organization's top prospect, he was billed as the surefire guy who would earn the September call-up this year and would cement his spot in the Phillies' rotation for 2013.
However, that could not have been further from the truth—May has struggled mightily this year, and Pettibone has emerged as the more major league-ready of the two (Biddle has undoubtedly been the best Baby Ace this season, but he's nowhere close to the majors).
Taken in the third round of the 2008 draft by the Phillies, Pettibone is like Cloyd in that his biggest weapon is not heat, but rather his command. He's considered to have the best control of any pitcher in the Phillies' system, and although throughout his minor league career that has been prominent, it's been very much so this year.
Aside from a rocky first year in 2009 when he only pitched in nine games, Pettibone has succeeded every step of the way. At Single-A, he pitched to a 3.49 ERA. At High-A his ERA was 2.96.
This year at Double-A, Pettibone had a 3.30 ERA in 19 starts which earned him a promotion to Triple-A a few weeks ago. And in three starts at Lehigh Valley, Pettibone's 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA. Like Cloyd, he seems only to get better and better.
Pettibone has an edge over Cloyd in the long run, though, and that's because he was drafted out of high school whereas Cloyd was taken out of college.
As a result, Pettibone celebrated his 22nd birthday just last month, and seeing as he's nearly major league ready, he's definitely got more potential than Cloyd, regardless of his performance this season alone.
Like Cloyd, the Phillies need to give Pettibone a chance over the next two months. He's got more life to his pitches than Cloyd, and if there's one of the two more likely to be successful in the bigs, it's Pettibone.
Why not let Cloyd and Pettibone battle it out now against major league talent while it matters so they don't cause any misconceptions in spring training? Kyle Kendrick clearly can't start, and maybe it wouldn't hurt to shut one of Vance Worley or Roy Halladay down for the year, which would allow both of the two to pitch once within the five-man rotation.
Cloyd notwithstanding, Pettibone deserves a shot. He's worked hard to get to where he is (not that no other player doesn't) and has tons of upside.
It would behoove the Phillies to take a good look at Pettibone this season, because the chances that Phillies fans will get an even better look at him in the 2013 season as the fifth starter are looking bright.
I'll warn you in advance: both Tyson Gillies and the guy on the next slide are questionable to come up to the majors this year, but there's reason to at least consider them both. Let's start with Gillies.
Gillies was taken by the Seattle Mariners in the 25th round of the 2006 draft, but soon worked his way to becoming the Ms' eighth-best prospect before the 2010 season. Then Cliff Lee got traded to Seattle in a deal that brought Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez and Gillies to Philly. Needless to say, the Phils weren't huge winners of that deal.
Sure, Aumont looks like he'll be an above-average set-up man or even a future closer, but he was drafted by Seattle as a starter.
Ramirez has struggled in Philly since the trade and isn't considered much of a prospect anymore. The same could be said for Gillies, but I emphasize could because he simply hasn't taken the field much for the Phillies. Let me explain.
In 2010—his first season in the Phillies' system—Gillies strained his hamstring in May, returned for nine days, then re-aggravated the injury and hit the DL for the remainder of the season.
In August of 2010, Gillies was also busted for cocaine possession, though the charges were eventually dropped. 2011 then rolled along and Gillies started the year once again hurt, and ended up only playing three games.
But finally, as 2012 came about, he was healthy to start the year and looked pretty solid in Phillies spring training. He also had a great start to the season until he was involved in an outfield collision that resulted in a concussion that sent him to the DL from June 26 until July 12.
Yet when he finally returned once again, Gillies had an altercation with a team bus driver a week later on July 19 that saw him suspended by the team until August 9.
Gillies has fared rather well in his limited action this season, hitting .293 with an .812 OPS, eight steals and 17 home runs. But does he deserve a call-up this year?
Yes, he's the only outfielder on the Phillies' 40-man roster not on the team's 25-man roster in addition (save for the injured Nate Schierholtz), but given that he's only played 86 games as in the Phillies organization, he still needs more seasoning in addition to more overall experience.
If the Phillies bring Gillies up solely for outfield depth and to see if he can handle major league pitching, it does make sense. But with the slew of circumstances that have surrounded Gillies throughout his Phillies career, should he be called up and tried out to see if he can nab the starting center field job for next season?
Personally, I'm indifferent either way, but if he's called up, there's definitely sense to be made of it, especially if he succeeds.
Cesar Hernandez may not be seeking a starting spot for 2013, but he could be looking to at least garner some consideration, even with Chase Utley entrenched at second base for next year. Hear me out.
Ranked as the team's 14th-best prospect before the season, Hernandez was signed in 2006 as a 16-year-old.
A second baseman with a nice glove and can hit to get on base, Hernandez profiles as a possible future lead-off man with gap power and above-average speed, but at 5'10", Hernandez weighs only 160 pounds and is expected to develop more power as he gains muscle mass.
While he is a switch hitter, he hits much better from the left side, and though he's got good bearings of the strike zone, he tends to chase pitches.
That being said, Hernandez has looked great on the year. In Double-A, Hernandez hit .304 with a .345 OBP and respectable .781 OPS. He only hit two long balls, but he also swiped 16 bases (though he was caught 12 times), hit in 51 runs and had 26 doubles.
His defense has taken a bit of a bad turn, though, as he had 15 errors while with the Reading Phillies. Nevertheless, his outstanding offensive play earned him a promotion at the beginning of the month.
The transition to Triple-A hasn't been nearly as smooth for Hernandez, though. He's hitting .262 with an abhorrent .571 OPS, has been caught stealing (twice) more than he's successfully stolen (once), has only one run batted in, and already has racked up three errors.
There's good and bad to this, though, as the offense is understandable for 10 games, but the three errors are abysmal.
Hernandez does have a spot on the 40-man roster, however, so a September call-up could be on the cards.
What blocks Hernandez from starting at the major league level (even if he was ready) is Chase Utley, and while that's probably best for Hernandez as he needs more development at Triple-A, he'll need to be ready for 2014 if he plans on starting at second for the Phillies.
What's more is that, if Utley starts out the 2013 season hurt again, Freddy Galvis could very well be starting at third base if a replacement for the likely-departing Placido Polanco is not found this offseason. That leaves a hole at second base, and Hernandez may be the player called upon to fill it.
If worst comes to worst, Hernandez would need to start next season. And for the Phillies to know whether or not they need to focus on finding a quality bench player who can play second base this offseason, they may want to take a look at Hernandez in the majors and see if his defense is plausible and if he can get on base enough to warrant future consideration as a 2013 bench bat.
Hernandez's chances of being the 2014 starter at second base are much more in his favor than being on the 2013 roster from day one, so he likely won't be competing for an immediate starting role.
But if he makes an impression in September assuming he's given a shot, he could be someone to watch for in spring training. And it wouldn't necessarily hurt to promote him to the majors in September, either, to give Utley and his knees some time off in games that probably won't matter. Why not see what Hernandez can do?