After five straight division titles that produced two trips to the World Series and one parade, the Philadelphia Phillies are coming off one of their most disappointing seasons in recent memory—a lackluster third place finish, nestled in behind a pair of division rivals with young rosters.
And also, there is the realization that the following few seasons will be an uphill battle, regardless of the overall age of the Phillies' roster.
The fact of the matter here is that the Phillies aren't getting any younger. Their window to compete for another championship may not be "closing" per se, but with the core of this roster quickly deteriorating, it certainly is not as wide open as it has been in years past.
That's why, in this spring more than any other in recent memory, the Phillies may have to rely on a few unlikely names. Each spring, teams invite "non-roster players"—or players not on the 40-man roster—to MLB camp to participate in spring training.
This way, they can get a look at their minor league depth and give players a chance to win a position battle.
Those players are going to be important for the Phillies this season. They are in older team who needs to create depth in certain areas of the club. In this slideshow, I will give profiles on all of the Phillies' non-roster invitees as well as a few "under-the-radar" players who can help the club in 2013.
Off the top of your head, do you know who the last homegrown talent drafted by the Phillies to play third base for the club was?
That's right, it was none other than the infamous Scott Rolen, and the Phillies have been trying to develop a new third baseman ever since trading him.
A few third base prospects have intrigued fans over the years, but none so much as Cody Asche, the Phillies fourth-round pick from 2011 out of the University of Nebraska. He had a very successful 2012 season over two levels, going a combined .324 / .369 / .481 with 12 home runs in High-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading.
Asche, however, has been somewhat polarizing to scouts. Those who believe in him note his incredible work ethic, a vast improvement defensively at third base and a frame that will allow him to pack on some muscle and hit for some power.
Those who are not believers see it differently. Asche is not a big guy and doesn't appear to have much room for muscle growth at this point in his career. He has quick hands, but thin wrists and forearms. Most scouts of this school of thought don't believe he'll be able to stick at third base, either.
But the Phillies are determined to get a good look at him this spring, and hey, why not? With Michael Young's contract expiring at the end of 2013, a good season will likely earn Asche a starting role in 2014. He'll most likely open the '13 season in Triple-A.
Anyone who astutely follows the Phillies' minor league affiliates will recognize the name Andres Blanco, who spent the 2012 season as a member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. He didn't have a particularly good season on either side of the ball, posting an OPS of .648 and committing 18 errors.
Blanco, however, is known as a solid infielder who can play a couple of different positions, and the Phillies will take a look at that this spring, especially with Jimmy Rollins leaving to play for Team USA late in camp.
Having last appeared in MLB for the Texas Rangers in 2011, it sure doesn't look like Blanco will be getting back this season. He is behind quite a few people on the Phillies' depth chart, starting with Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen.
The Phillies have a tendency to stick with their "toolsy" players long after most clubs would have given up on them. And given their philosophy of drafting good athletes with upside, this isn't the worst strategy in the world.
Every now and then, a player rewards them by having a good rebound season or taking that expected step forward. Last season, Zach Collier was one of those players—a "toolsy" outfielder that the club drafted with the 34th overall pick in 2008.
After being suspended for Adderall use, Collier really seems to have gotten his act together. He had a strong showing in High-A Clearwater last season before putting on an excellent showcase in the Arizona Fall League, forcing his way onto the Phillies' 40-man roster.
He isn't close to being MLB-ready, but he is finally on the right path again.
Photo by Eric Mencher, Philly.com
Aaron Cook's decline in recent seasons has been a steep, sharp slope. He went from being a 16-game winner with an All-Star appearance back in 2008 to barely hanging on to a big league club in 2012.
Cook hooked up with the Boston Red Sox last season, but after struggling mightily at MLB level, posting a record of 4-11 with an ERA of 5.65, he gave the club grief about accepting a minor league assignment—one that was well-deserved at that point.
Of course, that makes signing a minor league deal with the Phillies this offseason all the more amusing. He is not guaranteed a roster spot, but he is invited to spring training. On a minor league deal, a guy like Cook is harmless.
Throughout his career, Cook has been a strong ground-ball pitcher, and while the results haven't always been spectacular, there is nothing wrong with having a bit of minor league depth with major league experience.
Barring an injury, Cook will open the season with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Calling relief pitcher Juan Cruz a "journeyman" probably doesn't do him much justice. He is probably among the league leaders in frequent-flyer miles, having played for seven teams already at just 34 years old.
Teams are always going to be interested in a pitcher with a strong arm. Command has been the bane of his career, but Cruz has an excellent fastball that once made him the sixth best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America (h/t: Baseball-Reference). Pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, Cruz's fastball averaged 93.4 mph.
Now a full-time reliever, the Phillies signed Cruz to a minor league deal, hoping to add some depth. The Phillies will have a ton of relievers in camp, so making the club won't be easy for a veteran like Cruz, but he is exactly the kind of depth player who Ruben Amaro Jr. loves to have ready and waiting in Triple-A.
The Phillies' first transaction of the offseason was a minor league signing, when the club inked former top prospect Josh Fields to a minors deal early in the winter.
Fields, who was the 45th best prospect in baseball prior to the 2007 season, according to Baseball America (h/t: Baseball-Reference), is a third baseman and right-handed hitter with some pop—a pair of skills that will interest the Phillies this spring.
Although the club has addressed its third base situation with the addition of Michael Young, there is no doubt that the club's depth in that particular area is lacking. Fields could become a viable, temporary replacement option if Young's health falters.
Of course, in order to do so, Fields will likely have to replicate the offensive success he had for the Los Angeles Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate last season but do so in a much more pitcher-friendly ballpark in Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
It may be a bold statement of sorts, but over the last couple of seasons, few teams have done a better job at developing relief pitchers than the Phillies. They had guys like Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus coming through the system and even Antonio Bastardo—if you're willing to travel back a bit further.
One of the better stories, however, belongs to Justin Friend, who joined the Phillies after he was drafted and subsequently released by the Oakland Athletics.
Friend is an interesting case as a reliever, as he doesn't have the pure "stuff" that teams like to see in potential bullpen arms. He doesn't have the electric fastball or the great breaking ball. Friend's calling card has been his command, and through three levels of the Phillies' system, he has used that command well.
After excelling as the closer for the Double-A Reading Phillies, Friend earned a promotion to Triple-A last season. He'll be in camp as a non-roster invitee this spring, and while making the team is certainly a long shot, the Phillies want to see what they have here.
Photo by Marc Narducci, Philly.com
Before the Phillies went out and traded for Ben Revere, there was a point during the offseason where it wouldn't have surprised me if the Phillies' Opening Day center fielder was none other than Tyson Gillies, who had a strong 2012.
The real problem for Gillies has always been his health. He has the tools to become a good MLB center fielder. He just needs to stay on the field long enough to put it all together, and '12 was a solid start. He hit .299 / .369 / .440 playing mostly for Double-A Reading.
But even so, Gillies still only played in 75 games this past season. The Phillies are going to need to see him play a full, healthy season before giving him any kind of real chance, but it is coming. Gillies has plus-speed, is a good defensive center fielder and can hit for average.
The emergence of Freddy Galvis must have thrown a real wrench into the Phillies' plans for Cesar Hernandez—not that this is a bad thing. Well, it definitely threw a wrench into the plans of Hernandez, that's for sure.
Hernandez is another guy who has been in the system for a while. He is a very good defender at second base, but he doesn't have the arm strength to play other positions.
Once upon a time, he was seen as the apparent heir to Chase Utley, but if the Phillies do part ways with Utley, Galvis' trial run last season likely makes him the next second baseman for the Phils.
The one thing that Hernandez can do to change that is hit. Throughout his minor league career, he has been a solid hitter for average. The Phillies finally promoted him to Triple-A last season, but he struggled at the plate after hitting .304 in Double-A. Even so, he'll likely open the season in Lehigh Valley.
The Phillies made somewhat of a surprise pick in the Rule 5 draft this offseason, when they selected outfielder Ender Inciarte out of the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization. Inciarte is just 22 years old, but he has been in the D'backs' system since 2008 and has never appeared above High-A.
So that's the surprise. The Phillies are taking a chance on a young outfielder with very little minor league experience. Unless they work out a trade with the D'backs or return him, the Phillies will be forced to keep Inciarte on the roster throughout the regular season.
I can actually see that happening. There is very little, if any, projection in Inciarte's bat, but he brings a few elements to the game that this club desperately lacks—speed and defense. Inciarte is a plus-runner with speed to burn, has a strong arm and plays a good center field.
I'm not sure he will make the roster, but I think that he brings more to the table than Laynce Nix does at this point. He'll be one to keep an eye on this spring.
It seems like there is always a job for a left-handed pitcher somewhere, somehow. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2001, Cesar Jimenez has been a project for the Seattle Mariners, and while he never lived up to the lofty potential they gave him, he was a mainstay in the middle-to-back of their top 20 prospects for quite some time.
Jimenez doesn't have an overpowering repertoire, and he isn't particularly deceptive on the mound. His fastball hovers in the high-80 mph range, but he has the ability to ramp it up a bit when he needs it. Other than that, he'll throw a slider and changeup, neither of which are exceptional.
The Mariners gave Jimenez a few tastes of MLB in the last couple of seasons, but he just couldn't maintain any success. The Phillies likely see him as a left-handed specialist in Triple-A, but they'll want to take a look at him in spring training.
Tommy Joseph is an interesting player to keep an eye on. Scouts love Joseph, the centerpiece of the deal that sent Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants last summer. They believe that he'll develop plus-power for a catcher to go along with a very good defensive game.
The Phillies are still waiting for that bat to develop. Since Joseph showed flashes of power with his brief stint in Double-A Reading last season, scouts believe that it will become a true asset for him. The Phillies will want to see that firsthand this spring.
The hope for Joseph is that he can come into camp and compete with Sebastian Valle for a starting job in Triple-A. With Carlos Ruiz's contract expiring at the end of the season, the Phillies want to move Joseph through the system as quickly but also as methodically as possible.
It is very possible either Valle or Joseph could be moved in a trade at some point during the upcoming season if the Phillies are in contention, but it is my opinion that Joseph is going nowhere.
The Phillies always invite quite a few catchers to camp, and with Carlos Ruiz's 25-game suspension to open the season, evaluating some of these players in spring training is all the more imperative.
One name that should be familiar to Phillies fans is Steven Lerud, who was with the Phillies for a brief time last season, when both Ruiz and Brian Schneider were on the disabled list. He served as the backup catcher to Erik Kratz, which could be a likely scenario to open the season.
More likely than not, however, Lerud will be sent to either Double-A or Triple-A as a backup catcher to top prospects Tommy Joseph and/or Sebastian Valle.
Rodrigo Lopez is a name that should be somewhat familiar to Phillies fans. He made five starts (and appeared in seven games) for the Phillies during the 2009 season, going 3-1 with a 5.70 ERA.
In the few seasons that have followed, Lopez has bounced around a bit. He pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010. In 2011, he signed with the Atlanta Braves but was traded to the Chicago Cubs very early in the season. And he spent most of the 2012 season with the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate.
Lopez rejoined the Phillies' organization this winter on a minor league deal, where he will most likely serve as a member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' starting rotation. However, in the event of an injury, Lopez is as good an option as any for a brief call-up.
One of the more interesting non-roster invitees in camp this spring is going to be right-handed pitcher Zach Miner, a well-regarded prospect for the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers at one point in his career.
Originally drafted by the Braves in 2000, he was traded to the Tigers a few years later as part of the deal that sent Kyle Farnsworth to Atlanta. He made his MLB debut a year later for the Tigers but never lived up to his potential.
Miner is an interesting name to keep an eye on this spring. He has a pretty standard repertoire that includes a solid fastball, a two-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup and a curveball that he doesn't throw much.
He'll likely join Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez in the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' rotation to start the season, but he is as good an option as any for a brief call-up should there be a situation that requires one.
As the Phillies shopped Shane Victorino last summer, the thought was that the club would look to land a reliable setup man. The club would later send Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Josh Lindblom, Ethan Martin and a player to be named later (Stefan Jarrin).
While it may be unfair to say so, Lindblom was a complete bust for the Phillies, who would send him to the Texas Rangers as part of the Michael Young trade in the offseason. The prize of the package may be Martin, who pitched exceptionally well for the Phillies after the trade.
A former first-round pick by the Dodgers, Martin's biggest issue has always been his command—something that he reigned in with the Phillies, though it still showed at times. He has a good fastball and a hard, sharp slider that is an out-pitch.
The Phillies will get a firsthand look at Martin this spring, but they still believe that he is a quality starting pitcher. At worst he moves into the bullpen, where he has back-end potential.
Remember Michael Martinez? You know, the "utility infielder" who can "play average defense at a few different positions, including shortstop and center field?"
I know you do, because as hard as you try and forget, the memory lingers.
The Phillies took Martinez off of the 40-man roster over the offseason, so he is in camp as a non-roster invitee this spring. The thought here is that something would have to go horribly, catastrophically wrong for him to make the club.
Of course, he isn't a terrible guy to have around in spring training.
Joe Mather is an interesting name to keep an eye on this spring, as he'll come into camp in a similar situation as Lou Montanez did for the Phillies last season.
Mather, 30, is a former third-round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals. His minor league career, while overall disappointing, did have a few bright moments, including the 2007 season when he hit 31 home runs combined over the upper levels of the Cardinals' system.
He has had a few cups of coffee in MLB as a member of the Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs, but he hasn't had much recent success.
He has played the outfield and third base in his career, and after hitting five home runs in 243 plate appearances for the Cubs last season, the Phillies are hoping to see him tap into some of that right-handed power.
Mather will likely be sent to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after he is cut from camp, but he isn't a bad emergency option to have waiting in the wings in the minors.
The Phillies have more than a handful of outfielders already on the roster, so any non-roster player is going to have a tough time breaking camp with the club. That's the situation Jermaine Mitchell finds himself in this spring.
A former fifth-round pick by the Oakland Athletics, Mitchell had an up-and-down minor league career before posting one of the best minor league seasons in MLB in 2011, when he combined to go .332 / .430 / .530 with 15 home runs combined in Double-A and Triple-A.
The Phillies, who signed Mitchell to a minor league deal this offseason, are hoping that he is somewhat of a late bloomer. He had somewhat of a down season in 2012, but there is a belief that he can become a solid defensive outfielder with good left-handed power.
Phillies fans should get used to hearing the name Adam Morgan—you're going to be hearing a lot about him over the next couple of seasons.
Drafted in the third round of the 2011 draft by the Phillies, Morgan arrived with very little fanfare. He was a solid college pitcher who wasn't exceptional. Turning pro had a positive affect on Morgan, who has progressed through the Phillies' system rapidly.
Morgan is a tall lefty with a good build that is, in a lot of ways, very similar to Phillies' top prospect Jesse Biddle.
He has a smooth delivery that he repeats well. His fastball, which has terrific movement, sits in the low-90 mph range, and his changeup has become one of his best pitches. He'll also throw a good slider and an average to slightly below-average curveball.
Will Morgan have a shot at breaking camp with the Phillies this spring? Not realistically, unless he does something exceptional. More likely than not, he'll open the season in either Double-A or Triple-A. But this is a guy who the Phillies want to see firsthand and a name that is going to come up often.
Eric Longenhagen of Crashburn Alley recently had a question and answer session with Jim Callis of Baseball America, who dropped this little nugget about Morgan:
You know…it would be defensible to stick him at number one on this list.
Pete Orr wound up being the victim of a numbers crunch when the Phillies had to trim down their 40-man roster to protect a number of players who would have been otherwise eligible for the Rule 5 draft, as the club out-righted him to the minors.
Orr, however, is the kind of player who the Phillies love to have around in the event of an emergency. He plays a number of positions, gives you a quality of at-bat and has solid speed on the basepaths.
At this point in time, there probably isn't a spot for him on the big league roster, but how many times have we seen the Phillies call on Orr midseason as an injury replacement? He's a solid guy to have in camp, at the very least.
The Phillies signed John Lannan to be their fifth starter this offseason and are giving him guaranteed money to pitch in that role, so he certainly has the inside track. But if any one pitcher is going to unseat him this spring, it is going to be Jonathan Pettibone.
Pettibone's calling card throughout his minor league career has always been his command, which has allowed him to progress consistently throughout the system. He has a solid fastball and decent secondary offerings, but being able to control them is what has carried him to this point.
After an electric start at Double-A last season, Pettibone was promoted to Triple-A during the year, where he was equally as good. He was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason and will have a shot at making the rotation. Though, it is more likely he opens the year in Triple-A.
Photo by Marc Narducci, Philly.com
The popular train of thought at this point in time is that the Phillies' backup catcher to open the season will be MLB veteran Humberto Quintero. With Carlos Ruiz suspended for 25 games to start the season, one catcher in camp will receive an extended MLB tryout.
Quintero is the kind of player who the Phillies like to keep aboard in these kinds of situations, especially as a catcher. He has experience at the big league level and is a very solid defensive backstop. He isn't going to provide much offensively, but the club won't expect him to.
Once Ruiz returns, Quintero will likely be sent to Triple-A, where he will serve as the backup to either Tommy Joseph or Sebastian Valle.
The last few seasons have not been kind to J.C. Ramirez, who was acquired by the Phillies from the Seattle Mariners as part of the package that sent Cliff Lee west before the 2010 season. Since then, the Phillies have tried just about everything to get Ramirez on track, with little success.
Now a reliever, the Phillies are trying to capitalize on Ramirez's good repertoire of pitches, but his command has been lacking, and he has been unable to utilize them. Once a top prospect for the Phillies, he has fallen out of most outlets' Top 25 all together.
Ramirez, who still owns a 40-man roster spot, will have what could realistically be one final shot at impressing the Phillies firsthand this spring. Otherwise, he is in jeopardy of being out-righted off of the roster in a numbers crunch, which would certainly be a disappointment.
Photo by Philly.com
Mauricio Robles is one of the more interesting names in camp this spring, because I get the feeling that this is one of the few arms that the Phillies brought aboard which they believe they can actually fix.
A former Seattle Mariners' prospect, Robles was claimed by the Phillies over the offseason, which keeps him on the 40-man roster. The bane of his career to date has been his control, which is nothing short of terrible. Robles hasn't posted a BB/9 mark south of six since 2010.
But Robles is still just 23 years old. The Mariners signed him very young as an amateur free agent, and while his minor league career is lengthy (beginning in 2007), it is certainly fixable.
He has very good fastball velocity but little else, and that has been the problem thus far. He needs to be a strike-thrower but can't throw strikes. This is normally the result of some kind of mechanical issues, but I'm betting the Phillies think that they can correct something.
At worst, he's an intriguing left-handed specialist to keep an eye on.
You will have to excuse the lack of a picture of Kyle Simon on this slide, but I blame the Internet for that one. Instead, please enjoy a picture of Jim Thome—who sent Simon to the Phillies as part of the trade for the slugger—suiting up for the Baltimore Orioles.
One of the first things that the Phillies did upon acquiring Simon was to send him straight to the bullpen, where he was flat-out dominant over two different levels: High-A and Double-A.
Simon has a heavy fastball that helps him generate a lot of ground balls. And he isn't afraid to let batters put the ball in play and let his defense take care of the work behind him. He also throws a good slider that is set up nicely by the fastball.
He'll be in camp this spring, so the Phillies can familiarize themselves with him firsthand. But it wouldn't surprise me to see Simon open the season in Triple-A. This guy is on a fast track to MLB.
The Phillies have a pair of very good catching prospects in Sebastian Valle and Tommy Joseph, but it isn't hard to say that Joseph is better than Valle right now. And that may be my opinion, but it is the opinion of many people familiar with each player as well.
Valle has been somewhat of a project for the Phillies for quite a while. He came into the organization as a raw, amateur player with plenty of upside, and that hasn't changed much. Valle has become a good defensive backstop, but his plate discipline is downright awful.
When the Phillies promoted him to Triple-A last season, Valle looked lost. He struck out 31 times and walked just twice, leaving me to wonder if the team will send him back to Double-A and give Joseph a shot at catching in Lehigh Valley to start the 2013 season.
The good news, however, is that Valle's power production is starting to come around. He hit 17 home runs last season, but I would say that there is some concern that his home runs outweigh his doubles (15).
Valle is going to be a good catcher, but will it be for the Phillies? I'm not so sure. It sure looks like Joseph is the catcher of the future.