Key Factors That Will Determine Winners of Phillies' Outfield Position Battles
For the first time in quite a while, the Philadelphia Phillies will begin Grapefruit League play with both corner outfield positions up for grabs.
Just who wins those jobs, and what they'll entail, is one of a number of variables this spring.
In a lot of ways, these position battles will come down to which players the Phillies can trust the most. Can they trust Domonic Brown to perform? Can they trust Darin Ruf to continue his extraordinary development? Can they trust Delmon Young to change?
And that's just a small taste of what the outfield position battles will entail this spring. The Phillies will have to determine whether those are full-time or part-time roles. They'll have to determine what their bench looks like behind those regulars.
This is a mammoth battle. In a lot of ways it is a giant free-for-all with at least four positions up for grabs.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on this spring as we follow the Phillies' outfield position battle.
Will Delmon Young Start the Season on the DL?
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The biggest variable in this outfield free-for-all is a matter of logistics. Will Delmon Young be forced to start the season on the disabled list after undergoing ankle surgery over the offseason?
Young, who has been plagued by ankle injuries throughout his career, finally decided to have the procedure done over the offseason, having bone spurs removed and other maladies corrected in preparation for the regular season.
The Phillies, who made one of the more intriguing moves of the offseason in their pursuit of Young, are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle by having the 28-year-old outfielder slim down and recapture some of the potential that made him a former No. 1 pick.
That, however, will have to wait, according to CSN Philly. The club already expects Young to miss the first month or so of the regular season. On Friday, manager Charlie Manuel said, "According to our doctors, he’s definitely going to miss some time."
Can Young Play at All This Spring?
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Even if Delmon Young does miss some time during the regular season, it will be important to see what he is actually capable of doing this spring.
What makes this one of the offseason's most interesting signings is that the Phillies are really flying in the dark in regards to Young. He had a miserable showing in the field last season, and now they probably won't have an opportunity to see what he is capable of doing firsthand.
So far this spring, Young has done very little to give the Phillies an idea of where he stands. While the rest of the club has been engaged in full-squad workouts, Young has been relegated to tossing on the side and things of that nature.
If Young is able to play at all this spring, which doesn't seem likely, the Phillies would have a much better grasp of what he can do moving forward.
Can Young Actually Play Right Field and Hit Right-Handed Pitching?
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And then there are the big questions: Can Delmon Young play a capable right field and hit right-handed pitching enough so that he can be a quality everyday player?
The change of scenery may do him some good. While Young posted a miserable slash line of .247 / .249 / .370 against right-handed pitching last season, he has actually managed much better for his career, posting a line of .275 / .307 / .401.
The real problem with Young's offensive approach may be his inability to draw a walk. He walked in just 3.3 percent of his plate appearances last season, while striking out in 18.4 percent of the time. That will have to change if he wants to move forward as an offensive player.
Defensively, this season is going to be an adventure.
When he first made his debut, Young was fairly well regarded as a defensive player. He was also in much better shape and had a pair of healthy ankles. Looking over his career defensive metrics, he actually posted his best results in right field.
The problem here is that Young hasn't played right field since the Tampa Bay Rays were still the Tampa Bay Devil Rays back in 2007.
Since then, Young has struggled to play an average left field. Now, the Phillies will ask him to move back to right field and learn to play the position again on the fly as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery.
Early in camp, he does seem to be in better shape. The questions of whether or not he can hit and play defense cannot be answered until he can play, however, and that doesn't appear to be happening any time soon.
Can Brown Restore the Phillies' Faith?
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There was a time when Domonic Brown was the future of the Phillies franchise. When the club's older veterans were ready to ride off into the sunset or slide into the tail-end of their careers, Brown was supposed to take over the reins as the club's next superstar.
While there are still a handful of people who still believe this to be the case, there is no arguing that the general consensus regarding Brown has changed drastically.
The word "bust" is being thrown around far too soon, but the thought has been planted into the minds of some fans, and very few still have that giddy feeling that made him the next face of the franchise.
Can Brown still be that player?
For the sake of full disclosure, Brown hasn't shown much of that potential at the major league level. There have been a few flashes of brilliance here and there, but they've been matched with flashes of mediocrity.
Then again, not every MLB player can get off to a legendary start early in his career. Would you have given up on Chase Utley and Mike Schmidt after their first two seasons?
Brown has a vast amount of talent. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to have that potential converted into results.
This will be a huge variable regarding the Phillies' outfield battle this spring. If Brown wants to win a job—and he certainly has the level of raw talent to do that—he is going to have to restore the faith in decision-makers that was erased in a poor early showing.
If Brown can hit, run and play solid defense, he'll have a job.
Can Brown Stay Healthy?
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What has been the main reason that Domonic Brown's incredible raw potential has not translated into success early in his career? There are a number of answers and none that are "right" or "wrong." Things just haven't gone well for Brown.
One of the big factors, however, has been injuries. Brown has dealt with a number of maladies early in his career ranging from a sore knee that kept him from running full speed to a broken hamate bone in his hand that sapped his power.
Those aren't excuses for Brown's shortcomings early in his career. They're reasons and possibilities for why it is too soon to just give up on his talent.
Outfielders aren't growing on trees, and no club knows that better than the Phillies. When you have a talent like Brown, the initial reaction shouldn't be to trade him after a few down seasons. He still doesn't have 500 plate appearances in his MLB career.
The goal should have been to get him completely healthy, and now that he is operating at 100 percent, everything else is off of the table. Brown needs to use this spring to recapture the excitement that made him one of the best prospects in baseball not too long ago.
Can Ruf Play a Passing Left Field?
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When you're able to hit 50-plus home runs in a single calendar year, people are going to start taking you seriously as an offensive player.
We all know that Darin Ruf is going to hit in some capacity, be it in MLB or the minors.
To have a shot against MLB pitching this season, however, Ruf needs to show that he can be a more complete player. He has to shed the "first baseman playing out of position" stigma and become an MLB-caliber left fielder in a hurry.
Can he do it?
Ruf is an interesting player. He is never going to be a great defensive outfielder, but in his brief MLB stint last season, it seemed as though he could be a quick learner. He doesn't have great range, speed or instincts, but this is a franchise that taught Greg Luzinski and Pat Burrell to play left field.
Can Ruf play a passing left field? I think that he can, given the necessary repetitions.
But let's be honest for a minute: As long as Charlie Manuel is the manager of this club, if you hit, you play.
Can Ruf Hit MLB Pitching?
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Darin Ruf has more than proven that he can hit minor league pitching. He spent nearly an entire season destroying the pitching in Double-A before going on a tear in MLB and the Venezuelan winter league.
Now comes the real, burning question: Can he hit MLB pitching for a sustained period of time?
Ruf's stint in the major league in 2012 wasn't long enough to get a serious answer to that question. The Phillies babied him into at-bats and looked for favorable matchups before letting him loose.
Spring training isn't an ideal time for a player to prove that he can hit major league pitching because most teams are trying to get a look at their minor league arms, so if Ruf wants to make some noise this spring, he'll have to continue doing what got him to the majors in the first place—mash all pitching.
With Delmon Young set to open the season on the disabled list, the Phillies are going to need that source of right-handed power.
Ruf can be that guy.
What Say You, John Mayberry Jr.?
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It's easy to get the impression that the Phillies have given up on John Mayberry Jr.
This is a club that spent the offseason searching for a right-handed power hitter who is also an outfielder. They've moved a first baseman to the outfield to give that a shot (Darin Ruf). They signed a guy to play right field who had ankle surgery in the offseason and hasn't played the position since 2007 (Delmon Young).
Mayberry is the forgotten guy. He is the player whom the Phillies have always wanted to succeed and become that legitimate, right-handed power threat, but he has failed in every opportunity that they have given him to date.
So what now for Mayberry?
This is going to be a big spring for Mayberry, because I would argue that he has fallen behind Ruf and Young on the depth chart. Eventually, all three of these guys are going to be competing for a spot on the club.
Mayberry has become an interesting variable. The Phillies don't see him as an everyday player anymore, but if he is able to mash left-handed pitching off the bench and play quality defense at all three outfield positions as well as first base, there is value in a role player like that.
The question is simple: Can he hit enough to outplay Ruf?
Can Nix Hit Right-Handed Pitching off of the Bench?
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To say that Laynce Nix "swung and missed" last season would be both literally and metaphorically accurate.
The Phillies signed Nix to a two-year deal last offseason, and the first one did not go so well. After getting off to a hot start, Nix suffered a severe calf strain that forced him to miss more than 50 regular-season games and was never the same after that.
While it was expected that he would struggle against left-handed pitching, Nix also struggled against right-handed pitching, drastically reducing his value in late-game situations.
And that, in a nutshell, is what the Phillies need Nix to do—hit right-handed pitching with some power off the bench. That's the reason that they brought him aboard and signed him to a two-year deal.
Nix won't be in the battle for a starting job this spring, but he'll have his hands full competing with the speedy Ender Inciarte for a spot on the bench.
If Nix picks up where he left off in 2012, I would argue that Inciarte has more value right off of the bat.
What Flare Does Inciarte Add to the Battle?
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Selecting Ender Inciarte in the Rule 5 draft was a bold decision for the Phillies, especially in the major league portion. He is a a 22-year-old outfielder who has never played above High-A in his career, and the Phillies would be taking a huge risk to keep him aboard.
So why have they considered such a thing?
Inciarte brings a different dynamic to this team. He plays an above-average defense in the outfield and is said to have plus-speed. Looking at the Phillies' bench, neither of those tools are in high supply.
And that is what makes Inciarte an intriguing name this spring.
In my mind, his case comes down to this: Do the Phillies value what Laynce Nix can do off of the bench and in the field more than what Inciarte can do off the bench and in the field?
Inciarte isn't going to hit much, but he'll play better defense than anyone not named Ben Revere in the outfield and is a much, much better runner than Nix. He's kind of like having an outfield version of Freddy Galvis with better speed.
Inciarte has the potential to be a game-changer.
Would the Phillies Consider Two Platoons?
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With Delmon Young slated to open the season on the shelf, we're back to square one in regards to the Phillies' outfield situation: Would the club consider a pair of platoons in the corner outfield spots?
It's an interesting question without a legitimate answer early in the spring. On paper, platoons of Domonic Brown-Darin Ruf and John Mayberry Jr.-Laynce Nix give the Phillies a few possibilities in their lineup as far as matchups are concerned.
But it shouldn't be much of a secret. If the Phillies had their druthers, Brown and Ruf would scorch the ball in spring training and earn regular roles. These are the names that the Phillies want to carry them through this season and into the future.
Would it be surprising to see the Phillies go with two platoons in the outfield? No. It would mean that they have to carry a ton of outfielders on their 25-man roster, but they have the personnel to pull it off.
The feeling here is that they'll name one starter for each position, however.
What Does the Future Mean for the Present?
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The Phillies are not a young club. They do not have a ton of top prospects moving through the upper-level system at this time, and none are outfielders.
So here is the question: Will the Phillies look to the future when making a decision about 2013?
Moving forward, one outfielder is in place. Ben Revere is going to play center field for the foreseeable future. What happens in the corner outfield spots? The obvious answer is that the Phillies would like to see those spots filled by Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf.
Can they do it? The better question here may be: "Will the Phillies do it?"
To fill those spots in the future, the Phillies have to turn the reins over now. No more babying guys like Brown and Ruf by picking matchups and easing them in with platoons.
If you want guys to play everyday, they have to play everyday. Will the Phillies realize this in 2013 and name Brown and Ruf as Opening Day starters, or will moves like Delmon Young become more numerous in the coming years?
Small Odds: If Young Is Ready to Go, Who Is Odd Man Out?
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Through this entire slideshow we have been operating as if Delmon Young will not be prepared to start the regular season with the club, and that's very, very likely going to be the case.
But what happens if he can play on Opening Day? Even better, what happens when he returns?
All of the sudden, the Phillies have too many outfielders. Someone is going to have to be the odd man out, but who would that be?
Darin Ruf is an easy pick. He has minor league options and is probably the easiest decision, but what happens if Ruf, who has arguably the highest offensive potential (at least from a power perspective), is hitting the ball well?
Laynce Nix wouldn't cost the Phillies a fortune if they were to cut him, but he is the only left-handed power threat on their bench.
What about John Mayberry Jr.? Would the Phillies finally end the experiment and try and pass the former five-tool prospect through waivers?
And then there is Domonic Brown. Have the Phillies really given up on their former No. 1 prospect? Would they trade him in the right move, or send him back to Triple-A?
At some point, the Phillies are going to have to make a difficult decision: Which one of their outfielders, all of whom are a part of their plans, just doesn't fit?
Can Prospects Have a Say?
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The Phillies don't have many outfield prospects in camp. They just haven't developed many top-tier outfielders in recent memory, and the ones that had some potential to impact the club by now were traded to other teams.
That's why the Phillies are in a bit of a bind when it comes to their current outfield situation. There just aren't any prospects in camp who can make a difference to the MLB club.
One interesting name is Tyson Gillies. There is still hope that he can develop into an everyday player, but he has the plus-speed and above-average defense that would really help this club as a bench player. Turning him into a fourth outfielder now, however, would certainly stunt his growth.
Another name to watch is non-roster invitee Jermaine Mitchell, who is a left-handed outfielder who could play some sort of bench role, though he is more of a non-prospect than anything at this point.
And that's it—excluding Ender Inciarte, who was already covered.
The fact of the matter is that the Phillies are going to have to roll with the usual suspects in the outfield this spring and hope that some of their outfield prospects can take a major step forward in 2013.
Early Final Say: Who's In?
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So this is it.
After looking at all of the variables, what will the Phillies' outfield situation look like on Opening Day? The only certainty at this point seems to be that Delmon Young will open the season on the disabled list, so he is out of the picture for now.
Domonic Brown is the safest bet to make the roster. He brings the greatest amount of upside, and there is nothing left for him—as trade bait or otherwise—in Triple-A. He'll be on the club to start the season.
If Young is out, Darin Ruf is likely in. The Phillies really need to see what he brings to the table, and he could supply that right-handed power that has been absent since Jayson Werth left in free agency. If Ruf is successful, Young may not even get a chance to start.
But what does that mean for John Mayberry Jr.? If the Phillies have seen enough, the right-handed power duo of Ruf and Young would make Mayberry obsolete. He could be the odd man out when Young is healthy.
Of course, that leaves the Phillies without a backup center fielder. Brown played some center field in the minor leagues, but that job would likely come down to either Laynce Nix or Ender Inciarte.
Nix played some center field for the Phillies last season, but Inciarte is perceived as an above-average runner and defender. If I were building this club, I would rather have the guarantee that is Inciarte's speed and defense, as opposed to the uncertainty that is Nix's power.
So, with Young opening the season on the DL, this is what my outfield looks like on Opening Day: Ruf in left, Ben Revere in center and Brown in right, with Mayberry and Inciarte on the bench.
It wouldn't surprise me to see the Phillies work out a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to keep both Inciarte and Nix in the organization either, however.