The Philadelphia Phillies have struggled in the 2013 season so far. For the first six or seven games, the offense was on fire but the pitching staff was allowing too many runs, save for Cliff Lee. Then, in the last six or seven games, the offense has been anemic, to say the least, while the pitching staff has regained its composure.
It's been one of the more puzzling starts to a Phillies season in recent history, and while it's only April, it still provides cause for concern. At this point in time, everybody is healthy and the team should be at its best. If this is the best the Phillies can do, should fans be concerned that the season will turn out to be somewhere around .500 like last year?
Nevertheless, the Phillies stand at 6-9 after a humiliating 11-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds last night, giving them the series sweep. And it's not like the Reds were a great team, either—entering the series, Cincinnati was just 5-7 with many an offensive player failing to produce.
If this trend continues, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. could look to trade away some of his big league pieces in the first stages of a potential rebuild. Folks, it may be time to say that the Phillies' dynasty of dominance has too quickly come to a close.
Putting the total negativity aside, if players are traded, injured, or the team does fall out of contention to the point that they want to see what they have lying around in the farm system, minor leaguers will be called up throughout the season. Here's a list of those who could find themselves with—or back with—the Phillies by the end of the 2013 regular season.
*All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Okay, maybe this one's a bit easier to predict, as the Phillies' bullpen has been and likely will continue to be very volatile. However, one of these guys may have the upper hand.
Last season, the bullpen was a mess, and whether due to injury or ineffectiveness, the Phils continued to try arm after arm to see if success could be found. It worked for Raul Valdes and Jeremy Horst. Apparently, it didn't work out for Justin De Fratus and Jake Diekman.
In De Fratus' defense, he likely would have made the 2012 Opening Day roster had he not injured his elbow and sat on the DL for a majority of last season. Diekman looked solid, though his command issues seemed to undermine his strikeout ability.
This year, though, the bullpen has somewhat surprisingly looked as shaky as last season. In recent outings, Mike Adams has not looked himself. Phillippe Aumont allowed too many baserunners at the end of the suspended Phillies-Reds game. Chad Durbin, unsurprisingly, has looked pretty terrible. But then there's guys like Horst and Valdes, for whom expectations had been high yet have not been reached.
If the Phillies decide that one of Aumont, Horst, or Valdes needs conditioning in the minors, I would expect Diekman to get the nod over De Fratus. His southpaw arm is certainly to his advantage, but his spring was actually quite good. It wasn't surprising to me that he was cut; rather, when he was cut from spring training was shocking to me, as I thought he would last much longer than he did.
And don't forget about Mike Stutes, either. If he can get back to full strength, he can be a weapon for the Phillies.
One of the Phillies' more consistently high-ranked prospects over the last few years, Jonathan Pettibone may finally be ready to make his major league debut sometime in 2013.
Entering the season as both Baseball America and MLB.com's fourth-best prospect, Pettibone is considered by the former to possess both the organization's best changeup and best control. He's also projected to be the Phillies' fifth starter by 2016.
Although he's never had tons of zip on his fastball, Pettibone has always had the finesse to get by. He's not as slow as a Tyler Cloyd in terms of pitch speed, but he rests comfortably in the low 90s, at about 92-93 miles per hour. But now that he's spent four years in the Phillies' system, he may finally gain favor to crack the starting rotation.
With John Lannan exploding last night against the Cincinnati Reds and Kyle Kendrick looking like the streaky Kyle Kendrick he is, Pettibone could usurp Lannan's rotation spot if necessary and would provide more of a right-handed balance in the rotation should the big league club desire that. And while he's gone 0-1 with a 9.64 ERA and 2.14 WHIP in his first two starts, he's got the potential and control to fix his problems soon enough.
Look for Pettibone to get a spot start or two in the event of an injury or in September, and if he looks good from there, he could be the favorite for the fifth starter's spot next year, at the minimum.
Although considered by most to be second in the Phillies' system to Jesse Biddle in terms of southpaw starters, Morgan may at least be the first one to toe up the rubber in the major leagues.
Ranked fifth and seventh by Baseball America and MLB.com respectively, the latter details that Morgan led the Phillies organization in strikeouts last year and was third in the entire minors in the category. Also a third-round pick but in 2011 by the Phillies, Morgan has a solid four-pitch arsenal to his credit consisting of a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup, all of which are considered to be above average.
After quickly accelerating through the Phillies' system in his first full season last year, Morgan already finds himself in Triple-A with Lehigh Valley to start 2013. In his first two starts, Morgan has gone 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA, nine strikeouts, and a 0.79 WHIP along with a .191 batting average against (BAA). He looked dominant in spring training, and he's looking dominant now.
While Pettibone's got the tenure in the Phillies' minor league system in his favor, it very well may be Morgan who finds himself in the majors first. And if the Phillies do indeed like the three-lefty tandem in the starting rotation, booting a potentially-ineffective Lannan for Morgan would maintain just that. Morgan could find himself making huge strides this year, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him make a start as early as July or August in the majors if he continues on his torrid pace.
When the Phillies acquired third baseman Michael Young from the Texas Rangers in December, it meant a few different things. For Young, it meant a change of scenery, a fresh start and the ability to focus on one position. For the Phillies, it meant that their defense at the hot corner would be its worst in years, but the offensive capability that would be provided in return could be the best in years.
However, it also meant something else. Yes, Young has been raking so far and it's been great to see. But the appeal of Young aside from his offensive upside was his contract situation. Even though he's making $16 million this year, the Phillies are only on the hook for $6 million of it plus a $1.2 million assignment bonus, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.
That, and he's only got one year left on the current deal before hitting free agency at season's end, paving the way for prospect Cody Asche to become the Phillies' starting third baseman in 2014 and beyond if he's ready.
Asche is another minor leaguer who had a breakout year in 2012, batting .324 with an .849 OPS, 12 home runs, 33 doubles, six triples, 72 RBI and 11 steals across two levels. While his batting average was better in High-A Clearwater (.349 compared to .300 at Double-A), Asche's OPS was superb in Double-A Reading, standing at .873 compared to .825.
This season, though, Asche is off to a bit of a slow start. In 11 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Asche is batting just .171 with a .569 OPS. He has a home run to his credit along with five RBI, but he's also struck out 12 times, averaging almost a 30 percent strikeout rate.
Asche has a bit more work to do before he's major league-ready, and the Phillies may use him in September to gauge what they have in him. But for now, he's the heir-apparent at third, and should remain the prospect in favor there until further notice.
When the Phillies acquired Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros in 2011, they paid a hefty price to land him, surrendering their top two prospects in Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton.
They also gave up Domingo Santana, who likely would be a top outfield prospect for the Phillies today. At that time, the trade looked like it would be worth it, but when Pence was dealt to the San Francisco Giants just a year later, the return wasn't as spectacular as expected.
The Phillies acquired Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin from the Giants in the Pence deal at the 2012 trade deadline. With Schierholtz now a Chicago Cub, the only remaining assets are Joseph and Rosin. And with Rosin not making any top prospect lists—not even Baseball America's top 30 Phillies prospects in their Prospect Handbook—the only player with any real value to the Phillies is Joseph. Fortunately for them, he may be more valuable than initially thought.
Coming in at No. 3 in the Phillies' prospect rankings by both Baseball America and MLB.com, Joseph could very well be the Phillies' catcher of the future. That distinction, which once belonged to now-Double-A catcher Sebastian Valle, saw it slip from his fingers with continuous struggles on his part and strides made by Joseph on both offense and especially defense.
With a cannon for an arm and the ability to hit for decent power, Joseph could easily slot into the starting catcher's role in 2014 if the Phillies let Carlos Ruiz walk after the season. So far in 2013, Joseph has looked about average, hitting .200 with a .622 OPS, though that's comprised of a .222 OBP as well. He's also got two home runs and 11 RBI to his credit, though, so he isn't too far off.
Joseph could get some September looks or get a few starts with catcher injuries should they pile up. Hopefully they don't, but Joseph could see himself in Phillies pinstripes at the start of 2014.