To say the least, it's been a rough season for the Philadelphia Phillies. They sit at 56-70, 14 games under the .500 mark. Last Friday, their longtime and all-time winningest manager, Charlie Manuel, was controversially fired. A team that might have had one final shot at the postseason before a few years of rebuilding showed that the window has closed and is locked shut until further notice.
Such times can bring angst to the fanbase, and for a team like the Phillies, their fanbase isn't exactly new to the concept of losing. The mid-1990s into the early 2000s brought plenty of losing seasons, which later became winning seasons—albeit still seasons without playoffs. Keep in mind that it took 14 years for the Phillies even to make it to the postseason after their 1993 World Series appearance.
Times of losing can also provide a glimpse into the future and what's to come. Ryne Sandberg took over for Manuel as the Phillies' interim manager, and with a good performance, he could end up being the Phils' skipper for the foreseeable future. Prospects who otherwise would have to stall in the minors get their chance to show what they've got in the majors, for the games don't tend to matter all that much to the major league squad. It's essentially late-summer spring training, but with actual major league experience against major league teams.
While the Phillies lack any top-notch prospects ready to burst onto the scene, they do possess some quality minor league talent who could serve as fill-ins in 2014 and beyond. Some like Cody Asche and Ethan Martin have already climbed up to the majors. Others who have taken strides this season will be rewarded with a September call-up when rosters expand to include the remainder of players on the 40-man roster. Even those who may not currently be on the 40-man roster will be added before September 1 in order to make a first impression and earn, at the very least, an invite to major league spring training in February 2014.
With little else to play for, the Phillies will be giving many minor leaguers a shot at proving they belong in the majors. Here's five prime candidates who could receive a September call-up from the minors to join the Phillies' big league squad.
*All prospect rankings and information courtesy of Baseball America's 2013 Prospect Handbook unless otherwise noted. All minor league statistics courtesy of MiLB.com.
Back on July 26, Yahoo's Jeff Passan reported that the Phillies had signed Cuban right-handed pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a six-year, $48 million contract with a seventh-year vesting option worth $11 million. However, neither Gonzalez's representation nor the Phillies have acknowledged any sort of signing has taken place.
Initially, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the only hurdle towards the signing was a visa issue. That notion has since been disproved, and MLB.com's Todd Zolecki wrote in early August that the deal "had hit a snag" and was in jeopardy altogether. While speculative, Zolecki opined that the issue was likely an elbow concern, as Gonzalez had had surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow prior to the signing. Such an precaution wouldn't be all that surprising, as an elbow concern was what might have derailed a reported trade last offseason that would have sent then-Houston Astros (and now Colorado Rockies) setup man Wilton Lopez to Philadelphia.
The 26-year-old Gonzalez could have been a much-needed infusion of youth into the Phillies' rotation come 2014 and beyond, and while a deal is still not out of the question, Zolecki wrote that, as of August 18, there was no new news on any sort of signing. If Gonzalez isn't inked to a contract, it would be a shame, but if he is anytime soon, expect to see him sometime next month, even if it's just in the bullpen.
The highest ranked prospect on this list, left-hander Adam Morgan came in at number five in Phillies prospect rankings entering the season. Also considered to have the best slider in the organization, Morgan's fastball and changeup are regarded as above-average offerings. With a curveball that's developing as well, Morgan has the chance to be one of the Phillies' better future rotation arms.
Morgan started out well after being assigned to Triple-A to begin the season, pitching to the tune of a 1-2 record with a 3.23 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. However, after a disastrous May that saw Morgan go 0-2 with a 9.82 ERA in just three starts, he was shut down with a partially torn rotator cuff. Opting for a rigorous rehabilitation program instead of surgery, Morgan worked his way back to Triple-A by the latter half of July and has pitched well since.
Now standing with a 2-5 record and 3.68 ERA in 14 starts at Triple-A, Morgan is a prime candidate to be called up in September. He likely would have been called up before other names such as Ethan Martin or even Tyler Cloyd had he not been injured when a starter was needed. If he had a longer tenure in the Phillies' system and at Triple-A, Morgan's stuff likely would have garnered a call-up when Jonathan Pettibone earned the nod in April.
Morgan remains the best pitching prospect in the system not named Jesse Biddle and has the most potential of them all as well, Biddle notwithstanding. He's expected be a number three starter at worst, which is why the Phillies should give him a look in September to see what he may be able to provide going forward. If all goes well, Morgan should be a prime candidate to battle for a spring training rotation spot behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick.
Cameron Rupp entered the season ranked 22nd among Phillies farmhands. There isn't as much to say about the Phillies' former third-rounder except that his game has elevated from being somewhat defensive-minded to being solid all around. With a 34 percent caught-stealing rate last year, Rupp's arm is also decent, and after having caught bullpen sessions from pitchers such as Roy Halladay each of the last two years, Rupp's also had the chance to work with some of the best.
The road to the majors hasn't been clear for Rupp throughout his minor league career. At the minimum, other catchers such as Sebastian Valle and, more recently, Tommy Joseph, have blocked his way within the organization. With yet another season of regression for Valle and a concussion-laden season for Joseph, Rupp is the only catcher of the three to be playing at Triple-A, and a call-up in September should be in the cards to see if Rupp can handle starting catcher duties in the majors.
Between Double-A and Triple-A this season, Rupp has pieced together a .260 batting average with 14 home runs and a .770 OPS. Fortunately for both Rupp and the Phillies, his offense has been better since his promotion to Triple-A. At that level, Rupp's batted .273 with six home runs, 23 RBI and a .757 OPS in 46 games. He's not much of a runner by any means and any hidden raw power isn't evident based upon his home run count, but Rupp can drive the ball at any time and is a decent power threat to have in a batting lineup.
As was mentioned earlier, Rupp's emergence offensively along with the right players taking a step back has given further consideration to Rupp becoming the starting catcher in 2014. Chances are that the Phillies will at least pursue a catcher in the offseason, but if they don't, Rupp will enter spring training fighting it out for the major league job. If Ruiz is retained or someone else is acquired, then Rupp will likely battle for the backup job with Erik Kratz.
Cesar Hernandez is the only prospect in this group who has already made his major league debut. He only played in nine games in the bigs before being demoted in order to get more playing time, which was probably for the best, as the start to his Phillies career wasn't exactly the best. He batted .250 with just a .536 OPS and tallied just one RBI.
At Triple-A, though, Hernandez is another story. In 94 games this year, the Phillies' 15th-best prospect before the season has hit .316 with two home runs, 32 RBI and a .797 OPS. Additionally, Hernandez has swiped 31 bases, though he's also been caught seven times. Hernandez's stats earned him a spot on the International League's All-Star roster, and it seems as though the Phillies may have someone decent on their hands as, at worst, a bench bat.
Hernandez's natural position is second base, but with Chase Utley there for at least two more years thanks to his recent contract extension, the Phillies tried Hernandez out in center field upon his demotion back to the minors to increase his versatility. At the onset, Hernandez's defense wasn't great, but it improved with time until a wrist injury sidelined him from July 24 until August 8. Since his return, he's batting .438, including a five-game hitting streak that remains active.
With lesser fill-ins in the outfield in the form of Casper Wells and now Roger Bernadina, the Phillies could use someone with extra versatility not named Michael Martinez. Since Hernandez can actually hit a baseball—as opposed to Martinez, who cannot—he can provide extra value if his defense holds up in both the outfield and at second base. Hernandez will be back in September for the Phillies to see what he can provide on both sides of the plate and to determine whether or not they'll need to seek out a utility player this offseason.
Leandro Castro has probably earned the title of the Phillies' breakout offensive prospect in 2013 aside from Cameron Rupp. Once one of the Phillies' top prospects, Castro dropped off the radar going into this season due to injury in 2011 that saw him play just 56 games along with the breakouts of other prospects in the system and additional drafted pieces. He had previously ranked 24th of Phillies' prospects before 2012, 27th before 2011 and 25th before 2010. Thanks to a solid season at Triple-A this year with extensive playing time, though, Castro has found himself back on the map as a potential big leaguer.
Castro will never be mistaken as having the potential to start everyday in the majors, as his stats haven't gotten to that point. However, he'd make for a toolsy bench bat with his .255 average and .656 OPS. He's also got the ability to steal bases, which he's done 17 times this year in his 104 games at Triple-A. Combine that with eight home runs, 22 doubles and 54 RBI, and the Phillies may have themselves a pretty good fourth outfielder.
With at least average defense and an above-average arm, Castro's skills on both sides of the baseball have put him into the pool of players to be considered for a promotion in September. The likelihood that he'll be able to compete with at least John Mayberry, Jr. for a bench spot going into the season next year is relatively high, and he should get the chance to make a first major league impression in just a couple weeks.
David Buchanan is an intriguing name and is probably the sleeper on this list. He's the only player among the five prospects mentioned not to have ever been ranked among the Phillies' top 30 prospects going into a season, yet he's quietly inched his way up through the minors with decent stats to his name.
After a rough start in Double-A this year which saw Buchanan pitch to a 6-11 record with a 4.82 ERA in 22 starts, Buchanan was nevertheless promoted to Triple-A and made his first start there on August 4, likely because Ethan Martin's promotion to the majors opened up a spot in the IronPigs' rotation. Since the promotion to Lehigh Valley, Buchanan has flourished, pitching to the tune of a 2-1 record with a 1.77 ERA with eight strikeouts in 20.1 innings. His batting average against has also been lower at .250 compared to .281 at Double-A Reading.
While the promotion wasn't necessarily thanks to stellar performance, Buchanan seems to be the Phillies' Jonathan Pettibone of last year. Like Buchanan, Pettibone's a right-handed starter who pitched much better at Triple-A than Double-A last year upon a seemingly-unwarranted promotion. Buchanan has had better years than he did in 2013, but with his first impression going so well at the top level he's pitched, Buchanan has at least put himself into a position where he could make a spot start or two if needed over someone like Tyler Cloyd.
It's unclear whether or not the Phillies foresee a bullpen future for Buchanan or a spot in the rotation, but Buchanan's re-emergence gives the Phillies more options, which is never a bad thing to have. With his low strikeout rate throughout his minor league career, Buchanan will always lag slightly behind his competition, but with another good start or two to wrap up the minor league season, he could find himself wearing a Phillies uniform for at least one start in 2013.