Chase Utley, Cesar Hernandez are just two of five Phillies that really surprised this year
It has been a year of ups and, more accurately, downs for the Philadelphia Phillies, but all was not lost. And even though it isn't much, late season heroics and surprises have revealed the proverbial silver lining from the 2013 season.
The surprise and, in most cases, unexpected performances—some good, some bad—have told part of the story from this season. And whether it was Chase Utley's knees holding up for the majority of the year or Domonic Brown's potential finally realized, the team has seen its fair share of surprises.
So in no particular order, here are the top five guys that each did something this season that no one really could have ever expected. But if you were one of the ones who "knew it" all along, congratulations. Take pride in being in the minority and feel free to tell the rest of the world, "I told you so," in the comments.
Domonic Brown has been a surprise source of power for the Phillies in 2013
Nobody expected Domonic Brown to be an All-Star, but it happened.
For parts of three seasons, the Phillies' former top prospect, Brown, languished in mediocrity. Initially promoted as an injury replacement, Brown struggled to find consistency in the short term role and found himself being yoyo'ed from the majors to the minors.
Ultimately, this was damaging to Brown's development, and while guys he was once ranked above began to embark upon successful major league careers, the Phillies LF was still struggling to find his game at Triple-A.
But all of that changed in 2013.
Since the Phillies had traded Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino the year prior, it seemed apparent that Brown was going to get his shot despite only hitting .235 in 2012. Make or break, the Phillies had to see if Brown would be their future or just a bust. So for the first time in his career, Brown made the Opening Day roster as a starter.
And Brown did not disappoint. In fact, considering his track record, Brown surprised a lot of the Phillies fandom, especially those that were ready to write him off.
In his first full season (stats current as of Sept. 17), Brown displayed the power that those in the organization had been hoping he would. He slugged 27 home runs, far and away better than the 12 he had the previous three years combined. He has also recorded 81 RBI, again more than the past three years combined. And had it not been for an injury that forced him to spend time on the DL, Brown probably would have had his first 100-RBI season.
As a result of Brown's early start, which included a remarkable tear in the month of May (12 HR, 25 RBI, 17 R), he was named Player of the Month and named to his first All-Star Game.
Brown still has some work to do, especially when it comes to OBP (.318 on the year), but ultimately, after a season like this, hopes are high that this prospect can get even better and turn into a major league success story for the Phillies.
At least in 2013, Chase Utley seemed to put the knee issues behind him
Nobody expected Chase Utley to play in 130 games this year, but it can happen.
What can you say about Utley, or rather, what can't you say? The guy is a baseball player, a battler, a grinder, and a 'heads in the game, cleats on the ground, eye on the ball' type of guy that any team would be lucky to have.
The 2013 season began with Utley, who hadn't played a single preseason inning since the spring of 2010, out on the field taking ground balls and batting practice. For fans at the time, it might not have seemed like much, but for Utley, this was a small victory en route to an even greater reward.
Utley took the field on Opening Day and went 3-for-5 with a HR, triple, three RBI and two runs scored. He didn't appear hampered by the knees that have caused him problems in the past, and he didn't seem timid either. He was back to being the Utley of old, even if just for one day.
But it lasted much more than one day.
For the first time since 2009, Utley has played in 120+ games and could, if he plays every day for the rest of the season, finish 2013 with 132 games played. And considering his time on the DL was for an oblique injury unrelated to the knees, this is the best anybody could have hoped for.
Utley's durability isn't the only thing that may have surprised fans this year. The 34-year-old second baseman has also recorded 47 XBH (17 of which are HR), has scored 67 runs and 62 RBI and is batting .276; again, all numbers which are his highest since 2009.
Utley may be years removed from his prime and from 100 RBI/100 R seasons, but he is not that far off from being able to hit 20 HR and get 80 RBI/80 R. The key for him, as it has been, is just staying healthy and staying on the field. Because as surprised fans learned this year, when he does, he is still one the best second basemen in the game.
Jonathan Papelbon has not been his best in 2013
Nobody expected Jonathan Papelbon to blow seven saves, but it happened.
Sometimes not all surprises are good ones. Don't believe it? Then just ask Papelbon.
In the 2011 offseason, the closer with the alter ego of "Cinco Ocho" was paid heftily, and by heftily, I mean with the biggest contract ever given to a reliever in the history of baseball. He was paid that large sum in due part to what he had done throughout his career, recording 30+ saves and 70+ strikeouts in each of his full major league seasons.
And in his first year with the Phillies, Papelbon pitched as expected, notching 38 saves, 92 strikeouts, an ERA under 2.50 and 70 innings pitched. He was that lights-out closer, so the $50+ million he was owed did not seem like a big deal at all.
But then 2013 happened, and to say it has been vintage 2010-era Papelbon would be an understatement.
With just 11 games left in the season, Papelbon is in danger of recording his first sub-30 saves season. He has just 27 at this point and while he hasn't gotten as many opportunities in the past, Papelbon does have seven blown saves on the season. The only other time in his career where he had more than that was in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox.
More than just the blown saves though, Papelbon's inner "Papelbon" has come out this year, as well. He has opened his mouth more than once to the media about his displeasure with the team's current state and has been seen in the dugout on a few occasions jawing with some of his teammates.
To call Papelbon a team cancer is a bit of an overreach, but with how things have gone and with how Papelbon has handled them, he isn't exactly a role model for the young pitchers in the bullpen.
He's still owed a ton of money, making it nearly impossible to move him, so the Phillies can just hope that in 2014, the closer returns to his best form.
Darin Ruf has been a pleasant surprise for the Phillies this season
Nobody expected Darin Ruf to be anything more than a fringe prospect, but it happened.
For a guy who was never considered a "prospect," Darin Ruf has done more at the major league level than anyone likely could have ever expected.
Prior to July of 2012, it is probably a safe bet that 99 percent of Phillies' fans had never heard of the name "Darin Ruf." But after a jaw-dropping, absolute torrid month of August in Triple-A that saw him hit 20 of his 38 total home runs, Ruf's name popped up on the radar. The 20th-round pick of the 2009 draft was starting to turn heads, and when his name made it up to the Phillies, there was really only one thing left to do.
Ruf made his major league debut that September and did an admirable job in a short period of time. And like with Brown, the trades of Victorino and Pence opened up an outfield spot. Ruf was a natural first baseman, but clearly that job is already taken in Philly. However, the consensus at the time seemed to be that if Ruf could make it as an outfielder, that he had a shot to make the team.
With a slow bat in preseason and the struggles at the new position evident, Ruf actually didn't make the team out of spring training as many had expected he would. Instead, the 27-year-old, who was earning "prospect" consideration, began the LF experiment at Triple-A. It was slow to take, but Ruf never gave up, and when Ryan Howard hit the DL, he got his shot once again.
Ruf hasn't disappointed.
In 62 games played, a little less than half the season, Ruf has hit 14 HR with 26 RBI. And while that RBI total is pretty low for a guy who has primarily batted in the fifth spot in the lineup, if you extrapolate the home runs over the course of a full season, that amounts to somewhere in the 30-33 range. That's really good to have from a guy hitting fifth.
And what so many people seem to be ignoring is that for a power guy, Ruf really does get on base. He has an above average OBP at .353 and had reached base safely in 33 straight games dating back to last season.
But perhaps most surprising is the fact that Ruf has not been deplorable in the OF. He has spent time in both LF and RF and is actually fielding 1.000. Sure his range factor is low and his ability to cover ground is slim to none, but like Pat Burrell, the best you can do is stick him out there and hope he doesn't cost you games. And so far, Ruf has done a pretty good job of not costing the team games.
In just a few games, Cesar Hernandez has shown great potential
Nobody expected Cesar Hernandez to be an OBP machine, but it happened.
Hernandez has only played 22 games at the major league level, but in such a short time, he has really shown amazing potential coupled with a breakout September.
When Utley missed time due to his oblique injury, Hernandez, Lehigh Valley's third baseman, was ready for his shot. In his first stint, Hernandez had just 28 at-bats, but performed decently in Utley's absence. However, it wasn't until September call-ups that Hernandez really began to shine.
Recently converted to a center fielder because of his speed and the block at second by Utley's three-year guaranteed contract, Hernandez was brought back when rosters expanded. As a center fielder and utility second baseman, Hernandez increased his value to the team, and with his strong offensive showing, also increased his chances to make the roster in 2014.
After having not walked once in his first nine games, Hernandez has very much become an on-base guy in the past month. He has walked seven times in his last 13 games, and also has 15 hits. Hernandez has scored nine runs and has seven RBI in those 13 games, as well. And while he has yet to record his first ML stolen base, Hernandez has looked a little more aggressive on the basepaths and has attempted to steal twice.
But most importantly, Hernandez has a well above average OBP of .380 on the season and .451 for the month of September. In short, this means that if Hernandez can find a way to stay with this team, he would make one heck of a leadoff man, and that is something the Phillies could desperately use.
Hernandez has been one of those unexpected surprises, and it has happened in year that he may not have even debuted if not for Utley's injury. But now that he has, there is no ignoring that Hernandez is a guy who will bring great future dividends to this roster.