Always one to look back while keeping my eyes on what lies ahead, I’m seeing what could be the youngest Lehigh Valley Ironpigs team we’ve ever had for the 2013 season. We’ve had a taste of the baby aces courtesy of Jonathan Pettibone and he showed that he was more than up to the task of moving up a level. Now it’s time for the rest of them to join him.
The Phillies will always have their share of veteran free agents at the AAA level to serve as a short term insurance policy if and when someone on their 25 man roster gets hurt and it’s impossible to guess who those players might be. The 2012 season saw more of these guys than ever move up to the Phillies from the Ironpigs. In fact, Erik Kratz and Kevin Frandsen have quite possibly played their way onto the Phillies 2013 roster thanks to their superb play after being promoted. We also saw veterans such as Mike Fontenot, Jason Pridie, Hector Luna, Brian Sanches, Jeremy Horst, and Raul Valdes move up plus quite a few youngsters who saw big league action for the first time. Then there is Pete Orr who always seems to make the Phillies out of spring training but by midseason comes back to the Lehigh Valley for a month or two. With the exception of Kratz and Frandsen, it’s questionable whether or not any of the other veterans will earn a spot on the Phillies’ 40 man roster but I’m hoping the Phillies offer most of them a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.
As for the 2013 Lehigh Valley Ironpigs, as I already said, it’s impossible to predict who the Phillies will sign to minor league deals or who might be acquired by trade, but based on what is currently available this is what I would expect.
CATCHER: Sebastian Valle will begin the year with the Ironpigs. That much is certain. Tommy Joseph, the catcher who was acquired from the Giants in the Hunter Pence deal is already listed as the #4 prospect in the Phillies organization and is highly regarded for his power potential and his defensive ability. He threw out 41% of all would be basestealers in 2012. I would anticipate Joseph beginning the season in Reading and then moving up much the same way Valle did in 2012. The Phillies will always have a major league ready catcher at AAA to be ready to move up quickly should Ruiz or Kratz get hurt. Right now I would guess that Steve Lerud would be that catcher. He is 28, bats left and got his feet wet in the majors this September with the Phillies. Another option is Northampton H.S. grad Brian Schneider. The soon to be 36 year old catcher will be a free agent at the end of the season and if no other big league team shows interest in him, what better place for him to play than for a AAA team 15 minutes from where he went to high school and with an organization where all the pitchers are familiar with him? It would be a nice gesture by the Phillies to keep him in the organization and close to his hometown where friends and family can watch him play. Finally, it always seems like John Suomi is lurking somewhere in the shadows and it would be a surprise to no one if he is still somewhere in the Phillies organization in 2013.
FIRST BASE: The most likely picture here is a familiar one. There’s no room for Cody Overbeck with the Phillies and he didn’t do enough in 2012 to attract interest from other teams so unless the Phillies sign a veteran free agent to play first base, it looks like Overbeck will see the bulk of the action at first again in the upcoming season. That could change if the Darin Ruf left field experiment is a bust but for now my guess is that the Phillies will want Ruf to see more time in the outfield. There isn’t much else in the organization so a minor league free agent signing is always a possiblity, maybe someone who hits from the left side.
SECOND BASE: Cesar Hernandez showed enough in 2012 to deserve a fulltime position at second base for the Ironpigs next year. He has always hit at other levels so I would expect his average to be much improved in 2013, hopefully well enough to hit at or near the top of the order. There were a few defensive lapses last year but that should improve as he matures. He doesn’t turn 23 until May, 2013.
THIRD BASE: The hot corner always seems to be a headache for the Ironpigs. From King, to Tiffee, to Ransom, to Belliard, to Luna, if I had to pick the best third baseman in the 5 year history of the Ironpigs I think I’d choose Kevin Frandsen followed by Pete Orr. If I had my choice of who to play at third base for the 2013 Ironpigs I think I’d go with Cody Asche (pronounced ASH-ee). Cody played at the University of Nebraska and is just 22. The left-handed hitter batted .349 in 255 at bats at Clearwater this past season before being promoted to Reading where he hit .300 with 10 HR in 263 at bats. His overall average in 2012 was .324. Unfortunately, I have a feeling the Phillies don’t want to rush him to the next level, especially with just 68 AA games under his belt. My guess is Cody begins 2013 in Reading and stays there at least until the all-star break. Opening the season at the hot corner for the Ironpigs is anyone’s guess. It could be a free agent signee, someone acquired in a trade, or Kevin Frandsen or Pete Orr, whichever of the two don’t make the Phillies 25 man roster.
SHORTSTOP: My gut tells me it will be Freddy Galvis. That’s who I said last year so why change now? There’s talk in Philadelphia of trying Chase Utley at third base to make room for Galvis at second base. But how does that help their offense? If they want to begin the season with Utley and Galvis in the infield why not keep Utley at second and move Galvis to third? Frankly, neither of those moves makes much sense to me. The Phillies need to go out and get a quality third baseman and keep Utley at second. Galvis needs to play everyday, but he needs to do it in the minors. Sorry Freddy, you may have a big league glove but your bat is still firmly entrenched in the minors. I also liked Andres Blanco at shortstop and would love to have him back. Not only did he do a good job defensively at shortstop, but he also served as a good mentor to Cesar Hernandez. It was like having a coach on the field for the young second baseman. Although Blanco played almost exclusively at shortstop in 2012, Andres has played 116 major league games at second base, 11 more than he played at shortstop. His veteran presence and versatility would be a big benefit to the Ironpigs in 2013. If Blanco doesn’t return, Troy Hanzawa has proven to be a reliable shortstop at Reading and Miguel Abreu played all over the place for Reading in 2012 while hitting .280.
OUTFIELD: I would love to have Jason Pridie back with the Ironpigs in 2013. How many people remember that he had 3 hits on Jimmy Rollins bobblehead night way back in April, 2008 on the night Rochester shut out the Ironpigs 10-0? Shane Victorino hit leadoff for the Ironpigs in that game. Pridie provides a quality bat with some power and has enough big league experience to contribute to the Phillies should he be needed. If all goes well with the winter league experiment I would expect Darin Ruf to open the season in left field for the Ironpigs. There will still likely be a large learning curve for him in the outfield so fans will have to be patient with him. What’s most important is the power he brings to a team that was lacking in that department in 2012. Darin Ruf hit more homeruns in August than the entire Ironpigs team hit that month. I believe the Ironpigs’ homerun record for a right handed hitter is still held by Jon Knott at 19, and I would think given the opportunity to play regularly, Ruf could easily break that record. I only hope that his errors don’t exceed his homeruns. After 2 years of limited playing time due to injuries, it’s also time for the third player acquired from Seattle for Cliff Lee to get an opportunity at AAA. Tyson Gillies played a solid centerfield at Reading in 2012, hitting .304. His batting average against right handed pitchers was .326. Another young outfield bat of interest would be Leandro Castro. He hit .287 with 10 HR at Reading last year and also had 35 doubles. The right handed right fielder hit .326 vs. lefties in 2012 but also had 11 errors in the outfield while also garnering 11 assists. Still a bit of an enigma is Jiwan James. A highly regarded prospect in the system, he still hasn’t fulfilled his potential. The switch hitting outfielder is only 23 but hit just .249 with 6 homeruns at Reading after hitting .268 at Clearwater in 2011. Derrick Mitchell had his 2012 season interrupted by injury and I would expect him to get another chance to prove his worth in 2013. Still in the picture are 2012 carryovers Kyle Hudson, Steve Susdorf, and veteran Mike Spidale. Hudson was hitting .291 when he was acquired from the Rays in exchange for Rich Thompson but hit just .253 after joining the Ironpigs. He will be 26 next year and is a solid center fielder but lacks the strong arm that was provided by Thompson. Susdorf hit .282 with the Ironpigs and had just 1 homerun but proved himself to be a quality defensive outfielder. Mike Spidale hit .268 after he was promoted from Reading but didn’t provide much offense with runners in scoring position, driving in just 8 runners in 228 at bats. At age 31, I would expect him to begin 2013 back in Reading if he is still in the Phillies organization.
PITCHERS: Bring on the baby aces. First, if Tyler Cloyd does not begin the season with the Phillies, then he will without a doubt be the opening day starter for the Ironpigs. He could follow the same type of path as Vance Worley in 2011. It all depends on the needs of the Phillies. If none of their pitchers are dealt in the offseason, then they will likely begin 2013 with Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Worley and Kendrick. At best, Cloyd would be a long reliever. Jonathan Pettibone has also earned a spot in the starting rotation in 2013 based on his 4-1 2.55 record in 2012. In 42.1 innings with the Ironpigs, he did not allow a single homerun and allowed more than 3 runs in just 1 of his 7 starts. Austin Hyatt began the 2012 season with the Ironpigs but finished at Reading. I would expect him to be given an opportunity to be in the Lehigh Valley starting rotation again in 2013. The pitchers who join them will be interesting. Trevor May is the #1 prospect in the Phillies organization but he struggled at times while pitching at Reading. He finished with a 10-13 record and a rather high 4.87 ERA but still managed to strike out better than 1 batter per inning. His big problem was with his control, walking 78 batters in 149.2 innings. If he doesn’t begin 2013 with the Ironpigs, it won’t take him long to get here. Julio Rodriguez is the other baby ace who spent 2012 with Reading. He began the year strong but faltered late in the year causing some to believe his stuff is not good enough to get out hitters at a higher level. Still, he struck out 136 in 134 innings so he should be given a chance. One of the more interesting pitchers at Reading is Ethan Martin. The Phillies acquired him from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino deal and all he did was go 5-0 3.18 in 7 starts with Reading. He had been 8-6 in AA in the Dodgers organization so overall he was 13-6 3.48 in AA. He’s just 23. Also of interest in lefty Adam Morgan. Morgan was just 4-10 3.29 at Clearwater but had 140 strikeouts in 123 innings pitched. He was promoted to Reading and started 6 games for the little Phils, going 4-1 3.53. He turns 23 in February. One thing all these pitchers have in common is youth. From past experience we know that there will a few free agent signings with veterans in camp fighting for a spot. With guys like Elarton, Misch, and Cochran on the staff last year, don’t be surprised to see a few veterans again in the Ironpigs’ starting rotation in 2013.
BULLPEN: With the expected return of Mike Stutes, David Herndon and maybe even Jose Contreras (team option), the Phillies have a wealth of relief pitchers and will likely add a veteran to the list during the offseason. Guys like Justin De Fratus, Phillippe Aumont, Michael Schwimer, B.J. Rosenberg, Jake Diekman, Joe Savery, Jeremy Horst, and Raul Valdes will all be battling for middle relief positions with the Phillies with the ones who don’t make the cut comprising a solid bullpen with the Ironpigs. Add to that list names like Tyson Brummett, J.C. Ramirez, Michael Cisco, Justin Friend, Colby Shreve, and a handful of others and it looks like the bullpen will once again be a strength for the 2013 Ironpigs.
Get used to all the new names. You should be hearing them often once the 2013 season begins.
I’m already counting down the days to April 4, 2013. I can’t wait.
See you at the ballpark!