The SportsTalk Shop: A Dimension of Versatility

While the jury will be out for some time on this year’s Phillies trades, one aspect of these moves is clearly developing.  In addition to getting highly regarded minor league players and prospects, the players they’re acquiring seem to be versatile—in terms of ability, skill set and potential roles they could have in this club.

This is even more important on a rebuilding team as it’s not locked in stone which players will be playing which positions as the team continues to evolve…and hopefully improve.

Can you imagine Ryan Howard playing another position?  Remember the failed attempts to move Chase Utley to third base?  How about the lack of quality catchers behind Carlos Ruiz the last several years?  The Phillies had to move Jim Thome and Placido Polanco to part ways with some valuable veterans in order to open up spots for the next generation of Phillies players.  The current crop of prospects in the Phillies farm system will find it to easier to reach the Major Leagues, not just because of the present holes on the roster, but also because a good number of up-and-coming players have the ability to play different positions.

Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez have had good seasons and look to have starting positions waiting for them in 2016.  Freddy Galvis—at least for the moment—has played well enough to hold down the shortstop spot until J. P. Crawford arrives.  But most positions going forward are very much up for grabs.

The advantage of the young players now in the Phillies’ fold is not just that they have Major League potential, but they have the ability to move around and play different roles, should the need arise.  Franco can also play first base.  Hernandez has played shortstop, third base and outfield, even though he looks more comfortable at second.  Newly acquired Darnell Sweeney projects as a utility guy, but has some pop and speed and played regularly at second, short, third and center field.  Galvis, too, has looked like an above-average defender, regardless of where he’s placed on the diamond.

Fans already can see the benefits of having different players’ ability to play multiple positions.  Interim Manager Pete Mackanin has frequently double-switched in games, allowing more flexibility with his batting order late in games, while not sacrificing anything defensively.

Here’s a look at the younger players in the upper-level of the Phillies farm system.  Top prospects are listed in BOLD, and players, at least at the beginning of the season, projected as “super utility” (or not quite everyday) players are in italics.

Nick Williams (acq. in the Cole Hamels trade) – projects to be a left fielder per Baseball America, but has played all three outfield positions and has a blend of speed, power and the ability to hit for average.

Roman Quinn (drafted by Phila, 2nd round) – Despite an injury, Quinn had a great season at Double-A after making the transition from shortstop to the outfield.  MLB.com suggests he can be an above-average defender in center field with more experience.

Cornelius Randolph (draft by Phila., 1st round) – An MLB “Top #100 Prospect” who has bat speed, strength and patience (according to MLBPipeline.com), coming on a solid season in the Gulf Coast League.  Randolph has played the middle infield positions with some believing he could play 3d base, but with Franco occupying that position, he saw time in left field this past summer.

Jorge Alfaro (acq. in the Cole Hamels trade) – The key piece in the Hamels’ trade, boasting perhaps the greatest potential of anyone acquired in the deal, was hurt for much of the year.  With raw power, he’s currently listed as the #2 catching prospect in all of minor league baseball.  However, he can also play first base and some feel he could also be an everyday right fielder, or even play first base.  This is important with the development of Phillies’ farmhand Andrew Knapp, who had a strong second half in Double-A and might be closer to the Major Leagues than Alfaro is at present.

Odubel Herrera (Rule 5 selection) – Per his Rule 5 status, Herrera had to stay on the Big League roster all season or be offered back, but the Phillies had no problems finding a spot for him, and even felt comfortable moving Ben Revere for him at the trade deadline.  He’s a quality MLB bat and seems to be improving as the year has gone along, both offensively and defensively.  However, if Quinn has another big season in 2016 and makes the jump to the Big Leagues, Herrera can also play left field and is a natural infielder.  The Phillies should be able to find a way to get plenty of “ABs” for him going forward.

Aaron Altherr (draft by Phila., 9th round) – While not everyone in the Phillies organization viewed him as a blue chip prospect, I was impressed from what I saw in Altherr’s play in Triple-A this season.  More importantly, some of the guys who saw Aaron play on an everyday basis said they felt he could be an everyday MLB outfielder—at least on the current Phillies team.  He has nice range and a strong arm, which lends him to playing all three outfield positions.  Offensively, he was one of the top hitters at Lehigh Valley.  Supposedly, the Phillies wanted him to continuing playing every day and was not promoted once Revere was traded.  I am glad he received a “pre-September” call-up and hope that he gets even more of a chance to showcase his skills (and hope he doesn’t turn into another Darin Ruf, who really never did seem to get an extended look).  If he continues to play as well as he has at the Major League level, he may force the team to have him in the lineup every day.

Cody Asche didn’t exactly shock and awe anyone with his offensive outputs.  But if Asche and Ruf remain on the team beyond their arbitration years, both can play a couple different spots defensively and could see themselves as platoon or bench options as the other young players develop.

Trying to predict an everyday lineup is nearly impossible at this point, which is a good thing.  The future Phillies manager (whether it’s Mackanin or not) will have many different options where to bat and position players in the field.  This will also help the front office in trying to improve the team.  If/when they assume the team is ready to challenge for a playoff spot, it will keep options open in trying to acquire additional players through trades and free agency.

Even the most skeptical Phillies fan has to be impressed with the moves being made by the Phillies front office over the last several months.  While it might still be a stretch to be in playoff contention next summer, outgoing CEO Pat Gillick’s ominous warning that the team may not be a contender until 2017 or 2018 may not be correct after all.

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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