Who Will Emerge In 2007?
As things stand now, the position player most likely to take control of a starting job for the Phillies in 2007 is catcher Carlos Ruiz. The catching prospect saw time in the majors this season and was admittedly awe-struck on his first visit with the Phillies. Ruiz was eventually sent back to AAA Scranton, but returned later in the season and showed that he had calmed his nerves. While he didn't show the offensive ability that he showed in an impressive campaign with the Red Barons, Ruiz did start to show that he has a future in the majors. Ruiz hit .307 with 16 homeruns at AAA this season while hitting .261 in 27 games with the Phillies. The good news is that Ruiz had exactly as many at bats per homerun at AAA as he did with the Phillies (23). In other words, the power is there and there has never been a doubt about Ruiz' defense, so there is plenty of reason to believe that he could step into a starting job with the Phillies in 2007. With David Dellucci a free agent and Pat Burrell being dangled as trade bait, there is some thought that the Phillies may have at least one outfield opening in 2007. First choice goes to Shane Victorino, who filled in well for injured center fielder Aaron Rowand, hitting .287 in 415 at bats with the big league club. Victorino showed a lot of good things this season and the Phillies will figure on trying to find a spot for him in next season's starting outfield. After Dellucci comes Chris Roberson (.195 in 41 AB) and Michael Bourn (.125 in 8 AB). Both were with the Phillies in 2006, but neither saw substantial time outside of pinch-running and performing as defensive replacements late in games. Bourn will definitely need time at AAA Ottawa next season, while Roberson could potentially fill a bench spot at the major league level. It's also possible that either of them - especially Roberson - could be packaged in a trade. Keep in mind that losing Dellucci and trading Burrell might not be the only moves the Phillies make in the outfield. Rowand is a great player to have around, but with the emergence of Victorino, he too, would be tradeable. The only other potential opening for a starting position player would be at third base. There aren't any prospects who are near ready to take over there, so forget that one. On the bench, there are a few candidates. Chris Coste is likely to be on the bench and possibly see a good number of at bats as he did this season with the Phillies. The Phillies could also consider infielders Danny Sandoval and Joe Thurston for bench jobs. Thurston can also play some outfield if needed. In the rotation, Scott Mathieson will miss the entire season after under-going Tommy John surgery late in the year, so he's out. Giovany Gonzalez is likely to be the next big pitching name to hit the majors for the Phillies, but after some struggles at AA, Gonzalez will likely either start the year repeating the level or move up to AAA Ottawa for more work before he would hit the Phillies. Gonzalez had a strong start and a strong finish to his season (5-5, 2.96 in April, May and August), so he could well head to Ottawa to start the year. Brian Mazone went 13-3, 2.03 in 20 starts at AAA and could at least get a look in spring training, although making the rotation out of camp would have to be a long shot for the 30 year old left-hander. Still, with his impressive numbers, this is a guy that can't be overlooked, even though he's much older than the usual prospects. J.A. Happ and Zack Segovia will need more work in the minors, but both could start the year in Ottawa after very strong 2006 numbers. Of course, Gavin Floyd and Eude Brito are still hanging around, looking for a chance. Floyd's troubles are well cocumented, but his numbers in July and August were encouraging, as he went 5-3 with a 3.92 ERA. He also averaged 6 2/3 innings per start over the final two months, which was very nice to see. Brito had occasional success out of the bullpen, but not enough to really figure that he'll be a key part of anything next season. Fabio Castro needs to be given a shot. It's unbelievable that the Phillies simply buried him in the bullpen, since he showed a lot of promise. Brito had 16 outings with the Phillies, starting his time with the club by putting up 17 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run. He finished the year with a 1.54 ERA, but was nowhere to be found for long stretches. Why the Phillies didn't give him more of a shot is a mystery, but you have to figure they'll look at him long and hard in camp. Matt Smith, who came to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu deal with the Yankees, pitched well out of the bullpen and will likely be their situational lefty next season. Brian Sanches didn't have a lot of success with the Phillies, but will likely be in camp for a good look next spring.