Phillies Well Stocked at First Base

Matt Rizzotti (courtesy: Lakewood BlueClaws)

Ryan Howard is signed long-term, but the Phillies have some young first base prospects who will be fighting for their day in the majors. Some could also become trade options to fill other holes.

Not that the Phillies are going to be needing a first baseman anytime soon, but if they would, they should have some choices in the not too distant future. Ryan Howard is one of the premier hitters in the game and is now signed long-term, thanks to a recent five-year extension, so there shouldn't be a help wanted sign for first basemen at Citizens Bank Park in the near future. That makes the developments that are going on with some young first basemen down on the farm welcome fodder as being part of any potential deals this summer or down the road to bring in some talent that may needed for other spots on the diamond.

At Triple-A, Andy Tracy is the regular starting first baseman and at 36, he's not much of a prospect-type of player, although if you ask any of the young players who come through Lehigh Valley, Tracy has been a very positive influence on them during their time there. Tracy has been on the DL lately and Neil Sellers has been taking his turn at first base and after an early offensive funk, has started to get some balls to drop in for him along the way. Over the last ten days, Sellers is 8-for-21 (.381), although the power potential that he showed at other levels hasn't reared its beautiful face yet at Triple-A. After hitting 36 home runs over the past two seasons at Reading, you have to figure that it's just a matter of time until the 28 year-old starts launching a few for the IronPigs.

After the Triple-A level is where the first base situation gets very interesting, thanks to a domino effect that started a couple of weeks ago when Reading outfielder Tyson Gillies went on the DL. That injury led to Matt Rizzotti moving from Clearwater to Reading, Darin Ruf going from Lakewood to Clearwater and Jonathan Singleton joining Lakewood from extended spring training.

Double-A Reading started the season with Kevin Mahar, 28, at first base. Since the arrival of Rizzotti from Clearwater two weeks ago, Mahar is splitting time at first with the hot-swinging prospect. The 24 year-old Rizzotti has hit in ten of the 12 games that he's played with Reading and already has four home runs and 12 RBI, including two home runs in Wednesday's game - one of them, a walk-off variety - to go with his five RBI in the game and he upped his offensive numbers to .421 (AVG)/.488 (OBP)/.868 (SLG) on the season with Reading. Rizzotti has some power potential, having hit 23 home runs over the past two seasons and he's hit another five this season between Clearwater and Reading, but he's starting to show more pop in his swing now, while still making regular contact.

Darin Ruf has struggled in his promotion to High-A Clearwater, but is slowly raising his average, bumping it up from .208 a week ago to .233 now, with a decent stretch of hitting. On the bright side, Ruf has homered twice in 43 at-bats with the Threshers to add to the four that he hit as a member of the BlueClaws before his promotion. The 23 year-old Ruf has some power potential, but needs to develop more plate discipline in order to fully take advantage of his offensive potential.

Possibly the biggest eye-opener has been Lakewood's Jonathan Singleton. At just 18, Singleton was an eighth round pick last summer and has strong offensive potential that he is showing in his stint with the BlueClaws. After a nice showing in the Gulf Coast League last summer (2-12-.290), Singleton figured to be off to Williamsport once the short-season New York - Penn League started next month. Instead, he's at Lakewood and hitting a very healthy .429 (AVG), .508 (OBP), .755 (SLG) with four home runs and 15 RBI. Unlike Ruf, Singleton is showing strong plate discipline and has drawn nine walks, while striking out just ten times in the South Atlantic League.

Of the first base prospects in the organization, Singleton is the best of the bunch. He's very young, but is showing skills above his age and playing level and might be able to be fast-tracked at some point in the future. For now, he'll be left at Lakewood and could possibly even stick there once Gillies is activated and the dominos start to fall in the other direction, meaning that Ruf could be the one headed to Williamsport once their season begins. Unless Singleton would start to struggle at some level, he would be ahead of the pace where he could easily slide into Howard's roster spot once the big man's extension is up either after the 2016 season or the 2017 season, depending on whether his option year is picked up. Rizzotti has started to show some of the potential that he hadn't always shown in the past and is looking like a consistent hitter with good power potential and he could be a part of a deal that would bring a key player to the Phillies, much like catcher Travis D'Arnaud was in the deal to get Roy Halladay last December.

For now though, the Phillies appear well stocked at a position that they don't seem to need much help at for the foreseeable future. Of the true prospects in the group, only Sellers has played other positions - third base and some second base - in the minors and it remains to be seen if any of the players could potentially be moved to another position that would have more need in the organization. Most likely, the Phillies will continue to evaluate that option as the players continue to develop over the next season or two. Singleton would be the most likely to move to another position, perhaps at one of the corner outfield spots, and has the athleticism to allow him to make such a move.


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