Joseph's injury clouds Phillies' catching future

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Joseph's injury clouds Phillies' catching future

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The plan made perfect sense.

Top catching prospect Tommy Joseph was going to spend the 2013 season catching for Triple A Lehigh Valley and then if everything went well, the catcher would get a September call-up to the big leagues for a little dress rehearsal.

With Carlos Ruiz entering the last year of his contract with the Phillies, the veteran catcher could help tutor his successor. With 49 homers in his first three pro seasons, Joseph was clearly on the fast track to the big leagues.

But sometimes even the best-laid plans hit a snag.

Joseph had a concussion on May 4 when he took a foul ball off his mask and missed the next month of the season. He was activated and went to Single A Clearwater to get back into shape but lasted just five games before post-concussion symptoms put him back on the shelf.

“Right off the bat people were saying I could go down to Florida, I’ll be there a couple of weeks to get my feet under me and work my way back up,” Joseph said. “There were a lot of setbacks and it ended up taking a lot longer than people wanted it to.”

But it was Joseph’s third concussion of his pro career, and at age 22 with just four seasons under his belt, the catcher and the Phillies might need to reevaluate his future position. When he returned to Double A Reading in mid-July, Joseph was hopeful that the worst was behind him and was able to play with no limitations. However, that return lasted just a handful of games before he had another setback along with a shin injury. 

Finally, the Phillies decided the best plan for Joseph would be to give him the rest of the year off.

Joseph said he was hoping to play winter ball this year, but that depends on his recovery. 

In the interim, the Phillies will have to rethink their plans at catcher in 2014 and beyond. Ruiz has struggled in a season that began with him serving a 25-game suspension for a non-compliant use of the prescription drug, Adderall. Ruiz also had a nagging hamstring injury that forced him onto the disabled list. Meanwhile, veteran Erik Kratz also had injury issues this season and doesn’t figure to be the team’s everyday catcher.

That leaves Triple A catcher Cameron Rupp and Double A receiver Sebastian Valle as the viable in-house options. Rupp and Valle split time at Reading at the start of the season, which led to struggles for both catchers. According to Reading manager Dusty Wathan, Rupp and Valle needed as much playing time as possible.

“I think it’s difficult when you have two guys catching -- it’s difficult to have two leaders at one position,” Wathan said.

Valle has struggled at the plate for Reading this year, batting just .210 with a .242 on-base percentage and 12 homers in 76 games. Last year, Valle hit .261 for Reading with 13 homers and a .280 on-base percentage in 83 games.

As a result of Valle’s regression, Rupp has leapfrogged to Triple A and could get a look in the big leagues next month. However, even Rupp’s numbers have been rather pedestrian. In 79 games between the two levels, Rupp is batting .251 with a .313 on-base percentage and 12 homers. Plus, at 24, Rupp is the oldest of the three minor-league catchers. Rupp spent three years at the University of Texas before going in the third round of the 2010 draft.

So if Ruiz doesn’t return on a one- or two-year deal, the Phillies might have to look at the free-agent market for a catcher. There, the selection will be significant with the likes of Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski and John Buck expected to test the waters. But those veteran catchers likely will carry a hefty price tag with them.

Pete Mackanin will push to add hitter in meeting with front-office brass Friday

Pete Mackanin will push to add hitter in meeting with front-office brass Friday

ATLANTA — The Phillies entered Tuesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves — No. 157 of 162 — ranked last in the majors in runs scored (591) and were hanging out near the bottom in a slew of other important offensive categories.
 
The stat sheet says the Phillies need more offense.
 
So does the manager.
 
Pete Mackanin plans to make his case for adding a bat this winter — the best fit would be in the outfield — in an end-of-season meeting with the front office Friday at Citizens Bank Park.
 
“Basically, having talked to the rest of the coaching staff, we’re all pretty much in agreement with what our needs are,” Mackanin said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m anxious to hear from (general manager) Matt Klentak and from (president) Andy MacPhail and if there’s an owner there. We’d like to hear what they have to say. We’re pretty much in agreement on a lot of what we need.
 
“I, for one, think we need at least one hitter that gives you quality at-bats.”
 
There could be hurdles in adding a bat. Money is not one of them. All of the team’s big contracts will be gone when Ryan Howard rides off into the sunset on Sunday. The team that spent over a half-billion in salaries from 2012 to 2014 (and missed the playoffs each time) has plenty of money and has vowed to spend it in due time. But that time might not arrive until team leaders believe the club has built a nucleus that would benefit from the signing of a "finishing" talent or two. The team is committed to building that nucleus from within, and there lies the potential hurdle in adding the difference-making bat that Mackanin craves. Building from within requires eventually giving players from the system an opportunity to prove themselves and grow at the major-league level. The front office, still very much committed to a rebuild, will be cognizant of blocking those players (the list includes Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens and others) and their opportunities. Klentak has said as much on several occasions this year.
 
Even Mackanin acknowledged that the situation is a Catch-22.
 
“I know I don’t want to block a prospect that has a chance to be a big part of it,” he said.
 
“But at the same time, I think by having one guy in the middle of the lineup or somewhere in the lineup that can take a little pressure off (Maikel) Franco and (Odubel) Herrera and the rest of them could do wonders. You look at when (Matt) Kemp joined the Braves. They all went off. They’re all hitting. They’ve scored more runs than anybody, I think, since the All-Star break. Last year, with (Yoenis) Cespedes, he joined the Mets and all of a sudden they all started hitting.
 
“I will give those examples. I feel that’s important.”
 
A number of outfield bats will be on the free-agent market this winter. Cespedes could be there if he opts out of his contract with the Mets, but he’s not likely to be interested in joining a rebuilding team and the Phillies are unlikely to want the long-term commitment a player like that would require. Dexter Fowler and Matt Holliday could be free agents if their options for 2017 are not exercised. Ian Desmond will be out there, but the Rangers will probably look to retain him. Jose Bautista, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Colby Rasmus will also be out there. Martin Prado is the type of “professional hitter” that would appeal to Mackanin, but he agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

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