Ruben Amaro believes Carlos Ruiz is worth risk

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Ruben Amaro believes Carlos Ruiz is worth risk

Ruben Amaro Jr. made it pretty clear that he would have preferred something shorter than a three-year contract for catcher Carlos Ruiz. Amaro acknowledged that there were some battles in a “difficult” negotiation with Ruiz’s agent, Marc Kligman.

“But at the end of the day,” Amaro said, “the reality was this was the person we wanted to handle our pitching staff, so we moved forward.”

Amaro spoke these words during a hurried news conference to officially announce Ruiz’s new three-year, $26 million contract on Thursday night (see story). The news conference was hurried because Ruiz, a fan favorite since taking over the Phillies’ starting catching chores in 2007, had to hustle off for a Make A Wish visit with a young fan in South Jersey.

Ruiz was all smiles as he headed out the door.

“I’m happy,” he said. “Real happy. My goal when I got to the big leagues was finish my career here.”

Ruiz now has that chance. He turns 35 in January and the deal includes a club option for a fourth year.

Ruiz has missed time with back, hamstring, foot and oblique injuries in recent seasons. His health history and age has left many critics wondering how Amaro could justify guaranteeing three years on the contract. But with teams such as Boston and Colorado dangling two-year deals in front of Ruiz early in the free-agent season, Amaro felt he had to go to a third year to get his man.

The wisdom of that will play out in coming seasons.

“Clearly this is a commitment that will be scrutinized,” Amaro acknowledged.

“But when you start talking about this (catching) position and the dearth of quality at this position … I know that Chooch knows what it takes to be a championship-caliber player, to bring a championship to this city. We know that he’s caught the last pitch of the season and how important that is.

“And, really, with the marketplace with the way it was and with the ability he’s going to bring to the table -- he keeps himself in very good shape, he’s dedicated to the sport and his craft and he’s developed into one of the leaders of our club -- all those factors are part of the decision we made.

“Is it a risk to put three years into a catcher at this stage of his career? It can be, yes. But I think every signing is a risk, and we hope that he remains productive throughout the three years and perhaps more.”

Ruiz is confident he can do that.

“I know everybody says, ‘Third year,’" he said. “I feel great. I feel healthy and I’m strong.”

Ruiz had a poor first half in 2013. It started when he missed the first 25 games while serving a suspension for testing positive for using Adderall, an ADHD drug, without Major League approval in 2012. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently cited an official from a team that had courted Ruiz as saying that the catcher has since taken the necessary medical steps and been cleared by MLB to take the prescription drug. Asked about the report at Thursday night’s news conference, Kligman said, “That’s not something I think is appropriate to address at this time.”

Ruiz rebounded in the second half of 2013 and hit .313 with five homers, 28 RBIs and an .860 OPS in his first 43 games after the all-star break before tailing off over the final days of the season as he battled a bruised left hand.

Ruiz had a career year in 2012 when he hit .325 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 114 games.

One of the Phillies’ stated goals in recent offseasons has been to get younger. That hasn’t happened this offseason. Amaro’s first two signings this offseason are high-mileage players. A week before bringing back Ruiz, Amaro signed 36-year-old rightfielder Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million deal.

The Phillies have been forced to take age and health risks on the free-agent market because they either haven’t produced enough in-house talent to fill holes, or are not comfortable with that in-house talent. The team had long been looking for a right-handed hitting rightfielder and had Darin Ruf in-house, but Amaro basically ruled him out of consideration at the end of the 2013 season. That led to the targeting and signing of Byrd.

In fairness to the Phillies, they added three young players to the lineup last season in Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and Cody Asche. But five of their projected opening day starters -- Ruiz, Byrd, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins -- will be 34 or older.

“Yes, they’re older,” Amaro said. “But they’re also very good when they’re playing.”

Amaro plans a few more additions to the pitching staff and possibly the outfield.

"We may look to try to improve our lineup somehow or tweak our lineup somehow," he said.

Still, he believes the aging core of the team can succeed.

“I think we can win,” he said. “Really it’s a matter of getting guys on the field. If they’re on the field, they’ll produce. Unless something drastic happens over the next few months, I fully expect them to be on the field and performing.

“I believe in our players. There’s no question they’re getting older, but if they’re on the field, they’ll produce.”

Phillies’ top draft pick Mickey Moniak already benefitting from added strength

Phillies’ top draft pick Mickey Moniak already benefitting from added strength

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Mickey Moniak loves to hit and he does a lot of it.

The evidence is on his right hand.

It’s a large callus just under his palm, where the knob of the bat sits when he swings.

Phillies minor-league spring training camp does not officially begin until Sunday, but Moniak has been on site for more than a week going through daily workouts with other early birds on the fields and in the batting cages at Carpenter Complex.

And before arriving in Clearwater, Moniak spent the winter working out with his old high school team and coaches in southern California. When Moniak wasn't hitting with them, he was hitting with fellow Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford, who lives about 90 minutes north. 

“I’ve been doing my thing in the offseason, hitting, throwing,” Moniak said before his workout Wednesday morning. “I’m excited to get going.”

Moniak, who turns 19 in May, wasn’t just the Phillies’ top pick in last year’s draft. He was the top pick in the entire draft, the Phillies’ “reward” for finishing with the worst record in the majors in 2015. He was the consensus top high school hitter in the draft last year and the Phillies paid him a $6.1 million signing bonus. He made a nice pro debut last summer, hitting .284 with a .340 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, four triples, a homer and 28 RBIs in 46 games for the Phillies’ Gulf Coast League team. He was shut down late in the season with some hip tightness. He saw doctors in Philadelphia and it turned out to be a simple growing pain. Hey, the kid is young.

That first pro season is always a learning experience for a player and Moniak learned he needed to get stronger.

He spent the fall and winter adding 20 pounds of muscle to his 6-2 frame. He was 170 pounds on draft day. Now he weighs 190.

His old coaches at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California noticed the added strength during his workouts this winter. The ball jumped off his bat with even more life than it did in the past. And Moniak hit .476 with seven homers, 12 triples and four doubles as a senior last year.

“I take BP at my high school in the offseason and they noticed,” Moniak said. “And back here, the coaches are definitely noticing. And I pick it up, too.  The ball just flies a little different. So I’m really excited to see how that translates into games.”

A lefty-hitting centerfielder, Moniak projects to open the season at Single A Lakewood in the South Atlantic League. Several other members of the Phils’ prospect-rich GCL team that went 41-17 last summer could also be on that club.

“The first goal is to stay healthy all year,” Moniak said. “I’m a big winning guy. I don’t really like to put personal stats on things. I just like to win. If I go 3 for 3 and lose or 0 for 3 and win, I’m fine with the 0 for 3 and win.

“Winning comes first. But usually, when the winning happens, all the personal stuff comes with it.”

Moniak is fully aware of his significance in the Philadelphia sporting culture. He said he follows Carson Wentz and Ben Simmons, top draft picks of the Eagles and Sixers, respectively, on social media.

“We kind of came to Philadelphia at the same time and hopefully we’re going to be the ones to grow old in Philadelphia and hopefully bring championships to Philadelphia, a winning tradition,” he said. “I follow both of them just to see how they’re doing and what they’re doing.”

Moniak’s journey to the top level of his game won’t happen as quickly as it does in others -- that's just the way baseball is -- but he projects to be a good one.

And he’s clearly willing to put in the work.

The evidence is on his right palm.

Phillies 7, Orioles 5: Brock Stassi continues to make a difference

Phillies 7, Orioles 5: Brock Stassi continues to make a difference

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Baltimore Orioles led the majors with 253 home runs last season.

The Phillies ranked 24th with 161.

On Tuesday, however, the Phillies out-homered the O's en route to a 7-5 victory. The Phils hit four homers, the Orioles one.

Reality check: The Orioles brought a watered-down lineup to Clearwater. No Mark Trumbo (a majors-leading 47 homers last season), no Chris Davis (38), no Manny Machado (37).

Nonetheless, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin was pleased with the power his team showed. Tommy Joseph bombed a homer off the tiki bar beyond the left field wall. Aaron Altherr crushed one out to left. And non-roster players Scott Kingery (more here) and Brock Stassi both homered.

Of course, Stassi homered.

All he has done in the first week of games is get big hits. He's played in four games and has two homers and a double. His three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning came with the Phillies down two runs and gave them the lead. The home run came on a 2-0 pitch from Cody Sedlock. The 21-year-old righty was the Orioles' first-round pick (No. 27 overall) out of the University of Illinois last year. He looked a little overwhelmed as he allowed five hits, including two homers, and four runs in losing the lead.

Stassi was the Phillies' 33rd-round draft pick in 2011. He is 27 years old and bidding to win a spot on the roster as a backup first baseman/outfielder.

"He's caught my eye," said Mackanin, who seems to say something good about Stassi every day.

After Tuesday's game, Stassi recalled how he lost 30 percent of his signing bonus the same day he received the check in 2011.

"But my signing bonus was just $1,000," he said, laughing.

All these years later, he's putting himself in a position to hit the dream-come-true jackpot that would come with making the Phillies' opening day roster.

"Today was a good day," he said. "Put it behind me and come back tomorrow."

On the mound
Clay Buchholz made his spring debut with two scoreless innings. He gave up two hits and a walk.

With five weeks to go before his first start of the regular season, Buchholz tried to pace himself. There's plenty of time to let it loose.

"You hear the slogan saving bullets and I think that's a big thing," said Buchholz, 32. "If you go out max effort before your body is ready to do that, that's when injuries happen."

Herrera excused
Obudel Herrera missed Tuesday game's because he needed to travel to New Orleans to complete some paperwork for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. He will return Wednesday.

Herrera will play left field for Team Venezuela. Mackanin said he may get Herrera some work at the position before the player departs for the WBC next week.

The Phillies play the Rays in Port Charlotte on Wednesday. Vince Velasquez will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup:

Cesar Hernandez, 2B
Chris Coghlan, LF
Andres Blanco, 3B
Tommy Joseph, 1B
Daniel Nava, DH
Andrew Knapp, C
J.P. Crawford, SS
Roman Quinn, CF
Aaron Altherr, RF