The Phillies open spring training Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. In advance of the first workout and the countdown to opening day, we take a daily look at the top storylines facing this club in camp.
Part 1 – Health
Part 2 – New faces
Part 3 – Charlie Manuel’s future
Today – Young prospects
It’s no secret that the Phillies could have a different look a year from now. Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Roy Halladay are all entering the final season of their contracts. Maybe they will be back in 2014, maybe they won’t. Though signed through 2015, Cliff Lee is no sure thing to return next year. It’s not difficult to imagine him being trade bait if the team is out of contention in July.
Change will mean opportunity for young players. Phillies officials will get the chance to look at several of these young players in big-league camp this spring.
Some of these players have already gotten looks in the major leagues. They include Freddy Galvis, who could be a candidate to play second base if Utley doesn’t return next season; Darin Ruf, a candidate for an outfield spot this spring; and a host of relief pitchers that includes Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Michael Schwimer, Jake Diekman and B.J. Rosenberg.
A number of players yet to appear in the majors will be in this camp, either by recent inclusion on the 40-man roster or by invite. Most of these players will be sent to minor-league camp in early March so they can get ready for their seasons, but they could stick around a lot longer in the future. Let’s take a look at some of these intriguing youngsters.
What a difference a year makes. Last spring, Asche, a 22-year-old third baseman, was a relative unknown in minor-league camp. The former Nebraska Cornhusker was drafted in the fourth round in 2011 and hit under .200 in the New York-Penn League that first summer. He was so impressive in camp last spring that team officials decided to start him in the Florida State League. He tore up that league and earned a mid-season promotion to Double A. For the season, Asche, a left-handed bat, hit .324 with 51 extra-base hits and 72 RBIs in Single A and Double A. It’s unclear whether Asche will start the season at Double A or Triple A, but team officials believe he could be the club’s first homegrown third baseman since Scott Rolen. That’s why he’s been invited to camp for a look-see. Michael Young will play third base for the Phils this season. One of the reasons Young was attractive to the Phils is that he is signed only through 2013 and won’t block Asche if he proves to be ready next year.
The 21-year-old catcher was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Hunter Pence to San Francisco. Joseph is a heady presence behind the plate and has power potential. He shapes up to be the team’s catcher of the future and should be ready for regular duty at Triple A.
Some of the shine seems to have worn off the 22-year-old catcher’s prospect label, but he’s back in big-league camp and young enough to open eyes again.
The 22-year-old righthander stands 6-foot-5 and is not far away from the majors. He posted a 3.10 ERA in 26 starts between Double A and Triple A in 2012. His father, Jay, pitched in the majors with Minnesota.
The 22-year-old lefty was selected in the third round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Alabama. A year later, he was in Double A. Team officials like his stuff, his pitching savvy and his toughness. The consensus is he will pitch in the big leagues and could get there quickly. He is not on the 40-man roster, but team officials clearly want to get a look at him.
Simon, 22, is a 6-foot-5 right-handed reliever out of the University of Arizona. He is not on the 40-man roster, but team officials are eager to check out his impressive sinker in big-league camp. It is a pitch that could one day be useful in Citizens Bank Park. Simon came to the Phillies in the trade that sent Jim Thome to Baltimore last summer.
The 23-year-old righthander, acquired from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino deal, was the 15th overall pick, and the first high school pitcher, selected in the 2008 draft. He was slow putting it together in the Dodgers' system, but went 5-0 with a 3.18 ERA in seven starts at Double A Reading after coming over to the Phillies. A former high school quarterback, Martin did not pitch until his senior year in high school so he’s still learning the craft. He has power stuff and made strides with his control last season. His upside remains high and he could be ready to start reaching his immense potential. Like Morgan, Martin is a native Georgian. The two were teammates on an elite travel team as 13-year-olds.
The 22-year-old second baseman hit .300 in 103 games at Double A last year and got a taste of Triple A. He is slated to return there this season.
A 22-year-old outfielder, he was a gifted enough hitting prospect to be selected 34th overall in the 2008 draft. Injuries and off-field issues have slowed his progression, but the organization thought enough of him to send him to the Arizona Fall League and protect him on the 40-man roster. He will likely be tested at Double A in 2013 and his prospect status is riding on his performance.
This will be his third appearance in big-league camp since joining the Phillies from Seattle in the Cliff Lee trade of Dec. 2009. Gillies, 24, is a brilliant athlete with tantalizing baseball skills -- he hit .304 with a .369 on-base percentage in 276 at-bats at Double A in 2012 -- but his development has suffered from his inability to stay on the field. He’s had off-field issues and a series of hamstring injuries, including another one this winter in Venezuela. Gillies has played in just 106 games the last three seasons. If the Phillies weren’t so desperate to develop outfield help, they might have given up on him by now. Gillies remains on the 40-man roster, but the clock is ticking.
You never know when it might click for a reliever. Friend, originally drafted by Oakland in 2007, had 24 saves and a 0.23 ERA in 39 2/3 innings at Reading last season. That earned him an invite to big-league camp.