Rule 5 Profile: Ender Inciarte

The Phillies made a Rule 5 pick today, selecting left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder, Ender Inciarte, from the Arizona Diamondbacks. I had no idea who the hell that was. Alas, I promised to write up whomever the Phillies were to select. So, I have for you a little diddy on Inciarte based on the opinions of a few sources (some public, some private) and a little derived from what I could surmise via video I found online.

Ender Inciarte is a 21 year-old Venezuelan outfielder with some interesting tools but potentially crippling deficiencies.  Mostly, at just 5’11” and 160lbs, he’s limited by a small frame that doesn’t produce any power. He is not strong with that bat at all. It often looks as though a good fastball will knock the bat out of his hands. This is not only an issue for power but also creates problems with making strong, line drive contact that, you know, produces base hits. Whether or not there’s projection left in the body (the ability to add strength may help him overcome that stuff) remains to be seen. I’ve got to see Inciarte in person to evaluate that to my liking. His lack of physicality also plays a role in his ability to get on base at the highest of stage of competition. Sure, Inciarte posted an impressive .376 OBP between two levels last year, but he’s now thrust into the Major Leagues. Big league arms aren’t going to pitch around the guy with 20 raw power. They’re going to attack him with strikes. Less balls to take means less walks and more putting the ball in play, weakly, which means more outs.

Defensively is where Inciarte shines. He covers a ton of ground thanks to plus legs and reports I’m getting say he’s got enough raw ability with the glove to stick in CF. I got conflicting reports about the refinement of his skills out there, however. Those legs will come in handy on the bases, too. I don’t like minor league numbers at all, especially at the low levels where Inciarte spent 2012, but he stole 46 bases in 58 tries last year. That’s about an 80% success rate.

Now the question is, “will he stick?” Remember, Rule 5 rules state that the player has to be placed on your 25 man roster for the duration of the season, lest he be returned to his original club. There are ways to circumvent that rule. Inciarte could “get hurt” at some point and have nice, long periods of rehab in the minors like Lendy Castillo did last year. If the Phillies have room to stash Inciarte on the active roster as a defensive replacement for the entire 2013 season, then send him back to the minors to see if the bat develops, that’s just fine. With the news that just broke regarding Ben Revere, I’m not sure it’ll happen. There are tools with which to work. I’ll be watching.

Phillies Acquire CF Ben Revere from Twins

Todd Zolecki reports:

Multiple sources confirmed to MLB.com this morning the Phillies have acquired outfielder Ben Revere in a trade with the Minnesota Twins. It is unclear who the Phillies have sent to the Twins as part of the trade, but the Twins have been looking for pitching.

Jim Salisbury reports Vance Worley and Trevor May are going to Minnesota.

Revere, 25 years old in May, has a career .287 wOBA in 1,064 trips to the plate, but he is more valuable than he appears at first glance. He becomes eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2013 season, which means he will be cheap and under team control through 2017. You’re looking at the Phillies’ center fielder of the future, barring any future transactions. Additionally, he plays excellent defense and runs the bases very well (74 steals in 93 attempts, 80%). The hope is that Revere’s offense improves with time, and there will be plenty of that.

Many were hoping for the Phillies to get Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton, but trading for Revere was sensible by comparison. Rather than committing millions of dollars to players in their 30’s, the Phillies got a cost-controlled outfielder that represents very little in the way of risk with plenty of upside.

That being said, the Phillies did pay a price. They sold low on Worley, who is coming off of a bad season besmirched by an elbow injury. The right-hander was solid for the Phillies in 2011, posting a 3.01 ERA. Overall, in 277.2 innings, he has a 3.92 SIERA, which speaks of a reliable arm to have in the middle of a rotation.

May was, even to the seconds leading up to the trade, considered a top prospect in the Phillies’ system. Some of that speaks to the dearth of talent in the system, but May still showed flashes of a Major League-quality arm. The Phillies sold low on him as well after a disappointing 2012 in which he posted a 4.87 ERA with Double-A Reading. His strikeout rate declined precipitously and he still had not shown marked improvement in his control. Eric Longenhagen wrote a report on May back in October, concluding:

May’s ceiling is mostly the same (folks, I saw 96mph, a plus curve and a plus change at various times this year. A mid-rotation starter is in there somewhere and it’s still his ceiling) but the chances he gets there are now minute.

The trade will likely be framed, by fans and analysts, in the terms “won” and “lost”, but it’s not quite as simple as that. If this is what it took, at a time when center field options were quickly being taken off the board, to get Revere, then the Phillies did well to get a player who will not hamstring them financially while providing plenty in the way of talent and upside. Additionally, by not spending lots of money on a free agent center fielder, the Phillies have the freedom to go after free agents at other positions, such as Nick Swisher for right field.

Sending Worley away means that the Phillies, at the outset, will go into 2013 with a starting rotation that includes the usual Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay, but also Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd as well. That back-end of the rotation could spell trouble going forward, so it will be interesting to see if the Phillies go after free agent starter. The list of remaining free agent starters is small and mostly uninspiring, but does have names such as Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, and Kyle Lohse. An unheralded, relatively cheap player to think about is Carlos Villanueva as well.

When the Phillies are done making moves, it will be interesting to compare what they’ve done to what they could have done. For example, are they better with a rotation that includes Worley and an outfield with an expensive free agent than they are now with Revere and perhaps a new starting pitcher? The difference is smaller than one would expect, and it’s why this trade should be, at least for now, applauded.

Looks Like We Picked the Wrong Week to Quit Sniffing Choo

Ruben Amaro Jr. may have nurtured a bit of a reputation for offseason ostentatiousness, but there didn’t seem to be much room for it entering this offseason. The Phillies’ needs were obvious enough: outfielders, likely two, one of which a centerfielder, and a serviceable third base solution. The market at both positions was similarly straightfoward, with a few headliners like Hamilton, Bourn, B.J. Upton, and Angel Pagan available at centerfield, Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera, and some lesser names in the corners, and some decidedly slim pickings at third base. Circumstances seemed primed for an offseason that would grow more predictable as a few big pieces found their new homes.

So it’s been interesting to watch many of the obvious free agent targets come off the board as the Winter Meetings in Nashville have progressed. The Phillies not only non-tendered Nate Schierholtz (a puzzling choice considering his usefulness and probable low arbitration figure), but have been rather quiet as quality outfielders for hire have signed elsewhere. This doesn’t exactly comport with Amaro’s typical offseason; one could well have expected him to acquire a certain target early, and offer whatever deal was necessary to secure it before the market had a chance to take shape. Instead, in the past week, the Phillies have collected plenty of interesting data about how that market is behaving. It ranges from some seemingly reasonable deals, such as Angel Pagan’s 4 year, $40 million contract with San Francisco, to the expensive and risky (but probably acceptable) 5 years, $75 million that B.J. Upton earned from the Braves, to the outright inexplicable: 3 years, $39 million for Shane Victorino from the Boston Red Sox. It’s clear the the Phillies have stayed on the safe end of some dangerous potential bidding wars.

Superficially, the Phillies staying mum during the Winter Meetings would make for a boring start to the offseason. But in fact, as the obvious free agent options have dwindled, the December and January landscape has only grown more fascinating. The likelihood that at least one trade will be needed to satisfy the team’s needs has risen substantially, and that broadens the field of possible solutions. Early in the week, the notion that Curtis Granderson could be dealt for the right price emerged from multiple sources. Granderson, who is owed $15 million via an escalated club option next season, hit .232/.319/.492 for the Yankees last season, and is a capable defender in center. The Yankees, while trying to lower their payroll to a level that will be more advantageous under the new CBA, are still, as ever, trying to compete in 2013, so Granderson’s value to them next season is just as high as it would be for the Phillies; this makes it difficult to craft a deal that would be acceptable to them, especially as they’ve watched free agent targets like Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez go elsewhere. Brett Gardner taking the reins in center is not out of the question, but Nick Swisher is unlikely to return, and so their outfield possibilities are bleaker still without Granderson.

There is another, more intriguing possibility. Open as the AL Central perenially seems to be, it’s difficult to imagine the Cleveland Indians putting together a credible bid for it in 2013. Predictably, Jon Heyman reported on Wednesday that outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is “very available,” with the Indians seeking “long-term assets.” Choo turned 30 in July, and since 2008 has hit .291/.384/.471 for the Indians, the only blemish an injury-hampered 2011. In that same time period, he ranks 8th among 144 qualified MLB outfielders in wRC+, in the same neighborhood as Josh Hamilton, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Beltran, and 3rd in on-base percentage, behind only Manny Ramirez and Matt Holliday. The latter is thanks in part to an 11.4% walk rate, compared to the 2008-2012 ML average of 8.7%. More walks and on-base ability would be welcome additions to the Phillie lineup, which finished 14th in the NL in BB% and 10th in the NL in OBP in 2012. Choo also projects to be relatively inexpensive. Entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, Matt Swartz pegs Choo’s case at $7.9 million.

Is it a pipe dream? Possibly. It’s more likely than it was a week ago, when there was no chatter about Choo at all, but there have been no rumors forthcoming thus far that indicate the Phillies are in the mix. Add to that Buster Olney’s source that asserts the price for Choo is “high.” This is, of course, more rhetoric than reference point; who really knows what “high” is in the court of Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro. But, as with any potential trade this offseason, the Phillies find themselves low on ammunition. The good news is that, considering the state of the organization, there are few pieces the Phillies could send away that would constitute a significant blow to the farm system. The bad news is that it will be difficult to seriously impress the Indians with the likes of Trevor May and Vance Worley, the two assets that the Phillies are rumored to be bringing to the table this week. Worley is at a low point in perceived value, struggling with injuries last season, and it may be difficult to convince anyone that his true talent level is closer to his 2011 season. Trevor May would constitute a “long term asset” that the Indians seek, but he failed to progress in 2012, and has struggled to establish a repertoire of secondary pitches that could feasibly keep him in a starting rotation.

That’s not to say the Phillies don’t have more attractive assets, like Tommy Joseph and perhaps Jesse Biddle, but they’re not likely to want to part with either, considering that the sheen has seemingly worn off of Sebastian Valle, and the dearth of high-profile arms on the farm. It bears wondering whether, when Jim Salisbury reported on the Phillies’ enthusiasm for Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, and Adam Morgan, he was able to do so with a straight face. So perhaps acquiring Choo is a distant wish for the Phillies, but considering how well he suits their needs, it is more than worth pursuing. Rather than pay free agent dollars for Nick Swisher, Choo would allow the Phillies to stomach a larger contract for one of the remaining free agent centerfielders, instead of settling for the Coors-fueled Dexter Fowler or pining after the not-actually-available-at-all Peter Bourjos. And as a benefit of waiting out the market, the Phillies may find that prices for the likes of Hamilton or Bourn will sink to a more palatable range, or that previously unconsidered trade possibilities will present themselves. Creativity and patience may trump the war chest this offseason.