On Twitter this afternoon, loyal reader/follower Matt Jedruch (@MattJedruch) sent this to me:
I get the general impression that, with the disappointing 2012 season and the lack of a big free agent signing or trade, there isn’t that much enthusiasm going into 2013. The bulk of the roster is either aging and injury-prone or young and unproven. Perhaps the malaise of Philadelphia sports in general plays into that as well, since the Eagles and Sixers are depressing and the Flyers aren’t even playing.
I, however, can think of a few reasons to anticipate the return of Phillies pitchers and catchers in just a couple months.
A strong argument could be made that Aumont was the most exciting player to watch last season, though it was only for a brief period of time spanning 14.2 innings at the end of the season. He featured a mid-90’s fastball that creeped into the 97-98 MPH range at times, as well as a devastating slurve with about 15 MPH of velocity separation from his fastball. As he did in the Minors, Aumont struggled with control more than you’d like and it is expected to be an issue again in 2013, but the soon-to-be 24-year-old still has plenty of time to figure it out before the Phillies become reliant on his powerful arm.
4. Erik Kratz
A cynic might say that getting excited about a 32-year-old journeyman catcher and a career Minor Leaguer is depressing in and of itself, but Kratz is a great story. The inimitable Sam Miller captured it best at Baseball Prospectus back in September, pointing this out:
As you could imagine, there were plenty of frustrating seasons. Kratz told MiLB.com that he thought about retiring, and he worked construction jobs on the side to support his family. (He shot himself in the hand with a nailgun, but didn’t tell Toronto.) But perhaps the most frustrating year was 2004, which he spent most of on the disabled list—without, he says, an injury.
“I was on the phantom DL every time,” [Kratz] said. “I [mostly] sat in extended [Spring Training]. Just because, the year before, I was up there in the top three or four on the team in almost every offensive category in short-season [ball]. It was a hard time.”
On May 22, the Phillies recalled Kratz from Triple-A. He pinch-hit in that night’s game against the Washington Nationals. In the eighth inning, he hit his first career Major League home run at the age of 31, a solo shot off of lefty Tom Gorzelanny. The Phillies sent him back to Triple-A two days later.
When Brian Schneider was placed on the disabled list at the end of June, the Phillies recalled Kratz to take his place. He played sparingly, but eventually assumed an everyday role when Carlos Ruiz suffered from plantar fasciitis in his foot. Between July 24 and September 5 in a span of 110 trips to the plate, Kratz hit 7 home runs and drove in 21 runs while posting a .296/.345/.592 triple-slash line. 15 of his 29 hits went for extra bases. Ruiz had been the linchpin to the Phillies’ offense all season long, but thanks to Kratz, they didn’t skip a beat when the Panamanian had to go on the disabled list.
Ruiz will miss the first 25 games of the season due to a suspension for testing positive for amphetamines, meaning that Kratz is the heir apparent at the outset. Once on the fast track out of baseball entirely, Kratz may be the Opening Day catcher for one of the most successful teams in baseball in recent years. That’s pretty cool.
3. A Healthy Freddy Galvis
No, Galvis won’t be starting any games. He will likely serve as a late-game defensive substitute for third baseman Michael Young and/or as a pinch-runner, which is a good thing because he can’t hit. Galvis posted a .267 wOBA in 200 PA prior to a season-ending back fracture in June. Only 25 hitters took as many trips to the plate with less offensive success than Galvis. Where Galvis impressed last season, though, was on defense as it seemed like he made a spectacular play on a nightly basis.
Remember, Galvis was brought up as a shortstop with the intent to take over for Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies signed Rollins to a three-year contract extension though, while Chase Utley had to miss the first three months of the season, so Galvis moved a few feet to his left, making a seamless transition. Now, with a presumably healthy middle infield, Galvis fits in as a defensive replacement at yet another position late in games for the defensively-deficient Young, who makes plays like this:
2. Chase Utley
Remember the last time Utley was in the starting lineup on Opening Day? It was 2010 and the Phillies were just returning from a second consecutive World Series appearance. It feels like ages ago. If the baseball gods are kind enough, Utley may find himself back in the #3 spot when the Phillies open against the Braves in Atlanta. Phillies fans everywhere may then rejoice as the second baseman continues what may end up being a Hall of Fame career. With a career 53.3 rWAR and 53.8 fWAR, he could retire right now and there would still be an argument to enshrine him, but there’s no doubt the UCLA product still has plenty of baseball left in him.
No, Utley doesn’t have as much power as he once did, but he still compares favorably to other second basemen. His .173 isolated power last season ranked fourth among all second basemen with at least 350 PA, trailing only Robinson Cano, Aaron Hill, and Ben Zobrist. He was one of ten second basemen with double digits in homers and steals, and he did so in 200-300 fewer PA than players like Omar Infante and Dustin Ackley. Let’s not forget about Utley’s defense, which is still by all accounts above-average. Oh yeah, and his base running. Baseball’s all-time leader in stolen base success rate was 11-for-12 last year with a bad lower half. Hopefully an off-season of rest will put some pep back in his step.
1. The Lefties
It doesn’t get much better than Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. The Phillies lay claim to arguably two of the three best lefties in baseball, the other being Clayton Kershaw. Hamels continued to impress in 2012, finishing with a 3.05 ERA and the fourth-best difference between strikeout and walk rate (19%), behind Max Scherzer, teammate Lee, and NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. In late July, the Phillies ended months of anxiousness by signing Hamels to a six-year, $144 million contract extension, spanning his age 29-34 seasons. The lefty hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down as he has compiled five consecutive seasons of at least 31 starts.
Lee has had a quality run as a Phillie, too, even though it has been split into two sections. In the last two years in red pinstripes, Lee has compiled an aggregate 2.76 ERA over 62 starts with the National League’s best difference between his strikeout and walk rates, at 21 percent. Lee, now 34 years old, looks as good as ever and will make another run at a second career Cy Young award, which would make him the sixth player to win the award in both leagues (also joining teammate Roy Halladay).