Has the Phillies Outfield Depth Improved?

It’s no secret that the 2013 Phillies outfield situation was less than ideal, to put it kindly. The total production the Phillies received from the outfield positions on the season was tied with the Astros and Twins for worst in the majors according to fWAR. Hindered by injuries to Brown and Revere and the complete lack of a legitimate third starting option, subpar bench pieces received a crippling amount of playing time. Laynce Nix, Roger Bernadina, Michael Martinez and Casper Wells combined for 285 plate appearances and an astoundingly horrendous slash line: .169/.218/.255 .472 OPS. As a point of comparison, Cole Hamels has put up a .506 OPS over the past two seasons. Suffice it to say that the lack of outfield depth was a costly weakness for the Phillies and, to Ruben Amaro’s credit, attempts have been made this winter to avoid such a catastrophic showing in 2014. Exit Nix, Bernadina, Martinez, Wells, and Delmon Young. Enter Marlon Byrd, Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Clete Thomas. But will the changes made this offseason be enough to reverse the outfield woes?

The quick answer is yes, the outfield situation is much improved as long as Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and Byrd stay healthy. Last year the plan for right field consisted of wishing and hoping on Nix, Delmon and/or John Mayberry, Jr. to outperform their expected production levels. This year all three of the projected starters sport the skills required to be considered everyday options at the Major League level. It’s even possible that Brown and Revere still possess some unrealized potential as they both enter their age 26 seasons reportedly in good health. However, due to a series of trades and injuries, the Phillies haven’t had a season with three different outfielders compiling 500+ plate appearances since 2010 and if that trend continues in 2014, the question becomes whether relying on the backup options of Ruf, Mayberry, Abreu and possibly Gwynn or Thomas is an improvement.

In 2013 Ruf made a fine showing at the plate, but was unable to demonstrate the defensive chops required to be a viable outfield option for regular playing time. Time will tell if Abreu can still cut it at the plate, but coming off a year long hiatus from organized ball, it’s unlikely that the 40-year-old still has the athleticism required to take on significant playing time in the field. Gwynn’s glove makes him an intriguing back up center field option, but his career .312 OBP and .318 SLG% won’t cut it in a corner. Thomas’ profile tells a similar story to Gwynn’s. So if the Phililes need to turn to the bench for a corner outfielder, they are left with the omnipresent John Mayberry, Jr. once again. Despite the remarkable fact that he has played more innings at center field in his career than at any other position, Mayberry cannot be considered a viable defensive option in center, but he can handle either corner defensively and does provide some upside with the bat against left-handed pitching; however, putting him in the position where he sees regular time against right-handed pitching is, quite simply, setting him up to fail.

Another possible option is recent addition to the 40-man roster, Kelly Dugan. In December, Eric Longenhagen described the 23-year-old as having the upside of an everyday corner outfielder. Coming off a strong season in which he saw time in Clearwater and Reading, the best case scenario for him is that he’s ready if needed in the second half of the season. Although it’s just as likely, if not more likely, that he still needs at least one more full season of development in Reading or Lehigh Valley.

There is one more option that the Phillies could consider to build up their outfield depth options. Like Dugan, Maikel Franco is a prospect who could be Major League ready at some point during the 2014 season. Unlike Dugan, Franco is a natural third baseman and doesn’t possess the tools necessary to play outfield. In the case that corner outfield holes open up in Philadelphia and Franco is ready, it might be beneficial for Asche to move to the outfield and have Franco to take over at third base. If Franco provides an offensive upgrade over Mayberry greater than the defensive downgrade from Mayberry to Asche in the outfield, this could be a reasonable emergency plan but there are a couple reasons for the Phillies not to explore this option. First of all, Asche’s defense at third is still a work in progress and trying him out in the outfield could take time away from his work at the hot corner and hinder his development. Secondly, adding outfielder to his resume is unlikely to increase Asche’s long term value because unless his offense takes an unexpected leap forward, his bat doesn’t project to play as an everyday corner outfielder. Having him learn an entirely new position for the relatively small short term gain of added depth in 2014 may not be an efficient use of his time and energies.

The roster tweaks Amaro made should provide an improvement over the 2013 outfield, although the bar couldn’t have been set much lower. The added value of Byrd alone over the disastrous parade of 2013 right fielders is significant. Additionally, the new bench pieces are, at the very least, capable of outperforming the pitcher-level offensive production of their 2013 counterparts. However, despite the additions, the Phillies will once again be in an undesirable position should any of their starting outfielders miss significant playing time and it could very easily result in the Phillies turning to John Mayberry, Jr. for another summer.

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11 comments

  1. BradInDC

    March 03, 2014 02:04 PM

    So sorry you had to write “it could very easily result in the Phillies turning to John Mayberry, Jr. for another summer.” Has to ruin your day.

    • Corinne Landrey

      March 03, 2014 02:23 PM

      Thank you, Brad. Your sympathies are much appreciated.

  2. Bob

    March 03, 2014 06:04 PM

    The Phils have an interesting dilemma as far as their back-up OFs. Most likely, they’ll only keep two of Ruf, JMJ, Abreu, Gwynn, and Thomas. Three will not be on the active roster come opening day.

    Ruf and Abreu are trainwrecks in the OF; they simply cannot field. Yet, their offensive skills are formidable in terms of Ruf’s pop and Abreu’s ability to get on base and bat LH.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Gwynn and Thomas who are both plus defenders – and in CF, no less – who cannot hit a lick. Both bat LH, but their offensive numbers are so pedestrian that it hardly managers.

    Then you have the infielders masquerading as OF like Galvis, Hernandez, and Asche. They can’t play the OF. It’s a pipe-dream. No respectable, professional organization should ever have one of these three as anything more than an emergency OF.

    Lastly, you have JMJ who is below-average to average at everything, but not quite bad enough to warrant his release. But we know what we have with JMJ – a guy who can hit lefties, play average corner OF with limited power and low OBP, and cannot play CF. He’s just bad there.

    If Gwynn or Thomas will accept a minor league assignment, keep JMJ and Abreu. If not, Abreu needs to go because he cannot play even passable defense in favor of Gwynn or Thomas.

    • ballerstatus

      March 03, 2014 08:46 PM

      I say have gwynn or thomas play centerfield and switch jerseys with ruf and abreu when they have to bat.

  3. Mike Lacy

    March 04, 2014 10:48 AM

    If Revere goes down, I strongly hope they don’t make JMJ into a full-time player again. I like JMJ as a RH bat off the bench. I don’t like him as a full-time player, esp. in CF.

    Assuming the Phillies realize that JMJ shouldn’t be an option in center, they’d seem to have two choices:

    1. Go with Byrd in CF and Ruf in RF. This would weaken the defense considerably, but keep the offense strong.
    2. Go with Gwynn in CF. This would likely be the best defensive alignment, but Gwynn would be a downgrade offensively.

  4. Carmine Spellane

    March 04, 2014 11:07 AM

    This is hard to stomach when we remember that Amaro essentially threw away two solid outfielders at the 2012 trading deadline in Victorino and Pence (both of whom subsequently got World Series rings), then he threw away a perfectly serviceable player in Schierholtz in favor of players like JMJ and Delmon Young. Add to this the fact there is no major league ready outfield talent in the minors. It is inexcusable for a franchise that claims to want to contend every year to let its outfield situation get so bad.

    • Bubba0101

      March 04, 2014 12:28 PM

      And we could have easily signed Victorino before last season…

      • Mike Lacy

        March 04, 2014 01:37 PM

        I can’t kill them for not re-signing Vic. It was hard to predict that he’d rebound the way he did, and it sounded like he might have benefitted from a change in scenery.

  5. derekcarstairs

    March 04, 2014 12:44 PM

    Another question about the Phillies’ OF: Is the Phillies’ OF a good one?
    Answer: No, both offensively and defensively.

    • hk

      March 06, 2014 06:34 AM

      No, it does not project to be a good one. It projects to be more like average or slightly above average. ZIPS projects 6.1 fWAR from Byrd, Revere and Brown in an average of 539 PA’s between them. If the manager uses Mayberry wisely (read: primarily faces LHP’s), he and Abreu should fill in the other PA’s with slightly above replacement level production in which case we could project the OF to produce around 6.5 fWAR. Again, that’s average or slightly above average, but it’s also a huge upgrade over the MLB worst -1.3 fWAR generated by last year’s OF.

  6. amarosucks

    March 06, 2014 07:00 PM

    No

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