Darin Ruf Likely Getting His Final Shot With Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies have a number of players who have been around for a few years, and appear to be running out of time with the ball club.

After the 2015 season ended it was disappointing outfielder Domonic Brown to whom the Phillies said goodbye. 
At some point either during or after the coming 2016 season, the club will say their goodbyes to former champs and longtime starters Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz.
Another player who is at or near the end of the line with the team is first baseman/outfielder Darin Ruf
Not a kid, Ruf will turn 30-years old this coming summer. There is no way that the big righty can be considered as a piece of the rebuilding plan to which the team is committed.
Usually in pieces having to do with the potential of a first base platoon, I have written on Ruf here previously. Just as Howard’s miserable numbers against left-handed pitching do not lie, neither do Ruf’s against righties.

In parts of four big league seasons with the Phillies, Ruf has accumulated a .212/.281/.380 slash line over 456 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. He has 37 extra-base hits among his 87 total hits off right-handers, including 16 home runs.
Compare that to his numbers vs. left-handed pitching: a .300/.390/.556 slash line with 73 total hits, including 29 extra-base hits, 16 of those as home runs. Those numbers are put together in just 288 plate appearances. 
A comparison of those numbers against righties and lefties demonstrates clearly that he needs to be platooned at this point in his career.

Phillies’ skipper Pete Mackanin addressed the possible platoon issue recently. As quoted by Philly Voice’s Ryan Lawrence

Darin Ruf is a pretty good weapon against left-handed pitchers…I’d like to get him in the lineup against lefties because he does such damage against them…The plan is to come up with the best combination where Howard is going to get sufficient at-bats to have a good year and so is Ruf, and you combine the two, and if we have a super year out of first base, it’s going to benefit the team.”

Unlike Howard, Ruf is not costing the Phillies any real money at all. He has made $500,000 and $515,000 the past two seasons. 
He is not eligible for arbitration until next winter, so he likely won’t cost the Phillies much more this year.
And unlike the now 36-year old ‘Big Piece’, Ruf is not too old that he cannot have a role as the Phillies move forward. 
As long as his arbitration asking price is not too large (he won’t become a free agent until after the 2019 season), and he continues to pound lefties, he may be able to find a place as a backup first baseman and left fielder as the rebuilding process moves forward, becoming a dangerous righty bat off the bench against lefty relievers.
Of course this could also be a last chance for Ruf. There is a very real chance that Howard will be dealt at some point during the 2016 season. 
If that should happen, with few other short-term options available, Ruf could be given a shot as the everyday first baseman against all pitching.
At his age and experience level, expecting some sort of revelatory breakout against righty pitchers is not going to happen. 
Ruf is what he is, a good option against lefty arms, mostly a waste against righties, and a below-average defender at any position, including first base. 
Baseball Reference had him as a -3 Rtot (Total Fielding Runs Above Average) player at the position in 2015. That’s not good.
At some point, Ruf is going to come up against a wave of young talent that will be emerging from the minor leagues over the next two seasons. 
Aaron AltherrOdubel HerreraPeter Bourjos, and Tyler Goeddel are already here in the outfield. All are younger and far more capable defensively.
The club moved Cody Asche out to left field last season, and is likely to utilize him as a backup there and at 3rd base again in 2016. 
Asche may even see some backup first base time. He could even keep Ruf in a platoon role if Howard is dealt.
As the team moves forward, it will need to find room for outfielders Nick Williamsand Roman Quinn
Current catching prospect Jorge Alfaro could end up at first base or on an outfield corner. And in a couple of years, Cornelius Randolph will be knocking on the big league door.
All that upcoming competition doesn’t even include the possibility that 26-year old minor league first baseman Brock Stassi could himself push to challenge for a short-term shot at the position at the Major League level. 
And who knows what the club might do with their #1 pick in the upcoming MLB Amateur Draft.
Just as 2015 proved to be the final shot in the Phillies career of Dom Brown, 2016 could very well prove the final shot with the team for Ruf. 
A 20th round draft pick of the Phils in 2009 out of Creighton University, he has already beaten the odds in reaching the big leagues and staying for parts of four seasons. 
Unless something unexpected happens, it could prove his own final season in red pinstripes.

Nick Williams Could Make or Break the Phillies Rebuild

The Philadelphia Phillies organization is home to one of the top outfield prospects in all of baseball.

That prospect is 22-year old Nick Williams, a 6’3″, 195 pound left-handed star in the making who Baseball America recently ranked as the 27th best prospect in the game today, and baseball’s 7th best outfield prospect.
Williams was originally selected by the Texas Rangers in the 2nd round of the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft out of Ball High School in his hometown of Galveston, Texas.
He came over to the Phillies as part of the Hamels trade deadline deal last season. 
Just over a week ago, the staff at TBOH named Williams as the Phils’ #2 prospect, behind only universally acclaimed top prospect J.P. Crawford and just ahead of pitcher Jake Thompson, another piece in that Hamels deal.
Williams is a significant talent, again, arguably the second best in the entire system. No outfielder in the system has a higher power ceiling, and in the modern game, your lineup must contain a power threat. 
The Phillies need Williams to come through, and not turn into a Dom Brown-like disappointment.
In their Top 100 Prospects issue, BA graded Williams as above average in his Hit (60) and Power (60) tools, above average in Fielding (55), and average for his Speed (50) and Arm (50), stating that they feel his ETA at Citizens Bank Park is next year, in the 2017 season.
For most skilled observers who follow the game, the jury is still out on Williams’ ultimate actual value to the Phillies for the long run. 
There are legitimate concerns that he could turn out to be another Dominic Brown, a supremely talented athlete whose shortcomings are exploited at the Major League Baseball level.

In the BA issue, John Manuel was asked to compare Williams to a pair of other outfielders on their Top 100 list, #22 Austin Meadows of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and #30 Max Kepler of the Minnesota Twins. 
Williams has the most volatility of the group,” stated Manuel. “Higher upside, worst strike-zone judgment. He could wind up being a tease.
Manuel’s colleague, Matt Eddy, was asked to compare the same players. 

While conceding that Williams has more power – and significantly more opposite-field power…I project the last two (Meadows and Kepler) to produce more offensive value for their teams in the plate appearances that don’t end with home runs, which is most of them….I trust the hitting approaches of Kepler and Meadows to Williams.

At the BA website, J.J. Cooper liked Williams over the other two: 

I’d argue Williams is a potentially safer bet as he’s been more durable and has a longer track record of success in the minors. The strikeout-to-walk ratios have always been disturbing with Williams but he always hits thanks to some of the best hands in the minors.

Easily the most bullish of the BA evaluators was Ben Badler, who gave the following in choosing him over the other two in that BA website piece:

“I would roll the dice on Williams, who may have a slightly higher risk factor but is a more dynamic player. Nobody’s going to mistake Williams for Joey Votto, but he made tremendous strides with his plate discipline and hitting approach last year.” 

“There’s still risk there and it has to be a continual focus for Williams, but he showed a much better approach in 2015 than he ever had in the past with more walks and fewer strikeouts. Williams’ hands are ridiculously explosive, his swing works well and his raw power earns plus or better grades.” 

“He has the athleticism and speed to play in center field if necessary, but I think he fits better on a corner, where he can be an above-average defender in time. I’ve said this before, but Williams could be the Phillies’ version of Carlos Gonzalez.”

The 2016 season is sure to be a watershed one for Williams and many of the other top prospects in the organization. 
He is expected to play left field and join Crawford, Thompson and others such as pitchers Mark Appel and Zach Eflin, catchers Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro, and outfielder Roman Quinn in a stacked lineup at AAA Lehigh Valley during the summer.
At MLB.com, Bernie Pleskoff described Williams in one word: “Explosive,” and made these comments in his scouting report:

“Williams is still a work in progress. He has been inconsistent in his approach and results until this past season…Williams is an aggressive hitter with a very quick bat.” 

“That excellent bat speed helps him drive the ball and allows him to generate power from his strong body. Using the entire field, Williams is a solid gap hitter with emerging home run power.” 

“He has played all three outfield positions, but I project his best position to be left field. He looks and reacts more comfortably in that role…his power and his good foot speed are evident.” 

“His outstanding bat speed forms the foundation of his overall hitting mechanics. He has a fluid swing and can punish a fastbal” 

“Williams is a player who could ultimately hit .300 with 25 home runs if he continues his current progress. But risk remains that he won’t consistently harness his abilities…His bat speed and the power in his athletic body are real. Can he translate upside to reality?”

According to Jim Salisbury’s organizational report at BA, Williams likes the direction in which the team is moving. “It just feels right. I’m almost positive that we’re going to be good in the next few years. There’s too much talent.”
What Williams and those other top prospects need to realize is that talent is only one half of what it takes to succeed and win at the big league level. 
In Major League Baseball, every player is talented. Hard work, determination, and perseverance are traits that will elevate the talented players, transforming them into winning players.
The odds are that for all the talent that the Phillies farm system now possesses, which will include the top overall pick in the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft just over three months from now, all of that talent will not make it as impact big leaguers. That is the history of the game speaking.
Williams reaching his ceiling as a ball player, becoming a true corner outfield star, not falling into the Brown flame-out category, would go a long way in realizing his “we’re going to be good in the next few years” comment.
It would also help push the Phillies rebuilding process, one in which he is a pivotal piece, forward more quickly and efficiently. 
He made strides in his overall game in 2015. It’s time for Williams to take another step forward here in the 2016 season.

Ryan Howard Holds Spring Training Press Conference

The Philadelphia Phillies longtime first baseman delivered what is likely to be his final spring training press conference this afternoon.

On a beautiful afternoon in Clearwater, Florida on which the temperatures rose to a warm and comfortable 78 degrees, rains fell in Philly and the temperatures barely reached to the 40 mark.
The beat reporters and broadcasters covering the Phillies gathered at Bright House Field, while fans of the team were glued to their TV sets up north. 
Both groups were watching as Ryan Howard took a seat to deliver what is sure to be his final “State of the Piece” address, and then field questions during a press conference.
Howard was covered from a number of different angles over this off-season. But the bottom line in each of those discussions has basically been the same: the former National League Most Valuable Player can still be a valuable bat, but only if used smartly as the lefty part of a near-strict platoon at first base with the righty swinging Darin Ruf.
Howard addressed that possibility of a platoon during the press conference. 

Do I think it’s fair? Me, personally, probably not. But it is what it is. The situation is the situation. You just go out there and play.”

“I’ve always been a guy that’s been a team player, and I’m always going to be a competitor. I’m always going to want to be able to go out there, and it doesn’t matter righty or lefty, I know I can get the job done.

IF I WAS ABLE TO GO OUT AND HIT .300 AGAINST LEFTIES THIS YEAR, THEN WHAT?” ~ HOWARD
The Big Piece then backed up his claims of being able to get that job done, fighting back against the career and recent statistics which all show his generally abysmal record against left-handed pitching and strong successes against right-handers.
“I think there was one year that I had the most RBIs and home runs against lefties. That was what, two years ago? I think people forget that.” 
In the 2014 season, Howard did indeed produce power against left-handers in 2014, clubbing 10 home runs and driving in 32 runs per Ryan Lawrence of he Philly Voice staff.
Howard then moved into challenge mode, though it rings of someone fighting both against the reality of his past, and the reality of his future as well. 

This is a fresh year. Just as last year was bad, this year I can go out and hit .300 against lefties. Then what do you say? If I was able to go out and hit .300 against lefties this year, then what?

I’ll tell him then what. 
If Howard hits .300 against lefties in the 2016 season in a representative number of plate appearances (his career norm against them being somewhere in the 120-150 range), then I will walk from Philadelphia to his hometown of Saint Louis, Missouri.
Howard has a career .219 batting average against left-handers. Even in his 2006 MVP season when hitting for an overall .313 batting average, the only time in his career that he has sniffed the .300 mark, Howard hit just .279 against lefties, a career high.
For Howard to ask “If I was able to go out and hit .300 against lefties this year, then what?” is only marginally better than me saying the same thing. Neither is every going to happen. 
It is not just unlikely – it is an impossibility. Howard said at one point “Check the numbers, check the track record,” regarding his production. It certainly does, and what it says about his hitting lefties is not very kind.
Howard also addressed the issue of his being named as a PED user in the December report from Al Jazeera, but mostly skirted the issue now that he has a lawsuit filed against them

The process is underway, and I’m just going to let it handle itself through the process.” 

He said that he has not been approached to this point by investigators from Major League Baseball, who are looking into the players named in that report.
He also spoke of missing his former teammates, such as Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, but understanding the reality of his current situation. 

“I still have a job I have to go out there and go do. My mindset every year since I’ve been here is, whoever is out there on the field, that’s who you have to go with.

Howard was a vital part of a championship winning team, the game’s greatest power threat of the mid-late 2000’s. 
But time has mostly passed him by now, just as it has most of his great teammates of those glory days. Howard doesn’t seem to be quite ready to let go, which is fine.
But manager Pete Mackanin and the Phillies cannot let sentimentality get in the way of hard decisions that need to be made regarding the truth of his role with the team in the 2016 season, which is surely going to be the final one in red pinstripes in the great career of ‘The Big Piece’.

Cliff Lee to Retire

Another former Philadelphia Phillies ace pitcher is reportedly set to announce his retirement as a player.

The agent for left-hander Cliff Lee, who last pitched in a big league game on the exact date of the MLB trade deadline in 2014, commented to MLB insider Ken Rosenthal on Tuesday that the career of the former AL Cy Young Award winner is at an end.
Lee pitched for the Phillies over the final four seasons of his 13-year career in Major League Baseball. 
In 2011, Lee made up part of the “Four Aces” rotation with Roy HalladayRoy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, a group that led the team to a Phillies franchise-record 102 regular season victories.
In his time with the Phils, Lee compiled a 48-34 record with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.089 WHIP. He allowed 777 hits in 827.1 innings, with an 813/124 K:BB ratio. He was an NL All-Star with the team in both 2011 and 2013. 
Lee finished 3rd in the 2011 NL Cy Young Award race, with Halladay finishing 2nd and Hamels finishing 5th. Lee also finished 6th in the 2013 Cy Young voting.
The lefty first came to the Phillies in a big 2009 trade deadline deal with the Cleveland Indians along with outfielder Ben Francisco in which the Phils sent four prospects to the Tribe, one of whom, pitcher Carlos Carrasco, remains in the big leagues. 
He helped the club win a 2nd straight NL pennant, but the team lost the World Series in six games to the New York Yankees.

In December of 2009, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. infamously dealt Lee away to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for three prospects who never amounted to anything. 
Amaro did this in the immediate aftermath of, and on the same day as, a trade to acquire Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Just one year later, Lee surprised the baseball world by agreeing to return to the Phillies, signing as a free agent with the team in December of 2010. 
Despite some tremendous individual achievements and the continuation of a run of NL East division crowns that would ultimately extend to five straight, the Phillies never did return to the World Series with Halladay and Lee.
Rosenthal reported the apparent retirement comment in a message sent at his Twitter account earlier this morning:
Sounds like Cliff Lee’s career is over. His agent, Darek Braunecker, told me, “We don’t anticipate him playing at this point.”
Now 37-years old, Lee originally came to pro ball after being selected by the old Montreal Expos in the 4th round of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft. 
In July of 2002 the Expos sent Lee, Brandon PhillipsGrady Sizemore, and Lee Stevens to the Indians forBartolo Colon and reliever Tim Drew.
The same year that the Phillies were winning the World Series, Lee won the 2008 American League Cy Young Award with Cleveland. 
That year he fashioned a tremendous 22-3 record. It was by far his best of eight seasons with the Indians.
Lee was limited to 13 starts in the 2014 season by the Phillies due to a strained flexor tendon in his pitching elbow. 
He attempted to return last year at spring training, and famously entertained beat reporters with a ‘Magic 8-Ball’ to answer questions at a Clearwater press conference, but he was eventually shut down. He has never returned to the mound.
He will finish with an outstanding overall career record of 143-91 and a 3.52 ERA, having allowed 2,116 hits in 2,156.2 innings. 
Famed for his pinpoint control, Lee also finishes with an outstanding 3.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
In Philly, while Lee is remembered fondly by the fan base, it will ultimately be disappointment that characterizes his time here. Aside from the physical problems at the end, that is no reflection on him.
The Phils’ decision to deal him away rather than team him with Halladay and Hamels in the 2010 season cost the team a stronger shot at another World Series.
His final three seasons here coincided with the aging and collapse of the former championship position player core. 
Lee’s contract with the Phillies ended with a $12.6 million buyout for this current season.

Jimmy Rollins Signs With Chicago White Sox

A former Philadelphia Phillies iconic player from their recent championship run finally signed to play in the 2016 season.

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins signed a minor league contract today with the Chicago White Sox, and will compete in spring training for their starting role at the position.
While the deal is a minor league one, it comes with that invitation to spring training, where Rollins will compete with Tyler Saladino and Leury Garcia
The White Sox allowed their starting shortstop for the last eight seasons, Alexei Ramirez, to leave via free agency in the off-season. Ramirez signed last month with the San Diego Padres.
Per Colleen Kane with the Chicago Tribune, the White Sox’ general manager Rich Hahn sees Rollins’ talent and status as a veteran leader of equal value to their ball club.

We envision Jimmy contributing both on and off the field,” Hahn said in a statement, per Kane. “He provides us with another quality infield option with the potential to play a variety of roles, as well as another significant positive presence inside our clubhouse.

The Chisox hope to contend in the American League Central Division after beefing up their offense with the signing of free agent left fielder Melky Cabrera, and the addition of both 3rd basemanTodd Frazier and 2nd baseman Brett Lawrie via trade.
They and Rollins will join an offense that already included Cuban 1st baseman Jose Abreu, speedy center fielder Adam Eaton, and DH Adam LaRoche.

Chicago finished in 4th place in the AL Central a year ago with a 76-86 record, 19 games behind the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals. 
The division should be especially tough this year, with the Detroit Tigers looking to bounce back, the Minnesota Twins an up-and-comer, and the Cleveland Indians also expecting to contend.
The White Sox also have to compete in their own market, as the crosstown Chicago Cubs have emerged as National League favorites with a roster that features a number of high-profile and talented youngsters.
Other former ’08 Phillies remaining in the game include Cole Hamels, traded by the Phils to Texas last season. 
Chase Utley has re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for one season. Jayson Werth remains with the Washington Nationals in a contract that takes him through the 2017 season.
Ryan Madson won the World Series with Kansas City a year ago, and is signed through 2018 with the Royals. 
Shane Victorino expects to play this season, but remains a free agent. He has been linked to the Rangers in recent days. 
And of course,Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz remain with the Phillies for now.
Per MLB insider Ken Rosenthal on his Twitter feed, Rollins had other offers to play in 2016 in a “Super Utility” role for even more money.
Rollins, per source, rejected 2 teams that offered super-utility jobs and guaranteed deals for more $. Wanted chance to win SS job with CWS.
During his 15 seasons with the Phils, the popular ‘JRoll’ became the franchise’ all-time Hits leader, and was the leader of the 2008 World Series champion and five consecutive NL East champs.
Rollins won the 2007 National League Most Valuable Player Award, was a 4x Gold Glover, 3x NL All-Star, and also took home the 2007 NL Silver Slugger at shortstop.
The Phillies traded Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers on December 19th, 2014 in exchange for pitchers Zach Eflin and Tom Windle
The TBOH site named Eflin as the Phillies #8 prospect in their Top 10 Phillies Prospects feature earlier in the month, and Windle was named in “the Field” grouping for the team’s #10 prospect.
The now 37-year old Rollins hit for just a .224/.285/.358 slash line in LA, with 13 homers, 12 steals, and 71 runs scored in 563 plate appearances. 
He was supplanted in the starting lineup at the end by the Dodgers’ uber prospect Corey Seager.
If Rollins does win the starting job in Chicago, keeps it, and is healthy at the time, he would return to Citizens Bank Park for a quick two-game series when the Chisox visit on September 20th and 21st.