What To Watch In Clearwater- First And Second Base

Posted by Rich Wilkins

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In the Phillies front office, there is a lot more to watch in Spring Training than just the big leaguers and if they get their needed at-bats before the season. There's an entire system to build, at each position, to give maximum future payroll flexibility to build the team up. Two of the premium positions for the Phillies to watch are two of the most secure current spots on the roster- first and second base. The Phillies will spend $35 million on the two spots in 2012, and have a combined $155 million tied into their two incumbents going forward. So, with that, let's look at the positions.

THE BIG LEAGUERS
First Base-

Ryan Howard
  • 32 years old- 8th MLB Season (6.145 seasons service time)
  • Next Free Agency- 2017 or 2018 if his option is exercised
  • His contract is five years, $115 million, with a $10 million buy out of his option
  • 2011 stats- .253/.346/.488, .835 OPS, 33 HR, 116 RBI's; 2010 stats- .276/.353/.505, .859 OPS, 31 HR, 108 RBI's
  • Career stats- .275/.368/.560, .928 OPS, 286 HR, 864 RBI's.
Second Base-
Chase Utley
  • 33 years old- 9th MLB Season (8.027 seasons service time)
  • Next Free Agency- 2014
  • His contract is seven years, $85 million, and has two years remaining at $15 million a season
  • 2011 stats- .259/.344/.425, .769 OPS, 11 HR, 44 RBI's; 2010 stats- .275/.387/.445, .832 OPS, 16 HR, 65 RBI's
  • Career stats- .290/.377/.505, .882 OPS, 188 HR, 694 RBI's.
MLB Bench Options-
Jim Thome
  • First Base Option on a one year deal. He's limited at this point to spot starts and pinch-hitting.
  • His deal is one year, $1.25 million. He has over 19 seasons service time.
  • He has 604 career home runs and 1,674 RBI's. He has a career .959 OPS, and even had a .869 in 2011.
Ty Wigginton
  • Plays both positions. He is in the final year of a two year deal, with an option.
  • He has over 8 seasons of service time.
  • He has failed to reach double digits in homers just twice in his career, and has 158 in his career. He was a 2010 All-Star.
Michael Martinez
  • Plays lots of positions, including second.
  • He was a Rule 5 pick last year, his rookie season, and is under club control.
  • He hit .196 as a rookie, but did look better later in the year.
That's what you have on the big league team. Basically, Utley and Howard are still very, very good players, but could very well be into their declines now, based on stats. Both have injury issues (Utley's knee issues early last year, Howard's achilles now), and both are now at 32 plus. The odds of the Phillies carrying both into the future is very unlikely. Utley has two years left on his deal, and Howard has five. The odds are that either Chase will walk, or Ryan will be traded. While none of these bench players are adequate future starters, Wigginton is a very useful bench presence who can spot either of these guys, and will do so for Howard early. Martinez is a career back-up at best, and will probably split his time between the Phillies and Iron Pigs.
So what's down the line? Let's take a look at the right-side of the infield in the minors, at some of the players who might play a role with the Phillies in the future.
UPPER LEVELS (AA and AAA)
Cody Overbeck
First Base- Iron Pigs in 2011
  • Overbeck played first and left in 2011 for Reading and Lehigh Valley. He'll turn 26 this year, and has played third in the past.
  • He hit .275 with 18 homers and 46 RBI's for Reading in 2011, with an .863 OPS. For the Pigs he hit .279 with 6 homers and 26 RBI's, with a .747 OPS. He posted a .331 OBP for both but saw his slugging drop from .532 for Reading to .416 in Lehigh Valley. 
  • In Arizona this fall he hit .321/.427/.457, for an OPS of .884.
Matt Rizzotti
First Base- Reading in 2011
  • Rizzotti played first and DH'ed in 2011, and basically just plays those two. He is 26 now.
  • He hit .295 with 24 HR and 84 RBI's, while posting a .903 OPS for Reading.
  • He hit .343 in 2010 between three levels. 
Harold Garcia
Second Base- Reading in 2011
  • Played just 12 games before tearing his ACL.
  • He hit .300 in his minimal time in 2011.
  • He's also been linked to having a future at third.
  • He is 25 right now. 
  • In 2010, he hit .335 for Clearwater and .281 in Reading. He had a combined .807 OPS.
Pete Orr
Second Base- Philadelphia/Lehigh Valley in 2011
  • Orr is on a minor league deal for camp, but played for the big league club a lot in 2011.
LOWER LEVELS
Cesar Hernandez
Second Base- Clearwater in 2011
  • Hernandez skipped Lakewood in 2011 and jumped straight to Clearwater from Williamsport.
  • He had a .268/.306/.333 line, posting a .639 OPS. 
  • He hit .325 for Williamsport in 2010 and posted a .782 OPS. 
  • He hit no homers in 2009 or 2010, but 4 in 2011. 
  • He is rated the 8th best second base prospect by MLB.com
  • He is 21 right now.
Darin Ruf
First Base- Clearwater in 2011
  • Ruf is 25.
  • He hit .308, with an .894 OPS in 2011. He belted 17 homers and drove in 82.
  • He hit .290 in 2010 between Clearwater and Lakewood. He hit .330 in Lakewood. He hit only 9 homers that year.
Jim Murphy
First Base- Lakewood in 2011
  • Murphy is 26.
  • He hit .268, with an .852 OPS in 2011. He hit 22 homers and drove in 77 runs.
  • In 2010 he hit .239 for Clearwater and hit just 6 homers.
Clearly, there is depth at first base, but no blue-chip prospect who is ready or will be ready to replace Howard anytime soon. The opposite is true at second- they lack depth, but have some premium talent. Hernandez and Garcia both project to make the big leagues, and it's arguable one may turn into a starter, if all goes well. Overbeck and Rizzotti both have a shot, as Ruf may too. One could argue that none will start though. Overbeck and Rizzotti have advanced power to hit that many homers in upper levels, and Ruf's power is improving yearly. He has a big year in front of him in Reading. 
Over the long term, it's important we keep our eye on the ball- Howard and Utley won't both be with this team in five years, and one major factor of which one stays around long term is what kind of prospects emerge that could be starters. If you asked me today, the best chance to be a future starter here is Cesar Hernandez, meaning the Phillies easier position to replace is second base. Basic logic would say that means Utley is easier to lose, but hang on. Utley is likely to need to move to first in the long term, and that could make it easier to move Howard (since he can't switch to let a cheaper player take his position). In the long term, I like where the franchise is at with second base, where I see two players with solid ceilings, but i'm nervous about first. The Phillies will likely have to hang on there with an aging player either way.