Phillies Infield: (Insert Expletive) by Brad Johnson February 20, 2015 It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here. By now, we all expect the Phillies to be bad this season. The only question is where they fall on a scale of bad to abominable. Despite the ugly outlook, there are things to like about this team. They still own Cole Hamels. Ditto Cliff Lee. The bullpen, with or without Jonathan Papelbon, could be one of the strongest units in the league. Run prevention may be a strength of this club. It won’t be enough. The Padres allowed the fourth fewest runs last season en route to a 77 win campaign. They also scored the fewest runs – hence the lousy record. San Diego has pivoted as a franchise, but the Phillies still look like a weaker version of last year’s Padres. Catcher Carlos Ruiz Cameron Rupp The locals call him Chooch. Ruiz is a career Phillie. He’s entering his age 36 season after completing a 445 plate appearance campaign. He’s projected for more of the same this season. Ruiz combines adequate defense with adequate hitting. The total package is a useful ball player. A rich injury history and age probably eliminate his value on the trade market. The Phillies need somebody to help steward the next generation of Philadelphia starting pitchers. It might as well be Ruiz. Fantasy owners are left with an uninspiring backup. If the franchise had a prospect knocking down the door, they might be inclined to shove Ruiz aside. Alas, neither Rupp nor Tommy Joseph are ready to start. The club may give Rupp one more shot as a backup. Scouting reports offer mixed reviews of his defense. His bat is hindered by a high whiff rate and minimal power. Don’t be surprised if somebody outside the organization bumps Rupp from his perch. First Base Ryan Howard Darin Ruf Maikel Franco We’re all tired of the Ryan Howard Story (or at least we should be). He’s a former power hitter who now hovers in the negative value range. Oh, and he’s paid a lot of money. The Phillies valiantly strove to offload him this offseason (I assume), but nobody was biting. At some point during the 2015 season, a team will probably have an opening at designated hitter and aspirations to contend. If such a scenario happens, Howard may finally find a new home. Behind Howard is a possible platoon bat in Ruf and a decent prospect in Franco. The organization is convinced that Ruf is a backup, yet his results when on the major league roster hint at a guy who can provide league average production against lefties and righties. It’s an unexciting profile, but Philadelphia should have given him a full look by now. Ruf on a league minimum contract has some trade value if he’s an everyday player with a 100 wRC+. You won’t acquire Kris Bryant with Ruf, but you could conceivably net a projectable Low-A prospect. It’s almost too late to groom him for a trade. They should try anyway. Franco is one of those “top” prospects who probably benefits from a thin system. He has true 30 home run power, but there are flaws in his swing that could prevent him from thriving in the majors. There’s no reason to rush the 22-year-old at this point, there are still things he can learn in the upper minors after posting a .257/.299/.428 line with 15 home runs in 556 plate appearances last season. Honestly, were I a Phillies insider, I’d tell him we’re eyeballing a July debut. He could still make the club out of spring training. Second Base Chase Utley Cesar Hernandez Odubel Herrera Unlike the other veterans on the club, Utley isn’t going anywhere. He’s informed the team that he will kibosh any trade talks with his full no trade clause. So long as he remains productive, there’s no reason to be anything but gracious to Utley. I like to compare him with Chipper Jones. The two are similarly talented on the field. Jones obviously played a lot longer. He was a better hitter too, but Utley offers more on the bases and in the field. The best second base prospect in the system is Jesmuel Valentin. He’s not a blue chip prospect, and he’s a long way away. I see no reason why the Phillies shouldn’t keep Utley until he retires. As a fantasy player, Utley still provides a little speed and power. He tired out last season, so the club is expected to sit him more frequently. That could help him to improve upon a .270/.339/.407 line with 11 home runs. His chronic knee issues appear to be conquered for now. Beyond Utley are Hernandez and Herrera. Hernandez is a typical replacement level utility man. He has too much swing-and-miss for his no-power profile. Herrera, the first of two rule 5 picks, is a second baseman by trade. He’ll probably play outfield this season. Shortstop Freddy Galvis Odubel Herrera Frankly, I’m shocked the Phillies aren’t the team acquiring Everth Cabrera. He’s a player whose value is at a new low thanks to off the field issues. Philadelphia should be eagerly rehabilitating these sorts of players. The risk-reward is exactly what the team needs to chase. As it stands, the club appears open to beginning the season with Galvis as the primary option. He’s a former defense-first prospect whose bat has always lagged behind his glove. Defensive metrics actually see him as a league average defender, so this could be an example of slick fielding hiding a lack of something else. I’m saying this anywhere and everywhere I can – the Phillies ought to contact the Astros regarding Jonathan Villar. Houston has blocked the former Phillies prospect with Jed Lowrie. Meanwhile, Carlos Correa is creeping closer to the majors. Villar is purely depth to the Astros. He’s a long shot to become a viable major league regular, but the Phillies can afford to give him an extended look while they wait on J.P. Crawford. He’s a hell of a lot better than Galvis. Third Base Cody Asche Maikel Franco Cesar Hernandez Asche’s first major league season was a modest success. He needs to tighten up his defense to prevent Franco from pushing him into a utility role. Asche won’t steal bases and has minimal power upside. It limits his value in most fantasy leagues. As a real world player, he should receive full time reps. Like Ruf, the club should be trying to let him build trade value. The Phillies prefer Franco to remain at third base where he would be more valuable. His defense seems comparable to that of Asche, so they might get their wish.