Ever since Ryan Howard collapsed at the plate to end the Phillies title hopes last year the burning question has been who will play first base in his absence?
Ruben brought in Ty Wigginton to hold down the reins, but Wiggy’s never been an everyday first baseman and hasn’t exactly looked fleet-a-foot so far in camp. There’s also the once-great slugger, Jim Thome, making one last go-round with the Phillies before his hall-of-fame career comes to an end. You have to love everything Jim Thome brings to the ball club with his experience and leadership, but his legs just aren’t there anymore. In a perfect world Thome could trot out to first a couple days a week, and provide the left handed power now missing from the lineup. We’re finding the first hints of an answer to that question this Spring.
Thome has not yet played an inning in the field in any exhibition game. Being regulated to DH duty, he’s led this fan to believe that his days at first are indeed behind him. After all, if Charlie Manuel doesn’t trust him to play there, no one will. Wigginton has played a couple games at first, but the man getting the most playing time out there has been John Mayberry Jr.
Wait a minute; isn’t he supposed to be playing the outfield?
Mayberry is still in line to be the Phillies everyday left fielder, but he’s also become their best option at first base. Mayberry’s athleticism is a welcome sight to the field compared to what his counter parts offer. He logged 18 games at first base last year, committing only 1 error with a .990 fielding percentage. It’s a small sample size, but he’s a big target over at first with a lot of range.
He hasn’t exactly been crushing the ball so far in camp with a .211 batting average and .556 OPS, but you can never put too much stock in a player’s numbers this early. Mayberry’s lefty-righty splits are well documented, as he hit nearly 50 points higher against lefties in 2011. It’s hard to look at these numbers and not think of Jayson Werth in his first year with the Phillies. In 2007, Werth hit almost 120 points higher against lefties but managed to grow into an everyday player. Watching the Phillies for nearly two decades has taught me nothing is guaranteed, but Mayberry has a very good chance to follow Werth’s career arc.
Answering who’s on first with Mayberry only leads to another question; who’s in left? Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednik have looked hungry fighting it out for the final roster spot, but neither one is an everyday player at this point in their careers. The Phillies would love for Domonic Brown to show that he’s figured it all out, but I won’t hold my breath. Charlie will have to mix and match the lineup until the Big Piece returns, but don’t be shocked when Mayberry’s name is penciled in at first