Iron Pigs Promise
By John Stolnis
Now I know why the LeHigh Valley Iron Pigs didn’t make the International League playoffs. Their entire roster is playing for the Philadelphia Phillies.
There are currently 11 players who spent most of the season in AAA on the Phils’ active roster, and that doesn’t even count Michael Martinez, who should have been there all along.
On Sunday, three of those Piggies, Tyler Cloyd, Phillippe Aumont and Justin DeFratus, were key contributors in the Phils’ 4-2 win over the NL Central leading Reds in Cincinnati.
Cloyd, the International League MVP, was 12-1 with a 2.35 ERA for the Pigs. On Monday, he pitched 7 innings of 4-hit, 1-run ball, outdueling NL Cy Young Candidate Johnny Cueto. DeFratus, who missed most of the year with elbow problems, pitched a scoreless eighth inning, followed by Phillippe Aumont, who gave up a run but notched his first career save in the ninth.
It was clearly a good day for the LeHigh Valley alum, but many of the big-league Piggies have been doing it for the last month.
His should-be-error on Sunday against the Braves aside, third baseman Kevin Fransen has been incredibly valuable, as Placido Polanco struggles to stay healthy once again. Frandsen had two more hits on Monday, boosting his batting average to .347 with an on-base percentage of .396 in 135 plate appearances. The 30-year-old career minor leaguer is certainly in line for at least a bench job in 2013.
Erik Kratz is another career minor leaguer who, like Frandsen, is finding Major League success in his 30s. Since joining the Phils when Carlos Ruiz got hurt, all Kratz has done is kill the baseball and make all the plays behind the plate. In 113 plate appearances, Kratz is hitting .287, but more importantly, is slugging .604.
Yes, that’s correct, slugging .604, with 8 HRs and 21 RBIs in 36 games played. And if you saw that coming, I’d like to take you to the track with me some time.
Of course, these are small sample sizes for Kratz and Frandsen. Probably the more accurate barometer of both players’ true talents lie in their career minor league numbers. But what both guys have done for themselves is solidify bench spots for the 2013 squad. And, they are just what Ruben Amaro needs.
Cheap players who can fill valuable reserve roles on a team with injury and age issues.
Perhaps the most important position player is Domonic Brown, who had an up-and-down season at LeHigh Valley. Brown battled a mix of ineffectiveness and injury for much of the 2012 season, but was really coming on when the Phils called him up after the trades of Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino. In 109 plate appearances for the Phils, Brown’s numbers aren’t that great, posting a slash line of .242/.312/.343 with just one home run and 11 RBIs. He’s also missed the last five games with knee problems. However, he has shown good plate discipline once again, and has improved defensively in both left and right field, although there is still more work to do there.
Brown is all but guaranteed a starting spot in right field next year. What he does with that opportunity could make or break the Phils’ 2013 season. Aside from Utley and Howard returning to form, Brown is the single most important position player for the Phillies in 2013.
The rest of the Iron Pigs currently on the Phils are some of the top young arms in the organization, auditioning for bullpen roles next year. And boy, do the Phils certainly need some cheap, young bullpen arms to step up and stake a claim to some jobs in what has been the Phillies’ biggest weakness this year.
De Fratus and Aumont are certainly favorites to be considered next year. And Cloyd has done nothing to hurt his chances in what will be an open competition with Kyle Kendrick for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Left-handed relievers Jeremy Horst and Jake Diekman have shown they have the stuff to pitch successfully in the big leagues. Horst, in particular, has been phenomenal in 2012, sporting a 1.99 ERA in 22 2/3 innings. Diekman’s time with the Phils earlier in the year wasn’t as successful, mainly due to control issues. However, if the side-winding lefty can learn to throw strikes more consistently, he has all the makings of being a devastating LOOGY in ’13. And Raul Valdes, the 34-year-old left-handed veteran, has certainly done nothing to dissuade Amaro and Manuel from considering him for a bullpen spot next season, with an ERA of 2.90 ERA and an average of 10.9 K/9 in 31 innings.
Are all, or any, of these Iron Pigs going to be All-Stars? Perhaps only Brown and Aumont have that potential. The rest are mostly complimentary pieces.
But it is the complimentary pieces that often make the difference between a winning club and a losing one. In today’s game, the bullpen is as much, if not more important, than any other facet of the ballclub. So is cost control.
A cheap bullpen full of young, hard throwers can free up payroll, allowing the Phils to spend more in other areas.
Amaro is sure to get at least one proven, veteran arm for the ‘pen, if not two. But these September auditions could do a lot to make some of those spending decisions a little easier.
The development of the Piggies has been fun to watch and is a good reason to keep watching the Phils in an otherwise pointless September.
You can email John at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @FelskeFiles.