Phillies Battle for Backup Outfield Spot

Mar 12, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies right fielder David Lough (3) hits a 2-run home run during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 12, 2016; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies right fielder David Lough (3) hits a 2-run home run during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Bright House Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Phillies outfield has seen many changes in recent years, and this season should prove no exception.

Losing Aaron Altherr hurt. It may not hurt as much as some might think, including our own Matt Veasey who opined as much in a recent piece. But for a rebuilding team like the Phillies, any time they are unable to evaluate whether or not a young player can be a part of future winning clubs, it’s a detriment to progress.

When spring training opened, the outfield mix was seemingly set with Altherr, Odubel Herrera, and Peter Bourjos expected to get the bulk of playing time in some shape or form. The battle in the outfield was then over who would get the extra backup at-bats.

Players with big league experience like Cody Asche, Cedric Hunter, and David Lough, and young prospects like Tyler Goeddel, Roman Quinn, and Nick Williams were competing to claim a roster spot as the fourth outfielder, perhaps with another making it as well depending on what size bullpen the club would carry.

Altherr’s injury has now altered that lineup and those anticipated plans. Goeddel, whom as a Rule 5 draftee the club must carry on the Major League roster all season if they wish to keep him, is now virtually guaranteed the open starting job. However, who gets the last spot? Let’s see how they are currently matching up

The Favorite – David Lough

Lough (pronounced “low”) has had a good spring thus far, producing six hits in 18 at-bats to go with five walks and only four strikeouts. He’s swatted a double and a home run as well, so he’s shown a little extra-base pop to go along with the ability to play above average defense across all three outfield positions.

His defensive ability is the one fact will probably mean he gets the final outfield spot this season. Prior to last season, I lobbied for the team to acquire him, but Lough then hit a dismal .201/.241/.313 in 134 plate appearances with the Baltimore Orioles, leading to his release from the team.

He won’t be counted on to log serious playing time here in Philly, barring disastrous injuries. The club will certainly want to see what they have in Goeddel. But Lough should provide average replacement value when any of the three starting players needs a breather.

Developing – Roman Quinn, Nick Williams

Today’s return to minor leagues of two of the team’s prospects should have come as no big surprise. Both were guaranteed to begin the regular season in the minors all along. However, it has been nice for fans to get a glimpse of what is to come in the future. Both have shown they are more than capable of playing good defense in the outfield while also demonstrating that they aren’t completely overmatched at the plate.

Williams’ power was evidenced by the three-run bomb he hit against Toronto over the weekend, yet he still has a-ways to go with displaying patience at the plate. Quinn has shown off his speed on multiple occasions, both on the base paths (two stolen bases) and in the outfield, where he has been running down anything near him.

It should have become clear to anyone watching these two young talents in recent weeks that they will have an impact when they arrive, which could be as soon as this coming summer. But for now, the best thing for their development is to get regular playing time in the minors rather than sporadic time as a fourth or fifth outfielder. Patience, Phillies fans. Patience…..

More from That Balls Outta Here

The Infirmary – Cody Asche

The player most affected by Altherr’s injury was Asche, who possibly would have slid right into the starting position to start the season. At the very least, he would have competed with Goeddel for playing time as manager Pete Mackanin tried to accentuate each player’s strengths.

Injuries have derailed Asche’s spring, and will probably force him to the disabled list to begin the regular season. It’s probably the worst thing that could have happened to him. Over the past two years, Asche has not shown the kind of improvement that the organization was hoping. In order to remain a member of the team, he more than likely needed a good spring and start to the season to avoid the dreaded “DFA” tag.

With this latest injury, he’ll likely being on that DL, but it’s clear the team is beginning to move on from him. They have acquired several other options at the positions he plays. Once Asche is healthy, it’s up to him to begin to show something with the bat in order to remain a Phillie, or he’ll likely be looking to catch on somewhere else.

Clinging On – Cedric Hunter

Hunter was once a top prospect in the game, ranking #1 on the Padres’ Top 10 list at Baseball America in 2007. Since that point it’s been a steady fall for the player. He has bounced around from organization to organization, serving as little more than minor league depth. He was pretty good last year in Gwinnett for the Braves organization, hitting .283/.331/.420, but even with those numbers and a weak Atlanta team, he didn’t register a single at-bat in the Majors.

At this point, Hunter is living off of the “top prospect” status that he once enjoyed, and will serve once again as depth in case an injury happens. He’s had an okay spring training, hitting three doubles and a nice walkoff home run in 22 at-bats. But again, this is a player that more than likely is headed to AAA Lehigh Valley where he’ll probably be the first guy called up in case something catastrophic happens to the big league outfield.

If I had to put them in order from most likely to make the team to least likely, they’d stack up like this:

Asche (DL)

It would be counter productive, both developmentally and financially, to bring either Williams or Quinn north in April. Even if two more outfielders got hurt, the team might be more willing to find a free agent outfielder or two and sign them as stopgaps.

Hopefully by no later than July, we should see the first waves of minor league talent breaking on the Citizens Bank shores, with these two players leading the crest. Until then, it’ll probably be Herrera, Bourjos, and Goeddel starting with Lough and possibly Hunter backing up, and with Asche looking to get healthy and push for a role.

Next: 2016 Coaching Staff: Larry Bowa