Phillies Cedric Hunter Has Earned a Roster Spot
By Matt Veasey
The Philadelphia Phillies have an outfielder who has been making a surprisingly strong impression this spring.
When spring training opened back in late February, few would have imagined that journeyman outfielder Cedric Hunter would be able to fight his way on to the Phillies roster for Opening Day of the 2016 season.
Hunter signed with the club on January 12th as a free agent after bouncing through five different organizations over the last decade. He was originally a 3rd round pick in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft by the San Diego Padres. He rose incrementally through that Friars’ organization, and was even ranked as the #95 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2007 season.
He had a strong 2008 season at High-A Lake Elsinore as a 20-year old, but his performance seemed to level off and even drop a bit thereafter. In 2011, Hunter went north from spring training with the Padres. Though not a starter, he did see his first, and to this stage his only career big league action. Hunter went 1-4 with a walk and a run scored over six games.
On April 5th in a game at Petco Park, Hunter led off the bottom of the 6th inning as a pinch-hitter for former Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Harang. Stepping in against Guillermo Mota of the San Francisco Giants, Hunter lashed what is for now his only big league hit, a line drive single to right field.
Hunter was ultimately sent back to the minors following an April 9th game. He would never return to Major League Baseball. The following off-season, he was selected off waivers by the Oakland Athletics and went to spring training with the A’s. However, he was then traded to the Saint Louis Cardinals on April 4th, 2012 as part of a conditional deal.
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After one season in the Cards’ organization, Hunter became a free agent and signed with the Cleveland Indians. He never reached the big leagues with the Tribe, and again became a free agent the following off-season, signing with the Atlanta Braves in early spring training of 2014.
Hunter spent the last two seasons amassing 915 plate appearances between AA and AAA with the Braves. Despite performing well and the big league club struggling, Hunter never received a promotion. He was again granted free agency this previous off-season, and signed with the Phillies.
Coming into camp, the Phillies had pretty much committed to a starting outfield of Peter Bourjos, Odubel Herrera, and Aaron Altherr. They had made former Tampa Bay Rays prospect outfielder Tyler Goeddel the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft, and thus had to keep him on the roster as well.
The Phillies then signed outfielder David Lough, who had MLB experience. With returnees Cody Asche and Darin Ruf having left field experience, and prospects Nick Williams and Roman Quinn nearly ready, it appeared that Hunter was trying to impress enough to stick with the organization for a spot at AAA Lehigh Valley.
However, circumstances eventually would change. Altherr was lost for four to six months with an injury. Herrera has come down with another injury situation that has kept him out of the lineup for nearly two weeks. Asche has been injured and unable to perform at all. Those injury situations left more playing time for Hunter, and he has responded.
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Thus far in Grapefruit League action, the 28-year old left-hander has hit for a .295/.333/.636 slash line across 44 at-bats over 16 games. He is third on the club with 10 RBI, leads the team with 10 runs scored, and has three home runs. Hunter has also played left field well.
In recent days there have been numerous calls for the team to explore outfield options from outside the organization. If Herrera’s finger injury lingers much longer, that may have to become a consideration.
However, as I wrote a exactly one week ago, signing or trading for an outfielder from outside is not something that the Phillies really need to do at this point. Herrera should be back in plenty of time to prepare for the regular season. Bourjos, Goeddel, and Lough are all still here. Both Quinn and Williams showed in their time in camp that they are not far off, perhaps no more than a half-season.
And just as importantly, there is the performance and experience of Hunter that needs to be seriously factored into the equation. He has produced this spring. He has tasted the big leagues before, albeit briefly and five years ago. But he has more than 4,700 minor league plate appearances over parts of a decade.
In short, Hunter has earned a spot on the Philadelphia Phillies 2016 Opening Day roster. He should be coming north with the team when it returns for weekend preseason series in early April, and should be in uniform when the club opens up in Cincinnati that following Monday.