Phillies End the Cedric Hunter Experiment
By Ethan Witte
The Philadelphia Phillies made a roster move prior to Monday’s series opener with the New York Mets.
Cedric Hunter had been one of the better stories in camp during spring training down in Florida. A former top 100 prospect that came to Clearwater on a minor league deal, which he earned on the strength of a .283/.331/.420 slash line in the Braves’ minor league organization in 2015.
Making the club based on a .793 OPS during the Grapefruit League, Hunter was given a chance to show that he still had something left in the tank on a team that lacks quality outfielders outside of Odubel Herrera at the Major League level.
After watching the beginning of the season, though, it became obvious. It was time to cut ties.
Even though the season is only two weeks old, it had become quite apparent that Hunter would not be assuming a regular role in the Phillies’ lineup. His hot spring was enough to have him make the team, even to get the Opening Day start in left field, but he simply did not hit enough to warrant continued playing time, especially on a team that is struggling as much as the Phillies currently are to score runs.
On looking at Hunter, the first thing you notice is a horrendous .088/.139/.176 batting line. Even in his small 2016 sample size of 36 plate appearances, the fact that he cannot even hit above .100 makes one shudder. He did have a bit of bad luck, owning a .074 BABIP, but he didn’t make enough hard contact that you would expect the numbers to improve dramatically.
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Dig a little deeper and the numbers get even worse. He was not being blown away by pitchers, facing only an average velocity of 92 miles per hour. It was more a matter of Hunter getting himself out with far too much frequency.
Never known for his plate discipline, even in those top prospect days, Hunter seems to be using the bat in the same way one might use a fly swatter in the summer time near a swamp. Anything that a pitcher throws near the plate, Hunter is chasing after. He was swinging at 38.7% of pitches out of the zone according to Pitchf/x, and thus pitchers simply had no reason to throw him a strike, preferring to let him get himself out.
The team really has no other options right now, so it’s easy to see why manager Pete Mackanin continued to write his name on the lineup card. Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel has looked almost as overmatched as Hunter, so it’s not as though Hunter was being pushed for playing time.
Darin Ruf was put into the lineup as a left fielder last Thursday, but that experiment should quickly end. It’s unfair to ask Ruf to play in the outfield when he got exactly zero innings in spring training at the position, and never showed an aptitude for it over his career in the first place.
Another available veteran option to take Hunter’s playing time, late spring signee Will Venable, was not exactly lighting it up for AAA Lehigh Valley, hitting .125/.192/.167 in 24 at-bats. However, Venable’s more proven track record of offensive production (career 104 OPS+) makes him a better option than Hunter to provide support to the sagging Phillies offense in the short-term.
What the Phillies chose to do was to demote Hunter, and promote David Lough, who at age 30 with experience in parts of four big league seasons for two different organizations, is no prospect. Lough was hitting .280 at AAA, hustles, and plays good defense. He is not likely to bring much offense to the lineup, possessing per-162 games averages of 7 HR, 33 RBI, and 8SB.
Long term, none of this has any effect on the timetables of the club’s top near-ready outfield prospects Nick Williams and Roman Quinn. Since the team doesn’t have a realistic postseason hope this year, it doesn’t make sense to rush those players up to a losing team. Later in the summer, perhaps, but not at this point.
However you want to look at it, Hunter was not cutting it with the Phillies after earning that shot legitimately. It’s best for the team to end the experiment and move on to the next option, trying to make the team as competitive as possible and reward the starting pitchers who have been keeping the team in most games.