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2014 Phillies Player Previews: Backup IF Smörgåsbord

The reserves: Guys who you hope do well, but also hope not to see very much of.

I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay, I sleep all night and I work all day.
I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay, I sleep all night and I work all day.
Kevin C. Cox

When I first started playing organized baseball, the bench players were the kids who chased butterflies instead of actual fly balls, picked dandelions, and in general seemed like someone forgot to give them their ADHD meds. Luckily for the Phillies, their bench players are like that in no way whatsoever. They're actually phenomenal athletes, just ever-so-slightly less phenomenal than the starters. Let's take a look at how they might fare in the upcoming year.

The backup infielders, in order of position number:

Wil Nieves - C - (At Fangraphs & B-R)

2013 Stats: 71 G, 206 PA, .297/.320/.369, wRC+ 86, 1 HR, 12 XBH, -0.1 fWAR

2014 Projections:

Steamer: 32 G, 130 PA, .248/.288/.346, wRC+ 72, 2 HR, 0.2 fWAR

ZiPS: 63 G, 197 PA, .238/.267/.308, wRC+ 54, 2 HR, -0.4 fWAR

Oliver: 143 G, 600 PA*, .232/.273/.301, wRC+ 55, 6 HR, -0.7 fWAR

Don't pay much attention to the playing time projections for Oliver, as they project every player in the league to have 600 PA. Nieves is clearly the primary backup catcher option this season, having signed for $1.125 million this season with $500k in performance bonuses. His projections are those of a backup catcher; poor offense, poor base running, passable defense.

That skill set is standard in backup catchers, as the emphasis for the position is usually defense and pitcher handling. The Phillies may end up relying on Nieves a bit, as Carlos Ruiz is no spring chicken and has averaged only 116 games per year since becoming the regular starter in 2007.

Others: Cameron Rupp, Tommy Joseph

If 2014 is anything like 2013 and 2012 were expect to see more than a little of Rupp and/or Joseph, in that order. Is Steven Lerud still around? Maybe him too. In both those years we saw the primary backups (Schneider and Kratz, respectively) go down with lower-body or crotchal-area injuries, if I recall correctly, forcing the third stringers into duty. Kratz performed admirably in that role in 2012 and Rupp did the same last season. Regardless of who catches the majority of the games Ruiz doesn't, if they're required for more than 50 or so games, the Phillies puncher's chance at making a run for the Wild Card berth is going to become even more of a long shot. In other words, hope you see as little of these guys as possible.

Next up would be Darin Ruf as the backup first baseman, but Liz, like the Phillies, inexplicably lumped him in with the outfielders, so we'll move on to second base.

Cesar Hernandez - 2B/OF - (At Fangraphs & B-R)

2013 Stats: 34 G, 131 PA, .289/.344/.331, wRC+ 90, 0 HR, 5 XBH, 0/3 SB, -0.4 fWAR

2014 Projections:

Steamer: 24 G, 109 PA, .271/.315/.357, wRC+ 85, 1 HR, 6 XBH, 2/4 SB, 0.2 fWAR

ZiPS: 145 G, 594 PA, .271/.312/.353, wRC+ 83, 2 HR, 31 XBH, 23/35 SB, 0.6 fWAR

Oliver: 143 G, 600 PA, .260/.312/.342, wRC+ 82, 4 HR, 31 XBH, 17/22 SB, 1.4 fWAR

Hernandez is an interesting player. He's only 24, as he made his way through the depths of the minor league system relatively quickly, adjusting and improving at the levels where he repeated. He's a plus runner, who has flirted with a minor league walk rate above 9% at three different stops (Rookie ball in 2009, Lakewood in 2010, and Lehigh Valley in 2013), but is completely lacking in the power department and strikes out a fair amount for a guy with no power to speak of. He was a threat on the bases throughout the minors, stealing 120 bases (in 164 attempts, a 73% success rate), though he was 0 for 3 at the major league level last season.

Cesar will likely see a lot less playing time than ZiPS or Oliver project, considering his only real position is second base, despite having been shoehorned into an OF role last season. And, like the catching position, if you see Cesar as a backup second baseman racking up nearly 600 ABs then something not so good has happened to the guy who is projected to be the starter at that position and everything will be awful. We won't speak of this scenario again.

If the Phillies are adamant about using him in the OF, he probably sees a lot of time in Lehigh Valley, as the current outfield doesn't look like it's going to have the room for on-the-job training, with Brown, Revere, and Byrd have the three starting spots essentially locked down, and most teams don't carry a pure 2B bench guy.

Kevin Frandsen - 3B/2B/1B - (Frandsen at Fangraphs & B-R)

2013 Stats: 119 G, 278 PA, .234/.296/.341, wRC+ 77, 5 HR, 16 XBH, 1/1 SB, 0.0 fWAR

2014 Projections:

Steamer: 69 G, 280 PA, .271/.315/.377, wRC+ 91, 3 HR, 19 XBH, 3/4 SB, 0.6 fWAR

ZiPS: 119 G, 399 PA, .264/.311/.362, wRC+ 86, 4 HR, 26 XBH, 3/5 SB, 0.2 fWAR

Oliver: 143 G, 600 PA, .268/.318/.373, wRC+ 91, 8 HR, 40 XBH, 2/3 SB, -0.1 fWAR

Frandsen's 2013 was everything his 2012 was not. His 2012 was a pretty good season as he hit .338/.383/.451 over 210 plate appearances. That slash line was buoyed by a robust .366 BABIP. That number cratered in 2013, falling .121 points to a near-career low .245. If one were inclined to put a letter grade on that performance, one might draw the ire of Mr. Frandsen (or, perhaps, the ire would be directed at some other blog that doesn't even issue letter grades!), so we'll just say that in some ways 2013 was disappointing, as he was forced to take a backseat to Michael Young imitation of a fire hydrant at third and didn't perform as well as he did in 2012 when given the opportunity. Though he did lead the league in pinch hits, which he's proud of:

What might we expect from Frandsen in 2013? The performance projections split the difference between 2012 and 2013, and that seems about right. He's not going to walk much, so his on-base percentage will suffer, but he'll make a lot of contact and so long as the batted balls fall in at a rate a little more reasonable than they did last season that should be decent production out of one of the backup IF positions. He's also got noticeable platoon splits over his career, splits that were even more pronounced last season, so he figures to be a decent option to spell Asche or Utley, or potentially even Howard, against tough southpaws. Frandsen figures to be featured more prominently on the 2014 club than, say, Cesar Hernandez, as his contract (1 yr, $900k with performance bonuses) is guaranteed, and he's able to play multiple infield positions.

Freddy Galvis - SS/2B/3B/LF? - (Galvis at Fangraphs & B-R)

2013 Stats: 70 G, 222 PA, .234/.283/.385, wRC+ 81, 6 HR, 15 XBH, 1/1 SB, 0.1 fWAR

2014 Projections:

Steamer: 69 G, 278 PA, .243/.283/.363, wRC+ 75, 5 HR, 20 XBH, 3/5 SB, -0.7 fWAR

ZiPS: 124 G, 475 PA, .249/.285/.376, wRC+ 80, 8 HR, 35 XBH, 7/11 SB, 0.1 fWAR

Oliver: 143 G, 600 PA, .255/.291/.374, wRC+ 82, 9 HR, 44 XBH, 10/13 SB, 1.7 fWAR

That set of projections is all over the map. Offensively, Galvis improved across the board in 2013, increasing his walk rate, power, and average, though still was a well-below average major league hitter. As a guy known as a middle-infield defensive wiz with a bit of a light bat, his profile is a little strange. He doesn't seem to have blazing speed, he's not much of a slap hitter, but he's got a bit of pop in the bat. His 2012-13 combined isolated power is .144, which is 14th among all shortstops in baseball over that period. He seems to generate most of that power with a sell-out approach at the plate, as he strikes out frequently (>20% last season), and doesn't work counts very well (career 4.7% walk rate). It works for him, it's just not the prototypical middle infield depth profile.

Defensively, we've all seen that he has a penchant for making spectacular-looking plays:

(gifs made by the estimable Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley. Give him a follow, and, I don't know, send him a case of Tastycakes or a pie or something for all his hard work)

That's fun to watch.

That said, I'm not sure where I stand on Galvis' defense anymore. It is likely above average, and he does appear to have great "baseball instincts," whatever those are, but after watching him last season I started to think that he's a little more flash than substance. Sure, he's still really good, but a lot of his diving and sliding and rolling plays are plays that with perhaps a little better positioning (ala Chase Utley) look routine. Or that a guy with a little more speed (ala Rollins) makes look routine. And while I have nothing against sliding and diving and rolling plays per se, I wonder whether those max-effort attempts lead us to believe that his defense is better than it really is. The defensive metrics we have show that he wasn't as good in 2013 as he was in 2012, but the total sample size there is just under 900 innings, which for all intents and purposes is completely useless. It's something to keep an eye out for, anyway.

Galvis, like the other backups, doesn't figure to see a ton of playing time this season, as J-Roll and Utley are likely to soak up most of the middle-infield innings this season. What he does when he's on the field is another interesting question. Most of the projection systems don't see much continued offensive improvement, maxing out with Oliver's projected 82 wRC+. He's only 24, so improvement in his all-around game certainly isn't out of the question, and if that were to occur, he'd be a very good backup and likely skilled enough to be an everyday starting shortstop in the major leagues. If, however, we've seen the height of his production, and he's unable to alter his approach at the plate, he'll probably end up putting up slash lines like those above, with a sub-.300 OBP and carve out a solid but unspectacular career as a defense-first reserve infielder.

Other grist for the IF mill:

Reid Brignac, Ronny Cedeno, Andres Blanco, Maikel Franco.

Birgnac, Cedeno, and Blanco are either going to end up in the minor leagues as the third string backups, or end up released and catch on with some other team. They're veterans who can man various middle-infield positions and are in camp to fill out the split-squad teams and fight for a chance to latch on to an organization and serve as the backup. It won't be for the Phillies, as Sandberg has made it clear that Galvis will be that guy for the big league club, and Frandsen's guaranteed contract makes it unlikely he loses a roster spot to one of that trio.

Franco is going to start in the minors, likely AA. He's only 21 and has seen fewer than 300 at bats above the single-A level. If he tears the cover off the ball in the minors he's a potential late-season call-up, and maybe a mid-summer call-up if he does that and Asche can't handle the everyday job at third.

You'll see plenty of this quartet during early spring, but don't expect to see much of them after final cuts and demotions are made unless you plan on heading to Lehigh Valley.