A year ago, as the Phillies prepared at long last to disassemble the core of standout players who had brought the franchise a championship in 2008, a second cohort of more-or-less same-aged players waited behind them for their moment in the spotlight. Far less heralded, not to mention less talented, than the Carlos Ruiz-Ryan Howard-Chase Utley-Jimmy Rollins-Cole Hamels group, no one was asking about their historical legacy or what kind of trade return they might bring. The only question was whether or not they were bona fide major leaguers.
The 99-loss campaign of 2015 saw Utley and Hamels join Rollins as ex-Phillies, bringing back a solid prospect haul, and provided some answers regarding the second group as well. Based on their work last season, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Darin Ruf all might stick in the majors as role players for a few years, until some mix of rising price tag and likely actuarial decline (Cesar, for instance, would reach free agency at age 31) pushes them into the shadow realms of triple-A. Cody Asche might be in that boat as well, though higher expectations and lower performance could render him superfluous sooner. Domonic Brown, once the prize of the group, played himself into a release and remains unsigned going into his age 28 season; a non-roster invite seems his likely future.
And then there’s Cameron Rupp. Owner of a .205/.256/.274 triple-slash in 78 major league plate appearances heading into 2015, and coming off a brutal and injury-marred minor league campaign the previous year, Rupp made the Phillies out of spring training mostly for lack of any viable alternative. He played sparingly through the first two months, and didn’t make a great impression when he did: Rupp didn’t get his OPS over .600 until early June.
But longtime starter Ruiz was even worse, both at the plate and behind it, and as spring turned to summer and Ryne Sandberg gave way to Pete Mackanin, Rupp began to grab more playing time. By July he was getting the bulk of the starts, and in August he suddenly turned into Mike Piazza: in 66 plate appearances that month, Rupp posted a .310/.379/.707 line with seven homers, octupling his career total.
He slowed down considerably in September, with a .503 OPS for the month that might have owed something to fatigue. But between the power he showed and an average-ish defensive performance that nevertheless was considerably better than late-career Ruiz, he seems to have played himself into the starting job next year.
Beyond that, it’s hard to say. As friend of TGP Matt Winkelman noted in a recent look at Rupp's career to date, catchers develop in a less linear fashion than their counterparts anywhere else on the diamond, and it’s possible that Rupp is more like the guy in the Superman cape from August than anyone would have thought previously. But taking that month out of his career MLB line has about the same effect as removing May 2013 from Dom Brown’s, and Brown had much the better minor league track record. Add in the near-readiness of Andrew Knapp and the towering upside of Jorge Alfaro, and Rupp will need a strong early performance in 2016 to remain the starter by season’s end. Still, considering where he was last winter, I suspect he’ll take it.