We're doing it! We've survived until the final week of spring training! My god, who'd have thought we'd make it, and we're not even putting the strain and stress on our bodies that big league catchers do. Speaking of which, here are those who we'll see with the Phillies this season, and even two that we won't!
The Phillies seem to have the future at catcher locked up in the form of Jorge Alfaro, but he may not be quite ready for the bright lights and slobbering mouths of Philadelphia just yet. Rupp has, since 2013, filled a tough role admirably, serving as a battery mate to journeymen and prospects alike as the Phillies rebuilt. A likely back-up on a lot of other teams, Rupp’s offense is stagnant most of the year, though he does hit the crap out of the ball occasionally and brandishes a medium-powered canon for nailing attempted base thieves from time to time (He caught 17 of 62, about league average).
In 2016, seeing regular playing time, he used the winter to evolve his swing a bit and saw quite easily discernible splits at the plate: .324 BA, .993 OPS vs. LHP/.237 BA, .699 OPS vs. RHP; .266 BA in the first half/.239 BA in the second half. His first half numbers were bolstered by a strong June in which he slashed .290/.347/.594 and hit five of his 16 home runs. With both Alfaro and Andrew Knapp around, Rupp’s place on the roster may wind up being superfluous, which is a shame, given that the Phillies’ young pitchers like to throw to him and he is very present and fun in the clubhouse. However, rumors of a frayed relationship between Rupp and other members of the organization may cause a split in the near future.
The Phillies have a respected modern lineage at catcher, with definable, productive eras from Darren Daulton, Mike Lieberthal, and Carlos Ruiz. The presumed Phillies catcher of the future returned from playing for his native Colombia in the World Baseball Classic, but because he was so busy representing his homeland on the global stage, Jorge Alfaro hasn’t put in much time into training camp, making it only into five Grapefruit League games. In the WBC, he only had three hits but played first base, DH, and hit Colombia’s only home run, a game-tying blast that was quite thrilling and historic until the Dominican Republic came back and pounded Colombia into oblivion.
He last year slashed .285/.325/.458 in Reading, and put in 105 ABs in the Venezuelan Winter Leagues, where he only hit .210, so we don’t need to talk about that. Alfaro is, until something else happens, the Phillies catcher of the future. He has freakish arm strength, nailing Canada’s Freddie Freeman in a steal attempt (he equally nailed two of the three thieves who tested him in the bigs last season, too) and he has speed for a catcher, due to a lack of years crouching behind the plate chewing through his joints. Chances are, we’ll see more of Alfaro this season than we’ve ever seen, and he’ll take a big step in becoming the player who will define the Jorge Alfaro Era.
Therer was no surer sign of the future being upon us than Knapp presumably winning the back-up catching job behind Rupp. Any other season, the Phillies would have pretended to watch a young catcher give it his best shot and then penciled Ryan Hanigan or Bryan Holaday in there. But Andrew Knapp made himself too appealing.
We all remember Knapp’s majestic power surge from 2015, when he hit .360 with 11 home runs for Reading after being promoted from Clearwater. Since then, he’s been in the peripheral, as he’s yet to put up numbers as eyebrow-raising, including this spring, when he needed over twenty warm-up swings to get into dinger-bashing form
Andrew Knapp home run. He had been 1 for 22 on the spring— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyCSN) March 17, 2017
Still, Knapp has the Phillies’ attention, even though he hit .184 this spring in 17 games and struck out 16 times (Rupp hit .171). Wait, and Hanigan had seven hits in nine games, with seven walks? What... what are we doing again? Mackanin had repeated that he’s looking at the "quality of at-bats" for Knapp, so he must have looked pretty good striking out.
Whatever, it's fine. The Phillies want to be able to slide Knapp to first base if they feel like it, a position that Pete Mackanin says the 25-year-old "needs work" playing. Last year with Lehigh Valley, he slashed .266/.330/.390 with 8 HR, 24 2B, 37 BB and 107 SO in 107 games; solid, but a far cry from the 2015 numbers that are pretty much the reason we're even talking about him right now. And truly, these are dire times. If Knapp hadn't caught on as the Phillies’ back-up catcher, he wouldn't have gotten a lot sun with the IronPigs, either, since that’s the team’s incubation chamber for Alfaro. Regardless, I’m pretty confident that most people would rather see Knapp getting hacks at the major league level, at least for a stretch, instead of a veteran journeyman placeholder.
Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday (RIP)
For a second this spring, Hanigan was the Phillies' biggest trade chip. He turned 35 last year, which is equal to the number of games he made it into for the Red Sox. He’s actually made it into over 100 games once since 2007, and with a .171 BA and .468 OPS as the veteran backstop in residence for Boston last season, it’s easy to see why the Phillies, uh, wanted him in camp.
Holaday, too, caught for the Red Sox like year, and made it into even fewer games than Hanigan (14). With Clay Buchholz and Daniel Nava around, ex-Bostoners had quite the presence in Phillies training camp, a factoid everyone acknowledged and celebrated. Holaday was a .212-hitter last year, a .245-hitter in his six-season career, a bottom five pitch-framer in 2016, and Brad Ausmus started calling him "Doc" last season, as did some Pirates broadcasters earlier this spring, which put him at odds with the baseball gods and basically all that is right and true in the world.
Good luck, fellas.