(Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
As the Phillies speed towards a playoff-less October and their first losing season since 2002, it can be easy to lose sight of some of the more enjoyable times had by the team this season. While they were few and far between, they were nonetheless there. And just like there are a handful of young pitchers that the Phillies have on the up-and-up, the same can be said for those on the opposite sides of the ball.
Until prospect Mikael Franco conquers AA (he has 15 homers and a .339/.363/.563 line in 69 games with the Reading Fightins this season), Cody Asche is going to be holding down the hot corner. After a breakout 2012 season, Asche impressed the brass enough this season to warrant a call to The Show in late July.
In 33 games entering Wednesday, the 23-year-old has a .268/.322/.473 line with five homers and 20 RBIs. It's not Rookie of the Year-level offense, but he's proven that he can hold his own in his first tour with the team. To boot, he's had very little trouble handling left-handed pitchers, as he has an .887 OPS and one homer in 21 at-bats (versus a .775 OPS in 91 at-bats).
We are still in very small sample size territory for Asche, so anything he does this year has to be taken with a grain of salt, but he's been one of the brighter spots for the Phillies so far this season.
Speaking of small sample sizes, let's talk about Darin Ruf. The 27-year-old first-baseman-turned-outfielder is in his second season with the Phillies after a mid-season call up, and like in 2012, he has no issues displaying his power. In 56 games, he's got 13 homers to go along with an .845 OPS. Like last season, he's displaying an ability to work a count and to get on base (his .350 on-base percentage would lead the team if he had enough at-bats to qualify), which is an under-appreciated skill for a hitter.
But while his .495 slugging is nice to look at, the fact remains that Ruf still has less than a season's worth of experience, as he has appeared in all of 68 games with the Phillies. While there is no doubt that Ruf has power, the fact is that pitchers are starting to exploit his weaknesses (like his inability to hit breaking balls), and he has to prove that he can adjust and overcome.
But the most curious thing about Ruf's season are his bizarre platoon splits. In 2012, Ruf had 21 homers and an impressive .388/.469/.848 line in 165 at-bats against left-handed hitters in the minors. He had similar success against LHP after he was called up (1.326 OPS in 16 ABs), but that success has not carried over to this season. Not only did he struggle against LHP in the minors (.715 OPS), but also in the Majors (.641 OPS). It's a strange reversal of fortune for Ruf, who currently boasts a .923 OPS in 139 ABs against right-handed pitchers. It could be just lousy luck against lefties, but more than anything, it's a matter of southpaws simply adjusting how they attack him in the batter's box.
All of that to say that, as far as Ruf goes, the jury is still out. You can't discount his success, but you also cannot bank on it. He's too much of a wild card at this point, and the only thing that the Phillies can do is give him at-bats to see if he is the real deal or not. But with Ryan Howard locked in for three more seasons, that is going to be much easier said than done.
Then you have Cesar Hernandez, who has been impressive in very little time so far this season with the Phillies. While he does own a career .295 average in the minors (and a .280 average in 16 games with the Phillies this year), the really impressive thing about the 23-year-old switch-hitter is that his conversion to center field (in light of Ben Revere's injury) has been a (so far) successful one, considering that he has spent much of his career playing second base. He's not been perfect, but the fact that he has managed to not embarrass himself out there (in all of five games) is something. If Hernandez can successfully transition to the outfield, he may very likely find himself providing some much-needed depth on the big league roster next season.
Of course, I'd be remiss if – in the course of talking about young hitters – I didn't mention Domonic Brown. The 26-year-old, in his first full season with the Phillies, broke out in a big way, starting with a dominating performance (12 home runs) in the month of May. In 123 games with the Phillies this season, the outfielder has 27 homers, with 81 RBIs and a .274/.320/.513 line.
Although injuries have limited Brown's time on the field, the former top prospect has finally earned his stripes as a legitimate big-league power threat. With the rest of the core fading, Brown is poised to be the face of the team for the foreseeable future.
So while the Phillies flounder and head (likely) towards an under .500 season, there have been some mildly bright spots on offense throughout the season. With any luck, they'll grow brighter in 2014.