With pitchers and catchers set to report Feb. 18, we here are Philthy Stuff are grading the Phillies by position as they prepare to work towards a sixth-straight NL East title and try to return to the World Series in 2012.
First up is second base where injury-prone Chase Utley is firmly positioned as the starter with Michael Martinez, Ty Wigginton and Placido Polanco in waiting.
Second base could be one of the deepest positions for the Phillies at the major league level and also one with the biggest question mark.
That question mark is named Chase Utley.
Utley’s streak of five-straight All-Star games ended last season as his balky knee cost him much of the first two months of the season and limited him to just 103 games total.
The other thing his bad knee could have cost Utley is his power. After posting a slugging percentage north of .500 from 2005 to 2009, his slugging percentage has dipped to .445 in 2010 and just .425 in 2011. That’s not very good for a No. 3 hitter.
At least Utley’s defense remains strong -- he posted an 8.4 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) that would have been second best in the NL if he had enough chances and a .990 fielding percentage in 2011.
But, the Phillies will need a healthy Utley to re-find his All-Star form at the plate (an OPS above .900 from 2005 to 2009) should the Phillies offense succeed this season. He doesn’t need to hit 30 homers anymore but 35-plus doubles, 100-plus runs and 100-plus RBIs would certainly defend Utley’s three-hole status in the lineup and his status as the National League’s premiere second baseman.
Starter Grade: A (assuming Utley’s healthy)
Part of keeping Utley sharp will be finding him a day off once a week or so -- enter Martinez and Wigginton.
Martinez struggled at the plate last season (.196/.258/.282) but was a successful defensive player in the outfield, third base, shortstop and second. At second he posted a .979 fielding percentage in 19 games (including seven starts).
Wigginton was brought in to be a Martinez-like bench player capable of playing many positions (Wiggy subs first base for shortstop). But he packs much more pop than Martinez at the plate (.265/.325/.443) over his career and smacked 15 homers in only 401 at bats last season with the Rockies.
Wiggy, however, didn’t play second base at all last season but did play 40 games at second with the Orioles in 2010 and has posted a .980 fielding percentage in 168 career games at second. It’s fair to assume he will see some action at second in 2012.
Normal starting third baseman Placido Polanco battled through injuries of his own to play 122 games last season including one at second. Though it’s unlikely Polanco will see much action at second (despite being a two-time Gold Glover at the position when he played for Detroit), he could be asked to play second should Utley go down. At least Polly brings an impressive .993 career fielding percentage at second.
Reserves Grade: B-
The Phillies also have guys like Harold Garcia (.292/.372/.432 minors) and Cesar Hernandez (.289/.352/.374 minors) on the 40-man roster and former major leaguers like Pete Orr (.254/.286/.322 majors) who has played 115 MLB games at second; Hector Luna (.265/.317/.388 majors) who has played 103 MLB games at second; and Kevin Frandsen (.243/.302/.319 majors) who has played 95 MLB games at second as non-roster invitees to spring training.
There is some nice depth here including a guy like Orr who has stepped in before and a guy like Garcia who has put up nice numbers in the minors but was limited to just 12 games at Double-A Reading last season after suffering a season-ending knee surgery.
Minors Grade: B
Let’s remember that second base isn’t a position where you traditionally expect much power so having Utley and a guy like Wigginton in waiting is a huge luxury. And, the one thing the Phillies have is very solid defensive second basemen. Taking those factors into consideration here’s the grade.
Overall Position Grade: B+
Even if Utley is hurt the Phillies could keep the ship upright but with Utley on the field they become a different beast and if Utley continues to break down having a guy like Garcia (assuming he is OK after the knee injury) in waiting makes this a position with a bright future as well.