With pitchers and catchers just arriving in Clearwater, Florida for the beginning of spring training, it’s time to start thinking about the start of a new season; a season that has high expectations from fans, media, the front office, and obviously the team. The Phillies are expected to have a great deal of success out of its top three starters in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, and hopefully an equally as good sophomore season as his rookie one from Vance Worley, so the pitching is not an aspect of the team that is needed to be thought hard over.
The real question this year is, with the loss of Raul Ibañez, what will the Phils’ get out of left field? That position is believed to be in the hands of a player coming off of a breakthrough year in 2011. John Mayberry Jr. finally got his chance to play last year and did not disappoint.
On Opening Day, Mayberry hit a walk-off single to cap-off the Phillies comeback victory, 4-3, and that was just the beginning of a stellar year for the 28-year old. Mayberry Jr. hit 15 home runs, drove in 49 runs, and mantained an average of .273 in 104 games throughout the season. If Mayberry can build on those numbers going into the prime of his career, he has a chance to be what the Phillies expected him to be when they drafted him, a star. Going into the 2012 season, it is expected that with the experience he now has, John can become an ever day outfielder for the Phillies.
Spring training brings high hopes for Mayberry to impress the Phillies coaching staff and gain the starting position in left field. He finally got his big chance to show what he is capable of doing last year, and surprised seemingly everyone with his power, fielding (only 2 errors in 53 games started in the outfield), and speed (8/11 stealing bases). He has been up and down in the organization since 2009, when he made his debut in the big leagues, but last year was when he really shined. If Mayberry again shows this Spring Training that he is capable of doing the same damage as he did last year or even more, it is almost impossible for him not to be starting in left field come Opening Day 2012.
Young phenom Dominic Brown and veteran platoon player Laynce Nix are the only other players in Philly who could hinder Mayberry’s ascension to the left field starting job. Brown, the Phillies top prospect, has had serious struggles when called up to play in the big leagues. Even though his minor league numbers are impressive [around .500 slugging %], he’s only hit for a .236 career batting average in the Majors, coupled with a mediocre .382 slugging percentage. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but barring one heck of a Spring Training performance from the youngster, he’ll only see a few games here and there starting in left.
Nix, the journeyman platoon outfielder who the Phillies acquired from Washington in the offseason, is more of a spot-start/allow Mayberry to rest-kind of player than one who will take the everyday job away from John. He’s only had 3 10+ home run season, but two of those have come in the last three seasons, 15 in 2009 and 16 in 2011. Seeing that, along with Jim Thome and Brown, he will be a featured lefty off the bench, you’re more likely to see him in that role than consistently in left field.
In conclusion, it seems that the “Hu’s in Left Field?” question boils down to this: Mayberry will see most of the reps, but you can expect to see a little of both Nix and Brown as the Phillies make their way through the 162-game grind.
Ryan Fuscaldo is Khandyman’s head Phillies analyst.