Phillies Mailbag: Ruf, Sweeney, and Velasquez’s Replacement
It is time once again for a Phillies 97.3 ESPN Monday Mailbag. We take your questions every Monday and then we talk about them during the Sports Bash with Mike Gill on Tuesday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. If you are not in South Jersey, you can listen online at 973espn.com.
Why is Darin Ruf back with the Phillies? When will he play with Tommy Joseph on the team?
It seemed back in May when the Phillies optioned Darin Ruf to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, that he had pretty much worn out his welcome in Philadelphia. After almost a full season with the IronPigs, Ruf got the call back to the Phillies on September 1 when rosters expand. While Ruf looks blocked at first base with Tommy Joseph in the fold, it appears that the Phillies appear set to give Ruf one last chance this September.
When Ruf was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and Tommy Joseph took his place on the Phillies roster, Ruf was batting just .158 and did not hit a home run. To Ruf's credit, he got his bat back in gear at Lehigh Valley. In 95 games for the IronPigs, Ruf batted. 295 with 20 home runs, 65 runs batted in, and an OPS of .885. Those numbers warranted a promotion to the Phillies, but hadn't the Phillies seen enough to know what Ruf can do?
I think the Phillies felt a sense of obligation to Ruf to give him another shot. A few times since Ruf was sent to Triple-A, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made comments that he did not wish to bury Joseph on the bench like happened to Ruf along the way. I think this was seen as Mackanin started Ruf the first three days in a row upon his return, albeit in left field. That is where Ruf is likely to see at bats the rest of the season.
Ruf is a strong candidate to be non-tendered by the Phillies. Even if Ruf performs well down the stretch, the Phillies have the need for 40-man roster spaces this offseason, and the Phillies really are not in dire need of a first baseman or outfielder. Ruf reminds me of a player who spends his career getting annual Spring Training invites, but mostly starting each season in the minors. At some point each year, he will get a call when the team has an injury. It's a tough way to earn a living, but he can earn a nice living, nonetheless.
I think we are seeing the last few weeks of Ruf's Phillies career. Looking at the Phillies Top 30 prospect list, we know that if everyone makes it to the majors, at least five players would get squeezed. As someone who never was supposed to be a prospect and once backed up Joe Savery at first base at Clearwater and once was sent to pitch in a 23-inning Class-A game, Ruf has done pretty well.
I noticed the Phillies outrighted Darnell Sweeney off their roster. Does he have a chance to contribute to the Phillies someday?
When the Phillies acquired Darnell Sweeney from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Chase Utley trade, the return was not going to be that great. Utley, struggling a great deal for much of 2015, was set to be a free agent after the season. The Phillies essentially got two players for Utley: a pitching prospect who could help down the line and an infielder who could fill an infield spot on the roster right away.
The pitcher the Phillies acquired, John Richy, split 2016 between the Clearwater Threshers and the Reading Fightin' Phils. Richy is with the playoff-bound Reading team, and he remains someone who could develop into a useful piece for the Phillies. Richy is 24 years old and has only made 13 starts above Class-A. Richy was the primary piece.
A secondary piece was Sweeney. On the surface, Sweeney is an ideal utility player; Sweeney can bat from both sides of the plate and he can play infield and outfield. However, Sweeney's bat has left a lot to be desired. Sweeney batted just .176 in the Major Leagues in 2015, and spending an entire season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Sweeney is batting just .233. Sweeney has little power and his stolen base total, once as high as 48 stolen bases in 2013, is just 12 after a full Triple-A season.
Those factors left Sweeney unclaimed when the Phillies outrighted Sweeney. The Phillies probably hope Sweeney will show them something in 2017, and they were able to remove him from the 40-man roster and probably retain him. The Phillies were able to get a similar output from Manny Burriss in 2016, someone they signed as a minor league free agent. With players such as Burriss regularly available, there is little need to use a roster space for Sweeney heading into an offseason where it will be at a premium..
Since Vince Velasquez is not going to make another start, who will take his place?
The Phillies shut down starting pitcher Vince Velasquez on Saturday after his first full year as a starter in the Major Leagues. Velasquez finished the year with an 8-3 record and a 4.12 earned run average. Velasquez struck out 152 batters, 16 of them coming in a memorable complete game shutout in May. With many pitches thrown in his 131 innings, normally not a large number, Velasquez will take a breather until Spring Training.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Alec Asher made a "rehab" start on Saturday, the same day as Velasquez made his final starter. Asher leaped ahead of scheduled starter Ricardo Pinto for the Reading Fightin' Phils, making the move seem intentional and related to Velasquez's status. If the Phillies pitch Asher on Thursday in Washington D.C. against the Nationals, the Phillies do not need to disrupt the rosters of Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, both of whom begin their playoffs on Wednesday.
If the Phillies start Asher, who may not necessarily deserve the opportunity after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and sitting out 80 games, they can get some innings covered while the likes of David Buchanan helps the IronPigs will a playoff series. Nick Pivetta pitched for the IronPigs on Saturday, and given his short period of time with Triple-A, does not appear to be the pitcher who will get a start for the Phillies.
Buchanan may still get a chance to pitch in 2016. After starting Monday, Buchanan will not be ready to start in the big leagues. Ben Lively, who went a combined 18-5 with a 2.69 earned run average between Reading and Lehigh Valley in 2016, seems poised to open the playoffs for the IronPigs on Wednesday. Lively could get a look down the line too, though the Phillies may look to limit his innings down the line, too.
So, all signs point to Asher for Thursday.