It’s time for another installment of Ghosts of Phillies Past in which I try to illustrate that while this season may be a bit disappointing, things could be – and often have been – worse for the fighting Phils.
August was not a banner month for the Phillies. They started the month with a four-game losing streak, and things never really got better from there. There were some positives though. A few of their younger players had strong showings, including this month’s featured Phillie.
Featured Phillie of the Month: Darin Ruf
Heading into the 2012 season, Ruf was considered a fringe prospect. He had good hitting numbers in 2011, but nothing that made the team take special notice. He was also primarily a first baseman, and that position will be filled by Ryan Howard on the major league squad for the forseeable future. Perhaps most damaging, at 25 years of age, he was considered old for a minor leaguer.
Ruf’s changed a lot of opinions in 2012 when he hit 38 home runs in the minor leagues. All of a sudden, the Phillies decided it was worth seeing if he could play the outfield. He was called up to the big league team in September, and while his play in left field was about what you’d expect from someone learning on the fly, he did slug three home runs in 12 games.
Despite that hitting prowess, Ruf wasn’t really given much of a chance to win a starting job in Spring Training. The club clearly felt he needed more work learning how to play outfield, and when he didn’t hit especially well in the exhibition games, he was sent to the minors. (Most people wonder how much worse he really could have been than Delmon Young who ended up receiving the majority of playing time instead)
His minor league numbers weren’t especially good, but once Howard went on the disabled list, Ruf was the obvious choice to replace him. But there would be an additional twist: Not wanting to upset Dom Brown’s comfort zone in left field, Ruf would have to play most of the time in right field. While he hasn’t looked masterful out there, his fielding has been surprisingly adequate, which is probably the best the team could have hoped for.
His hitting has been more than adequate. In the month of August, Ruf hit nine homers, and also showed a tendency to take walks, a quality that is not very common in the Phillies lineup. Ruf strikes out often, and he may never hit for an especially high average, but his power potential has forced the Phillies to factor him into their outfield plans for 2014.
Ghost of Phillies Past: Tony Barron
In 1997, another relatively elderly player received his first opportunity with the Phillies.
Tony Barron’s story began in 1995 with the infamous MLB players’ strike. Having already cancelled the 1994 World Series, the owners became anxious to have games resume. They formulated a plan to hold games using replacement players. Most of the replacements were guys who had never gotten a fair shot at the majors for one reason or another. It wasn’t how they envisioned making the majors, but most of them were in no position to pass up the opportunity. And so, like many others, Tony Barron reported to Spring Training in hopes of being a replacement player.
The strike soon ended and the replacements weren’t needed. Afterwards, most of the regular players made it clear that the replacements would not be welcomed in major league clubhouses. Despite this sentiment, some of them did eventually make their way to the majors.
The 1997 season was a disaster for the Phillies. Coming off of a last place finish the year before, the team was expected to be horrible in 1997, and they certainly lived up to those expectations. Without many better options, the Phillies decided to give a former replacement player a chance, and called up Tony Barron.
Barron played 57 games in right field that season. He hit well enough (.286 average with 4 home runs) but was most remembered for an amazing diving catch he made in a game against the Cardinals:
The next season, after the team acquired young outfielders Doug Glanville and Bobby Abreu, Barron no longer fit into the team’s plans and was granted free agency. Perhaps still dealing with the stigma of being a former replacement, he was never able to make it back to the majors.
While I don’t envision Ruf making any highlight reel-worthy diving catches in the near future, I also don’t see his career lasting as briefly as Barron’s did. Ruf is proving that he can hit, and that should definitely make him a part of the Phillies’ plans for the near future.