Inside the Phillies: Phillies outfield could pair Josh Hamilton, Darin Ruf

Phillies slugger Darin Ruf (right) was honored for leading the minors in home runs. He had 52 homers in 187 games in the majors, minors and Venezuela in 2012.
Phillies slugger Darin Ruf (right) was honored for leading the minors in home runs. He had 52 homers in 187 games in the majors, minors and Venezuela in 2012. (AP)
Posted: December 05, 2012

NASHVILLE - At one point during Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s afternoon meeting with the media at the winter meetings, the idea of John Mayberry Jr. returning next season as the starting centerfielder was raised.

Before a line forms at the top of the Walt Whitman Bridge or an angry mob shows up carrying torches at One Citizens Bank Way, you should know that Mayberry in center field is no better than Plan Z for Amaro, who said he went into this offseason with 10 Plan B's.

Which Plan B comes to fruition between now and opening day in Atlanta remained a mystery on Monday as the winter meetings officially opened inside the vast Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, where holiday tourists, Tommy Lasorda, and John Kruk frequently crossed paths.

Angel Pagan was scratched from the list of alternatives in center field after re-signing with the San Francisco Giants.

"I was busy drying my eyes because Angel is gone," Amaro said as he walked into his sixth-floor suite.

He was joking, but admitted the Phillies had expressed an interest in Pagan.

Free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton is still out there, of course. He would provide the kind of difference-making bat that would allow the Phillies to more easily take a chance on Darin Ruf in left field. Of all the Plan B's rattling around Amaro's mind, the scenario with Hamilton in center field and Ruf in left field on an almost regular basis has to be considered the one with the highest risk and highest reward.

The risks on the 31-year-old Hamilton are well-documented. He's fragile and he's a substance-abuse risk who may not fit well in a high-pressure East Coast city such as Philadelphia. He also figures to be expensive.

The risks on Ruf are far different. The Phillies cannot know for sure if he can be a productive big-league player or a competent leftfielder. The 26-year-old Ruf was in attendance Monday to receive the Jim Bauman Trophy for leading the minor leagues in home runs last season. Add the three he hit with the Phillies in 12 games and the 10 he hit in Venezuela in 32 games and Ruf finished 2012 with 52 home runs in 187 games.

All those home runs could be the reward for a Plan B that includes Hamilton and Ruf. The Phillies ranked eighth in the National League and 18th in baseball with 158 home runs last season. With Ruf, Hamilton and a healthy Ryan Howard, they could re-create the power numbers that made Manuel's lineup so feared from 2007 through 2009.

Regardless of what Amaro brings in from the outside, Ruf has a good chance to be a part of any number of Plan B's.

"He's going to get an opportunity," Amaro said. "We'll see what he does. He has a long ways to go in the outfield, but he's committed to doing it."

That's why Ruf went to Venezuela and why he'll show up for spring training three weeks early. He wants to prove he can be a leftfielder.

"I feel a lot more comfortable in getting to balls I didn't think I'd be able to get to and knowing maybe a little bit more about what I can and can't get to," Ruf said. "The ones I was having trouble with initially were the ones that were hit within five feet of me in either direction. Those are the ones that are hit a little harder and are tough to judge. Early on, I'd try to read it right away rather than waiting for the ball to come to me. I think that's where I learned a little bit."

Ruf, who celebrated his first wedding anniversary with his wife, Libby, on Monday, has only one plan for 2013. He wants to win a job.

"Through the minor leagues, I've played 140 or 150 games a year and I don't want that to stop now," he said. "Juan Pierre - I know he's going to be with another team, but he was a big influence on me. He'd say, 'You're that guy. They're going to have to fill holes next year and not only do you want to be that guy, but you can be.' "


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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