Phillies Notebook: Catching options while Carlos Ruiz is out

Posted: February 19, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - A spring-training mystery: Although there are three intriguing and attractive options, the identity of the starting pitcher for Opening Day is unknown.

Whether it's Roy Halladay (who has started 10 straight Opening Days), Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels (who has never started on Opening Day), they'll be throwing to Erik Kratz on April 1 in Atlanta. Barring injury, Kratz, who had played in just 11 major league games before last year, when he played in 50, will be the Phillies' catcher on Opening Day.

Another spring-training mystery: Although the Phillies don't have a shortage of catching prospects, they don't have an obvious backup, major league catcher. With Carlos Ruiz set to serve a 25-game suspension, the Phils will need two viable options at catcher, with one being Kratz.

The other catcher on the 40-man roster is 22-year-old Sebastian Valle, who has played only 22 games above Double A. The Phils also have Humberto Quintero, Steven Lerud and top prospect Tommy Joseph as nonroster invitees in camp.

Quintero, 33, who has played 10 major league seasons in Kansas City, Houston and San Diego, signed with the Phillies just before the Ruiz suspension in November. He's a career .234 hitter.

But the catchers in camp might not be the catchers the Phillies still have in camp before they leave for Atlanta in 6 weeks.

"I think we still have our eyes open for whatever else might be out there eventually in that 4-A type catcher, someone with probably a little more experience than we have on the depth chart at this point," assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said Sunday, following the team's second full-squad workout.

Since Ruiz will join the team before the end of April, a more intriguing jockeying on the catching depth chart will come just below the major league level.

Valle was promoted to Triple A at the end of 2012 and Joseph is probably ready for a promotion after a full season at Double A last season. Meanwhile 24-year-old Cameron Rupp, the Phils' third-round pick in 2010, is most likely destined for Double A after hitting .267 with a .345 OBP and 10 homers in 104 games at Class A Clearwater.

"There's competition there; it'll play itself out," Proefrock said. "It'll be an interesting competition throughout the spring."

Looking for a lefty

If righthanders Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Chad Durbin and lefthander Antonio Bastardo all make it out of camp healthy, the Phils figure to have three openings in their bullpen. Pitching coach Rich Dubee said, ideally, one of those three pitchers would be a second lefthander.

The candidates: Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman, Raul Valdes, Joe Savery, Mauricio Robles and nonroster invitee Cesar Jimenez.

Horst would figure to be the early leader based on his success in the big leagues in 2012.

Acquired two winters ago for Wilson Valdez, Horst went 2-0 with a 1.15 ERA. He struck out 40 while walking 14 in 31 1/3 innings, gave up just one homer and never allowed more than one earned run in any of his 32 appearances.

"He's real deceptive," Dubee said of Horst's strengths. "Hitters really don't get a good look at him. They don't pick him up very well, and he's got three speeds. He's got a fastball that goes about 90, 93, he's got a slider that's at 82 and he's got a changeup. He throws them all for strikes. Righthanders and lefthanders last year just did not get a good look at him."

Time to shine

Pitchers will face hitters - and vice versa - for the first time this spring Monday at the Carpenter Complex. For most of the young pitchers in camp, it's the first time to make a real impression on the major league staff. Pitchers will graduate from throwing live batting practice to a short, intrasquad game Friday before the Grapefruit League begins Saturday.

Rich Dubee hasn't put together his Excel spreadsheet of the pitching schedule for the week, but he made it clear that everyone better be on their game from the get-go this spring.

"The one thing I tell our guys in the meeting we have early is if you do not make our team, leave a lasting impression, leave a good lasting impression," Dubee explained, "because when we're thinking about calling guys up, what we [the major league staff] have is basically what we've seen in spring training. If you leave a pretty good impression on us, odds are your name comes to our mouth pretty quickly."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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