Marson looking to catch on with Phillies a second time

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has looked rusty during spring training, but the Phillies say they will be patient.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has looked rusty during spring training, but the Phillies say they will be patient.
Posted: February 24, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Matt Stairs' majestic, go-ahead home run flirted with the palm trees beyond the ballpark at Chavez Ravine before finding a resting place deep in the upper rightfield bleachers at Dodger Stadium.

Three batters earlier, Lou Marson winced as another home run - of the line-drive variety - nearly grazed his helmet.

Before Stairs' famous shot off Jonathan Broxton, Shane Victorino tied Game 4 of the 2008 National League Championship Series with his own, two-run home run off Cory Wade. Marson, in the middle of warming up a reliever, had his back to the play and had to quickly shuffle out of the way before celebrating.

Six months ago, when he was dismissed as the Phillies manager, Charlie Manuel said he enjoyed having the "best seat in the house" during one of the best eras of Phillies baseball. In the 2008 postseason, Marson might have had the second-best seat.

Despite having all of one major league game on his big-league resumé that year, Marson was on the travel roster during the playoffs for the eventual World Series champions. He was with the team in the event either Carlos Ruiz or Chris Coste became injured and he had to be added to the active roster.

"Unbelievable experience," Marson said of the playoff ride that was his introduction to life in the big leagues. "I was in the bullpen on [Lidge's] final pitch, too."

Marson, a 22-year-old rookie then, is now a 27-year-old back in camp with the Phillies after establishing himself as a big-leaguer only to have injuries derail his career path. Marson was non-tendered by the Cleveland Indians in December after his 2013 season was limited to three games while battling neck and shoulder injuries.

Marson was on the receiving end of a home-plate collision with Tampa Bay's Desmond Jennings in the Indians' fifth game of the season in St. Petersburg, Fla. Ten months later, Marson is 16 miles away in Clearwater, trying to work his way back into a big-league roster.

In December, he signed a minor league deal as a non-roster player with the spring training invitation.

"I have to prove I'm healthy," Marson said. "I'm pretty young - I don't think I'm an organizational [filler] player. I think I can play in the big leagues and help a team win. I don't when that will be."

Marson is probably fourth or fifth on the current catching depth chart. Four other catchers are on the Phillies' 40-man roster: Ruiz, Wil Nieves, Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph.

"I'm impressed with the group that's in camp," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "There is some good catching depth.

Nieves signed a 1-year, $1.125 million contract to be Ruiz' backup in early December, less than 2 weeks after Marson agreed to rejoin the Phillies. The trio of players behind Nieves, including Marson, could all play their way onto the big-league roster at some point in 2014.

The Phillies needed five catchers last year - Ruiz, Rupp, Erik Kratz, Steven Lerud and Humberto Quintero - as the top two players on the catching depth chart both missed significant time during the season.

"Catching is like a quarterback back there, and we have to get as much depth as we possibly can," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Breakdowns happen a lot, all the time. It's just like you can never have enough pitching - you also can't have enough catching."

Five years ago, Marson wasn't unlike Joseph: prospect, considered a possible heir to the starting catcher throne in Philadelphia. But he didn't make it through the 2009 season with the Phillies; Marson was one of four minor league prospects sent to the Cleveland Indians organization 2 days before the trade deadline in the deal that brought Cliff Lee to Philadelphia for the first time.

Marson made the Indians roster the next season and started 219 games with the team from 2010-2012. In his first two seasons combined, Marson hit .212, but showed his value behind the plate, throwing out 61 of the 160 runners (38.1 percent) who attempted to steal a base.

Marson might not fulfill his original promise as a big-league starter, but he still has the tools to be a backup. The Phillies still like him enough that Amaro was the one who called the catcher shortly after he became a free agent this winter.

"I love the makeup of the guy - our people always have," Amaro said. "Mike Compton loves him."

Compton, previously a fielding and catching coordinator in the Phillies' minor league system, remains with the team as a senior adviser of player development. He has fond memories of the kid from Arizona who never wanted to stop working, even in the unforgiving summer afternoons in Florida as a minor leaguer at Class A Clearwater.

"It's August - everyone is worn down," Compton recalled. "I'd be working with the Gulf Coast [League] guys and I'd look up and here comes Lou, full gear on, walking across the field looking for me. 'What are we going to do today?' he'd ask. "That's how strong he was, how dedicated he was."

Marson's makeup and work ethic helped land him in a memorable place in Phillies history.

Marson homered in his first - and only - start in 2008, in the regular-season finale. Six months later, he received a World Series ring.

He got to do everything but catch Lidge in the bullpen before the climactic moment in Game 5 of the World Series.

"That would have been cool," Marson said. "I stayed out of the way."

Ryne Sandberg said the Phillies will continue to practice patience with pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who has looked rusty in three sessions throwing to hitters in the first week of camp. "[He's] coming back from injury and hasn't pitched competitively for a couple of years; I know that we're using a lot of patience with him," Sandberg said. The team signed Gonzalez to a 3-year, $12 million deal in August . . . The Phillies and Atlanta Braves will pay tribute to late manager Jim Fregosi before their scheduled game at Bright House Field on March 5. Fregosi guided the Phillies to the NL pennant in 1993 and worked the last 13 seasons in the Braves front office.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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