Phillies looking thin in the outfield

Ineffective defector: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the Phillies' $12 million import from Cuba.
Ineffective defector: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the Phillies' $12 million import from Cuba. (Associated Press)
Posted: March 10, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Phillies' quest for outfield depth spawned a Saturday morning conversation with infielder Freddy Galvis. Had he ever played center field? "Nope," he said. Yet that is where the versatile Venezuelan stood Saturday afternoon.

"They just told me to go out a little bit in center field," Galvis said, "take some balls, and play today."

There is no fifth starter yet to replace Cole Hamels, the top conundrum of this spring. But the dearth of outfield options is just as troubling. What happens if Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, or Marlon Byrd is injured for a prolonged period?

"We're going to have to look," Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

The Phillies general manager spent all winter mining for outfield reinforcements. His search was futile. For that reason, he offered John Mayberry Jr. a contract through arbitration, and the two sides agreed on a $1.6 million salary. Amaro, a baseball source said, continues to dangle Mayberry this spring in trade talks.

Bobby Abreu turns 40 this week and is viewed as a pinch-hitter first and outfielder second. The Phillies like Darin Ruf's bat, but harbor doubts about his defensive abilities in the outfield. They added Tony Gwynn Jr. and Clete Thomas on minor-league deals. Gwynn, 31, could not crack the majors in 2013. Thomas, 30, is a career .233 hitter.

"We lack in our outfield depth as much as anything," Amaro said. "It is a concern of ours. We were looking to try to add some depth there, but we haven't been able to find it. We are hopeful some of the guys here in camp will be able to create some for us."

It makes bench decisions tougher. Mayberry has no options remaining and, if he clears waivers, can refuse an assignment to the minors. Ruf can be optioned to the minors. Roster politics may dictate the outcome of the competition between Mayberry and Ruf for a bench spot.

"It could," Amaro said. "We'll try to take the best 25 players we have. But we also have to be selfish and smart about our depth and make sure we keep as much as we can."

Manager Ryne Sandberg has played Ruf more often this spring than Mayberry. Both players had run-scoring hits in Saturday's 11-3 rout of Houston. Sandberg believes there is enough depth in case of injury.

"We have some versatile guys here, as far as playing multiple outfield positions," Sandberg said.

His boss is less certain.

"We have some guys who have done it in the big leagues," Amaro said. "Are they everyday outfielders? Maybe not yet. But they may be forced into action. One of our biggest issues is center field. Obviously, Mayberry is here. He has done it. He has not proven to us he can hold down an everyday job as an outfielder. But he has done it. That's why the outfield depth is an issue for us."

There are no prospects near major-league ready.

Tyson Gillies, the 25-year-old centerfielder acquired more than three years ago from Seattle in the second Cliff Lee trade, bounced between Reading and Lehigh Valley. Gillies, ideally, would have developed into a backup option by now. That has not happened.

"He has all of the tools necessary," Amaro said. "We just don't know what we're going to get out of him."

Scouts like Aaron Altherr, 23, but he is sidelined this spring with a hairline fracture in his right wrist. (Amaro expects Altherr, who was sent to minor-league camp Saturday, to play in April.) Zach Collier, 23, struggled to adapt to double-A pitching in 2013. Kelly Dugan, 23, earned a midseason promotion to Reading with an improved power stroke.

They are all older than Domingo Santana, a former Phillies prospect who appeared Saturday at Bright House Field as an Astros outfielder. Santana, 21, bashed 25 homers at double A last season. He was the player to be named sent to the Astros in the Hunter Pence trade.

Santana, of course, would not fill the Phillies' immediate need for depth. The emergency solution is someone like Galvis or fellow infielder Cesar Hernandez.

"If we have extreme measures, we have them," Amaro said. "Otherwise, we'll be looking outside the organization to find outfielders."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb

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