With the Philadelphia Phillies currently sitting in a transition period for their franchise, there are a number of players from down on the farm knocking on the door of the big club. This means wonders for almost everyone in the Phillies family, but for others, such as established Phillies starters like catcher Cameron Rupp, this could mean the end of their playing time. The Phillies have a guy named Jorge Alfaro, a 6’2” 185 pound stud of a catcher, who had a cup of coffee with the big club in September of 2016. Will Alfaro’s play mean the end of the Cameron Rupp Show at Citizens Bank Park? Or will we see a timeshare between the two backstops? This could be the most fun battle to watch heading into Spring Training in 2017. Let’s take a look at each of these catchers that the Phillies will have to analyze very closely this upcoming March:
Jorge Alfaro came over in a trade from the Texas Rangers on July 31st, 2015 in a package including Mr. Consistency himself Jerad Eickhoff, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher, and more, for some guy named Hamels. Anyway, Alfaro was actually hampered by an injury when the Phillies acquired him. This tells you how much they believed in this young man, being the centerpiece of a trade for a former World Series MVP while being injured. Alfaro didn’t make any appearances for the Phillies organization until late August of 2015, where he played in just 3 games and logged 4 at-bats with the Phillies Gulf Coast League affiliate. As 2016 came around and Alfaro’s health came back around, he found himself in Spring Training with the Phillies, showing lots of promise while working out the kinks alongside guys like Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp. Alfaro ended up with the Reading Fightin’ Phils to begin the 2016 season. In 97 games for the Phillies’ Double-A affiliate, Alfaro enjoyed a .285 batting average in 404 at-bats while smashing 15 home runs and driving in 67 RBI. He smacked 21 doubles and slugged .458 for Reading. This small sample size of Alfaro’s potential was enough to get him up to the big club on September 11th, 2016 without even appearing for the Phillies’ Triple A affiliate Lehigh Valley Ironpigs. In an even smaller sample size, Alfaro appeared in just 6 games for the Phils, logging 16 at-bats, while getting a hit in just two of them. Of course, the Phillies’ staff didn’t look much into the stats that Alfaro posted in such a short time, but he looked comfortable behind the plate and him just getting his feet wet with the big club was the plan for him during that time. When healthy in the minors, Alfaro stayed very consistent and posted almost identical numbers in 2013 and 2014 between several teams in the Rangers’ farm system compared to his stats at Reading in 2016. The Phillies are hoping to have him translate his consistency to the big leagues when the time is right, but is 2017 the right time?
Cameron Rupp, the current Phillies backstop, might have something to say about that. The 27-year-old enjoyed a breakout season for the Phillies in 2016. Rupp logged career highs in every offensive category, including a .252 batting average, 16 home runs, and 54 RBI. He and fellow breakout Freddy Galvis shared the team lead with 26 doubles, and Rupp’s .750 OPS was 6th in the National League amongst catchers with at least 380 at-bats. Although these stats don’t seem all that great, no one would have predicted this kind of year from Rupp coming into the 2016 season. He was supposed to basically split time with Carlos Ruiz, giving the veteran Chooch some off days when needed. By the time Chooch was traded to the Dodgers in August, Rupp had cemented himself as the go-to guy behind the dish for the Phillies. Rupp had never been a prized prospect like Alfaro has been throughout his young career, but for a guy who was basically supposed to just be a filler for a year until Chooch’s wheels fell off and the young guys in the minors were ready, Rupp opened many eyes and proved that he could be a regular backstop in the Major Leagues.
So what should we make of these two guys heading into 2017? Does one have the upper hand on the other in regards to starting for the Phillies on Opening Day? It’s anyone’s guess as to what Pete Mackanin and his staff will decide after Spring Training of 2017. An argument can be made for both players. Alfaro is a guy who was destined to be an every day catcher in the Major Leagues from the time he was signed by the Texas Rangers organization way back in 2010 as a 17-year-old. He has been on the fast track to the big leagues ever since. On the other hand, Cameron Rupp proved this season that he belongs behind the plate in the majors. What should the Phillies do? It’s anyone’s guess what they will do in the end, but it will be fun to watch these guys not only battle it out in Spring Training, but work alongside each other to be the best players that they can be.
If I had to predict the outcome, I’d say it will be very similar to what was meant to happen with Rupp and Chooch in 2016. The Phillies went in thinking the two could almost evenly split time, but as the season went on, Rupp gradually got more starts and established himself as the man. I believe the Phillies will take this same approach with Rupp and Alfaro in 2017, with Rupp ultimately being the guy to start on Opening Day. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit, though, if Alfaro started to live up to his potential and force Pete Mackanin’s hand in making him the Phillies’ catcher of the future. Who knows? Maybe even a guy like Andrew Knapp, who’s also shown promise in the minor leagues, could make the leap to the big club and challenge both of these guys for playing time. The Phillies could also elect to give Alfaro some time at Triple-A and re-sign a guy like AJ Ellis, who can keep the seat warm until Alfaro is ready. Whatever the outcome might be in the end, it will be fun to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Photo: UCinternational (via: Wikimedia Commons)