Triple-A Trickledown: Lehigh Valley

It’s hard to believe that 62 games into the season, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs – a North Division opponent – have yet to make their first visit to Alliance Bank Stadium in 2012.  But all five games between the Chiefs and the Swine of Steel so far have been at Allentown’s Coca-Cola Park.  Tonight, Ryne Sandberg’s crew heads to Syracuse to begin a four-game series and continue the Chiefs’ current 21-game homestand.  Let’s take a look at what Syracuse is in for…

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Catcher: Tuffy Gosewisch, Erik Kratz, John Suomi

Gosewisch and Suomi combined for 18 Triple-A games last season (all by Suomi), and while Suomi’s on an otherworldly tear right now (12-20, six extra-base hits in his last five games), neither of the two has any major league experience or is on the 40-man roster.  In an emergency, they might get leapfrogged by 21-year-old prospect Sebastian Valle, a hot catching prospect in Double-A.  But then there’s Kratz, who’s had this transaction log in 2012:

5/2: Recalled by Philadelphia
5/12: Optioned to Lehigh Valley
5/22: Recalled by Philadelphia
5/24: Optioned to Lehigh Valley
5/29: Recalled by Philadelphia
6/4: Optioned to Lehigh Valley

He’s here today.  He may be gone tomorrow.

By the way, up in the major leagues, Philadelphia starting catcher Carlos Ruiz has improbably become one of the league’s best hitters at age 33, while Brian Schneider has been a solid, if not spectacular, backup.

Erik Kratz

First Base: Cody Overbeck

At .274 with six home runs and 13 walks in 61 games, Overbeck has been about league-average at first base for the IronPigs while playing 59 games at the position.  He’s not a top prospect, though he’s only in his fourth season in professional baseball after being drafted in 2009.  Ty Wigginton’s played the majority of Philadelphia’s first base this year, with John Mayberry, Laynce Nix and Jim Thome also getting time there.  Down in Double-A, 25-year-old Darin Ruf is tearing up the league to the tune of .328/.409/.549 in 56 games.  Ruf, who’s never played in Triple-A, is a name to watch in the Phillies organization.

Second Base: Kevin Frandsen

Up in the major leagues, Phillies second baseman Freddy Galvis just suffered a fractured back, making Mike Fontenot the likely starting second baseman.  Former Chief Michael Martinez was just recalled to take Galvis’ place, since Martinez is a 40-man roster.  Frandsen, in his second year with Lehigh Valley, hasn’t played in the major leagues since 2010 with the Angels.  He’d be a good utility man in an emergency, but with a .242 average, he’s likely not first in line for that promotion.  But look out for 22-year-old second baseman Cesar Hernandez, a 40-man member hitting .321 with 20 extra-base hits for Double-A Reading.

Shortstop: Andres Blanco, Pete Orr

Orr, a former Syracuse fan favorite, was part of the major league team until just a few days ago, when he was sent back to Triple-A.  He’ll play all over the field, but he’s started his first two games at shortstop.  Blanco, a non-roster player in spring training with the Nationals, is hitting just .212 with a .600 OPS despite some stellar glovework.  Orr could certainly find his way back to the bigs at some point, but he’s no longer on the 40-man roster, so it’ll take some time.

Pete Orr

Third Base: Tug Hulett

If you’re a Chiefs fan, you likely remember Tug Hulett – one of Syracuse’s top hitters throughout the majority of 2011.  Hulett, who actually started the season at Reading, has hit safely in 11 of his IronPig starts, despite a .167 average in Double-A.  Go figure.  Veteran Placido Polanco owns the major league starting job, with Wigginton or Fontenot able to play in a pinch.

Outfield: Domonic Brown, Kyle Hudson, Michael Spidale, Steve Susdorf

If you’re wondering where the name “Rich Thompson” is, the five-year IronPig (he’d been with Lehigh Valley since their inception in 2008) was traded to Tampa Bay a few weeks ago for Hudson.  Thompson – owner of one previous major league at-bat – was promptly called up to the major leagues and collected his first major league hit in his first Rays start.  In Hudson, though, the Phillies got eight years younger, adding a player who made his MLB debut with Baltimore last season.

The big name here is obviously Brown, a once-heralded Phillies prospect who Ruben Amaro hung on to despite various trade offers.  But Brown – still only 25 years old – may not have put together all of his tools yet. He’s posted a .270/.318/.428 line with Lehigh Valley, while spending the entire season with the IronPigs.  Spidale, a 29-year-old up from Double-A, and Susdorf, a 26-year-old Triple-A rookie, are the other two outfielders here.

Starting Pitchers: Tyler Cloyd, Tom Cochran, Scott Elarton, Pat Misch, Matt Wright

None of Lehigh Valley’s starters are on the 40-man roster, which means Elarton could be an injury away from an improbable promotion to the major leagues.  The 36-year-old, who’s largely been out of baseball for the past three years, made a comeback with a clean bill of health this year and has been tremendous – he’s 5-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 12 starts, including a 22-inning scoreless streak.  Cloyd, a 25-year-old right-hander, has also been outstanding, allowing one or no runs in five of his eight starts this season.  Overall, he’s 5-1 with a 2.26 ERA.  Outside of injuries, Philadelphia’s rotation is likely set in the major leagues, though – even with Roy Halladay on the shelf for a few weeks.  21-year-old right-hander Julio Rodriguez, who’s 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA, leads the Double-A staff.

Scott Elarton

Relief Pitchers: Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Brummett, Jeremy Horst, David Purcey, J.C. Ramirez, Brian Sanches, Raul Valdes

Aumont, Ramirez and Valdes – the last of whom was just optioned down to Lehigh Valley today – are all 40-man roster members.  Valdes, who sported a 2.13 ERA in 11 Philadelphia games with 13 strikeouts to just one walk, would be the logical call up if needed in a pinch, as neither Aumont nor the recently promoted Ramirez have made their major league debuts yet.  This is a bullpen stacked with good options, though, with strong numbers from just about every reliever in the group.  Down in Double-A, 25-year-old right-hander Justin Friend has stated his case for a promotion with a 0.47 ERA in 18 games and 11 saves in 11 opportunities.

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Hope to see you at the park over these next four series as the Chiefs and IronPigs tangle.  We’ll start at 7:00 tonight, with a 5:00 first pitch on Sunday and 7:00 game time on Monday before breakfast and baseball – a 10:30 start time on Tuesday.

KB

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