Playing time up for grabs in crowded outfield
Brown, Mayberry Jr., Ruf, Nix and Inciarte in competition for two open spots
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Charlie Manuel's body language is easy to read.
If he is fired up, if he is trying to make a point, he cocks his head to the side as he speaks and jabs an index finger into the air for emphasis. Anybody who has spent any length of time with him knows when he is serious about something.
He made his point very clear to Phillies outfielder John Mayberry Jr. during an animated discussion during batting practice on Thursday morning at Bright House Field. Mayberry, who mostly listened and nodded in agreement, is one of several outfielders in camp competing for playing time. He joins Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, Laynce Nix and Rule 5 Draft pick Ender Inciarte in that competition.
Center fielder Ben Revere is not included in that group, because he is the only outfielder guaranteed regular playing time. Delmon Young also is not in there because he will open the season on the disabled list while he recovers from microfracture surgery in his right ankle.
"I reminded [Mayberry] that he was definitely in contention for one of those outfield spots," Manuel said, following a 10-5 victory over the Braves. "All he has to do is play hard and just be a little bit more aggressive on the bases and stuff."
Most of the attention this spring has been focused on Brown and Ruf, and understandably so, because scouts and front office personnel agree they have the most upside. Brown has been fantastic in camp, hitting .417 (5-for-12) with one double, two home runs, three RBIs, three walks, seven runs scored and just one strikeout in six games. Ruf had been hitless in 10 at-bats before he singled in the third inning and doubled in the fifth on Thursday, although he misplayed a ball in left field that led to Atlanta's first run.
Ruf has been shaky in the outfield early.
"Domonic has been great," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Ruf has had bit of a rough time so far, but he hasn't had a whole lot of reps. Again, this guy hasn't played very much outfield. We'll get him in as many games as he can and we'll go from there."
It's early, so it would be unwise to draw any concrete conclusions about anybody just six games into the Grapefruit League schedule. There is plenty of baseball to be played before the Phillies settle on their corner outfielders for Opening Day. But based simply on these first six games, Brown is positioning himself nicely for a spot in the lineup.
Left field seems much less certain at this point. If the Braves start right-hander Tim Hudson, it would not be a surprise to see Nix in the lineup because he hits left-handed. But a strong March from Ruf or Mayberry could make Manuel think a little bit more about that. Mayberry, for example, has hit .308 (4-for-13) with two home runs and five RBIs in his career against Hudson.
So it's very much a wide open race.
That is why Manuel felt the need to talk to Mayberry.
"I talked to him early [in camp] and told him that he would play all three outfield positions," Manuel said. "I felt like maybe I should give him a little more about how I feel. Two years ago I thought he was more aggressive on the bases and in the outfield. I want to see that out of him. John Mayberry wants to be a good player. I know that. But every now and then you've got to kind of kick start somebody."
Mayberry, who later hit a two-run home run on Thursday, considers the message received.
"It was definitely good to hear that out of Charlie's mouth," Mayberry said. "Really, for him to just lay it out there, just to tell me that the opportunity is there and go out and play hard and take advantage of it."
It is not a stretch to see Revere, Brown, Mayberry, Nix and Ruf on the Opening Day roster, but things get trickier once Young returns. The Phillies have said they expect him to miss only a couple of weeks, but they are convinced he will produce offensively, although it remains to be seen how he handles right field. But he will get his opportunity to prove himself in the lineup.
"He's doing great," Amaro said, regarding Young's rehab.
Young is hitting off the practice tee and taking side tosses. He is long tossing and running at 90 percent of his body weight on the treadmill.
"He's really not cleared to do much until the doctor says it's OK," Amaro said.
Young is scheduled to see the doctor Tuesday in Los Angeles.
"There haven't been any setbacks," Young said. "That's the whole thing with rehab. Guys get infections and have other setbacks. Everything so far has been feeling good."
The Phillies have said repeatedly Young is a motivated man. They told him that he could spend Tuesday night in Los Angeles and return to Florida on Wednesday, but Young told them that he preferred to take the redeye Tuesday night.
"I can sleep on the plane. And if the doctor says I can start doing something else, I want to be able to start that as soon as possible," Young said. "If I stay overnight in L.A., everything is pushed back a day."
Revere is the everyday center fielder. Young will open the season on the DL. And Brown has had a fantastic week. These are the things we know about the Phillies' outfield situation.
Everything else will be determined in March.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.