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January 25 2007

A look back at Chase Utley's debut with the Phillies in the 2003 season.

After spending his minor league career as a second baseman, Utley jumped from A-ball to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in 2002 and spent the year playing third base.  He hit 263/352/461 with 17 home runs in 461 at-bats.  Things didn't go especially well at third, where Utley made 28 errors and posted a .918 fielding percentage in 123 games.

The 2002 Phillies, meanwhile, plodded along to an 80-81 mark, finishing in third place in the NL East, 21 1/2 games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves.  Marlon Anderson saw most of the time at second base and struggled mightily, hitting 258/315/380 in 539 at-bats.  Third base was manned by Scott Rolen, who, playing in 100 games for the Phillies, hit 259/358/472 before a July trade sent him to St Louis and brought Placido Polanco to Philadelphia.  Polanco got most of the work at third for the rest of the year.

Between 2002 and the start of '03, Marlon Anderson became a free agent and signed with Tampa Bay and the Phillies signed free agent David Bell to be their new third baseman.  Heading into 2003 it looked like the Phils would feature Bell at third, Polanco at second and 24-year-old Utley shuffling between the bench and the minors.

The Phils started the season by taking two of three from the Marlins in Florida before heading back to Philadelphia for their home opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Utley had yet to sniff any action.

On April 4, 2003, Joe Roa was on the bump for the Phils to face the Pirates.  But not for long.  Pittsburgh scored five times in the first inning, getting a grand slam from Reggie Sanders that plated Randall Simon and Aramis Ramirez.  Roa did make it through the first inning and came back for the second, getting the first two Bucs before Jason Kendell singled and Brian Giles doubled him home to extend the lead to 6-0.

In the bottom of the second, the Phillies managed to get on the board when Jim Thome led off with a triple and Pat Burrell followed with an RBI-ground out that cut the Pittsburgh lead to 6-1.  David Bell and Mike Lieberthal followed and both got on base, Bell singled and Lieberthal walked, before Marlon Byrd grounded to first for the second out of the inning.  And with two outs, runners on second and third and Jeff Suppan on the hill for the Pirates, Chase Utley came to the plate for the first time.  He struck out swinging to end the inning.  The Phillies went on to lose the game 9-1.

On April 6 the Phillies sent him down to Triple-A.

Polanco went on the DL on April 23 and Utley was recalled from the minors.

He got to start his first game on April 24, playing second base and hitting eighth as the Rockies sent young Aaron Cook to the mound in Philadelphia.  The Phillies jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first.  Utley made his first appearance at the plate in the second and flew out to Jay Payton in left.   The Phils still held their two run lead in the bottom of the third when singles by Burrell and Bell and a walk to Thome loaded the bases for Utley with two down and Cook still on mound.  Looking for his first major league hit, Utley got it in a big way as he smoked the ball out to right for a grand slam.

Utley would add an eighth-inning double and end the day 2-for-4 with a strikeout and four-RBI.  He got another start the next day and went 0-for-4.  Polanco returned from the DL on April 30 and Utley headed back to Triple-A where he would stay until August.

On July 10, David Bell played what was nearly his last game of the '03 campaign for the Phils.  Two days later the team would put him on the DL with a strained back and he wouldn't return until late September.  What followed was a dark period that saw more than the recommended daily allowance of Tyler Houston and Tomas Perez at third base for the Phillies.

On August 14 the Phils recalled Utley.  Polanco moved to third base and Utley got much of the time at second.  He wasn't especially fabulous.  He ended the season having hit 239/322/373 with two home runs in 134 at-bats.  In 2004 he wound up getting about twice as many at-bats before he broke through with 105 RBI in his first full-season in 2005.

If you look back at the most important decisions the Phillies have made as an organization in the last five years, one of the biggest has to be what to do at third base after they traded Scott Rolen away.  What they did was bring in David Bell.  What they didn't do was put Chase Utley at third.  For all you can complain about what the Phillies have done at third since Rolen, the decision not to go with Utley there looks like a solid one.  Utley's defensive numbers at third base from Triple-A in 2002 are pretty much miserable -- and he sure looks like he's settled at the right position.

There's an article about Phillies' outfield prospect Dominic Brown here.

Ryan Howard is a Pat Burrell supporter.

An article on the Phillies' web site reviews the team's outfield situation.

This article about the Mets pontificates about the possibility of Mike Pelfrey and Philip Humber in the rotation.

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