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February 20 2007

Of what most assume are five bench spots available on the '07 Phillies, two seem sure to go to Abraham Nunez and Jayson Werth.  Of the three that remain, Carlos Ruiz seems penciled in for one to share time at catcher with Rod Barajas.  Left are a group of players fighting for the two remaining spots -- the front-runners appear to be Chris Coste, Karim Garcia, Chris Roberson and Greg Dobbs.

Of that group of four players fighting for the remaining two spots, Chris Coste has earned a distinction the rest of the group hasn't.  During 2006, he was among the best hitters on the Phillies during the second half of the season.

Here's a look at the top hitters on the Phils last year after the All-Star break among players that got at least 150 plate appearances after the break, using OPS as the measure:

 

Player AB AVG OBP SLG OPS
Howard 265 355 509 751 1.259
Coste 153 333 386 549 935
Utley 309 304 382 528 909
Burrell 198 268 403 495 898
Rollins 326 298 346 540 886

And here is what the most productive catchers in baseball did after the All-Star break, again using OPS as the measure for players with at least 150 plate appearances:

 

Player AB AVG OBP SLG OPS
McCann 238 324 372 630 1.002
Coste 153 333 386 549 935
Mauer 235 311 409 472 882
Posada 218 275 357 523 880
Barrett 147 286 331 524 855

I would be astounded if the Phillies don't figure out a way to get Coste on the team to start the season.

It is telling that despite how well he hit in the second half Coste only managed 153 at-bats.  If the team was ever going to play him at third base you would think you would have seen him there last season when Abraham Nunez put up miserable offensive numbers as the everyday third baseman after Bell was traded away.  Coste's appearances behind the plate may have made the team less excited about giving him further opportunities there in '07.

Less excited about his defense behind the plate or not, I think he makes the team and whatever time he sees I expect much of it will come as a catcher.  It's hard to see him taking at-bats from Howard at first and there isn't any evidence the Phillies are going to play him anywhere else.

I don't think there's any chance Coste is going to continue to produce offense the way he did last year.  But his performance last year sure seems like it should have earned him the chance to try.  He's not going to be good defensively behind the plate -- but if he can still help the team overall as a catcher if he hits anything near what he did in '06.

The other thing that may seal Coste's place on the roster is that the numbers for the other guys in the group are flat unimpressive.  Greg Dobbs has a career on-base percentage of .291 in his 222 at-bats.  The worse news is it's the tops among him, Garcia (.279) and Roberson (.214 -- Roberson has just 41 career at-bats).  Pat Burrell's foot may prove to be a factor -- of those three Roberson is the best defensive outfielder and Manuel does love to pull Burrell at the end of games, good idea or not.  I still think Garcia's power from the left side of the plate may be enough to win the final spot.  Garcia hit 16 home runs in just 197 at-bats with Cleveland in 2002 and stroked 37 long balls in his 704 at-bats in the major leagues between 2002 and 2004 before hitting 34 more over two seasons in Japan.

As a side note, looking at the numbers of some of the Phillies hitters from the second half of last season, it's hard to ignore the .540 slugging mark posted by Rollins.  Rollins hit 16 home runs in his 326 at-bats after the All-Star break in 2006.  Going into the 2006 season his career high in home runs for an entire season was 14.

This article reminds that Wes Helms made just five starts at third base last season.

This article says that Manuel wants to look at Werth this spring to see if he's an option as third catcher.  I suspect not.

Werth took batting practice without complaints about his wrist.

Charlie Manuel is on pretty much every list of mangers who might be in trouble, including this one.

Wes Helms bought Shane Victorino a watch to thank Victorino for giving up the number 18.  The same article says that third base is an open competition between Helms and Nunez.  I don't know if I can take it if the Phillies give Nunez, who was among the worst offensive players in baseball last season, a significant number of starts at third this season.

Eric Gagne threw off a mound again and it went okay.  Could be relevant to the Phillies if they are interested in trying to acquire Akinori Otsuka, who the Rangers may be more willing to trade if Gagne is healthy.

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