By weighted on-base average (wOBA), Darin Ruf (.354) out-hit every Phillie except Chase Utley (.356). PECOTA, the projection system found at Baseball Prospectus, projects Ruf to be more valuable than All-Star Domonic Brown in 2014. And yet, most are expecting Ruf to start the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
It makes logical sense. The Phillies’ outfield is secure with Brown in left, Ben Revere in center, and Marlon Byrd in right. First base is also spoken for with Ryan Howard. Catcher Wil Nieves, infielder Kevin Frandsen, and outfielder John Mayberry, Jr. account for three of the likely five bench spots. Manager Ryne Sandberg sounded confident in giving infielder Freddy Galvis a spot on the bench, and GM Ruben Amaro has talked about his preference for a left-handed-hitting outfielder capable of backing up Revere in center. The Phillies also have 10 position player non-roster invitees. You can understand how it might be hard for the Phillies to find room on the roster for Ruf.
As Matt Gelb writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sandberg has thought about ways to use Ruf:
Ryne Sandberg has promised to use his bench players in an effort to keep everyone sharp while securing important rest for his aged regulars. When asked whether he could find 300 plate appearances for Ruf, the manager said: “That’s possible.”
He added: “I like him at first base depending on how things go. If we need a righthanded bat against lefthanded pitching, we have the lineup for that. That could be Ruf in left field. He could be at first base.”
Howard has for years been an ideal platoon partner given his proclivity to punish right-handed pitching and his abysmal — and continuously declining — performance against lefties. Ruf mashed lefties in the minors and, despite a small-sample fluke in 2013 where he hit right-handers well and lefties poorly, would be a good partner in crime at first base with Howard. Ruf’s defense is well below average in the outfield, so the Phillies have to try and limit his defensive opportunities as much as possible.
Gelb suggests the Phillies could cut Mayberry during spring training. Mayberry and Ruf on the same roster is redundant, but because Ruf has options and Mayberry doesn’t, Gelb argues this is one reason why the Phillies may prefer to have Ruf start the season at Triple-A.