Ender Inciarte entered Spring Training a few weeks ago as something of a forgotten man.
Selected as a Rule 5 draftee from the Diamondbacks all the way back on December 6, Inciarte was the first player acquired by Ruben Amaro, Jr. this past offseason. Typically, a Rule 5 selection isn’t met with much fanfare to begin with. But the subsequent additions of Ben Revere–whose popularity grows daily–and Delmon Young, plus the focus on Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf, took even more of the spotlight from Inciarte in the perception of the fans and media.
When camp opened, Inciarte, who has never played a game above High-A Visalia, figured to be a long-shot to win one of the five outfield spots on the 25-man roster.
But as the Spring has gone on, Inciarte has made himself harder and harder to ignore as a legitimate possibility to crack the Opening Day roster.
So far, he’s gone 3-for-8 with three walks, two runs scored and a stolen base. Tack on his fantastic play in the outfield, and Inciarte looks like a man with some very valuable tools, albeit in a microscopic sample size.
With Ruf’s struggles thus far, and Young’s standing appointment on the DL for the next month and change, I’d feel confident in Inciarte’s chances to be on the Phillies roster if Spring Training ended today. Further, if Ruf doesn’t start to produce and Inciarte continues to do what he’s done, things won’t look much different three weeks from now when camp actually does end.
But, as stated above, Inciarte is a Rule 5 draft pick. Cracking the Opening Day roster will not be enough for the Phillies to retain his services. If, at any point during the season, they option him off their 25-man roster, the Phils would have to offer Inciarte back to Arizona. If he’s still playing as well as he is right now, Arizona would be remiss not to take him back.
So the real question is this: Can Inciarte stick on the 25-man roster for the entirety of the 2013 season?
My heart tells me yes, but my mind tells me no.
It’s simple really. For the first few weeks of the season, while Young is on the DL, the Phillies will have no problem keeping Inciarte around. Especially because Ruf still has options (and has been bad in the field and at the plate). But once Young is ready to play again, the Phillies will need to make room for him.
This is where the true test of how much Amaro and Co. like Inciarte will come.
There is a slight, but highly unlikely, chance that the team will elect to carry six outfielders when Young returns, optioning instead to send down one of their utility infielders. In which case, keeping Inciarte around would be no problem. I leave this open as a possibility only because John Mayberry Jr. would be able to back-up first base, while someone like Freddy Galvis could be the fill-in for the middle infield spots and third base. Again, a possibility. But not one I really believe in.
If the Phils want to keep Inciarte, a much more realistic possibility comes in the form of designating Mayberry or Laynce Nix for assignment, and likely losing them on waivers. The way Inciarte has looked so far, and given the poor reputations Mayberry and Nix have developed in this town, there is probably a large contingency of fans who would more than welcome this move.
But, as history has shown us time and time again, the front office of a professional baseball team cannot operate entirely on the whims and desires of its fanbase, however sensible they may be.
Would Amaro really be willing to give up someone like Nix or Mayberry–two players with which he at least knows exactly what he’ll get–for a young guy who has never played above Single-A and may just be having a nice couple of months? The answer, in my opinion, is no.
There is one more way the Phillies could find room to hang on to Inciarte without having to surrender Mayberry or Nix to the mercy of the waiver wire: Release Delmon Young. This is another move plenty of people would embrace. But, after Amaro’s ringing endorsement of Young on Wednesday, this again seems highly unlikely.
So, unless Arizona for some reason declines to take him back, it seems the Phillies will have some trouble keeping Inciarte around.
Unless of course he really picks up his play and leaves them no other choice.
Who knows? Stranger things have happened.
After all, Michael Martinez managed to survive the 2011 season. If that doesn’t show that anything is possible, I don’t know what does.