Cesar Hernandez showed signs last year that he could at least be a quality MLB player. He did a solid job of getting on base out of the leadoff spot and working counts. This year, however, he has shown to be anything but a quality MLB player. He has a .248/.301/.301 slashline at the moment to go along with little to no home run power. Hernandez is worth keeping around in the majors, but maybe not in the everyday lineup.
A pleasant surprise for the Phillies this year has been utility man Andres Blanco. He is currently 32 years old and has gotten his first legitimate chance in the majors on the Phillies. He has not disappointed so far, but what has been disappointing is Pete Mackanin’s reluctance to insert Blanco into the everyday starting lineup over Hernandez. In the past, Mackanin has called Blanco “one of [his] favorite utility players that [he’s] seen in a long time.” He does fit that mold of a solid pinch hitter off the bench who can play every infield position. But at some point, you have to look beyond the ‘utility player’ label and see what will really help the team. Hernandez cannot hit and is not an upgrade over Blanco in terms of fielding, though neither are great with the glove. This Phillies team has struggled to hit the ball all year and Blanco in the everyday lineup could be just what they need to spark the offense. He has shown an ability to both drive in runs with extra base hits as well as get on base himself and score runs, while Hernandez has shown an ability to hit into 6-4-3 double plays.
The next issue at 2B involves another utility player: 31 year old Emmanuel Burriss. He has four hits in 31 at bats this season, good for a .129 average. Yet, he continues to pinch hit. A player like Burriss could be relatively valuable as a late inning replacement to a team that has poor fielding corner outfielders, but the Phillies do not. He could also be used as a late inning replacement to the 1B, 2B, or 3B positions, but Blanco can fill all of those spots, in addition to being able to hit at a major league level. This begs the question, why is Emmanuel Burriss still on the team? With his performance so far, he has all but assured that he will not get another chance with the Phillies beyond this year, or possibly any team.
Could it be that there is no one to replace him? Let’s check the minors. Darnell Sweeney is the current 2B in Lehigh Valley, with a modest slashline of .238/.302/.361. MLB.com lists his hit tool at a 45 on the 20/80 scale, so one can expect him to have an average around .250 in the majors. Sweeney was briefly in the majors last year and struggled for the most part, although he showed some decent pop out of the 2B position with eight of his 15 hits going for extra bases, including three home runs. If Sweeney were to be called up, he would not take the league by storm or even hit close to .300 for that matter. However, it is tough to justify having Burriss over Sweeney at this point. Sweeney can play just about every position besides SS, similar to Burriss. He has more power as well, and would surely hit better than Burriss has so far. The big difference maker is age; Burriss is 31 years old and clearly has no chance at being productive in the majors. Meanwhile, Sweeney is 25 with some room for growth and improvement. Why not bring him up and see what he can do, when you have a useless player like Burriss getting at bats? Sweeney’s likely future with the team is as a utility player, but all of us would rather see him in that role right now than Burriss.
Sweeney has impressed scouts throughout his time in the minors and in college with his raw physical ability and his above average work with the glove. He has shown a keen ability to spray the ball to all fields, similar to the Phillies best hitter, Herrera.
Here is his spray chart from his brief time in the majors in 2015:
Despite struggling to make contact with 27 strikeouts in 85 at bats, being able to hit the balls to all fields could be an important quality of his when he gets his shot at the majors for a second time. Emmanuel Burris may have the best hair on the team, but baseball wise he has not shown anything that would make him worth keeping around. Meanwhile, a young and talented Darnell Sweeney is stuck in AAA waiting for another opportunity. When it comes to the starting 2B, it is time for Mackanin to go with the hot bat and insert Blanco into the everyday starting lineup, even if it means severely weakening the bench.
Photo by Cheryl Pursell