How Good Is Shane Victorino?

The Phillies know that before too long, youngsters Chris Roberson and Michael Bourn will be pushing to take over the center field job in Philadelphia. The question has always been 'who will handle the job until they get here?' If Shane Victorino has his way, he'll get the chance to not only be a stopgap, but possibly make the Phillies find somewhere else for Roberson and Bourn.

After coming up through the ranks with the Dodgers, Shane Victorino found himself off the 40 man roster and drifting in the world of the Rule 5 Draft. The Phillies, who were looking for help in center field, grabbed Victorino. The move came just ten days after the Phillies had dealt for veteran Kenny Lofton to fill the center field job at least for 2005. Victorino came into camp with a shot at winning a utility job and possibly, an outside shot at knocking Lofton onto the bench. Victorino did neither. With an opportunity right before him, he hit just .167 in 27 spring training games and the Phillies took a shot and optioned him out to AAA Scranton. The option meant that the Dodgers could steal him back, but they declined and Victorino reported to AAA.

"I was disappointed. You always want to do well when you come to a new club and that was a big opportunity for me," remembers Victorino.

The disappointment continued and Victorino was hitting just .243 on June 22nd. From there, he put together five straight multi-hit games and went on a strong tear over the second-half of the season. Now, he's capping his season with a long hitting streak - 22 games and counting - giving him the second longest in the league this season. Ironically, it's second to former teammate Ryan Howard who hit in 24 straight earlier in the year. Howard is playing a big role with the Phillies, taking over for the injured Jim Thome at first base as the Phillies fight for a playoff spot.

Victorino hopes that he can help the Phillies in their playoff hunt, too. "It would be awesome to get the chance to help," said Victorino. "Realistically though, they're going to go primarily with the guys who got them here and with Lofton and (Jason) Michaels playing well, there might not be much of a chance for me." That begs the question of whether or not the Phillies will bring Victorino to Philly when the rosters expand on September 1st and if they do, how much will he play? The odds of Victorino getting a call-up are very good. With the season that he's put together, it would be a huge mistake not to at least bring him along for the ride. As for the playing time, it's likely that he'll just be along for the ride in that aspect and won't see too much time on the field. Victorino would give the Phillies bench some added speed and he's strong defensively, so some playing time isn't out of the question if in fact, he does get the chance to join the Phillies. 

The real opportunity for Victorino will come after the season. Lofton is a free agent at the end of the year and Jason Michaels doesn't seem to be able to handle the center field job on an everyday basis, at least from what the Phillies seem to believe. Even though Roberson has had an awesome season at AA Reading, it's unlikely that he will be ready in 2006 and Bourn is still a year away, at least, for challenging for a major league job. A spring battle between Victorino and Roberson isn't out of the question, but odds are that Victorino will have at least a short off-season run as the front runner to be the Phillies starting center fielder next season.

Known for his defensive skills in center field, Victorino is now among the International League leaders in several offensive categories, including being eighth in batting average (.310), third in hits (153), third in slugging percentage (.534), tied for first in extra-base hits (59), first in runs scored (93), and first in triples (16). His 16 triples are two more than any other player has collected this season in all of professional baseball. The Wailuku, Hawaii native has twice been named the IL Batter-of-the-Week this season (July 25-31 and August 8-14).

The fact is that the Phillies aren't quite sure what they have in Shane Victorino. He seems to be a player that started to break out last season, playing at both AA and AAA in the Dodgers organization and hitting a combined 19 homeruns with 63 RBI and a .290 average between the two stops. The fact that he's just 24 leads scouts to believe that he has hit his stride and is ready for the majors. The Phillies will have to decide whether they trust handing the center field job over to an unproven rookie in 2006 or whether they want to hedge their bets and look for another solution. Re-signing Lofton and platooning him with Victorino would seem to be one option. With the Phillies track record of not putting young players directly into the lineup - ask Chase Utley - a platoon situation may be the best that Victorino can hope for in 2006. That would put him in line for another battle with Roberson and possibly even Bourn, who will likely both be ready to challenge in 2007. In other words, even with his numbers at Scranton this season, there are no sure things for Shane Victorino.

Shane Victorino's career stats

Year / Team HR RBI AVG G AB R H 2B 3B SB BB KO
1999 Great Falls (Rookie) 2 25 .280 55 225 53 63 7 6 20 20 31
2000 Yakima (A) 2 20 .246 61 236 32 58 7 2 21 20 44
2001 Wilmington (A) 4 32 .283 112 435 71 123 21 9 47 36 61
2001 Vero Beach (A) 0 0 .167 2 6 2 1 0 0 0 3 1
2002 Jacksonville (AA) 4 34 .258 122 481 61 124 15 1 45 47 49
2003 Jacksonville (AA) 2 15 .282 66 266 37 75 9 4 16 21 41
2003 Las Vegas (AAA) 1 9 .390 11 41 6 16 1 2 0 1 5
2003 San Diego (Majors) 0 4 .151 36 73 8 11 2 0 7 7 17
2004 Jacksonville (AA) 16 43 .328 75 293 70 96 13 7 9 20 64
2004 Las Vegas (AAA) 3 20 .235 55 200 28 47 9 1 7 11 37
2005 Scranton (AAA) 18 70 .310 126 494 93 153 25 16 17 51 74
Minor League Totals 52 268 .282 685 2677 453 756 107 48 182 230 407
Major League Totals 0 4 .151 36 73 8 11 2 0 7 7 17

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