Chase Utley was given the second base job over the off-season only to have it yanked away this past spring. He was decaying behind Placido Polanco until the Phillies finally realized that he may be able to handle the job on an everyday basis and dealt Polanco to Detroit. The move has worked well for the Phillies, since Ugueth Urbina has helped in the bullpen and Utley has more than responded to his new job.
The early wrap on Utley was that he couldn't hit left-handers. While his season numbers aren't great, they're improved over where he was early in the season. Overall, he's hitting .229 against lefties, but has slowly shown more confidence and abilities against southpaws. If you were to do some work with the numbers and give Chase Utley the same number of at bats as say Bobby Abreu has gotten, Utley would be on a pace to have 98 RBI at this point in the season. To say the least, Utley has been an RBI magnet in the Phillies lineup.
Then, there's Ryan Howard. When Jim Thome was struggling, the Phillies insisted that Howard was better off at AAA Scranton. Finally, when Thome went on the DL, Howard was good enough to take over and he's pounded the ball. Howard, even though he hasn't been in the majors all season, leads all rookies in homeruns with 17. With regular playing time, he would be in the 34 homerun range and be closing in on 100 RBI.
Granted, there would have been no taking a healthy and productive Jim Thome out of the lineup for Howard, but Thome wasn't healthy and he wasn't productive since the season started. You have to wonder if Howard could have helped to fill some of those holes even earlier in the season and at least could have provided power off the bench. Instead, he was wilting at Lackawanna Stadium as a member of the Red Barons.
When Randy Wolf went down with an injury, Robinson Tejeda stepped in and did more than the Phillies could have hoped for. Now, with Tejeda himself injured and Vicente Padilla also ailing, it's been Eude Brito and Gavin Floyd who have stepped in. Brito has been simply awesome and beat the Braves for his first major league win on Monday night. Floyd certainly didn't dominate the Braves the way Brito did, but he pitched well enough that he can gain at least some confidence from his outing. After all, he lasted five innings against a potent Braves lineup and kept it close enough for the Phillies to tie the game up and eventually win.
The Phillies need to let young players play. It's that simple.
Next season, there will be other tests for the Phillies when it comes to young players. Center field will be a question mark and Shane Victorino is coming off an International League Player of the Year season. He deserves a shot. Pushing Victorino should be young Chris Roberson, the Phillies' Paul Owens Award winner as the organization's best minor league player for 2005. Roberson was only at AA and may need another season in the minors, but he should at least get a long, hard look when the Phillies report to Clearwater next spring for camp.
Catcher Carlos Ruiz should also get some consideration. He would be able to handle the back-up job and could get some consideration for the starting job if the Phillies could move Mike Lieberthal elsewhere. Ruiz didn't even get a September call-up, so you have to figure he's not a major part of the Phillies plans for the spring.
The Phillies philosophy of late has been to bring in free agents of varying cost to fill holes. Hopefully, this winter, they'll pay at least as much attention to the young players who could fill gaps as they will to free agents. Young players are generally out to prove what they can do and often provide a spark to teams.
If the Phillies need a blueprint, they can simply look across the field at Citizens Bank Park for the next couple of nights. The Braves have mixed young players with veterans to not only survive, but to lead the NL East again. The Braves have been proactive in getting rookies into the lineup and it's paying off for them. It's a lesson that the Phillies' front office would do well to learn.