Jason Donald and John Mayberry Jr. both came into camp knowing that making the Phillies out of camp wouldn't be easy. But both have refused to think about their odds of making the club and are instead focusing on making the decision very difficult for the Phillies to make.
Of the two, Donald had a better shot at making the club than Mayberry, simply because of the fact that the Phillies were likely going to need at least one extra infielder because of injuries to Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz. Now, it appears that Utley will be ready for opening day, but Feliz remains a major question mark and will likely need more time to prepare and it figures that he'll start the season on the disabled list. The fact that the Phillies have been working with Donald to learn to play at second and third, and the fact that he's picked up both positions rather easily, have increased his odds of winning a temporary spot with the club.
There would be advantages and disadvantages to putting Donald in that spot.
On the upside, he would get his feet wet in the majors, while not being thrown into a sink or swim type situation. In fact, with the left-handed hitting Greg Dobbs on the bench, it's likely that Donald would be on the bench when the Phillies face the tougher right-handers in the league, giving him an even better opportunity to settle into being a major leaguer in a more leisurely fashion. If he's playing everyday at third, fans will be a little more forgiving of him because of the fact that he would be making the jump from Double-A ball to the majors, which is no easy task, and because they would fall in love with his hard-nosed style of play. If he's coming off the bench, manager Charlie Manuel could easily pick and choose the spots to use Donald.
The downside includes the potential for a bit of a controversy. What happens if the Phillies have Donald playing everyday or even platooning with Dobbs and he's putting up huge numbers? That's great, you say, but then when Pedro Feliz is ready to return, what happens then? Do the Phillies send Donald down to Triple-A and insert Feliz into his old job, even though the highly touted and praised Donald was doing everything that could be asked of him and more? And what then if Feliz returns only to put up sub-par numbers, while Donald continues to hit at the Triple-A level? On the other hand, Donald could struggle horribly, calming fans enthusiasm about him and making it that much tougher when he would return to the majors at some other point. While he appears to be the type of player that could handle such an issue, some players allow their confidence and their careers to unravel after such a failure. Fans need only look to Kyle Kendrick's struggles last season, which have carried over to spring training 2009.
Donald seems to have needed some time to adjust this spring, but after a discussion with Manuel, where the skipper told him to stop pressing and just play the game, Donald has become one of the hottest hitters on the club. Should he continue to hit the way that he has and continue to learn how to play at both second and third the way that he has, it's going to be tough for the Phillies to choose one of the veteran non-roster players, like Marcus Giles, Pablo Ozuna or Miguel Cairo over the homegrown Donald. Or, perhaps, Eric Bruntlett's job will be in jeopardy because of the emergence of players like Giles, who is impressing the Phillies with his drive to make the club.
While Mayberry had the longer shot at making the club, he has greatly increased his odds of having the Phillies carry him north. After all, the Phillies have been beating the bushes for a right-handed power hitter and Mayberry has shown himself to be just that. The tough call on Mayberry is the age-old question of whether a young player is better suited getting everyday playing time in the minors or getting what playing time that he can in the majors.
Mayberry has played just 114 games at Triple-A, but he's been known to be a quick mover. He's gone at a pace of one level per season, except when he accelerated that with a quick jump to Double-A in 2007 and then another jump to Triple-A after playing just 21 more games at Double-A in 2008. His 114 games are the second most that he's played at any level, second only to the 126 games that he played at A-Ball in 2006. His minor league numbers have remained relatively constant, no matter what level he was playing at in the minors and with the quick start that he's off to this spring, perhaps he's ready to make the jump, if not for the potential benefit of daily playing time at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
It stands to figure that with a heavily left-handed lineup, a right-handed pinch-hitter on the Phillies could get a decent amount of at bats, especially if he was the go-to guy off the bench. Since he can play at both first and in left field, Mayberry could also get a start here and there at one of those spots to add a few extra at bats to his numbers.
The truth is that Mayberry's spring has been so good, that you have to wonder if maybe the Phillies are wondering why they signed Raul Ibanez to play left field. Maybe the answer to the question 'who's going to take over for Pat Burrell' could have been John Mayberry Jr. all along and the Phillies could have saved $30 million over the next three seasons. If only they would have been able to see clearer into their crystal ball as to just how well Mayberry could play, they might have gone a different way. After all, had they put Mayberry in left full-time, worst case scenario would have had him struggle and the Phillies would have then moved Jayson Werth to left and put Geoff Jenkins back in right field. That's not to say that the Phillies should be blamed for signing Ibanez, because truth be known, Mayberry was much more of a wild card than he is right now. After all, he wasn't even in the organization last season, so the Phillies didn't get as good of a look at him as they would have had he been their own product. They couldn't take chances on leaving left field open for Mayberry, who seems to genuinely be coming into his own - or maybe, it's his father's - stride right now.
Like Donald, Mayberry's performance could have an impact on a veteran player. If Mayberry makes the club, either Matt Stairs or Geoff Jenkins would likely have to be jettisoned to open a spot. With Jenkins having a hefty contract, finding takers may be difficult, causing the Phillies to throw his contract on top of Adam Eaton's on the Phillies Contract Buffet that will have to be eaten throughout the season. Stairs, at $1 million for the season, is more tender to chew and easier to swallow, making him the prime candidate to exit.
If Mayberry does wind up at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, manager Dave Huppert and crew will be glad to have him. One note though; fans may want to avoid parking beyond the left field fence at Coca-Cola Park, because it could become a landing zone for Mighty Mayberry.
In Donald and Mayberry, the Phillies have two solid players, if not for now, then for at some point down the road. It's ironic too, that one of them - Donald - has come through the system and has a clear path to a full-time job if Feliz' leaves when his contract expires at the end of the season and the other will have to fight for a spot with his new organization. Even though Mayberry wasn't homegrown, he's a Phillie thanks to the depth that the Phillies had in their system, giving them the freedom to offer up Greg Golson to the Texas Rangers to get Mayberry in exchange.