Veterans battling for potential back-up role

Non-roster invitees are often overlooked, but the Phillies could very well wind up with one of them on their regular season roster. There are some interesting veteran players to choose from.

While a few young prospects have captured a lot of attention in camp this spring, there is no way to count out the performances of veteran players who are fighting for a spot on the Phillies roster. While the signing of these guys - players like Marcus Giles, Pablo Ozuna and others - weren't big news, their performance in camp is big news and it's very possible that at least one of these guys will grab a spot on the opening day roster.

While Miguel Cairo has played in eight other organizations and has spent all or part of 13 seasons in the majors, his signing barely grabbed any attention when it was announced. At best, Cairo was going to be an insurance policy in case Pedro Feliz wasn't ready for opening day and all of the young kids failed to perform in camp. It figured that his most likely role would be playing at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, giving the second year franchise some veteran presence and the Phillies a bit of an insurance policy.

Cairo certainly can't say that he hasn't been given a look this spring. He's seventh on the team in Grapefruit League at bats and is hitting .303 with the club, but if there is a drawback, it's Cairo's defense. He's played primarily at second base this spring with below-average results, albeit in a relatively small sample size to work with. Cairo is a lifetime .266 hitter in the majors and generally makes good contact, showing decent plate discipline.

While Marcus Giles' spring stats aren't anything great to crow about, he probably brings the greatest upside of any of the veterans fighting for a spot. Not only is Giles a veteran player, but he has always been respected for how he carries out his job and is a strong clubhouse presence, which never hurts. After a fairly strong start, Giles average has dipped to just .143 this spring. One thing that he has shown an ability to do is stealing bases, which is a little surprising for the 30 year old infielder. While Giles has always had decent speed and enhanced his speed with a knowledge of how to steal bases, it was thought that his days as a potential base stealer were over, but there he is, second on the club with three stolen bases.

By the way, have you noticed that Eric Bruntlett has swiped six bases this spring? Maybe Charlie Manuel plans on turning his runners loose a little more this season.

Pablo Ozuna is doing everything possible to go from being a non-roster invitee to being a member of the 2009 Phillies.
(Photo: Tony Dejak/AP)

Giles didn't play last season after being cut loose by the Colorado Rockies in spring training. He was somewhat of a forgotten name, until getting a minor league deal and an invite to spring training with the Phillies. Now, he could be on the verge of not only playing this season, but possibly even making the big league club. If he would accept playing at Triple-A - and it's believed that he would, at least temporarily - Giles would be a great addition to help show some of the minor league players how things are done.

Of the veterans in camp, Pablo Ozuna has shown the best bat. It might actually surprise some people to know that Ozuna is a career .282 hitter in the majors, covering all or part of seven seasons and playing for four different clubs in the process. He's one of those pesky, get on-base and make things happen sort of players and might be an interesting addition to the Phillies bench. The 34 year old Ozuna is hitting .440 for the Phillies with a .500 on-base percentage.

In his career, Ozuna has played at every defensive position except to go behind the plate or on the mound, but he's best suited for work at second, third, short or in left field. His defensive work at third base isn't much to write home about, but he can at least hold down the position for a few innings, if needed, as long as it's not late in a close game. He's best suited to play at second or even in left field.

And if you're looking for a surprise bench candidate that has come out of nowhere, take a look at Jason Ellison. Ellison, who turns 31 in a couple of weeks, is one of those names that you've probably seen in the box score, but wasn't sure what to make of him. He's actually played parts of six seasons in the majors with San Francisco, Seattle, Cincinnati and Texas for a total of 344 major league games. Ellison's job is made much tougher by the fact that he is an outfielder and the Phillies are less likely to have room for an extra outfielder than they would for an extra infielder, but making the club wouldn't be out of the question.

Ellison, a career .251 hitter in the majors, is hitting .286 this spring. The truth is that Ellison is one of those Four-A type players who seems too good to be at Triple-A, but can't really conquer the majors. In the minors, he's a career .294 hitter, including hitting a career .298 at the Triple-A level where he has played in all or part of six seasons.

Ellison's performance deserves a mention, but odds are that he winds up at Lehigh Valley, playing in the outfield for the IronPigs.

It's interesting to see how much playing time that Eric Bruntlett has gotten this spring. The good news is that he's hitting .300 and has played all over the diamond with good results everywhere he's played. The Phillies have given him a lot of time in center field, with Shane Victorino playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Bruntlett, who could have had his job stolen if he hadn't put up good spring numbers, can play second, third, short, left and right and could even jump in at first base if needed. He's become a handy player to have around and it appears that he's likely saved his job with the Phillies, even with the performance of the other veterans in camp who are looking for a job.

As things stand now, the bench would have a backup catcher - either Chris Coste or Ronny Paulino - Geoff Jenkins, Matt Stairs, Eric Bruntlett and Greg Dobbs, not leaving room for anybody, unless they go with an eleven-man pitching staff, which is possible, at least to start the season. The additional player could come from the group of veterans or the Phillies could pick from either John Mayberry Jr. or Jason Donald, two prospects who have both performed very well in camp. There is always the possibility of a trade or release, which would most likely involve Matt Stairs, which would open a more permanent spot on the bench. Even though Stairs is an outfielder, the Phillies would have Dobbs and Bruntlett, who could take a spot in the outfield, if necessary, meaning that the replacement wouldn't have to be a dedicated outfielder.

Would Charlie Manuel keep three catchers? Not likely, considering that neither Coste or Paulino are noted offensive talents and Lou Marson is ticketed to start the year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley where he'll get regular playing time.



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