In the minor leagues, you're always on the lookout for changes. Subtle things that could tip a team's hand as to how they view a player or something that they might have in mind. It might be as seemingly insignificant as a pitcher sticking with his curve ball in a fast ball situation; translation, the team has told the guy he needs to prove his curve is major league ready. Another is a guy playing out of position for seemingly no reason; translation, the team either wants to show that he's got versatility or they've got a potential trading partner who just happens to need a guy who can play the position the player was moved into.
Coming into the season, John Mayberry Jr. was a right fielder. He had played 236 games in right, 117 in left and four at first base. Then, on April 17, Mayberry was suddenly in center field for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. "I had played there in Mexico during the winter and a little in camp and they told me that I might play in center here and there, but this was a little unexpected," said Mayberry, who was more than willing to make the move. "I'll play anywhere. I really don't worry about that because no matter where I'm playing, I'm in the lineup and I'll try to help my club."
Since that night, Mayberry has started four games in left, ten in center and nine in right, plus one as a DH, just for good measure. This, on a team that has certified center fielders Chris Duffy, Dewayne Wise and Rich Thompson on their roster. With that crowd, it figured that there was going to be some jockeying and movement of players in and out of the lineup as manager Dave Huppert worked to find playing time for four talented outfielders. Actually, he could have used a fifth earlier in the year when Duffy and Wise were both banged up and third baseman Cody Ransom had to experiment with playing in right field. That didn't turn out quite as pretty as Mayberry's audition in center.
Mayberry certainly has the speed to play in center, there's no doubt about that. His arm is also strong enough to make good, accurate throws from the depths of a ballpark, so there are no concerns there. Where Mayberry has run into trouble is at the same spot where many newbie outfielders run into trouble; those dreaded fly balls hit right at them. Plays like that have given Mayberry some fits and he's wound up taking some strange routes to balls, using his speed to make up for an initial wrong assessment or just not being to make the play on a couple of occasions. Through it all though, Mayberry, who works very hard on his defense, has made just one error this season and that came as a right fielder.
Since Mayberry has begun wandering around the outfield, he is hitting .289 (26-for-90) and he's launched five home runs and knocked in 19 runs. One of his home runs helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat when Mayberry launched a grand slam in the top of the ninth inning to give Lehigh Valley a 6-5 win over Charlotte on the road.
So just how valuable is Mayberry? The Phillies obviously have bigger names that clubs will ask for in deals this season. Domonic Brown and Tyson Gillies, both at Double-A Reading are rated higher on the prospect list of Phillies outfielders than Mayberry is and both - especially Domonic Brown - will have plenty of clubs following them this season. Brown especially will be difficult for clubs to acquire, especially considering that the Phillies have dealt a pretty big blow to the organization by trading for Roy Halladay during the winter. That would leave Mayberry as a more affordable player for teams to covet, even though he will admittedly be likely to bring less back in return than would a Dominic Brown type player.
Mayberry does have some value and it's very true that if he can show an ability to play all three outfield positions, it's something else very positive to put on a resume for teams to consider. Yes, he has a few warts as a center fielder, but knowing Mayberry's athletic abilities and his penchant for working on every aspect of his game to make it as strong as possible, Mayberry will start to push aside some of the questions about his defensive abilities in center. Offensively, Mayberry is an above average prospect, but may take a little while to fully blossom as a major league hitter.
Much of Mayberry's winter was spent in the Mexican Winter League learning to hit curve balls. The league is notorious for having a lot of pitchers who will throw the curve at almost any point in the count and many of the pitchers in the league have pretty curves to use as a weapon. Mayberry hit seven home runs with 23 RBI in 38 games, compiling a .313/.389/.493 stat line for his efforts. It should be noted too, that in 26 games as a center fielder, Mayberry had a spotless fielding record in the Mexican Winter League.
While he may not be the greatest rated outfield prospect that the Phillies have in their organization, Mayberry could also be packaged with another player or two to give the Phillies enough to swing a deal for more pitching or whatever it is they determine that they need as the trade deadline draws closer. He could also be a nice addition to the big league club if the injury bug moves from the pitching staff and infield to the outfield at some point during the season.
Moving Mayberry would also clear up one other issue for the Phillies. How do you move Domonic Brown into an already overcrowded Triple-A outfield when you don't want to give up on veterans like Wise and Duffy? Both players could be decent additions late in the season or to help cover an injury should something unforeseen happen in the Phillies outfield. That's exactly why the Phillies signed both players to minor league deals over the winter and they still like the idea of having that depth stashed away at Lehigh Valley.
John Mayberry's career major league stats
John Mayberry's career minor league stats