Phipps Gets One More Shot

One year ago Denis Phipps was a rising star in the Cincinnati organization and even considered a possible leadoff candidate should the Reds need one. The need arose, but Phipps was not in a position to answer the call. After missing a golden opportunity he re-signed with the Reds who hope that he will return to 2011 form.

During the 2011 season Denis Phipps came from off radar to force his name among top Cincinnati prospects. He started at AA and ended up at Louisville, blistering the ball at both stops and slashing a line of .356 AVG/.397 OBP/.527 SLG with 12 HR. Prior to that the Dominican free agent had never hit higher than .255 in a full season and was more a minor league filler. The 2011 performance earned a spot on the 40-man roster last season and made him a candidate if the Reds had a need for a leadoff hitter, which they ultimately did. Things started off well enough when he hit over .300 in spring training but unfortunately that did not continue after opening day.

Instead of pushing for a spot on the active roster Phipps started out hitting .168 in 38 games before going on the DL with a shoulder injury. He fared better in the second half and even went 3-10 with a homer for the Reds after roster expansion. He finished his season at Louisville hitting .221 and a team-leading 15 HR in 92 games which was enough to make Cincinnati re-sign him for the upcoming season. Now he's 27 years old and a veteran of seven minor league seasons so he may be more of a suspect than a prospect. He worked in the Dominican Winter League to prepare for this season which he hopes will include another call-up.

Phipps has a strong arm and can play all three outfield positions, after finishing with the worst record in the International League last year Louisville figures to have stiffer competition for playing time in 2012. The organization's top prospect, Billy Hamilton has been converted to the outfield and will get most of the action in center where the Reds hope he will be ready to take over for Shin-soo Choo in 2014. Cincinnati invested a second round selection on Ryan LaMarre who is ready for AAA and also projects as a top-lineup hitter. Felix Perez returns to the Bats where he hit .301 last year and Josh Fellhauer hit .314 and cracked the .400 on-base level at Pensacola.

If Phipps can return to his 2011 form they'll make a place for him in the outfield somewhere. Thus far he's gone 7-25 (.280) with four extra base hits in spring training. Xavier Paul was a nice surprise after making it to the Reds late last season and finished the year over .300 which will likely earn him the final outfield spot on the opening day roster. However that average was over less than 100 plate appearances and Cincinnati is the fourth organization in which the 28 year-old has played. Last year he started with Washington's AAA team before the Nationals granted him free agency in midseason.

Should he falter Phipps could have an opportunity to force his way into the majors again. Unfortunately for him roster moves in the past suggest that manager Dusty Baker prefers a left-handed hitter as his fifth outfielder to compliment right-handed Chris Heisey. However that need was lessened when the Reds signed left handed hitting Jack Hannahan for their bench and if Cesar Izturis lands an active roster spot he'll provide a switch-hitter. In addition, Heisey's lifetime average is contrary to expected splits and he's hit right-handers better.

Still, .350 hitters are hard to ignore and since the Reds re-signed him with all of the AA talent set to advance they must think there's a chance that he could again approach his 2011 performance. One reason that he's a little older than most prospects in the same boat is because he didn't start playing the game until his late teens in the Dominican Republic. He could help himself by improving contact and reducing his strikeout total below that of his games played. Professional baseball is competitive and can be very fickle. Not long ago Phipps was considered a late bloomer and now he's trying to avoid being labeled a flash in the pan.


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