Prior to the start of the season, we'll highlight a few players in each team's minor-league system to let you know which players you should be paying attention to throughout the year. These aren't meant to be comprehensive top-prospect lists, but should provide a look at some key players within each team's organization.
Philadelphia missed the playoffs for the first time in six years last season. The year was highlighted by injuries Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and a down year from ace Roy Halladay. It's too early to call it the end of an era, but with the aging of the Phillies' core, it's likely the twilight. Who will be part of the future as the Phillies enter this transitional phase?
In August of 2012, Darin Ruf put up one of the most amazing accomplishments of the season: he mashed 20 home runs, making him the first to accomplish the feat in American professional baseball since Sammy Sosa hit 20 home runs in June 1998. Ruf hit an absurd .317/.408/.620 in 139 games for Double-A Reading. He earned a shot at the major league with the explosion, and he hit a sharp .333/.351/.727 with three homers in 12 games, although he did strike out 12 times as well. It was enough to at least earn him a look in a shallow Phillies outfield this season.
On numbers alone, Ruf looks like a major leaguer. But doubts remain. Ruf didn't even reach the Double-A level until age 25. Until then -- until his August power surge, really -- Ruf was the definition of the "organizational player," the necessary cogs who fill rosters in the low minors but have a miniscule chance at reaching the majors. He was merely a good, not great hitter in the low-minors -- at High-A, where he spent two seasons and 960 plate appearances, he hit .295/.366/.469.
Perhaps more importantly, he has a poor pedigree. He was largely considered unathletic with slow hands by scouts -- issues that forced him to the 20th round of the 2009 MLB Draft -- although his recent insurgence is starting to change some minds. The outfield is likely to be an adventure, as Ruf checks in at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and lacking speed. He is a first baseman by trade, but Ryan Howard is blocking him there.
For as much doubt as Ruf's divergent path to the majors may instill, it also makes him one of the most interesting rookies of the 2013 season. He probably won't be the best. But he was never supposed to be here at all, and that's what makes his case so fascinating.
With Jimmy Rollins entering his age-34 season in 2013, it's time start thinking about the future of shortstop in Philadelphia. If everything goes well over the next few years, that future will belong to Roman Quinn, a switch-hitting speedster the Phillies popped in the second round of the 2011 MLB Draft.
Quinn was the fastest player in his draft class, and he set right to work in showing it in 2012, his first professional season. Quinn stole 30 bases in 36 attempts (83.3 percent success) in just 66 games last year. The question is how the rest of his offensive game will develop.
At 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, it's unlikely he'll develop the power to bail him out of poor offensive habits, and so he must learn to avoid strikeouts -- struck out 61 times in 66 games last season. Still, he posted an encouraging .281/.370/.408 line as a 19-year-old in professional baseball, and with his tools the future is bright, even if he remains years of development away from the majors.
At one point, there was talk of Phillippe Aumont joining Felix Hernandez atop the Seattle Mariners rotation. The Mariners parted with Aumont when they acquired Cliff Lee from Philadelphia; in 2013, the two will pitch on the same roster.
Aumont has since been moved to the bullpen; he simply could not control his pitches in his last stint as a starter at Double-A in 2010. He walked 6.9 batters per nine innings over 11 starts as he limped to a 7.43 ERA. Things clicked the next season as he repeated Double-A, this time as a reliever. He struck out 41 against just 11 walks in 31 innings before earning a promotion to Triple-A, where he punched out an absurd 37 batters against 14 walks in just 23 frames.
His strikeout punch earned him a cup of coffee in the majors last season -- he allowed a 3.68 ERA in 15 innings with 14 strikeouts and nine walks. At 95.7 MPH on average and with sink, his fastball is a beast when he locates it. He also mixes in a sharp curveball in the low-80s and the occasional splitter. The power arsenal has some scouts projecting Aumont as a future closer. For now, he'll get his feet wet behind Jonathan Papelbon in the Phillies' bullpen.