Most notably, there is Tommy Joseph, who came into the Phillies’ system in the trade that sent Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. After slugging 22 home runs and posting a .787 OPS as a 19-year-old with Single-A San Jose, Joseph followed that up with a less-impressive 11 homers and .715 OPS between Double-A Richmond (Giants) and Double-A Reading (Phillies). Joseph also spent 34 of the 108 games he started at first base or as a designated hitter, reinforcing the notion that he won’t be a catcher at the Major League level. It could still happen, but Joseph needs to take some strides defensively first. While he has a strong arm, he struggles at blocking pitches in the dirt.
Sebastian Valle, now 22, has been for a couple years considered the heir apparent to Ruiz. He made it all the way up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season after finishing 2011 with Single-A Clearwater, which is very impressive. He also recovered the power that went missing, hitting 17 in total last season compared to just five the year prior. Unfortunately, Valle’s plate discipline lacks, with a career 434-120 (3.6) strikeout-to-walk ratio. Comparatively, Ryan Howard‘s was 588-253 (2.3) during his Minor League career. Valle has the defensive tools necessary to thrive in the Majors, but his offense still needs some work. Plate discipline is not a skill easily learned, and Valle’s is bad enough that it could hamstring his ability to reach the Majors.
Finally, there’s Cameron Rupp. He continued to make improvements in 2012, finishing with career-high offensive numbers across the board. Most impressively, he cut down on strikeouts while walking more and adding more power. Depending on who you ask, Rupp is arguably a better defensive catcher than Valle, which is great news. The bad news? Rupp is 24 years old and hasn’t reached Double-A yet. Some may point out that this was precisely the case with Ruiz many years ago, but Ruiz is the exception rather than the rule. As we learned with Darin Ruf, having success in the Minors doesn’t mean a whole lot if you’re a couple years older than your competition, on average. An optimistic projection for Rupp involves him being a replacement-level regular in the Majors, providing most of his value with defense, game-calling, and intangibles rather than with his bat. In other words, the Phillies shouldn’t rely on Rupp being the catcher of the future.