One of the more positive developments during this season of slow growth for the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies organization has been the progress of the starting catcher.
Cameron Rupp, who turns 28 years old in September, was the club's 3rd round selection in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Texas.
Rupp was born in Dallas, Texas, and is a huge, vocal fan of the Dallas Cowboys. Philly fans can decide on your own whether you want to hold that against him.
He rose incrementally through the Phillies farm system before making his big league debut in 2013, but didn't see consistent playing time until last season, when he began to platoon with aging veteran Carlos Ruiz.
This season, with Ruiz in the final year of his Phils' contract, the club has turned the starting role over to Rupp for the first time, and he has responded well.
During the off-season, Phillies GM Matt Klentak dealt away closer Ken Giles in exchange for a large haul of prospects that included current starting pitcher Vincent Velasquez.
While some Phillies fans were initially disappointed in losing '100-Miles Giles', whom they saw as one of the few exciting, young drawing cards with the cub, those have been mitigated by the exciting success and promise of Velasquez.
However, the trading away of Giles left the team with a gaping hole at the closer spot. For a young team such as the Phillies, coming off the worst record in baseball in 2015, to work hard for a lead only to have the bullpen blow it late can be crippling to morale.
The Phils needed someone to step up and claim the role. To help the process along, Klentak brought in veteran David Hernandez, who entered spring training as the favorite for the 2016 Phillies closer spot.
However, Hernandez faltered in the spring and early season. Other candidates also faltered when given an opportunity at seizing the job in spring training and over the first week of the season.
And so, somewhat because he had always shown himself to be a reliable option when called upon in the 6th and 7th innings, right-hander Jeanmar Gomez was given a shot at closing.
When he stepped on to the mound at CitiField in New York against the Mets on April 9th to try to protect a 1-0 lead, Gomez had exactly one career Save
The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is less than two weeks away now, coming on Monday, August 1st, 2016.
Before that time, it should surprise no one if the Philadelphia Phillies swing a handful of deals. In some of those, the mission may be to simply move longtime favorites Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz to a contender for one more shot at a ring.
In those deals, fans should not expect much in return. They will, in some ways, simply be courtesy trades to the players for over a decade of service, most of which was spent as a contender and eventual World Series winner in front of packed houses at Citizens Bank Park.
However, a few other players might bring back something of a bit more value. Certainly not a premium prospect, but possibly someone who could develop into a piece that could eventually help the team as its rebuilding program (when 'Piece' and 'Chooch' are dealt, we can officially stop calling it a "rebuild" and move to the term "building") advances over the next couple of seasons.
One of those players is setup man Hector Neris. The right-hander turned 27 years of age just last month, so he is just entering the prime years of his career.
Neris is not only at a great age, but an acquiring team would get him in a strong contract situation. Neris does not become arbitration eligible until after the 2018 season
When new Phillies GM Matt Klentak selected outfielder Peter Bourjos off waivers from the Saint Louis Cardinals back on December 2nd of this past off-season, the move caused some scratching of heads among the fan base.
In the minor leagues, top outfield prospect Nick Williams appeared to be just a few months away from being ready for his big league shot.
If the club needed an extra veteran outfielder to suck up innings and at-bats at the big league level while awaiting the arrival of Williams, then many fans would have been very happy to see the Phillies bring back popular right fielder Jeff Francoeur for one more go-around.
Also, the Phillies controlled the top pick in the Rule 5 Draft, which at the time of the Bourjos signing was just a week away.
It was rumored that outfielder Tyler Goeddel would be that top pick, which would mean the club had to plan on him possibly being carried all year on the big league roster.
But Klentak saw something that he liked in the former Angels' 10th round 2005 draftee who had six years of big league experience. Remember, Klentak had been an exec with the Halos previously, and knew Bourjos from those days.
In 2011, Bourjos had hit .271 for the Angels with a dozen homers and 22 stolen bases
In the continuation of my series on some of the more likely possibilities to be traded away by the Phillies over these next two weeks prior to the August 1st MLB non-waiver trade deadline, the next look will be at perhaps the single most likely and highest-valued such asset.
Jeremy Hellickson was acquired by Phillies GM Matt Klentak back on December 14th, 2015 from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league pitcher Sam McWilliams.
Much as with those two veterans, Hellickson was brought in to eat up innings and bide a few more months for the many talented youngsters in the minor leagues system to more fully develop.
However, there was a difference with this acquisition. Hellickson was not an aged, mediocre talent. He was 28 years old at the time of the deal, and the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year and 2012 AL Gold Glove Award winner was in the prime of his career.
In other words, entering the final year of his contract, the right-hander fit perfectly with the plan to allow pitchers like Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, and Mark Appel to gain another three to four months of development
Over the next couple of days, I'll be taking a look at some of the various Phillies players who I believe stand the best chance of being moved by the club before the MLB non-waiver trade deadline of August 1st, or some time after that point after clearing waivers.
A pair of players who I believe could fit into either of those possibilities are the two senior citizens in the clubhouse, the last two remaining 2008 World Series heroes, 1st baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Both 'The Big Piece' and 'Chooch' are in the final guaranteed seasons of their contracts. They are both into their upper-30's, with Howard now 36 and Ruiz at 37 years of age. They have each been replaced in the starting lineup.
Really, there is no reason at this point that either player needs to be on this current Phillies roster. The Phils need to give Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp the full-time plate appearances against all pitching to better gauge exactly what they might have for the future.
There are options to fill their roles as a backup. Aaron Altherr is within a couple of weeks of being ready to be activated from the disabled list. This could allow the Phils to begin working out someone like Cody Asche as a backup for 1st base.
The most likely scenario behind the dish would be that Rupp continues as the starter
It has now been 20 years since the MLB All-Star Game last came to Philadelphia, since the Phillies hosted the game at Veteran's Stadium.
When that game was held back in 1996, it had been 20 years since the last one during the Bicentennial year of 1976.
Some Phillies fans have expressed concern that there has not yet been a Midsummer Classic held at Citizens Bank Park since the beautiful retro venue opened back in 2004.
With such a gorgeous facility, a city proven capable of hosting and supporting the various activities surrounding the game such as the All-Star FanFest, and with it being over two decades since we have hosted, it's a legitimate question - when does Citizens Bank Park get its first MLB All-Star Game opportunity?
There are a few things that Phillies fans need to consider, one of which is certainly that it ain't all about us. There are other teams and cities waiting.
Four MLB venues have never hosted an MLB All-Star Game. The other three are Tropicana Field in Saint Petersburg, Florida, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York, home of the, well, you know. And the new SunTrust Park opening in Atlanta next year.
In addition, we are not the only town waiting for over two decades
There were many differences between the 1976 and 1996 MLB All-Star Games, which were held two decades apart at the same venue of Veteran's Stadium in South Philadelphia.
For the host Phillies, the biggest difference was that the '76 game had come while the team was emerging as a contender with a number of talented players throughout the roster.
The team would win the NL East in that Bicentennial season for the first of three consecutive division crowns.
By contrast, the '96 Phillies team was a losing squad in every way you could define such a team.
They would finish 67-95 in last place in the NL East, and aside from the oasis provided by the 1993 'Macho Row' NL champs, the franchise was in the midst of 14 out of 15 losing seasons.
My own life situation had changed drastically as well. Back in '76, I had enjoyed many of the Bicentennial events in Philly as a 14-year old, and had watched that year's All-Star Game on TV.
By '96 and the 25th anniversary of Veteran's Stadium, I was a grown man of 34, and was able to attend the MLB All-Star Game FanFest held at the new Pennsylvania Convention Center. It was a wonderful event
The city of Philadelphia has played host to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game four times in the 83-year history of baseball's midsummer classic.
In both 1943 and 1952 the game was held at Shibe Park, with the NL taking the first by a 5-3 score and the AL coming back with a 3-2 victory in the second game at the old ballpark at 22nd and Lehigh that would later be renamed as Connie Mack Stadium. The Phillies were listed as the official hosts of the 1952 game.
The last two times that the game was played in here in 1976 and 1996, Veteran's Stadium was the scene of the festivities. Citizens Bank Park has yet to do the honors.
Let's take a quick look back at that Phillies-hosted affair in front of 63,974 fans including the President of the United States at The Vet during the celebration of America's Bicentennial in the summer of 1976.
It was a great time for both the city and for the team to be hosting the game
The Philadelphia Phillies have placed six prospects among the Top 100 in the game on Baseball America’s Midseason Top 100 list.
In ranking released today, the strength of the Phillies minor league system was revealed once again, as a half-dozen of the organization’s prospects were ranked within the Top 100 in the game by Baseball America.
Following on the heels of yesterday’s announcement that four of the club’s prospects had made the Top 50 as ranked by Baseball Prospectus, this continues to reinforce that Phillies fans still have a number of supremely talented youngsters on the way.
The six prospects ranked by Baseball America are led by shortstop J.P. Crawford, who was placed at the top by BP, but who is rated in the #3 slot by BA behind 2nd baseman Yoan Moncada of Boston and pitcher Alex Reyes of Saint Louis.
Crawford has been hot of late as he adjusts to the highest level of the minor leagues with AAA Lehigh Valley.
This is not a clumsy tome hastily thrown together to make a quick buck by giving fans some light summer reading.
Instead, Nathanson has produced a legitimate, first-class biography that tells the story of the 1960's superstar who made a somewhat triumphant return in the mid-70's to the city that once spurned him.
Allen was born and raised in and around Wampum, Pennsylvania, a one-square mile borough in Lawrence County on the western edge of the Commonwealth that can be found approximately 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and just 10 miles from the PA-Ohio border.
Though the town was overwhelmingly white in population and he was being raised in the racially charged America of the 1950's, Allen experienced few overt problems thanks largely to his athletic abilities.
He and brothers Hank and Ronnie became basketball stars at Wampum High School, leading the team to championships while each became All-State players.
Allen became a professional baseball player rather than a pro hoops star simply because America's pastime paid more, and Allen looked to provide a better life for himself and his family