Starting Shane Victorino in center field is a strategy I have been quietly pulling for since the end of last season. According to a recent interview with Comcast SportsNet, that's precisely what GM Pat Gillick has in mind for the International League MVP.
It’s rare for the Phils to actually salvage production from the scrap heap, but at a position like center field, it would be a small miracle. The Phils have been desperate for a center fielder for years, and may have found their answer not by design.
At age 24, Shane Victorino is already something of an underdog. Taken in the 6th round of the June 1999 draft by the Dodgers, the Hawaiian-born speed and defense specialist switched teams not once, not twice, but three times via the Rule 5 draft. First, he went from the Los Angeles to San Diego, where saw action in 36 games for the Padres at the start of the 2003 season, but after batting .151, he was offered back to the Dodgers in June and was assigned to double-A Jacksonville. The next season, he set personal highs in homers (19) and RBIs (63) between Las Vegas (AAA) and Jacksonville.
Last winter, the Phils selected him in the Rule-5 draft as insurance at center field. Competing with incumbent Marlon Byrd for the final roster spot, the switch-hitting Victorino had a poor showing in spring training and didn’t make the 25-man roster. Under the guidelines of Rule 5, he was offered back to the Dodgers, but this time, the Dodgers refused.
The Phils kept him aboard, starting the entire season in Scranton where had a monster season, earning MVP honors for best player in the International League, hitting .310 with 18 homers. Statistically, it was his slugging percentage that jumped out most, a most-impressive .534.
When rosters were expanded Sept. 1, Victorino was brought back to the majors for the first time since 2003. Projected as speed off the bench, his role was expanded to pinch hitter and late-inning defensive replacement. He jacked his first career homer Sept. 22, a three-run shot in the ninth inning that drove a nail right through pitcher Tim Hudson and the Braves.
The coaches love his defense, and Charlie Manuel speaks highly of his all-around game and potential with the stick. There’s no reason to believe this switch-hitter can't stay hot under Cholly, who helped groom such hitters as Jim Thome and helped guide Ryan Howard’s seamless transition to the bigs. Gillick's reported confidence in Victorino also shows a willingness to trust young talent.
Today, Victorino is lacing up the cleats with Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament and doing exceptionally well, leading off and playing center field.
When Baseball Prospectus 2006 arrives at my house in February, Victorino will be the first name I look up. How does a 25-year-old centerfielder with a Triple-A line of .310/.377/.534, 18 HR, 17 SB project for the major leagues?
Probably better than the Ruben Mateo-ish path he was headed down last season.
Shane Victorino's major league and minor league career numbers. [Here]
Beerleaguer note: Thanks to Brian Peoples at the Philling Station and the folks at the Phillies Phan forum for planting the seed for this post.