Friday, November 21, 2008

The Rookie

Please step away from the ledge, all you Phillies fans. Slowly crawl back inside the building and refrain from panicking. Yes, Chase Utley will have hip surgery next week and is expected to need four to six months to recover.

And yes, with a straight face Ruben Amaro Jr. did mention Eric Bruntlett as a legitimate replacement. The same Bruntlett who couldn’t hit a beach ball as a month-long fill-in last season for Jimmy Rollins.

You can exhale because Amaro also mentioned minor-league shortstop Jason Donald. And if he learned anything from Pat Gillick, Amaro will have Donald playing second base starting today in the Arizona Fall League.

Donald currently is tearing up the league, hitting .407 with five homers and 17 RBIs and is second in the league in on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He’s also coming off a phenomenal 2008 season.

He guided Team USA to a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics, leading the team in batting average (.381), on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He even played in two all-star games last season: the Eastern League All-Star game and the MLB Future All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

So Donald knows his way around the big stage.

The questions: can he make the jump from Double-A Reading, and can he make the transition from shortstop to second? Let’s give him a shot to answer the first question in spring training, and let’s get him working on the position now to see if he can answer the second question.

But one thing the Phillies shouldn’t worry about as they look to become the first National League team to repeat as World Series champs since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds: starting a rookie.

The Phillies are the only one of the last four World Series teams not to start a rookie infielder. The 2008 Rays had third baseman Evan Longoria, the 2007 Red Sox started second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and the ’07 Colorado Rockies had shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

To go even farther, eight of the 20 World Series teams over the last 10 years had a rookie starter make significant contributions throughout the season.

Along with the previous three, those players include Chris Burke (’05 Astros), Miguel Cabrera (’03 Marlins), Alfonso Soriano (’01 Yankees), Ricky Ledee (’99 Yankees), and Randall Simon (’99 Braves).

Let’s not forget: the last Phillies team prior to 2008 to reach the World Series featured a rookie shortstop. All Kevin Stocker did after getting called up in July was hit .324 with a .409 on-base percentage for the 1993 National League champs.

And the 1980 champion Phillies featured two rookies in key roles: outfielder Lonnie Smith, who hit .339 and finished third in Rookie of the Year balloting, and catcher Keith Moreland, who hit .314 while leading the team to a 22-11 record in games he started.

The Phillies ought to give the kid a shot. There’s a long history of rookies making an impact on World Series-contending teams and Donald’s 2008 season demonstrates he’s ready for the Big Show.

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