Say this for John Mayberry Jr.: The young man knows how to catch your attention. Whether he is denting the roof of the tiki bar beyond the left-field seats in Clearwater's Bright House Field with a spring training blast or homering in his first major-league game, in Yankee Stadium, Mayberry has a powerful bat, and he knows how to swing it memorably.
Because of that skill, one that righty bench options Eric Bruntlett and Chris Coste possess in more, ahem, modest quantities, many Phillies fans have campaigned for the 25-year-old Mayberry to remain with the team. And while that sentiment is understandable, the reality is different: John Mayberry Jr. needs to be in the minor leagues now. That is what's best for him, and that is what's best for the Phillies.
The Phillies lack a righthanded power threat off the bench. Mayberry is righthanded and has power. It all seems so perfect. But the equation is not that simple because he is not a fully developed player and cannot become one as a member of the Phillies, who have three quality starting outfielders.
Mayberry spent three seasons in the Texas Rangers organization before the Phillies acquired him last winter for outfielder Greg Golson. A two-time former first-round draft choice, Mayberry hit 82 home runs in three minor-league seasons but struck out more than 100 times each year and had a cumulative on-base percentage of just .330. When the Phillies acquired him, they knew that any big-league success would come as a result of adjustments, hard work, and time.
The team conducted diligent research before spring training, studying Mayberry's swing and even consulting with his father, former big-leaguer John Mayberry. Hitting coach Milt Thompson and manager Charlie Manuel advised their new acquisition to open his stance - that is, move his front foot away from home plate - in an effort to create more contact.
The change resulted in fast success. Mayberry was hitting .292, with three booming home runs, on March 8. But by the middle of the Grapefruit League schedule, the coaching staff saw a young player who was trying too hard to make the team, reverting to old mechanics in his stance and lacking confidence. No one was surprised when the Phils sent Mayberry to triple-A Lehigh Valley late in the month. Before last weekend's call-up, he batted .277 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 37 games. He also struck out 42 times in 137 at-bats.
Mayberry was recalled because the team needed an extra hitter for its interleague series against the Yankees. Excited to be in the bigs, he has made the argument that he can learn how to pinch-hit and will do anything to stay. The attitude is admirable, but sometimes desire can cloud reality. He admits to having never pinch-hit in his life, and, as Manuel has said many times, it is not fair to ask a young player to fill that role before he is ready.
The manager, whose own playing career was stalled when he was forced to become a pinch-hitter, briefly wavered on Monday. Tired of sending Bruntlett to pinch-hit against lefty relievers for two months, Manuel said he might keep Mayberry around a while. The next day, he reverted to his standard line, the correct one, about Mayberry needing more time. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has maintained that philosophy throughout. Manuel also conceded that the kid can't yet hit righthanders consistently.
The team has many reasons to allow Mayberry time to develop in the minors. If Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, or Jayson Werth is injured, the Phils will want a replacement capable of playing every day. And if the Phillies find an opportunity to trade for a starting pitcher or veteran bat, they'll be better off having showcased Mayberry in triple-A. His trade value will not increase on a big-league bench.
Most important, the team has an ethical responsibility to help each player succeed. The Phillies know this, and Mayberry is likely not long for the team. And when he is sent down, they Phils will have done the right thing, both for themselves and for their young talent.
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Read Andy Martino's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, at http://go.philly.com/sports.
Blog response of the week
Posted by fmcvey 08:37 p.m., 05/28/2009
Whether it is Peavy, Bedard or Oswalt, the Phillies need to replace Myers with a 1A or high 2 type pitcher. With a fragile ace and a bunch of 3/4 starters, the Phillies need a consistent pitcher . . . good enough to steal a game or two when their offense struggles. Imagine how much better off we would be if we had signed Derek Lowe instead of Moyer? We would not have had to give up any prospects to get Lowe and, with a strong 1-2 at the top of the rotation, we would have the flexibility to play around with one of the AA guys and see what happens. As it is, the Phils can't afford to add another question mark to their rotation. They need a second ace.EndText