Ender Inciarte hasn’t had a single at-bat beyond A-ball. He hasn’t played outfield in a Major League ballpark. He hasn’t spent a moment in a clubhouse where the guys make millions instead of thousands. Yet every spring training there is that one player, maybe a little-known minor leaguer or well-traveled journeyman, who seems to make an impression on team management, teammates and fans that leaves people wanting to know more.
So far, Inciarte has been that guy. The Philadelphia Phillies acquired Inciarte in the Rule 5 draft in December and he has showed up to spring training with that do-or-die mentality that is needed for Rule 5 draft picks to make a team. That said, there is a numbers game playing out in spring training and Inciarte is in the middle of it. As an outfielder who can play all three positions, he has a lot of value. That said, he’s trying to crack a roster that may already have its five outfielders.
If there is one man in danger, it would be left fielder Darin Ruf, who entered Thursday hitting just .130. Even with Ruf struggling, Delmon Young, who is making progress in his return from an ankle injury, is in the mix as well. Technically, the Phillies have six outfielders–not including Inciarte–who are primed for the Major League roster. With Young highly likely to miss Opening Day, that would leave five spots available until his return. Could Inciarte possibly unseat Ruf or somebody else?
He definitely has a chance. Inciarte has three hits in eight at-bats thus far and has also drawn three walks. While his plate presence has been solid, it’s his first step in the outfield that is drawing rave reviews. He has mostly been in center field, but again, can play either corner outfield spot as well.
The Rule 5 draft is always tricky. If Inciarte wants to stick with the Phillies, he would have to stay on the roster for the entire season. Simply put, that’s just not likely for a 22-year-old who hasn’t played AA baseball. The Phillies can work through a bit of a loophole in the Rule 5 obligations which would allow them to complete a trade and stash him in the Minors.
The best bet now for Inciarte is that the Phillies do neither of those things and carry 11 pitchers on Opening Day, thus creating another roster spot and allowing him to make the roster. It’s something the Phillies could get by with in the first few weeks of the season, which would allow them to get a decent look at him in regular season action. However, with some questions about the starting rotation, carrying 12 pitchers is the likelier possibility.
For now, Inciarte will hope that his early spring success continues throughout the rest of March. If he does fall off, then this could be a completely shelved discussion in the later part of the month. He is hoping that isn’t the case.