Earlier in this uneven Phillies season, amid one of the many long ebbs that have washed out the few flows, I approached Cameron Rupp with a question about judging a pitcher’s frustration level when run support is not there, and what psychological tools he might use to alleviate that.
It’s the kind of question you’re used to asking catchers, because they tend to have, even with young staffs, a veteran presence. In his second full season and first as the starting catcher, Rupp, 27, is nonetheless one of the leaders in a clubhouse of job applicants.
Still, we both smirked as I approached him.
"Hey,’’ I said, "you’re the closest thing to a veteran I’ve got in here.’’
A few days shy of the trade deadline, and with Aaron Altherr rejoining the application process Thursday, that will be only more true over the final two months of baseball. Altherr, one of the bright spots of last season’s final two months, is returning from a ligament injury to his left wrist suffered during the early part of spring training.
There is much conjecture that in the weeks ahead, the first real wave of hoped-for stars from the rebuilding effort embarked upon after the 2013 season will join him. Shortstop J.P. Crawford, pitcher Jake Thompson and outfielder Nick Williams are likely to be the first wave through, but after bolstering their minor-league system with fire-sale trades, picking high because of their recent last place finishes, and shrewdly managing their spending allowance on international players, that application process could be ferociously and wonderfully competitive over the next few seasons.
So you kind of hope for, and feel for, a guy like Rupp. He’s acquitted himself nicely at the plate this season, his batting average at .271 prior to Thursday night’s game against the Braves, with 10 home runs and a total of 28 extra base hits (.802 OPS). But in Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro, the Phillies have two younger catchers in their system they value higher.
One, likely Knapp, may end up in the outfield or at first base, but the odd truth is that Rupp must maintain this level of play over the next two months if he hopes to alter those projections and hold onto his role as their starting catcher in the years to come.
That he already seems like an old sage can’t hurt. He’s a good teammate, leader -- and, man, as that home-plate collision earlier this season and his recent beaning can attest, he sure is tough enough.
The Phillies brass hopes to spend the final two months of the season discovering their future. It would be a nice story, for a nice guy, if one of their best discoveries has been here all along.