PHOENIX - When the Cole Hamels blockbuster trade was agreed upon two weeks ago today, it was easy to sit back and label Jorge Alfaro the Phillies' catcher of the future. And that still might very well be true, since the athletic, 22-year-old prospect acquired in the deal has real raw power and what one scout recently labeled a "90 arm" on the 20-80 grading scale.
But Alfaro has played only 70 games above Class A ball, including only 49 this season after suffering an ankle injury in early June. He's unlikely to return until instructional-league play after the season, and he might be a longshot to get onto a major league field in 2016 after missing a year of development.
While Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp currently share the big-league job - Rupp made his 33rd start in the Phillies' last 62 games last night in Arizona - another budding prospect is making his own case at Double A Reading.
Andrew Knapp, a 23-year-old, mustachioed, switch-hitting catcher from Cal-Berkeley, has been taking the Eastern League by storm since arriving in Reading on June 26.
Knapp is hitting .406 at Double A and was named the league's player of the week on Monday.
"I hold myself to a pretty high standard," Knapp said when asked about his own expectations as the potential heir to Ruiz' throne. "But you can't really worry about the outside stuff. I can only worry about how I play. I've been trying to show off a little bit, you know, like, 'Hey, I'm here.' But I try not to worry about it."
Knapp, a Phillies second-round pick in 2013, the year they took his current Reading teammate, J.P. Crawford, in the first round, has six home runs, two triples and 19 doubles in 35 games with the Fightin Phils.
From Aug. 1-9, Knapp recorded six three-hit games in eight games, including four home runs. Last week, he homered from both sides of the plate in an 11-1 win at Trenton.
"We always knew he'd be a hitter," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said before that blowout win. "He's being a little more selective on pitches he can drive. Right now, he's in a good spot with being able to put the barrel on the ball consistently."
The next step in Knapp's development will come behind the plate. Knapp is known more for his offensive talent than for his defensive prowess. But his progress as a professional catcher was slowed when he underwent Tommy John surgery only four months after he was drafted. When he played in his first full minor league season last year, Knapp wasn't catching every day, because he was coming off surgery.
"People forget he missed quite a bit of time," Wathan said. "This is the most he's ever caught in his life . . . The aptitude is there. And any time a kid has aptitude and desire, you're already ahead of the game."
There's a fair chance Knapp could find himself at the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League after the season in an effort to continue to refine his tools behind the plate. Perhaps he'll be on the major league radar in the middle of next summer.
For now, he's enjoying hitting in a productive Reading lineup that includes Crawford and another prospect from the Hamels trade, outfielder Nick Williams.
"When you have all of this talent, it makes the game fun," Knapp said. "There are guys on base all the time."
As expected, Chase Utley passed through waivers yesterday afternoon. Utley can be traded to any team - with his approval - before Sept. 1 and be eligible for a postseason roster.
The San Francisco Giants, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs had scouts watching Utley at Monday night's game at Chase Field, according to CSNPhilly.com. The Giants also scouted Utley throughout the weekend series in San Diego. Other teams that could have interest include the Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays. The Giants, Dodgers and Blue Jays all have starting second basemen on the disabled list.
As a player with 10/5 rights - at least 10 years in the major leagues, including five with his most recent team - Utley has the right to veto any trade. But since the Phillies are clearly in rebuild mode, after shipping off Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon in the last eight months, the soon-to-be free agent is likely open to joining a contending team.
Since spring training, Utley has said he would listen to the Phillies' front office if approached about a trade.
Utley last night made his fourth start in five games since returning from the DL with ankle inflammation. Manager Pete Mackanin said he tentatively planned to rest Utley for this afternoon's matinee against the Diamondbacks.
Domonic Brown was scratched from last night's game with a stomach illness. Jeff Francoeur started in his place. Brown is hitting .290 with an .836 OPS and four home runs in 20 games since the All-Star break . . . Odubel Herrera took a 13-game hitting streak into the game. It's the longest hitting streak for a Phillies rookie since 2003, when Marlon Byrd hit in 15 straight games from July 20 to Aug. 2 . . . J.P. Crawford, the Phillies' top prospect, served a one-game suspension last night for Reading after making contact with an umpire while arguing a strikeout call on Friday night.