ALLENTOWN — Joey Meneses did not have a job until the last day of January. Even after signing with the Phillies as a minor-league free agent, he did not have any guarantees about moving up to the triple-A level after spending last season with Atlanta’s double-A team in Mississippi.
He was placed on the IronPigs roster when the minor-leaguers broke camp, but the first baseman/outfielder headed north as a part-time player.
“We signed him and brought him to camp, and Joey had to kind of wait for his turn in spring training,” said Joe Jordan, the Phillies’ director of player personnel. “He got added to [the Lehigh Valley] club at the last minute and then he had to wait here for an opportunity. But once he got it, he just took care of things and ran with it.”
Meneses has, in fact, sprinted to the best start of his career. He entered Lehigh Valley’s game Thursday night against Rochester as the International League leader in batting average (.344) and OPS (.993). He had 11 doubles, seven home runs and 21 RBIs.
The Phillies’ amateur scouting director, Johnny Almarez, advised the team to sign Meneses. Almarez had signed Meneses once before as a 19-year-old native of Mexico in 2011. At the time, Almarez was the Atlanta Braves’ international scouting director.
“Johnny called me during the winter and told me Joey was a free agent and he liked him,” Jordan said. “Johnny told me he thought he was starting to figure some things out. We followed him a little bit in winter ball, and he had a good winter-ball season in Mexico.”
Meneses, who turned 26 earlier this month, thought he had played well enough with Atlanta’s double-A affiliate last season that he would be re-signed by the Braves. When it didn’t happen, however, he had no problem moving on.
“I’m grateful to [Almarez],” Meneses said. “I feel comfortable with this team.”
In addition to hitting for a high average, Meneses has displayed more power than he ever has in the past. His career high for home runs in a season was nine last year, but he is already at seven. He credits the power surge to experience and age.
“I’ve worked hard and I’m getting older and I’m getting more power,” Meneses said. “I’ve been working hard and I’m getting more mature.”
Lehigh Valley hitting coach Sal Rende said Meneses has maintained a simple approach and hit the ball to all fields.
“He hasn’t been chasing real bad pitches, and right now, the game is real slow for him,” Rende said. “Hopefully, it’ll last a long time. Usually, it doesn’t. The game will speed up again for him at some point. We’ll start to see how he handles guys when he sees them for a second time. We’ll see if he can stay as patient as he has been.”
Most of Meneses’ playing time has come at first base this season, but he has experience in the outfield, too. He said he is most comfortable in right field. So at what point does a guy who had to wait his turn just to prove he could make the triple-A team in spring training prove he deserves a shot in the big leagues?
“Some guys have to prove it a little longer,” Jordan said. “I think it’s fair to say we’re still getting to know Joey a little bit just as a person and what he needs from us. But you can’t argue with what he’s done. Our plan is for him to be in the lineup most every night here, and hopefully he keeps contributing and doing what he’s doing. If there’s a need, I have to acknowledge the fact that this guy is doing it at this level to a tune better than anybody else on this club right now. Our front office is aware of that.”
The Phillies activated a couple of pitchers who spent the first six weeks of the season in Clearwater recovering from injuries. Righthander Jose Taveras, who posted a 2.22 ERA at three levels last season, made his season debut Tuesday by allowing just two hits in 5 1/3 scoreless innings with double-A Reading. Lefty Kyle Young allowed five hits and struck out six in five scoreless innings with low-A Lakewood. … Lakewood rightfielder Jhailyn Ortiz also returned Monday from a shoulder injury. … In his last two starts, Clearwater’s Sixto Sanchez has allowed only one run on 10 hits and struck out 14 batters in 12 2/3 innings.