ALLENTOWN — The buzzword in baseball these days is versatility. The more positions you can play, the more valuable you are to your team and the better chance you have of getting to the big leagues. Rookie Scott Kingery is the obvious prime example with the Phillies.
The expectations of being able to do more than one thing, however, are not limited to position players. Manager Gabe Kapler has described disabled pitcher Mark Leiter Jr. as a guy who he believes can work as a starter, as a long reliever, or in a critical short situation.
At triple-A Lehigh Valley, the Phillies are trying to find out if lefthander Brandon Leibrandt can be one of those guys, too. Leibrandt, a sixth-round pick in 2014, had been used almost exclusively as a starter during his first four professional seasons and was effective enough to climb to the highest level of the minors last season. Before Leibrandt left spring training, however, the Phillies told him he’d be in the bullpen to start this season.
“It has been different,” said Leibrandt, the son of former big-league pitcher Charlie Leibrandt. “As a starter, you kind of have your routine you go through. Coming out of the pen, you’re just kind of waiting to hear your name get called. But overall, it’s the same job. You’re trying to get outs. I’m trying to do the best I can to see where it goes.”
So far, so good. Leibrandt, 25, has made three scoreless relief appearances for the IronPigs. He has allowed just three hits without walking a batter and has struck out eight in 8 2/3 innings. In his most recent outing Sunday against Louisville, he struck out five and allowed one hit in four innings.
“If versatility gets you on the field, it’s obviously a great thing,” Leibrandt said. “The goal is to get to the big leagues and stick there. It definitely helps that I’m throwing the ball well. Now I just want to keep it going.”
Joe Jordan, the Phillies’ director of player development, said Leibrandt is likely to return to the Lehigh Valley rotation at some point, but he has enhanced his big-league opportunities by pitching well out of the pen.
Slow start for Ortiz
Rightfielder Jhailyn Ortiz, the Phillies’ seventh-ranked prospect according to Baseball America, is off to an abysmal start in his first full professional season. The 19-year-old slugger had just three hits in his first 38 at-bats with low-A Lakewood and had struck out 20 times. This is the first time the native of the Dominican Republic has played in cold weather.
“I think that’s part of it,” Jordan said. “But he’s also just forcing things a little bit. He’ll be fine. He just needs to calm things down and not force the action. They’re getting him out outside the strike zone a lot, and he showed last summer that he can prevent that from happening. He took his walks and he controlled the strike zone. It’s in there, but he is just a little excited early.”
Ortiz hit .302 with a .401 on-base percentage and eight home runs last year in 47 games with the Phils’ rookie-league affiliate in Williamsport.
Catcher Edgar Cabral, 22, is off to a strong start with high-A Clearwater. He is hitting .379 with three home runs and a 1.109 OPS. Cabral was an 11th-round pick in 2015. … Lefthander Nick Fanti, who went 9-2 with a 2.54 ERA in 21 starts at Lakewood last season, opened this season on the disabled list with back soreness. Jordan said Fanti is throwing and is expected to join the Clearwater rotation soon. … Jordan described top prospect Sixto Sanchez’s first start of the season at Clearwater as “erratic.” Sanchez allowed four runs on seven hits and walked four in four innings. “His stuff was great,” Jordan said. “I think he was up to 101 [mph] and struck out six in four innings, but he walked four, which is not him.”