Ron Costello

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Like the bear sneaking up on fur trapper Hugh Glass in the Revenant, Cameron Rupp knows they're coming.

Maybe July or September. Maybe 2017. All Mr. Rupp knows is this: it's a matter of time. But if you saw the movie, Glass survived the bear attack. There's a slight chance that Mr. Rupp may do the same.

The club is paying the 27-year-old Rupp the equivalent of minimum wage, $508 thousand. Rupp's 2016 catching partner, the beloved fan-favorite, Carlos Ruiz, will garner $8.5 million, plus a vesting option — like a gold watch for loyal years of service — of $500 thousand for 2017.

Barring injury, the 37-year-old Chooch should play out the season and ride off into the sunset.

Adiós, amigo Chooch!

Rupp, on the other hand, displayed a whimper of power, hitting nine home runs — seven of the long shots in August — last season, though he's also been inconsistent and slump-ridden. He handled pitchers well and the 'big hoss' backstop protected the plate with the size and courage of any Phillies catcher, Rod Barajas, notwithstanding.

But all good things come to an end.

There's not a single bear coming up behind Rupp, but two. The first was the key in the Cole Hamels trade, 22-year-old catcher Jorge Alfaro. The club line on Alfaro says he has all "the physical tools," baseball speak for he looks damn good, he just hasn't done anything yet.

The second bear is 24-year-old Andrew Knapp, the switch-hitting catcher from Cal-Berkeley. Knapp tore up the Eastern League and was voted the top minor league player in the Phils system last season. He hit in a Reading lineup that included J.P. Crawford and another Cole Hamels' alumnus, Nick Williams.

Like Alfaro, Knapp needs polishing behind the plate. 

So here's what could happen, and it's a big COULD.

Alfaro will start the season at Reading and Knapp at Lehigh Valley. Given time, they will expose their strengths and weaknesses. That gives Mr. Rupp time to show that he can be consistent and belongs on the team, at least as the backup.

How so?

It's possible the club will want both Alfaro and Knapp in the same lineup, and the last time I checked two catchers can't take the field. Alfaro can play other positions, including first base.

It's possible if Rupp proves worthy, and Alfaro gets moved to another position, Rupp will stick.

Here's the thing.

The catching situation is just one of the positions players will be fighting for. With the exception of third and short, the entire field is up for grabs, including the rotation and bullpen.

Although 2016 may or may not be a competitive year for the team — it will be a proving ground year for what's to come — who will stick and who won't.

Bears or no bears.

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