The Lehigh Valley IronPigs’ roster still has a number of question marks that need to be answered this spring. The infield, though, appears to be one of the easier groups to predict with most of the projected starters already on the roster.
The Philadelphia Phillies could choose to make some surprising decisions. They added three veterans to minor league contracts as Spring Training invitees (Ronny Cedeno, Andres Blanco and Reid Brignac) and top prospect Maikel Franco could be primed for a promotion to Lehigh Valley or even Philadelphia.
With all of that in mind, we took a shot trying to guess what the IronPigs’ starting infield might look like for the season opener on April 3 against the Pawtucket Red Sox.
First Base: Cody Overbeck
Perhaps the safest bet in the infield is Overbeck, who played 122 games for the IronPigs in 2013 and has been a mainstay with the team since his promotion in 2011.
His penchant for striking out will always keep him from becoming the top prospect he could have been, but his power more than makes up for it. He hit 19 home runs last season while driving in 65 runs for the IronPigs.
At 27 years old, Overbeck stock is likely falling, but he’s talented enough to stick at the Triple-A level. And with three seasons under his belt at Lehigh Valley, he’s carved himself a comfortable niche as one of the more popular players on the team.
Second Base: Jim Negrych
The Phillies signed Negrych after a season in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system with the Buffalo Bisons. The small-statured infielder (just 5-foot-9) earned a Triple-A All-Star selection last season due to some great hitting—as he is well known for.
At this stage in his career, it’s evident scouts see something in him that makes them believe his success would not translate at the Major League level. He has spent eight seasons in the Minors with five different organizations now. He will be 29 years old on opening day and not getting any younger.
He’s a superb Triple-A player, however, and will provide the IronPigs with a major boost offensively. His defense is not a liability, but it’s not noteworthy either.
In three seasons at the Triple-A level, Negrych has hit .280/.362/.393 in 954 PA. He will not hit for power—he hit a career-high eight home runs in 2012 with the Syracuse Chiefs—but will get on base.
Shortstop: Reid Brignac
Brignac is one of many non-roster Spring Training invites for the Phillies, and judging by the competition at shortstop, he’ll likely be the odd man out. The 28-year-old has struggled to stick on a Major League roster, bouncing from team to team (the Phillies are his fourth in two years).
Once a starter for the Tampa Bay Rays, his bat has become an unbelievable liability that he simply can’t remain at the big-league level. However, his experience and defensive prowess make him an ideal fit to start at short for the IronPigs.
What’s more advantageous to Lehigh Valley is his ability to play at multiple positions, which will give the IronPigs room to play with their lineups some days.
Third Base: Tyler Henson
Ideally, Maikel Franco would be the IronPigs’ third baseman this season and, more than likely, that will be the case by the time the All-Star break rolls around. Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan told beat writer Ryan Lawrence they would prefer Franco get some more time at Double-A Reading before his promotion to Lehigh Valley and that’s likely what will happen.
Thus, for the time being, the third base job should belong to Tyler Henson, who came on strong for the IronPigs to close out the 2013 season. In 31 games, the 26-year-old infielder hit .316/.376/.526 with four home runs and 14 runs batted in.
Utility: Matt Tolbert
The 31-year-old infielder hit .327/.374/.367 in the Phillies’ Minor League system last year, spending time at four different levels (just four games at Lehigh Valley). He hasn’t appeared in the Majors since 2011, when he was still a member of the Minnesota Twins organization.
Tolbert should compete with Negrych for the starting second baseman job. His ability to play all positions in the infield should promise his place on the roster over other potential competition such as free-agent signings Ronny Cedeno and Andres Blanco.
Lou Musto covers the Lehigh Valley IronPigs for Examiner.com. You can follow him on Twitter @LouisMusto for all the latest Lehigh Valley IronPigs news.