Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone while Christmas decorations are popping up all over. Notre Dame is #1 in the country and the Philadelphia Phillies have won more recently than have the Philadelphia Eagles. Amid a heated presidential race and having to "Restore the Shore," the Hot Stove of baseball is beginning to heat up.
For the most part, the Phillies have been relatively quiet - re-signing IronPigs alums INF Kevin Frandsen and C Erik Kratz while declining options on INFs Placido Polanco and Ty Wiggington. They've had preliminary talks of contract extension with RHP Roy Halladay and been rumored to have interest in exploring trade options for Marlins' OF Giancarlo Stanton (like the other 29 teams). They've also received positive reports from the Venezuelan Winter League on Darin Ruf's ability to transition from first base to the outfield.
Ruf, by the way, continues to add to his amazing year as he clubbed his league-leading 11th home run in the VWL Sunday - making it thoroughly possible that he will never step foot in the Lehigh Valley.
Meanwhile, most has been eerily silent on the IronPigs front aside from the major announcement this month regarding the revamped coaching staff - which now features former Gwinnett Manager Dave Brundage and former major league ace Ray Burris as pitching coach.
Potentially content with the next wave of talent heading to Triple-A for 2013 or still in the process of testing the "six-year" market, the Phillies have not yet released their signings and Spring Training invitations list that is typical issued about this time each season.
We have learned a few things about some former Pigs. Popular SS Andres Blanco was re-signed, as was INF Michael Martinez and hard-throwing RHP Juan Morillo.
Blanco, known for his slick-fielding at shortstop, had a solid campaign at the plate in his first season with Lehigh Valley. The 28-year-old Venezuelan batted .333 over his final 19 games to finish at .235 with a career-high 10 home runs and 40 RBI - one shy of his best mark of 41 combined between Triple-A and the Majors in 2009. Blanco also had a propensity for the "big hit," as he set a Pigs record with two walk-off HR and batted a more impressive .260 with runners in scoring position.
Martinez, originally a Rule 5 selection from Washington in 2010, was removed from the Phillies' 40-Man Roster yet re-signed by Philadelphia this offseason. Although owning the lowest batting average of any National League player with at least 350 plate appearances over the last two seasons, Martinez hit an effective .271 in 32 G with the Pigs while offering speed and defensive versatility.
Morillo was a major success as a low-cost injury investment taken by the Phillies in May of 2011. Philadelphia signed the now 29-year-old Dominican knowing he would miss the entire 2011 season following Tommy John surgery. Erratic initially in Double-A to start last season, Morillo got on track with Reading and finished strong in Triple-A - going 1-0, 1.50 ERA in his last 7 G (12.0 ip, 6 h, 2 r, 2 er, 8 bb, 18 k).
The first two newcomers recently signed into the organization are potential Triple-A candidates 3B Josh Fields and RHP Brandon Erbe.
Before becoming a significant 3B prospect for the Chicago White Sox, the 29-year-old Fields was a top college quarterback with Oklahoma State University. He set a career Cowboys record with 55 touchdown passes before he entered his senior season and even set the Cotton Bowl record with 307 passing yards against the University of Mississippi on Jan. 2, 2004.
After being selected 18th overall in the 2004 draft, Fields made a brief MLB debut in 2006 before turning in a solid rookie campaign in 2007 -- batting .243-23-67 in 100 G and finishing seventh in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Add 54 games with Triple-A Charlotte, and the Ada, Okla., native hit 33 HR combined that season. However, he has never posted more than 13 in a season since. In his five-year ML career, Fields has hit .234-34-107 for Chicago (2006-09) and Kansas City (2010).
Last year, Fields returned from Japan to bat .322-13-71 in 133 G with Triple-A Albuquerque (Dodgers).
RHP Brandon Erbe, who will turn 25 on Christmas Day, was a 3rd-round selection by Baltimore in 2005. The former prospect has missed the most of the last four seasons with a variety of injuries after leading the Carolina League in strikeouts (151) while with Frederick (A+) in 2008. The most recent was a torn labrum that forced him to shoulder surgery in 2010.
Erbe was back in Frederick last season, where he finished just 2-3, 6.82 in 19 G, 1 GS. He previously made it to Triple-A Norfolk in 2010, but wound up 0-10, 5.73 in 14 GS.
In his minor league career, the Baltimore native has gone 30-49, 4.57 in 152 G, 121 GS over parts of eight seasons.
As we await a list that may feature some new names along with some familiar ones, here is a list* of former IronPigs that remain free agents:
RHP: Scott Elarton, Drew Naylor, Matt Wright
LHP: Tom Cochran, Pat Misch, David Purcey
C: Jake Fox, John Suomi
2B: Tug Hulett, Jake Opitz
OF: Kyle Hudson, Mike Spidale
*according to Baseball America as of Nov. 22
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.