Marchan hoping to make return to big leagues

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — Rafael Marchan’s claim to Philly fame will long remain a baseball oddity, the catcher having homered not once but twice in the major leagues before he did so in the minors.

But there’s an incongruity in this career path that is less flattering, thanks in part to injuries. That’s the blank spot in major league games for 2022, after he got tastes of the bigs in both 2020 and 2021. The only upside is that 2022’s disappointment ended on a pair of high notes for the 24-year-old, in his travel with the big club to the World Series last fall and a successful stint in the Venezuelan Winter League.

Marchan had gone 1,027 minor league at-bats without hitting a home run when he got the call to the bigs in 2021 … then got four hits in three games, including a homer against Toronto. Generally a light hitter through the system, he homered again in his 52 at-bats over 20 games in 2021, a year in which he didn’t go yard in 242 minor-league at-bats.

Lest that generate any momentum for the Venezuelan, 2022 threatened to bring it to a screeching halt. A strained hamstring landed him on the 60-day injured list out of spring, and he didn’t debut until late May. He rebounded to hit .233 in 70 games, finally hitting that elusive minor-league dinger on June 3. (He would hit four and drive in 29 runs.)

Though he didn’t play in the bigs, he was on the taxi squad for the playoffs, getting to join the Phillies through part of the journey to a World Series.

“That was awesome,” Marchan said in Clearwater last week. “It was a great experience that the team gave to me. That meant a lot, and I was ready. I was ready for any situation that could happen last year and tried to take advantage of it.”

The dearth of games last year is why he returned to the Venezuela Winter League, batting .361 with 15 walks, 16 RBIs (and no homers) in 26 games. It was an important reset to enter spring.

“It was really important to me,” Marchan said. “My plan the last year was continuing to play all the games I can do. And that was a great time because it helped me on the things I was working on. I came here ready, and I can see the Venezuelan League helped me for that.”

He’s in a weird spot in camp. The Phillies started with eight catchers this spring – including J.T. Realmuto and Garrett Stubbs, away at the World Baseball Classic. Marchan is the youngest of the lot, even compared to the Double-A invitees. He’s become the club’s top prospect at the position after Logan O’Hoppe was traded to Los Angeles in the Brandon Marsh deal, though with Realmuto under contract through 2025 and playing at an All-Star level, it’s not an area of need.

Marchan is looking at it as a chance to learn. He’s struggled with the bat so far, starting spring 0-for-10 through Wednesday. But he’s gaining valuable experience in handling the pitching staff daily. Among his fellow camp catchers are John Hicks and Aramis Garcia, two big-league vets that Marchan is keen to pick up tips from them.

“They are good guys,” he said. “They have experience in the big leagues, so that’s good for me because I can keep asking them what they look for with a pitcher. I’m still learning a lot of stuff right now, so it’s good to have those kinds of guys on the team.”

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