Cameron Rupp has plenty of competition behind plate in Phils’ system

READING – Cameron Rupp has made a point to stay inside a lot since coming up north from Florida. The Texas native isn’t quite used to a cold spell like the one which swept Eastern Pennsylvania in the early days of spring.

Not even an unusually cold spring training had the catcher in the Phillies’ minor league system prepared for what awaited him when he came to Reading earlier this week.

“I stay inside a lot and hibernate a little bit,” Rupp said with a smile during the annual media day for the Reading Fightin Phils. “I have to get used to playing in it. Philly’s cold. You have to get used to it and come out and play and not worry about it.”

Don’t worry, Cameron, it’s due to warm up in the next couple days as the Fightin Phils finish up a season-opening swing through New Hampshire and Maine.

Rupp understands, though, the weather doesn’t matter. He’s got a job to do, and in what has become a crowded farm system in terms of near Major League-ready catching, Rupp has something to prove in his first season in Class AA ball.

The friendship he carries with fellow catchers Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle only goes so far. Rupp is still trying to prove he’s the player who was scorching hot when the season ended a year ago in Clearwater, and not the offensively inconsistent player he was in his first two years as a professional.

“I didn’t know how to handle being inconsistent,” said Rupp, a 2010 third-round pick out of the University of Texas. “But last year I learned some things and took some strides at the plate offensively in becoming consistent and not changing your plan.”

Rupp has been an intriguing prospect for the Phillies ever since he was given a $287,000 signing bonus to keep him from going back to Texas for his senior season. He’s not a prototypical-looking catcher. Carlos Ruiz and Yadier Molina he’s not.

He more closely resembles and 18-wheeler wearing catching gear behind the plate. The broad-shouldered 24-year old is listed at 6-2, 235 pounds, and he’s every bit of it.

His post all-star game breakout a year ago in Clearwater had some thinking he may now be the Phillies’ organization’s second-best catching prospect behind Joseph. And there’s going to be a lot of attention paid to Joseph, Rupp and Valle this year as all-star catcher Ruiz is playing in the final year of his contract in Philadelphia.

Rupp finally began to show off some of the power last year scouts thought would come with his tank-sized frame. He finished the year hitting .267 with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs in 104 games. They’re totals that don’t grab your attention, but in a pitching-friendly league like the Florida State League, they were very respectable.

“I continued to work on the things I worked on in the first half (of the season). Some balls just didn’t fall for me in the first half,” Rupp said. “By the end of the year, balls were falling for me. I was hitting a lot more balls hard. I was consistent with everything. I didn’t try to change things when I was 0 for 4 and didn’t have a good game. I stuck with my plan and ended up having success.”

Rupp, who hit .218 with five home runs and 28 RBIs in 55 games for the Williamsport Crosscutters in 2010, is going to need to continue his offensive outburst in order to separate himself from Valle and Joseph. Valle, who is starting the season in Reading with Rupp, has maybe the best power potential of the three catchers, but has struggled with plate discipline throughout his career.

Joseph, obtained from the San Francisco Giants last summer in the Hunter Pence trade, was voted the third-best prospect in the Phillies’ system by Baseball America during the offseason. He’s a young catcher with plus power potential who is already in AAA at 21-years old.

“All I can do is go out and work. I can’t make any decisions. I can only let (the front office) see what they see,” Rupp said. “All three of us are friends and buddies and we hang out in the clubhouse together in spring training and talk and joke around. But we all know we’re fighting for a job. But we keep it professional. We’re not going to give anybody the cold shoulder or anything like that. We’re just going to go about our business professionally.”

And he’ll do it whether it’s cold or not.