CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies wasted no time going after Johan Camargo in the offseason.
Five days after celebrating a World Series championship with the Atlanta Braves, the 28-year-old infielder became a free agent.
The Phillies were on the phone.
Camargo had been Atlanta’s regular third baseman in 2018. He was pushed aside when the Braves signed free-agent Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal after that season and was later displaced by the emergence of Austin Riley.
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Though Camargo finished the 2022 season on Atlanta’s postseason roster, he spent most of the season in Triple A.
“I’m not going to tell you that playing in Triple A was easy,” he said through Spanish-language translator Diego Ettedgui as the rain fell Thursday morning in Clearwater. “But it’s a moment for you to adapt. There comes a time, a realization time, when you know you still have to perform.
“Your goal is to make it to the big leagues and play there, so yeah, it stinks, but it is what it is and at the end of the day you have to come out and perform so you can be where you want to be.”
Camargo performed quite well for the Braves’ Triple A club. In 104 games, he hit .326 with 24 doubles, four triples, 19 homers, 67 RBIs and a .958 OPS.
The Phillies struck quickly and signed him to a big-league deal worth $1.4 million.
“We saw him as a piece that could really help us,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He had a great Triple A season, and he’s had success in the big leagues, too. He’s just kind of been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They went and got Josh Donaldson.”
Two weeks before opening day, Camargo might be in the right place at the right time with the Phillies.
He could get his long-lost opportunity to be a starting third baseman again.
Camargo, who started at the position against the Pirates on Thursday, is battling Alec Bohm for the job.
Girardi was asked before Thursday’s game if he considered the position to be open.
“Yeah,” he said. “I mean, obviously, you know, we’re hoping that Alec runs with it, right? And he has a leg up on everyone. But I mean, again, this is a performance business and I see him making improvements and we’re happy with what we see in his work. But yeah, I mean it’s something that’s not etched in stone.”
Bohm, 25, was the Phillies’ top pick in the 2018 draft, going third overall. He made it to the big leagues during the Covid-shortened season of 2020 and dazzled over a 44-game stretch. His .326 batting average and .958 OPS helped him finish tied for second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Bohm came back in 2021 as the starting third baseman but struggled in the field and at the plate. He eventually ended up back in Triple A as the Phils often turned to utility man Ronnie Torreyes at third.
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It’s not clear what would happen to Bohm if he doesn’t win the starting third base job. He could end up back in Triple A, be used in a trade, or play off the bench, though that wouldn’t be ideal for his development. Time will tell. And soon.
What is known is that the switch-hitting Camargo will have a spot on the Phillies’ bench – and maybe more. He has two doubles and three RBIs in 11 at-bats this spring.
“We feel comfortable playing him at any position in the infield,” Girardi said. “He is a really good piece to have because he gives us a lot of options. He allows us to keep everybody fresh."
Camargo hit .272 with 19 homers, 76 RBIs and a .806 OPS for Atlanta in 2018. Girardi rated him as “above-average” defensively, which is something the Phillies could use on the left side of the infield. According to Fangraphs, he rates a plus-5 in defensive runs saved in 1,416 2/3 big-league innings at third base. Bohm is a minus-19 in 1,134 innings
“I just like the way he moves, his feet, his arm and everything he does,” Girardi said.
Camargo was philosophical in talking about opportunities that came and went in Atlanta.
“There are good times, bad times, ups and downs that you learn from in this game,” he said. “My mindset is always to play my hardest and try to take advantage of every opportunity that I can. That’s life. Sometimes you’re doing well, the next year it doesn’t happen, but it can be the other way around, too.”
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The Phillies’ early interest was a big reason Camargo signed with the club.
“I do see opportunities here for me, but to be honest, I think there are opportunities everywhere,” he said “As long as you stay mentally strong and keep working hard, you’re going to find them. But, yeah, my mindset is to be ready to help this team win.”
Camargo was asked if he sees the third base job as being there for the taking.
“Honestly, I just focus on myself,” he said. “I just want to work hard, play hard. To me, it’s a friendly competition. But it’s part of the job. Everyone that plays this game is aware of that.”
Camargo hails from Panama, home country of beloved former Phillie Carlos Ruiz. Camargo followed Ruiz’ career and was thrilled to meet him on the field before a Braves game in 2017, when Ruiz was with Seattle.
“I saw him across the field,” Camargo said. “He raised his hands. I did the same thing and I said ‘Chooch.’ It was a good moment. He came over and said hi and gave me advice.
“That guy is so cool. I can feel his good vibes all the way here.
“I get very excited to know I’m wearing the same colors that he wore back in the day.”