Predictions for Phillies' Opening-Day 25-Man Roster Entering Spring Training
Building a roster isn't easy.
Sure, some decisions are easier than others. You'll take the All-Star over the career minor leaguer and not think twice about it. Players owed more guaranteed money often have a much better shot of making the team.
Even after you make those simple decisions, however, they aren't always the right ones. Building a club isn't a linear thought process. Sometimes, the handsomely paid players are blocking a cheap, but productive player from making the roster.
Spring training gives clubs an opportunity to evaluate their team from head to toe. Some camps are more interesting than others, with the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies being a case in point.
This Phillies club is one that has the potential to look quite different from what most people would expect of them come Opening Day. Two positions in the outfield are essentially up for grabs, and what happens there will define what the bench looks like.
Much of the same could be said for the bullpen, where things seem black and white, but are actually much more gray.
Here's how the Phillies' roster could look come Opening Day.
Having sent two extremely talented pitchers to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for his services, the Phillies are ready to usher in a new era in center field with the fleet-footed Ben Revere.
That's about all we know at this point.
Revere, who is billed as an above-average defensive outfielder and speedy, contact-driven hitter, is still somewhat of a mystery at the major league level. While he has proven that he can play center field, he has yet to bring a full season's worth of repetitions at the position.
The Phillies will spend the spring experimenting with Revere's spot in the lineup. A good showing could land him the leadoff spot on Opening Day.
The longer it takes to settle in, the more it seems as though the Phillies made one of the winter's savviest moves by acquiring Michael Young on the cheap from the Texas Rangers for Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla.
This is still a gamble. The Phillies are betting that making Young the regular third baseman will rejuvenate him after spending last season as a designated hitter and in a utility role in the Rangers' infield. By 2014, the Phillies expect third-base prospect Cody Asche to be MLB-ready.
Given the necessary playing time, Young is as good a bet as any to bounce back in 2013. Even in what can be considered the worst year of his career in 2012, Young still provided more offensively than the Phillies' third-base position as a whole.
He'll fit somewhere into the top of the order.
Betting on Chase Utley in spring training isn't something that I would advise, but—and you can call it a gut feeling—it sure looks as though the Phillies' second baseman is going to see some Grapefruit League action this spring.
As long as everything goes according to plan, which is no guarantee given that he is playing a grinding sport on a pair of chronically degenerating knees, Utley will be in the lineup on Opening Day.
Charlie Manuel could bat him either second or third to open the season.
As long as Ryan Howard is healthy, he'll be in the lineup and playing first base for the Phillies this season.
Having had a full offseason to recover and prepare mentally and physically, it seems as though there are no worries about Howard heading into the spring. That's only part of the concern, however.
After returning from a partially torn Achilles tendon suffered in October 2011, Howard was a step slower figuratively and literally in 2012, posting a putrid slash line of .219/.295/.423. That's not the kind of production you want to see out of a man set to earn $20 million this season.
Now healthy, those numbers should go up. The real wonder here is just how far those numbers can climb.
Jimmy Rollins is going to be a key cog in the Phillies' machine this season. Not only is he their anchor defensively, but they could seriously use the power that he provides in the middle of the order.
The addition of Ben Revere, who could hit first in the order, allows them this opportunity. But will Charlie Manuel take it?
That will be determined this spring, although we have seen Manuel be a bit stubborn about the manner in which he orders his lineup in the past.
Rollins will also play shortstop for Team USA this spring in the World Baseball Classic, giving him a jump start on the season. As long as all goes well, he'll assume his normal position for the Phillies on Opening Day.
Allow me to preface this by saying—I believe Delmon Young is going to open the season on the disabled list. That allows him to fully recover from offseason ankle surgery and get a better handle on playing right field again.
As a result, I had to shuffle the roster and lineup to compensate, which created the opportunity for an extended trial for Darin Ruf.
Even without having taken a single at-bat in Triple-A, what more can Ruf prove in the minors? At some point, you have to stop calling a 50-home run season a "hot streak" and let the man play.
The Phillies will give Ruf plenty of at-bats this spring to showcase his power, and the popular opinion is that he has what it takes to stick with the club, especially if Young winds up going on the DL.
Regardless, he'll be a name to keep a close eye on this spring.
Domonic Brown is going to make this club. There is nothing left for him in Triple-A, so the only viable alternative would be to trade him, and this isn't the time for that kind of deal.
If Delmon Young opens the season on the disabled list, you can expect Brown to play right field every day. When Young returns, things become a bit more uncertain. Does Brown receive the left field job? Is it a platoon? But we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
We'll assume for a moment that Young will open the season on the DL. That gives outfielders such as Brown and Darin Ruf an opportunity for MLB at-bats and a showcase to prove that they can be major contributors throughout the season.
Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me to see Brown come out swinging and tear the cover off the ball. He has all of the potential in the world. Now he is going to get the at-bats to make something happen.
With Carlos Ruiz suspended for 25 games to start the season, the starting catcher job belongs to Erik Kratz, unless he struggles in the spring and Sebastian Valle and/or Tommy Joseph undergo some kind of miraculous development in camp.
That last part was a joke.
Kratz will be the starting catcher to open the season, and it is a role that he showed that he can handle on a part-time basis last season. What the Phillies need for him to do is manage the pitching staff and play a solid defensive game.
Any offense that Kratz provides will be a bonus. The onus is on the rest of the order to pick up the slack that Ruiz's absence will create.
Will Cole Hamels finally get the nod on Opening Day?
This is one of the decisions that people will haggle over throughout the spring. But if there were ever a good time to unleash Hamels as the Opening Day starter, it would be this season.
He has signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension. So giving the nod to the homegrown lefty, who is coming off one of the best years of his career and left money on the table in free agency, seems like a no-brainer.
He's also moving into the prime of his career, having studied under the likes of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. There doesn't seem to be much of a downside to giving Hamels the Opening Day start.
Debating the order in which the Phillies' three "ace" pitchers take the mound can become tedious. But there will likely be much ado about it this spring, so we'll get a head start.
If Cole Hamels gets the nod on Opening Day, you can expect to see Roy Halladay pitching the second game. "Doc" is expected to be healthy coming into spring training, and pitching him behind Hamels and in front of Cliff Lee gives Charlie Manuel the option to go left, right, left in his rotation.
The big concern seems to be Halladay's durability, which sounds odds to say given his incredible streak of complete-game performances in years past. The Phillies will have to be cautious with him because they'll need him throughout the regular season.
With a much deeper bullpen, keeping their starters healthy and fresh shouldn't be much of a problem for the Phillies.
With each game against division rivals like the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals being of high importance this season, you shouldn't expect anything less than the Phillies throwing all three of their "aces" against the Braves to open the season.
If we were to decide the Opening Day starter based on the 2012 season, Cliff Lee would get the start. His win-loss record wound up being tough to stomach, but the rest of Lee's statistics made him one of the five most-valuable pitchers in the league last season.
Talk about being underappreciated.
While I'm sure that the members of the Phillies' starting rotation aren't all that concerned over when they pitch, it seems as though there is a good chance that Lee will be bumped down to the third spot to open the regular season.
The Phillies must have seen something that they liked during Kyle Kendrick's dominant second half last season. That's because they were comfortable dealing Vance Worley for a center fielder this winter, solidifying Kendrick's spot in the rotation.
Kendrick, who made a few mechanical changes and mixed his pitches a bit differently, was one of the club's better performers after the All-Star break, going 9-4 with a 2.87 ERA.
He'll look to recapture that success to open the regular season. The Phillies could certainly use a bargain at the back end of their starting rotation.
John Lannan is a pitcher to watch. While a poor spring, coupled with a surprise camp from another starting pitcher, could cost him his job, you have to like Lannan's chances of making the rotation.
After being recalled from Triple-A last season to replace Stephen Strasburg in the Washington Nationals' rotation, Lannan went 4-1 with a 4.13 ERA—solid production out of the back of the rotation. Some of his advanced statistics suggest that he was pitching even better than his ERA suggests.
Lannan, who has a career record of 42-52, has gone 3-13 against the Phillies. Remove them from the equation and Lannan is a career 39-39 pitcher.
Baseball obviously isn't as simple as that, but the Phillies are hoping that Lannan will prove to be a bargain.
Is it conceivable that the Phillies will bring either Sebastian Valle or Tommy Joseph north to open the season as the club's backup catcher? I suppose that possibility exists. But it appears more likely that they are content to have them battle it out for the starting job in Triple-A, which would leave veteran Humberto Quintero with the job.
The Phillies have preferred a solid defensive-minded catcher as their backup in recent years, and Quintero certainly fits that bill. He isn't going to provide much offensively, but he isn't likely to receive many at-bats.
If the Phillies are to add Quintero to the active roster, he will need to be added to the 40-man roster at some point this spring.
John Mayberry Jr.
The Phillies' uncertain outfield situation has made it difficult to project who will ride the bench. Matters are only compounded by the fact that Delmon Young is likely to open the regular season on the disabled list, so we will proceed as if this is the case.
The one guy who seems to be a consensus pick for the bench is John Mayberry Jr., a favorite of Charlie Manuel. As long as he is playing in a limited role, Mayberry could help this team. He hits left-handed pitching well and plays solid defense at all three outfield positions as well as first base.
The situation becomes exponentially more interesting if he is outplayed by Darin Ruf during the spring, however. If the Phillies decide to keep Ruf, Mayberry's future becomes much more uncertain, as the former makes the latter somewhat redundant.
I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the Phillies will keep Rule 5 draft pick Ender Inciarte and cut veteran outfielder Laynce Nix. Again, this is just a hunch, as nothing has been determined this early in the year.
The Phillies brought Nix aboard to hit right-handed pitching, and although injured for a large portion of the season, he was unable to do so, posting a slash line of .248/.316/.390 with just a pair of home runs.
Cutting Nix would not cost the Phillies much and would allow them to keep Inciarte, who brings a much different skill-set to the table, one that the roster lacks. Phillies pro scouting director Mike Ondo had this to say to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki at the time of Inciarte's selection:
We like the defensive ability. We think he's an above-average defender in center field and an above-average runner. The reports we get are that he has the instincts to play the game and is a guy we can trust to run out there to play defense late.
That's what Inciarte can provide: Above-average speed and above-average defense at all three outfield positions. Scouting reports also indicate that he has a good arm and good natural instincts in the outfield.
At this stage, it just seems as though Inciarte can be more valuable to the Phillies' club than Nix, even if he can't do much offensively.
If Delmon Young is on the disabled list to start the season, the Phillies will have quite a few spots on the bench up for grabs, one of which could likely go to defensive wizard Freddy Galvis.
The Phillies could decide to keep both Ender Inciarte and Laynce Nix. But my guess is that becomes an "either-or'' situation.
So that opens the door for Galvis, who isn't going to provide much offensively, but with an infield that consists of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young, there is plenty of playing time to be had for a good defensive infielder.
Charlie Manuel should be able to get Galvis a few starts, as well as utilize him as a late-inning defensive replacement.
If the Phillies decide to carry just one infielder, it would likely come down to a spring position battle between Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen, each with something unique to offer.
While Frandsen can't play defense anywhere near as well as Galvis, Frandsen can be relied on for a better at-bat. If the Phillies want to rest players like Chase Utley and Michael Young, they may be more inclined to start Frandsen.
If Delmon Young hits the disabled list, this is probably a moot point, as there would be room for both Galvis and Frandsen on the bench. If he avoids the DL, I can envision a scenario where the Phillies would take one or the other.
Does Chad Durbin make the Phillies' bullpen any better? Probably not. Does he make the bullpen any worse? That would be a negative as well, although there is significantly less upside with Durbin in the bullpen than with, say, Mike Stutes.
The Phillies signed Durbin for a couple of reasons. He is inexpensive and a veteran who can tutor the likes of Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus. He also gives the Phillies the option of using him for more than one inning.
With that said, don't expect much out of him.
The Phillies are going to have several relievers in camp. But the only "locks" appear to be Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo and Chad Durbin. That leaves three available spots.
Jeremy Horst, who was fantastic in 2012, should fill one of those spots. The Phillies acquired him from the Cincinnati Reds before the season, and he really found his niche as a left-handed specialist. He should be in the bullpen on Opening Day.
Other names to keep an eye on are Jake Diekman and Raul Valdes, both of whom could be effective left-handed specialists. I would argue that Diekman has a significantly higher upside.
Justin De Fratus
Had he not suffered an injury before camp last spring, there was a good chance that Justin De Fratus was going to make the club. Instead, he missed the first half of the regular season while he avoided surgery and recovered.
De Fratus returned to the Phillies in September and was very good. He has long been one of the better arms in the Phillies' farm system. The belief is that he is a setup man in the making.
Because he controls his pitches more effectively, there is an argument to be made that De Fratus is the safer bet to make the club than a guy like Phillippe Aumont, who can struggle mightily with his control.
Some will tell you otherwise, but I'm struggling to draw up a scenario where De Fratus is left out of the bullpen.
It's easy to fall in love with Phillippe Aumont's potential.
He's a hulking, 6-foot-7, right-handed power reliever who has the best movement on his pitches of anyone to come through the Phillies' system in recent memory, and perhaps, longer than that.
The problem for Aumont has always been his command, which landed him in the bullpen, where he found his stride, leading scouts to believe he could become a closer.
However, that remains dependent on his ability to consistently throw strikes. He'll pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, and there is an excellent chance that he is in the Phillies' bullpen once the regular season begins.
Antonio Bastardo is going to make the club. That much should be obvious. The real question is whether he can recapture the success that made him a strikeout machine after the All-Star break in 2012.
With a good fastball and slider combination, Bastardo is tough to hit when he is throwing strikes and commanding his pitches. The lefty struck out 36.2 percent of the batters he faced last season, a career high. But he also walked 11.6 percent of those batters, a number that the Phillies would certainly like to see come down.
This could realistically be the best season of Bastardo's career, especially if the Phillies utilize him properly. He has always excelled against left-handed hitters, and with Mike Adams now responsible for the eighth inning, Bastardo should see more favorable matchups in 2013.
Mike Adams, who had offseason surgery to treat a condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, is not a guarantee to open the regular season with the club. St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher Chris Carpenter's recent injury that is expected to sideline him for the season is the same one that Adams suffered.
Adams, however, was introduced to members of the media with an ear-to-ear smile earlier this winter and said he would be ready to start the season with the club.
Following Carpenter's injury, Ruben Amaro Jr. told members of the media, including MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, that Adams was doing "great" and is on pace to open the regular season in the Phillies' bullpen.
We've talked to him. He said he's doing great. We'll find out more when he arrives in Clearwater, and I think he'll be arriving there fairly soon. He's been throwing off the mound and he hasn't had any issues. We'll see how far along he is, whether he's going to be behind in spring training or not. We don't think so. But we'll find out once he gets to Clearwater. Right now we don't have any concerns, but we obviously want to make sure that he's all right and progressing properly.
Adams makes a huge difference for the Phillies, who struggled mightily in the eighth inning last season. He and Jonathan Papelbon have the potential to be one of the best eighth- and ninth-inning duos in baseball.
The Phillies need to make sure that they can keep Adams healthy throughout the year.
I'm not even sure that Jonathan Papelbon has something that you could call a "status quo," but we haven't heard much about him over the winter, and that's probably just the way the Phillies like it.
For a guy like Papelbon, the spring is about preparing for the regular season. He is coming off a very good Philadelphia debut in 2012 and has nothing to prove this spring.
Papelbon's only goal is to make sure that he is ready to go, full steam ahead, when the club heads north.