15 Dark Horses Who Could Win a Phillies Roster Spot on Opening Day
As a veteran team, the Philadelphia Phillies don't have many openings on their 25-man roster this spring. Forecasting what the club will look like on Opening Day, barring injuries, isn't too much of a challenge.
Even in positions where the spot is realistically up for grabs there are players who are favorites to come out on top. The Phillies need two corner outfielders, and Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf are strong favorites to make the club. Names like Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus and Jeremy Horst are early favorites in the bullpen.
But things can change in a hurry during spring training. Players can get off to a hot start and win the favor of the coaching staff. The next thing you know, they're on the Opening Day roster.
There aren't likely to be many—if any at all—of those players this spring, but there are a few names to keep an eye on. The following slideshow will take a look at some of the camp's "dark-horse" candidates to make the roster on Opening Day.
A very rough outing against the Toronto Blue Jays in which he allowed six earned runs is not going to help his cause. But Tyler Cloyd is the kind of pitcher that the Phillies could experiment with later this spring.
In the past, this is a club that has liked to take a long reliever north with them, be it Kyle Kendrick or someone else. With Kendrick in the rotation, the "long reliever"—if you would call him that—is currently Chad Durbin.
With a crowded starting rotation already forming for the Triple-A club, Cloyd is the kind of arm that the Phillies could give a shot in the bullpen. He doesn't have overpowering stuff and is not nearly as effective the second time through a lineup.
The bullpen is crowded as well, however, so don't hold your breath.
For the players on this list, it would be a very big surprise to see most of them on the Opening Day roster. One name that seems to be a bit more plausible than the rest is left-handed reliever Jake Diekman.
Since Rich Dubee started working with Diekman last spring, the Phillies' coaching staff has been infatuated with the lefty. He has a funky delivery with limbs flying in all directions that makes him very tough against left-handed hitters.
But is there a spot for him in the bullpen?
One left-handed reliever, Antonio Bastardo, is a sure thing for Opening Day. With the year that Jeremy Horst had in 2012 it's going to be tough to upstage him this spring. But if one lefty in camp has the goods to do so, it's Diekman.
Keep an eye on him.
Plucking Mauricio Robles off the waiver wire in the offseason was a curious move for the Phillies because he occupies a 40-man roster spot. The Phillies must see something about him.
Of course, the Seattle Mariners saw something about him as well. Robles is a former top prospect in that organization that never had much success in the upper levels of the system.
But it seems as though left-handed relievers always find a job and Robles has a good fastball to turn things around. He has only pitched one inning for the Phillies this spring, but it was a perfect one in which he retired all three batters he faced.
Robles is definitely a long shot to make the roster, but he has an opportunity to impress the right people this spring. If he falters, he could very well be removed from the 40-man roster.
B.J. Rosenberg made his MLB debut last season and it was a roller-coaster ride. There were peaks where he was very good, but more frequent troughs where he was very bad.
When things were going well for Rosenberg, however, there were a few glimpses of what could make him a solid reliever. He has a good fastball that he can hit the upper 90s with on occasion, but he doesn't control it all that well. The lack of a good secondary pitch was his undoing.
He hasn't had a good spring to date and is likely ticketed for Triple-A. With certain relievers struggling early in the spring, the door is still open for one guy to impress and make the club.
Can that be Rosenberg?
The last year has not been pleasant for Mike Stutes. He underwent shoulder surgery last season after sitting out most of the year with a sore shoulder, only to find himself on the outside looking in at this upcoming season's bullpen picture.
Calling him a "dark horse" may not be entirely fair because many people are familiar with Stutes, but with names like Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus and Jeremy Horst receiving all of the hype for those last few spots in the bullpen, Stutes certainly seems like an underdog early on.
First and foremost this spring, he needs to show that he's 100 percent healthy. That may take some time. Facing some hitters at Triple-A may be the best plan of attack.
That's why he is a dark horse at this point.
Raul Valdes is another reliever that spent some time in MLB with the Phillies last season, but his stint was cut short by a knee injury that would eventually require surgery.
With that corrected, Valdes is fighting to prove that he is healthy and fighting for a spot on the roster this spring, the latter of which will not be simple.
The Phillies brought a lot of pitchers to camp this spring, especially when you consider that four of seven bullpen positions are locks. That leaves three—and it would not be inaccurate to say two and give Phillippe Aumont the lead early on—spots for more than 10 relievers.
Valdes pitched well with the Phillies last season. But there are lefties in camp who bring more to the table at this point in their respective careers. Expect Valdes to open the year in Triple-A.
With starting catcher Carlos Ruiz suspended for 25 games to start the regular season, backup Erik Kratz will become the starter for the season's first month. The Phillies will need to bring a temporary backup north.
The popular line of thinking is that 10-year MLB veteran Humberto Quintero, who spent the 2012 season as a member of the Kansas City Royals, will be added to the 40-man roster to do the job.
However, one interesting name to keep an eye on is Sebastian Valle—a top Phillies prospect already on the 40-man.
Valle, 22, is still seen as a work in progress. His defensive game has made vast strides, but his offense leaves something to be desired after a poor stint in Triple-A to end the 2012 season.
It would be a surprise to see the Phillies bring Valle north to open the season because he needs more time in the minors—and even a temporary stint would start his service clock. But there is a flip side to every coin.
Spending a month at the big league level with the Phillies' roster could do wonders for his development.
The Phillies' outfield situation has been one of the most discussed topics of the spring, but one name flying under the radar is Ender Inciarte.
In some ways, one could argue that Inciarte has a leg up on the competition. As a Rule 5 draft pick, the Phillies must keep him on the roster or work out a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks to keep him in the organization. Otherwise they have to return him.
Inciarte brings something to the table that few players in camp can—speed and defense. He is an above-average runner and, according to most scouting reports, could step in and play center field at the major league level right away.
The concern is that Inciarte, who has never played above High-A, is not going to be able to hit at the top level.
But would the Phillies need a guy like Inciarte to hit in a bench role, or would they be satisfied with having a good runner and defender available for certain situations?
With the Phillies' starting rotation likely set, there are a few veteran pitchers in camp that will be forced into difficult situations as the spring progresses. One such name is Aaron Cook, who is likely ticketed for Triple-A.
While the specifics of his contract are unknown, minor league deals for veteran players like this normally include an opt-out clause by a certain date if players are not on the MLB roster. Could the Phillies avoid such a situation by moving Cook to the bullpen?
Cook, who pitched with the Boston Red Sox last season, was an option for former manager Bobby Valentine's bullpen, although no such situation ever came to fruition.
The Phillies are going to have to make a few decisions about some of the starting pitchers they have in camp. While a veteran starter becoming a reliever is certainly a long shot, it is a scenario worth mentioning.
If he does choose to go to Triple-A, Cook could be one of the first players the Phillies call on in the event of an injury.
One under-the-radar name getting a few looks early in the spring is left-handed reliever Cesar Jimenez. The former Seattle Mariners pitcher out of Venezuela is in camp as a non-roster invitee. He has the opportunity to follow a path similar to the one that found Raul Valdes in the majors last season.
Jimenez, who was once an interesting prospect in the Mariners organization, has never put everything together in three different big league chances.
With the Phillies this spring, he has made just two appearances and allowed three hits. But he has also struck out three and has yet to walk a batter.
Jimenez is another guy who is likely ticketed for the bullpen in Triple-A, but he is also a left-handed reliever—and the Phillies like having those guys around. He would certainly be a dark horse to make the Opening Day roster, but would be solid bullpen depth in the event of an injury.
Rodrigo Lopez signed a minor league deal with the Phillies this offseason to begin his second tour of duty with the club. He last pitched for the Phillies during the 2009 season, when he went 3-1 with an ERA of 5.70.
As was the case in that first season, the Phillies come into camp with a loaded starting rotation that will likely leave him on the outside looking in.
Over the past few seasons, however, Lopez has drawn interest as an emergency starting pitcher. Since leaving the Phillies he has pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs, as well as a brief spring training stint with the Atlanta Braves.
Though each of the last two seasons provides small sample sizes, Lopez has appeared as a reliever with the Cubs. If there was one player in camp who could likely make the transition from veteran starter to long reliever, Lopez is the safe bet.
When the Phillies found their catching situation in dire straits last season—with regulars Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider on the disabled list and Erik Kratz forced into a starting role—the man called to MLB to serve as the backup catcher was Steven Lerud.
Well, the Phillies are in a jam with their catching depth to start the season. Could Lerud see a return trip to the big leagues?
After being removed from the 40-man roster last season, the odds are certainly stacked against him, but as long as the Phillies do not make a surprise decision and promote Sebastian Valle, they'll have to make a roster move anyhow.
Lerud has a trace amount of familiarity with the pitching staff and could move into the conversation for the Phillies' backup spot. However, it's more likely that he opens the season in Triple-A as the backup catcher there.
The early favorite to serve as Erik Kratz's backup catcher through the first month of the season is 10-year MLB veteran Humberto Quintero.
Quintero, who spent the 2012 season with the Kansas City Royals, is regarded as a solid defensive catcher who can call a good game, but won't hit much. Sounds like a guy the Phillies would have interest in for this role.
He'll have to be added to he 40-man roster this spring, but that is a matter of logistics. The popular line of thinking is that he will be added to the roster and fill in for the first month.
The real problem, at least if the Phillies want to keep him around, is what to do after. Will he accept a demotion to Triple-A?
One of the Phillies' more curious "depth moves" this spring was to bring aboard infielder Yuniesky Betancourt, who spent the 2012 season with the Kansas City Royals.
With Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis both in camp and playing well, Betancourt's tenure with the Phillies may end before the spring does. He has an out-clause that will allow him to be released if he is not on the roster by March 24.
Betancourt has played well early in the spring, but not likely good enough to upset guys like Frandsen and Galvis. He has a reputation for being a lousy defender and he hasn't hit above .260 at the major league level since the 2008 season.
The Phillies likely want to keep Betancourt around as depth in the event of an injury, but it will be his decision on whether to report to Triple-A.
Pete Orr is the kind of player that always seems to find his way onto the roster. After two straight years of underestimating him, I've learned not to count him out.
With that having been said, the odds are certainly stacked against Orr this spring. The Phillies outrighted him off the 40-man roster last season, meaning that they would need to make a tough roster move to re-add him.
And that's not likely. With Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis in camp and playing well, there doesn't seem to be room for a third utility infielder in this mix. But Orr's left-handed bat does give the club a different look.
More likely, Orr will open the season in Triple-A and be ready in the event of an injury.