Final Predictions for Winners of Phillies' Key Spring Position Battles
Spring training at long last is approaching its merciful end. With the end of meaningless exhibition games comes the onset of the regular season, when every game counts.
Fortunately for the Philadelphia Phillies, this spring set of games didn't count. Had it, the discussion would be completely different.
This spring, the Phillies would like a do-over, to say the least. They are currently 9-17-3, good for dead last in both the Grapefruit League and major leagues. While the sample size is small and many of the early games sport minor league talent, the games are nevertheless taken as an indicator of regular-season potential.
Is the Phillies' regular-season potential to wind up with the first-overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft? That remains to be seen, and predicting the Phillies this season is itself a difficult task. But predicting who will make the roster and contribute toward the Phils' successes and failures is a bit easier.
All of the team's everyday players are set. If Cole Hamels was healthy, the rotation would be, too. However, because of his injury, there is a vacancy in the back of the pitching staff. Add in some typical bullpen and bench competition and that leaves the Phillies with a few final holes to fill.
With that in mind, here are the final predictions for the winners of the Phillies' key spring position battles.
This battle isn't particularly close, but it's a battle nonetheless.
After Hamels experienced setback after setback in his recovery from shoulder stiffness in the offseason, it became clear that there would be an opening in the fifth starter's slot for the Phillies to begin the 2014 season. At the beginning of spring training, incumbent youngsters Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin, along with Cuban import Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, were considered favorites to win the position.
All too soon, spring raged against the Phillies. Pettibone became injured and was shutdown. The same happened to Martin. Gonzalez fought both injury and inefficiency, and he was deemed a work in progress.
So, who was left? That's just it—there wasn't anybody. Not anyone who was considered, anyway.
Enter Jeff Manship. A minor league signing who was invited to spring training, Manship didn't even receive a call from any other organizations this winter, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
With a solid spring that surpassed both expectations and the performance of his competition, Manship is all but guaranteed the fifth starter's role to begin 2014. All he needs is to be placed on the 40-man roster.
When Hamels returns, Manship's future will become unclear rather quickly. Until then, though, Manship will hold down the back of the rotation.
Most of the Phillies bullpen is set, believe it or not.
Jonathan Papelbon will retain his role as the closer, while Antonio Bastardo will be relied upon in a setup role. Offseason acquisition Brad Lincoln will make the roster as he's out of options. The same goes for Jake Diekman, who has options remaining but stands to be one of the organization's few decent left-handed relief pitchers.
Due to his continued recovery from shoulder surgery last season, Mike Adams will begin the season on the disabled list. It opens up another spot, and B.J. Rosenberg is likely to be the beneficiary of Adams' misfortune. Justin De Fratus should also be included in the Phillies bullpen.
That leaves the Phillies with six relievers, and assuming they plan on carrying seven, one spot remains. The final contenders? Minor league invitee and 38-year-old Shawn Camp and fallen star Phillippe Aumont.
Camp came into the spring as a long shot to make the team. However, due to injuries and poor performance by other players this spring, he skyrocketed to the forefront of consideration.
What holds Camp back, though, are his 2013 numbers. He opened the season with the Chicago Cubs, posting a 7.04 ERA in 23 innings before being released midseason. His advanced stats support his lackluster ability in 2013, according to Fangraphs, as his FIP stood at 7.05 and his xFIP was "better" at 4.93.
Needless to say, he can only be trusted so much.
As for Aumont, he's still on a short leash. However, it's difficult to envision a scenario in which the Phillies prevent a younger arm from testing the waters, especially when he doesn't have anything to prove in the minors. He may be on his final chance with the Phillies, though that is more vague.
Regardless, even if it's primarily in regards to age and not spring performance, Aumont stands to benefit from Adams' injury and make the bullpen until his return.
The biggest tossup of all of the Phillies roster areas is their bench. Offseason signee Wil Nieves and now 30-year-old John Mayberry Jr. are the only backups with guaranteed contracts entering 2014. Past them, the field's wide open.
What further cemented this competition were the afflictions to Darin Ruf and Freddy Galvis. Ruf was expected to open the season as a first base and outfield reserve, though an oblique injury will hold him out four to six weeks. As for Galvis, he now infamously contracted MRSA via a scrape in his knee and thus is out indefinitely.
It leaves the Phillies in need of two backup infielders and a backup outfielder at the very least. Luckily, the Phillies have just enough depth to cope with their bench injuries.
In the infield, minor league signee Ronny Cedeno had an inside track at a bench job, but after his release earlier this week, non-roster invitee Reid Brignac is bound to win out.
Concerning the outfield: Tony Gwynn Jr.'s solid spring propelled him into the conversation, and as an above-average hitter on a team lacking them this spring, he set himself apart to be the Phillies' fifth outfielder.
The final bench spot should go to Cesar Hernandez, who is capable of playing second base and some of the outfield positions. Along with his slick glove, his bat should also be a decent contribution to the lineup when he's needed.
No longer is the biggest question who will make the bench. Rather, the question is who will be demoted when Ruf and Galvis return from their ailments. Chances are that Brignac and Gwynn will take one for the team due to Hernandez's versatility, but it would be far from a surprise if the organization opted to send Hernandez down over one of the other two.