More Sports:

March 31, 2016

Almost here: Projecting the Phillies 25-man roster for Opening Day

The Phillies return to Citizens Bank Park tonight for the first of the final two exhibition games on their schedule against the Baltimore Orioles.

It’ll be Aaron Nola vs. old friend Vance Worley. It’s safe to assume the Phillies won’t hit eight home runs for the second straight night.

The Phils will wrap up the exhibition schedule on Saturday with the second and final Future Series game against their prospects. At some point before or after that game, Matt Klentak, Pete Mackanin, and Co. will probably have their 25-man roster finalized for Opening Day (Monday in Cincinnati).

Who’s in and who’s out? Here’s the best guess at the makeup of the roster the Phillies will take to Great American Ball Park.

Catchers (2): Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp.

J.P. Arencibia is a nice veteran insurance policy to have at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the event Rupp or Ruiz needs to be placed on the DL in the season’s first few months. Until then, he can be a strong influence to prospect Andrew Knapp. On the big league roster, expect Rupp to continue to play more often than Ruiz, a trend that began last summer, but don’t be surprised if Mackanin gives Ruiz a start on Opening Day and/or the home opener in South Philly on April 11.

Infielders (7): Andres Blanco, Emmanuel Burris, Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Ryan Howard, Darin Ruf.

Burris is the only newcomer to this group from last year. Like Blanco, he is a strong defender. He’s also useful on a big league bench because he’s versatile: he can switch hit, play anywhere in the infield and outfield, and he can run. That’s important when either Howard or Ruf will always be on the bench, and both are limited in the running and fielding departments. It’ll be more than a little interesting to see who is on the bench more often in 2016 between Howard and Ruf, though.

Outfielders (4): Peter Bourjos, Tyler Goeddel, Odubel Herrera, Cedric Hunter.

The Hunter spot could just as easily go to Will Venable, who was signed this week. But other than Maikel Franco, Adam Morgan, and Vince Velasquez, it’s difficult to name someone on the roster that has impressed as much as Hunter, a former top prospect and career minor league who has had a Moonlight Graham-like existence in baseball. It’d be nice to see him on the roster, and it sure seems like Mackanin is in his corner:

“Hunter has bad the best at-bats of anybody other than (Maikel) Franco in camp in my opinion,” Mackanin said one day this week.

And then, the next day, he was asked about putting too much stock into spring statistics.

“When you try to evaluate hitters (in spring), you look at the quality of their at-bats, are they wind-blown home runs that they hit, was it off the minor league guy that came in the 8th inning?” Mackanin said. “With Hunter, so far, I haven’t seen that. I’ve seen him hit good pitching. And good pitches.”

Starting Pitchers (5): Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez.

As I mentioned the other day after the Clearwater finale, this is a much-improved rotation from a year ago, even when you factor in that that rotation had Cole Hamels for four months and this one will not. But the point goes beyond the five starters listed here and includes the pitchers the Phils will be able to call on if injury or ineffectiveness arise (and both will, surely) throughout the year.

For Philly Voice’s baseball preview stories, I was asked, among other things, to predict the pitcher in the rotation that will have the best ERA among the rotation. Spoilers: It could very well be someone not listed in the above five. For a hint, go look at the 2009 Phillies.

Bullpen (7): Jeanmar Gomez, David Hernandez, Dalier Hinojosa, Hector Neris, Brett Oberholtzer, James Russell, Daniel Stumpf.

Remember the three former closers the Phillies signed to minor league deals in December? Well, don’t forget there was a reason they were signing minor league deals in December. The trio of Andrew Bailey, Ernesto Frieri, and Edward Mujica all showed glimpses of their former selves this spring, but also showed enough inconsistencies that it make a lot of sense to let them get more tuning-up work at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in April.

If you listened closely enough to the decision makers in the last week of spring training, they are leaning toward keeping three left-handers in the ‘pen (which nicely complements the all-right-handed rotation). Hernandez and Hinojosa are the favorites to get ninth-inning work early (and Russell could be a dark horse for that wide-open closer’s role, too). Stumpf is a Rule 5 pick with a big arm, and the Phillies owe it to themselves to keep getting a good look at him. Both Gomez and Neris are holdovers from last year, with Gomez returning to his durable, middle-relief, multiple-inning role and Neris showing enough power in his arm that he could find his way into the 7th inning or later if he’s able to limit the long ball.