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November 22, 2016

An obnoxiously early Phillies Opening Day roster projection

It’s Thanksgiving week, a time when people travel throughout the country to gather with family, possibly watch a few football games at the end of the week, throw down some turkey, start their holiday shopping, and put together their first Opening Day 25-man roster projections.

OK, the last one is downright crazy, but what else do you want from a baseball writer in late November?

Opening Day is just a mere 131 days away, though, and pitchers and catchers will check into Clearwater in 82 days. See, right around the corner!

This exercise isn’t being performed on Nov. 22 to give you an actual prediction of what the 25-man roster will look like when Jeremy Hellickson and Co. take the field at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. But after updating the 40-man roster on Friday, adding a whopping 11 prospects, the Phillies at least could theoretically move forward from autumn through winter and into spring with the same group of players, whittling it down to 25 before April 3.

Like this:

Cesar Hernandez, 2B  Cody Asche, OF/INF 
Roman Quinn, RF Aaron Altherr, OF 
Odubel Herrera, CF   Jesmuel Valentin, INF 
Maikel Franco, 3B  Tyler Goeddel, OF
 Howie Kendrick, LF Andrew Knapp, C
Freddy Galvis, SS  
 Tommy Joseph, 1B 
 Cameron Rupp, C 

 Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Jeanmar Gomez, RHP 
 Jerad Eickhoff, RHP Hector Neris, RHP 
 Vince Velasquez, RHP Pat Neshek, RHP 
 Aaron Nola, RHP Edubray Ramos, RHP 
Jake Thompson, RHP  Michael Mariot, RHP 
 Adam Morgan, LHP 
 Joely Rodriguez, LHP  

 • There’s plenty of time for a starting lineup story, so don’t read too much into this order. But manager Pete Mackanin liked the Hernandez-Quinn tandem atop his order and Herrera is as good of a three-hole hitter as you’ll find on the roster, etc., etc. And Galvis probably isn't ideal to hit sixth, but I wanted to break up the right-handers in the lower half.

 • A backup catcher and utility infielder with zero major league experience? Again, it’s Nov. 22. But both Valentin and Knapp were added to the 40-man roster on Friday and that roster is currently at 40, meaning Matt Klentak and Co. would have to part ways with players in order to add veterans to Mackanin’s bench. For what it’s worth, Klentak was asked about this scenario (Valentin and Knapp on Opening Day bench) on Friday: “We do feel like those two, in particular, are close to big-league ready. That's important.”

  • Again, plenty of stuff to hammer out between Thanksgiving and Easter, but Knapp over Jorge Alfaro here (Alfaro was a September call-up in part because he was already on the 40-man back then) because, between the two, Alfaro needs more seasoning, both behind the plate and on offense, too.

  • The Phillies have an abundance of starting pitching on the current 40-man, including many at or on the cusp of the big leagues. If everyone is healthy – which is a big ‘if’ since three pitchers on the 40-man were shut down last season with injuries – one of the younger, less experienced starters (Thompson, Zach Eflin, Alec Asher) can’t fit into the Opening Day rotation. Don’t read a whole lot into Thompson over the other two here — it’s November (!!) and the competition will be real in spring training.

  • Because of that abundance of near-big league ready starting pitching, we shifted Morgan into a bullpen role. He can work as the long man/swing man and give Mackanin a second left-hander. Even with that role change, the following six players would need to fit into a five-man rotation at Triple-A Lehigh Valley: Eflin, Asher, Ben Lively, Mark Appel, Nick Pivetta, Phil Klein.

So you should quit what you’re doing, go find a Sharpie, and put this projected 25-man roster in ink, right? Nah.

In an ideal world, the Phillies would probably add at least one veteran to the bench (and perhaps another in the bullpen). The trio of Valentin, Knapp, and Goeddel would probably all benefit from more regular at-bats at Triple-A. So at least one of them would figure to start the season in Lehigh Valley.

Now that Goeddel has successfully gone through the Rule 5 proceedings, he can further develop his skills (perhaps in an athletic IronPigs outfield with Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens). There probably isn’t a perfect way to split the Knapp-Alfaro catching duties, but, with a designated hitter, they both could play regularly for the ‘Pigs and each catch three times a week.

And just because the Phillies could form a workable 25-man roster from their just-updated 40-man surely doesn’t mean they will, and ignore the chances to continue to fine-tune the roster in the next four months. Klein and relievers Luis Garcia and Severino Gonzalez are far from locks to stick on the 40-man for the duration of the winter; if the Phils find the right deal on a veteran for the bench (or bullpen), or match up with a team on a multi-player trade, there is flexibility on the currently filled-to-the-brim 40-man roster.

But following a productive November when they added a veteran bat, a dependable bullpen arm, and retained one of their top starting pitchers from 2016, too, the Phillies at least are off to a positive start in getting their 2017 Opening Day roster in order. Klentak and Co. will travel to suburban Washington, D.C., for Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings the week of Dec. 5.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21