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March 27, 2017

Phillies' latest roster moves leave Knapp in driver's seat for bench job

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The roster the Phillies will take the field with a week from today for Opening Day festivities in Cincinnati became a bit more clear on Monday in Clearwater.

The Phillies made four roster moves prior to Monday night’s game against the Blue Jays, including dismissing two of the four catchers who remained in camp entering the day. Outfield prospect Roman Quinn and right-handed reliever Michael Mariot were optioned to minor league camp while veteran non-roster catchers Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan were released.

With the latter two gone from the spring training roster, catching prospect Andrew Knapp has all but won the backup catching job behind starter Cameron Rupp, barring a trade or unforeseen roster move in the next week. 

"It’s pretty obvious he seems to be the guy," manager Pete Mackanin said while his team took batting practice on Monday afternoon. "Nothing is written in stone, but if you read between the lines it pretty much tells you something about it. (There are) no secret plans or anything like that."

Knapp, who struggled to get his bat going all spring, went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run on Sunday against the Pirates. On Monday, he was asked about the possibility of walking onto a big league field as a big leaguer for the first time next week.

"I mean it would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point, but to make a team for Opening Day is pretty special. It would be the best moment in my career so far."

Knapp was the Phillies second-round pick in 2013, the year they selected J.P. Crawford in the first round. He was the favorite for the backup catching job entering camp as one of three catchers (with Rupp and top prospect Jorge Alfaro) the 40-man roster. 

Despite that, the Phillies coaching staff values a veteran presence in the position, highlighted by the work done by long-time backstop Carlos Ruiz and his replacement, A.J. Ellis, last summer.

"We talk about it all the time," Mackanin said. "It is somewhat of an issue, but we think that Knapp is a very intelligent young man that he’s capable of figuring it out. A lot of the pregame stuff, a lot of the preparation with facing hitters, is having a game plan for each hitter. How you want to pitch him, knowing situations, so on and so forth. 

"If you’re smart guy you can pick up on that pretty easily. So that being said I think Knapp is the kind of guy that will pick up on that. He’s already shown a lot of promise in that regard in the spring. Things that don’t really show up on the field, but calling a game and calling what we feel are the right pitches."

A switch-hitter and Cal-Berkeley product, Knapp hit .266 with a .330 OBP, eight home runs and 24 doubles in 107 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2016. Knapp enjoyed a breakout season a year earlier, hitting .308 with a .385 OBP, 13 home runs, 35 doubles, and 84 RBI in 118 games between Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. 

But before his productive day at the plate on Sunday, Knapp had been hitting .147 (5-for-34) with 15 strikeouts this spring.

"For me, I think it was getting in the past four-to-five days in a row, it’s really helped me get a little confidence at the plate," Knapp said. "Me and (hitting coach) Matt (Stairs) have been working in the cage a lot. It’s finally transferring to the game, which is good and encouraging."

The Phillies have 35 players remaining in camp. They could come closer to finalizing their bench on Tuesday, when they have to decide whether or not to add veteran Chris Coghlan to the roster.

Coghlan, fellow veteran Daniel Nava, infield prospect Jesmuel Valentin, and spring training darling Brock Stassi are also competing for jobs on a bench that includes Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr, and Knapp. Although his name isn't quite etched onto the Opening Day roster, Knapp could surely breathe a little relief after a trying month of exhibition games.

"When you come into camp you want to make a good impression obviously and I was trying to do too much," he said. "I just kind of brought it all back to normal and it got me locked in again."

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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