March 25, 2017
CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies have a week to get their 25-man roster in order – Opening Day is right around the corner, on Monday, April 3 in Cincinnati.
The Phillies enter play on Sunday with 39 players in camp. There are arguably 20 players who are locks for spots on the 25-man roster, but the final five spots are anything but easy to try to nail down because of the lack of flexibility on the prospect-filled 40-man roster.
The difficulties are probably best represented by the decision the team will have to make about their Opening Day backup catcher.
Is prospect Andrew Knapp (on the 40-man roster) ready for the major leagues, or will the front office have to use the backup catching spot on a non-roster player (like Ryan Hanigan)? We wrote about the Knapp situation in the last 24 hours.
The Phillies coaching staff and front office will meet following Sunday’s game to debate (and possibly, make decisions) on the roster crunch. Before they do that, let’s take one last crack at predicting the Phillies Opening Day 25-man roster:
2B Cesar Hernandez
LF Howie Kendrick
CF Odubel Herrera
3B Maikel Franco
RF Michael Saunders
1B Tommy Joseph
C Cameron Rupp
SS Freddy Galvis
Pencil in Jeremy Hellickson’s name at the bottom and, barring an injury in the next week, there’s your Opening Day lineup.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson
RHP Jerad Eickhoff
RHP Clay Buchholz
RHP Vince Velasquez
RHP Aaron Nola
Again, barring any unforeseen change in the next week, this alignment is intact and would put Vince Velasquez (4-3 with a 2.88 ERA, a 1.036 WHIP, and a 4.05 K/BB rate in 12 starts in Philadelphia in 2016) on the mound for the home opener at Citizens Bank Park on Friday, April 7 against Washington.
RHP Joaquin Benoit
RHP Jeanmar Gomez
RHP Luis Garcia
RHP Hector Neris
RHP Pat Neshek
RHP Edubray Ramos
LHP Joely Rodriguez
This is where it gets a little interesting.
• The hard-throwing Garcia has been reborn as an effective reliever this spring with the addition of a splitter to his repertoire, the same pitch that fueled Neris’s breakout 2016 season.
• This would leave veteran left-hander Sean Burnett and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte on the outside looking in, but both could go to Triple-A and be summoned when needed. [UPDATED: Sean Burnett requested and was granted his unconditional release on Sunday morning.] It would also leave Adam Morgan and Alec Asher (starters that could transition to relief roles in 2017) not only off the Opening Day roster but also subject to being taken off the 40-man roster and designated for assignment to make room for the non-roster player (or two) that makes up the bench.
• Gomez will open the season as the team’s closer, as Mackanin said he would when camp opened. Neris is the eighth-inning man, as he was last year. But this is subject to change once games begin. (Read: I don’t think Gomez will be given a long leash with Neris’s talent).
• Only one left-hander in the bullpen, but since Hoby Milner (a December Rule 5 pick by Cleveland) was returned to the Phillies by the Indians on Friday, the Phillies will have some depth to call upon if needed from the minor leagues.
Aaron Altherr (R)
Andres Blanco (S)
Chris Coghlan (L)
Andrew Knapp (S)
Jesmuel Valentin (S)
I’m not in love with this setup.
• Why? Valentin (who has impressed with the bat and on the bases this spring) probably should play every day at second base at Triple-A as a 22-year-old prospect. And Valentin is limited defensively: he’s only suited for second base. But doesn’t that sound exactly like how Cesar Hernandez began his own big league career? It does because it was.
• Valentin’s inclusion on the roster, much like Knapp’s is all about roster flexibility: they are both on the 40-man roster. Brock Stassi is not on the 40-man roster and after a hot start, hit bat has cooled (2-for-18 in the last 10 days). It’s perfectly fine for him to start at Triple-A, split time as a designated hitter and backup first baseman until the Phillies create more room on their roster or decide they need to change things up on the big league roster.
• It’s similar flexibility that would lead to Chris Coghlan and not Daniel Nava on the roster, even though the latter has had the better spring. Per Coghlan’s contract, the Phillies must make a decision on him in the next 72 hours (if he’s not on the 40-man roster by Sunday, the team has 48 hours to release him or place him on the roster). They have a bit more flexibility with Nava (his out isn’t until June 15), meaning they can afford to send him to Triple-A to start the season to simply buy more time.
• The Phillies do not have as much time with Hanigan: his out arrives on March 28. So in the bench projection outlined above, he would no longer be with the organization this time next week.
The 25-man roster outlined above includes just one player that’s not on the current 40-man roster: Coghlan. But that’s still one spot they’d have to create, meaning Morgan, Asher (7.80 ERA this spring) or outfielder Tyler Goeddel (optioned to minor league camp Friday and set to open the season at Double-A) are candidates to be designated for assignment.
But, there is one scenario we’ve left out, something that could happen anytime between today and Opening Day to create more flexibility on the 40-man roster: the Phillies could make a trade.
Perhaps the Phillies can deal from their pitching depth (they have 15 pitchers on their 40-man roster who worked as starters in 2016) for a lower level prospect (someone that does not have to be placed on the 40-man roster).
Alec Asher, anyone?