March 05, 2017
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Any kind of sports projections that attempt to forecast something a month out is dicey and dependent on health. So take the following exercise – our latest attempt to nail down the Phillies Opening Day 25-man roster – for what it is on March 6.
Joaquin Benoit, for example, hasn’t pitched in a game in eight days while recovering from an infection the back of his neck. When asked if he was scheduled to pitch in a game sometime soon, the 39-year-old reliever could only offer, “We’ll see Tuesday.”
The Phillies are off on Monday. They still have four full weeks in Clearwater, Fla., and there is time for Benoit to get ready. Relievers don’t need anywhere near as much work as starters in Spring Training.
A lot can still happen, but after three weeks of spring workouts and Grapefruit League games, it’s as good of a time as any to take stock of the state of the roster and competition for the few jobs available in camp.
Good try, wind. Michael Saunders is stronger than you. 🌬⚾️ pic.twitter.com/vOpO1smVRz— Phillies (@Phillies) March 5, 2017
Yes, this could very well be the construction of the Opening Day lineup, too, and that’s why we listed those eight players this way. You can argue about the last two positions, but it feels like a futile debate.
In this order, manager Pete Mackanin doesn’t have a single left-handed or right-handed hitter hitting back-to-back. Regardless of the order, these eight players are locked into their starting jobs. (Again, with all of this, barring injury).
As with the starters/lineup, we went ahead and listed the five pitchers in this order because it’s a decent bet on his they’ll align when the regular season gets underway in Cincinnati on April 3. (It’s how they’re currently lined up in Clearwater).
And, as with the lineup, there aren’t any open jobs here as long as Nola (who missed the final two months of 2016) continues to prove he is healthy, as he looked to be Thursday. Nola is scheduled to make his second Grapefruit League start on Tuesday in Lakeland against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.
These guys are listed in alphabetical order and, if they look familiar, it’s because they’re identical to the seven-man crew we assembled when we did this on the eve of camp. Really, not much has changed as far as competition. Neshek and Benoit, veterans acquired in the offseason to complement and supplement a developing young nucleus of relievers, are locks with Gomez and Neris.
Gomez was crowned the closer during the first week of workouts, and barring a dreadful final four weeks of games, he should hold onto that role heading into Opening Day. When Opening Day and the regular season arrives, though, all bets are off on him holding onto that tenuous job.
Ramos and Rodriguez are close to locks, too, but probably have to keep showing positive results this spring more than the aforementioned foursome. Morgan continues to make too much sense as the second lefty out of the pen (along with Rodriguez) while also serving as the long man, too.
The two pitchers most likely to push Morgan, Rodriguez (and Ramos, if he runs into an untimely slump this spring) are veteran left-hander Sean Burnett and right-hander Michael Mariot. There are still 25 exhibition games left this spring. Good lord.
This remains the most fluid group on the roster, with Blanco as probably the only real lock. Altherr has been a fixture on the roster since August of 2015 and plays so well defensively in all three outfield spots that he’s an obvious fourth outfielder.
Chris Coghlan, who can also play the infield (he’s been taking early work at first base, too), is a non-roster player but signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies that gives him $3 million if he makes the major league roster. So, also as close to a lock as Altherr.
Taking away a hit and getting two outs in the process. What a play by Andrés Blanco! pic.twitter.com/NWu0WaubwG— Phillies (@Phillies) March 5, 2017
Knapp and Stassi, Triple-A players in 2016 without obvious starting spots with the IronPigs in 2017 because of a wave of prospects coming up from Reading, are two of the many others competing for big league reserve roles. Knapp entered camp as the favorite for the backup catching job and has worked diligently in the last month to keep that title heading into April.
Stassi is a strong defender at first base and has also received reps in left field this spring. As a left-handed hitter, he can spell Tommy Joseph at first base. And although spring training stats are the very definition of small sample size and hardly an indicator of things to come in the regular season, Stassi has out-hit the other candidates in camp, including Daniel Nava, Hector Gomez, Cameron Perkins, and second base prospect Jesmuel Valentin.
• In the 25-man scenario above, the Phillies would need to create two spots on their 40-man roster. Perhaps someone on the 40-man roster starts the season on the 60-day DL, which opens a spot. Or else they can designate a couple of players for assignment. Veteran reliever Luis Garcia (five runs allowed on seven hits in four innings this spring) would seem to be a prime candidate.
• As for the surplus of starting pitchers the Phillies entered camp with, it’s worth keeping tabs on the progress of Zach Eflin (knee surgery) and Jake Thompson (right wrist). But both are throwing to hitters in live bullpen sessions for the first time on Tuesday. If neither is ready in four weeks, the stable of pitchers that includes Ben Lively, Mark Appel, Nick Pivetta, Ricardo Pinto, and Alec Asher makes it easy for manager Dusty Wathan to fill out an Opening Day rotation at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
• Although Pete Mackanin said nothing was imminent when asked Saturday, the Phillies first round of spring cuts should be coming sometime soon, which will help crystallize the roster decisions a bit more. With the aforementioned 25 exhibition games still left to play, the cuts are taking place a little later this spring. The Phillies 62-man camp roster will be five players down when they return to Spectrum Field on Tuesday, as Odubel Herrera (Venezuela), Hector Neris (Dominican Republic), Nick Pivetta (Canada), Jorge Alfaro (Colombia), and Pat Neshek (United States) are joining their World Baseball Classic teams this week.