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February 14, 2016

Predicting the Phillies' lineup, Opening Day ... and beyond

Who will lead off on Opening Day in Cincinnati? How are the outfielders going to align? Who’s hitting cleanup?

Predictions are fun, right? So go ahead and save this link and mock me at a later date. Tell me I was wrong. But I’ll go into this exercise telling you this is little more than educated guesswork, just something fun to fill the time between a couple days before camp opens in Clearwater, Fla., and seven weeks before the Phillies play their first game that counts in 2016.

On that day, manager Pete Mackanin will need a lineup. Here is one man’s best guess on how that batting order will look (against righthander Anthony DeSclafani?) at Great American Ball Park.

Phillies lineup: April 4 (Opening Day)

 1. Cesar Hernandez  2B (S)
 2.Odubel Herrera  LF (L)
 3.Maikel Franco  3B (R)
 4.Ryan Howard  1B (L)
5. Aaron Altherr  RF (R)
6. Carlos Ruiz  C(R) 
 7.Freddy Galvis  SS (S)
 8.Peter Bourjos  CF (R)

Analysis: Mackanin immediately turned to a Cesar Hernandez-Odubel Herrera combo at the top of his lineup following the trade that sent Ben Revere to Toronto on July 31. The Venezuelan duo hit 1-2 in 12 of the 41 games following the trade and before Hernandez suffered a season-ending thumb injury in mid-September.

Those 41 games also coincided with Maikel Franco injuring his hand in early August - which often forced Mackanin into bumping Herrera into the three-spot. With a healthy Franco, Herrera slides back up to the two-spot. Hernandez, meanwhile, seems like the favorite to hit first: he led off in 25 of those aforementioned 41 games between the Revere trade and his own hand injury and he can run a little bit (19-for-24 in stolen base attempts in 2015). And he can draw walks - even on five pitches, if necessary. 

The next part of this lineup that likely jumps out is the inclusion of the last standing members of the Class of ’08. I have both Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz in the starting lineup, but that’s not indicative of how I see playing time playing out for the two veterans moving forward, but more of a nod to the two affable, clubhouse leaders on a day when managers are prone to ceremonial gestures.

The outfield alignment is pretty much what you’d expect if you have listened to the people responsible for making the decisions this winter. Defense matters. And we’re leaving pitchers out of this story because, well, we know they’re in there every day and hitting ninth. We’ll surely have a “Who is the Favorite to Start Opening Day” story between now and April 4.

Phillies lineup, June 4

 1.Cesar Hernandez 2B  (S)
 2.Odubel Herrera  CF (L)
 3.Maikel Franco 3B  (R)
4. Darin Ruf  1B (R)
 5.Nick Williams  LF (L)
 6.Aaron Altherr  RF (R)
 7.Freddy Galvis  SS (S)
 8.Cameron Rupp  C (R)

Analysis: Welcome to the future. OK, fair enough, April 4 is also the future. But play along as we turn the standard “Projecting the Opening Day Lineup” story into a more expansive game of … again, educated guesswork.

So what’s changed in two months? The Phillies have a new outfielder, and his name is Nick Williams. The bet here is Williams, coming off a fine, full season at Double-A in 2015, begins 2016 at Triple-A and then follows the path of Franco and shows enough in two months to warrant a big league call up. Sure, starting Williams’ service time clock would be an issue here, but after the grievances filed by a couple of players (including Franco) over the winter, if Williams is tearing it up with the ‘Pigs in the season’s first six weeks or so, he’ll warrant a promotion and the Phillies shouldn’t have anyone standing in his way in the outfield.

The only other change from April 4 to June 4: Howard and Ruiz are on the bench and Darin Ruf and Cameron Rupp are in the lineup. Rupp played more regularly than Ruiz in the second half of 2016, and the guess here is it’ll be close to that setup with Howard and Ruf this year, too.

Phillies lineup, August 4

 1. Odubel HerreraCF  (L)
2. J.P. Crawford  SS (L)
3. Maikel Franco  3B (R)
 4.Nick Williams  LF(L)
 5.Aaron Altherr  RF(R) 
 6.Andrew Knapp   C (S)
 7.Darin Ruf  1B (R)
 8.Freddy Galvis  2B (S)

Analysis: The trade deadline is over. Whew, that wasn’t nearly as eventful as last year. We hardly knew ya, Charlie Morton! Even with the lack of major trade chips, and thus, major trades, we have a new look lineup for Aug. 4, including the long-awaited arrival of J.P. Crawford

Perhaps this borders on the aggressive approach, but if the 21-year-old Crawford remains healthy and repeats his 2015 performance in the first four months of 2016, it’s certainly not out of the question to see him in a Phillies uniform for the final two months of the season. Maybe he follows a similar path as Aaron Nola last year: begins the season in Double-A Reading, produces enough to warrant a promotion, in say, mid-June, and then doesn’t skip a beat in Allentown, and perhaps, takes his game to a new level as he begins to smell how close he is to Citizens Bank Park. (It smells like Tony Luke’s cheesesteaks and Federal Donuts, of course).

How does Crawford’s arrival affect the rest of the lineup? Well, that probably depends on how well Cesar Hernandez does in the first four months of his first full season as a big league regular. In constructing the lineup, above, though (six months in advance!) it’s not as if I’m betting against Hernandez’s bat as much as I’m betting on Galvis’ glove. As long as his bat is closer to 2015 than 2012-14, I think Galvis has the edge on playing time at second after Crawford’s arrival at short because Galvis’s glove at second is simply that much better than that of Hernandez. Repeat that refrain from earlier: defense matters (and probably more so in the infield).

Oh, right, there’s another new name in this lineup: catching prospect Andrew Knapp. The former second round pick (selected out of Cal the same year the Phils drafted Crawford) was an offensive sensation at Reading last year and as long as he brushes up his game calling skills, the 24-year-old Knapp could surely find his onto the big league roster by August, if not sooner. (Just because this says August 4 doesn’t mean he couldn’t be on the roster in, say, July.)

Phillies lineup, September 4

 1. Odubel Herrera LF (L) 
 2.J.P. Crawford   SS(L) 
 3.Maikel Franco   3B (R)
4. Nick Williams   RF (L)
5. Andrew Knapp    1B (S)
6. Jorge Alfaro    C (R)
7. Roman Quinn   CF (S)
8. Freddy Galvis   2B (S)

Analysis:  Now I'm getting crazy, going rogue and breaking away from the above every-two-months thing and adding in a bonus: September. It's September call-up time, so, why not. As you may or may not have noticed, only three names appear in this lineup and the one projected for Opening Day. But that’s just where the Phillies are as a rebuilding organization – they have a lot of young talent in the farm system and on the big league roster and most of them are still in development. If you see a lineup like this one at any point in September, it has been a successful season for the Phillies – it means all of these players has progressed positively in 2016.

The newcomers in this lineup: catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Roman Quinn. Both were injured for large chunks of 2015, stunting their progress as prospects. As a result, both probably need more time than the Williamses, Crawfords, and Knapps this year to continue to hone their skills and make up for lost at-bats from last season.

You may have noticed that both Alfaro and Knapp managed to get into this lineup, despite Major League Baseball allowing teams to start just one catcher in their lineups. (That’s crazy. The new commish needs to get on this). If both of these guys reach their ceilings, one will have to move to another spot, eventually. Perhaps Alfaro, who has an 80 arm on the scouting world’s 20-80 scouting scale, makes sense to put in right field instead of moving Knapp. But that same arm – and a potential 20-30 home run bat - would play very well at catcher, too. And since that’s a more difficult position to fill, period - let alone with a power bat – bet on the Phillies exhausting every effort to mold Alfaro into their catcher of the future.

As for Quinn, we buried him in this lineup because we’re figuring it’s his first month in the big leagues and he can work his way up to the top (where he’ll belong long-term with his unrivaled speed). Unless Herrera falters in 2016, it’s difficult to mess with the top three spots in that, currently-constructed-for-September 4th lineup. If Quinn hits, his speed will play at the top of the lineup - but we're going to hold off on going as far as predicting the April 4, 2017 lineup. 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21