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February 12, 2017

Spring has sprung: Another Phillies Opening Day roster projection

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Remember that obnoxiously early Phillies Opening Day roster projection that appeared on this site about three months ago? Well, we’re a lot closer to Opening Day this time around (seven weeks from Monday, to be specific) and so this will be a bit more accurate or projectable. Probably.

A good deal has happened since Thanksgiving week, when we last performed this exercise, including the addition of another veteran outfielder (Michael Saunders), the re-signing of a versatile free agent utility man (Andres Blanco), the non-tendering of a former Opening Day third baseman-turned-left fielder (Cody Asche), and adding more pitching inventory to the mix (including Clay Buchholz, Joaquin Benoit), along with the usual array of non-roster invitees that are ready to flock into Camp Clearwater, too. Exhale.

When camp officially opens at the Carpenter Complex tomorrow (pitchers and catchers report Monday, and then hold their first workout Tuesday), Phillies’ camp will be dominated by youth. Such is the life of a rebuilding team. The Phillies added a whopping 11 prospects to the 40-man roster three months ago in preparation for the Rule 5 draft and the average age of those players was 22.7.

But just because J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Roman Quinn, and many roster players will be in camp does not mean they’ll be on the 25-man Opening Day roster, of course. Just as players like Cedric Hunter, Emmanuel Burris, and James Russell made it on last year’s Phillies roster for the opener in Cincinnati, a handful of veterans on minor league contracts (but with big league track records) will compete for major league jobs this spring.

It’s worth remembering that from a big picture standpoint, the development of prospects is crucial to the Phillies’ rebuild. Regular at-bats at Triple-A are obviously more important to an individual player’s growth than collecting dust on the bench at Citizens Bank Park.

With all of that said, here our first crack (or second, if you include that mess from November) at predicting the 25 players who will come north when the Phillies break camp seven weeks from Friday.

The regulars (8): Cameron Rupp, Tommy Joseph, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Howie Kendrick, Odubel Herrera, Michael Saunders.

The bench (5): Andrew Knapp, Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava.

The starters (5): Jerad Eickhoff, Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez, Aaron Nola.

The bullpen (7): Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek, Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez.

And now some analysis as to why I think this could make sense:

 • The regulars are pretty obvious and, barring an injury, this is the sector from above that’s least likely to change in the next seven weeks. Kendrick (a trade from the Dodgers) and Saunders (a free agent) were brought in to boost a corner outfield that’s been among the worst in baseball for a few years now. And since they’re on one-year contracts, both could be moved before the trade deadline, when some of the aforementioned prospects (Quinn, Williams?) could be ready for full-time gigs in the big leagues.

 • The competition for the backup catching job will be interesting this spring. We’ll eliminate Jorge Alfaro from the conversation. Even though he was on the roster at the end of last year, that was because the minor league season was over. He needs more reps, both at and behind the plate, to continue to develop. If he’s the Triple-A catcher, Knapp (who played at Triple-A last year) should be the guy the Phillies WANT to win the backup job behind Cameron Rupp out of camp. The Phils eventually need to see if their prospects can cut it in the big leagues, as a switch-hitter who can also play first base, Knapp brings flexibility that could get him into the lineup more often than a regular backup catcher by spelling both Rupp and Tommy Joseph. Non-roster veterans Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday are the other favorites.

  • The starting rotation, much like the starting lineup, could be written in ink today if it weren’t for the fact that pitching is the most fragile position in any sport. It’d be more than a mild shock if all 30 of the pitchers in camp make it through the next two months without a single strain, sprain, dead arm, or some other injury diagnosis. But if those five starters above do make it through unscathed (including Nola, who has vowed he’s 100 percent), drawing up the five-man rotation is a simple task.

 • The bullpen will need left-handers (at least one) and there isn’t a ton of inventory (something that could change through a spring training trade or waiver claim, of course). In any event, Joely Rodriguez showed enough in a (very) brief stint last year that I think a ‘pen job is his to lose entering camp. Manager Pete Mackanin mentioned Adam Morgan as a possible candidate to move from a starting to a relief role, and, kind of like Brett Oberholtzer entering last year, he could serve a dual role of being a second left-hander and a long-man in the ‘pen. Non-roster invitee Sean Burnett, however, could force his way onto the roster with a strong spring. The rest of the names here are pretty obvious, with the only intrigue being how they’ll set-up in the game’s last three innings when regular season games start (beginning with who is team’s closer, with Gomez, Neris, and Benoit as candidates).

 • The majority of the position players on the 40-man roster are either the starters listed above or a Who’s Who of the team’s top hitting prospects. Since the J.P. Crawfords and Dylan Cozens of the world need more minor league seasoning, it makes sense for a couple non-roster players winning roster spots here (just as two did last year, in Burris and Hunter). Just as with Knapp as the backup catcher, the presence of the versatile Nava and Coghlan would give Mackanin more options. Nava is a switch hitter, which would give this projected bench a right-handed hitter (Altherr), a left-handed hitter (Coghlan), and three switch hitters (Knapp, Nava, Blanco). And Coghlan could be a second Swiss Army knife on the bench with Blanco: he started at least 15 games at four different positions in 2016 (second base, third base, left field, right field). Jesmuel Valentin and Tyler Goeddel were on the November projection, but the additions of Saunders, Coghlan and Blanco in the time since have pushed them back to what’s probably a better spot for both, getting more regular at-bats in Triple-A (Valentin at second base, Goeddel in an outfield/designated hitter mix with Quinn, Williams, and Cozens).

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21