I know we just got a record breaking snow storm yesterday, but we're under a month from Spring Training and a return of Phillies baseball. Manager Pete Mackanin spoke this week, giving us some insights into how he sees the team developing. With such a different roster than twelve months ago, it's worth taking an updated look at this team.
Who will make the 25 man roster? The 40 man? The AAA team? That's worth a good look heading into a camp when the Phillies will bring around 60 players into camp and have the flexibility to pick any players amongst them that they like.
Mackanin was pretty clear about the favorites to make his rotation. Barring injuries or shockingly bad Springs, youngsters Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff are locks, and newcomers Charlie Morton and Jeremy Hellickson are coming north too. Matt Harrison is not likely to come north with this team, or pitch soon, so count him out of the race for the fifth spot. One would think the race for the fifth spot is a battle between two players obtained for Ken Giles- right-handed top prospect Vincent Velasquez and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer- with Adam Morgan being in the ball game for a spot. Oberholtzer is a near lock to make the roster in some capacity, since he's out of options and left-handed, while both of the other two can be optioned to AAA. My guess is that Velasquez has the early lead for a spot, if he's adequate this Spring. I actually expect Oberholtzer to get a look in the bullpen as a swing man, and Morgan to start in AAA, unless he out-pitches Velasquez.
I don't expect Jake Thompson, Mark Appel, or Zach Eflin to get a serious look for Opening Day. All are likely to start out in AAA. If you include either Morgan or Velasquez with this group, you have four AAA starters in camp to begin with. Alec Asher would seem likely to join them. While he struggled in the Majors last year, he was solid in AAA and showed ability to get batters out. If that is the case, the IronPigs have five starters already, and it would seem that David Buchanan and Severino Gonzalez are on the outside looking in, right now. Both have 40 man spots, but I'm not sure that's the kind of advantage it would have been in years past. Obviously one of the prospects could start out in Reading (which also has a crowded rotation likely to include Ricardo Pinto, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta, and potentially any of the other Clearwater arms from last season), or the IronPigs could go with a six man rotation (something they have done in recent years), but they will face competition there from Chris LeRoux and Reinier Roibal. I'd guess that LeRoux will start out as a swingman and Buchanan will stick around as a sixth starter.
With a full 40 man roster coming to camp, it's worth noting that Harrison and Jesse Biddle are probably bound for the 60 Day DL, opening up at least two spots on the roster. Buchanan and Gonzalez also appear to be in danger going into camp. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is on the major league payroll, but he's not a candidate here.
No area of the team is more wide open, and includes more competitive pieces than the bullpen. Luis Garcia, Elvis Araujo, Jeanmar Gomez, and David Hernandez come to camp with major league deals, and settle in as favorites. If in fact Oberholtzer ends up here, that could leave as few as two spots available in the bullpen going in, and lots of candidates for the spots.
Edubray Ramos, Colton Murray, and Jimmy Cordero, all on the 40 man roster, appear to be bound for the minors to start out. All have very live arms, but could use a little more seasoning. With them out of the ballgame, you're looking at righties Dalier Hinojosa, Michael Mariot, and Hector Neris, and lefties Mario Hollands and Rule 5 pick Daniel Stumpf all coming to camp on the 40 man roster. Non-roster righties Andrew Bailey, Ernesto Frieri, and Edward Mujica, as well as lefty James Russell come to camp as strong candidates as well. Other non-rosterees Roibal, LeRoux, Gregory Infante, Frank Herrmann, and Greg Burke seem more likely to be trying out for a spot in the system.
I suspect the Phillies will end up giving the most serious looks to Hinojosa, Neris, Hollands, Stumpf, Bailey, Frieri, and Mujica. Of that group, I'd suspect that if Stumpf shows much in camp, he gets an advantage from his Rule 5 status. I'd guess that Bailey and Mujica will start with an edge amongst the righties as well. That could mean as many as seven 40 man roster relievers being sent to minor league camp. The minor league camp also will have Ken Roberts, Joely Rodriguez, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, and Joey DeNato in it. Expect AAA to have Murray, Roberts, Rodriguez, LeRoux, and at least three additional 40 man members in the pen. Expect Ramos and Cordero to start the season in AA.
If Stumpf does not make the roster, his roster spot would open up on the 40 man roster.
If the NL were adopting the DH in 2016, I could see three making the team, but the Phillies are only likely to carry two catchers this season. Cameron Rupp appeared to take Carlos Ruiz's job as 2015 went on, but the two of them come to camp as the favorites to make the team. J.P. Arencibia comes to camp as a non-roster invitee, but he is the top contender to unseat one of them. 40 man roster member and highly rated prospect Jorge Alfaro is ticketed for Reading, while non-roster invitee prospect Andrew Knapp will probably end up in AAA. Gabriel Lino is likely to head to AAA, but this is a big camp for him to show his offense has caught up to his defensive abilities. Logan Moore will be in camp, but is mostly an organizational "filler" type.
I suspect the Phillies will end up keeping Rupp and Ruiz, and will try very hard to convince Arencibia to take an assignment to AAA to join Knapp and Lino. Alfaro and Moore will be in Reading, most likely to start out.
I could see a scenario where the Phillies end up trading Ruiz, but that seems less likely by day. With his contract in place, expect him to stick around.
The good news is that it's likely that Maikel Franco is playing third base for a long time. Beyond that, the infield is in flux. Freddy Galvis appears to be the shortstop for Opening Day, but J.P. Crawford will be in camp this season, and could take the job by the end of the season. Cesar Hernandez appears to be the favorite to start at second base, but Galvis could end up moving over here, and Odubel Herrera could get a serious look here this Spring. Ryan Howard is nominally the starting first baseman, though it sounds like he will be in a platoon with Darin Ruf. Presuming Howard, Ruf, Hernandez, Galvis, Franco, and Andres Blanco are likely to make the team, the Phillies may not carry any more infielders. Under that scenario, Darnell Sweeney would have to have a huge camp to avoid AAA to start the season. Emmanuel Burriss, Angelys Nina, Brock Stassi, and Ryan Jackson all come to camp as well, but none is likely to break camp right now.
In AAA, expect Stassi to compete with Tommy Joseph and Jake Fox at first base. Sweeney would likely play second base, while shortstop is completely dependent on where the Phillies want to assign Crawford for Opening Day. Expect the Phillies to try and keep at least two of Nina, Jackson, and Burriss, with Nina being the strongest candidate going in.
Expect Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr to hold down regular at-bats, while Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos, and Tyler Goeddel will compete for the remaining at-bats. Expect all five of them to make the team out of camp.
Roman Quinn has a 40 man spot, but is likely bound for AAA. Nick Williams will be in camp, but expect him to start in AAA too. Cam Perkins, Brian Pointer, and Christian Marrero are likely candidates to fill out the roster.