Photo by Richard Wilkins Jr.
Today is Sunday March 22nd, and in about two weeks, baseball will begin up North here. It might not seem so close, with the snow on the ground and all, but it is. This means roster decisions are now heating up, and who ends up in Philadelphia or AAA is now being decided.
For some players, they must make the big league squad. Odubel Herrera and Andy Oliver have to make it because they are Rule-5 players, and if they don't, they have to be offered back to their parent clubs. Justin De Fratus and Freddy Galvis are out of options, but seem very safe. Cesar Hernandez and Phillippe Aumont have less security, and they are out of options.
Then there are the players on the 40-man roster who may be roster casualties if they don't make the team, but aren't on the list above. Think Jordan Danks. Think Hector Neris. Think Luis Garcia. While these players can be re-assigned to AAA, they aren't really prospects, so they need to make the team.
Next, think about the non-roster invitees. Some of these players might accept a AAA assignment on their minor league deal, and some might be released. Notably here, think of Jeff Francoeur, Jeanmar Gomez, Cesar Jimenez, Kevin Slowey, Koyie Hill, Andres Blanco and Paul Clemens. You hope you can keep these guys, because even if they don't make your big league club, they are good depth and make for good times at IronPigs games.
Of course, don't forget about the injuries impacting the roster. Cliff Lee and Chad Billingsley are absolutely DL bound to start the year. This week is huge for Jerome Williams and Aaron Harang. Mario Hollands had an MRI yesterday on his elbow, but things don't sound good. Dom Brown will miss at least this week, and that could impact his status. Chase Utley finally played the field yesterday, but I wouldn't say he's a total lock. Injuries are going to make a huge impact.
So after all of this, finally remember this- five rotation slots, eight line-up slots, seven relief slots, and five bench slots. That's what you have to work with. Here's my major league outlook:
- Rotation- Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang, and David Buchanan are the depth chart top five, but only three of them project to head North right now, with Billingsley possibly joining them around the start of May. Jerome Williams projects as the swing-man, but clearly is the five if he's healthy, something we'll learn more about with today's start. Hamels, Harang, Buchanan, and Williams take the first four spots heading North, leaving one spot left. Kevin Slowey, Paul Clemens, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, and Jonathan Pettibone remain in camp, but disqualify Pettibone now, who my sense is will start the season on a rehab assignment before being optioned to Lehigh Valley. If I had to guess right now, Kevin Slowey will win the fifth slot.
- Line-Up- There are plenty of spots that are locks, but then there are spots that are only now becoming clear, or unclear. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz will play first, second, and catcher. With Maikel Franco sent to AAA, Cody Asche will play third base. Freddy Galvis appears to have won the shortstop job by default, giving us a full bullpen. Prior to yesterday, I would have said Ben Revere is the center fielder, but he did play left field yesterday, and my projected left fielder Odubel Herrera played center field, meaning they could go either way, but I would still project both to be in the line-up. I'm going to keep Dom Brown down as the right-fielder for now, since they say his achilles will only keep him out a week, but I do have my doubts both about his health and performance. If for any reason it's not him, I'm betting on Darin Ruf, who I think will get substantial at-bats in left and at first base, in addition to right field, to the point this season that he's practically a ninth starter (unless he doesn't hit at all). My batting order is Revere-LF, Herrera-CF, Utley-2B, Howard-1B, Brown-RF, Ruiz-C, Asche-3B, Galvis-SS.
- Bullpen- So there are the obvious here- Jonathan Papelbon will close, Ken Giles and Jake Diekman will be the righty and lefty set-up men, Justin De Fratus will be the primary seventh inning guy. After that, pass the popcorn. Mario Hollands was a guy I thought would make this team, but his elbow issue worries me a lot now, and I don't think he starts the season up. I thought for sure that Elvis Araujo had thrown well enough to make the team, but they optioned him this week, so he's out. Andy Oliver, the Rule-5 pick, seems like he's going to come north to me, after a decent enough Spring, and all the injury issues. This leaves two spots. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is the big winner I guess, probably making it as some sort of seventh inning/long-man hybrid. This leaves one last spot. Luis Garcia, Hector Neris, and Phillippe Aumont are all on the 40-man roster and still in camp. Cesar Jimenez is in camp, and has an MLB deal this year, but is not on the 40-man because he was optioned over the Winter. Jeanmar Gomez and Seth Rosin are still around too, as is Paul Clemens I suppose. I believe Aumont will be given every chance to win a spot, but will be cut, which opens up a 40 man spot on this team (technically they have a spot open because Lee is on the 60-Day DL too). I'm going to bet on Luis Garcia edging out Jimenez for now.
- Bench- Finally, the last five spots. Pencil in Darin Ruf as a near lock with all the at-bats he's getting. Pencil in Grady Sizemore as a strong lock too in the outfield. Beyond this, the Phillies have to pick a back-up catcher between Cameron Rupp and Koyie Hill, a utility infielder between Cesar Hernandez and Andres Blanco, and one final spot between any of these players and Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Danks, Brian Bogusevic and the rest of the non-roster guys. Now, with Lee on the 60-Day DL, and Aumont cut, the Phillies would technically have two 40-man roster slots to hand out, but I've given one to Slowey. For that reason, I'm betting on Cameron Rupp to be the back-up catcher, and Cesar Hernandez to be the utility man, leaving one last slot, and one 40-man slot. Danks big advantage is being on the roster and having played decently this year. I still am betting Jeff Francoeur gets the first crack up with the big club though. Aumont's pain is Frenchy's gain.