It's time for another Philliedelphia Monday Mailbag. Every week we post the responses to your questions here and then talk about them Tuesday on the Sports Bash with Mike Gill on 97.3 ESPN. Tune in as we discuss them tomorrow.
David Lough or Cedric Hunter?
What Brandon wants to know is, with the injuries to Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche, which outfielder of non-roster invitee Cedric Hunter or David Lough will make the Phillies Opening Day roster? This is going to be a really tough call for the Phillies. Both are left-handed hitters and both have shown some real skills this Grapefruit League. Both are batting .308 heading into Monday's action.
The case for Hunter: Hunter was once a top prospect for the San Diego Padres. Hunter ended up playing just six games in the Major Leagues, getting just four at bats and two defensive replacements in center field. Hunter has most of his outfield experience in center field, some depth the Phillies can use. The Phillies, however, have mostly used Lough and Tyler Goeddel as center field replacements for Odubel Herrera, nursing a sore middle finger.
Hunter has also shown some signs of power this Spring, most famously his three-run walk-off home run against the Atlanta Braves, the same game in which Altherr went down with an injury and Hunter replaced him in right field.
The case for Lough: Lough's Major League experience could give him an edge. Lough has played parts of four seasons in the Major Leagues: two for the Kansas City Royals and two for the Baltimore Orioles. Lough has 682 big league at bats and has batted .255. That might not sound particularly exciting, but at least the Phillies will know that they have a substitute that can at least hold his own at the Major League level.
The Phillies may have room for both, depending on what else transpires in camp. One of Lough or Hunter could platoon with Goeddel in right field, while the other serves as a left-handed pinch hitter. Both could bring solid defense to the Phillies. But for both to make the team the Phillies would have to option Darnell Sweeney to AAA Lehigh Valley and only have Andres Blanco as a back-up infielder. Plus, the Phillies would need two 40-man roster spots for both, and finding two might prove difficult.
That is why I think the Phillies might want to keep Sweeney around and have Darin Ruf to play left field in a pinch.
Why NOT Adam Morgan?
The Phillies have reportedly narrowed down their fifth starter search to two: Adam Morgan and Vince Velasquez. Morgan, once a top prospect in the Phillies system (though it was not that deep) seemed to fall off of prospect lists once he underwent shoulder surgery. Morgan was pretty much rushed to the Phillies in 2015, and performed at a very admirable level, with a 5-7 record and 4.48 earned run average.
Morgan's doctor, Dr. Craig Morgan (no relation), said in a Jim Salisbury article on CSN Philly a year ago that Morgan would be the "surprise of the year for the Phillies". That may have been accurate. But, whether that was enough for the Phillies to give a rotation spot to Morgan right now may not be enough.
The Phillies were really hurt last year by the lack of rotation depth. For once, the Phillies may have it. Realistically, the upside and development of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and Velasquez may come ahead of Morgan for the Phillies. Veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton will serve their purpose as veteran innings eaters until a potential July trade, so there may not be room for Morgan right now.
Earlier today Jayson Stark of ESPN suggested a six-man starting rotation. I just do not see the Phillies having the roster spots to do that. With Ruf and Ryan Howard essentially serving as two different roster spots to play one position, they will be squeezed enough.
What I would do with Morgan is keep him in the Phillies bullpen as a long man. With Mario Hollands still recovering from "Tommy John" surgery and Elvis Araujo likely in need of some more development, the Phillies could use Morgan as a left-handed arm in the bullpen. Bobby LaFromboise has pitched very well and could be the second lefty. With other starters in the Phillies pipeline, maybe Morgan would find a permanent home in the bullpen.
Does J.P. Arencibia have a shot at the Phillies Opening Day roster?
Arencibia might be stuck as Phillies catching depth at AAA, serving as a first baseman and designated hitter. The Phillies signed Arencibia to a minor-league deal this offseason because they need a veteran-type that they can stash at AAA Lehigh Valley in case of an injury to either Carlos Ruiz or Cameron Rupp. Last season the Phillies had a remarkable zero days on the disabled list from their catchers, a rare feat since catchers get so much wear and tear.
The reduced playing time to Ruiz helped keep him healthy in 2016, but Ruiz is 37 years old, on the older end for a catcher. Rupp will probably be the starter and get the bulk of the playing time in 2016, but if either player goes down for even a 15-day disabled list stint, the Phillies would need some help. That help, ideally, would not come from the Phillies stash of catching prospects.
Gabriel Lino is going to have to share time with Andrew Knapp at AAA Lehigh Valley while Jorge Alfaro catches every day at AA Reading. Alfaro might have been able to play at AAA if Knapp did not need the time to develop. I would suspect that in an injury, neither Lino or Knapp would be called upon. Their development matters more than a short-term fill-in in the Major Leagues.
The only situation I could see Arencibia making the Phillies is as a third catcher and first baseman. This would only happen if the Phillies should find a trade partner for Ryan Howard. As we are well-aware, that is pretty unlikely.