I’ve done this the last several years–sometime over the holidays, when there’s not much going on and I have a few minutes to myself, my thoughts drift to Spring and Summer, and the players we’ll see on the field at Coca Cola Park. Click back through the archives if you want to re-read some of them for a laugh.
It is a bit different this season. Even more than last, much of our AAA roster will come from within the Phillies’ organization rather than via minor league free agents and MLB role players. As always, many of our players will “graduate” to the Majors this season and the roster may look much different at the end of the season compared to the beginning. The difference in roster turnover compared with most other AAA seasons, however, will be that the promotions will almost certainly be “permanent” in nature, and the players who replace the graduates will be additional prospect promoted from AA Reading. Our new manager Dusty Wathan has been quoted as saying, “I try to win with this team, graduate them, then win with the next team” or something like that, while coaching AA. 2017 may come to feel a bit like a AA season in that regard.
In past years, I’ve started this post by trying to figure out who will be on the Phillies. This season, perhaps less concentration there, and more on Reading as I’ll be a season ticket holder there–as well as Allentown–again this season. And, those will be some of the guys we should see by the conclusion of the 2017 campaign.
The Phillies have Cameron Rupp. But who will back him up? Something to consider as we move through these players is that the Phillies will have 40-man roster decisions to make all the way through Spring Training and into the start of the season–just to be able to field a group of 25 that makes sense.
Catcher is one of those areas. Ruppy is on the 40, of course, but the only other catchers are Knapp and Jorge Alfaro, who spent last season in Reading. Alfaro is a top-5 prospect in the system, and even if he earns his way to Philadelphia during Spring Training, the Phillies will want him to play almost every day, so he would have to beat out Rupp and…
That’s probably not going to happen. The battle to watch here is Knapp. If they think he’s ready for an MLB bench job, then newly acquired veteran reserve Bryan Holaday will stay on his minor league deal at back up Alfaro in Allentown.
Another scenario has Holaday added to the 40-man to back up Rupp, and Alfaro and Knapp split time with Lehigh Valley while Knapp gets at-bats at DH and possibly in Left Field–1B is too crowded right now.
There’s not a ton of depth here to allow for injuries–at a position where that is more than possible. Don’t be surprised to see veterans of MLB or MiLB added at one or more levels.
IronPigs Catchers: Alfaro, Knapp
Names to Know: Bryan Holaday–152 games MLB experience with Boston, Texas, Detroit; Logan Moore
In Reading: Moore, Chace Numata
Our guy Tommy Joseph will get the opening day nod in South Philadelphia (well, they’ll be in Cincinnati, but you know what I mean), but who will back him up? Our old friend Andres Blanco can handle it–although he’s not really your prototypical 1B. With 40-man spots at a premium, it’s unlikely the Phillies will carry a designated back-up here. Blanco or Howie Kendrick can handle it in the short term until a player could be brought from AAA if that would ever become necessary.
Rhys (pronounced “Reece”) Hoskins arrives as one half of the “bash brothers” from last year’s record-setting Reading squad. He’ll likely get the lion’s share of the 1B duties, but Brock Stassi is still around, and hit the cover off the ball this winter in Venezuela. Stassi could get a look overseas if it becomes clear that Hoskins and others will get most of the time at 1B.
We’ll touch on Nava when we get to outfielders.
IronPigs 1B: Hoskins, Stassi
Might Get A Look: Knapp, Daniel Nava
Reading: Kyle Martin, Martinez/Walding
As the season begins, we’ll expect Cesar Hernandez to return to the middle of the diamond in Philadelphia unless another team offers an interesting trade option. Freddy Galvis and Andres Blanco can also man the pivot, and Jesmuel Valentin owns a 40-man spot and has been rumored to have the opportunity to earn an opening day nod with a good camp.
However, barring any unique happenings, I expect Valentin to pick up where he left off with the IronPigs to open the season. Similarly, I expect top 2B prospect Scott “Jetpax” Kingery to return to Reading. With this second-base prospect depth in place, the Phillies traded their other 2B prospect, Josh Tobias, last week.
Non-roster invitees on MiLB deals include Pedro Florimon, whom you may recognize from Indianapolis and Rochester in years gone by, who has much more time at SS than 2B, and Hector Gomez, who spent all of last season overseas, and his previous AAA time in the PCL. Gomez is listed at 3B, but has significant time at SS and 2B.
Howie Kendrick can play a little 2B, too, if needed.
IronPigs 2B: Valentin
Names To Know: Florimon, Gomez
JP Crawford‘s day will come. But, rules about MLB service time and the fact that he doesn’t require a 40-man spot to start the season will certainly have JP at the cut-off on the newly installed field at Coca Cola Park to begin the 2017 season. In Philly, Freddy Galvis will return to his natural position there, as well.
For depth, Andres Blanco has been re-signed to back up the infield positions in Philadelphia, while the aforementioned Gomez and Florimon will be available in case of injury and to add depth at AAA barring an opt-out.
IronPigs SS: JP Crawford
Names to Know: Florimon, Gomez
Reading: There are several options here: Angelo Mora returns, and can play SS. Former prospect Malquin Canelo could finally advance from Clearwater with a slick glove and a light bat. The diminutive Jorge Flores comes over from the Fisher Cats as well.
Maikel (Maikel Motor-Cycle) Franco returns to the hot corner in Philadelphia. Freddy G and “Let’s Go” Blanco can back him up. We’ve already touched on Florimon and Gomez.
With the IronPigs things are a bit more hazy. The obvious options are Gomez and/or Florimon. I’m not sure Harold Martinez is going to take the next step–with his bat or his glove–but he remains an option. Mitch Walding had a very nice year, but probably needs to return to Reading to solidify things before being considered for promotion.
This might be another spot where you could see an additional player get picked up with a S/T invite and the possibility of a AAA job to start the season. The Phillies had Richie Schaffer, but were unable to sneak him through waivers. He’s with the Reds now.
IronPigs 3B: Gomez, Florimon
Reading: Walding, Martinez
Howie Kendrick was signed to play every day in left field in Philadelphia. Odubel Herrera has a new contract and a spot in center. Right field will be an open competition in camp, with Aaron “Rhineland Rocket” Altherr as the favorite, perhaps. In a pinch, Freddy and Blanco can play deep. Florimon, too.
Daniel Nava, whom you remember from his days with Pawtucket, has been signed to an MiLB deal and invited to camp. He spent last season in Kansas City and with the Angels and could compete for a share of the right field job, with Altherr, but he’d need a 40-man spot. He may have an opt-out, too.
Last year’s first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, Tyler Goeddel, is lurking as well. He did not perform well as a part-time player last year in Philadelphia, but they like him well enough to have kept him in the Majors for the entire campaign, as per the Rule 5 regulations. He did play well for a short burst early on when he was getting regular time on the field and at the plate. I believe he has his full compliment of options to be used, although he’ll remain on the 40-man.
Speedy switch-hitter Roman Quinn has been one of my favorites to watch in Reading when he’s been healthy. He got a look in the bigs last September and equipped himself well. He’s been mentioned as a possibility to remain in the majors as a bench player, but doesn’t fit well in right field–he’s likely a center fielder or a left-fielder and he hasn’t had any AAA time yet.
Nick Williams is lurking. He’s on the “JP Plan” now, although he has a 40-man spot. He could absolutely challenge for that right field position, but I feel like the Phillies will want him to prove himself in April and May in Allentown, first, given how he fizzled in August last season.
The other bash brother, Dylan Cozens, will almost certainly start at Coca Cola Park. He’ll need to hit AAA “garbage” pitching and continue strong play in the field and on the base-paths. If the lefty can find the short porch in right on a regular basis, you’ll start hearing the calls to Philadelphia.
IronPigs Outfielders: Williams, Quinn, Cozens, Goeddel
Name to Know: Nava
Reading: Aaron Brown, Andrew Pullin, Cord Sandberg, Carlos Tocci
“You can never have enough pitching.” – Someone, probably.
The 2017 season should start out similar to 2016, with a stacked rotation at Coca Cola Park. In Philadelphia, they say everyone is healthy–and if that remains to be the case, their starters to open should be Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickoff, Jeremy Hellickson, Vince Velasquez, and Clay Buchholz.
Certainly, health and trades will impact that rotation eventually–and some of the talent in Allentown could even force the issue.
IronPigs Starters (with notes)
Zach Eflin: He had some good and some bad after he was called up last season–but it was almost all good while he was with the ‘Pigs. He’ll start here again, on two healthy knees this time, we’re told.
Jake Thompson: He also got his feet wet with the big club last season. He knows what he has to do, and will pursue the re-promotion like a bull dog.
Alec Asher: He was the odd man out last season, and had to start in Reading despite having the AAA credentials to his credit. He quickly got promoted and was pitching “lights out” when he was suspended for performance enhancement. He did come back, but was ineligible to pitch in the post-season. He used a Winter League assignment to get some work in. Reports were glowing. He needs to miss bats and prove that his performance last season in Reading and Allentown was for real. He’ll be on a mission, as well.
Mark Appel: Let’s put aside the “#1 pick” pedigree now. It’s been a few years and he’s now a very talented pitcher with some electric stuff, coming off an injury. He’s said to be 100%, and if he is, look for him to take his turn on the mound every five days for the IronPigs. He’ll need to pound the strike zone and work out of the stretch on occasion, but don’t look for a move to the bull pen unless things are going wrong for him or very, very right for some of his teammates.
Ben Lively: He started the season as the “ace” of the Reading staff–even while Asher was there, really–and became the rock for the IronPigs down the stretch and into the playoffs. He has his doubters, and will look to prove them wrong once again and force a call to The Show.
Names To Remember
Nick Pivetta: He did well in his late call to AAA last season, but like Asher at the start of last season, could find himself in Reading until a spot opens up. I believe he deserves to be in Allentown, but might bet squeezed in the numbers game.
Adam Morgan: A long time favorite of ours here in the Nation, he could get squeezed as well–perhaps to the bull pen and/or perhaps off the 40-man. I hope we don’t have to say good-bye like we had to for Asche and Ruffy, but it is a possibility. But nothing’s been done yet, and I wrote a similarly sad note about Tommy Joseph last season, and we all saw what happened with that.
Ricardo Pinto: Has a 40-man spot. Might be time for him to convert to the bull pen.
Tom Eshelman: Needs to continue to pound the strike zone.
Tyler Viza: Will need to pick up where he left off, and take the next step
Elniery Garcia: I’m really looking forward to watching this guy. He’s a lefty who can throw hard–and the top-ranked lefty in the Phillies system, among starters. A name to know.
Tommy Bergjans: Came over in the Chooch deal and will likely try his hand at AA for the first time.
As per usual, there are too many candidates and too many moving parts to start to make any real projections at this point, as far as AAA is concerned. For now, let’s just list some names to know:
Joely Rodriguez (L)
Sean Burnett (NRI, Early Opt-Out) (L)
Tom Windle (L)
And, as always, relief pitchers could be added at all three levels before, during, or after camp–especially leftys.
So there you have it, as my first stab at the 2017 IronPigs roster. I plan to leave this pinned to the front page for a time, so that we can add to it, update, and such in the coming weeks–at least until I can do a re-write. Please use the comments section to remind me of anyone I might have missed or forgotten, and we’ll add on the changes there as well rather than edit the post after the fact.
See you at the park(s),
Featured image by Cheryl Pursell