February 13, 2019
“Pitchers and Catchers” day in Clearwater, Florida brings us thoughts of basebal. No, the roster battles in 2019 don’t have the intrigue of previous years, and for my audience, don’t have the impact on the IronPigs which I might normally find most important. But before you know it, baseball will show up on your computer screen at work during the day, and these are some positions and players to keep an eye on:
Andrew Knapp vs. Invitees
JT Realmuto is in town and will take over as the every day catcher. Last season he played in 125 games for the Marlins. In 2017 he played in 141. It’s just not smart to overwork your backstop–and it is smart to lessen the load on day-after-night scenarios and the like. You can figure on 21-37 games of back-up catcher work in the upcoming season. There’s no way you have someone who’s the whole package, like Realmuto, in that position. So, typically, you’ll have a defensive specialist in that spot. Is Andrew Knapp that guy? I’m not so sure. But he is a switch-hitter and he can run a little bit. He’s also on the 40-man roster. So, what are the other choices?
Rob Brantley The 29yo is a veteran of 125 career MLB games spent all of last season in AAA not hitting.
Deivi Grullon, Matt McBride and other MiLB Choices The other free agents were’t even invited to camp, and Grullon and McBride seem to be headed towards AAA Lehigh Valley.
Unnamed Free Agent Other guys are still out there, and I don’t officially rule out the possibility that the Phillies still bring someone in. The 40-man implications of that do seem to prohibit it somewhat.
Bottom Line: Most have penciled in Andrew Knapp and you can see why. I’m not sure I wouldn’t like to have some extra defensive experience on board and let Andrew work 70/30 with Grullon at AAA (McBride is more 1B/DH these days) at least for the first half of the season.
Cesar Hernandez vs Scott Kingery
Last season Scott Kingery received an MLB deal and made the big club out of camp. He served as a “super back-up” who was pressed into duty at shortstop a ton with the injuries to JP Crawford. Cesar fell off his stats a bit from 2017 thanks to some nagging injuries. Many folks thought that a trade for Cesar might be in the works, but alas the market for second-basemen isn’t booming.
Bottom Line: While most have Cesar penciled in here, if Scott out-plays him during spring training, I would expect that the he’d get the lion share of the early playing time. Another issue is bench spots, which Kingery can fill out nicely with his ability to play multiple positions (see below.) However, I think it would be in the best interest of the Phillies to get Kingery into his natural position and give him regular playing time. If Cesar doesn’t clearly beat him out, watch for this to happen.
Maikel Franco vs. Free Agents
Even on “Pitchers and Catchers” day we already have the “best shape of his life” comments coming through from the beat reporters in Clearwater. And, really, no invitees are in line to take Franco’s spot. Not Kingery either–although manager Gabe Kapler did mention this as a possibility today, perhaps to keep the fire lit for Maikel. So it doesn’t mean he’s going to be handed the job, by any means.
Bottom Line: As we all know, there are some significant free agents still available to man this position if early results don’t look favorable for Franco. Machado is the classic choice, but if that falls through, or the Phillies pay Harper instead, then the Phillies could still reach out to Mike Moustakas if they feel like that would be an upgrade. I’m not sure the Kingery possibility is real, but it certainly bears watching.
Nick Williams vs. Aaron Altherr vs. Roman Quinn vs. ???
I’ve got Odubel penciled in for center field and newcomer Andrew McCutchen in left–although they could be moved around obviously. Aaron Altherr and Roman Quinn are both out of options. I’ve got Quinn penciled in on the bench (see below) due to his flexibility, excellent defense, and value as a late-inning pinch runner. Altherr could also make the team on a bench job, or beat out Nick Williams–whom I believe does have options left, although I don’t see it coming to that.
Bottom Line: Nick Williams job unless/until Bryce Harper is signed? Could be–but watch the pecking order to see who might be on the bench and who might be on the way out if the Phillies decided to keep an extra infielder.
Outfielders versus Infielders
You’ve got your backup catcher, and you’ve got super-utility Scott Kingery and super-outfielder sub Roman Quinn already on your card, right? There will be one (probably not two) more spot, and the question is whether it goes to an infielder or an outfielder. In the outfield you could have Aaron Altherr ready to go in this spot. Or, if you want a better defensive shortstop for late-game substitutions, you could add to the 40-man from your non-roster invitees: Gregorio Petit and Andrew Romine are the two invited infielders listed as shortstops primarily.
Bottom Line: It comes down to infield vs outfield, and I can’t handicap right now. We might need to wait to see if the big free agents sign, which could impact this spot. Romine is a switch-hitter, so I’d probably give him the nod for most-likely if it’s an infielder they want.
#5 Starting Pitcher
Zach Eflin vs Jerad Eickhoff vs ???
Pitchers break, unfortunately, and it’s impossible to know who will be in the rotation to start the season–for that reason and a variety of others. Today we learned that Jake Arrieta had some work done on his knee, and that he’d be ready for the start of the season. We heard that last year, too, when he signed later in the process. We also learned that Jerad Eickhoff has had some additional symptoms even following his off-season carpal tunnel surgery. His status in unknown.
But if you’re going to pencil in Nola, Arrieta, Pivetta, and Velasquez for the first four spots, then it will likely come down to these two for that last spot. And, I believe they both have options remaining, so should one get sent to AAA, he’ll sit atop the IronPigs rotation, likely ahead of Enyel De Los Santos and Ranger Suarez who are on the 40-man roster, and Cole Irvin and JoJo Romero who are not. Tom Eshelman and Drew Anderson are also available, with Anderson on the 40-man. If Arrieta or Eickhoff need to miss time, it opens the door for De Los Santos and Suarez. It also stimulates the Phillies to explore free agents and trade targets.
Bottom Line: It’s impossible to know who what the choices will be here. Free agents are still out there–most notably lefty Dallas Keuchel. A trade cannot be ruled out either–I have a source who has revealed to me that the Phillies have checked in on veteran Zack Greinke who has three (expensive) years left on his deal with Arizona. Could be nothing–the Phillies are going to check in on a lot of players. But it highlights the uncertainty at the bottom of the rotation. You could also see some of the 4A/AAA pitchers begin to move to the bullpen or perhaps have opportunities elsewhere.
Guys With Options vs Guys Without
Just as with the starting rotation, look for change to be the norm among the relief corps. But if we look for everyone to be healthy and no free agent signings, and no trades, then the opening bullpen will be largely determined by the guys who can be sent down to AAA versus the guys who cannot.
David Robertson, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Hector Neris, Juan Nicasio and Jose Alvarez are without options. Seranthony Dominguez is a shoe-in. This could leave solid relief pieces like Victor Arano, Edubray Ramos, Yacksel Rios and James Pazos out in the cold. And this doesn’t include 40-man roster guys like Edgar Garcia and Austin Davis–or possible converted starters like Drew Anderson.
Bottom Line: No matter how this ends up shaking out, expect guys to get sent down to the IronPigs based on their options-status as much as any spring training performance issues. The IronPigs should start the season with not only a top-notch rotation (Eflin/Eickhoff, De Los Santos, Suarez, Irvin, Eshelmann/Romero) but quality MLB-ready relievers as well.
Stay tuned, baseball comes at you fast,
See you at the park,