Just think — one week from tomorrow the Phillies and Cincinnati Reds will meet on opening-day, a 4:10 p.m. game at Great American Ballpark.
So now we’re in the home stretch of spring training, a mini-marathon filled with young guns, storylines and, of course, those popular position battles.
Here’s the 25-man roster as it stands today, with a few open spots still to be determined:
Let’s go over those open spots, who’s still competing, and who may come north to Cincinnati on April 4.
We’ve gone over the outfield situation before, with two spots open after injuries to Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche. Currently David Lough (.282/.417/.410, 3 XBH, 9 BB, 8 K) and Cedric Hunter (.286/.321/.592, 8 XBH, 3 BB, 8 K) are competing for a left-handed bench spot, though since they’ve played well it’s possible they both get the call. If one lefty is rostered, it’s possible that Darnell Sweeney (.219/.324/.250, 1 XBH, 4 BB, 13 K) gets the final spot, as he offers flexibility as an infielder. As you can see, though, Sweeney has played poorly this spring.
Another option is Emmanuel Burriss, who is better known as a middle infielder but has also played the corner outfield positions in the majors. His spring performance (.323/.382/.484, 4 XBH, 2 BB, 6 K) has him in the running. And because of his position flexibility, he’s emerging more and more as a favorite.
General Manager Matt Klentak can still find a discarded outfielder on the waiver wire, and quite a few names are now out there after either opting out of contracts or being cut from their teams’ spring camps. Among those names: Will Venable (.133/.270/.133, 0 XBH, 6 BB, 8 K) and Chris Denofria (.200/.259/.320, 1 XBH, 2 BB, 9 K), and David Murphy (.310/.300/.414, 3 XBH, 0 BB, 4 K) – if he opts out of his contract with the Red Sox – will be available.
It’s still hard to tell what the Phillies will do here, but Manager Pete Mackanin has especially praised Hunter this spring. To me he’s the slight favorite over Lough; the final spot is really more about flexibility, which could mean Sweeney or Burriss get the call.
While the fifth starter may not even pitch until April 13 (though the Phils may eschew the tradition of skipping the fifth guy this year), the race is hot and involves just two horses: Vince Velasquez and Adam Morgan.
With Oberholtzer sent to the bullpen to start the season, it’s been a battle between flashy and accurate. Velasquez has been strong this spring, thus far turning in a 3.21 ERA in 14 innings, adding 16 strikeouts and four walks. He’s earned a spot for sure, but he also could work a bit more on his command. Morgan, meanwhile, has shown good command with a 2.00 ERA and two walks in nine innings, but just two strikeouts. Morgan’s more of a fill-in, while Velasquez has the potential to be a top-line starter.
If the Phillies feel confident in Velasquez, he’ll get the call. Otherwise they’ll stick with Morgan for at least a handful of starts. Either way, we’ll probably know the answer after Tuesday afternoon: Velasquez starts Monday’s game against Toronto, while Morgan goes Tuesday against the Yankees.
UPDATE: Mackanin told reporters the fifth starter will be named Monday.
Last week it seemed clear that Andrew Bailey was not only making the team but slotted as closer; now, after a run of poor outings, that doesn’t seem so obvious. Still, Bailey (5.14 ERA, 5 K, 0 BB) will get deep consideration because of experience and potential value (high if healthy and effective).
With Bailey a number of right-handed pitchers are lined up for at least one, maybe two spots. Hector Neris (6.23 ERA, 13 K, 5 BB) has good stuff but has been victimized plenty this spring. He’s a risky choice but could pay dividends. … Though his stuff lacks punch, Edward Mujica (2.45 ERA, 5 K, 2 BB) has been effective; as a veteran, he’s probably a favorite for a spot. … Luis Garcia (5.87 ERA, 11 K, 4 BB) may be an odd man out and still has minor-league options. … Ernesto Frieri (6.75 ERA, 8 K, 2 BB) has good strikeout numbers but hasn’t impressed. … Chris Leroux (9.00 ERA, 10 K, 4 BB) wasn’t favored to make the team, and his performance hasn’t changed that perception.
Bailey has shown the most shut-down stuff among the experienced names. Still, with plenty of uncertainty in the bullpen already, the Phils may want a more tried and true name … thus, Mujica. Plus, Mujica has an opt-out in his contract; if the Phillies don’t roster him, he could exercise that and find himself on another roster pretty quickly. Bailey, on a minor league deal, can head to Lehigh Valley.
Garcia and Neris, meanwhile, should start the year in triple-A.
As for the lefties, it’s a close battle between James Russell (3.38 ERA, 8 K, 0 BB), Bobby LaFromboise (1.08 ERA, 9 K, 3 BB) and Daniel Stumpf (4.35 ERA, 12 K, 3 BB). Elvis Araujo, meanwhile (7.94 ERA, 5 K, 3 BB), is solidly behind the others.
LaFromboise has generated the most excitement of the lefties, though Russell has been highly received by coaches. That said, both are on minor-league deals and can easily head to Lehigh Valley. Stumpf, meanwhile, is a Rule 5 pick; if the Phils don’t roster him, he could be claimed by his former team, the Royals.
Mackanin also recently noted that it’s possible the Phils head to Cincinnati with three lefties in the bullpen. One of them is Oberholtzer. That means two of the above may get the call.
I’ll stick with Hunter and a slight shocker – Burriss – in the outfield, though a waiver claim is possible. Velasquez will earn the fifth-starter spot as the Phils go medium-risk, high-reward there. Meanwhile, Mujica, Stumpf and Russell earn the final bullpen spots.