The Philadelphia Phillies are hours away from kicking off their slate of home games in the Grapefruit League. Manager Joe Girardi will have 28 games to decide who will be on his roster come April 1 when the team begins its regular-season schedule against the division-rival Atlanta Braves.
The Phillies have only one open spot in the lineup and that is in center field. Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn, Scott Kingery and to a lesser extent, Odúbel Herrera, will all get a look in camp. The No. 4 and No. 5 starter jobs as well as a few spots in the bullpen and a seat on the bench are also up for grabs.
Could Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler be competing against each other for the start on Opening Day? Nola was one of the better pitchers in the sport in 2020, so it’s not surprising that he should be the one to start this season. It’s this reason that makes him a contender for the Cy Young award this season.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting see how the competition unfolds.
We’ll go around the diamond and take a look at who will be starting at each position before getting into what the bench, starting rotation and bullpen could look like.
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto
Barring any major setbacks, J.T. Realmuto should be ready to start Opening Day against Atlanta. He’s recovering from a non-displaced avulsion fracture in his right thumb while attempting to block a curveball in the dirt during a bullpen session with Jose Alvarado days before camp officially began. He’s wearing a cast, which should be coming off at some point this week, and still working with the pitching staff as he recovers. If he gets the right amount of at-bats in March, he should be fine come April.
First Baseman: Rhys Hoskins
Like Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins should be good to go for the start of the season. He underwent left elbow UCL surgery in October that came with a recovery timeline of four to six months. It appears he’s beating it by a good bit as he announced earlier this week that he’s medically cleared.
“As long as I can get the amount of at-bats that I’m used to in spring training, which should be no problem, I don’t think Opening Day is out of the picture,” Hoskins said last week.
Second Baseman: Jean Segura
Jean Segura earned the right to be declared the team’s starting second baseman. He quietly put together a solid season at the plate, slashing .266/.347/.422 with 7 home runs, 25 RBIs and a 107 wRC+. On a defense that looked terrible for most of the season, Segura was one of the few bright spots, excelling at both third and second base.
Third Baseman: Alec Bohm
Watch out for a full season of Alec Bohm. Even though a 60-game sample size is quite small, it’s reasonable to believe that his floor as a hitter is relatively high. There’s no need for him to be a superstar this year, but another big year from Bohm could be a huge pick-me-up for a team that’s struggled for years with developing talent within their own organization.
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius
I’m still shocked at the fact that I can say Didi Gregorius is going to be the team’s starting shortstop on Opening Day. For months, it seemed as though he was no more than a budget cut for a Phillies team looking to cut payroll. But alas, a fan-favorite will finally get a chance to play meaningful games in front of…fans.
Left Fielder: Andrew McCutchen
When he’s on, Andrew McCutchen is a pretty fearsome hitter. A version of McCutchen that’s reminiscent of his form before his ACL tear in 2019 would be a welcomed surprise. After going 1-for-18 in his first five games, McCutchen slashed .271/.339/.467 with a 116 wRC+ from Aug. 8 to the end of the season. The bat can still play, but the biggest concern lies in his mobility in the outfield.Embed from Getty Images
Center Fielder: Scott Kingery
While I wouldn’t be surprised if Girardi went with Quinn considering just how heavily the Phillies manager preferred him over Haseley last year, the starting center fielder’s job is Kingery’s to lose. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski recently spoke with Kevin Frandsen on how he believes Kingery could bounce back in 2021. From what it sounds like, the team is still high on the former top prospect.
“Scott Kingery has the ability to be a really good big-league player, but he’s also a guy that’s not going to make a living out of hitting the ball out of the ballpark. That’s not the type of guy that he is. He’s not Bryce Harper. He’s not Aaron Judge. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but for him to be a really good player, [he] needs to use his line-drive stroke, to use the whole field, to use his speed. And when he does that, he’s got a chance to be really good and he’s going to do that at a lighter weight because he’s not in a position where he’s bulking up and thinking ‘Hey, I gotta get this ball out of the ballpark.’ It’ll happen naturally at times, but he’s not the type of guy that should be trying to do that. … Now I know he can run. Those types of guys that can do it all, that can run, that can be a spark-plug, that can play different positions for you. Gosh, they are so important. We have a chance to have a good offensive team and if he starts playing the way he’s capable of playing from an offensive perspective, which there’s no reason why he can’t and you add him to Harper, Realmuto, Hoskins, Gregorius, Segura, McCutchen and Bohm… you’re talking about a really good deep lineup.”Dave Dombrowski on Pine Tar for Breakfast
Right Fielder: Bryce Harper
It’s very exciting to know that Bryce Harper doesn’t have to bow down to dozens of smiling cardboard cutouts this year. I’ll admit: His back issues are quite worrisome since he has no intention of swinging the bat less violently. This will probably be more of an issue when Harper reaches his mid-30’s and his bat speed declines. Nevertheless, Harper will be the Phillies’ starting right fielder for a long time.
Bench: Brad Miller, Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn, C.J. Chatham, and Andrew Knapp
Girardi and the Phillies will have to decide whether they intend on having a four-man bench and nine-man bullpen or a five-man bench and eight-man bullpen. This mock-up has them with a five-man bench and eight-man bullpen with Miller being the premier bat among the reserves.
Rotation: Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Matt Moore and Chase Anderson
It’s pretty easy to project the top three, but what about the last two spots? If Spencer Howard was able to get in a normal workload in 2020, perhaps he’s a lock to be the No.4/5 starter. They gave Matt Moore and Chase Anderson a combined $7 million to ensure that they don’t have to rely on Howard and that’s a big reason why the two will start the season in the rotation, leaving Vince Velasquez as the odd-man out.
Bullpen: Archie Bradley (closer), Héctor Neris, Jose Alvarado, Connor Brogdon, Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson, JoJo Romero and Spencer Howard
Girardi said Friday that he’s looking at an eight-man bullpen, so here it is. Picking up Brandon Kintzler and Tony Watson adds another $7 million to the payroll, inching the team much closer to the $210 million luxury tax threshold.
The most refreshing thing about the new-look Phillies bullpen is that you can look at who they have and say that Girardi should be comfortable with inserting at least more than half of the pitchers he has into a high-leverage role. Bradley, Neris, Brogdon, Kintzler, Alvarado and Watson pitching in a one-run game in the seventh inning is something the Phillies can work with. Romero and Howard could grow into those roles over the course of the season.
If you care to know, the Phillies are projected to have the 14th best bullpen in MLB, according to FanGraphs. Phillies fans will take an ERA under 5, so that’s good news.
Where’s Odúbel Herrera?: He doesn’t make the team out of camp. His surest path to the majors is probably a non-roster COVID-19 replacement at some point this season, but anyone would hope that the Phillies don’t have to deal with an outbreak. With 40-man roster space as tight as it is, I don’t see the Phillies giving up on a young player to give Herrera a second chance.
Where’s Vince Velasquez?: Traded. With the roster constructed as is, he just doesn’t fit. The swingman role isn’t his forte and the Phillies will need two roster spots to open up for Kintzler and Watson. Could it be a move the Phillies could eventually regret? Absolutely. Teams need a lot more starting pitching than just the five or six men they could have in the rotation and Velasquez has thrown over 100 innings three times in his big league career. It’s a risk, but the Phillies can probably get the same kind of production they can get from Velasquez out of a combination of Adonis Medina, Ramón Rosso and Ranger Suárez.
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