Opening Day is less than two weeks away and the Phillies are close to making key roster decisions in preparation for the regular season. Joe Girardi (and everyone else) is still trying to figure out who will be the Phillies’ starting center fielder.
After 19 games, the starting rotation, barring injuries, seems set. Girardi and co. will have a pretty good idea of what the bullpen will look like. The tricky part is deciding which non-roster invitees to keep and which 40-man roster prospects to part ways with. There’s a reason why Dave Dombrowski, who is tasked with finalizing these roster decisions, makes $5 million-a-year and has a general manager and four assistant GMs working beneath him.
Key Date to Remember: According to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, non-roster relievers Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson and Héctor Rondón all have an opt-out clause that can be triggered on March 24. The Phillies would then have 48 hours to either add them onto the roster or the player can ask for their release. Expect the Opening Day bullpen to be solidified way before the final day of Grapefruit League play.
The Starting Lineup
Leading off for the Philadelphia Phillies, No. 22, left fielder: Andrew McCutchen
For the first time since June 2019, Andrew McCutchen looks healthy. He has prepared to play a full season in the outfield but the Phillies will proceed with caution when it comes to one of their most important bats in the lineup. When asked earlier this spring if McCutchen could start 140 games in the outfield this season, Girardi said: “I would not put that past him. I think he has the ability.”
He has yet to start more than 59 games in a season as a Phillie. This year, we’ll most likely see more of McCutchen than we have the past two seasons combined.
Batting second, No. 17, first baseman: Rhys Hoskins
Hoskins’ left elbow injury has become an afterthought this spring, which is excellent news for Phillies fans. He works the count, gets on base and hits for power, making him a perfect fit for the No. 2 spot. The 28-year-old is expected to be fully healthy heading into the 2021 season.
Batting third, No. 3, right fielder: Bryce Harper
Imagine the way you felt when Dan Baker introduced Bryce Harper for the first time in a Phillies uniform. In a way, Phillies fans at home and in the ballpark will get to relive that when Harper comes up to the plate for the first time with fans inside Citizens Bank Park since September of 2019.
Harper made his first start in right field last Tuesday against the Blue Jays. He spent the offseason as well as the first few weeks of spring reteaching himself how to throw a baseball, a sign of just how bad his back injury was at the end of last season. There are obvious short and long-term concerns regarding Harper’s health, but he should be fine for the first day of the season.
Batting fourth, No. 28, third baseman: Alec Bohm
J.T. Realmuto will probably be the team’s clean-up hitter, but Girardi should heavily consider slotting Alec Bohm into that spot. Realmuto probably won’t be an everyday player in the first couple weeks of the season as he recovers from a broken thumb and you don’t want your top-four constantly changing during one of the most important stretches of the season. Bohm has shown he is capable of handling this spot in the lineup. He’s had six starts in the four-hole so far this spring.
Batting fifth, No. 18, shortstop: Didi Gregorius
In 2020, the Phillies ranked fourth in MLB in batting average and slugging percentage with runners in scoring position. Of course, Bohm had a huge part in this but so did Gregorius. He’s tied with Bohm for the ninth-most hits with runners in scoring position last season (19). Gregorius also ranked as one of the toughest hitters to strikeout in the National League, finishing fourth in plate appearances per strikeout (8.5) in 2020. A veteran hitter who possesses an elite two-strike approach and can drive runners in fits in well as a No. 5 hitter.
Batting sixth, No. 10, catcher: J.T. Realmuto
The Phillies are happy with the progress Realmuto is making in his return from injury. He could make his Grapefruit League debut next week. Andrew Knapp will probably get a few more starts through the first few weeks of the season.
Realmuto hasn’t spent much time hitting this low in the order in recent years. He was predominantly used as the No. 5 hitter under Gabe Kapler while Girardi preferred to have Realmuto hit clean-up. Take these numbers with a grain of salt because Realmuto faced much steeper competition relative to others on the list, but Realmuto ranked 14th in OPS (.827) among the 29 hitters who started at least 20 games as a No. 4 hitter last season. We’ll have a better sense of Realmuto’s fit as a clean-up hitter since that’s where he’ll most likely be, but I do think the lineup as a whole will benefit if Realmuto found a home in the six-hole.Embed from Getty Images
Batting seventh, No. 2, second baseman: Jean Segura
Jean Segura’s walk rate nearly doubled last season and that’s not a coincidence. In a press conference earlier this spring, Segura was candid about his approach.
“I think when you get more disciplined and take more walks, your contact rate is going to go down,” Segura said. “For me, I don’t care too much about contact rate because I can put the ball in play whenever I want, but I don’t want that. I just want to get on-base.”
He prefers to hit in the No. 2 spot, but the fact that the Phillies can slot him in this far down in the order is a testament to how deep the lineup is.
Batting eighth, No. 37, center fielder: Odúbel Herrera
The Phillies gave Herrera an opportunity to win the center field job and while the competition is still going on, it looks as though Herrera will come out on top. Keep in mind, however, that the Phillies will most likely face a left-hander in Max Fried on Opening Day and while his career lefty/righty splits are drastic when it comes to the power numbers, Girardi has been impressed with Herrera’s at-bats against southpaws.
Sending Herrera to the alternate site in April to get more at-bats remains a possibility.
Batting ninth, No. 27, pitcher: Aaron Nola
Scott Kingery, Matt Joyce, Brad Miller, Andrew Knapp and Roman Quinn
Kingery, who could have won the job in center field with a below-average showing in spring training, looks lost at the plate. Some at-bats at the alternate site in addition to some time in the minor leagues could work well for him, but the Phillies have signaled a willingness to let Kingery figure it out with the big club when they optioned both Nick Maton and C.J. Chatham to minor-league camp.
Joyce, a non-roster invitee, has impressed in camp and should make the team as an extra outfielder. Adam Haseley has a fighting chance at being ready for Opening Day and while he’s ahead of schedule in his rehab from a groin injury, I would be surprised if he lands on the 26-man roster at the beginning of April. Mickey Moniak has looked excellent this spring, but the lack of at-bats as a starter means he was never seriously considered in the race to be the team’s starting center fielder. He’ll begin the season at the alternate site and if he progresses well when the minor-league season begins, he should be on the big-league roster at some point this season.
The Rotation after Nola
Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Matt Moore and Chase Anderson
The only pitcher with an injury problem here is Zach Eflin, who is dealing with a back “flare-up” after throwing extra pitches in the bullpen following his outing on March 13 vs. Detroit. There is a level of concern but the Phillies can push his first start of the season back to April 7.
The Phillies had the third-best rotation in baseball last season, according to FanGraphs WAR. If they can replicate that success over 162 games, they’re a playoff team. There are question marks at the back-end, but both Matt Moore and Chase Anderson have impressed this spring as the duo has surrendered only one earned run in 15 innings of work through March 19.Embed from Getty Images
Archie Bradley (closer), Héctor Neris, Jose Alvarado, Connor Brogdon, Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson, JoJo Romero and Spencer Howard
Girardi doesn’t seem too eager about naming a closer and it’s probably because he has four to five candidates to choose from and would be happy with either one pitching in the ninth inning. Archie Bradley seems like the most likely choice, but Jose Alvarado, who has looked electric so far this spring, should not be counted out.
Kintzler and Watson were signed to minor-league deals last month, but they always seem destined to make the big club. Both have had at least one rough outing, but the two veteran arms, who max out in the low 90s, offer a different look for opposing hitters.
It looks like Velasquez’s oblique injury could keep him off the roster. The same can be said for Spencer Howard, who was experiencing back spasms, but Girardi indicated that Howard was ahead of Velasquez. If both are not ready, Ramón Rosso could slot in as a long reliever.
The 40-man roster siutation
With Joyce, Herrera, Kintzler and Watson making the team as non-roster invitees, the Phillies have to clear four roster spots. They could try to get pitchers Mauricio Llovera, Cristopher Sanchez and Kyle Dohy through waivers and trade David Hale to a team that could use a long man out of the bullpen. Unlike earlier this offseason, the Phillies don’t have many obvious DFA candidates at this point in time. In the case of Llovera, Sanchez and Dohy, the Phillies could lose a solid prospect to another team. Sanchez was the only one out of the trio to pitch this spring. It’ll also be hard to say goodbye to Hale, the most successful Phillies trade deadline acquisition in 2020.
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