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IronPigs face roster challenges as Phillies camp continues


Anthony Contreras is the first-year manager of the IronPigs (Ty Daubert, Philles Nation)

ALLENTOWN — New Lehigh Valley IronPigs manager Anthony Contreras sat in the home dugout at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday afternoon without a complete picture of his roster.

Speaking publicly for the first time in his new role at IronPigs media day, he addressed some of the uncertainties his team could face early in the season.

“We’ll see,” Contreras said. “I think the big-league team has to do what they have to do to finalize our roster. Once that gets done, I’ll get a heads up on who’s heading our way to round out the rest of the roster, and then we’ll go from there.”

The Triple-A season begins on Tuesday, but the Phillies don’t finish spring training until a day later. Roster decisions will be made ahead of major-league opening day on Friday. But even then, the IronPigs could be left short-handed throughout the first month of the year.

Due to the lockout-shortened spring training, major-league rosters will be expanded from 26 to 28 players through May 1 to allow for more pitching depth. As noted by The Athletic‘s Matt Gelb, three potential Lehigh Valley starting pitchers could start the season with the Phillies in Cristopher Sánchez, Bailey Falter and Nick Nelson.

Hans Crouse, a player Contreras managed in the Arizona Fall League, should be a standout in the IronPigs rotation, barring any changes in the majors. Beyond there, it’s still a bit unclear from the outside. The team might have to be creative in the first week.

“We have enough starters to get through at least the first three or four games,” right-hander Mark Appel said. “We’re probably anticipating that we might get one or two more guys from big-league camp once they break, so it’ll all shake out. But we have enough guys that are built up to throw innings, whatever we need. I think we’ll be able to make it work.”

Appel, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, will be transitioning into a full-time reliever this season for the first time in his career. He’ll join pitchers like veteran Aaron Barrett, left-hander Braeden Ogle and last season’s IronPigs pitcher of the year Jeff Singer in a bullpen that could see a lot of action this upcoming week.

“I think, on the pitching side, we’re pretty much set,” Contreras said. “I think it’s more on the position-player side; we’re still finalizing the order and things like that, based on the way things are going to shape up these next three days. But once we get a heads up on what they want to do up there [in Philadelphia], then we’ll have a better idea of what we’re going to do down here.”

The biggest question mark for the lineup, of course, is whether or not Bryson Stott will be an IronPig. The 2019 first rounder worked his way up to Lehigh Valley by the end of last season, which was a breakout for the infielder.

Stott, however, is still in Clearwater and has been starting games regularly in major-league camp. There seems to be a real chance he breaks into the Phillies lineup at third base out of spring training. That impending decision will shape the order in Lehigh Valley.

While waiting for some extra players to make their way north, the IronPigs will have a group of with positional versatility fill out the lineup. Veteran Jorge Bonifacio is back in town after signing with the organization for the second year in a row. He’s primarily a corner outfielder, but can handle center, even making appearances at the position for the Phillies last season. Will Toffey, Dalton Guthrie and Drew Maggi can all play the infield and outfield.

Darick Hall will be a mainstay at first base as well as the big bopper in the order, at least until some help arrives. The IronPigs hope to come together under their new manager until they get a full roster.

“Any time there’s a new environment, new scenery, things are going to be different,” Contreras said. “… When those guys in the locker room are feeling good, they’re meshing and our staff is working together and we’re communicating the right way, that’s when you see a good product put on the field.”

Lehigh Valley begins the season with a six-game series at home against Columbus on Tuesday night. While the roster situation might be a challenge for the IronPigs, it could also have some benefits for the players there.

“It’s great, honestly, that the minor leagues are starting before the big leagues,” Singer said. “It gets a few more eyes on us. It’s going to help a lot of guys, and it’s really going to show who’s been working this offseason and who had a good spring training. I think it’s going to be great having us start early this year before the other guys. But it’s still baseball. We still have to get out there and compete.”

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