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MLB: MAY 30 Cardinals at Phillies

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What you need to know for the upcoming Spring Training position battles

A lot of the everyday players are known, but a couple spots on the 2020 Phillies are up for grabs. Here’s a rundown of what’s at stake this coming Spring.

Phil Gosselin is one of a few players vying for a spot on the 26-man roster
| Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2020 Phillies are mostly a known quantity. Mostly. Nearly the entire starting lineup is set, with center field being the only possible exception; an additional three bench spots are accounted for by Jay Bruce, Andrew Knapp, and Roman Quinn; four of the five rotation spots are claimed by Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Eflin; and three relief spots are locked down by Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez, and Adam Morgan.

But there are still spots to be won. There is that coveted fifth starter’s role, which will feature the well-publicized competition between Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, and some dark horse challengers like Cole Irvin or Spencer Howard. There are, potentially, three more bench spots to be won, as well, with frontrunners like Josh Harrison and Nick Martini on the inside track. And then there’s the bullpen, with a projected five spots (along with the three mentioned earlier) to be filled by some combination of the following: Seranthony Dominguez (guaranteed a spot if healthy), Victor Arano (ditto, probably), Ranger Suarez (a leading candidate, if he doesn’t start), Enyel De Los Santos, Trevor Kelley Reggie McClain, Robert Stock, and potential conversions like Irvin, JoJo Romero, and the loser of the fifth starter battle.

It’s a lot. But we’re here to help you sift through it!

Here’s a primer with everything you need to know about the spots up for grabs and the players vying to claim them. Included are players invited to Major League camp, as well as some current outsiders who could work their way into the conversation as the season progresses. We’ll check in periodically on everyone’s progress as camp progresses and the picture becomes clearer (or, since it’s the Phillies after all, becomes murkier).


The addition of the 26th roster spot for this season is a pretty big deal. So, too, is the reduction of September roster expansion from (up to) 40 down to a maximum of 28. As a National League team with some starting pitchers prone to short outings, having an additional pinch hitter/fielder to use around the fifth inning lightens the crunch on later-inning moves for the Phils. In an imperfectly perfect world, anyway.

The 26 spots each come attached with a mandatory designation of pitcher, position player, or two-way player. No one on the Phils currently qualifies as two-way — you need a prior season of 20-plus innings and 20-plus games with three or more plate appearances as a non-pitcher — although Velasquez is the most likely(?) to earn one of those prerequisite seasons. With a maximum of 13 pitchers permitted until September, we’ll assume the Phils carry an evenly-split roster of 13 and 13. For this piece’s purposes, that means five starting pitchers, eight relievers, eight members of the starting lineup, and five bench bats.

Here’s how things break down as Spring Training approaches.

Starting Pitchers

Locks

Jake Arrieta, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin

Main Contenders

Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez

In the Hunt

Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez

Back of the Pack

Mauricio Llovera, Adonis Medina, JoJo Romero

Non-Roster Invitees

Spencer Howard, Damon Jones

Dark Horses/Not in MLB Camp

Bailey Falter, David Parkinson, Connor Seabold

Summary

The chances of anyone not named Pivetta or Velasquez claiming the fifth starter’s spot out of camp, barring injury, are slim-to-none. This also assumes Eflin locks down the No. 4 spot, and it’s widely assumed he will. The Phils do have a good number of stretch arms available as replacements midseason, but that inventory also has a lot to do with how the team decides to use some of these guys.

Every single pitcher above outside of the “Locks” group has the potential to be used in relief or has already done so. Even Howard, the team’s top pitching prospect, stands a chance of seeing Major League innings as a reliever in order to go easy on his workload. A defined number of innings hasn’t been set for Howard, but he’s only combined for 183 innings in the last two years and doesn’t figure to be active as a starter for the entire season. Only three pitchers this century have thrown more than 120 innings in the Majors for the Phillies during their first season: Pivetta (2017), Kyle Kendrick (2007), and Cole Hamels (2006).

Llovera, Medina, and Romero are all on the 40-man roster, but none comes into the spring on any kind of late-2019, carryover hot streak. The best they could reasonably hope for is making an impression and improving their positioning for midseason consideration. Same goes for Jones, though he sits a half-step back because he’s not currently on the 40-man; any player not on the 40-man roster is inherently less likely to be promoted, as teams treat those spots as precious commodities and are loath to risk losing players on waivers unless necessary.

Seabold was left off the Major League camp invitee list likely as a casualty of there simply not being enough innings to go around. Perhaps he could get a look later in the spring, depending on how things go. He looked good in abbreviated action in the minors last season, as well as in the Arizona Fall League. Falter is a bit further back in the pack, but has consistently posted very good K/BB numbers and allowed (relatively) few homers. Despite not being overpowering, he could wiggle his way into the conversation as a left-handed rotation option if his success continues with Lehigh. Same goes for Parkinson, who had a wildly successful 2018 but took a half-step back in 2019.


Relief Pitchers

Locks

Jose Alvarez, Adam Morgan, Hector Neris

Main Contenders

Victor Arano, Seranthony Dominguez, Cristopher Sanchez, Ranger Suarez, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez

In the Hunt

Garrett Cleavinger, Austin Davis, Edgar Garcia, J.D. Hammer, Cole Irvin

Back of the Pack

Mauricio Llovera, Reggie McClain, Robert Stock

Non-Roster Invitees

Connor Brogdon, Kyle Dohy, Tyler Gilbert, Francisco Liriano, Bud Norris, Addison Russ, Drew Storen, Anthony Swarzak, Zach Warren

Dark Horses/Not in MLB Camp

Luke Leftwich, Jeff Singer

Summary

Obviously, we’re not dealing with exclusive groups of starters and relievers with this squad. No one’s really sure what role guys like Llovera or Irvin or the loser of the fifth starter competition will hold. There’s too much uncertainty, and the way the Phillies deployed some of these guys last season, hybridized between starting and relieving, answered few questions. Hopefully this spring will do a bit more for that.

Arano and Dominguez are near-locks whose only question is health. If both come into camp healthy with their arms in game shape by mid-March, they’re in. Suarez is also on the cusp, and seeing as he’s likely a full-time reliever from here on out thanks to a pretty sturdy rookie showing, he has a leg up on a spot to be the third lefty option. But he’ll likely face some stiff competition from Sanchez, the fireballer the Phils picked up from Tampa Bay for infielder Curtis Mead back in December, as well as Davis and Irvin, the latter of whom may also find himself fully converted sooner than later.

Every one of these guys wants to win a spot on the team, but the pressure is higher on the ones with a spot on the 40-man but without an option, as well as the veteran NRIs who likely have opt-out dates on their minor league deals, should they fail to make the club. That collection includes Liriano, Norris, and Storen: Liriano signed a minor league deal but is out of options, while Norris and Storen are also on MiLB deals but can be optioned. This means none would be exposed to waivers if they don’t break camp with the Phils, but only Norris and Storen can go up and down once they do make the 40. For each of these three, how long they stick around is likely more a matter of when they’d be able to opt out of their deals and become free agents if they’re not in the Majors. We’ll learn more about that soon enough.

The in-house competition should definitely be interesting, with Brogdon, Dohy, Gilbert, and Russ all set to draw some eyes. None figures to win a spot out of Spring Training, but if 2020 brings about as much bullpen volatility as 2019 did, they’ll be among the first in line for a look later on. Leftwich — who, incredibly, does not throw left-handed — and Singer are curiosities who may only get one or two opportunities to showcase themselves for the Major League coaches before being reassigned.


Catchers/Infielders

Locks

Didi Gregorius, Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura

Main Contenders

Andrew Knapp, Deivy Grullon

In the Hunt

Christian Bethancourt

Back of the Pack

Arquimedes Gamboa

Non-Roster Invitees

Alec Bohm, Logan Forsythe, Phil Gosselin, Darick Hall, Josh Harrison, Austin Listi, Nick Maton, Ronald Torreyes, Neil Walker, Luke Williams

Dark Horses/Not in MLB Camp

T.J. Rivera, Bryson Stott

Summary

There’s a strange storm brewing with the Phils’ infield situation: They figure to carry a reserve infielder, but the only non-starter currently on the 40-man is Gamboa, unless you’re expecting Quinn to try playing second base again. Gamboa stands basically zero chance of making the team, and the 40 is full. That means someone else would need to be bumped off if, say, Josh Harrison (the preseason favorite) wins the job.

There’s definitely no shortage of competition for that job, and the sheer volume of players involved could make this as interesting a battle as the one for the fifth starting pitcher’s role outlined above. I mean, as far as position battles for reserve spots go. I find that stuff riveting because my neurons are stuck together with Dubble Bubble.

The backup catcher’s spot is no sure thing, either. Right now, Knapp is the guy, but he isn’t assured the spot simply because he’s being paid a bit more than the minimum ($710 thousand). He has all three option years remaining, and has yet to really prove himself as any sort of formidable offensive threat. If Grullon has a strong showing both at the plate and behind the dish, Knapp’s seat could warm up quickly.

Hall, Maton, and Williams will stick around for a little, but by mid-March the field stands to be whittled down to Forsythe, Gosselin, Harrison, and Walker for that reserve infield spot. Bohm is also lurking, obviously, but he hasn’t even had a single AB in Triple-A yet. His time will come.


Outfielders

Locks

Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen

Main Contenders

Jay Bruce, Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn

In the Hunt

Nick Martini

Back of the Pack

Nick Williams

Non-Roster Invitees

Mikie Mahtook, Mickey Moniak, Matt Szczur

Dark Horses/Not in MLB Camp

Odubel Herrera, Cornelius Randolph, Josh Stephen

Summary

In keeping with the tradition of this post, I’m being a bit harsh and unkind in labeling the likes of Bruce and Haseley merely as “contenders” rather than “locks.” They’re all but certain to start the year with the team, yeah...but with so much left-handed redundancy and the possibility of Kingery starting in CF with Segura and the reserve competition winner at 2B or 3B, well, there’s a shadow of doubt. It’s, like, a high-noon shadow, but it’s still being cast.

If everything goes according to plan, a second outfield tier of Bruce, Haseley, and Quinn is pretty good! Bruce showed last year that he still has some pop, and will probably be the top power pinch-hitting option later in games. Haseley figures to be the starting CF for a time indeterminate, and even if his hitting doesn’t improve, his glove looks like it could be very valuable in a reserve role if/once Kingery displaces him. Same goes for Quinn, although he needs — and I mean needs — to finally stay healthy. If he can’t keep it together for most of this season, it could be his last with the team.

If Quinn falters and Haseley/Kingery becomes the go-to for CF, that could pave the way for Martini or Williams to join the party. Their presence would further tip the offense toward being left-handed (especially in the outfield), but ideally that’s something you could live with in exchange for a bit of production. Williams, though, is turning into a ghost; he’s become an afterthought this offseason, rarely mentioned or thought about when considering the team’s near future. It’s an almost stunning fall out of the conversation. He probably wants to be traded, and maybe the Phils would like to trade him, but even with a good spring he’s unlikely to recoup anything of significant value right now. Shame, really.

Mahtook couldn’t stick with a Tigers team that eventually lost 114 games, while Szczur spent his time with Arizona’s Triple-A team before getting banged up later in the summer and missing most of the last two months. So, there they are.

Moniak, for his part, is still going to be an interesting watch. Forever bearing the cross of being the No. 1 pick in a draft class that looks worse and worse on the whole as the years go by, Moniak has still managed to turn into something of a post-hype sleeper. After cratering in his first full pro season, he’s improved his numbers each year while moving up through the system, and he’s still only 22 years old in May. Last spring, Moniak often looked overmatched or overwhelmed, but his second trip through Major League camp should hopefully bring a calmer experience that shows off his modestly-increased power and, just maybe, reaffirm some faith in his future.

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