Predicting the Phillies' Opening Day roster
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Spring Training is almost here, even if Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are not.
Phillies pitchers and catchers have their first workout Wednesday morning at Carpenter Complex. They have the first full-squad workout next Monday and they play their first Grapefruit League game Feb. 22 against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla.
Almost anything can happen between Wednesday and Opening Day. That said, here is a very early prediction of the Phillies' Opening Day roster, knowing the Phillies remain in the hunt to sign Harper or Machado:
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Catcher (2):J.T. Realmuto, Andrew Knapp.
The Phillies consider Realmuto the best catcher in baseball, which is why they traded Jorge Alfaro, pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart and $250,000 in international slot money to the Marlins for him. He should see his offensive production jump playing half his games in Citizens Bank Park. Knapp has the inside track to be Realmuto's backup, although the Phillies just signed Drew Butera to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
First base (1): Rhys Hoskins.
The Phillies and Hoskins believe his return to first base should serve him well. He never felt completely comfortable in left field last season. Perhaps that extra comfort this offseason boosts his performance at the plate, too.
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Second base (1): César Hernández.
Hernandez struggled last season, but in part because he broke his right foot on a foul ball in early July. Hernandez posted a .665 OPS from July 7 through the end of the regular season. He had a solid .764 OPS through July 6, in line with the .778 OPS he posted in 2016-17.
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Third base (1): Maikel Franco.
Franco is the third baseman, unless the Phillies sign Machado.
Shortstop (1): Jean Segura.
The Phillies look at shortstop as one of their biggest offseason upgrades, acquiring the two-time All-Star. The only question here is where he hits in Gabe Kapler's lineup.
Outfield (5): Andrew McCutchen, Odúbel Herrera, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Aaron Altherr.
The Phillies have an interesting outfield mix. McCutchen will play almost every day, although it is unclear if he will spend most of his time in left field or right field. The Phillies have been touting Herrera's offseason workouts and determination to bounce back from a disappointing 2018, so the best guess is he will play regularly, either in center field or right field. That leaves Williams, Quinn and Altherr rotating in some way. (Quinn and Altherr are out of options.) If the Phillies sign Harper, Williams could be traded because he also is a left-handed-hitting corner outfielder like Harper, but there is a scenario in which Herrera could be traded, too.
Utility (1): Scott Kingery.
Expect Kingery to return to the super-utility role, although he could see more time at third base if the Phillies do not sign Machado and Franco struggles. The Phillies have touted Kingery's defensive improvement last season at shortstop, so they think he can play third base, if needed. Keep an eye this spring on non-roster invitees like Andrew Romine and Sean Rodríguez. Romine has played literally every position over the past two seasons. Rodriguez has played seven. It's not out of the question the Phillies could keep another utility player and bump out one of their five outfielders, providing them more in-game flexibility.
Starting pitcher (5): Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez.
The Phillies wanted a left-hander to balance the rotation, but they would not give Patrick Corbin the years he wanted in a multiyear deal and would not give J.A. Happ the money he wanted in a multiyear deal. The Phillies are likely to move forward with the same rotation that finished last season. The only chances for change are an injury; a strong performance from Jerad Eickhoff, which bumps out somebody like Eflin or Velasquez; or the asking price for Dallas Keuchel drops to the point that the Phillies cannot say no.
Relief pitcher (8): David Robertson, Seranthony Domínguez, Héctor Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, José Álvarez and Juan Nicasio.
The Phillies value controllable assets, so keep that in mind this spring as they figure out their bullpen. Robertson, Dominguez and Neris will pitch the late innings, with each having the opportunity to close. Hunter and Neshek are veterans in the final years of their contracts. Morgan and Alvarez not only are two of the very few left-handers on the 40-man roster, but they are out of options. That gives them an edge over others in camp. Nicasio is a veteran in the final year of his deal. He is a solid bounce-back candidate from a poor 2018. He also is out of options.
Right-handers Vìctor Arano, Edubray Ramos and Yacksel Ríos, and left-handers James Pazos and Austin Davis will be in the mix, but they have options remaining. It is not a stretch to think that one or more of these five will outperform some of the other pitchers mentioned above, but still open the season in Triple-A. One way for the Phillies to make room for them is trading a veteran like Hunter or Neshek. There were reports this offseason that the Phillies had been open to trading either pitcher, although the Phillies have indicated recently they are not active on that front.
Here is another quick look at the projected 25: