Phillies have intriguing switch situation

April 24th, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies general manager Matt Klentak noticed a peculiar thing this spring when going through different lineup iterations with manager Pete Mackanin.

"We'd have it up on his whiteboard, and he draws this little grid with the left- and right-handed hitters, and he's writing all of them right in the middle," Klentak said. "It's crazy."

That middle column is reserved for switch-hitters, of which the Phillies will lead the Majors with six on their 25-man roster once new trade acquisition Ty Kelly is activated. Only one Major League team -- the Twins, with seven -- has more switch-hitters on its 40-man roster than the Phils do on their 25-man roster.

The Phillies also lead the league with eight switch-hitters on their 40-man roster.

That grid, the same one that appeared on Mackanin's whiteboard in Clearwater, Fla., rests at the bottom of each lineup card in Philadelphia.

"Every time I see the lineup, there's more people in the middle than the sides," switch-hitter said. "I used to be the only one in the middle."

Blanco can't remember playing on a team with so many switch-hitters.

"And I've been around a long time," he said.

Nor could .

"I think it adds a lot of value to the club," Knapp said.

That value, so far, is easily discernible. The five switch-hitters are hitting .294/.347/.515 this season, with a .990 fielding percentage.

Modern day front offices and coaching staffs look to leverage as many advantages as possible. Market inefficiencies are the name of the game.

"In managing a game, particularly late in the game in the National League, having players who offer different types of versatility is very important," Klentak said, mentioning switch-hitters and players with multiple defensive capabilities as examples.

He wasn't aware that the team had the most switch-hitters in the Majors, but he wasn't surprised.

"It allows [Phillies manager] Pete [Mackanin] to be as creative as he can and manage the game as well as he can," said Klentak.

Mackanin can manage late-game situations with a leg up -- not just because he has so many switch-hitters, but because those switch-hitters double as versatile defenders.

When Kelly suits up Tuesday, the Phils' likely lineup will include two switch-hitters ( and ) and a bench holding four more switch-hitters who combined can play any position on the diamond. That's unique.

Knapp, a rookie, is the backup catcher. , the eldest position player on the team, is capable in both corner outfield positions, first base and center field in a pinch. Blanco and Kelly are utility men who can play both the infield and outfield. Blanco even serves as the emergency catcher.

"It makes it easier to run a pinch-hitter up there and make them make a decision how they want to go," Mackanin said. "It puts the onus on the other team."

As a young catcher learning how to handle a Major League pitching staff and bullpen, Knapp knows how much of a competitive advantage the Phillies' distinct roster construction can be.

"It creates havoc for [an opposing] manager trying to set up a bullpen," Knapp said.