Predicting the Phils' 25-man roster

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cliff Lee doesn't have to worry about a roster spot.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cliff Lee doesn't have to worry about a roster spot.
Posted: March 20, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Ryne Sandberg announced that Cliff Lee would take the mound when the Phillies open the 2014 season in Arlington against the Texas Rangers on March 31. He also said A.J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick would follow in the team's starting rotation.

So we can move forward this spring knowing that trio will be on the 25-man roster when the season starts.

Barring injury, you can venture to assume Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Domonic Brown, Ben Revere and Marlon Byrd also will be on that roster. And closer Jonathan Papelbon, too. Shocking stuff.

These are the roster's slam dunks. When the Phillies return to the field today, following the only day off in their spring schedule, there will be just 9 days remaining before camp breaks and the team heads north.

The Opening Day roster will have to be set before the opener, meaning there are roughly a dozen days remaining to make decisions. The slam dunks might be out of the way, but there are more than a couple of low-percentage shots left for Ruben Amaro Jr. and company to make within the next 2 weeks.

Let's start with the next most obvious adds to the pitching staff: Roberto Hernandez, Antonio Bastardo and Jake Diekman.

Hernandez signed a 1-year, $4.5 million deal to join the rotation in December. He has done nothing this spring to lose a job in that rotation: 2.03 ERA in four starts with opponents hitting .170 against him. With Cole Hamels headed to the DL to begin the season, a couple of other pitchers injured or unready, and no need for a fifth starter until the second full week of April, Hernandez is a shoo-in for the fourth spot behind Lee, Burnett and Kendrick.

Bastardo and Diekman, meanwhile, are strikeout-producing lefthanders with late-inning stuff. They're absolute locks in front of Papelbon in the bullpen.

You can add Brad Lincoln's name to that list, too. The righthander hasn't allowed an earned run in six appearances this spring. The Phillies traded for him with the intention of adding a veteran to a young bullpen and Lincoln is out of minor league options. He's in.

If the Phils carry just 11 pitchers at the outset - which is almost certain since, again, they don't need a fifth starter until April 13 - that would leave three spots not yet accounted for. Mike Adams will eventually take one of those spots, and although he's progressing well this spring, the veteran setup man will not be ready by March 31 after having shoulder surgery last summer.

The five pitchers competing for those three spots: Phillippe Aumont, Shawn Camp, Justin De Fratus, Mario Hollands and B.J. Rosenberg.

Rule 5 pick Kevin Munson was a contender until he was sent back to his original team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, yesterday. Munson had more walks (eight) than strikeouts (six) in seven innings in five games this spring.

Among the newcomers, Camp has the best shot a sticking. Although he's the oldest pitcher in camp, the 38-year-old righthander is 2 years removed from leading the National League in appearances with the Cubs in 2012. This spring, Camp hasn't allowed a run or a walk in five appearances.

De Fratus also has heeded new pitching coach Bob McClure's simple-but-important philosophy: throw strikes, down in the zone, always. De Fratus hasn't walked a batter while striking out five in five innings; he has allowed one run.

Rosenberg's 6.14 spring ERA is a bit deceiving: it's basically the result of one awful game against the Pirates last week.

Hollands, a lefthander, has arguably made the biggest impression on the coaching staff, but he has minor league options that remain. Aumont continues to show flashes of his big-arm talent, but also flashes of his regular inconsistency; he has an option remaining.

With starting-pitching depth extremely thin, Hollands, who started 20 games in the minor leagues last season, seems like a candidate to be a starter again at the beginning of 2014. David Buchanan, who has looked strong as a starter this spring, is also likely to begin the season in Triple A Lehigh Valley's rotation.

One man's projected Opening Day bullpen: Papelbon, Bastardo, Diekman, Lincoln, De Fratus, Rosenberg, Camp. (A dark horse: Jeff Manship has impressed as a starter this spring and perhaps the Phils would reward him with a spot as a long man in the 'pen to begin the season.)

An update on the math: With seven relievers, four starting pitchers and the regular, everyday eight in the starting lineup, we're down to a six-man bench to begin the season.

The roster locks: infielder Freddy Galvis, who can back up anyone at any position on the field, and quite well, and reserve catcher Wil Nieves, who signed a $1.13 million contract as a free agent this winter.

Darin Ruf is a Ryne Sandberg favorite, and with good reason: he hit 14 home runs with a .348 on-base percentage in half a season with the Phillies last season and he's tied with Marlon Byrd for the most total bases this spring (18 in 17 games). Ruf seems close to being a lock, as Sandberg could start him twice a week in either leftfield or at first base.

With Cody Asche as the front-runner at third base, Maikel Franco begins the year at Triple A. But don't count him out as an early-summer call-up should Asche struggle.

Three down, three to go. The eight position players in camp competing for those spots: Kevin Frandsen, John Mayberry Jr., Bobby Abreu, Cesar Hernandez, Tony Gwynn Jr., Clete Thomas, Reig Brignac, Ronny Cedeno.

The easy math: incumbent reserves Frandsen and Mayberry, owed a combined $2.49 million this season, return to the bench, at least for now.

Would Bobby Abreu complete that bench? Possibly, as he's pretty much the lefthanded version of Ruf: the most talented and accomplished hitter on the roster among reserves.

Abreu is hitting .222 with a .400 OBP this spring. He has three extra-base hits and seven walks in 11 games. He runs well, but Abreu isn't a reliable, long-term defender should a regular outfielder get injured.

Gwynn, meanwhile, might be the best centerfielder on the roster, period, and has the ability to steal a base, too. Gwynn, who is hitting .273 with two doubles, five walks and two stolen bases in 13 games, simply has more versatility and more value than Abreu at this point.

Hernandez, who has continued to increase his versatility by playing third base in minor league games this spring, is the first on call at Triple A Lehigh Valley and will benefit as a prospect by playing regularly there. Thomas, Brignac and Cedeno provide organizational depth, much like the Pete Orrs and Michael Martinezes of the past.

Compiling the bench for March 31 is easy, though - other than the Gwynn vs. Abreu call. If the Phillies can trade Mayberry before the opener, they might be able to keep both.

The bigger questions for the bench will arise when the Phillies have to add a fifth starter to the rotation and subtract a player from the bench. The team is unlikely to carry three offense-first, righthanded-hitting reserves in Ruf, Frandsen and Mayberry. Still, the bet is that Ruf sticks then, too.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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