-USA TODAY Sports
The Philadelphia Phillies have more unanswered questions than any other club in the National League East. Quite frankly, there may not be a more enigmatic Major League Baseball club around.
According to Kevin Hamm of the Denver Post, the Phillies are projected to have the third highest payroll in MLB this season. This comes on the heels of a 2013 season where the club finished with its worst win total since 2000. With a roster that looks more like the ‘Wheeze Kids’ than the ‘Whiz Kids,’ the front office doubled down on more veterans inching closer to 40 than they are 30 years old.
Regardless, they are expected to be competitive to a certain degree. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs projects the Phillies to be the second-most improved MLB club in 2014 (while still missing the playoffs). Distinct from where they finish in the standings, one thing is certain: the bench will have a major role with the success or failure of the Phillies in 2014.
Let’s begin with where the Phillies stand roster-wise. Starter Cole Hamels and reliever Mike Adams are likely to open the year on the disabled list. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will certainly debut with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Injuries and setbacks to Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin and Adam Morgan aren’t diffusing the ongoing tumult either.
The question is whether or not the Phillies will trot out a lineup with six or seven relievers on Opening Day. Two variables exist in our desire to seek the solution. First, the Phillies will not need a fifth starter until the second week of April. This will allow them to be more moderate in their approach to the starting rotation. Second, the Phillies have a Rule 5 player in Kevin Munson. Complications exist should the Phillies decide not to maintain Munson on the major league roster.
Therefore, it is likely that the Phillies will stroll into Opening Day with a 25-man roster consisting of seven relievers and five bench players.
To make things clear, let’s take a look at my projected batting order, starting rotation and bullpen for the Phillies this Opening Day.
|7||Justin De Fratus||RHP|
With five spots remaining for the bench players, one has to wonder where each fits in, if at all. It’s absolute that top prospect, third baseman Maikel Franco, will open 2014 in the minors. The same can be said for Cesar Hernandez, Reid Brignac and Ronny Cedeno.Wil Nieves
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Catcher Wil Nieves and veteran outfielder Bobby Abreu are virtual locks to land as reserves by default.
The Phillies lack major league-depth behind the plate. Prospects Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp aren’t ready for the majors. Veteran Lou Marson, once a solid prospect for the Phillies prior to being traded to Cleveland, is unlikely to catch on as well. Nieves offers a solid batting average but his defense is fallible to say the least. It is all but certain he will open the year backing up Ruiz.
Despite some serious question marks, Abreu gives the Phillies the best option as a left-handed bat off the bench. He is the only choice. Switch-hitting Cesar Hernandez still needs to work out his flaws in the minors while Brignac is not a realistic choice.
Aside from my reservations, John Mayberry Jr.’s hot spring is all but guaranteeing him a spot on the roster. His splits suggest he is slightly better versus left-handed pitching. However, his bat continues to decline at a harrowing rate. Unless Mayberry Jr. is traded or designated for assignment, which is unlikely considering his spring, he will open the year with the Phillies.
Slugger Darin Ruf leaves a lot to be desired for as well. He has Matt Stairs-like qualities and is an option at first base when Ryan Howard gets rest. But like Mayberry, this right-handed bat struggles the majority of the time. Last season, Ruf struck out in 31.1 percent of his at-bats. As disheartening as that sounds, he does boast a 21.2 percent HR/FB rate.
The final bench spot will belong to either Freddy Galvis or Kevin Frandsen. These two contrast more than they compare. Galvis is a 24-year-old, light hitting, defensive guru. Frandsen will soon be 32, hits at a good rate but struggles defensively.
Thus far in Spring Training, Galvis is seemingly outperforming Frandsen. Skipper Ryne Sandberg has had nothing but high praise for the young infielder. Meanwhile, Frandsen continues to chug along, making sure everyone knows that he brings an appreciable bat to the plate.
More likely than not, Frandsen will open the season with the Phillies. Galvis could be shuffled to Triple-A in hopes he improves on his hitting. Simply put, Frandsen gives the Phillies more viability immediately. His defense and speed is highly questionable but the Phillies lack offensive prowess. As a stick off the bench, he could rejuvenate the Phillies offense late in games with runners on base.
|3||John Mayberry Jr.||OF|
By not keeping a second infield utility man on the roster, the Phillies could be playing with fire. The lack of a left-handed bat not named Abreu is hurting the team. There’s a possibility that the Phillies will make a move, trading Mayberry Jr. for a low-end minor leaguer so Galvis can round out the bench. This is mere speculation though.
At the end of the day, the Phillies have a formidable roster equipped with a prudent bench that could clear the way for success. Over-achievement must occur though. Age, diminishing skills, and early spring injuries are besieging the roster. The bench depth will be depended upon greatly. So long as expectations are more than fulfilled, the Phillies will remain competitive much later into the season than they were in 2013.