CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies had their first off day of spring training on Monday. They have 17 days left in Florida and just three weeks remain before opening day. Sounds like a good time to take a look at a couple of prominent remaining issues.
Pitching coach Rich Dubee has dropped the green flag on the race for the remaining bullpen jobs.
“They should all have enough reps in the bullpen and games to start locking in,” he said last week.
The Phils like to go with seven relievers. Four jobs are filled with closer Jonathan Papelbon, eighth-inning guy Mike Adams, lefty Antonio Bastardo and righthander Chad Durbin.
Who else makes the club?
Well, the Phillies’ brass would like to have Phillippe Aumont’s power arm in the 'pen. One of the remaining three jobs is his to lose.
The club would also like to have a second lefty. Jeremy Horst’s impressive work last season put him on the inside track for that job. Horst had a couple of tough outings early in camp, but Dubee and manager Charlie Manuel have both gone out of their way to mention that Horst’s effectiveness last season counts in the evaluation. He will be pushed down the stretch by lefties Jake Diekman and Raul Valdes.
With Aumont and Horst positioned to win jobs, there figures to be one more spot remaining. There are a number of ways the Phils could go with this. They could keep a third lefty, especially if Diekman or Valdes were to finish strong. They could keep experienced Mike Stutes, though he might need to build some innings in Triple A after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Justin De Fratus is another candidate.
Veteran Aaron Cook is another possibility. The Phils hope he can provide starter’s depth at Triple A, but he can opt out of his contract if he’s not on the active roster in the final week of camp. Cook, who has made 224 big-league starts, would give the Phils a long man.
Humberto Quintero is likely to be the backup catcher while Carlos Ruiz serves his 25-game suspension.
The rest of the bench is up in the air.
Conventional wisdom would suggest the Phils go with two extra infielders and two extra outfielders.
But would they go with three extra infielders and just one extra outfielder – at least to start the season?
It’s not completely out of the question.
Freddy Galvis (for his defensive prowess and versatility) and Kevin Frandsen (for his bat) both appear to be headed for a spot on the opening day roster.
That would seem to leave non-roster infielder Yuniesky Betancourt out of the picture and possibly out of the organization. That’s an issue. Phillies officials like the way Betancourt, hitting .360 (9 for 25) has played in camp. They would like to retain him as insurance for their aging infield. But Betancourt, who has been a regular shortstop for three teams, can opt out of his contract on March 24 if he’s not added to the active roster. Given the way Betancourt has played this spring, he’d probably land a big-league job if he opted out of his contract.
The Phillies could stay at two extra infielders by keeping Betancourt and Frandsen and optioning Galvis to the minors. However, team decision-makers don’t seem to like the idea of sending Galvis down. Manuel believes he would help the organization more getting 250 at-bats in the majors than 450 in the minors.
To keep Betancourt as a third infielder, the Phils could go with a four-man outfield for the first month while they wait for Delmon Young to complete his rehab from offseason ankle surgery. That four-man outfield would likely consist of Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, Laynce Nix and John Mayberry Jr. In this construction, the Phils would have to send Darin Ruf to Triple A and put Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte on waivers. In the end, the Phils might decide against this if they feel they need Ruf’s bat or Inciarte’s defense.
Ruf pressed at the start of camp and is off to a slow start – 6 for 32 (.188) – but there is still time for him to slug his way onto the roster. If he doesn’t make the club and the Phils go with two extra infielders and two extra outfielders, Inciarte could get the call. He is an advanced defender and could be useful as a late-game replacement for a team with defensive question marks in the outfield.
Though the bulk of the roster is set, there are clearly still a number of questions to be answered. The makeup of the bench will shake out over the final weeks of camp. In the meantime, Betancourt has given the Phils something to think about.