High Noon: Which Flyers Will Survive Yesterday's Waives? Plus, Schenn Sent to Phantoms, Praise for Read

High Noon: Which Flyers Will Survive Yesterday's Waives? Plus, Schenn Sent to Phantoms, Praise for Read

With all the new faces at the Skate Zone this year, it's been a
pretty exciting camp for the Flyers. Amidst massive roster turnover came
some interesting position battles, and a few weeks ago, it became clear
that some good players would not make this team. Some would head to
Glens Falls to at least begin the season playing for the Phantoms, while
others would be gone entirely.

As Thursday's season opener approaches, the regular season roster
picture became clearer with a handful of rather notable moves on
Tuesday. We'll know even more come the noon hour today, when we find out
which of the players the Flyers exposed to waivers were claimed, and
which will stay in the organEYEzation.

So who could be moving? Fourth line center / talented penalty killer
Blair Betts and defensemen Matt Walker and Oskars Bartulis were waived,
and can be claimed by other NHL teams before noon on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Brayden Schenn, the highly touted young forward acquired as
part of the deal for Mike Richards, gets to hang on to the title "best
player not in the NHL" a little longer, as he will begin the season with
the AHL Adirondack Phantoms.

A look at what those moves could mean to the roster below.


Schenn's Falls
First,
the Schenn move, which has little if any controversy or even surprise
to it. His being sent to the Phantoms isn't a demotion so much as it is a
strategic move, perhaps toward a better immediate and long-term on-ice
product, but certainly a better salary cap situation. CapGeek.com points
out
that spending any time—even one day—in the minors this season
knocks Schenn's cap hit from $3.11 million to $1.705 million.
In other words, Schenn could have scored 10 goals and stayed completely
healthy throughout the preseason and he'd be en route to Glens Falls
right now anyway.

How long he stays there, we don't know. But his cap hit is suddenly
much better for the remainder of the season when he does get recalled.
It won't kill Schenn or the Flyers for him to get some more time in the
minors either, both to get an ailing shoulder up to speed and to get
some more pre-NHL seasoning. Of course, it may hurt his odds at winning
the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, which betting site
Bodog.com had set as its highest. 

Despite trading away two centers (counting Jeff Carter there because
it was still his natural position) and possibly losing another one
overnight, the Flyers are still pretty deep up the middle. For now, it
looks like they'll be keeping first-round draft pick Sean Couturier on
the NHL roster to start the season. That may change after 10 games, the
point at which he can be returned to his junior team without counting
against the Flyers current cap year.

Gambling on Losing Betts
One player the Flyers may not be able to
yo-yo back after dangling him over the hands of the league's waiver
grabbers is Blair Betts. Despite battling nagging injuries, Betts has
been a stalwart defensive forward for the Flyers, anchoring their fourth
line and penalty killing units. Now, those coveted skills and his
attractive $700k salary are likely headed for another club. 

When the Flyers signed Max Talbot away from the Pittsburgh Penguins
this off-season, the departure of Betts became a possibility. Talbot
kills penalties and can man the fourth line pivot. He's only 27 years
old and has obviously come up big at key playoff moments, so his allure
is understandable. However, Talbot loses more faceoffs than he wins
(48.6% last season), and the faceoff circle isn't a place the Flyers
appeared able to take a step back.

Talbot also costs more than Betts ($1.75 mil per the next five
seasons), and he was a minus player last season to Betts' plus-7 if you
put stock in that stat. We were, perhaps naively, hoping there'd be a
way to keep both players; while Talbot will be asked to fill some of
Betts' previous roles, he's not necessarily an exact fit, perhaps
ideally used as a wing on either the third or fourth line.

However, the Flyers were looking for someone even more versatile
than a fourth-line center who could kill penalties. They wanted someone
who could replace the energy Ian Laperriere brought to the table,
something Dan Carcillo couldn't consistently do (particularly when he
wasn't playing regularly). Talbot may be coming into a firestorm in
Philly in that many fans don't like his contract, think he's a bit
overrated, and now he likely has Betts' shoes to fill.

But, we need to give this some time before coming to our
conclusions. Fourth line centers are often more replaceable than they
seem, as we learned when the Flyers exposed Glen Metropolit to waivers a
few seasons back due to cap constraints. Metro was missed for the rest
of that season, but was replaced by Betts in the next year's camp,
having been let go by the Rangers.

Back to Talbot for a minute. I recall a lot of fans not liking the
Lappy signing because one of the Flyers' big problems the previous
season was taking too many penalties, resulting in too much time on the
kill. Lappy knew his way to the box, but the concern was largely washed out when we saw what a contributor he could be. Now the team is looking for the guy who can replace him, playing
valuable minutes while also serving an agitating role and throwing down
when the situation calls for it, plus chipping on offense here and
there. I'll miss Betts if he gets snatched up, and there's a good chance
he will, but I'm reserving judgment on Talbot and even fostering some
optimism that he can be a key role-player here. We'll revisit that as
the season moves on I'm sure.

In any case, the current penalty killing situation bears monitoring,
as does the defensive role of the forwards at even strength. Richards
was a huge strength in both regards, and Carter was underrated
defensively (not a popular opinion, I know, but he was no sieve in his
own zone). If Betts is gone, Claude Giroux will probably have to play
more PK minutes than he otherwise might have, which doesn't hurt the PK,
but does use some more of our most talented player's nightly ice time
in non-attacking situations. Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds will also see
time on the killing unit, which also lost the talents of Darroll Powe. 

Back End of the Blue Line
While Matt Walker's $1.7mil salary made
him a candidate for a cap relief waiving, the team's recent confidences
in him as reported by Tim Panaccio made it seem like they might hang on
to them. Of course, they could just be trying to draw a suitor to take
that money on. Andreas Lilja is slotted in as the sixth d-man, but
presumably either Oskars Bartulis or Walker will be kept on as the
seventh if one or both clear. We'll wait on commenting further until we
see how the waivers shake out, but Paul Holmgren expressed some degree
of confidence to Panotch that both guys might clear.

Bob McKenzie's Read on Matt Read
Matt Read has earned a spot with
the Flyers with his impressive camp and preseason showings. He's also
earned acknowledgement from one of the most respected hockey voices
around, with TSN's Bob McKenzie picking him to be this year's Calder
Trophy winner
. While I don't see that happening, as these awards usually go to guys
who stand out either in the crease or on the stat sheet, and I don't see
Read racking up quite that many points, it's pretty encouraging to see
McKenzie throw some confidence behind his ability to contribute at the
NHL, and then some.

Plus, two of the new Flyer faces have been mentioned in this post as
possible Calder Trophy winners, and neither of them is the guy the
Flyers got high in the first round of the 2011 draft, who is also
drawing praise.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

TAMPA -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

TAMPA -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.