Countdown to Clearwater: Get to know the new players while you can

Countdown to Clearwater: Get to know the new players while you can

The Phillies begin spring training in Clearwater, Florida, on Feb. 14. Leading up to the first workout, we will take a daily look at the important issues and storylines of camp.

Time moves on.
 
Players come and go.
 
The Phillies report to spring training in Clearwater, Florida, in less than two weeks and for the first time this century there will not be a player in the clubhouse that has a link to the 2008 World Series championship team.
 
Pat Burrell attended his first big-league camp in 1999, back when the team still called cozy, old Jack Russell Stadium its spring home, and Jimmy Rollins came through the door a year later.
 
The Phillies moved a few miles down Drew St. to gorgeous Bright House Field in 2004, and Burrell and Rollins were eventually joined by the likes of Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard in what became the core of the 2008 championship team.
 
They have all moved on now, first Burrell not long after the World Series parade and then Rollins, Hamels and Utley a few years later. The exodus continued when Ruiz was traded in August and concluded when Howard tipped his cap as his contract expired in October.
 
So, for the first time in 19 seasons, there won’t be a player in the club’s spring-training clubhouse — new hitting coach Matt Stairs doesn’t count — that was part of the 2008 title team.
 
Maybe it’s fitting that even the ballpark has a new name. Bright House Field has become Spectrum Field after a corporate transaction.
 
The sense of newness actually shifted into high gear a year ago when club president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak presided over their first spring training as leaders of the rebuilding club.
 
The Phillies made a solid improvement in 2016, winning 71 games, eight more than they did while racking up baseball’s worst record in 2015. But this club remains an active construction site and playoff relevance/contention is probably at least a year away, maybe more depending on the progress of young players. Klentak spent the winter making modest additions designed to support a core of young players that has already arrived in the majors and inch the win total upward without requiring lengthy contract commitments that would block the next wave of young players that the rebuild and the goal of long-term sustainable success hinges upon.
 
Klentak offered a look at his offseason playbook in the fall.
 
“We want to make the 2017 Phillies better than the 2016 Phillies,” he said. “It’s important that we continue to move the ball down the field and show progress. Simultaneously, we need to be very cognizant of not blocking the development timeline of our players, some that are in the big leagues and some that are on the cusp of reaching the big leagues.”

The embodiment of Klentak’s plan will be visible in spring training as five well-known veterans begin what figure to be short stints with the club.
 
Klentak added a pair of veteran relievers in Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit, a starting pitcher in Clay Buchholz and two outfielders in Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. Neshek, Buchholz and Kendrick came in trades. Benoit and Saunders were free-agent signings. All are signed for just 2017, though Saunders’ contract has a club option for 2018.

Neshek, Buchholz and Kendrick all were essentially salary dumps by their previous clubs. Throughout their rebuild, which began under previous general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies have been willing to take on money to get players that fit the club’s purpose. They did it in the Cole Hamels trade, which netted them several potential building blocks, including rotation rock Jerad Eickhoff, and they did it in acquiring Jeremy Hellickson last winter. He had a solid season in 2016 and returns in 2017.
 
Like Hellickson a year ago, each one of these new Phillies veterans is seeking a rebound of some sort.

Kendrick, who lines up to start in left field, is looking to bounce back from the worst offensive season of his career.

Saunders, who will start in right field, is looking to show he is the guy who hit .298 with a .923 OPS in the first half of 2016 and made the American League All-Star team, not the guy that hit .178 with a .638 OPS after the break.

Buchholz seeks consistency after pitching his way in and out of Boston’s rotation last season.

Benoit and Neshek have both experienced highs and lows in their careers. The Phillies would gladly take the best these two relievers have because this team’s starting rotation has some talent and depth and that could give the club a puncher’s chance heading into the late innings a lot of nights.
 
There will be other new faces in the clubhouse. Veterans Daniel Nava, Bryan Holaday, Chris Coghlan, Ryan Hanigan, Pedro Florimon and Sean Burnett will all be in camp on minor-league contracts and there will be a host of first-time prospects on board to get their first taste of big-league life before heading to the minors for more seasoning.
 
But Kendrick, Saunders, Buchholz, Benoit and Neshek are the most notable new names, players who’ve had success in other places and are now making mid- or late-career stops with a rebuilding team in Philadelphia.
 
Say hello to them all but make it quick. If they play well for four months, Klentak will surely look to trade them for young players that will help the club’s long-term rebuild.
 
That’s in his playbook, too.
 
“We’re trying to make our team as competitive as we can and the hope is that we will be playing meaningful games when we get to the end of July,” Klentak said. “But it certainly isn’t lost on us that if the standings are looking the other way at the end of July, we have a lot of meaningful players in the last years of their contracts that could be trade chips.”

Next: A look at pitcher Aaron Nola as he returns from an elbow injury.

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

BOX SCORE

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Phillies showed a little power in their 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night.

Tommy Joseph provided some of it.

Vince Velasquez provided a lot of it.

Joseph crushed a two-run home run to left field and also lined a double off the center-field wall on his way to a four-hit game. The double came off his bat at 109 miles per hour. The homer was his third of the spring.

Meanwhile, Velasquez showed off his big fastball in striking out seven Blue Jays over five innings of work. Vinny Velo's final pitch of the night was a 97-mph dart past a swinging Jose Bautista.

"That pitch felt really good coming out of my hand," Velasquez said. "Sometimes my fastball slips a little bit and I yank it, but this one I got right behind and threw it right through the catcher."

Velasquez actually struck out the side in that fifth inning against three pretty good hitters in Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Bautista.

"That last inning, he really let it go," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Pitch economy remains an area that Velasquez needs to improve on. He threw 87 pitches. But he was pleased with the way he attacked hitters in that final inning of work.

"I didn't attack in one inning," he said. "But in that last inning, I stopped fiddling around and trusted my stuff. I need to do that the whole time."

Velasquez gave up just one run, a homer to Martin. He allowed five hits and walked two.

Velasquez had a busy night. He drove home a run with a ground out against Aaron Sanchez. He also walked against Sanchez and scored a run on a dash home from third base after Freddy Galvis got hung up between first and second. Galvis waved Velasquez home. After crossing home plate, Velasquez, rather humorously, almost ran into the netted backstop.

"I just had momentum. I got excited," he said. "As soon as I saw Tulo (shortstop Troy Tulowitzki) make eye contact with Freddy, I booked it. He's going to think, 'Pitchers can't run,' so I showed off my athleticism."

After the outing, Velasquez pronounced himself ready for the regular season.

"I'm good to go," he said.

He made five Grapefruit League starts and gave up eight runs in 19 2/3 innings. He walked nine and struck out 25.

"It's been a strong, healthy, successful spring training," he said.

Velasquez will likely start the home opener on April 7. He will need to get some work in this weekend. The Phillies leave Florida on Friday. He could stay behind for a day and pitch at the minor-league complex if needed.

Offense clicks
The Phillies had 12 hits. They had 15 in Sunday's 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays again on Tuesday night. That game will be in Clearwater. Aaron Nola will start against Marco Estrada.

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions must still be answered on the bench and in the bullpen.

How does the bench shape up? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. The Phils are expected to go with a five-man bench so that leaves two openings. There are four players vying for those spots: Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin has impressed, but at 22 years old, he would benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised Stassi's work on Monday. If Stassi makes the club, the final spot would come down to Coghlan and Nava.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coughlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

Stassi, Coghlan and Nava are all non-roster players so the Phils would have to clear 40-man roster space to add any of them.

Two spots remain open in the bullpen. Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos are the candidates. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers are probably coming Tuesday.