Countdown to Clearwater: Now that Mackanin has those 2 bats, how will he line them up?

Countdown to Clearwater: Now that Mackanin has those 2 bats, how will he line them up?

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.

Pete Mackanin got his wish.

Back in September, he talked openly about his desire to add two veteran bats to the Phillies’ feeble lineup.

When asked at the time about Mackanin’s wish list, general manager Matt Klentak acknowledged that the skipper was right — the Phillies needed to upgrade their offense.

But Klentak went on to caution that he, as steward of the present and future, would remain committed to a long-term, youth-based rebuild of the club. The implication was pretty clear: Yeah, the Phillies would get a hitter in the offseason, but two? Not at the expense of blocking the path of a young player who would need the chance to show he has staying power and impact potential.

Klentak struck quickly and added a veteran hitter, Howie Kendrick, in a November trade with the Dodgers.

A month later, the winter meetings arrived. Mackanin gave the Kendrick addition a public thumbs-up and once again expressed his desire to add another hitter.

Klentak, meanwhile, remained on the fence, citing his responsibility to balance the future with the present.

Two weeks into the New Year, the Phillies signed left-handed-hitting outfielder Michael Saunders, an all-star with the Toronto Blue Jays last season.

Mackanin got his wish.

But so, too, did Klentak.

Saunders, 30, came on short-term contract — one year with a club option. He won’t be a long-term blockade to a young player and he should help the Phillies have a more productive offense in 2017. Lord knows they need one after finishing last in the majors with 610 runs and a .685 OPS last season, and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301.)

“We had been monitoring both the free-agent and trade market for a hitter and ultimately felt that signing Michael Saunders made sense for us,” Klentak said. “He’s a player who has shown at times to be an impactful middle-of-the-order bat with athleticism and upside who is still relatively young. And he comes on a short-term deal with the flexibility of a club option.”

Saunders hit .253 with 24 homers, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS in Toronto’s thundering lineup last season. He lines up to start in right field for the Phillies. The Phils had considered going with rookie Roman Quinn at the position but ultimately decided on a more proven bat while giving the speedy Quinn some development time at Triple A.

Quinn will still get a bunch of playing time in big-league camp as the team prepares him for a full-time jump that could come later this season.

“Roman is coming into camp with a chance to compete and be on the big-league club,” Klentak said. “What we saw in September was a really exciting player with a lot of promise who has a chance to be an impactful big-leaguer. But we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for him developmentally. He’s never had an at-bat at the Triple A level and we don’t believe some additional time in the minor leagues will stunt his development.”

In addition to Quinn, the Phillies plan to take a good look at shortstop J.P. Crawford in spring training. He will play a lot as starter Freddy Galvis competes for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. Crawford, ultimately, will open at Triple A in a prospect-studded lineup.

Saunders, a Canadian, has decided to skip the WBC so he can adjust to life with his new club. That will afford Mackanin time to figure out where to hit him in the lineup. The early guess is that Saunders would bat fifth, behind Maikel Franco.

The Phillies landed upon a leadoff man last season when Cesar Hernandez reached base at a .413 clip in the second half.

So now that we have a place to start, let’s take a peek at what Mackanin might ultimately decide on for his lineup:

2B Cesar Hernandez (S)
LF Howie Kendrick
CF Odubel Herrera (L)
3B Maikel Franco
RF Michael Saunders (L)
1B Tommy Joseph
C Cameron Rupp
SS Freddy Galvis (S)

Of course, this is just a guess. This lineup would give the Phils some on-base strength in the top-third and some pop in the middle — and even at the bottom. Galvis had 20 homers last season, but his on-base percentage was just .274, the worst in baseball. He needs to get on base more, even if it requires sacrificing some home runs.

Franco, 24, also needs to improve his plate discipline.

Mackanin believes that the addition of Kendrick and Saunders will take some pressure off Franco. No longer will he think he has to be the man in the Phillies’ lineup and that could help him be The Man and push 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Last year, he had 25 homers and 88 RBIs.

“I think there were times last year when Franco felt like he had to carry the team, and he didn’t have to do that,” Mackanin said. “Hopefully Kendrick and Saunders will help in that respect.

“Franco just needs to continue to progress and mature as a player and understand the need to just relax, know the situation, know the pitchers, know the score, the inning, and hit accordingly, and I think he’ll do that.

“Saunders will definitely help in all of that because he gives us more balance in our lineup. I’m hoping all our young guys learn something by watching the approach that Kendrick and Saunders take into every at-bat. A good bat is a good bat and I’m happy to have them both.”

Next: Day 9 — Will Pete Mackanin's contract be extended? 

Yankees 3, Phillies 2: Jeremy Hellickson shines; big roster meeting on deck

Yankees 3, Phillies 2: Jeremy Hellickson shines; big roster meeting on deck

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- With his second straight opening day start coming into focus, Jeremy Hellickson delivered his best outing of the spring on Friday.

The right-hander, two weeks shy of his 30th birthday, held the New York Yankees to five hits and a run over 6 1/3 innings. He walked one and struck out three.

Hellickson was remarkably economical with his pitches, throwing just 75.

"I'll take that any time," he said.

So would Pete Mackanin.

"He was great," the manager said.

Hellickson will have one more tune-up -- Wednesday -- before his opening day start April 3 in Cincinnati.

"I'm ready," he said.

And that about says it all.

The game
The Phillies lost, 3-2, when reliever Michael Mariot gave up three hits and two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Tommy Joseph had a pair of hits, including the Phils' only extra-base hit, a double.

Freddy Galvis made a couple of nice plays in the field.

"He just shines out there," Mackanin said.

Joseph, the Phillies' first baseman, was involved in a humorous play in the fifth inning. Hellickson made a pickoff attempt on Aaron Hicks at first base. Hicks dived back toward the base but seemed to get stuck in the infield dirt and came up about a foot short of the bag. Joseph, sensing Hicks would easily beat the throw, didn't immediately notice that Hicks was grounded short of the bag and by the time he did, Hicks was able to scurry to the bag.

As fate would have it, the next two batters hit tough ground balls to Joseph's right and he made close plays at second both times. He fired what looked like a 90 mph fastball at shortstop Galvis on the first one. Galvis even seemed shocked how quickly the ball got on him.

"We laughed about the pickoff play," Hellickson said. "But he made two really good plays after that. I told him he totally redeemed himself. That was funny, though."

Saunders OK
Michael Saunders was hit on the right hand by a pitch in the fifth inning. He left the game for precautionary reasons, but was fine. Just a bruise.

"Glancing blow," Mackanin said.

Roster ruminations
The Phillies leave Florida in a week. They have thinned their roster several times and did so again on Friday, optioning pitcher Jake Thompson and outfielder Tyler Goeddel to the minors and reassigning three others (see story).

An even clearer picture of the roster will begin to emerge Sunday as several non-roster players can opt out of their contracts if they are not added to the 40-man roster. That list includes catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday, reliever Sean Burnett and outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Mackanin said the team would have a personnel meeting on Sunday.

"By Monday we should have some more news," he said.

Still unsettled are the bench and bullpen. Typically the team would have five men on the bench and seven in the bullpen, but Mackanin said the possibility of a four-man bench and an eight-man bullpen would be discussed.

"I don't want to do that, especially in the National League, but we're talking about it," he said.

The Phillies have a tight 40-man roster, and that could help Andrew Knapp's chances of making the club as a backup catcher/first baseman. He is already on the 40-man roster. Even if Knapp makes it, the Phils could bring along Hanigan or Holaday as a third catcher.

"That's a possibility," Mackanin said. "We discussed it at the last meeting. We're going to discuss it again on Sunday.

"We're trying to come up with the best plan for when we break, and a lot of it has to do with the non-roster players. If we make a move, someone has to come off (the 40-man roster) and that's an issue."

Up next
The Phillies travel to Fort Myers on Saturday to play the Red Sox. The game shapes up as another audition for a spot in the Phillies' bullpen as Alec Asher, Adam Morgan and Joely Rodriguez are the scheduled pitchers.

Phillies trim roster, send Tyler Goeddel, Jake Thompson to minors

Phillies trim roster, send Tyler Goeddel, Jake Thompson to minors

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- With a week to go before they leave Florida, the Phillies made several roster moves on Friday morning.

Outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who spent all of last season in the majors, was optioned to the minor leagues.

Pitcher Jake Thompson, who made 10 starts in the majors for the Phillies last season, was also optioned to the minors. He is expected to open the season in the starting rotation at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Goeddel, 24, joined the Phillies organization in December 2015 after being selected in the Rule 5 draft. He had originally been a first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011.

Players selected in the Rule 5 draft must spend an entire season in the majors or be exposed to waivers and offered back to their original club. The Phillies kept Goeddel all of last season, fully securing his rights, but he received only 213 at-bats and hit just .192 with four homers and 16 RBIs.

The news on Goeddel was not completely surprising. The wintertime additions of outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders had made Goeddel a long shot to make the team.

"I knew going into camp I was going to have to earn my spot," he said. "There's a lot of guys in here that have been playing well. Whatever happened, happened."

Goeddel needs to recoup some at-bats in the minor leagues. The question is: where? The Phillies have three top outfield prospects -- Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens -- who will require regular playing time at Triple-A. It's possible that Goeddel could open the season at Double-A.

Team officials discussed that possibility with him.

"They want me to get more at-bats," Goeddel said. "That's the main thing. Only getting 200 in your age-23 season is not enough.

"They said there's a chance I'm at Reading. I'm not too happy about that but you can't control it. That's where their most openings are and most consistent playing time.

"I want to play every day. It was tough last year playing sparingly. Getting at-bats is going to be great. Obviously, I wish it was up here. But at the end of the day, you can't control it."

Goeddel is still on the 40-man roster and as long as he stays on it can come back to the majors quite easily if a need arises.

"They said that," Goeddel said. "Last year (pitcher Alec) Asher started at Double-A and was called up. They said that in there. They just want me to get at-bats. That was their main thing."

Thompson could be one of the first to return to the majors if a need arises in the starting rotation.

The 23-year-old right-hander was one of five prospects that the Phillies acquired from Texas for Cole Hamels in July 2015. He went 11-5 with a 2.50 ERA in 21 starts at Triple-A last season and 3-6 with a 5.70 ERA with the big club.

The Phils also reassigned pitcher Dalier Hinojosa, catcher Logan Moore and infielder Hector Gomez to minor-league camp.