Countdown to Clearwater: The Phillies' bench

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Countdown to Clearwater: The Phillies' bench

The Phillies begin spring training in Clearwater, Fla. on Feb. 13. Leading up to the first workout, we will take a daily look at the important issues and story lines of camp.

Day 1 – Ryne Sandberg’s first camp as manager

Today – The Bench

Ryne Sandberg is an old-school National League man. His ideal brand of baseball includes 25 men and no designated hitter.

So it was no surprise that when Sandberg took over as Phillies manager in August he talked about being committed to using his entire roster.

“I like to utilize the bench,” he said. “It’s important for getting through the season. It allows you to get your regulars rest and that helps maximize their performance throughout the season. It also keeps your reserves sharp and into it so they are always ready to contribute. It’s a benefit to the whole team.”

This spring, Sandberg must construct a bench that will produce results. Generally, the Phillies have been a team that carries five bench players -- a backup catcher, two extra infielders and two extra outfielders. There will be some competition for jobs on the bench in spring training, but not a lot.

Though the Phillies are bringing a number of catchers to camp, including Cameron Rupp, Tommy Joseph and Lou Marson, veteran Wil Nieves was signed to be the backup. Carlos Ruiz is 35 and has played more than 121 games just once in his career, so Nieves will see time behind the plate during the regular season.

There will be plenty of reserve infield candidates in camp, including Freddy Galvis, Kevin Frandsen and Cesar Hernandez. All three are on the 40-man roster. Veterans Reid Brignac and Ronny Cedeno will also be in camp. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are both 35, so it’s important that Sandberg gets them rest. Defensively, Galvis excels at both positions as well as third base, and Sandberg has already indicated that he envisions the 24-year-old Venezuelan playing a key role on the team. Frandsen, who spent all of last season with the club, might have the upper hand on the second backup spot, but his $900,000 contract does not become fully guaranteed until opening day.

Outfield will be the most interesting bench-related area to watch in spring training.

Desperate for a left-handed bat to come off the bench, the team reached back into its past and signed veteran Bobby Abreu to a minor-league contract last month. Abreu, who turns 40 in March, did not play in the majors last year, but swung a productive bat this winter in Venezuela. The Phils are bringing him in for a tryout to see if he can be the part-time lefty hitter (and occasional outfielder) they need.

Sandberg and team officials need to get a read on Abreu in camp and decide whether they think he has anything left. He will get significant playing time. The Phils have to inform Abreu whether he has made the opening day roster by March 26 or he can opt out of his contract.

The hunch here is that Abreu will make the club. The Phils have an obvious need for a lefty bat and he’s a smart, poised veteran who won’t be fazed by the pressures of a tryout. On top of it all, he should be relatively sharp after having played all winter. Heck, Abreu could be in the opening day lineup because the Phils open with an interleague game at Texas and they will face a right-hander in Yu Darvish. Abreu could be the designated hitter.

If Abreu succeeds in making the club, Darin Ruf could be the odd man out and sent to Triple A. John Mayberry Jr. is back and his $1.59 million contract is guaranteed. That probably makes him a lock to make the club, though he could still be traded. There could be room for a third extra outfielder during the first week of the season if team officials decide to go with a six-man bullpen in the first week of the season. All that will shake out in Clearwater.

Tony Gwynn Jr. and Clete Thomas will also be in camp as non-roster outfield candidates. Both have significant big-league time and both can play center field. Team officials still have their eyes open for a reserve who can play center field. That search will continue inside and outside the organization throughout spring training.

Phillies-Marlins rained out Tuesday; makeup date to be determined

Phillies-Marlins rained out Tuesday; makeup date to be determined

Tuesday night's Phillies-Marlins game at Citizens Bank Park has been postponed because of rain.

Details for a makeup date will be announced at a later time.

The Phillies, winnners of four straight, were set to open a three-game set against Miami.

Following this series, the Phillies head out on a seven-game road trip starting Friday night against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Vince Velasquez, who was scheduled to pitch Tuesday, will now start Wednesday night's game, while Jeremy Hellickson will take the mound Thursday afternoon.

Vince Papale to Brock Stassi: 'We call that the last laugh'

Vince Papale to Brock Stassi: 'We call that the last laugh'

Former Eagle Vince Papale, the inspiration for the movie "Invincible," paid a visit to Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday afternoon to meet Phillies outfielder Brock Stassi. Papale wanted to give him a copy of the film "Invincible" -- a movie Stassi has yet to see -- and talk to another Philadelphia athlete who has played the underdog role.

Papale said he couldn't help but get choked up when he first saw the video of Stassi being interviewed after he made the Phillies' roster (watch above).

"Brock's story came on and I started doing one of these," Papale said as he reached to wipe the fake tears from his eyes. "So I got my wife Janet and I said, 'You gotta come in and see this.' And I texted my son Vince down at Delaware and said, 'You see this guy? He's just like us.'

"I contacted (Phillies publicity director) John (Brazer) and texted him right then and said I wanted the film rights for this."

Stassi, a long shot to make the Phillies' roster, was the feel-good story of the spring. The six-year minor leaguer had a spring training to remember, hitting .306 (19 for 62) with six home runs and 17 RBIs.  

As always, when an underdog makes an impact in Philadelphia, there will be association to past Philly underdogs like Papale or legendary movie character Rocky Balboa.

"I did get a few ["Invincible" references on Twitter]," Stassi said of when he made the team. "A lot of people made that reference and I am honored to even be put in the same category as him."

Papale assumed the role of a reporter and posed a question to Stassi: "What kept you going?"

"Ever since I was drafted, I've believed in myself that I would be here one day," Stassi said. "And after my first spring, I was in extended spring training and that's a place you don't want to be when you are 22 years old at the time. And I ended up learning a lot about myself because you're playing on the back fields in spring training in the middle of the day, in Florida, in front of about five people, so it's really self-motivating.

"And that's kind of where I started to get the hang of pro ball and started believing in myself then. Because my first year was rough. My first year in Williamsport, had a terrible year. But, it ended up working out. It made for a lot of doubters. And it's fun proving people wrong."

Papale smiled and assured Stassi: "We call that the last laugh."