Countdown to Clearwater: There are decisions to make on the bench

Countdown to Clearwater: There are decisions to make on the bench

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.

Day 7: The bench

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has called Andres Blanco the best utility man he’s ever been around.
 
So it was not surprising that the team re-signed the 32-year-old supersub in December. Blanco carries an infielder’s glove, an outfielder’s glove, a first baseman’s mitt and even a catcher’s mitt in his equipment bag, and there’s a chance he could use all of them off the Phillies’ bench in 2017.
 
Who will join Blanco in a reserve role?
 
That is one of the questions that Mackanin and the front office will ponder in spring training.
 
Heading into camp, Blanco is a lock to hold down one of the expected five bench jobs, and Aaron Altherr has the inside track to be the first outfielder off the bench.
 
That leaves three openings.
 
The competition could be pretty good as a handful of young guys and a sprinkling of experienced veterans try to win spots on the opening day roster.
 
Perhaps the most fascinating decision that the team’s brass faces is what to do at backup catcher. Coming into camp, there are several candidates to be Cameron Rupp’s backup, most notably homegrown Andrew Knapp and major-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan. Though he has never played in the majors, Knapp is on the 40-man roster. The latter two are in camp on minor-league deals. Longtime farmhand Logan Moore will also be in camp. He’s an excellent defender and could also get a look.
 
At the winter meetings, both Mackanin and general manager Matt Klentak acknowledged the possibility of carrying Knapp as the backup. Knapp was the Phils’ second-round pick in the 2013 draft, he’s 25, a switch-hitter, and he played a full season at Triple A last year. He can also play first base and the Phillies could use someone to occasionally pick up Tommy Joseph against a right-handed pitcher.
 
From a developmental standpoint, it would probably not be ideal to carry Knapp as a part-time player. But playing time might still be an issue if he went back to Triple A as the developmental blueprint calls for a pair of top prospects, Jorge Alfaro and Rhys Hoskins, to start at catcher and first base, respectively.
 
Not long after saying at the winter meetings that he’d be comfortable with a rookie backup catcher, Klentak signed big-league veteran Holaday, and he recently added Hanigan so the Phils are covered if they decided they want more experience in the role.
 
Rookie or veteran? The team will have to make a philosophical call here. Knapp’s ability to switch-hit and play multiple positions could help him, but he will need to display readiness at the plate and behind it to win a spot.
 
Odubel Herrera is set in center field, and newcomers Howie Kendrick and Micahel Saunders will be on the corners. Altherr should be a good fourth man because defense is a strength and he can play all three outfield positions.
 
So who’s the fifth outfielder? And will there be a sixth?
 
There are plenty of candidates, led by recent signing Chris Coghlan, the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year. His left-handed bat and versatility — he’s played six positions in his career — could be attractive. Switch-hitting Daniel Nava will also get a look, as will Tyler Goeddel, who, as a Rule 5 player, spent all of last season in the majors and remains on the 40-man roster.
 
Though long shots, Andrew Pullin and Brock Stassi could also be intriguing, out-of-the-box candidates for a spot on the bench. Both are in camp as non-roster invites. Stassi is a good defensive first baseman and can play outfield. Pullin is an outfielder. Most importantly, both hit left-handed and have strong minor-league track records with the bat. Phillies pinch-hitters ranked 26th in batting average (.157) and 29th in on-base percentage (.221) last season and improvement is sought there.
 
It’s possible that the team could carry an extra middle infielder in addition to Blanco. Veteran Pedro Florimon could get a shot at that job.

Next: Day 8 — A look at what Pete Mackanin’s batting order might look like

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.