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