As the Phillies prepare to begin the 2016 season, we look at the roster and see where the rebuild stands and how the team may perform this year.
Any farmer worth his tiller will tell you that spring and summer are traditionally the time of year when planted seeds come to fruition. If the next six months play out the way the Phillies have planned, there should be signs of a worthy harvest to come. In the meantime, let’s hope this season is more exciting than watching grass grow.
Their 15-10 record in Florida may have been a bit misleading. But, there is something to be said for the way this team is going about its business. They are playing loose and having fun. It won’t make up for the overall lack of top end talent. But, it means this team won’t quit and that should make for some entertaining baseball.
With the organization’s young prospects being allowed to develop in the minor league system, new GM Matt Klentak has cobbled together a roster of journeymen, Rule 5 draftees and reclamation projects who will fill roles until their much-anticipated replacements are ready for the big time. That means even the most astute Phillies fans will be asking ‘Where did we get this guy from?’ quite a little bit this year. To that end, here is a breakdown of the Phils 2016 Opening Day roster.
In the Dugout:
Pete Mackanin will begin a season at the helm of a major league team for the first time. The three-time interim manager was handed the reins on a full-time basis and extended through 2017 over the winter. His calm demeanor, dry wit and lifetime of experience in the game seemed to bring a positive change after he took over last season and he should be the right fit for a team in development. The expectations are low for this team. So, there shouldn’t be any ‘win now’ pressure on him.
Larry Bowa will be Mackanin’s bench coach and, one assumes, his ‘bad cop’ disciplinarian in the clubhouse. Bob McClure (and his ridiculous facial hair) will continue to guide the pitching staff and Steve Henderson returns as hitting coach. Mickey Morandini joins the staff as first base coach with Juan Samuel coaching third.
These guys won’t make you forget the Four Aces. But, such is the nature of a rebuild. A remarkably right-handed quintet, here they are ….
Jeremy Hellickson – Acquired from Arizona in November (for 2014 8th Round pick RHP Sam McWilliams), is the first starting pitcher to debut as a Phillie on Opening Day since Floyd Youmans in 1989. Since beginning his career 17-10, he has been unremarkable. Arguably, the only notable thing he has done in the last few years was breaking Maikel Franco’s wrist with a pitch last season.
Charlie Morton – After starting out in the Braves organization, Morton found a home in Pittsburgh. While there he learned to mimic the delivery of Roy Halladay with disturbing accuracy. He has yet to learn how to mimic Doc’s ability to get hitters out.
Aaron Nola – His arrival last season breathed new life into the fan base. Nola appears to have enough going on above his shoulders to avoid the dreaded Sophomore Jinx. Mackanin has set up his rotation to award him a start in the home opener.
Jerad Eickhoff – After injuring his thumb in a bunting drill in February, Eickhoff is a little behind the rest of the pitchers. But, he showed in his eight starts last season (3-3, 2.65, 49K / 51 IP) that he has big league stuff.
Vince Velasquez – The prize of the Ken Giles deal, he has shown a lightning arm this spring. Some scouts see him as a closer in the long term. But, he will start for this team.
Don’t forget about … Adam Morgan, Alec Asher, Severino Gonzalez
With the trade of closer Giles, the roles in the pen are undefined. This could result in some late game disappointments until everyone finds their place.
Jeanmar Gomez – Coming off a year where he allowed 101 base runners in 74.2 IP and a 3.01 ERA, he is the definition of a middle innings, keep it close guy. He has to be better.
David Hernandez – The Phillies signed the veteran righthander because of his closing experience. He didn’t lock up the position during the spring. But, expect him to be in charge of finishing off wins in April at least.
Dalier Hinojosa – Picked up after being waived by the Boston Red Sox, the Cuban righty posted a 0.78 ERA in 21 IP for the Phils. Look for him to be awarded with some more important assignments in the months to come.
Hector Neris – He struck out 41 in 40.1IP last year, could be a set-up man for whoever claims the closer role.
Brett Oberholtzer – The 26-year-old lefty from Christiana, DE had an 11-20 record as a starter over the last three years in Houston. You know what that means … it’s time to become a Situational Lefty Specialist!! Let’s see how that works out.
James Russell – A 6’4” lefthander whose father pitched in the bigs for 14 seasons, Russell has spent most of his career with the Cubs. If he can retire the likes of Lucas Duda, Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman when it matters, he’ll fit in here just fine.
Daniel Stumpf – As a Rule 5 pick, he will jump from AA to The Show. He is the third lefty in the pen. Expect him to be carefully used.
Carlos Ruiz – The beloved Chooch is now 37 and entering his 11th season, the last of a three year contract. His experience handling pitchers could be invaluable to the development of Nola, Eickhoff and Velasquez. However, it is difficult to imagine that this isn’t his last year as a Phillie. As one of only two remaining World Champions from 2008, his exit may be a sad one.
Cameron Rupp – The hulking Texan with the rifle right arm played in 81 games last year and his role should expand this season. Will we see the August version of Rupp (.310, 7HR, 17RBI) or the considerably less impressive Rupp that struggled at the plate during the rest of 2015?
Ryan Howard – ‘Deep 6’ once wielded one of the National League’s most dangerous bats. He simply isn’t that player any longer. He has become a contractual albatross around the neck of this franchise. Like Chooch he is in the last year of his deal and could be the last of the ’08 Phils to say goodbye. He will get AB’s early on. But, if his bat and glove are slow, he could become a very expensive reserve.
Darin Ruf – This ‘kid’ will be 30 in July. If he has a future in red pinstripes, it is now … especially when you consider the first base options that are rising through the farm system.
Cesar Hernandez – Precisely the kind of solidly unspectacular, light-hitting middle infielder that you find playing on teams in flux. Ten years ago, he would have been a Pittsburgh Pirate or a Kansas City Royal. The organization seems to like him.
Emmanuel Burriss – He was a part-timer with decent speed and a light bat for five years in San Francisco. Then, after two years away from the majors, he resurfaced in DC for a cup of coffee last year. He had a good enough spring to be an inventory guy on Mackanin’s bench.
Freddy Galvis – Freddy started out hot last year, but cooled and leveled off. He is a spectacular fielder. But, it is pretty clear that he is keeping J.P. Crawford’s seat warm right now.
Maikel Franco – As we saw with Shayne Gostisbehere and the Flyers this season, Franco’s arrival last season seemed to bring life to a somnambulant team. His explosive bat, solid glove and rocket arm, as well as his undeniable love for the game connected with fans and created the sense that better days were coming. He won’t have much in the way of protection in this line-up, which means he may not see much to hit. Let’s hope he can remain disciplined at the plate.
Andres Blanco – The living embodiment of the utility man, he found his way into 106 games last year. He’ll never be a superstar. But, he plays responsible ball and his loved by his teammates.
Peter Bourjos – The speedy former California Angel of Anaheim-adjacent Los Angeles will be counted on to play solid D while using his aggressive and instinctive baserunning to help create offense on this power-starved team.
Tyler Goeddel – The top pick in last winter’s Rule 5 draft, the former Tampa Bay Ray will benefit from Aaron Altherr’s absence. There is clearly talent in his glove, bat and spikes. Time will tell if he is ready to play at this level.
Odubel Herrera – Last season’s Rule 5 surprise, the Baby Bull will need to be a dependable catalyst at the top of the lineup. Another young player with contagious enthusiasm, let’s hope that, as this team develops an identity, his personality will be a big part of it.
Cedric Hunter – After appearing in a handful of games with the San Diego Padres in 2011, he has been bouncing through the minor leagues. His ‘feel good’ story began with a walk-off bomb against the Atlanta Braves and continued with the big club in Cincinnati on Monday afternoon.
Disabled List – Aaron Altherr (wrist, 4-6 months), Cody Asche (oblique strain, currently on the 15-day DL), Mario Hollands (Tommy John Surgery, 60-day DL), Matt Harrison (back, 60-day DL), Michael Mariot (ankle, 15-day DL)
More Phillies: Team Breaks Camp With No Closer, And That’s Fine
Down on the Farm:
A once bare cupboard is becoming crowded. High draft picks, top prospects acquired for veterans and Latino players harvested from throughout the Caribbean and South America are maturing with each passing day. Keep an eye out for Crawford, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Mark Appel, Roman Quinn, Jorge Alfaro and more. There is also some former major league talent playing for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs this year. Those ‘Four A’ players, as they are sometimes called, will be within quick reach if the injury bug bites.
This team will struggle offensively. Without an abundance of big bats, it will take plate patience, smart baserunning and clutch hits to score enough runs. The starting rotation needs to acquaint itself with the 7th and 8th innings in a way that they didn’t last year. The pen performed admirably at times last season, but they were burned out by mid-summer. With the bullpen rolls undefined, solid starting pitching will be vital. Solid first half production from Morton, Hellickson, Ruiz or even Howard could result in another trade deadline fire sale.
That being said, no one is calling for this team to contend for a division title or even to flirt with .500. Some have even toyed with the idea of 100 losses for this squad. Oddsmakers are hovering around 65 or 66 wins. A schedule heavily weighted with division rivals means a steady diet of quality pitching, which will do this lineup no favors. We may learn this summer how many wins a good atmosphere and enthusiastic attitude can add to a season total. Once the warm glow of their Florida success cools (and it will), how these 25 men respond will make all the difference.
71-91, 4th or 5th place … depending on the Braves.
In a city desperate to get back to winning, those numbers may be less than thrilling. But, this fan base, by and large, is smart enough to recognize the positive signs that the seeds have found arable soil and taken root. If that means taking the occasional drive out 422 to Reading or up 476 to Allentown, so be it. You can’t have a bountiful harvest without first having a successful season of growth.