A Too Early Look at the 25-Man Roster: Infield Locks
With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Clearwater on February 13th–three short weeks from now–it is certainly early to look forward to which 25 players will emerge from Spring Training as members of the Phillies Opening Day roster. This week, we’ll look at the locks to break camp with the Major League club before turning to potential roster battles in the final two weeks before pitchers and catchers report.
Cameron Rupp (C): Rupp is well on his way to a long career as a backup catcher in the major leagues, but with no one in the organization ready to take the starting job from him in camp, he’ll remain as the team’s starter for a second-consecutive season. He fell off a bit in the second half, but, overall, posted a batting line almost exactly league average (99 OPS+). Ideally, Jorge Alfaro will take over this job by mid-season, but he won’t start the season there.
Tommy Joseph (1B): After years of battling concussions as a catcher in the minor leagues, Joseph’s stature as a prospect took a nearly fatal hit with a move to first base. However, after over half a season in the major leagues, it could well be that Joseph is a viable and palatable option as the Phillies first baseman of the future. In 185 second-half plate appearances, Joseph cut his strikeout rate from 24.7 percent in the first half to 18.9 percent and more than doubled his walk rate from 3.7 percent to 8.6 percent while hitting for a 119 wRC+. His breakout performance made it possible for the team to finally move on from always-a-prospect Darin Ruf. He’s only 25 and 2016 was his first fully healthy season since 2012, so there would seem to be a lot of room for growth in his second season in the majors.
Cesar Hernandez (2B): If anyone has a full grasp on what Hernandez is as a baseball player, he or she should send me a message; there’s a spot at Crashburn Alley for you. Despite his propensity to bunt and his frequently frustrating performance on the base paths, all three major variants of WAR put Hernandez at over 3.0 wins above replacement. It seems clear that his defense improved and, for the first time in his major league career, there was some semblance of home run power in his game. He has at least another season to convince the front office that he, and not Scott Kingery, is the long-term future at second base.
Maikel Franco (3B): There’s no other way to slice Franco’s 2016 season: it was a disappointment in light of the expectations he set in 2015 and 2016 Spring Training, where he led the Grapefruit League in home runs. His strikeouts were up, and his walks, power, and batting average were down. The good news is that he’s only entering his age-24 season and is insulated from organizational pressure on his place at third base. Regardless of how disappointed you may have been in his 2016 struggles, Franco is the best Phillies third baseman since Scott Rolen. Part of that is because David Bell, Pedro Feliz, and Placido Polanco‘s corpse were the best of the team’s post-Rolen third basemen. As a former top-50 prospect with the ability he has shown to have success at the major league level, it’s far too early to entertain replacement options.
Freddy Galvis (SS): I guess there’s a slight chance that J.P. Crawford wows in Spring Training and wins the starting shortstop spot, but it’s highly unlikely for (at least) two reasons. First, the Phillies can get an extra year of control over Crawford by keeping him in the minors for a month or two. Second, the team would likely want to see him conquer the AAA level before a promotion.
Galvis is fine for what he is: an elite defensive shortstop at his best who can be a bit inconsistent. His 20 home runs in 2016 came with an uptick in strikeouts and a decline in walks. According to wRC+ and OPS+, that increase in power and decline in overall contact was essentially a wash on his offensive value. Galvis has long-term value to the Phillies as a utility infielder–maybe even outfielder with his arm–but, for at least April, he’ll remain the starter.
Andres Blanco (Utility): The Phillies brought Blanco back on a one-year, $3 million major league deal, which they wouldn’t have done if the 33-year old wasn’t a lock to make the major league team. He has revitalized his career after joining the major league team in 2014. In three seasons and 523 plate appearances with the Phillies, he has a .274/.337/.457 line (116 OPS+) after hitting well below league average prior. It will be interesting to see what Blanco’s role is when Crawford, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, and others get called up and put a crunch on bench spots on the major league roster.
This series will return Wednesday with a look at the players who are locks to make the team as outfielders.