A Too Early Look at the 25-Man Roster: The Last Man In
With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Clearwater on February 13th–one short week 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. Two weeks ago, we looked at the locks to break camp with the Major League club. Last week, we began looking at the actual roster battles that could emerge over the next two months. We’ll conclude that series today with the battle for the 25th and final spot on the Opening Day roster.
Today, we’ll look to fill the 25th spot on the major league roster, which, let’s just say, is not going to be the most exciting venture we’ve undertaken in this series. Before we get to the players, let’s take a look at the composition of the first 24 spots on our roster.
We’ll stick with 12 pitchers because, even through the recent rise of the bullpen, most teams stick with 12 pitchers on the roster. There’s a lot of positional versatility among the position players on the roster, so, in identifying needs there, it might be helpful to take a look at what positions all those players have played in the last two seasons.
C: Cameron Rupp, Andrew Knapp
1B: Tommy Joseph, Maikel Franco, Andres Blanco, Andrew Knapp, Howie Kendrick
2B: Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, Andres Blanco, Howie Kendrick, Chris Coghlan
3B: Maikel Franco, Andres Blanco, Howie Kendrick, Chris Coghlan
SS: Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Andres Blanco
LF: Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, Aaron Altherr, Chris Coghlan
CF: Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr
RF: Michael Saunders, Aaron Altherr, Chris Coghlan
Quick summary: Adding Coghlan to our roster really helped out with versatility. He has played at second base and third base with the Oakland Athletics as recently as last year. In terms of defensive versatility, he basically mirrors Howie Kendrick in that, in a perfect world, he probably stays in the outfield, but can slide forward to the infield if the need arises. In short, we don’t have any glaring needs.
Secondly, we’ve been judicious thus far with our 40-man spots, only admitting one non-roster invitee to the first-24 on the Opening Day roster (sorry, Luis Garcia). What that means is that, while we don’t have a low-hanging spot on the 40-man to find room for another player, we can find room if we find it absolutely necessary.
We’ll start with position players already on the 40-man. We’re left with only a handful. Jorge Alfaro, Dylan Cozens, Tyler Goeddel, Roman Quinn, and Nick Williams will all, indisputably, start the season in the minor leagues before the possibility of a mid- or late-season call up. That leaves a grand total of one player: Jesmuel Valentin.
Across two levels–AA and AAA–last season, Valentin saw his strikeout and walk rates trend in the wrong direction against more advanced pitching, but neither went largely out of whack. At 22-years old, he was young for both levels, and, by wRC+, performed above-average offensively overall. His 15.7 percent strikeout rate and 9.8 percent walk rate are both fine for a player of his profile, i.e., speedy middle infielder. He added to that with non-negligible power evidenced by a .126 ISO. He could jump in as a useful utility infielder, having spent time at both second base and shortstop over the past couple seasons. Since he’s on the 40-man, the only thing standing in his way of a spot is a potential concern for development that could be enhanced by regular plate appearances in the minor leagues.
Taylor Featherston–a Matt Klentak favorite–bears mentioning here, but, aside from developmental concerns, doesn’t really provide any advantage over Valentin and would require finding a spot of the 40-man roster.
The most interesting non-Valentin guy is Brock Stassi. He played at AAA for the first time in 2016 as a 26 year old and hit .267/.369/.437 with a 17.2 percent strikeout rate and 13.6 percent walk rate in 442 plate appearances. He also added 12 home runs in a park that isn’t overly conducive to dingers. He’s a left-handed hitting first baseman who has, at times moved into the outfield. We have good balance on our bench in terms of handedness with Knapp and Blanco as switch hitters, Coghlan hitting from the left side, and Altherr from the left, so Stassi being left-handed doesn’t necessarily move the needle, though.
Our last two candidates are outfielders Cameron Perkins and Daniel Nava. We covered Nava at length in our search for a fifth outfielder, so here we’ll go deeper into Perkins. In his second season at AAA, he hit .292/.329/.419 in 433 plate appearances. His 13.6 percent strikeout rate is nice to see, but it is accompanied by a Ben Reverean 4.8 percent walk rate. Like Stassi, who is likely going to be pushed out of the Lehigh Valley starting lineup by Rhys Hoskins, Perkins will be pushed out of the starting outfield by Dylan Cozens. If the Phillies feel confident in either of those guys, the majors may be as good a place as any to get them to the plate.
This is perhaps the only spot on the roster without a clear favorite. The Phillies don’t have a glaring hole on the roster that needs filling. As such, I would be a little surprised if they didn’t go with the path of least resistance and give Valentin the job to avoid making a difficult decision with the 40-man roster. Burning a 40-man spot on a 25th man doesn’t strike me as the wisest decision, especially since Stassi and Perkins will be in a bench role either way. Whatever the Phillies decide this will simultaneously be the most and least interesting roster battle in Clearwater.