When Phillies’ pitchers and catchers reported to camp Thursday, it marked the first step in a future that will be defined by the performance of young talent. Gone are the days of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, which will allow room for a wide array of competition and make the Phillies one of the most interesting teams to watch all spring. The most compelling position battles are as follows:
1. Fifth starter
The top four spots in Philadelphia’s rotation will likely belong to Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton, but manager Pete Mackanin has at least four viable options for the fifth spot in his rotation. All four of those pitchers (David Buchanan, Vincent Velasquez, Adam Morgan and Brett Oberholtzer) are major league caliber pitchers. As a result, some of them will be fighting for their spots in the organization. Philadelphia will not keep major league arms in developmental spots in the minor leagues, which will likely make this Mackanin’s toughest decision.
2. Fourth outfielder
Another position where the Phillies have a surplus of talent is the outfield. Between Peter Bourjos, Odubel Herrera, Tyler Goeddel, Cody Asche and Aaron Altherr, Philadelphia has five outfielders and only four spots on the roster. Bourjos, who is one of the elite defensive outfielders in baseball, and Odubel Herrera, who had a breakout year in 2015, are all but locks for the roster. However, the Phillies face tough decisions in regards to whether Asche or Altherr is more deserving of a roster spot, or if Goeddell, who, as a Rule 5 pick must make the roster or be cut, is worth retaining.
3. Backup catcher
At 22, Jorge Alfaro is probably a little too raw to make the Opening Day roster. However, as the eighth-ranked prospect in the Phillies’ system, according to Baseball Prospectus, the young catcher has an opportunity to unseat Cameron Rupp as the second catcher on Philadelphia’s roster behind Carlos Ruiz. It will be worth watching to see if Alfaro can live up to some of that potential early on, as he was one of the most notable pieces acquired in the Cole Hamels trade.
Matt Klentak, Philadelphia’s new general manager, decided in the offseason that a good bullpen on a 70-win team was not valuable. So he traded his elite, young closer, Ken Giles. As a result, the Phillies are left with a group of veteran relievers vying for one of the least valuable positions on the current team. While the closer’s role will lack importance in 2016, the healthy competition between pitchers like Andrew Bailey, Edward Mujica and Dalier Hinojosa could serve to provide Klentak with valuable arms for when Philadelphia is closer to contention.