"I'm excited because of the competition," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. "It's going to be fun looking at all these pitchers competing. Guys who thought they did OK last year, they're going to be competing. Position-wise, too. There's always competition. You audition every day of your career. You've got to produce. And these guys are going to have to compete to win jobs."
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Here is a look at some of the competition entering Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla., which begins next month.
The Phils acquired veteran right-handers Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton in trades. Those two are locks for the rotation, but Mackanin also confirmed what everybody else believed to be true: Right-handers Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff are expected to be in the rotation, too.
"I don't want to etch anything in stone, but Nola and Eickhoff certainly have made great impressions," Mackanin said. "I would think they would be in the rotation somewhere, but that remains to be seen. You never know what can happen. But those two guys, Nola and Eickhoff, for me are in the rotation."
That leaves one job up for grabs. Candidates include right-handers Vincent Velasquez, David Buchanan, Alec Asher and Severino Gonzalez and left-handers Brett Oberholtzer and Adam Morgan. Velasquez is considered the favorite because he was the key piece in the Ken Giles trade. Oberholtzer figures to land somewhere on the roster because he is out of options.
Right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is in the final year of a three-year, $12 million contract, but he has not been invited to Spring Training. Left-hander Matt Harrison, acquired in the Cole Hamels trade, is not expected to be ready to go in Spring Training due to a back issue.
Mackanin said he doesn't think he must have a left-hander in the rotation.
"I just want the best five pitchers we can come up with," Mackanin said.
Giles was traded to the Astros, which means the Phillies need somebody to pitch the ninth inning. There is no lock, but David Hernandez is a front-runner because of his experience pitching in the back of the bullpen with the D-backs. He is signed to a Major League contract.
Veterans Ernesto Frieri, Edward Mujica, Andrew Bailey and James Russell will receive some consideration, too. They will be in camp as non-roster invitees.
"For me, they are [the favorites]," Mackanin said. "Somebody is going to have to win the job. Somebody is going to have to take it. That's going to be the challenge to those guys, because we don't have one particular guy in mind. The field is wide open."
Odubel Herrera and Peter Bourjos are expected to open the season in the outfield, although it remains to be seen who will play where. Mackanin said Aaron Altherr is expected to get the first crack at the third job in the Opening Day outfield. Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel and Cody Asche are expected to be the other two outfielders on the roster.
"We have to give him every opportunity to prove that he belongs here," Mackanin said of Altherr.
Ryan Howard is expected to return, but he will have to hit lefties in Spring Training if he expects to play every day. If he struggles against lefties like last season, Mackanin said Howard will platoon with Darin Ruf. Howard posted an .802 OPS against righties in 2015, but a .418 OPS against lefties. Howard's OPS against lefties would have been the lowest in the big leagues by 47 points if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Conversely, Ruf's 1.107 OPS against lefties would have tied Nelson Cruz for the best in baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
"It's kind of a hairy situation right now," Mackanin said. "I'm going to have a discussion with Ryan. I'm going to tell him, 'If you want to face lefties, you've got to hit them better. If you don't hit them better, I'm going to platoon.' It's gotten to that point.
"It's hard for me to justify not playing a guy [Ruf] who led in OPS in the Majors against left-handed pitchers."
Cameron Rupp has pushed ahead of Carlos Ruiz, but both are expected to be on the Opening Day roster.
Second, third and shortstop
Mackanin said Maikel Franco is his third baseman. No surprise there. He also said Freddy Galvis is his shortstop and Cesar Hernandez is his second baseman. But shortstop J.P. Crawford will get a look this spring, and if he plays well this season in Triple-A, he could be up sooner than later. That could have a chain reaction in the infield, with perhaps Galvis moving to second if Hernandez isn't playing well.
"Maikel is due to have a real big year and establish himself," Mackanin said.