The Phillies will begin the season with their largest opening-day roster in history. They used five weeks in Clearwater, Fla., and three weeks of summer camp in South Philadelphia to assemble it.
The roster will begin with 30 players, shrink in two weeks to 28, and then trim to 26 in another two weeks. Some decisions — who is the starting catcher? — were lay-ups. But others — who is the fifth starter? — were not as easy.
They begin the season with a deep lineup and a strong tandem atop the starting rotation. But the back of the rotation could be shaky, and the bullpen has 11 pitchers but even more questions. Now that the hefty roster is almost set, there’s one more thing to settle: How do you introduce 30 players on opening day during a pandemic while also enforcing social distancing?
“I don’t think we’re going to have our players go out on the line 6 feet apart,” Phillies executive vice president David Buck says. “But we are going to introduce them somehow.”
He’ll be J.T. Realmuto’s backup for another season, but how many games does a second catcher play in a 60-game season? Knapp started 23 of the first 142 games last season — 16% — before Realmuto went out with a knee injury. That pace would give Knapp roughly 10 starts in 2020, which falls in line with Realmuto’s prediction that he “could easily see myself catching 50 to 55 games.”
Is this the final 60 games of Realmuto’s time in Philadelphia? He’s set to become a free agent after the season, and no one seems to be in much of a hurry to get a deal done before then. The Phillies aren’t sure what Realmuto’s market will be after league-wide revenues have been sapped by the pandemic, and Realmuto is just 10 weeks from reaching free agency for the first time. Both sides have motivation to wait until the offseason, but a deal is still expected to be struck. Bryce Harper isn’t shy about his adulation for Realmuto, and managing partner John Middleton is just as big a fan. The fact that the two most influential figures in the organization want Realmuto back is a good sign that he has more than 60 games left in Philly.
Hoskins struggled mightily in last season’s second half, and he’s hoping an adjustment to his batting stance could change his luck. He’s worked for the last several months with new hitting coach Joe Dillon, who had success in Washington as an assistant. Helping Hoskins get back on track is his first task in Philly. In the final 60 games last season, Hoskins hit just .171 with a .654 OPS. That stretch started on July 24, which is the same date that this year’s 60-game season begins. If his struggles return, the calls for prospect Alec Bohm (who can play first base) will be loud.
Kingery missed the start of summer camp after testing positive in Arizona for COVID-19. It was expected that the virus would keep him off the roster for opening day, but Kingery looked good when he arrived in Philly. Manager Joe Girardi will keep him at second base, playing him every day at his natural position and not bouncing him around the diamond the way Gabe Kapler did. This season should show how much of a role that defensive juggling had on Kingery’s below-average offensive production (81 OPS+) over the last two seasons.
Over the last two seasons, Phillies shortstops have generated the eighth-lowest OPS (.708) in the majors. That lack of production was a primary reason for signing Gregorius, who has a .790 OPS over the last three seasons and makes the lineup much deeper. He missed the first two months of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, which could explain why his offensive numbers were below his career average. But he’s 21 months removed from the operation and said he’s at full-strength. He’ll be a big addition if he can get back to where he was before the surgery.
Segura, for the first time in his career, will play third base. The 30-year-old looked fine at third during spring training and summer camp, but the season will provide the real test. After three straight seasons of hitting .300 or better, Segura hit .280 last season, with a .743 OPS. His contact rate — consistently among the best in baseball — remained high, but his BAbip fell from .327 to .302. He’s under contract through 2022 and owed more than $30 million after this season. The Phillies need him to produce.
Walker made the team as a bench player thanks to his ability to play multiple positions and switch hit. Walker can play pretty much any position, even the outfield. His 90 OPS+ over the last two seasons puts his offensive production slightly below the league average, which makes him a pretty decent option as a reserve. He’s 34 years old and is just six games away from reaching 10 years of major-league service time.
He played 44 games last season with the Phillies and was the team’s leading pinch hitter, but it was Gosselin’s play at summer camp that pushed him onto the roster. He seemed to rack up multiple hits in every intrasquad scrimmage and Girardi said the team could not ignore what Gosselin was doing. He gives the Phillies a bench player who can play multiple positions. Gosselin is from West Chester and went to Malvern Prep, so it was a thrill last season for him to finally play for the team he grew up rooting for. But it will be an even bigger thrill to be on the team’s opening-day roster. Not every Phillies fan is going to be locked out of Citizens Bank Park this season.
Harper hit 35 home runs last season, 17 of which came in his final 49 games. That torrid pace would give Harper 20 homers in a 60-game season, a projection that could put Harper in the conversation to win the MVP. He carried the offense at times last season, and the Phillies will lean heavily on their superstar during a 60-game sprint. The addition of Dillon, who worked with Harper in Washington, should yield positive results.
Haseley will share center-field duties with Roman Quinn after showing promise as a rookie. The 2017 first-round pick was rushed to the majors after Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL and finished with a .266 average and .720 OPS in 67 games. He plays a solid center field and has a strong approach at the plate. He missed the start of summer camp after his COVID-19 test went missing, but did not lose any time in getting ready for the season.
Bruce said he can still play the outfield, but the majority of his playing time this season will come as the designated hitter. He hit seven homers in his first 17 games after being acquired by Seattle last season, but was limited for most of August and September by an arm injury. Ignore his .216 batting average last season and focus on his .523 slugging-percentage. Bruce brings a power threat to every at-bat and gives the Phillies a legitimate option for the new DH spot.
McCutchen said during spring training that he would be ready for opening day despite tearing his ACL in June 2019. Turns out he was right. He’ll be in left field and batting leadoff on opening day, four months after the first game of the season was originally scheduled to be played. McCutchen had an .834 OPS when his season ended, and he sparked the lineup from the leadoff spot. The Phillies were never able to replace him at the top of the order, and their lineup faded during the summer.
The only thing stopping Quinn from being a contributor is his health, and perhaps it will be easier to keep him healthy during a 60-game season. He’ll be in a timeshare with Haseley and could be a late-inning weapon as a pinch runner. Girardi seems to be as enthralled with Quinn’s athleticism as Kapler was. He just needs to keep Quinn on the field.
The Phillies added Garlick during spring training as a waiver claim. He gives them a right-handed power bat off the bench. Garlick hit 23 homers last season at triple A and posted a 1.057 OPS in 81 games. The Phillies hope that minor-league power can translate to the majors. This was the first offseason that Garlick, a 28th-round pick, didn’t have a second job. He spent previous winters as a barback and delivering doors to construction sites. Finally, Garlick was just a baseball player this offseason.
Nola missed the start of summer camp while quarantining after coming in contact with a person infected with COVID-19, but he’s on track to start Friday against Miami. He looked crisp on Saturday night in D.C. and should be able to give the Phillies at least five innings in his first start of the season. The Phillies’ chances at reaching the postseason will rely heavily on their rotation and its ability to lighten the load on a shaky bullpen. Nola, if he dominates the way he did in 2018, will be quite the tone setter.
Wheeler will be ready for the season after his wife, Dominique, gave birth Monday to a baby boy. Girardi said Wheeler will pitch Saturday against Miami. The team’s big $118-million addition gives the Phillies a powerful arm to pair with Nola at the top of the rotation. Over the last two seasons, Wheeler threw 1,111 pitches that were 97 mph or faster. The Phillies combined for just 40. He had a 2.83 ERA in 12 starts after the All-Star break and struck out 65 batters in 76⅓ innings. The Phillies will take 12 starts like that.
Arrieta posted a league-average ERA over his first two seasons in Philly, which wasn’t quite what the team signed up for when they signed him to a $75 million contract. But he could make up for that this season. Arrieta had surgery last summer to remove bone spurs from his elbow and feels 100% healthy. He had a 3.30 ERA in his final two seasons in Chicago, the type of production the Phillies would happily take from their No. 3 starter.
Eflin has been slowed during summer camp by back spasms, but said he’s still on track for the season. He showed promise at the end of last season after scrapping the former regime’s game plan to pump fastballs at the top of the zone. Eflin reverted back to being a sinkerballer and posted a 2.83 ERA in his final seven starts of the season. New pitching coach Bryan Price will allow Eflin and the other starters to pitch to their strengths, instead of forcing them into the same approach.
Velasquez secured a spot in the starting rotation thanks to a strong showing at summer camp as the team left spring training before they could determine who the fifth starter would be. Velasquez, just like Eflin, seems liberated with Price and the season should determine how much of an effect a new pitching coach can have. He worked on a cutter during baseball’s three-month shutdown and no longer is trying to just be a power pitcher. “That’s just not the way to pitch. You can’t just throw fastballs,” he said.
Pivetta will be in the bullpen, but he’ll keep his arm stretched out and will likely make starts this season. The bullpen could be a good fit for Pivetta as he could make do by just throwing two pitches: a fastball and curveball. He had mixed results last season as a reliever.
Neris will return as the closer after recording 28 saves last season and finishing with the ninth-best save percentage in the National League. Neris led Phillies pitchers last season in appearances and ERA+. He seemed frustrated at the end of the season with pitching coach Chris Young and manager Gabe Kapler, so he could be refreshed this season with new faces. He missed the start of summer camp due to COVID-19 protocols, but he looks ready for the season.
Morgan missed the final two months of last season with a flexor strain but was able to avoid surgery. Morgan was dependable last season when healthy and he should play a key role this season in the bullpen. He has not allowed a homer to a left-handed hitter since June 7, 2018.
His 134 ERA+ was the second-highest on the Phillies last season as he grew into one of the team’s most dependable relievers after allowing seven runs in his first five appearances.
Irvin spent last September in the bullpen and allowed just one run over 12⅓ innings and averaged just 12.3 pitches per inning as he worked quickly. He’s been one of the most used pitchers in summer camp as he reported in great shape.
He pitched last season at three levels, including the final two months of the season at triple A. He posted a 2.91 ERA last year in 23 starts and struck out 12 batters and walked 4.6 per nine innings. His numbers dipped at triple A, but that could have been the effects of a whirlwind year. The Phillies will try to transition him to a relief role in 2020, but he could be a starter down the line.
Once a top prospect with the Mets, Guerra pitched in just one major-league game over the last two seasons. He had a 1.89 ERA last season with Milwaukee’s triple-A affiliate and struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings, impressing the Phillies enough for them to claim him off waivers before spring training.
Parker returned to the Phillies on a minor-league deal after spending the last half of 2019 in the bullpen. He was good at times last season and struck out 11.16 batters per nine innings.
With Seattle, McClain allowed 11 earned runs last season in three innings pitched against the Astros in Houston, but he allowed just three earned runs in the 18 innings he pitched away from Minute Maid Park. He was claimed off waivers last month by the Phillies and won’t have to worry this season about any trash cans.
In a normal season, Brogdon would have started 2020 in the minor leagues. He finished last season at triple A and combined for a 2.61 ERA in 51 appearances between high-A Clearwater, double-A Reading, and triple-A Lehigh Valley while averaging 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings. The 10th-round pick in 2017 pairs a powerful fastball with a premier change-up. He’s ready to contribute in the majors.