FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Phillies slogged here Saturday on a 300-mile, round-trip bus ride for yet another nine-inning audition to see who might fill the fringes of the roster. They have evaluated those in camp for six weeks now, and Pete Mackanin said a meeting scheduled Sunday with the front office will plot most of the 25-man roster that the Phillies will take to Cincinnati next week.
The intriguing decisions are not limited to who will make the roster, but who will be bumped from the 40-man roster. Every team is scouted in the spring, but the Phillies have been a priority target because other clubs are aware of the Phillies' roster crunch.
It makes sense for the Phillies to pursue a trade, even if it is minor, to alleviate some of the logjam. That could happen in the final week of spring training.
"We're trying to come up with the best plan for when we break, and a lot of it has to do with the non-roster players," Mackanin said. "If we make a move, someone has to come off [the 40-man roster] and that's an issue."
There are indicators of how the Phillies have raised the talent bar, creating problems that every organization wants. The players on the 40-man roster bubble, such as Adam Morgan, Tyler Goeddel, Alec Asher, and Luis Garcia, would likely be claimed on waivers by another team. That has not been a problem in recent seasons.
Then there is the action on the back fields at the Carpenter Complex. Scouts have flocked there for peeks at the lower-level talent in the Phillies system, the secondary wave behind the prospect-stacked triple-A team.
Team president Andy MacPhail watched from above Friday afternoon as Sixto Sanchez, 18, hit 98 mph on one field, while Franklyn Kilome, 21, fired 93-mph fastballs down in the zone on another field. Adonis Medina, 20, relieved Sanchez and hovered in the low 90s with a knee-bending breaking ball. That is just a sample of the blossoming arms in the low minors.
The slow trickle of prospects to the 40-man roster, which is already full of them, almost begs for a trade. The Phillies will have to protect more young players at the end of the season. They will need to reserve some roster spots for veteran additions because they have made it clear they will not field a team without older influences.
That will force some decisions for general manager Matt Klentak and his deputies in 2017 about who does and does not belong. It could be the Phillies flip a few of their many young pitchers on the 40-man roster for other pieces that fit into the plan.
At the winter meetings in December, Klentak said that other clubs had "genuine interest" in some of the Phillies' younger pitchers. It is an area of perceived depth, even if the pitchers closest to the majors do not possess the high ceilings that some of the lower-level arms do.
"Because we added as many players to the roster as we did, we have a lot of volume in starting pitching, particularly at the big-league, triple-A, and double-A levels," Klentak said then. "Teams have noticed that and are asking us about that to see if there's a swap that might make sense for both parties. Those are the type of inquiries that we explore."
Morgan, Asher, and Joely Rodriguez pitched in a 3-3 tie Saturday with the Red Sox at JetBlue Park. It was another chance, against Boston's "A" lineup, for the Phillies to evaluate bullpen candidates - and for opposing scouts to observe.
Kyle Kendrick has become important rotation depth for Boston and he continued his impressive spring with six strikeouts and no walks in six innings. He allowed two runs. He has a 2.17 ERA in 29 spring innings. ... Chris Coghlan, pushing for a bench job, delivered two runs with two sacrifice flies. ... The Phillies limited Boston to six hits in a bullpen game. Rodriguez looked sharper than he has in previous outings this spring; he pounded the strike zone. The lefty struck out three in two innings, albeit against the Red Sox reserves.