Photo by: Cheryl Pursell

Barring something unforeseen, Andrew Knapp has made the Phillies, but that could affect two others looking for their MLB debut.

Many times, one roster decision could affect another. That could be the case with the decision to keep Andrew Knapp on the Phillies 25-man roster. Having Knapp come off the bench could make it tough for Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin to make the club.

UPDATE: Shortly after this post, the Phillies, in a surprising move, released Chris Coghlan. The move, combined with trading pitcher Alec Asher to Baltimore, increases the odds of either Stassi, Valentin, or both making the Phillies ball club. Daniel Nava also has a greater chance of making the club now, with Coghlan gone.

Yes, something could still happen in the waning days of spring training that would knock Andrew Knapp off of the Phillies 25-man roster to open the season. There is always the chance of a trade or a last minute waiver claim that would bring in a veteran catcher to backup Cameron Rupp. It doesn't appear that's likely, but you have to keep it in the back of your mind.

For our purposes, let's assume that's not going to happen and Knapp has in fact won a spot on the big league roster. It's quite an accomplishment for a young player to come into camp and beat out two veteran players for a spot on the roster. It's even more impressive when you consider that Knapp has zero major league experience, because he'll be stepping into one of the toughest roles in baseball, that of a guy coming off the bench.

There are a lot of players in major league history that have struggled and flat out failed at being a utility guy. Some were decent players, but when having to step off the bench and face major league pitchers without having regular playing time is tough. Knapp's job is made even tougher in that he has to also handle a pitching staff, some of which he's not completely familiar with having caught before. The good news for Knapp, is that the job appears to be his and not just on a temporary basis. There's no veteran guy at Triple-A that can be summoned if Knapp struggles in the role, so for good or bad, he's the guy.

It does make you wonder though about two other players, who have had impressive springs with the club; Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin.

Stassi has possibly been the story of camp, with an impressive power display that has him sharing the team lead in home runs with none other than Maikel Franco. Both have hit five home runs this spring. Besides making an impression at the plate, Stassi has also done well defensively, working to be at least adequate in the outfield to add to his versatility, which was sorely lacking as just a first baseman. 

As the spring has gone on, Stassi has cooled a little, but he almost had to. He was scorching hot early on, but keep in mind that so early in spring, you're facing a lot of young pitchers who will be gone early on, so it's easier to pile up some numbers. The impressive part about Stassi is that while he's cooled down, he's still hitting really well against solid major league pitchers. On the spring, he's slashed 5-15-.320/.370/.680, which is impressive.

As for Valentin, he was somewhat of an afterthought coming into camp. He was good, but wasn't expected to put up much of a fuss about being a part of the opening day roster discussion. All Valentin has done is hit .378/.439/.541 this spring, playing both second base and shortstop for the Phillies, putting his name squarely in the discussion for a bench job.

One of the problems is, with Knapp on the bench, is there room for even just one more player with no major league experience? There are plenty of reasons for Stassi and/or Valentin to make the club, but while the Phillies expected to be young, do they want to be that young?  If there was a way to see any sort of regular playing time for either Stassi or Valentin, it would make keeping them much easier. Stassi could at least see some semi-regular time as a left-handed bat to compliment Tommy Joseph at first base, but if all goes as planned, the Phillies are going to want Joseph in the lineup on a very regular basis. Valentin is basically an Andres Blanco clone, with the exception that he doesn't play first or third, which Blanco can. 

One thing that Valentin does have going for him is that he's on the 40-man roster, which Stassi isn't. That was part of the equation that helped Knapp beat out Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday for the backup job, because spots on the 40-man roster are absolute gold for the Phillies. Knapp had that gold, Hanigan and Holaday didn't.

When you look at the rest of the roster decisions, it would appear that Chris Coghlan will make the club. He can play first, second, third and outfield. Like Stassi, he's a left-handed bat, and also like Stassi, he's not on the 40-man roster, which means somebody would have to go. Still, Coghlan's versatility and major league experience are huge for the Phillies, so they figure to make room. Another name in the debate is Daniel Nava, another veteran player, who is not on the 40-man roster. Nava is basically, Brock Stassi with major league experience, and he also adds the attraction of being a switch-hitter, which is always valuable coming off the bench.

Nava's agent may have made one mistake when he negotiated the minor league deal with the Phillies. When it came to an opt-out clause, the two sides agreed on a date of June 15. Meaning that the Phillies could simply send Nava to Lehigh Valley, keep Stassi on the major league roster and see how it all works out until the middle of June. If Stassi struggles, or if something else happens that would necessitate bringing up Nava, he's there for the calling, but would still need to be put on the 40-man roster. If Nava's opt-out clause was for now, like those held by Hanigan, Holaday and Coghlan, the Phillies would be forced to make a move now rather than stash him away and take a wait-and-see approach.

No matter how it turns out, the tough decision facing the Phillies on who to keep is going to result in at least one player having to come off the 40-man roster, and probably two, since Valentin might not have much of a role with Blanco in place, so he's not likely to make the club even though he is on the roster. Plus, there's still the bullpen to figure out, which could mean needing another spot or two on the 40-man roster. 

With those tough decisions facing the Phillies and the potential of them losing a young player who is on the 40-man roster, you have to think that a trade isn't out of the question. If they could find an adequate return in a player who doesn't have to be placed on the 40-man roster for a player who is already on the 40-man, it could ease the burden somewhat and give them something instead of risk losing a player that they'd rather hang onto. 

Even if you work through all of the roster ramifications, it could all come down to whether or not the Phillies feel comfortable with more than one young bench player with no major league experience coming off the bench. That in itself could hurt the chances of Stassi and Valentin, even though they've both had impressive springs and it's easy to make an argument - roster considerations aside - for them to be in Cincinnati with the Phillies next Monday.


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