Battle Lines: Roster Spots

There are some interesting battles going on in Clearwater. We've got a look at the battles and who appears to be winning them at this point in spring training.

Starting Rotation

We know that Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton are in. We also know that there are four combatants for the fifth spot - Carlos Carrasco, J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick and Chan Ho Park - and that race is far from being decided. If Park doesn't win the starting role, he's going to fit into the bullpen and the same is possible for Happ, who could serve to fill the spot temporarily vacated by J.C. Romero, who will be eligible to return on June 1 after serving a 50 game suspension for violating the league's controlled substances policy. It's also possible that if Park were to win the spot, Carrasco, Happ and Kendrick would form three-fifths of a killer rotation at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Bullpen

Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson have sewn up spots to start the season and Romero will join them on June 1. That leaves three likely spots open - possibly two, if the Phillies start the year with an 11 man staff - and plenty of pitchers to fight for those spots. Clay Condrey isn't a lock, but he's been in the Phillies bullpen the past couple of seasons and would figure to lock up one spot. Park or Happ could also potentially wind up in the bullpen to claim another spot. The Phillies took Bobby Mosebach in the Rule 5 Draft last December and would like to keep him around, but it's not going to be easy. He'll have to prove that he's worthy of a spot and so far, the Phillies haven't even given him an opportunity to pitch in a game.

Scott Nestor was signed during the off-season and is fighting for a spot as are non-roster invitees Dave Borkowski, Mike Koplove, Gary Majewski and Blaine Neal. Koplove and Neal are local guys and would make a nice story if they were to make the club, but that alone won't get them to Philly. Joe Bisenius is fighting for a spot as well, but had a tough season in 2008 and isn't off to a great start in camp.

Jason Donald falls into the stands to make a catch in a spring training game. The infield prospect is fighting for a spot on the club and could wind up winning one if all goes well.
(Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

Starting Lineup

There simply isn't room in the starting lineup, with two potential - and temporary - exceptions. Chase Utley keeps insisting that he'll be ready for opening day and who's to doubt him. He has an uncanny way of doing what he sets out to do and he's on a rehab schedule that just might allow him to be in the opening day lineup. Pedro Feliz appears headed to the DL to start the season after off-season back surgery, leaving a spot open.

Greg Dobbs could well be the starting third baseman early in the year, but that weakens the Phillies bench considerably. Since Dobbs is a left-handed hitter, it would alleviate the left-handed logjam on the bench, but add to the lefty logjam in the lineup, so perhaps a platoon with young, potential super star Jason Donald would be in order. Donald has been playing at both second and third this spring and might take the roster spot created by Feliz' injury. If Utley isn't ready, that creates another spot and Donald would then almost assuredly make the club.

Backup Catcher

There's a battle between Chris Coste and Ronny Paulino. Coste is the incumbent and somewhat of a fan favorite in Philly, but that won't be enough to keep his job. Paulino came into camp on a mission and is hoping to not only take the backup job, but potentially take some playing time from starter Carlos Ruiz. The Baltimore Orioles have asked about Coste, so a deal is possible. It's also possible that Coste will wind up being a right-handed bat on the bench, since he could conceivably not only catch, but play at first, third and the corner outfield spots.

Utility Infielders

With the status of Utley and Feliz up in the air, nobody knows for sure how many openings there will be. Jason Donald will only make the club if it's on a temporary basis. The Phillies aren't going to have him sitting on the bench for too long, since they value his abilities and want him playing everyday. He could be a potential candidate to take over for Feliz after this season, since Feliz will be eligible for free agency. Eric Bruntlett doesn't carry a great bat, but he can play second, third and short and can also play in the outfield and versatility is a definite plus. We know that Greg Dobbs will make the club and when you combine him with Bruntlett, there is one spot - at most - left open for someone to grab.

Besides Donald, veterans Miguel Cairo and Marcus Giles are in camp. Giles is especially motivated and appears to have been rejuvenated by a year off from baseball. He's talking like a guy who is here not just for a temporary stop, but to hang around for the entire season. Pablo Ozuna, Terry Tiffee and Andy Tracy remain very long shots to make the club and will likely find themselves at Lehigh Valley.

Extra Outfielders

At most, there are two spots available and at first glance, you see the names Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs. The Phillies are trying to deal one of them to alleviate the left-handed heaviness on their bench, but so far, haven't found any takers. John Mayberry Jr. is serving notice that he's ready to play in the majors and his big, right-handed bat could fit well on the bench if only the Phillies can open a spot. Mayberry could play the corner outfield positions and also backup Ryan Howard at first base.

Playing the percentages

(The percent chance that each player has of making the club out of spring training)

Chan Ho Park - starter 35%
Kyle Kendrick - starter 25%
Carlos Carrasco - starter 23%
J.A. Happ - starter 15%
Clay Condrey - reliever 50%
Chan Ho Park - reliever 45%
Mike Koplove - reliever 25%
Scott Nestor - reliever 20%
Bobby Mosebach - reliever 20%
J.A. Happ - reliever 20%
Blaine Neal - reliever 10%
Dave Borkowski - reliever 10%
Gary Majewski - reliever 8%
Joe Bisenius - reliever 5%
Ronny Paulino - catcher 60%
Chris Coste - catcher 40%
Eric Bruntlett - infielder 85%
Jason Donald - infielder 50%
Marcus Giles - infielder 40%
Miguel Cairo - infielder 10%
Geoff Jenkins - outfielder 75%
Matt Stairs - outfielder 50%
John Mayberry Jr. - outfielder 40%

Reasoning the percentages

The first question is likely; why is J.A. Happ's percentage so low both as a starter and as a reliever? The answer is this; The Phillies already have two left-handed starters in the rotation and would likely favor a right-hander over adding another lefty. As for the bullpen, the Phillies may not want to have Happ serve in that capacity, preferring instead to keep him stretched out and serve as insurance at the Triple-A level.

Chan Ho Park has a definite advantage in the race for a starting job, but he doesn't have a lock on that spot. Ideally, the Phillies might prefer to have Kendrick win the job and put Park in the bullpen where he pitched well for the Dodgers last season. Carrasco is going to be a stud, but there is no reason to push him. A little time at Triple-A wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

In the bullpen race, keep in mind that it's very early. Condrey will likely win a spot and his percentage will climb when we do updates on them throughout camp (which we will be doing). Right now though, there are a lot of pitchers and the Phillies are taking a look at all of them and considering all of the possibilities. Koplove has put on a good show early on, but can he continue. Realize that pitchers like Koplove, Nestor and Neal have a tendency to show some potential, only to fall back as camp continues. Right now, pitchers are still a little ahead of the hitters, so let's wait until things even out.

With a waiting trade option for Coste - and the fact that he still has an option remaining - Paulino could be the favorite by a slim margin to backup Carlos Ruiz.

Eric Bruntlett's versatility gives him a solid edge over the other combatants and the Phillies may simply prefer to keep Donald at Triple-A to start the season. Watch out for Marcus Giles. The man is on a mission and could be the surprise of the spring.

It's the age old question of whether to put a young player on the major league bench or in the everyday lineup at Triple-A. Mayberry's status could well depend on whether the Phillies find a taker for either Jenkins or Stairs or whether Mayberry just appears to be so good that they will simply release one of them (most likely Stairs) and eat the contract.



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