Phillies

Countdown to Clearwater: There are decisions to make on the bench

Countdown to Clearwater: There are decisions to make on the bench

The Phillies begin spring training in Clearwater, Florida, on Feb. 14. Leading up to the first workout, we will take a daily look at the important issues and storylines of camp.

Day 7: The bench

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has called Andres Blanco the best utility man he’s ever been around.
 
So it was not surprising that the team re-signed the 32-year-old supersub in December. Blanco carries an infielder’s glove, an outfielder’s glove, a first baseman’s mitt and even a catcher’s mitt in his equipment bag, and there’s a chance he could use all of them off the Phillies’ bench in 2017.
 
Who will join Blanco in a reserve role?
 
That is one of the questions that Mackanin and the front office will ponder in spring training.
 
Heading into camp, Blanco is a lock to hold down one of the expected five bench jobs, and Aaron Altherr has the inside track to be the first outfielder off the bench.
 
That leaves three openings.
 
The competition could be pretty good as a handful of young guys and a sprinkling of experienced veterans try to win spots on the opening day roster.
 
Perhaps the most fascinating decision that the team’s brass faces is what to do at backup catcher. Coming into camp, there are several candidates to be Cameron Rupp’s backup, most notably homegrown Andrew Knapp and major-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan. Though he has never played in the majors, Knapp is on the 40-man roster. The latter two are in camp on minor-league deals. Longtime farmhand Logan Moore will also be in camp. He’s an excellent defender and could also get a look.
 
At the winter meetings, both Mackanin and general manager Matt Klentak acknowledged the possibility of carrying Knapp as the backup. Knapp was the Phils’ second-round pick in the 2013 draft, he’s 25, a switch-hitter, and he played a full season at Triple A last year. He can also play first base and the Phillies could use someone to occasionally pick up Tommy Joseph against a right-handed pitcher.
 
From a developmental standpoint, it would probably not be ideal to carry Knapp as a part-time player. But playing time might still be an issue if he went back to Triple A as the developmental blueprint calls for a pair of top prospects, Jorge Alfaro and Rhys Hoskins, to start at catcher and first base, respectively.
 
Not long after saying at the winter meetings that he’d be comfortable with a rookie backup catcher, Klentak signed big-league veteran Holaday, and he recently added Hanigan so the Phils are covered if they decided they want more experience in the role.
 
Rookie or veteran? The team will have to make a philosophical call here. Knapp’s ability to switch-hit and play multiple positions could help him, but he will need to display readiness at the plate and behind it to win a spot.
 
Odubel Herrera is set in center field, and newcomers Howie Kendrick and Micahel Saunders will be on the corners. Altherr should be a good fourth man because defense is a strength and he can play all three outfield positions.
 
So who’s the fifth outfielder? And will there be a sixth?
 
There are plenty of candidates, led by recent signing Chris Coghlan, the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year. His left-handed bat and versatility — he’s played six positions in his career — could be attractive. Switch-hitting Daniel Nava will also get a look, as will Tyler Goeddel, who, as a Rule 5 player, spent all of last season in the majors and remains on the 40-man roster.
 
Though long shots, Andrew Pullin and Brock Stassi could also be intriguing, out-of-the-box candidates for a spot on the bench. Both are in camp as non-roster invites. Stassi is a good defensive first baseman and can play outfield. Pullin is an outfielder. Most importantly, both hit left-handed and have strong minor-league track records with the bat. Phillies pinch-hitters ranked 26th in batting average (.157) and 29th in on-base percentage (.221) last season and improvement is sought there.
 
It’s possible that the team could carry an extra middle infielder in addition to Blanco. Veteran Pedro Florimon could get a shot at that job.

Next: Day 8 — A look at what Pete Mackanin’s batting order might look like

Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

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AP Images

Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

The Phillies added four promising pitching prospects to their 40-man roster on Monday. In a corresponding move, they subtracted a notable name.

Right-handers Franklyn Kilome, Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Taveras and lefty Ranger Suarez were all added to the roster, protecting them from being selected by another club in next month's Rule 5 draft.

The Phillies also added an infielder, Engelb Vielma, to the roster. He was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants.

To make room for these additions, the team needed to clear three spots on its roster, which had been at 38. Left-handed pitcher Elniery Garcia cleared waivers and was sent outright to the minor leagues while right-handers Alberto Tirado and Mark Appel were designated for assignment. The Phillies will try to trade Tirado and Appel before placing them on waivers. If they clear waivers, they could stay in the system.

The Phillies cut Appel loose after he'd struggled with injury and ineffectiveness during two seasons in the organization. The 26-year-old right-hander from Stanford University had twice been a first-round draft pick, by Pittsburgh in 2012 and by Houston — No. 1 overall — in 2013. The Phillies acquired him from the Astros as part of the package for Ken Giles in December 2015, but he never lived up to his huge potential.

"A lot of the tools that Mark showed as an amateur that led to him being the No. 1 overall pick are still there," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "He has simply struggled with performance. It's certainly not for lack of effort on his part. We think the world of the kid and wish him well. It was a tough decision."

Tirado, 22, was acquired from Toronto in July 2015 as part of the return for Ben Revere. He arrived with a fastball that could reach triple digits on the radar gun and that promise earned him a spot on the 40-man a year ago. Tirado suffered a shoulder injury early last season and struggled in the minors.

All four of the pitchers that the Phillies protected are products of the team's international scouting department. Taveras, 24, was a standout at three levels in the minors last season and could be in the picture in Philadelphia in 2018. He led the system in strikeouts in 2016 and 2017.

"He knows how to get guys out and often times that comes via the strikeout," Klentak said. "No matter where he pitches, he rises to the occasion and puts up a strong performance."

Kilome, 22, and Dominguez, 22, are both power arms who project to see significant time at Double A in 2018. Suarez, 22, should also get to Double A at some point in 2018. He had a 2.27 ERA in 22 starts at two levels of Single A ball in 2017.

"He may have been the breakout pitcher of the year for the Phillies," Klentak said. "We'd always heard a lot about him and this year he took his performance to another level.

"We're really excited for all four of these guys. All have worked extremely hard and they are all deserving of being added to our roster. Our international scouting operation, Sal Agostinelli and his group, continues to crank out players. They've done a great job. These four pitchers have earned this through their work ethic and performance. By no means is this the ultimate goal for them, but it's one step closer. We believe really strongly in the futures of these four pitchers."

Vielma, 23, is a top defensive shortstop who can also play second and third base. He was waived by Minnesota in September and claimed by the Giants, who let him go in a roster crunch.

"He's an intriguing claim," Klentak said. "He adds depth to our infield."

The Phillies’ roster is at 40. The team will have to clear space if it wants to add a player in next month's Rule 5 draft. Last November, the Phils added 11 players to the 40-man roster and still lost lefty reliever Hoby Milner to Cleveland. Milner failed to make the Indians' opening-day roster, returned to the organization in March and ended up making 37 appearances for the big club after coming up in late June. He was one of 12 rookies to make their big-league debut with the Phillies in 2017.

Notable players who were not protected include outfielders Carlos Tocci and Andrew Pullin and pitcher Brandon Leibrandt.

"One of the byproducts of a strong system is every year there are some tough omissions," Klentak said. "There are always tough calls. But we look at that as a good problem to have."

New details emerge in investigation into Roy Halladay's death

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USA Today Images

New details emerge in investigation into Roy Halladay's death

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Retired star pitcher Roy Halladay sped his small sports plane low over the Gulf of Mexico minutes before his fatal crash two weeks ago, climbing sharply in the final seconds before diving into the water, federal investigators said in a preliminary report released Monday.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Noreen Price placed no blame for the Nov. 7 accident near Tampa, simply laying out the facts as gleaned from the plane's data recorder and eyewitnesses. A final report with conclusions could take one to two years.

Price says Halladay, 40, had taken off from a lake near his Tampa-area home about 17 minutes before the crash, taking his ICON A5 to 1,900 feet (580 meters) before dropping to 600 feet (180 meters) as he neared the coastline. He then dropped to 36 feet (11 meters) when he reached the water. While flying at about 105 mph (170 kph), Halladay skimmed the water at 11 feet (3.3 meters), flying in a circle before climbing to 100 feet (30 meters), the plane's data showed.

A witness told investigators the plane climbed to between 300 and 500 feet (95 to 150 meters) when it turned and went into a 45-degree dive. It slammed into the water and flipped.

Halladay's body was found with the plane, which was severely damaged. The plane itself was equipped with a parachute, but it was not deployed.

The former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies star had received the plane from ICON on Oct. 10, and was one of the first to receive the model. In one of many enthusiastic tweets about the plane, Halladay said it felt "like flying a fighter jet." He had about 700 hours of flight time after getting his license in 2013, the report says. He had 51 hours in ICON A5s, including 14 in the plane that crashed.

Rolled out in 2014, the A5 is an amphibious aircraft meant to be treated like an ATV, a piece of weekend recreational gear with folding wings that can easily be towed on a trailer to a lake where it can take off from the water.

The man who led the plane's design, 55-year-old John Murray Karkow, died while flying an A5 over California's Lake Berryessa on May 8, a crash the NTSB attributed to pilot error.

Another A5 crashed in April, making a hard landing in the water off Key Largo, Florida, injuring the pilot and his passenger. The pilot told investigators the plane descended faster than he expected.

Halladay, an eight-time All-Star, pitched a perfect game and a playoff no-hitter in 2010. He played for the Blue Jays from 1998 to 2009 and for the Phillies from 2009-13, going 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA.