Phillies

How will Gabe Kapler's bench shape up?

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How will Gabe Kapler's bench shape up?

As the confetti gets swept up along Broad Street and the Flyers and Sixers push into the second halves of their seasons, Philadelphia’s sporting calendar moves on. The Phillies report to Clearwater for spring training next week with a new manager, a new bat in the lineup and a couple of veteran additions in the bullpen.

New skipper Gabe Kapler will look for veteran stability from relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, both signed as free agents. First baseman Carlos Santana, with a career on-base percentage of .365, has also joined the club as a free-agent signing.

Neshek and Hunter will join a returning cast of relievers that showed promise in the second half of last season. The Phillies made no upgrades to their starting rotation this winter. One may still come before the March 29 opener in Atlanta, but for now, management is committed to giving its core of young starters innings and the opportunity to show improvement.

Innings, however, could be a challenge with a staff prone to running high pitch counts. Therefore, there is a pretty good chance that the Phillies will open the season with an eight-man bullpen, which would mean just a four-man bench. The bench is hugely important in the National League and Kapler has promised to use his entire roster. A premium will be placed on versatility.

So, as camp gets set to start, let’s take a look at some of the decisions the team will have to make on its bench.

There are two key areas that will get significant focus: the backup catching position and the backup infield spot.

Catchers
Jorge Alfaro’s game still needs polish, especially behind the plate, but he is out of minor-league options. That means he is going to get significant playing time, probably No. 1 reps, and a chance to finish his development in the major leagues. Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp both return. Both can be sent to the minors or one could end up being traded. Rupp’s experience and ability to pop a long ball off the bench could help him stick, but Knapp is a switch-hitter with some plate discipline and the ability to play first base. That could help his chances. It could also factor in the decision if the Phils wanted to carry three catchers.

Nonroster invitees Logan Moore, Matt McBride and Eric Fryer could also be in the mix.

Infield
J.P. Crawford is moving in at shortstop. The Phillies need to carry a versatile Andres Blanco-type of utility infielder who can play the position if needed. Nonroster player Pedro Florimon could be that guy and his ability to play the outfield, as well, should help his chances. Florimon played well for the Phillies at Triple A and later in the majors last season and the team was obviously impressed as it re-signed him to a minor-league contract early in the offseason.

But the position is so important that management did not stop at Florimon. It has created competition with the signings of versatile veterans Adam Rosales and Ryan Flaherty. Also, Jesmuel Valentin, who hung around until the last cut last spring, will return. Scott Kingery will be in camp and should be a factor in the infield sooner rather than later. But he is likely to open the season in Triple A, a move that would delay his potential free agency until after the 2024 season.

Tommy Joseph returns and will be in line to make the team as a backup first baseman. His power (43 homers the last two seasons) is attractive, but he lacks versatility. Look for Joseph to get a lot of looks in Grapefruit League play as the Phils try to entice a trade partner from the American League, where Joseph might fit better as a designated hitter/first baseman.

Outfield
Barring a trade, there is already depth in the outfield as Kapler essentially has four regulars for three spots. Rhys Hoskins is set in left field and Odubel Herrera in center. Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr could platoon in right, a strategy that would strengthen the bench, though Altherr is gifted enough defensively to play anywhere in the outfield and that will give Kapler other lineup options. Still, the Phillies will look to carry a fifth outfielder. That could come from the cast of utility infield candidates who also carry outfielder’s gloves in their equipment bags.

It could be nonroster invite Collin Cowgill. Or it could be longtime prospect Roman Quinn. Injuries have robbed Quinn of playing time most of his minor-league career. But the speedy switch-hitter will turn 25 in May. It might be time to see what he can do in a complementary role in the majors, and his skills on both sides of the ball could be a weapon. Quinn will get a good look in Clearwater.

Nationals poised for trip to World Series ... so fans are celebrating Bryce Harper's absence?

Nationals poised for trip to World Series ... so fans are celebrating Bryce Harper's absence?

The Washington Nationals are now one win away from a trip to the World Series thanks in large part to Stephen Strasburg's admittedly amazing performance on Monday night over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Nationals fans should be stoked about their team. And it's likely, in some ways, that they are. But it's also somewhat bizarre what some Nats fans have chosen to celebrate.

This photo and tweet have been making the rounds this morning and caused a bit of a buzz in Philadelphia.

Tickets - $35, Beer - $10, Bryce Harper watching from home - Priceless

Let's just ignore the fact you can get into a NLCS game for $35 in DC for a second.

Your team is poised to celebrate a league title and you're celebrating the fact that a guy who used to be on your team is... no longer on your team? Okay.

The person in the replies who said it's like going to your own wedding and being most excited about the fact that your ex wasn't invited to the party makes a solid point. It's weird.

I suppose it's worth cutting Nationals fans some slack in this situation because they don't know what it's like to actually make it to the World Series and you've got to learn how to react to things by actually experiencing them.

So, if they end up making it to and losing in the World Series to the New York Yankees or Houston Astros, Nats fans will know how to react to that. They're used to losing in the playoffs.

I wonder what they'll celebrate then?

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Philadelphia native Mike Koplove emerges as strong candidate for Phillies' scouting director job

Philadelphia native Mike Koplove emerges as strong candidate for Phillies' scouting director job

The Phillies have two huge job openings to fill in their baseball operations department.

Obviously, they are looking for a new manager, and that process ramped up on Monday.

The team also needs to fill the important scouting director’s role. That job opened when Johnny Almarez stepped down in September.

The search for a new scouting boss is being led by assistant general manager Bryan Minniti and it is apparently well underway.

According to multiple major league sources, the Phillies have conducted a number of recent interviews for the position. Among those to interview are in-house candidates Greg Schilz, Mike Koplove and Darrell Conner.

Outside candidates, according to sources, include David Crowson of the Miami Marlins, Sam Hughes of the Chicago Cubs, Brian Barber of the New York Yankees, Dan Ontiveros of the Kansas City Royals and Scott Meaney of the Cleveland Indians. All have high-ranking scouting positions with their organizations.

It’s possible that there are other candidates or more will emerge. But these are the names being talked about in baseball circles at the moment.

Schilz ranked No. 2 in the Phillies’ amateur scouting staff behind Almaraz. He joined the club in the fall of 2016 after 12 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was elevated to assistant scouting director in the fall of 2017.

Koplove is an interesting candidate. He is a Philadelphia native who pitched at Chestnut Hill Academy and the University of Delaware before spending parts of seven seasons in the majors with Arizona and Cleveland. He earned a World Series ring with the Diamondbacks in 2001.

Koplove spent six seasons on the scouting staff of the Anaheim Angels before joining his hometown team as a special assignment scout prior to the 2018 season.

Conner is a longtime Phillies scout who has risen to the role of national scouting coordinator. He was influential in identifying Cole Hamels as having first-round potential and staying on the pitcher after he broke his left arm the summer after his sophomore year.

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