The Phillies' bench was a clear weakness early last season, the worst in the National League from opening day through the end of May. Phillies pinch-hitters went 13 for 90 in the season's first two months, hitting .144 with one home run in 95 plate appearances.
The early-June acquisition of Jay Bruce from Seattle was designed to improve the bench. But Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL just after the trade and Bruce was thrust into everyday duty.
Bruce figures to be the key member of the Phillies' bench in 2020, his last year under contract. If he can hit for power in key pinch-hit opportunities, he could turn a few losses into wins. If he can also just do what he's always done when asked to spot start — hit .230-.240 with power — that would be enough from that role. He is unquestionably a positive clubhouse presence. He became a leader here last summer quickly and organically.
Bruce was great last June. In his first three weeks as a Phillie, he had the decisive, multi-run hit in six wins. Then he was absent for most of the second half. An oblique strain led to an IL-stint out of the All-Star break, and then a flexor strain cost him three weeks in August. He was relegated to strictly pinch-hit appearances as the season wound down.
Beyond Bruce, the Phillies have three other likely bench candidates in centerfielder Roman Quinn, catcher Andrew Knapp and Josh Harrison, who can play second base, third base and both outfield corners.
Joe Girardi, set to enter his first season as Phillies manager, spoke positively of Quinn in one of his first radio interviews. The H-word with Quinn is so obvious that it's barely even worth mentioning anymore. We all know what has prevented him from producing. He's still worth his spot on the 40-man roster because of the tools, upside and inexpensive contract.
Knapp is back as a backup. The Phillies could carry three catchers in 2020, though, as MLB expands to 26-man rosters from March-through-September. That could mean a spot for Deivy Grullon or non-roster invitee Christian Bethancourt.
What about Odubel Herrera? He's a big wild-card heading into spring training. It feels like a significant long shot that he is back with the team, but there's always a chance he could convince the organization he deserves a second chance.
Spring training invitees Phil Gosselin and Matt Szczur, both local guys, will battle for roles as extra men in the infield and outfield, respectively. Gosselin was, statistically, the Phillies' best pinch-hitter in 2019. Szczur is a former Villanova football and baseball standout who was on the Cubs' 2016 World Series team.
Nick Williams is still on the 40-man roster but seems like a big-time change of scenery candidate if/when the Phils need to clear space.
Mikie Mahtook was invited to spring training as well. He's a 30-year-old outfielder who spent the last three seasons with the Tigers. He showed some flashes in 2017 when he hit .276 with a .787 OPS in 379 plate appearances. He spent a good portion of that second half hitting at the top or in the middle of Detroit's order. He's barely hit in the two seasons since.
The Phillies are also likely to add a few more bench candidates between now and mid-February. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11 and the first full team workout is set for Feb. 17. We're only six weeks away, people.