Phillies bench competition and the bigger picture: 5 hitters, 2 roster spots on Opening Day

CLEARWATER, FL — Dalton Guthrie has the appropriate perspective on the importance — or lack thereof — that comes with a spot on an Opening Day roster. Everyone wants it. But everyone who’s occupied the sidelines of a big-league roster knows how much that can change over the course of a six-month marathon.

a year ago at this time? “I mean, I was in a little league camp and I live there,” Guthrie said. Now, he is among a group of five batters vying for two spots on the Phillies bench. All five have springs produced to date.

Only two will stand on the third base line with the defending National League champions at Globe Life Field on Opening Day. But, chances are, all five will play for the Phillies in 2023. That’s why club officials are so excited about what they saw this spring.

“We even talk about how everyone uses some time of the year,” Guthrie said. Right? We all want each other to do well and all we want to do is help this team get back to where we were last year. We are rooting for each other and we know that at some point someone is going to have to step up.

“It’s fun. Hope everyone stays hot.”

Spring numbers are just that. No more, no less. But, when a player is seeking a job, teams want to see competitive batters. All five men have surrendered. A shot with less than two weeks left until opening day:

• Jake Cave – .429 / .474 / .800 (38 plate appearances)

• Cody Clemens – .313 / .389 / .625 (36 PA)

• Dalton Guthrie – .250 / .273 / .375 (33 PA)

Darrick Hall – .293 / .341 / .683 (44 PA)

• Scott Kingery – .394 / .459 / .515 (37 PA)

“It’s great,” Phillies manager Rob Thompson said. “Maybe someone here will break up next week. But they’re all in the mix.”

There is one thing Thompson is sticking with: All five players will remain in the organization after Opening Day whether or not they are on the preliminary 26-man roster.

“They’re still ours,” Thompson said.

It’s notable because the opening day decision is just a preliminary deadline. Remember the starting bench for the Phillies from last season? These were Garrett Stubbs, Johan Camargo, Bryson Stott and Simon Muziotti. Things change.

Guthrie wasn’t in the picture until September, then he was on the team’s roster for the National League Division Series. He pointed to Nick Mattoon, who didn’t make the Phillies out of camp last spring, as an example of how players have had their ups and downs during their 162-game season. The Phillies, prior to 2022, have struggled to secure career depth to keep injuries and poor performances at bay. That depth was better in 2022, which is one reason they’ve been able to thrive in the two months Bryce Harper missed last summer. That depth took a backseat during the postseason. But she helped them get to that moment.

“Obviously, everyone wants to make the Opening Day list,” Guthrie said. “But, in the grand scheme of things, a lot happens throughout the year. Guys get hot, guys get cold. It’s hard to put that much stock in. You want to play well and you want to play it. But everyone’s going to be needed at some point.”

Jake Cave (Kim Clement / USA Today)

According to major league sources, the Phillies continued to search for a potential fourth baseman who bats right-handed. It’s the only thing they’ve indicated to clubs they’re looking to add, though other solutions could emerge as veterans of minor league contracts with other organizations exercise clauses for better opportunities elsewhere.

It is also possible that the right-handed hitter is in the Phillies camp. Phillies as Guthrie. He started his spring with one hit in 14 at-bats, but has since collected seven in his last 12 at-bats. they are all connected; The Phillies do not rate Guthrie or anyone else who simply relies on the Grapefruit League at-bats.

They are excited for Kingry’s return. He didn’t necessarily hit the ball hard, but his swing adjustments allowed him to put more balls into play. Kingery has faced fewer pitchers when pitching in subsequent innings of exhibition games. Regardless, there is enough momentum within the organization to consider it a legitimate choice for an Opening Day platform.

If he’s in the minors to start 2023, the Phillies have renewed confidence that he could be a contributor off the bench sometime this season. The Phillies have played him all over the court.

All five players vying for jobs are doing well. Hall continued to crush the right-handed pitcher this spring. He scored a few more hits on badly hit balls on the right side that would have been eaten up by a shift before. He hit the opposite pitch — a home run last Thursday night followed by one Friday — and that’s an encouraging trend.

Clemens hits the ball hard. He’s played five positions this spring, including shortstop, a position he hasn’t played since college. The opposing evaluators see him as a corner man – both on the field and on the field – but he does some interesting things.

So does Keef, who signed Baltimore to a split contract at a higher-than-normal minor league salary earlier in the season and tried to sneak him through waivers with hopes that would scare away other teams. Filiz demanded it.

He fractured a vertebra in his back while with the Twins in 2021. Well in 2022, he lowered his strike rate and raised his walk rate. He hit the ball at the highest average out speed ever in the major leagues. And he had a .213/.260/.384 streak in 164 plates to show for it.

“My numbers weren’t exactly what I wanted,” said Keef. “But I felt like myself. I was hitting the ball really hard. I was playing good defense.”

It was implemented this spring. “The way I think about the game and the way I feel about running and defending and swinging the bat is the best I’ve felt in my career,” said Cave, 30. truly?

“I give a lot of the credit here to Kevin Long,” said Keef. “He’s done a great job. We’re talking and we’re on the same page. I don’t have to go into spring training and think about my mechanic. It helps me get to a good place so I can be productive and take a beating. I feel great about it.”

Cave, like Clemens, Hall, and Guthrie, has a minor league option remaining. Kingery is the only one not on the 40-man roster, but the Phillies have ways of clearing a spot. They know Stubbs, Edmundo Sosa, and Josh Harrison are the bench locks. Other decisions they make this month will be reviewed again and again.

“We’ve petitioned the league if we can carry 30 players this year,” Thompson quipped. “We haven’t received any response from them yet.”

It’s a decent problem.

(Top photo by Dalton Guthrie: Mike Janes/4Sim Images via The Associated Press)


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