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6 Roster Battles Ahead of Spring Training Games

The Phillies will be playing organized baseball games tomorrow. This has been something that Phillies fans have been waiting to say since the Game 7 defeat in the NLCS last year.

The Phillies resigned Aaron Nola to a 7-year contract and signed Whitt Merrifield. Even though Spring Training games are set to begin, there are still a ton of free agents still available, and Dave Dombrowski has noted that the roster is close to set, but not finalized.

With games beginning tomorrow, we can now begin discussing who will make the Phillies Opening Day roster. Even though the roster is pretty much set, there are 6 position battles that are up for grabs this spring.

Who is going to be the Phillies 6th starting pitcher?

Dave Dombrowski and Rob Thomson have both been open to having a 6-man rotation for the regular season. In 2023, the Phillies started using the bigger rotation when the team acquired Michael Lorenzen at the trade deadline. This move provides much needed depth and rest to all the Phillies starters come playoff time.

Right now, the Phillies rotation is Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, Taijuan Walker, and Christopher Sanchez. There are a few different options, but for me the 6th rotation spot should be a two-man contest between former Detroit Tiger Spencer Turnbull and Phillies 2nd rated prospect Mick Abel. David Buchanan is a dark horse option, but at the end of the day his level of play is subpar to the others.

Turnball's 2023 campaign was ridiculed with rehab and more injuries. After having Tommy John surgery in 2022, Turnball returned to the active roster in 2023 and struggled throughout most of the season. After another injury, Turnball found himself in AAA for most of the season.

Abel had a strong season in AA last season appearing in 22 games with a 4-4 record with 132 strikeouts. Abel also started for the NL and picked up the win in the 2023 Futures Game.

The Phillies do not have a lot of great options for the 6th starter. There are still talks of them looking to add someone via free agency to fill the roster.

If the Phillies can pick up either Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell that should be their top choice. If the last rotation spot will come down to someone currently on the roster, I like Mick Abel. He pitched brilliantly last season and is part of the team's future plan. I like giving him a shot with a short leash. If after 2-3 starts it is clear he is not ready, then he can be sent down to AAA.

Who will be the Opening Day CF?

I am going to focus on this one with the assumption that Brandon Marsh is going to be 100% for Opening Day. The big debate here, is Johan Rojas ready to be the Phillies everyday centerfielder. Defensively, Rojas is as good as any CF in the game. If he does become the regular CF, there is a strong chance he is a finalist for the Gold Glove in the NL for CF.

The real concern is his hitting ability. There is no question after watching him last season, that Rojas' hitting is not where he needs to be. Dave Dombrowski did state that there was a chance that Rojas could start the year in AAA to work on his hitting.

As we approach live games, the focus needs to be on Rojas' bat. If there is drastic improvement, there should be not debate that Rojas is the guy. Even if there is a small increase in his productivity offensively, the signing of Whitt Merrifield provides the Phillies with a lot of room to figure out the defensive alignments for the team.

There is no question in my eyes that Rojas should be the guy. He is an elite defensive player already. Even though he struggles offensively, a full season with Kevin Long should go a long way.

Who is the Phillies 9th inning closer?

This may be the only roster that battle that is not won until end of April. Craig Kimbrel is off to Baltimore and now the Phillies closer job is open. In my eyes this is a two-man battle; Jose Alvarado vs rookie Orion Kerkering. There are some other dark horses for the job; Jeff Hoffman, Matt Strahm, and Gregory Soto are all options for the Phillies. I really think in the first few weeks we will see a lot of different closers. This will allow Rob Thomson to really evaluate the role.

We all know how great Alvarado can be, but in the last two seasons he has not been the 9th inning guy. The question for him is, can he step into the role every day.

Kerkering one day is going to be the Phillies primary closer, the question is, is that time now? He skyrocketed through the minors last season and has pitched in more innings during the postseason than the regular season. Every time he was promoted to the next level, Kerkering got better and better. He is in big league camp this season, and I think very much in position for the primary closer role.

I do not think Kerkering will win the closer job at the start of the season. Rob Thomson will more than likely use a committee for the first month. He loves to try different variations out until roles become clearer. Jose will more than likely be the primary closer for most of 2024!

Christian Pache or Jake Cave

The fact that we are discussing a bench spot speaks volumes on how good this team is. Assuming Brandon Marsh is healthy, and Johan Rojas is the CF on Opening Day, either Pache or Cave will start the season in AAA. This roster spot is going to come down to, what does Rob Thomson want from his bench. Does he want this last roster spot to come in and pinch hit or does he want a defensive specialist?

If he wants a pinch hitter, then Jake Cave is the guy. Cave would provide a lefty to a bench that is full of righties. He is not a great defensive outfielder but can hold his ground.

Pache is a great defender and would provide great defensive depth to the outfield. Offensively, before he got hurt his hitting started to progress very positively. He has injury concerns, but if healthy he is a great defender.

Rob Thomson has been open that a lot will go into this decision and that it is a true competition. I love the idea that games start tomorrow and both players need to work for that last spot. With the signing of Whitt Merrifield, I think it will come down to defense on this roster spot. That is why I think Pache makes the Opening Day roster over Jake Cave.

Who's the leadoff hitter on Opening Day?

This one is not a roster question, but a question that fans have been wanting to know for a long time now. Rob Thomson has been putting Kyle Schwarber in the DH spot for two years now. Even though Schwarber strikes out a lot, he also hits a lot of homeruns.

Schwarber is not your traditional leadoff hitter, so people are obviously skeptical of the move. When asked earlier about it, Thomson was not ready to name Schwarber as the leadoff hitter and is open to moving him out of that role. As we progress throughout the spring, it will be worth noting the lineups that Thomson and the Phillies have. I expect a lot of different variations as we lead up to Opening Day.

The only two other options will be Trea Turner or Bryson Stott. If they do move on from Schwarber being the leadoff hitter, I lean more to Stott being the leadoff hitter. Turner has played well when he hits in the 2 hole and is comfortable in that role. I am a huge Bryson Stott fan and I think he is going to have an all star caliber season, and he can do that from the leadoff role.

Who from the farm system could be dark horse call up this season?

The Phillies have a roster that is ready to compete for a World Series. On top of that they have a fairly decent farm system. Last season we saw Orion Kerkering start the season in Low-A and ended the season with the Phillies. I do not think we see a jump that big and quick, but I think there is a name in the farm that we should all be talking about.

Phillies 6th rated prospect Carlos De La Cruz is a name that you need to know now, because he will be on the Phillies 25-man roster by the end of the season. In 2023 while playing for AA Reading, De La Cruz had 132 hits, 62 RBI's, and 24 homeruns. This year he was been invited to big league camp in Clearwater. He spoke in a recent interview that he has been working out at both 1B and the OF.

Offensively, De La Cruz is very close to being ready for the big leagues. The question mark surrounding De La Cruz, is he ready defensively? If everyone is healthy, De La Cruz could snag one of the last bench spots on the roster. I do think the Phillies will want him to play every day to continue to develop, and if that is the case he will start the year in AAA. However, if someone goes down during the regular season, De La Cruz should be the first man up.

Keep an eye on him this spring. I think his bat is ready to compete with the best.


-Adam Mack


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