Lack of depth was an issue that arguably sunk the Phillies in 2019. After a plethora of big name acquisitions headlined by Bryce Harper, hype was high and the team delivered at first. However, as the season dragged on, it became clear just how much depth is needed to get through a full major league season. Phillies minor league depth was lacking and the club had no answer to Andrew McCutchen’s injury. As a result, offensive production slipped and never recovered.
The team also had a paper thin rotation. Younger starters such as Nick Pivetta didn’t quite take the steps forward the organization was hoping they would and there didn’t seem to be a plan B. Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin, Jerad Eickhoff and Drew Smyly were deployed in the rotation with none ever really gaining a foothold.
There also wasn’t much of a bench to start the season. Come September, the bench was a patch-work of mid-season acquisitions.
That said, Matt Klentak has done a fairly good job of addressing depth prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season. The Phillies have signed quite an impressive group of once very productive big league infielders including Josh Harrison, Neil Walker and Logan Forsythe. Francisco Liriano, Bud Norris and Drew Storen will all be in big league camp hoping to catch on with the bullpen with Liriano perhaps having the best chance of making the club as a left-handed specialist. The Phillies minor league system also projects to be far more well stocked at the AAA level than it was last year, which is an under-looked but crucial key to roster construction.
The one area in which the Phillies still lack depth is with the rotation, but there is still time to look for another minor league signing. It is also possible that Klentak is hoping Bryan Price will be able to turn one of De Los Santos and Irvin into a starter again. Chris Young deployed these pitchers in questionable situations, including yanking Irvin from the rotation rather abruptly. It is totally possible that starting pitching depth is already in house, only underutilized to this point.
With 26 man active rosters debuting in 2020, the Phillies will of course have some extra room to play with. Top prospects Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard will also be in big league camp though it is very unlikely either debuts with the team. So, given all that, let’s take a look what the Phillies have to work with prior to big league camp.
Phil Gosselin, Infielder
Phil Gosselin of course spent extended time with the Phillies in 2019. After signing a minor league contract prior to the start of the season, he quickly found himself in the big leagues and was pinch hitting quite often. Gosselin ultimately slashed .262/.294/.308 at the big league level between two separate stints in 2019.
At the AAA level, Gosselin was much more effective. He slashed .314/.405/.497 across 296 at-bats with the Ironpigs.
The West Chester native once again signed a minor league contract with the Phillies in December and will be in big league camp. He will face fierce competition in order to win a roster spot but would likely stick around in the event that he doesn’t. He accepted a minor league assignment last year and theoretically could do it again given how crowded the market is for veteran middle infielders. Gosselin did log time at shortstop last year with the Phillies, which could give him an edge over the competition.
At the very least, Gosselin should bolster a fragile Phillies minor league system and provide depth.
Blake Parker, RHP
Parker was acquired late last season from the Twins in hopes that he would aide a bullpen in desperate need of help. He had closing experience with the Twins and was looked at as a guy who could help stabilize the back-end of the bullpen that had lost David robertson and Seranthony Dominguez. The righty ended up turning in largely average to below average results with the Phillies, ending with an ERA of 5.04 albeit a slightly more forgiving FIP of 4.69.
While his first go around with the Phillies was less than ideal, it was also far from horrific and he walked into a bad situation. The 2019 Phillies were largely lifeless following June and Parker was only around for that.
The team has many right-handers in camp, but Parker has just as strong a chance to make the team as any of them really. The saving grace in Parker’s stats was a WHIP of 1.000 during his Phillies stretch, his lowest since an above average 2017 campaign. If Parker can keep the long ball under control, he could provide valuable depth.
While Josh Harrison is past his 2014 peak and hasn’t been a league average bat in the last few seasons, he still provides plenty of value. Harrison is coming off an injury riddled campaign with the Tigers in which he hit just .175 over 137 AB’s.
On the plus side, Harrison was an All Star as recently as 2017 and slashed .250/.293/.363 over 344 AB’s with the Pirates in 2018. With a .273 lifetime average and the ability to play second, third and the corner outfield, Harrison has long been one of the game’s more versatile players.
While it would be foolish to expect Harrison to reach peak offensive numbers, even 2018 Josh Harrison would be a very valuable depth piece off the bench. Given J Hay’s resume and versatility, he’s an early favorite to make the team as a backup infielder.
Another former Pirate, Neil Walker will hope to re-establish his big league career with the Phillies. Once an above average second baseman, Walker is coming off a rather pedestrian season with the Marlins in which he was primarily deployed in a platoon. As the season dragged on, Walker played less and less in favor of younger players.
At 34 years old, Walker will be competing with Harrison, Forsythe and others for a bench job. A natural second baseman, Walker has frequently found himself in corner positions in recent years. Third, first and the corner outfield slots are where Walker could most likely see playing time with the Phillies.
His .261/.344/.395 line in 2019 was an improvement over the year prior and that was in limited action. If Walker can replicate similar numbers in a bench role, he will be above average.
The biggest issue with Walker making the team is his lack of versatility compared to other infielders on the team. If Walker can make the roster, it will likely be because he successfully demonstrated that he can still hit. The ability to play first base will also weigh in, as the team lacks depth at that position.
Logan Forsythe signed his second minor league contract in as many seasons when the veteran infielder inked a deal with the Phillies this week. Forsythe made the Rangers out of camp last year and provided some solid production in the early half of the season, helped in part by a remarkable .404 BABIP. The 33 year old eventually cooled off and finished the season with an unimpressive .227/.325/.353 line across 317 at-bats.
Like Harrison and Walker, Forsythe is a once above average MLB regular, his best season coming in 2015 with the Rays. Since then, Forsythe’s offensive output has only trended downwards and he has been well below league average since 2016.
Still, Forsythe has impressive versatility and played every infield position with the Rangers in 2019. He has also spent large amounts of time coming off the bench in his career. Forsythe may edge out Walker in terms of likelihood to make the team on versatility alone.
Francisco Liriano, LHP
At age 36, Francisco Liriano is still looking to hang around at the big league level following his transition to the bullpen. Liriano’s surface stats give the impression that he should have been signing a major league deal, particularly his 3.47 ERA through 70 innings.
Beyond that, however, it becomes clear why teams are hesitant to commit to the 36 year old. Liriano’s 2019 FIP was 4.53 while his walk rate sat at 4.5 through 9. Liriano has always been a pitcher who accumulates lots of both walks and strikeouts, which he worked around as a starter. However, this is worrisome for a reliever.
Still, the former Pirate’s strikeout numbers remain solid. Left-handed hitters also hit just .194 against Liriano in 2019, giving him seemingly high value as a specialist.
Liriano’s biggest obstacle to making the Phillies may be the fact that the big league team appears to already have two left-handed relievers in Adam Morgan and Ranger Suarez. If Liriano pitches well in Spring Training and the Phillies choose to open the season with those two, he may opt out in search of a major league job elsewhere.
Bud Norris, RHP
Bud Norris is seeking to make a comeback with the Phillies after last pitching in the majors back in 2018 with the Cardinals. Norris served as the Cardinals closer for the bulk of that season, going 28 for 33 in save opportunities. Then, in what may seem shocking, Norris inked a minor league deal with the Blue Jays for 2019. He was released after refusing a minor league assignment that the Blue Jays argued was to build up arm strength. Norris was clocking in around 90-91 MPH, almost 4 MPH shy of his usual fastball velocity. He did not pitch in 2019.
35 in March, Norris will be looking to show that he still possesses the late inning ability he once had. A longtime starter with Houston, Norris has saved 47 games between the Angels and Cardinals.
If Norris can get his fastball back to where it needs to be, he is a very intriguing candidate for the Phillies bullpen.
Drew Storen, RHP
Another once accomplished MLB regular on the comeback trail with the Phillies is former Nationals closer Drew Storen. Storen hasn’t seen big league action since 2017 and it has been even longer since he was looked upon as an established late inning arm. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017, Storen has tried and failed to get back to the big leagues with the Royals. He will be trying again with the Phillies.
Storen once looked like he could be one of the game’s elite closers. He saved 43 games for Washington in 2011 and was a largely solid, late inning bullpen option through 2015. He picked up sporadic saves in a crowded bullpen throughout that time but again found himself as Washington’s primary closer in 2015. After much success, he was demoted following a late season trade for Jonathan Papelbon with the Phillies. This was the same trade in which the Phillies netted Nick Pivetta.
Storen’s production collapsed following the Papelbon move (which was a memorable dumpster fire) and has yet to regain his peak form. It is unlikely he ever will, but Storen is a proven big league arm and it will be interesting to see him in camp. Hopefully he can re-establish himself with the Phillies or at least find work elsewhere. Still just 32, Storen certainly has a chance at making this team and it seems likely that one of he and Norris will, given healthy production.
Anthony Swarzak, RHP
Longtime Twins reliever Anthony Swarzak is another veteran right-hander competing for one of 2-3 bullpen slots. The 34 year old Swarzak pitched to meager 2019 results between Atlanta and Seattle and finds himself signing a minor league deal. Through 54.1 innings in 2019, Swarzak worked to an FIP of 5.71 and a WHIP of 1.481. His 2018 with the Mets was even worse.
Swarzak will be hoping to get back to form with the Phillies in search of numbers that resemble his 2017 peak. That season, he worked to an FIP of 2.74 across 77.1 innings that season to go along with a WHIP of 1.034.
With J.D. Hammer recently designated for assignment, there is a clear path to a roster spot if he can piece together a promising spring.
Deolis Guerra, RHP
On February 5th, the Phillies announced they had claimed right-hander Deolis Guerra off waivers from Milwaukee. 31 in April, Guerra is yet another veteran who will be vying for a bullpen job. After producing largely average results with the Angels in 2016-17, Guerra didn’t appear in the big leagues in 2018. He then logged just two thirds of an inning in 2019.
However, Guerra’s 2019 AAA statistics were certainly impressive. Through 66.2 innings, Guerra worked to an ERA of 1.89 while opposing hitters batted just .181 against him.
As stated before, the club parting ways with Hammer has opened the door for multiple non roster invitees to make the bullpen. Guerra is younger than his competition and the club may be looking for something newer. If he doesn’t make the team outright, Guerra could certainly be stashed in AAA and serve as valuable depth.
Likely Minor League Depth
Villanova product Matt Szczur inked a minor league deal with the Phillies early in the off-season and will be present for big league camp. A once promising Cubs prospect, Szczur hasn’t seen action at the big league level since 2018 with the Padres. All told, he owns a career slash-line of 231./312/.355 across 589 big league at-bats.
In limited 2019 AAA action, Szczur put up respectable numbers and flashed decent power. It seems almost certain that the Cape May native will begin the season in AAA with the outfield situation rather crowded right now.
Mikie Mahtook owns a career line of .235/.292/.405 across 884 big league at-bats, primarily with the rebuilding Tigers. He went hitless in 25 plate appearances last season and is another player seemed destined to begin 2020 in AAA.
An outfielder, Mahtook’s best numbers came with the Tigers in 2017. He hit .276/.330/.457 to go along with 12 home-runs across 348 AB’s. He did, however, belt 21 home-runs with AAA Toledo next season. Like Szczur, Mahtook could hear his name called with sustained minor league production or injuries to the major league team.
Once a top catching prospect with the Braves, Christian Bethancourt has yet to see extensive big league action since 2016 with the Padres. His career offensive numbers are well below average and the Panama native seems destined to end up in AAA.
That said, Andrew Knapp is far from a premier backup and there is always a path to the big leagues for a roster’s third catcher. Should an injury occur at catcher, Bethancourt can easily be called up as a serviceable fill in.
Infielder Ronald Torreyes is just a season removed from a solid bench run with the Yankees. He owns a very solid .279/.308/.370 lifetime line and hits lots of singles. Torreyes spent most of 2019 in AAA but did receive limited action with the Twins.
Maybe Torreyes is being overlooked, but his path to an Opening Day roster spot looks tough given the competition in camp. His ability to play shortstop should earn an extended look but Torreyes ultimately seems like another AAA depth candidate. That isn’t a knock on Torreyes considering what the 2019 Yankees were able to do with their AAA depth, however.