I like to see who is standing behind the batting cage when batting practice takes place in Phillies spring training. This morning after base running and fielding drills on Schmidt and Ashburn Fields, I drifted over to Roberts and Carlton Fields to watch batting practice. Who was watching BP standing behind the batting cages and watching who was taking infield earlier reveals to me the thinking of the Phillies for the beginning of the Grapefruit League and eventually the opening day 25 man roster.
On Robert Field was Manager Ryne Sandberg watching Bobby Abreu take swings. To me Abreu has the inside track to win the bench, left-handed batting corner outfield job. Bobby turns 40 on March 11th and he has hit only .207 as a pinch hitter in his career. He appears a bit big around the middle even after playing winter ball in his native Venezuela. But those kind of numbers and body type never stopped GM Ruben Amaro Jr. before from signing an aging bench player, see Jim Thome in 2011.
After finishing up watching Abreu hit BP, Sandberg move over to Schmidt Field to coach up Cody Asche where he was taking BP. Cody is the heavy favorite to win the third base job. Most revealing this morning was his leading competitor in infield drills earlier, Maikel Franco, was at first base making way for Reid Brignac at third in what appears to be the likely AAA infield. Franco may not even start the season at AAA.
Once Sandberg was satisfied with Asche, he moved on only to be replaced by GM Ruben Amaro Jr. behind the batting cage at Schmidt Field. The new batting group, which was watched closely by the GM, included catcher Cameron Rupp, corner outfielder/first baseman Darin Ruf, catcher Sebastian Valle and middle infielder/center fielder Cesar Hernandez. To me these guys are organizational depth with no chance, barring injury, to make the opening day 25 man roster.
With all having options available Rupp, Ruf and Hernandez are likely to open the season at AAA. I don’t think Amaro knows quite what to do with Valle, who after taking him off the 40 man roster, went unclaimed on waivers by the rest of major league baseball. Then Sebastian went on to show that he is one of the best young catchers from Latin America by backstopping Mexico to the Caribbean Series championship several weeks ago. In his last at bat in the final game of the five nation tournament, he hit a grand slam to seal the championship.
The first phase of the major league camp is all but over. This Wednesday the Grapefruit league opens in a game with the Blue Jays at Bright House. On Tuesday one of my favorite game of spring training takes place, the Phillies major league intraquad game. Jesse Biddle and Ethan Martin appear to be the likely starting pitchers. Other pitchers expected to get some innings are expected to be David Buchanan, Justin DeFratus, Luis Garcia, Jeremy Horst, Cesar Jimenez, Shawn Camp and Ken Giles. I am interested most to see Biddle and Giles pitch. They have the most upside of any of the young pitchers in the Phillies organization. Biddle had a strong minor league camp last season in the games I saw him pitch. A top power reliever, Giles was the only Phillies prospect chosen for the Arizona Fall League Stars game where the top minor league talent was on display in the desert last year.
Right now by watching the full camp workouts and observing who is standing behind the batting cages it looks like the 13 position players are mostly set for the 25 man opening day roster barring injury. It looks like to me the catchers will be Carlos Ruiz and Will Nieves; the infielders will be Ryan Howard at first, Chase Utley at second, Jimmy Rollins at short and Cody Asche at third with Domonic Brown in left, Ben Revere in center and Marlon Byrd in right. The utility infielders will be Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen with John Mayberry Jr. and Bobby Abreu the back up outfielders and right and left pinch hit bats respectively.