Over the coming weeks, as Spring Training approaches and then gets underway, we’ll look at some of the camp battles that arise. The goal here isn’t to be exhaustive — obviously, there’s a ton of jockeying across the game for roster spots and roles — but to cover the contests that are particularly interesting and/or that carry notable hot stove implications.
First up: the brewing fight in Phillies camp for a utility infield job.
If you’re wondering whether the Phils are really done adding pieces this winter, you’re not alone. There’s a lot to like about the additions of Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius. But the roster would feel quite a bit more complete with a high-quality third baseman or center fielder plugged in. Picking up a hot corner stalwart makes particular sense, as it’d allow Scott Kingery to contribute in center and elsewhere. True, the club can allow things to play out and adjust in mid-season as needed — adding via trade or perhaps calling up top prospect Alec Bohm — but the early uncertainty could hurt in a hotly contested NL East.
Supposing the Phillies are indeed willing to roll with their existing options, their recent accumulation of veteran reserve infield candidates becomes all the more interesting. There’ll be quite a few assembled in Clearwater: Phil Gosselin, Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison, T.J. Rivera, Ronald Torreyes, and Neil Walker. The club has certainly signaled that it has significant plans for one or more lucky former big leaguers. Drawing such players to sign non-roster deals is all about dangling opportunity; given the volume of experienced players on hand, it seems reasonable to deduce that the club has offered a chance at the prize (MLB action) that all these men seek.
Make no mistake: these guys are looking for bounce backs from a performance perspective. There’s a reason they were available for no commitment and in such volume. It’s anyone’s guess just how this group will look in camp — let alone how they’ll perform if and when given the chance in 2020 — but the Phils are obviously hoping one or more shows a spark.
More on each of the candidates:
- Gosselin is obviously viewed as a trustworthy depth piece around the game, as six teams have given him MLB time over the past seven seasons. He’s not even close to being an average hitter over his time in the majors but did post a hefty (even in league context) .314/.405/.497 slash last year in 353 Triple-A plate appearances.
- Forsythe has a ton of experience and turned in a solid first half in 2019. But he faltered down the stretch and ended with a .227/.325/.353 batting line. Once a sneaky offensive threat, Forsythe has now turned in three straight seasons of below-average hitting.
- Harrison had hoped to find a return to prominence last year with the Tigers, but ended up limping through an injury-limited, ugly season. The 32-year-old’s big 2014 season is a distant memory. Then again, he was a high-quality all-around performer as recently as 2017. Even if the bat doesn’t quite come back to league-average levels, Harrison might be a worthwhile contributor on the bases and with the glove.
- Rivera has been hampered by health issues and hasn’t appeared in the majors (or even much in the upper minors) since 2017. But he showed a productive bat with the Mets when last he was at full strength and could be an intriguing rebound candidate at 31 years of age.
- Torreyes doesn’t excite with the bat, but he’s about as hard to strike out as they come and can play anywhere in the infield. Still just 27 years of age, he’s easily the youngest of those listed here. He’s also the only man on this list other than Gosselin that profiles as an option at shortstop.
- Walker is the only player covered here who turned in something like league-average hitting in 2019. It wasn’t up to his prior standard, but Walker did improve from a down 2018 season by slashing .261/.344/.395 with eight home runs in 381 plate appearances. He’s also the only one of the group that hits from the left side (as a switch-hitter), perhaps increasing his utility as a part-time option not only at third base but also on the right side of the infield.
It’s an interesting mix to watch. The Phils are otherwise rather settled in the infield, with Gregorius and Kingery set to line up opposite Jean Segura and Rhys Hoskins. As presently situated, one or (quite possibly) more of the players listed above will end up claiming jobs. There’s just one other infielder on the 40-man roster: youngster Arquimedes Gamboa, who is still trying to get his bat going and has yet to appear beyond the Double-A level.