We're limping to the finish line here at High Cheese. Thirty-six hours until the flight home. Five days until Opening Day. But it is Sunday morning and the sun is shining here in Orlando, the happiest place on Earth (or the creepiest, depending on your point of view), and things are starting to come into focus with regards to the Phillies' roster situation.
Here are some key points as the Phillies get ready to take on the Braves in their penultimate game of the Grapefruit League:
1) Among three players re-assigned to the minors today is Josh Barfield, an infielder who had been competing for playing time at second base. Technically, the move leaves five players competing for three spots on the roster: John Mayberry Jr., Delwyn Young, Luis Castillo, Pete Orr and Michael Martinez.
In a perfect world, the Phillies would have three players -- Castillo, Orr, Martinez -- competing for one open infield position. But Placido Polanco's hyper-extended elbow could make the team thinking about keeping two of that group. Polanco is in the line-up today, but it remains to be seen how conerned the Phillies are with the possibility of the pain in the joint flaring up at random times.
2) I think John Mayberry Jr. has a spot on the team locked up. With Ben Francisco likely starting in right field, Mayberry represents the only right-handed power option that Charlie Manuel has at his disposal in late-game situations. Mayberry played a ton during the first three weeks of Grapefruit League play -- his 61 at-bats rank fifth on the team -- but has not been in the starting line-up in four of the last five games. That could be construed as the Phillies preparing him for a role as a pinch-hitter/defensive replacement. He has appeared in such a role in three of the last four games, going 2-for-3 with a couple of singles.
At this point, I still think the Phillies end up keeping Delwyn Young instead of an extra utility infielder. Young has been used as a pinch-hitter in eight of the last 10 games. His ability in that type of role is the primary reason the Phillies brought him into came. He is a switch-hitter who has had a solid, if unspectacular, spring. And while the Phillies view him primarily as an outfielder -- although not a particularly strong one -- he has the ability to play second or third base in a pinch. So even if Polanco's elbow flares up, the Phillies could have Young as an emergency infielder behind Wilson Valdez and whatever infielder they choose to keep out of Castillo, Orr and Martinez.
The two wild cards are Castillo and Martinez. If Martinez is not on the active roster, the Phillies must offer him back to the Nationals, so they stand a good chance of losing him. But Ruben Amaro Jr. has already said that Castillo will not start the season in the minor league system. Orr is the better base-runner and defender, but the Phillies also have a lot of flexibility with him, since they can send him to the minor, and since he has an option remaining.
As of today, I'd project the Phillies bench to go Ross Gload, Brian Schneider, Mayberry, Castillo and Young with Orr available to be summoned from Triple-A if Polanco's elbow turns into a lingering issue. Although if the Phillies feel strongly enough about Martinez, they could end up saying goodbye to Castillo or Young and keeping the Rule 5 pick around.
3) With Brad Lidge expected to start the season on the disabled list, I'm curious whether the Phillies would give any serious consideration to bringing up Mike Stutes and starting David Herndon in the minor leagues. Herndon has had a solid spring and has made tremendous strides with his slider. He has a full season of big league experience, too. But in terms of stuff, location, and pitchability, few players have shown more this camp than Stutes. A former starter, he can pitch multiple innings, and he has the kind of mound presence that makes you think he wouldn't be fazed by a hastened promotion to the big leagues.
Right now, I'd still project Herndon to make the team. But I'm curious how seriously the Phillies will discuss Stutes during their meetings about the roster.
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