Breaking down the Battle for the Phillies Bench

Mar 21, 2023 - 4:30 PM
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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies 2023 Opening Day roster is mostly set. Returning the majority of a pennant winning team and going on a winter spending spree both lend to the fact that there aren’t many questions about who’s going to make the team.

One area where an interesting battle has arisen though is the Phillies bench. Three players are virtual locks, namely Edmundo Sosa, Garett Stubbs, and Josh Harrison. Sosa impressed at the plate in limited playing time with the Phillies last season (159 OPS+ in 25 games) on top of already being known for his defense. Stubbs will once again serve as the sparsely used backup catcher to J.T. Realmuto and clubhouse DJ. Harrison is a newcomer, but after signing a one year, $2M MLB deal in late January, his spot is also all but assured.

That leaves at least one more spot available for playing time. Ideally, the best fit would be a right-handed hitting outfielder that can play center field as the club possibly looks to limit Brandon Marsh’s at-bats against lefties. That role was vacated after Matt Vierling was traded to the Detroit Tigers in the Gregory Soto deal. Dalton Guthrie looked to be on the inside track for the job, but a disappointing spring (.593 OPS) has allowed for competition to arise.

Enter Jake Cave.

Cave is a 30-year-old outfielder that has been tearing the cover off the ball for the Phillies in Clearwater. The former Minnesota Twin entered Monday hitting .429 with 7 extra-base hits including two home runs in 38 spring plate appearances. He added a two-run triple and a walk in three more plate appearances Monday afternoon against the Orioles. Ironically enough, it was the Orioles whom the Phillies claimed Cave off of waivers from on December 2nd.

The rub with Cave winning the spot is he shouldn’t really play center field. In over 1,000 innings at CF across five seasons, Cave has -7 defensive runs saved and a -2.1 UZR. You really don’t want someone like that in CF if you can help it. You especially don’t want it when you have Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber in the corners.

But, for a team as far down the rabbit hole of defensive adventures as the Phillies, the ability to stand in CF may just be good enough for a player in Cave’s role. The feeling here is that Cave has hit well enough for the Phillies to realize he is the best option currently in the organization for said role and roll with him to start the year.

In a world where Bryce Harper is healthy, Cave’s emergence would’ve been bad news for Darick Hall. Not that Hall hasn’t had a good spring himself, as he entered Monday with a 1.024 OPS in 44 plate appearances this spring. Hall’s limited positional flexibility of being strictly a 1B/DH would have almost assuredly meant he would have started the season in Triple A.

MLB: FEB 27 Spring Training - Phillies at Pirates Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

However, with Harper out until at least late June/early July and the Phillies lineup in need of left-handed pop in his absence, Hall should be able to bypass the bench battle and serve as the team’s designated hitter against right-handed pitching. Hall mashed righties in Harper’s absence last year, slugging 9 home runs and posting an .865 OPS in 130 plate appearances. The Hall vs. Cave discussion will have to be revisited when Harper returns, but for now Hall has earned a spot on the big-league club.

Kody Clemens, son of Roger, is another player pushing to be on the main roster. Clemens also came over in the Gregory Soto trade and has proceeded to hit .324 with three home runs this spring. Unfortunately for him, he is an infielder. And the Phillies two infield spots on their bench have been filled with Sosa and Harrison. Expect Clemens to be the first one called up in the event of an injury to a Phillies infielder.

Cave, Hall, and Clemens all have the advantage of already being on the 40-man roster. Philadelphia would not need to DFA someone or place someone on the 60-day injured list in order to carry them on the 26-man MLB roster. The same cannot be said for Scott Kingery, who has potentially resurrected his big-league chances with a strong spring. Our own Ben Silver broke down Kingery’s unique position in greater detail here but suffice it to say, Kingery is an extreme longshot to make the Opening Day roster. At the very least, he’s pushed his name into the mix for a callup in the event of an injury. That is a far cry from where Kingery was at the end of last season.

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