With the first Spring Training game on Saturday, it’s time to take a serious look at the Phillies bullpen. 11 names are listed on the depth chart, and unless a non-roster invitee really impresses the club, six or seven men on this list will likely make up the Opening Day bullpen:
- Jonathan Papelbon
- Antonio Bastardo
- Mike Adams
- Phillippe Aumont
- Jeremy Horst
- Justin De Fratus
- Raul Valdes
- Michael Stutes
- B.J. Rosenberg
- Jake Diekman
- Chad Durbin
Keep in mind that this list does not include swing-man Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick is currently slotted as the #4 starter. While the odds are that he will stay there unless he struggles and someone else steps up in a big way (someone like Jonathan Pettibone), stranger things have happened. If John Lannan pitches well and the Phillies end up with an extra starter, Kendrick could be put back into the spot-starter/long relief spot where he was decently productive last year. Such a situation would potentially knock another one of the guys above down to the minors.
Obviously, if Papelbon and Adams are healthy, they’re in, as the 8th/9th inning guys. That leaves space for four or five other guys. Experience can play a big role in who gets the spots at the beginning of the year, but there are only a few relief pitchers in the system with much experience. That said, Bastardo and Durbin – the two others who have the most experience – will most likely make the team. If they do, the club has space for two or three other pitchers.
A Closer Look
Before simply laying out a prediction, one needs to consider many factors. Here are some notes on each of the men not making more than $2 million a year:
Bastardo’s 2011 season was fantastic, as he took over the 8th inning position and even closed out in 9 save situations (converting 8 of those opportunities). After seeing some major league action in 2009 and 2010, he had a 0.93 WHIP and sub-3.00 ERA in 2011 and was one of Philly’s most dependable arms. 2012 brought some regression, however. His ERA jumped by more than one and a half runs; his WHIP, nearly 30 points.
This year the Phillies will presumably not need to ask Bastardo to pitch the eighth inning incredibly often. Instead, the team may ask him to be a lefty specialist. His career splits against lefties are noticeably better, so it would make a lot of sense. After inking a $1.4 million contract, they certainly hope he can settle in and put up numbers closer to those of two years ago.
Durbin is following what was one of his best seasons. The 35-year old had an ERA a tad over 3 for the Braves – worse than only his 2008 season with the Phillies – and and 1.31 WHIP, matching his previous best. If Durbin can continue to pitch the way he did last year, he will be a gladly welcomed part of a three-man veteran presence in a bullpen with several young arms.
It would definitely be nice for the Phillies to have more than one southpaw in the ‘pen. Horst pitched well in AAA last year, but pitched even better in the majors. He pitched 31.1 innings for the Phils in his second major league stint with a 1.15 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. If he has a decent spring, he will likely stay with the club to start the season.
Aumont, one of the pieces of the 2009 Cliff Lee deal, made his major league debut last year. He didn’t blow the opposition away, but he did hold his ground in limited action. Aumont picked up a couple saves near the end of the season. His command is the biggest concern, but he has the stuff to be effective. Whether or not he makes the team likely depends on what kind of a spring he has.
Justin De Fratus
De Fratus spent a lot of time on the DL last year with a strained right flexor pronator tendon (read “forearm strain”). In limited time in the bigs over the past two years, he pitched with a 3.07 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. It’s a small sample size, but those are the kinds of numbers teams love. If he’s healthy and looking strong, he could definitely make the club, but there are many moving pieces here.
Stutes also went on the DL last season, but had year-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in June after being sidelined in late April. The shoulder had been an issue in Spring Training, and it showed up again. Stutes could have some of the success he had in 2011 if he’s healthy. Stutes threw live batting practice on Tuesday, but that’s not enough to get a good idea of where he’s at. Obviously, with the number of possibilities the Phillies have, Stutes needs to have a good spring to crack the roster.
Diekman has some good stuff, and definitely has potential. The last time he had an ERA over 4 – at any level, including 32 games in the majors last year – was 2009, and that was 4.04. As a lefty, he’s definitely an asset. The one area of concern is his high WHIP. In the majors, one can only go so long without batters taking advantage of the men on base. In 27.1 innings, Diekman walked 20 and allowed 25 hits. He may need some fine-tuning in AAA, where he excelled last year. If he’s put in the work, though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make the roster, though that may depend on how Horst does.
Looking at Rosenberg’s numbers, it seems a classic case of the player in-between levels. Rosenberg blew away minor league batters, going 5-2 with a 1.89 ERA over 62 minor league innings, mostly with the AAA IronPigs. He started six games, but mostly pitched in a reliever role in the midst of a few call-ups. He had his moments, but struggled overall with the Phillies, posting a 6.12 ERA. His minor league numbers indicate he could have some success with the club, but it hasn’t shown yet. Rosenberg may need some time to retool in the minors, but he may get a shot again soon.
Valdes is another lefty, which makes four on this list – some teams would be envious to have as many southpaw possibilities. However, I haven’t been overly impressed with Valdes. He’s bounced around – the Phillies are the fifth MLB system he’s been through, and he spent some time in the independent leagues. Valdes seems like a backup plan in case other lefties Horst and Diekman don’t pan out. There may be a hidden gem here, but at 35 years old, he may have to be impressive to stick.
How It Looks
Here is one possible Opening Day bullpen:
It wouldn’t be surprising to see a full 7-man bullpen. In that case, this list is one spot short. If the team goes with a righty, it could be De Fratus or Stutes, depending on who returns stronger from injury. If he’s strong and the team wants another lefty, Diekman could take the last spot. If all those on the list make the club, the team would have a closer, a setup man, a long reliever, two lefties, and one situational righty. That list may call for another right-hander.
Too much pitching is a good problem to have; however, a lot of this talent is young pitching. This young pitching core certainly has potential, but potential only amounts to as much. With three available spots in the bullpen, the Phillies need some of their young pitchers to mature and take charge.