With just over a week until Opening Day, the bench group in Philadelphia is beginning to come into focus. As discussed by The Athletic’s Matt Gelb, the Phillies view each of backup catcher Garrett Stubbs, and utilitymen Edmundo Sosa and Josh Harrison as locks to make the roster. With Bryce Harper slated to begin the season on the injured list as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, the Phillies have no set, everyday DH, leaving them with effectively five seats on the bench. With three locked in, two spots remain available for the Phillies to fill.
Gelb notes that the Phillies are interested in acquiring a right-handed fourth outfielder to complement the starting outfield trio of Kyle Schwarber, Brandon Marsh, and Nick Castellanos, but there are plenty of internal candidates also capable of securing one of the remaining bench jobs: utilitymen Scott Kingery, Dalton Guthrie, and Kody Clemens are joined by outfielder Jake Cave and first baseman Darick Hall in the hunt for a spot on the Philadelphia bench to open the season.
All five players have relatively secure spots in the organization headed into the season: Guthrie, Clemens, Cave, and Hall all are on the 40-man roster with minor league options remaining, while Kingery is not on the 40-man roster but is set to remain in the organization during the final year of his ill-fated six-year, $24MM extension he signed with the Phillies ahead of the 2018 season, before he had taken a big league at-bat. Without fear of losing any of these players by not dedicating an Opening Day roster spot to them, the Phillies have plenty of flexibility in making their final decisions about which players to roster.
Looking at external options, the best right-handed fourth outfield option remaining unsigned is likely Albert Almora. Almora played in 64 games for the Reds in 2022 with solid defense at each of the three outfield spots, but struggled at the plate as he slashed just .223/.282/.349 in 235 plate appearances, good for just a 71 wRC+. That seems to be about in line with what a club should expect from Almora should they sign him for this season, given his career 80 wRC+ drops to 71 when looking at his performance since the start of the 2018 season.
While the pickings are currently slim on the free agent market, it remains possible that a player squeezed off their current club’s roster could be made available either by trade or by opting-out of their current minor-league pact and returning to the free agent market. Jake Marisnick, Monte Harrison, and Michael Hermosillo are among the numerous players around the league for whom that is a possibility as Spring Training draws toward a conclusion.
If the Philies are unable to find anyone outside of the organization to their liking, both Kingery and Guthrie are right-handed hitters with experience at all three outfield spots. Kingery has had a better spring to this point that Guthrie, as the former has raked to a .394/.459/.515 line this spring that far outshines Guthrie’s .250/.273/.375 line. With that being said, Guthrie has advantages of his own. As previously mentioned, he already has a 40-man roster spot, while Kingery would require a corresponding move to roster. Additionally, Guthrie raked in his first taste of big league action last season, posting a whopping 184 wRC+ in his fourteen-game cup of coffee that earned him a spot on the postseason roster during Philadelphia’s NL championship run.
It’s also worth noting that Kingery has largely struggled in his major league opportunities to this point in his career, with his already mediocre 73 wRC+ in 325 career games mostly buoyed by a 2019 season where he was league average at the plate (100 wRC+) in 500 plate appearances. Since then, Kingery has posted a brutal wRC+ of just 21, indicating he’s been 79% worse than league average at the plate in 52 big league games since the start of the 2020 season. Given his long-lasting struggles, it would be understandable if the Phillies were hesitant to trust his torrid spring.
Assuming the Phillies would like another left-handed bat on the bench in addition to Stubbs, the spot that doesn’t go to one of Kingery, Guthrie, or an external fourth outfielder would likely go to one of Hall, Clemens, or Cave. All three have raked in Grapefruit League play, but one separator could be that Clemens has by far the most positional flexibility of the three. Cave is confined to the outfield while Hall is limited to first base and the DH slot while Clemens has experience in the four corner spots and at second base, though Gelb indicates that the Phillies don’t see Clemens as a factor at the keystone.
That being said, Cave has the advantage of a long track record of major league experience, with 335 big league games under his belt to this point and a career wRC+ of 92, though he posted just an 81 in 54 games with the Twins last year. While the most defensively limited of the three options, Hall is the most interesting bat of the three, as he posted a 119 wRC+ in 101 Triple-A games last year before carrying that success into the big leagues, where he slashed .250/.282/.550 with a wRC+ of 120. For a team set to start the season without Harper, it’s possible that Hall’s lefty power might be too attractive to pass up, even with his defensive limitations.
While pairing Hall with one of Guthrie or Kingery certainly seems like an attractive option for the Phillies right now, an external addition or injury could certainly change that over the course of the next week or so, to say nothing of the reality that all five internal options seem sure to get major league opportunities at some point this year as the roster churns through the regular season.