Games start this weekend in Clearwater, meaning the baseball season is just over the horizon.
As they always do, the Phillies will give young and unproven players a chance to compete for a roster spot. Sometimes, the opportunity pays off, like it did with Rule 5 draft pick Odubel Herrera who remains a key piece for Philadelphia in the outfield. Sometimes it doesn’t, as Tyler Goeddel showed to be a wasted roster spot in 2016.
Here are players to keep an eye on over the next month of games in Florida:
Tom Eshelman, SP, 23-years-old
Eshelman had a killer season in the minors last year, going a combined 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA in Double and Triple-A. He is a real contender for the fifth spot on the rotation even as a non-roster invitee and sees the heated contest among the young pitchers a a big motivation.
“My mentality is always to make the big league roster,” Eshelman said back in January. “I want to put myself in the right position to succeed. There’s a lot of good starting pitchers in this right now. Competition creates success on a team and we had that in college too. To be able to be in the mix with these guys that’s pretty special for me.”
Franklyn Kilome, SP, 22 years old
A top-10 prospect in the Phillies farm system, his killer fastball and above average curve and change up give him big-league stuff. He had a 2.83 ERA across Single and Double-A last season compiling 121 strikeouts to 52 walks in 24 starts. In a wide open battle for roster spots among the Phils’ young pitchers, Kilome could improve his likely Triple-A land spot and make an MLB rotation case.
“That’s part of being a baseball player,” Kilome told Metro this offseason. “You have to be patient.”
Scott Kingery, 2B, 23-years-old
Kingery looks to be destined to make the big leagues, hitting 26 homers last year after just eight in the last two seasons combined. MLB.com has him projected as the No. 3 prospect in the farm system, and even if he starts the season back in Lehigh Valley it won’t be for long.
J.P. Crawford, SS, 23-years-old
Crawford is dangerously close to being in Domonic Brown territory. Highly touted as being the best prospect in the Phils farm system for several years and the hier-apparent to Jimmy Rollins, Crawford has not delivered as promised. Despite stellar defense, he hit .243 in 121 minor league games in 2017. A September call-up did little to jumpstart his bat as he hit just .214 in 23 games. He’ll need to earn his spot this season.
Carlos Santana, 1B, 33-years-old
He’s not one of the young pups but the spring will be important for the Phillies’ shiny new toy. Where will he bat in the line up? What kind of production will he offer after a change of scenery and expensive new contract? Will Phillies fans accept his status as the most important mercenary on the team?
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, 29-years-old
The last player on our list is a former stud prospect from the Red Sox. He’s never matched his rookie numbers, splits of .288/.325/.509, and has played just 32 MLB games over the last two years. That said, he’s shown he has talent, and could play his way onto the team as a utility man.