NL East Division position comparison: bench reserves

My look around the National League East Division with a position-by-position evaluation and ranking for each club comes to an end today where position players are concerned.

The Philadephia Phillies fared well at catcher, where they had the top player, and in both center field and in right field, where the projected starter finished second. The Phillies came out at third in the division at each of first basesecond baseshortstopthird base, and in left field.

The defending World Series champion Washington Nationals had the top-ranked player at shortstop as well as in left field and center field. The two-time defending NL East champion Atlanta Braves came out on top at first base, second base, and in right field. And the top player at third base came from the New York Mets.

Today it’s time to take a look at each team’s projected reserve players. The backups and pinch-hitters are going to play a pivotal role in each club’s ultimate success or failure. That is especially so with those who are actually more like platoon starters, or who end up seeing significant playing time due to injuries during the season.

Not only as spring training unfolds, but also during the course of the season, these groups of reserve players will surely change. Unexpected players will win jobs in in the Grapefruit League. Teams may still sign a veteran free agent or two in order to bolster their bench. Top prospects will be called up by their respective clubs, relegating a few players who open the season in a starting lineup to the bench.

Over this weekend the process of evaluating each team will wrap with a look at the starting pitching options on Saturday and then the bullpen arms on Sunday. Finally, I’ll examine and rank the managers as we open a new week.

Once the process is complete,  fans should have a better idea as we begin the month of February as to exactly where their favorite team in the division stands as spring training opens. Pitchers and catchers report on February 11 to Clearwater, Florida for the highly anticipated opening of Phillies spring training.

NL EAST – 2020 BENCH / RESERVE RANKINGS

1) Washington Nationals: The final makeup of the starting infield for the defending world champions is very much in flux as they enter spring training. Howie Kendrick, Starlin Castro, and Asdrubal Cabrera are each in the mix at both second and third base. That trio of veterans will be trying to hold off top prospect Carter Kieboom. A pair of veterans in franchise icon Ryan Zimmerman and newcomer Eric Thames should man first base. Backing up their talented starting outfielders are Michael A. Taylor and Andrew Stevenson, while Wilmer Difo offers another infield option. And the Nats also have an enviable catching tandem in Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes. Whomever skipper Dave Martinez decides to use in his starting lineup on a given day, he will likely have the best bench group in the division as substitute and pinch-hitting options.

2) Philadelphia Phillies: About the only thing we can say for sure about the Phillies bench group is that, given health, Jay Bruce and Roman Quinn will make the squad in the outfield, with Nick Williams as another possibility. On the infield, super-utility player Scott Kingery will likely open the season as the starter at third base. However, once top prospect Alec Bohm is ready, Kingery could bolster the bench by returning to that super-sub role. Behind the plate, Andrew Knapp will be trying to hold off Deivy Grullon for the backup job. The Phillies have a number of solid non-roster invitees coming to spring training, any of whom could make the team. That group includes infielders Josh Harrison, Neil Walker, and Phil Gosselin among others. Veterans Matt Szczur, Mikie Mahtook, and Nick Martini will be among the newcomers trying to force their way into the outfield mix. New skipper Joe Girardi has one of the most wide-open bench battles entering the spring, but it’s a talented, veteran group. He will sort it all out during March and as the season moves along, but it’s almost certain to end up as a much more talented group of subs and pinch-hitters than Phillies squads of the last few years.

3) Atlanta Braves: The two-time defending division champion Braves may have the most talented starting lineup in the NL East entering spring training. If they can improve themselves at third base, that will be a certainty. In the outfield, much will depend on whether Ender Inciarte is healthy and starts in center field. Assuming that is the case, it relegates Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall to bench roles. Tyler Flowers and Travis d’Arnaud give the Braves a strong catching tandem. Young Austin Riley could win the starting job at third base, but Johan Camargo enters spring with the job. One of them will be a reserve, as will Adeiny Hechavarria and Yangervis Solarte on the infield. Outfielders Shane Robinson and Charlie Culberson will be among the veteran non-roster invitees trying to make the team. During the season, either of top prospect outfielders Drew Waters or Cristian Pache could push to the big-leagues. That would make Inciarte a member of the bench as well.

4) New York Mets: If the long-shot possibility of Yoenis Cespedes returning to the starting left field job pans out in spring, that likely pushes J.D. Davis to the bench. That is, unless new manager Luis Rojas decides to give him the starting job at third base, moving Jeff McNeil to second. Should that happen it would make high-priced veteran Robinson Cano a member of the bench brigade. Dominic Smith should provide depth in left field and at first base, with veteran Jed Lowrie as an infield reserve and Jake Marisnick the same in the outfield. Tomas Nido is likely to serve as the backup catcher.

5) Miami Marlins: A big question with Miami will be where does Brian Anderson play most of his innings? He could be the right fielder or third baseman…or split time at both. Jonathan Villar probably starts at either second or third, leaving Isan Diaz and Jon Berti as infield reserves. Garrett Cooper will likely serve as a backup at first base and on the corner outfield spots. Harold Ramirez should see plenty of time as a backup across all three outfield spots. Veteran Francisco Cervelli was signed to serve as the backup catcher. With a team as young as the Fish, a number of prospects could push their way to the big-leagues at any point, further muddying the bench mix for skipper Don Mattingly to sort out.

 

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