We are back once again with the 97.3 ESPN Phillies Mailbag.  It's a new Phillies season, and coming off a World Series appearance, the Phillies return to Clearwater with something to prove. Each Tuesday we take your questions and answer them on The Sports Bash with Mike Gill on 97.3 ESPN in South Jersey or on the 97.3 ESPN Mobile App.

Who are some dark horse candidates for the Phillies roster this year?

Unlike other seasons, the Phillies enter Spring Training with a pretty complete roster.  Therefore, there will be fewer competitions for roster spots.  However, there are a few names I would like to watch this Spring.

Andrew Painter is of course the big young name in camp this season.  At just 19 years old, he is not the typical player who makes a big league team.  That is why I will say he is "worth watching".  The Phillies might not need to feel like they rush him, or stash him at Triple-A to face some more established bats for a while before coming up to the big leagues.

But even though his driver's license would not allow him to enter certain establishments, a lot in the Phillies organization think that he can handle the major leagues now.  His locker is next to Zack Wheeler's in Clearwater.  So he is worth an eye.

Griff McGarry is not considered a candidate for the fifth starter's spot.  However, McGarry could factor into the Phillies bullpen sooner than later.   McGarry's lively arm could be a relief option should there be an injury.

In 2022, McGarry moved from Class-A+ Jersey Shore to Double-A Reading, to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.  He may start the season in Triple-A, but he will have ample opportunity to show what he can do this Spring, if nothing else to give the Phillies someone to remember for later.

Finally, Andrew Baker is another name to watch as a potential relief option.   The right-handed Baker spent much of 2022 with Class-A+ Jersey Shore before moving to Double-A Reading. The righty's fastball hit 102 miles per hour last season at Reading.

The righty struck out 72 in 54 1/3 innings last season.  Of course, major leaguers miss fastballs much less than their minor league counterparts.  But he has what the Phillies have really demonstrated they like lately: power arms that they can mold.

Is Trea Turner definitely going to be leading off this season?

I think that this is the likely lineup plan at least to start the season.  Simply put: Trea Turner is the best offensive option for the job.

Last season, Turner reached base at a .343 clip.  That is .20 higher than last year's leadoff hitter. Kyle Schwarber.  But what Turner has that Schwarber does not have is speed.

Turner stole 27 bases last season for the Dodgers.  With new rule changes, that number could be higher.   Without an infield shift allowed and with pitchers not allowed to throw to first more than twice, the opportunities for stolen bases will grow.  Turner is a prime candidate to take advantage of that.

Meanwhile, Schwarber can take the lineup spot vacated temporarily by Bryce Harper, whom the Phillies will not be able to put in the lineup until after the All-Star break.

But with Turner, a single or a walk is almost an automatic double.  And getting thay runner in scoring position early could set the tone.

I saw the Phillies are putting Edmundo Sosa in center field. Why is that?

The Phillies made an offseason trade, acquiring high-leverage lefty reliever Gregory Soto from the Detroit Tigers.  The move cost them two bench players in Matt Vierling and Nick Maton.   That means that the Phillies will need to have a back up center fielder.

You might remember that last year's right-handed options at second base and center field were Edmundo Sosa and Vierling, respectively.  The Phillies added a veteran right-handed bat in Josh Harrison who can play the infield.  While Harrison might be used in right field or left field, he might not be used in center.

Sosa's experience in center field as a big leaguer is limited to a single out.  He did not make the play.

But with some speed and the ability to play up the middle, Sosa could be a candidate for center.  The Phillies once temporarily used Cesar Hernandez in center field, and the Miami Marlins are giving center to Jazz Chisholm this year.  So it's certainly been done before.

The Phillies have prospects Simon Muzziotti and Johan Rojas in the pipeline.  But they are not likely to be on the roster.  So someone like Sosa could cover center field in a pinch.  If it were a longer-term absence for center field starter Brandon Marsh, the Phillies could go to someone like Muzziotti.

But day-to-day, the Phillies will need a back-up in center, primarily right-handed.  Sosa fits the bill, if he can demonstrate competency this Spring.

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