It’s that time of year again. Gloves are popping. Bats are cracking. Random guys you’ve never heard of are tearing up the Grapefruit League.
That’s right, it’s time for Phillies spring training.
Here we’ll highlight the biggest story lines for the Phillies heading into camp and try to get a sense of how the opening day roster might look, as well as touch on some storylines for the season.
Who’s playing where in the infield?
The Phillies’ infield will have a new look in 2020. Gone are Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco, who played a combined 1,488 games as Phillies. Arriving is Didi Gregorious, a steady shortstop with some pop who missed most of last year after Tommy John surgery.
With the departures of Franco and Hernandez, the Phillies need to figure out who will take their positions in the infield. Right now they have Gregorious, Scott Kingery, and Jean Segura currently slated to make up some combination of 2B, SS, and 3B.
The most likely scenario is Gregorious starts at short, Segura at second, and Kingery at third, with Kingery also being the first sub to give the other two a day off. Of course, third isn’t Kingery’s natural position, and it remains to be seen if he has enough offensive pop to justify playing the hot corner. But, there is another factor that can complicate the infield picture.
Can Alec Bohm make the team?
Bohm is the team’s top prospect and, barring a trade, looks like the third baseman of the future. But, can he become the third baseman of the present with a strong spring?
It’s not unprecedented. Just two years ago the Phillies gave Scott Kingery an extension and promoted him to the big club after a strong spring. If Bohm tears it up, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the team make the same decision.
Bohm making the team would have a ripple effect for the rest of the roster. It would most likely move Kingery to center field and Adam Haseley into more of a bench role. Kingery would still be a super sub who can play everywhere, so it would stand to assume Haseley would still get a good amount of playing time. This move would also strengthen a bench that right now features Jay Bruce as its only legitimate threat.
No pressure Spence
Spencer Howard is the most important player to the Phillies franchise right now. More so than even Bryce Harper.
The Phillies desperately need young starting pitchers. Also, now that they are refusing to go over the luxury tax, they’re gonna need cheap starting pitching.
Howard is the Phillies’ top pitching prospect and is ranked 34th on MLB.com’s Top 100 pipeline. Despite never having pitched above Double A yet, there are some who believe Howard could step into the rotation right now.
Chances are slim that happens right out of camp, however. Howard will most likely start the season with the Iron Pigs. But, if he stays healthy and continues to progress, Howard will be in the Phillies’ rotation by the trade deadline. However, a caveat. If/when Howard joins the Phillies, he would most likely be shut down before the season, as he is not necessarily ready for a full workload.
The Phillies NEED Howard to pan out. They need a reliable, cheap, and young pitcher behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.
The Phillies’ bullpen was absolutely decimated by injuries in 2019. Up and down, relievers dropped like flies with various ailments. Hector Neris was the last one standing by the end of the season. 2019 off-season acquisition David Robertson pitched just 6 ⅔ innings and will most likely spend the entirety of his Phillies tenure on the injured list.
It stands to believe that the Phillies’ bullpen will improve at least slightly if they can keep people healthy. Robertson is a sunk cost and Tommy Hunter has moved on (however there are rumblings that he may return), but there will be a cavalcade of minor leaguers and vets on non-guaranteed contracts competing for spots.
Seranthony Dominguez will be one to watch. The Phillies need him to regain his once electric fastball and nasty slider to add another late game option for Joe Girardi. Dominquez was getting hit around before finally landing on the injured list with damage to his UCL in his pitching elbow. He did not have Tommy John surgery and elected to rehab the elbow, so it’s to be determined exactly how healthy he will be.
Of the small army of veteran relievers on minor league deals, one to watch will be Francisco Liriano. The 36 year old lefty is a former starter who has turned himself into a rather decent reliever, especially against left handed hitters. Liriano limited lefties to a .194 average and a .659 OPS against in 2019. The Phillies’ pitching staff as a whole struggled against lefties last year, allowing an .823 OPS against and a whopping 113 home runs.
It’s understandable to have some reservations about the Phillies heading into 2020. They improved, but the question is how much did they improve, and is it enough to finally end their postseason drought?
The team finished 81-81 last year. The Braves won the division with 97 wins last year. The Brewers finished as the second NL Wild Card with 89 wins. Therefore, it’s reasonable to believe that the Phillies will need to improve by about 9 wins minimum to make the postseason. That is still with the belief that the Nationals and Braves got worse with the losses of Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson respectively.
That may seem bleak at first, but if you step back and take a look, it’s not totally unreasonable. The Phillies were absolutely decimated by injuries last year. Perhaps a healthier season from the bullpen and lead-off hitter Andrew McCutchen will turn some losses into wins.
Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorious combined for 5.6 WAR last year. That is with Gregorious only counting for 0.9 of that due to his injury shortened season. Gregorius was worth about 4.7 wins in his last healthy season in 2018. If these two players play to expectations, they alone should add roughly 4-5 wins each. Wheeler may add more depending on if he continues his progression and if pitching coach Bryan Price can unlock more of his potential.
Finally, there is Joe Girardi now at the helm of this team. Can Girardi and his staff help get several Phillies who underperformed last year, most notably Rhys Hoskins and Jean Segura, closer to their career norms? Hoskins especially having a bounce-back season would be huge for the Phillies’ playoff hopes.