Spring Training is always an exciting time for any team. As the old saying goes, hope springs eternal, and all 30 teams are full of hope.
Pitchers and catchers report for the Philadelphia Phillies on February 11th, and like the other teams, there will be a lot of intrigue surrounding the club for the following six weeks.
Let’s take a look at the top storylines for the Phillies this spring.
1) Who Is Going to Play Third Base?
The Phillies have an opening at third base after Maikel Franco, the man who has manned the hot corner since 2015, was non-tendered this offseason. Franco was a disappointing year after year, never living up to his full potential. But despite his problems, the team enters 2020 with a big hole there.
There are two options for the team, Scott Kingery and Jean Segura. Kingery’s natural position is second, and while it would be beneficial to put him there this season, he showed a lot of promise in his starts at third last year. On the flip side, Segura has never played a game at third in his career. New manager Joe Girardi has said both players will get a fair look at the position this spring. The most likely result is Kingery starts the season at third, and depending on how things go, they could stay there all season. But looming behind him would be the specter of prospect Alec Bohm.
Bohm is the number 34 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB.com. He’s garnered a lot of attention since he was drafted in 2018 and is seen as the future at third base for the Phillies. He hasn’t appeared above AA Reading yet, so he’ll start the season in AAA Lehigh Valley. But with a hot start, he could be pushing for a shot in the big leagues around June or July this year. Or he could be used in a trade package for someone like Nolan Arenado, but that’s a story for another day.
2) The Battle for the Fourth and Fifth Spots in the Rotation
The Phillies enter 2020 with the top three spots of their rotation already locked up in Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Jake Arrieta. But after that, there are some serious questions. Many wonder if the team did enough this offseason to address the struggles in the back end of their rotation.
Zach Eflin will most likely get the fourth spot in the rotation after a strong showing in 2019. But after that, we’re left with hoping that Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta will finally figure it out this year and be a solid number five starter. Ranger Suarez will be in the mix too.
The safe bet here is Velasquez wins the job. After all, he seems to be connecting with new pitching coach Bryan Price right off the bat. If Price can unlock the potential the Phillies saw in Velasquez after his 16-strikeout performance in April of 2016, fans could be in for a treat. Pivetta is still too big of a question mark and entirely unreliable. Stick him in the ‘pen and hope he can be a force in there.
It might not matter much once July rolls around though. If that fifth starter is struggling, the Phillies will most likely be looking for a starter at the trade deadline.
3) Can the Bullpen Improve after a Disastrous 2019?
It’s no secret that 2019 was not a good one for the Phillies bullpen. There were injuries galore and a lot of the guys in the ‘pen were incredibly inconsistent. So it was a big surprise when the Phillies didn’t make any big moves to fix the bullpen this offseason.
Instead, the team is hoping that Seranthony Dominguez comes back healthy and returns to form. If he does, that’s a big boost for the team. Other boosts for the team can come in the form of non-roster invites Francisco Liriano, Drew Storen, and Bud Norris.
Liriano pitched the whole season in the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season and posted a solid 3.47 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. If he’s anywhere close to that this spring, he should find himself as a member of the Phillies bullpen.
Storen hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2017. Tommy John surgery shut him down in 2018, and he struggled in the minors in 2019. Is a bounce-back season in the works for him? If so, he’ll be a solid contributor. Norris had a good 2018 with the St. Louis Cardinals but was unable to latch on anywhere in 2019. These signings are low-risk/high-reward and give the Phillies some good options to fortify a major weakness of theirs.
4) Rhys Hoskins on a Quest to Bounce Back
2019 was supposed to be the year Rhys Hoskins contended for a National League MVP award, especially hitting behind Bryce Harper. Instead, Hoskins struggled mightily, went hitless for long stretches, and seemed lost at the plate. As his struggles got worse, the team fell further and further out of the playoff race.
It’s not a stretch to say that a resurgent Hoskins could be the key to the Phillies making the playoffs this year for the first time since 2011.
Hoskins has made some changes to his swing this offseason and seems to be getting his confidence back. New hitting coach Joe Dillon should be able to get more out of Hoskins, and Girardi knows what it’s like dealing with sluggers from his days managing the New York Yankees. The two of them should get Hoskins back on the right track, maybe even as a dark horse, National League MVP contender this season.
5) New Management
Phillies fans could never get on board with former skipper Gabe Kapler, especially after he completely mismanaged the first game of his career. Former hitting coach John Mallee couldn’t get the most out of the team, and seemingly every pitcher got worse under pitching coach Chris Young. All three relied heavily on analytics and seemed to lack a general feel for the game that even the most ignorant fans could point out.
All three are gone now and have been replaced by Girardi, Dillon, and Price respectively. All three are incredibly knowledgeable guys and know what it takes to win.
All three can combine the old school baseball mentality with the new school analytics. This combination should get the most out of the team. It’s going to be an exciting spring.
Featured Image: @JeffSkversky