This isn’t a blog post about the competition for the Phillies’ center field spot. Nor is this a post bemoaning the absence of J.T. Realmuto, praising the recent success of former number one overall pick Mickey Moniak, or discussing the enticing potential of relief pitcher Jose Alvarado.
This is a post about injuries — specifically those belonging to Bryce Harper, Adam Haseley, and perhaps even Rhys Hoskins.

Let’s start with what we know: Spring training is halfway over and Bryce Harper, the Phillies’ superstar right fielder, has yet to log one inning in right field. What he has done is hit and quite well, might I say, going 4 of 13 with two home runs, a double, and four RBIs. Harper’s bat — with his trademark swing speed and high exit velocity — will always be there, through the typical permutations of the 162-game regular season. However, what will not always be there is his presence in right field and by proxy the lineup — something that cost the Phils a chance at the postseason last September. 

Photo: Getty Images

Perhaps Harper — who’s slated to begin outfield play later this week — is fine, and his back won’t be an issue come Opening Day. But fine isn’t spending an entire offseason rehabbing the back issue only to arrive in Clearwater 6 months later unable to throw a baseball. Fine isn’t manager Joe Girardi guarding his star player from playing his position — and not a particularly taxing one at that— stating, “I just want a healthy Bryce” and “I want Bryce to be as productive as he can be and whatever that is, that’s what we want.”

I may be wrong, but those aren’t exactly glowing reports of Harper’s health. These are examples of a manager guarding expectations — both of his own and those of the fan base. Something is undeniably wrong with Bryce Harper’s back. We’ll have to wait till opening day to see how wrong things really are.

So what happens if Harper’s back issues persist into the regular season? While I’m hoping that I’m wrong and that Harper will be completely healed by April 1st, all signs point to this being a lingering problem and not a one-off fix.

Who will play right field if Harper can’t go? After all, there is no universal DH spot for Harper to fill, and what impact will it have on the lineup? 

My money is on Matt Joyce to fill some of the void; that is, if he makes the team.

The 36-year-old left-handed hitter has a couple of factors working in his favor, the first being his performance and the second being injuries across the team. While the center field race between Odubel Herrera, Scott Kingery, and Roman Quinn remains tight, there hasn’t been a lot of news regarding the corner outfielders. That’s probably because Andrew McCutchen isn’t going anywhere — no, seriously, can he still run on that knee of his? — and Bryce Harper, well, we already talked about him.What’s pertinent about the center-field situation regarding Matt Joyce are the potential leftovers — those who are edged out by the eventual starter.

Mickey Moniak will not make the 40-man roster; he needs the AAA at-bats more than anybody.

Given his minor-league option and poor offensive production, Scott Kingery could also benefit from some time in AAA, but the strength of his defense alone might grant him a roster spot. That leaves us with Odubel Herrera and Roman Quinn, the latter of whom is “out of options,” according to Girardi, who means that in the most literal sense. Quinn cannot be optioned to the minor-leagues, meaning that if he doesn’t make the 40-man roster, his time with the Phillies is over. Enticing as it is, Quinn’s speed won’t save him this time around; his offensive production thus far into camp has only echoed his poor performances of seasons past. Back to Matt Joyce. If Odubel Herrera is the starting center fielder or is platooning with Kingery, what does that have to do with this veteran power-hitter? Well, quite a bit in actuality. Matt Joyce has been quietly earning himself a spot on the bench, both in his power and at the plate, and proves that he can at least hang defensively in the right field. The Phillies need another lefty hitter with pop, especially if Brad Miller’s oblique strain — an injury notorious for its long-lasting implications — stretches into the regular season. Joyce’s chances to make the roster are also bolstered by another injury — Adam Haseley’s left-groin strain — that will reportedly set Haseley back at least one week past Opening Day. I’ve talked before on why I think Haseley needs consistent playing time, but after missing nearly all of Spring Training, it likely will be hard to come by for the young left-hander.   

So, in short, yes, I think Joyce will be intermittently filling in for Harper in right — especially when the Phils are facing right-handed pitchers. That still doesn’t answer the most pressing question of what will happen if Harper isn’t consistently in the lineup? Well…not great. Now, fear not, this isn’t a typical doom and gloom paragraph, but let’s be honest, Harper is one of the drivers of this lineup. While baseball isn’t as impacted by individual performance as much as basketball, it’s akin to the 76ers winning almost all of their games when Seth Curry shoots 50% or better from the field — it just makes success all the more likely.This lineup can be potent, yes, but it needs to be productive right away. The first four series of the season are against the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets — both teams that feature strong pitching that will have plenty of time to decipher the Phillies lineup.

Without Hoskins, Realmuto, and Harper on all cylinders, the Phillies will have to rely on Alec Bohm, Andrew McCutchen, and potentially Matt Joyce to carry them while their stars rest up.
Can they do it? We’ll have to see, but with any luck, it’ll be Bryce Harper’s back the team will be riding on and not the other way around.

Featured Image: Getty Images
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