Two more weeks.
Two more weeks until the sound of a wood bat connecting with a ball echoes across Florida and Arizona ballparks. Two more weeks until players tell the media they’re in the best shape of their life and looking forward to a career year. Two more weeks until fans of every ball club talk themselves into a parade in November.
Two more weeks.
Anticipation and excitement is building in the city of Philadelphia for the Phillies to report to Spring Training. It’s on the forefront of every Philadelphian’s mind and nobody cares about the other team that plays in an unimportant game on February 12 (just kidding, go birds). But in all seriousness, with pitchers and catchers first official workout scheduled for February 16, it’s time to take a look at three under the radar storylines that could make or break the Phils 2023 season.
- Will Castellanos Bounce Back?
After signing a 5-year, $100 million contract last offseason, Nick Castellanos would be the first to tell you he played horribly in 2022. Coming off a year where he posted a .939 OPS and had historically been a well above-average hitter, Castellanos’ first year in red pinstripes was underwhelming, to say the least. The outfielder finished the year slashing .263/.305/.389 and completely lost his power stroke. To put it into perspective, in the 60 game 2020 season, Castellanos had 14 home runs. Last year, he had just 13.
Most concerning of all, Castellanos looked completely lost at the plate. It was evident for opposing pitchers to attack him with sliders away and jam him with fastballs in which he could not do any damage with. It was frustrating to watch a hitter as good as Castellanos simply forget how to hit. No one needed the offseason to reset more than Castellanos.
Nevertheless, Castellanos is slated to have a bounce back season, as FanGraphs 2023 projections shows. Their models predict Castellanos to slug 20 home runs and drive in 77 runs while posting a wRC+ of 105 (major league average is 100). The numbers aren’t overwhelming, but definitely an improvement. If Castellanos were to get back to his All-Star form, though, look for him to have a plan at the plate and understand how pitchers are pitching to him this spring. Without Bryce Harper for the first few months, the Phillies will need the best version of Castellanos.
- Can Bohm Continue to Lift the Ball?
Alec Bohm showed improvements at the plate in 2022 after an extremely disappointing 2021 campaign. Traditionally a line drive hitter who likes to hit fastballs the other way, the third baseman began to get a feel for pulling the baseball. In fact, it may have been Castellanos that helped Bohm find the pull side. Before his game-tying home run against Josh Hader in Milwaukee, Castellanos told Bohm to try and pull Hader, which is not something the Phillies third baseman usually does. It ended up working in his favor and as the season went on, Bohm seemed to make a concerted effort to sit on pitches, allowing him to pull the baseball. It helped him in Game 3 of the World Series where he hit a rocket home run off Lance McCullers Jr.
This is the next phase of Bohm’s development: tapping into his power. If Bohm were to reach his full potential, it is vital he uses his 6’5” frame to lift the baseball out of the ballpark. There is no reason why someone with his stature and knack for hitting the ball hard (ranked in the 73rd percentile in average exit velocity) hit just 13 home runs last year. Spring Training will be a tell to see if he will attempt to elevate the baseball.
- Will Johan Rojas Meet His Potential?
With Andrew Painter and the other Phils top pitching prospects getting most of the attention, one of their best positional prospects has flown under the radar. Johan Rojas, a 22-year-old outfielder who reached Double A last year, is known for his plus-plus speed and spectacular defense in center field. Across two levels last year, he stole 62(!) bases and was caught just five times. He would then add an additional 13 bags without being caught in 12 Arizona Fall League games. He has all the tools to be a potential star in the bigs, but…
His hitting. In his minor league career, Rojas has an OPS of .725 and has yet to tap into his power stroke. He’s still young, but time is running out for Rojas to figure it out at the plate. He struggled at Jersey Shore last year, slashing .230/.287/.325 and marginally improved in Reading, hitting .260/.333/.387 after a midseason promotion. Rojas will likely begin the year back in Reading, but since he occupies a 40-man roster spot, he could be the next man up if Brandon Marsh were to go down with an injury at some point this year. The Phillies are bare in terms of center field depth, so keep a close eye on the development of Rojas at camp. If he struggles again in the early going, he could become trade bait.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are two weeks away from watching these storylines unfold before what could be another magical 2023 season.
Two. More. Weeks.
Photo: Jose F. Moreno/Philadelphia Inquirer