The Phillies are set to make their 2018 Spring Training debut on Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays. The contest will mark the first time the Phillies take the field in 146 days, and with it comes a wave of excitement. On the heels of that wave, however, are the winds of change. The Phillies finished 66-96 in 2017- third-worst in the MLB- and have a lot of work to do if they want to inch closer to being a .500 ball club.
The Phillies enter Spring Training with a plethora of young players trying to make a name for themselves, and as a result there are quite a few roster battles set to take place. There are three roster battles I find especially intriguing, as the winners will dictate how the franchise addresses the positions in the future. Here are three Phillies that could use strong spring training performances to seal their roles:
3B Maikel Franco
Once projected to be the future face of the Phillies, third bagger Maikel Franco hasn’t progressed as well as many expected when he broke out in 2015. Franco hit an impressive .280 and launched 14 home runs in 80 games that season, and handled third base duties fairly well (.944 Fld%). The young Dominican followed that up with 25 home runs and 88 RBIs in his first full season in the majors, although his batting average dipped to .255. Still, Franco seemed to be well on his way to being a perennial 25+ HR/100+ RBI player.
That never came to fruition, however, as Franco suffered through a dreadful 2017 season. The right-handed slugger batted a meager .230 across 575 at-bats. The worst part is that he wasn’t having an up-and-down season- it was just consistently subpar. Franco never batted .280 or better in any month of the season, and seemed to be pressing at the plate.
The one positive takeaway is that his power did not desert him, as he still hit 24 home runs. Franco will need a productive spring training this year to remain the starting third baseman, with Phillies prospects Scott Kingery and J.P. Crawford ready and waiting to take his spot. I’m still a firm believer that Franco will be a stud in the pros, but he simply can’t resemble anything close to who he was in 2017 if he wants to stick around much longer.
P Vince Velasquez
The hard-throwing Vince Velasquez is entering a pivotal season in his young career. It’s obvious to everyone that he has the skills required to last in the majors, the question is at what position?
Although he looks like an ace at times, Velasquez has struggled mightily to maintain his pitch count- rarely going beyond the sixth inning in his outings. I wrote a piece back in November about the Phils potentially moving the former second rounder to the bullpen. It’s worth checking out if you want the statistical support and logic behind the potential move, but a quick synopsis is that Velasquez and the team may be better served having him dominate out of the pen, as opposed to being an inconsistent starter.
Velasquez has been adamant that he wants to be a starter long-term, and a strong showing this spring would go a long way towards making that dream a reality.
C Jorge Alfaro-
Alfaro was sensational in his brief stint at the major league level. He hit the ground running his first month in the senior circuit, batting .356 across 45 at-bats in the month of August. The promising catcher looked incredibly poised at the plate, and it was obvious his goal was to simply get on base as often as he could- with 13 of his first 16 hits being singles. Alfaro flashed his power to close the season, however, hitting four home runs in 67 at-bats across September and October, after just one homer in 45 at-bats in August.
Despite his impressive start, he is still technically behind Andrew Knapp and Cameron Rupp on the depth chart. I think Alfaro is the most talented of the bunch, and a strong spring training could be the difference between being third and first on the depth chart. I’m eager to see if Alfaro can continue the pace he was on last season, and lock up the starting catcher spot for the Phils.
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