The cold, harsh winter is nearly over, and with its departure comes the return of baseball season. Just as quickly as it left us in October, the national pastime is back yet again. For the Phillies, it’s time for redemption.
Eager to put a lackluster third-place finish and up-and-down 2020 season behind them, the Phils report to camp looking to end a near decade-long playoff drought. Running with primarily the same crew as last season after inking J.T Realmuto and Didi Gregorius to new deals, the Phillies are hoping for more favorable injury luck and continued production at the plate in order to compete.
The team isn’t completely identical to before, however, as they have welcomed a few new faces this offseason. Veteran pitchers Archie Bradley, Matt Moore, Ivan Nova, and Chase Anderson have made their way into town – each looking to earn a spot at the backend of the rotation.
They will all be in attendance when catchers and pitchers report on Wednesday. When camp does commence, here are ten players and developments we will be monitoring closely throughout.
The $115M man himself, all eyes will certainly be on superstar catcher J.T Realmuto when camp kicks off this week. He will likely be met with a wave of questions regarding his lengthy stay on the free-agent market as people try to gauge if there is any bad blood between himself and the organization.
Given that the two sides have already come to an agreement, things are likely okay. Still, it will be nice seeing Realmuto back in a Phils uniform again after nearly losing him to free agency.
The darling of an otherwise bleak season, Bohm is sure to attract a lot of attention this spring. After a stellar rookie season, the talented third baseman will look to do more damage in Year 2.
As evidenced by his .338 batting average in his debut season, Bohm possesses good plate vision and can thrive as a contact hitter. What the Phillies would like to see more of this season, and will likely be looking for signs of this spring, is power.
Despite piling up hits last season, only four left the yard. While Bohm doesn’t need to hit 30+ home runs to be a productive member of the lineup, one would like to see that number jump into double digits this season, at the very least.
Are bullpen woes a thing of the past for the Phillies?
A disaster in every sense of the word, it truly cannot be understated how horrendous the Phils’ bullpen was last season. Every call to the ‘pen seemed to result in catastrophe as the unit’s many blunders cost the team wins and ultimately landed them square in the pages of the history book that you don’t want to be in.
En-route to blowing eight separate three-run leads, as well as many other games, the bullpen recorded a putrid 7.06 ERA. The embarrassing figure stands as the second-worst in MLB history, trailing only the…1930 Phillies (8.01 ERA). They were also the first bullpen since the expansion era to post an ERA above 7.00. Yikes.
Needless to say, the Phillies are hoping for a MUCH better outcome from their relief unit. However, given the lackluster effort by the front office to retool the bullpen, I don’t know how much improvement is to be expected. Still, it will be a situation to monitor closely at camp.
Center of Attention
Currently, the Phillies seem to have a firm understanding of who will start at each field position except center field. This position has hampered the team a bit as they rotate middling options out to see what sticks.
None of these options inspires a ton of hope – though I’d like to see Haseley separate himself from the pack and land the job – as each has a notable flaw in their game. Still, it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the outfield.
Additionally, there may be another dark horse candidate to land the job, whom I will address next, though I am not a fan of the potential return at all.
Odubel Herrera returning to the Phillies?
The former all-star and once Phillies’ starting centerfielder, Odubel Herrera has not played an MLB game since Memorial Day of 2019. A year removed from his dismissal from the 40-man roster and nearly two years after his initial suspension following domestic violence charges, the Phillies are (wrongfully) considering inviting Herrera back as a non-roster invitee.
While I understand the interest from a baseball aspect, I simply do not think Herrera is worth the trouble and the fact that his return is even being pondered puts a bad taste in my mouth.
In light of the news of his domestic violence case, the Phillies, from top to bottom, were adamant that they did not condone that type of behavior and seemed to want nothing to do with Herrera when they released him. Turning back on that now would be a PR nightmare for the team and likely wouldn’t improve their odds of winning much. If I were the team, I’d pass on a reunion tour.
Speaking of players with long leashes, incumbent starting first baseman Rhys Hoskins is set to begin his fifth campaign with the Phils this year. This time around, however, he doesn’t have as much luster and buzz surrounding his name as the dawn of camp nears.
Following a stellar rookie season in which he finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2017, Hoskins has cooled severely at the plate. In the last three seasons, Hoskins is batting a putrid .237 at the plate and has watched his strikeout rate increase in each season. In fact, of batters with at least 158 plate appearances, Hoskins carried the third-highest strikeout percentage.
While these numbers do not tell the full story, Hoskins’ rapid decline since taking the league by storm is a very troubling trend and one the Phillies are hopeful comes to an end this season.
This spring, the focus for Hoskins will be to be more consistent at the plate and to try and pick his spots to maximize his power
Another homegrown prospect that the Phillies would like to see turn the corner, Kingery enters camp without a specified role. Following a sluggish, porous season in which he batted .159, Kingery looks to bounce back in a major way this year.
One of the many options to secure the center field job, the switch-hitting Kingery will have to be on his Ps and Qs this spring to make the staff trust him again.
Cooler than the other side of the pillow, Andrew “Uncle Larry” McCutchen is set to embark on his 13th major league season. Exuding swag and an undeniable aura, McCutchen will serve as one of the veteran leaders for the Phillies in what may be his final campaign with the team.
After signing a three-year deal in 2019, Cutch is entering the final year with the club, though a 2022 return is possible given the team option included in his contract.
Whether or not this is his final stand with the team, the Phils are fortunate to have him and he is sure to be a sight for sore eyes when camp rolls around.
Opposite McCutchen in the outfield is superstar right fielder Bryce Harper, who is also entering his third campaign with the Phils. Having gotten his prayers answered by way of a J.T Realmuto extension, Harper is likely to be all smiles when camp kicks off.
The former first overall pick will look to once again pace the offense and try to return to the MVP form that he’s so closely resembled in years past. Now that he’s a bit more comfortable in Philly, I think it’s fair to expect big things from the talented veteran this season
Phillies have another starting rotation battle
Newcomers Matt Moore and Chase Anderson are set to join a mix that includes Vince Velasquez, Ivan Nova, and promising prospect Spencer Howard for the final two starting jobs behind Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin.
Whoever secures the final spots will go a long way towards determining how successful the Phillies will be this season, so this battle is sure to attract a lot of attention.
Howard is probably the best talent out of this group, but the team may rely on the veteran options to plug the gaps early in the season so that he can become a bit more polished in the minors. Personally, I’d like to see the Phillies add another arm to the race, but that may be wishful thinking given how fast camp is approaching.
Well, that’s ten things that we will be watching for at the Phillies 2021 Spring Training. What are some things that you will be keeping an eye on this spring? Let us know in the comments below!
Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire