Mickey Moniak almost became an afterthought. The Phillies used their first overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft to select the high schooler out of Southern California. Moniak found himself on the Major League roster in 2020 briefly, but by the offseason he had found himself buried on most prospect lists, becoming a near afterthought. The Phillies optioned Moniak to the Alternate Training Site on Tuesday night, but he has opened eyes this Spring and worked his way back into the discussion about the future.
The Phillies roster picture is getting clearer, and will continue to get clearer Wednesday as decisions loom around some veteran players. The Phillies must make decisions on pitchers Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson, and Hector Rondon as well as outfielder Matt Joyce. the Phillies cannot keep all of them, due to 40-man roster constraints.
Early Wednesday, the Phillies announced that they would release catcher Jeff Mathis, per his request. Mathis was competing for a roster spot behind the plate. Catcher J.T. Realmuto returned to action last night with a start behind the plate and a home run at the plate, which should give confidence that he will be just fine to start the season. Andrew Knapp is coming off of a very solid 2020 and will back up Realmuto.
Expect more roster news later today.
By Ben Ballier, Sports Talk Philly Staff
We are roughly two weeks away from Opening Day as the Phillies continue their Spring Training surge towards the regular season. Brad Miller, J.T. Realmuto, and Adam Haseley have already had their progression delayed due to minor injuries. Surely other fanbases would echo this sentiment about their own clubs, but it really seems like every year multiple things go drastically wrong for the Phillies.
In recent years, the Phillies have been slammed with the injury bug. Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending injury in 2019 derailed what was a magical start to the season. In addition, David Robertson had just signed a multi-year deal and pitched in only 7 games before sustaining an elbow injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of 2019 and the entirety of 2020 before departing the organization via free agency last offseason.
Then, on September 12th, 2020, Rhys Hoskins injured his elbow on an errant throw by Realmuto. It was just the beginning of what turned out to be a devastating stretch of injuries for the Phillies, including ailments to impact performers like Zack Wheeler, Jean Segura, Jay Bruce, Roman Quinn, Bryce Harper, and Realmuto, among others.
One could also say that the Phillies have struggled immensely with drafting and developing prospects throughout the entire rebuild. Cornelius Randolph and J.P. Crawford are a couple of top draft picks that did not pan out. A big-name international free agent, Jhailyn Ortiz, was signed in 2016 yet has not played a game above High-A Clearwater. Those are just a few of the most-recognizable names, but there is still a long list of second tier draft picks that have not made an impact at the major league level, either.
There is a sense of urgency and confidence early on in Spring Training. What could happen if everything goes right for once? What if this is the Phillies year?
For starters, my definition of a perfect season would involve players staying healthy, key players taking a step forward, and prospects making a noticeable difference for the major league team. I am going to strictly reference the Phillies organization, so I will not consider any outside factors that might benefit the Phillies such as health and performance amongst the other teams in the division. I will also attempt to be as realistic as possible so that if everything does go right, a season like the following is actually feasible…
To begin, everything going right would undoubtedly begin with Harper having an MVP season, something that he is due to have and something that he has done before. An MVP Harper year could single-handedly carry the Phillies to the playoffs (likely a Wild Card spot).
Moreover, Didi Gregorius repeating his 2020 season would be monumental for the ballclub. He led the team in RBI in 2020, so if everything goes right, one could imagine that he would boast impressive offensive numbers once again. Hoskins fulfilling his potential by fusing his 2017 power numbers with his 2020 on-base abilities would round out my expectations for the offense. It would cement the Phillies as a top 5 offense in all of baseball.
In addition, if Aaron Nola further establishes himself as a Top 10 pitcher in baseball (by manufacturing a season close to that of his 2018), Zach Eflin solidifies himself as a bonified 3rd starter, and Wheeler, Matt Moore, and whoever wins the 5th spot simply pitch to the standards of their respective positions in the rotation, it would put the Phillies in a favorable position.
Should this happen, they would likely secure a spot well inside MLB’s top 10 starting rotations. Any team on that list is automatically a serious threat in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Furthermore, if everything breaks the right way I genuinely believe the Phillies could possess a top 15 bullpen with the depth they have now. Acquiring a legitimate closer could elevate them to top 10. It is a bold take, but I do think it is possible that the bullpen shocks a lot of people. If the bullpen can be league average or better, combined with a top 10 rotation and top 5 offense, the Phillies will win the division no questions asked.
Next, no World Series teams wins without production from young talent. Prospects JoJo Romero and Spencer Howard would see improved numbers and continued growth at the major league level in a perfect season. In the cases of Connor Brogdon and Bohm, they would be difference-makers for the team. Both players would likely prove that last year was not a fluke by producing similar numbers. Damon Jones could also be called up at some point, and if he is a serviceable reliever who flashes potential it would be a win.
If the Phillies get the most out of their youngsters and the aforementioned events occur, they could be favorites to win the NL pennant and the World Series.
But none of the above is relevant if guys cannot stay on the field. It is not realistic to expect everyone to stay healthy, so I will limit it to 3 position players, 2 pitchers, and 1 reliever. If the big guns in the lineup: Harper, Realmuto & Bohm, the workhorse starters: Nola and Wheeler, and the fear-inducing reliever: Jose Alvarado are all healthy for at least 140 games of the season, I think the Phillies will be positioned to make a deep playoff run.
The likelihood that ALL these things break the Phillies way is highly unlikely, but even if just half of them come to fruition the Phillies will be destined for success.
With each step, the Philadelphia Phillies move closer to the Bank and many faithful spectators to cheer them on and subsequently spur on the adrenaline rush missing in 2020. Therefore, regulars and closers will again feel an extra gear taking the field.
Center Fielder to be Named Later:
Phillies fans have voiced their beliefs regarding the five candidates for the only regular opening in the everyday eight. Basically, some think this group includes either a fourth outfielder, a failed prospect, a former number one draft pick who disappointed them, a second-chance sinner, and/or an injury-plagued speedster.
IN OTHER WORDS:
“You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.” - Pat Riley
During March, three player types are competing to go north. One will make the team regardless of his spring performance, while another will receive an MiLB assignment for the same reason. On the bubble are those who might make the squad if they produce and fit a club’s needs. Basically, coin flips!
Up the middle, defense is priority one: It must at least be above average. And Adam Haseley, Scott Kingery, Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera and Mickey Moniak qualify. Playing-wise, none will be an organizational liability, but some locals may disagree regarding a former All-Star.
With the bats, one may step forward to claim the position full-time. But manager Joe Girardi realizes a platoon may be more productive except for switch-hitting Quinn. From the right side, Kingery will compete with left-handers Haseley, Herrera and Moniak.
By Ben Ballier, Sports Talk Philly Staff
The Phillies bullpen was a glaring weakness in 2020, a persisting weight that eventually sunk the team’s chances to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The Phillies head into 2021 with a nearly identical (if not improved) lineup after retaining J.T. Realmuto & Didi Gregorius, while adding Brad Miller and Matt Joyce as potential left-handed bench options. Centerfielder Odúbel Herrera could also provide quite a spark to the lineup should he make the roster.
While the Philadelphia Phillies faithful celebrate the home run videos of Bryce Harper and others, the difference-making is on the mound. And assuming who the closer-to-be is or isn’t may be neither Archie Bradley nor Hector Neris, plus the battle for the final bullpen seat might be the toughest decision.
For the Phillies, one appearance could be a five-way tiebreaker and a ticket to Allentown for second place. Plus an injury-free competition may come down to the final cuts. Furthermore, the victor-to-be must produce to keep his middle-relief role. And he knows it!
IN OTHER WORDS:
“I try to do the right thing at the right time. They may just be little things, but usually they make the difference between winning and losing.” - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Barring the unknown, the Fightins are at or above the $210 million CBT (competitive-balance threshold) because of roster-making contracts, but the players by seriously contending will force the execs to increase payroll for the trading deadline. Therefore, the relief corps is present, but their roles are fluid.
Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, has assembled proven veterans and some fireballers to compete for up to eight jobs. Though, further investigation reveals the pen is even more striking up close.
Manager Joe Girardi now has the pieces he needs for the final three innings with the acquisitions of Bradley, Brandon Kintzler and Jose Alvarado to complement Neris. Preferring specific roles, however, Girardi has four potential closers, or he could deploy his best options during critical late-game frames.
We are back for another season of the 97.3 ESPN Phillies mailbag. You can ask your question at any time by Tweeting to @FrankKlose on Twitter. We will discuss your questions each Tuesday on the Sports Bash with Mike Gill.
What are the odds of Mickey Moniak breaking camp with the big club?
The Phillies got some bad news on Friday afternoon. Outfielder Adam Haseley, who was to be one of the prime candidates to win the starting center field job, has suffered a strained groin. The timeline given by the Phillies was four weeks. That means the start of the 2020 season is in doubt.
For some, the attention turned to Odubel Herrera, who had a couple of decent enough games in the early going. Would the Phillies have room for Herrera with an injury to Haseley? The answer is "probably not".
The Phillies have many candidates for the center field spot in the outfield: Haseley, Roman Quinn, Scott Kingery, Mickey Moniak, Travis Jankowski, and then maybe Herrera. Right off the bat, Jankowski and Herrera probably have less of a chance to make the club due to their roster status. Finding a roster spot for Herrera or Jankowski will be hard.
The Phillies may need as many as three other roster spots: relievers Brandon Kintzler and Tony Watson are on minor league deals and have a good shot to make the club. The same might be true for veteran bat Matt Joyce, who could be a prime pinch-hitter and back-up corner outfielder.
Joyce has excelled in the role in the N.L. East the last two seasons. Herrera has never been a bench player. I am not sure the Phillies would consider Herrera for what they envisioned for Joyce. But like Joyce, Kintzler, and Watson, Herrear is no a member of the 40-man roster.
That 40-man roster is currently. Finding roster spots for three players might be tough. If Herrera would make the club due to an injury, that would make four spots necessary.
Cristopher Sanchez and Kyle Dohy might be the casualties for the 40-man roster, as maybe the club could slip them through waivers. Infielder C.J. Chatham might be another.
Who would go beyond that for a fourth player in Herrera?
The Phillies will likely have Quinn and Kingery on the roster no matter what. If Joyce is an extra outfielder, the Phillies are likely covered in the outfield. If Kingery is considered primarily one of the back-up infielders along with Brad Miller, then there is room for one more spot for a reserve player in Haseley's absence.
Considering Haseley likely will not miss too much time, it would make the most sense to bring Moniak up to start the season, optioning him back to Triple-A once Haseley is ready.
If Herrera's stats are enough to warrant him making the roster, the same case can be made for Moniak. In fact, after Moniak hit two home runs on Thursday, Phillies manager Joe Girardi declared Moniak "in" the center field competition.
So would a temporary replacement for Haseley warrant cutting another player from the 40-man roster for Herrera when Moniak is around? Certainly no.
Roughly six years ago, Phillies icon Jimmy Rollins was traded to the Dodgers. In return, the Phillies acquired two minor leaguers, one of them being Zach Eflin. Prospects are as close to gambling as one can get in Major League Baseball, but the starter is now poised to become a legitimate #3 starter in the Phillies rotation.
Many fans are understandably worried about the back end of the rotation, but all too often “Eflin” is jumbled into a group of question marks that includes Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, Vince Velasquez, and Spencer Howard. He simply does not belong in that conversation.
Eflin has improved nearly every year since his debut in 2016. In each of his first two seasons, he pitched in 11 games (63.1 and 64.1 innings respectively) and had an era above 5.50. But he turned a corner in 2018 and never looked back. His era improved significantly, starting at 6.16 in 2017 and improving every year down to a 3.97 era in 2020. His ERA+ also breached 100 in 2019 (exactly league average production), and in 2020 he achieved a career high 115 ERA+.
Most of that success can likely be attributed to Eflin improving his strikeout numbers in 2020. Playing in a bandbox like Citizens Bank Park, it is imperative to limit contact. He made massive strides in that department last year, striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings compared to a lackluster 7.1 SO/9 in 2019. If Eflin can maintain those numbers, or even improve them under new pitching coach Caleb Cotham, it would be a massive step towards unlocking his peak potential.
With that being said, the most encouraging aspect about Eflin is his peripherals. They suggest that his upward-trending performance appears to be more than sustainable. He ranked in the 76th percentile in hard hit %, 77th in xwOBA, 77th in xERA, 74th in K%, and 80th in BB%. In other words, Eflin was better than ~75% of pitchers in the league last year. It also reveals that his success was not a fluke.
In addition, the 26-year-old relied heavily on his 4-seam fastball through the first four years of his career. In 2020, he transitioned to throwing his sinker 51.6% of the time while throwing 4-seam fastballs at a shockingly low 9.6% clip. He also revamped his curveball and began throwing it with conviction. He suddenly felt an air of confidence in that pitch. Then, over the Winter, he worked on his slider and changeup.
Recently, manager Joe Girardi sung Eflin’s praises, noting that he believes he could be a “1.C” in the starting rotation right behind aces Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. Eflin is also convinced that he can become a legitimate starter in this league, and maybe more:
“I view myself as a No. 1. I really believe that truly inside of me, the sky is the limit for me. I feel like I have a lot of feel and I can really shape my pitches in any way I want to and have a good feel for the zone with every pitch.”
On Wednesday afternoon, it was time for Eflin to unveil his refined arsenal and begin what might be another career year for him. The hype train has officially left the station. Eflin went 2.0 innings, gave up zero earned runs, collected 3 backward Ks (!!!) and induced a lot of weak contact. The Detroit announcers spoke glowingly about the way his pitches looked.
Eflin has always possessed the intangibles necessary to be a top of the rotation starter. He oozes composure, maturity, and intelligence on the mound under all circumstances. Plus, being 6’6” and lanky does not hurt, either. It is time for him to put everything together.
Phillies fans have patiently waited 5 years while Eflin learned and grew as a major leaguer. Now, they might just witness the dominance that they have been waiting for as he looks primed to be one of the better pitchers in the National League in the coming years.
The Philadelphia Phillies faithful are enjoying televised games from Clearwater, and manager Joe Girardi has already stated a five-man rotation and a center field platoon are possible. But could Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler exceed doubling their 2020 innings?
The Dugout View:
For stars, spring training is leisurely getting ready for the long summer ahead, but others without guarantees must be competitive with every pitch on the mound or in the batter’s box. Last year, though, 60 contests led to some Phillies starters recording around 30 innings. A sixth rotation arm?
IN OTHER WORDS:
“Consistent motivation usually comes from a consuming desire to be able to perform at your best under pressure, namely, the pressure produced by tough competition.” - Coach Bill Walsh
Basic management is to get the most out of each individual, and leaders rely on many approaches. However, it depends on the circumstances and the personnel involved.
For the rotation, Girardi has established starters, veteran hurlers, a rookie and non-roster invitees. And he believes a five-man staff is doable despite going from 60 to 162 games. That stated, if he can do it, how would he accomplish it?
If Matt Moore, Chase Anderson and Vince Velasquez believe only two spots are available, they must produce in March to earn one. And they’d also be aware of Spencer Howard as another competitor if he’s having an impressive spring.