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.
Money and the 40-man roster aren’t an issue with these five outfielders. However, spring injuries and players beginning the 162 on the IL (injured list) are common, and the Fightins already have Haseley, JT Realmuto and Brad Miller as possibilities. Translation: The IL doesn’t count against the 40-man limit.
Replacing Haseley with Herrera won’t affect the 40-man roster, and Matt Joyce can temporarily fill in for Miller as a left-side bench piece, but keeping him longer would increase the payroll AAV (average annual value) by $1.5 million. Yes, it would put the Phillies over the $210 million CBT (competitive-balance threshold).
With Realmuto on a brief IL stint, the red pinstripes can carry an in-house catcher or temporarily add a veteran. Relief-wise, Brandon Kintzler and Tony Watson could take the slots of Ramon Russo and a reliever dropped by another franchise: Sam Coonrod.
Based on facing the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets in the first 13 games through April 15, the Phillies divisional rivals currently have four portside starters and six right-handers. So, the left-side bats will have six to eight starts for Herrera, Haseley and/or Moniak.
When camp opened, Haseley and Kingery were the top two, but Haseley probably won’t be ready for Opening Day. And Herrera, Haseley and/or Moniak would be the left-handed platoon. Also, the starting center fielder will hit at the bottom of the order: mostly eighth, occasionally ninth, or seventh without Realmuto.
According to Jim Sannes of numberFire from an older article, 58 percent of number one draft selections from high school make it to the majors like Moniak. From elsewhere, it takes them five years to arrive in the major leagues, and ‘20 was Moniak’s fifth campaign: a lost summer for minor leaguers.
A more comfortable and confident Moniak is showing some potential, but he’ll probably need a full season split between Double-A and Triple-A. Unfortunately, he didn’t live up to some fans’ expectations, and their doubts, real or perceived, could overshadow even a decent --if not spectacular-- career.
The Fightins can’t count on injury-prone Quinn, and averaging .213 in both 2019 and 2020 has demonstrated his limits. Therefore, he’ll steal bases and also be a defensive replacement in any of the three grass positions.
Getting a second chance is nearly impossible if an under-contract big leaguer hasn’t played in the majors for two campaigns. Yes, no team will risk the MLB minimum salary on Herrera unless he can show productivity with the Phillies for two months. But, otherwise, his domestic incident could be career-ending.
Despite the belief Herrera has no shot, some locals will either vocalize his on-field shortcomings --some invented-- and others will accept nothing less than a ban from baseball. But he has paid his debt --which doesn’t mean I condone his off-field behavior-- but he apologized to his teammates and the public through the media.
Betting against Herrera isn’t a recommendation. Remember, when he was a rookie and Rule 5 second baseman in Chase Utley’s final 162 here, he opened camp in left field and center field on Opening Day. And he finished 2015 at .297, plus that challenge was far more difficult than making 2021’s active 26.
If, though, you only look at his 139 plate appearances in ‘19, you missed the hitting coach’s approach of pitches per at-bat: Herrera frequently stepped out of the box before the pitch reached the plate just to pad that number. Ergo, a lost year!
For Girardi, Herrera’s the current front-runner, and he’s earning it by also providing right field defense and facing left-handed hurlers. So, he could claim the starting role because he can bat .280 with 15 bombs, swipe a base, and bunt for a hit.
For fans who want to voice their displeasure with him, they can boo during every plate appearance even if it’s a bat-flip homer. To illustrate, he could lose a ball in the sun with a 10-0 lead without remotely affecting the shutout, and some could demand his demotion to Triple-A despite even a six-RBI game.
Kingery had excellent springs when he knew he would open the season in the high minors, but now he is in danger of not even having a shot at a platoon. Basically, he’s not giving the skipper any reason other than considering him for a utility role, but he still has the opportunity to hit for more playing time.
After batting .266 and .278 in his first two summers, Haseley will unfortunately be rehabbing at the alternate site into early April, but the competition for center field won’t be over when he returns. No, he’ll get at-bats when slumps --as always-- occur, but don’t plan on someone going down without a fight. El Torito!