We’re on the eve of Philadelphia Phillies pitchers and catchers officially reporting for 2023 Spring Training in beautiful Clearwater, Fl. A trip to the World Series, a shorter offseason, a World Baseball Classic, and a roster overhaul brings with it a lot of questions and a lot to watch heading into the Grapefruit League.
Here are five things to keep an eye on heading into Spring Training.
All eyes will be on top prospect Andrew Painter when pitchers and catchers report on Thursday. The 19-year old was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2022 and many have earmarked Painter for a spot in the rotation coming out of Spring Training. Painter, who finished the season with Double-A Reading, completed the 2022 campaign with a 6-2 record, a 1.56 ERA, and a .887 WHIP. He struck out 155-batters over 103.2 innings in the Minors. The expectations are skyhigh for the young man.
The Phillies have revamped parts of their rotation and bullpen in the offseason with the signings of SP Taijuan Walker, LHP’s Matt Strahm and Gregory Soto, and RHP Craig Kimbrel.
Walker is the big money guy, the former Mets starter inked a 4-year/$72MM deal in free agency. The 30-year old has electric stuff but has been hampered by injury over the last few years. Will he be the potential superstar pitcher every other team thought he was going to be or will injuries abound?
As for the ‘pen, the Phils’ believe that Strahm, 31, is an upgrade over David Robertson. The lefty was a well regarded piece of the 2022 Boston Red Sox bullpen. The Kimbrel signing is the definition of low risk-high reward. The 34-year old seemingly had a career resurgence in 2021 with the Cubbies before signing a free agent deal in 2022 with the Dodgers. He pitched extremely well for LA early in the season but began to leak oil towards the end and was left off the Dodgers postseason roster. Soto, 28, is the gem of the Phils’ revamped bullpen. An All-Star in back-to-back seasons (2021, 2022), the club believes he will be the much needed lockdown piece in the ‘pen.
While all eyes will be on Painter, right hander Griff McGarry will have an opportunity to potentially steal a spot in the rotation. The 23-year old has been ranked as one of the Phils’ top prospects since being drafted in the 2021 MLB June Amateur Draft (5th round). McGarry’s issue since his time at UVA has always been his control, but he began to harness his control in 2022 especially during his time with Double-A Reading. He posted a career low 1.010 WHIP and a 2.20 ERA in Reading before moving up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. A weekend pitcher in the ACC, McGarry may have an inside track to the Big Leagues out of camp because of his age and experience.
The 2023 World Baseball Classic is set to begin on March 7 and run through March 21. That’s most of the Grapefruit League schedule. The Phillies will have eight players representing their countries: J.T. Realmuto (USA), Kyle Schwarber (USA), Trea Turner (USA), Gregory Soto (DR), Garrett Stubbs (Israel), Taijuan Walker (Mexico), Jose Alvarado (Venezuela), and Ranger Suarez (Venezuela).
The position players missing Spring Training at-bats isn’t a big deal. They’re going to get their hacks in during the tournament, however the WBC pitchers are a bit more concerning. Suarez, Walker, Soto, and Alvarado are MASSIVE pieces to the Phils’ rotation and bullpen. How they will be handled during the tournament will set the course for the remainder of the season. MLB teams are notorious for handling their pitchers a specific way during Spring Training and the WBC is clearly going to prevent that from happening.
The Phillies certainly wouldn’t trade playing baseball into November for a regular off-season. But, as already mentioned, baseball players –especially pitchers– are creatures of habit. All eyes will be on how the Phils respond to an offseason that was about 40-days shorter than normal. Factor in the WBC and it’s an interesting dynamic worth keeping an eye on.
What? Not enough talk about position players, the lineup, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, and Nick Castellanos? We’ve got you covered there too! Be on the lookout for “Five More Things” to keep an eye on as Phils’ position players officially report on Tuesday, February 21.