Feb 17, 2020

New Bats In Clearwater

Spring Training is here.  Phillies pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater on Wednesday and the rest of the team starts today.  While there are some questions around the diamond that need to be answered this spring, the lineup has pretty much been determined.  However, the bench is another story.  Jay Bruce, Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Andrew Knapp will be back this spring to compete for a job with Phillies prospects and these nine new members of the organization.

Josh Harrison: The longtime Pirate was the Phillies first free agent acquisition after the end of the 2019 season.  The 32 year old has run into a bit of bad luck with injuries over the past two seasons, but he's a damn good ballplayer.  Harrison is a two-time All-Star and came within an eyelash of winning the 2014 National League batting title.  He spent most of his time at second base, but he's logged a significant number of innings at third base and the corner outfield spots, and has even filled in at shortstop at the major league level (though the latter was many years ago).  He's versatile and a good clubhouse presence, and has the potential to be a sneaky good pickup.

Matt Szczur: This was an interesting pickup.  A quad injury limited Szczur to 44 games last season (all for the Diamondbacks Triple A affiliate Reno Aces), but he had an excellent .322/.309/.577 slashline in 172 plate appearances.  Additionally, he can play all three outfield positions and has traditionally hit well against lefties in five seasons with the Cubs and Padres.  It wouldn't surprise me a bit to see an Szczur succeed in Philadelphia.  Presently, our options in center field are Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn and Scott Kingery.  Quinn is injury prone, and Kingery will be needed in the infield.  Haseley doesn't hit lefties all that well, so a platoon wouldn't be out of the question.

Mikie Mahtook: The Phillies signed Szczur and Mahtook on the same day.  In 2011, Mahtook was a first round compensation pick by the Tampa Bay Rays and was once a top 100 prospect in baseball.  Now at age 30, the OF is working his way back to the big leagues after failing to get a hit in 25 plate appearances for the Tigers last season.  He had a productive 2019 in the minors playing for the Toledo Mud Hens, but he struck out in nearly 30% of his plate appearances in Triple A.  He's a depth signing, and I don't expect to see him in Philadelphia unless something goes horribly wrong.

Ronald Torreyes: The Phillies signed Torreyes to a minor league contract on January 7th.  The non-roster utility infielder previously played for Joe Girardi on the Yankees.  When he was asked about him, Girardi responded by saying "he's a ballplayer".  I think that sums up his chances of starting the season in Philadelphia.  I expect he'll start the season in Lehigh Valley and be called up only if someone goes on the DL.

Christian Bethancourt: I'm not sure that I understand the logic of this signing.  Eight years ago, Christian was one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball, but that was a long time ago.  He spent parts of three unimpressive seasons catching in Atlanta before the Braves traded him to San Diego.  He spent the 2016 season working as a catcher and outfielder for the Padres, and was converted to be a full-time relief pitcher for the El Paso Chihuahuas in 2017.  His work as a pitcher wasn't any better than his time as a position player.  He finished the season with an 8.21 ERA at Triple A and was back to working as a position player in 2018, this time for the Brewers organization.  He had a productive 2018 for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and was named to the Triple A All-Star Team in 2018, but he wasn't called up to play in Milwaukee.  Last season, he signed to play for the NC Dinos in Korea, which is said to have a level of competition similar to Triple A.  He spent time as the team's catcher and in the outfield, but after a half season, he was batting .246 and was released from his contract.

Bethancourt has a career .222 batting average with a -1.1 WAR at the major league level, and his defense isn't a lot better than his offensive production.  His contract in Korea was for the maximum league salary of $1 million dollars and they chose to eat the expense and release him.  That doesn't inspire a lot of reasons to be optimistic about his chances in 2020.  I suppose the Phillies could use him for depth, but unless literally every catcher in Reading, Allentown and Philadelphia gets hurt, I can't picture a scenario where he plays in Philadelphia.

Nick Martini: This 29 year old left fielder has bounced around quite a bit over the past 12 months.  He began the 2019 season on the disabled list with the Oakland Athletics after a grade 2 PCL tear in a spring training game that cost him about two months of the season.  He worked his way back and spent some time in the big leagues before A's placed him on waivers in August.  He was picked up in less than 48 hours by the Padres.  He finished the season playing for San Diego, and was placed on waivers again.  He was claimed by the Reds just before Thanksgiving, but his time in Cincinnati was over before it even began.  The Reds waived him after the new year, and the Phillies picked him up on January 14th.  To make room for him on the 40 man roster, Philadelphia designated Odubel Herrera for assignment.  I suspect that moving Odubel off of the roster and giving other teams the opportunity to claim him was the reason Martini was acquired in the first place.  He can only play left field, his bat isn't particularly valuable, and he has had trouble staying healthy, so I didn't really think he was part of the Phillies plan.  Sure enough, the Phillies traded for Kyle Garlick (more on him later), and Martini was once again placed on waivers.  So far, he's still with the organization, so he might end up playing alongside Odubel for the Iron Pigs unless he's claimed off of waivers for the fourth time in eight months.

Neil Walker: The 34 year old switch hitting journeyman began his career with the Pirates where he finished 5th in the 2010 NL Rookie Of The Year voting.  Since then, he has spent time with the Mets, Brewers, Yankees and most recently, the Miami Marlins.  The majority of his past two seasons have been at first base, but he has also played at second, third, left field and right field.  He's entering camp as one of the favorites to earn a spot on the Phillies bench.

Logan Forsythe: The Phillies signed this utility player on February 5th.  He's a veteran journeyman who has divided his 9 years in the big leagues between the Padres, Rays, Dodgers, Twins and Rangers.  His best seasons came with the Rays (2014-2016), and had the second highest WAR of any second baseman in 2015.  Like Walker, Forsythe's value is in his versatility.  He has seen regular time at 1B, 2B, SS, 3B and in the OF corners, but he hasn't been very productive at the plate since leaving Tampa Bay after the 2016 season.

Kyle Garlick: The 28 year old left fielder was acquired in a last minute trade two days ago.  He was a late pick in the 2015 draft and has worked his way through the Dodgers minor league system to make his major league debut in 2019.  Garlick went 12 for 48 with four doubles and three homers in Los Angeles, and he hit .314 with 23 home runs in Triple A playing for the Oklahoma City Dodgers.  He was added to the 40 man roster and has two options remaining, so even if he doesn't break camp with the Phillies, he'll remain with the organization and could be called up from Lehigh Valley when he's needed.

The big position player pickup this winter was shortstop Didi Gregorius.  He signed a one year contract which I think will work out for both parties.  Didi will have a chance at a full season on the field to re-establish himself following his injury, and the Phillies will have a productive veteran at shortstop while first round pick Bryson Stott continues to develop in his path to the majors.

Unless the Phillies manage to find a trade partner to move Jean Segura, I don't expect that Didi will stay with the Phillies after 2020.  A small part of me wonders if they might shop him at the trade deadline for pitching, but he's a hell of a ballplayer and he's got all of the motivation in the world this season.  I'm glad that he's on the team, and I hope he can be part of a championship team in Philadelphia.

The wild card of the 2020 season is third base prospect Alec Bohm.  His bat certainly seems like it's the real deal, and although some are questioning his ability to play third base at the major league level, I don't think it's as big of a detriment as others seem to believe.  His combined fielding percentage at 3B last season was .938.  That's not good, but it's a huge improvement from 2018 (.870).  To put it in perspective, his defensive metrics last season grade out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and his trajectory of improvement in this area throughout his time in the minors are very similar to that of Kris Bryant.  In fact, from a defensive perspective, he's not far off from Bryant right now.  I don't expect Bohm to ever be a contender for a gold glove at the hot corner, but he's competent and if his bat is what we hope it will be, it's an acceptable tradeoff.


Now that Spring Training is about to begin, this is the team that I believe the Phillies will take up north to begin the 2020 season:

Conspicuously absent on this chart is Vince Velasquez.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, while I believe he'll be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation this Spring, I don't see him outperforming Eflin or Pivetta.  I also don't believe that he was a good fit in the bullpen in the opportunities he's had to pitch in relief last season.  He hasn't been consistent in the opportunities that he's had in the bullpen.  He has two options remaining, and I feel that he could best help the team in 2020 as rotation depth, to be called up in case of injury or to see if he can live up to his potential and earn a spot in a major league rotation (with the Phillies or elsewhere).

I was torn when it comes to Ranger Suarez.  While I think he's good enough to make the team, I have him slotted to begin the season in Lehigh Valley because he has one option remaining.  It's very likely that he earns the spot ahead of Tommy Hunter or Jose Alvarez, but I think they have a little more rope if only because they're able to stash Suarez without the risk of losing him to another team.

As for the position players, the elephant in the room is Roman Quinn and his health.  I'm rooting for the guy.  However, I expect that 2020 will be his last chance in Philadelphia.  If he remains healthy and productive, there's a chance he could be our starting center fielder, or he could be shopped in a mid-season trade (Kris Bryant?).  If he can't stay on the field, I believe that a Haseley / Szczur platoon in CF might be an interesting proposition.

I think it's likely that Kyle Garlick finds his way to the majors before the All-Star Break.  I only hope that he's brought up to replace Jay Bruce as the 5th outfielder and not as a replacement for an injured McCutchen or, god forbid, Harper.

Barring health concerns, I expect Alec Bohm to be starting at third base before the end of July.  In all likelihood, that would mean shifting Segura to 2B and moving Kingery back to his role as the team's super utility player.  I would prefer it if they could find a trade partner for Segura and keep Kingery as second base full time, but it doesn't seem likely.

Finally, like Bohm, I expect Spencer Howard to be playing a prominent role in Philadelphia.  They're going to limit his work at the start of the season to keep him fresh, so I think his call up would likely be held off as late in the year as possible.  I don't think they'll go down this road, but I think it's worth exploring a six man rotation when rosters expand in September.