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February 28, 2020

What they're saying: Should Phillies have high or low expectations?

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Phillies-spring-training-2020-Clearwater_021220 Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports

Five Phillies players have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

There seem to be two conflicting narratives circling about the Phillies as they continue to practice in spring training with the regular season now under a month away.

The first is that the team will be healthy, revitalized and improved in 2020. That is the message from the Phillies' own camp, with Joe Girardi giving an air of confidence that the team will, at worst, improve on their 81 wins from a year ago and perhaps make a playoff run.

The second is much more modest, coming from pretty much everywhere else. As we discussed a few weeks back, sportsbooks are very, very down on the Phillies, with many projecting them to finish with six fewer wins this season.

Here are the division odds from betonline.eu:

Atlanta Braves 9/4
Washington Nationals 9/4
New York Mets 11/4
Philadelphia Phillies 7/2
Miami Marlins 150/1
The expectations aren't super high for the Phillies — and yet — there is a massive amount of interest in the team right now.

On the one year anniversary of Bryce Harper's signing, we'll use this intrigue in the team as the jumping off point for this week's "what they're saying about the Phillies":

Infield intrigue

Micheal Baumann | The Ringer

The Ringer issued five non-Astros cheating and non-Mookie Betts related storylines for spring training, and somehow the Phillies and their infield "shuffle" clocked in at No. 1 on their list — besting the up-and-coming Rays, the Athletics' pitching staff and others.

Here's a snippet from the story from their baseball guru Michael Baumann:

This season, Philadelphia has a new manager, former Marlins and Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, and a new-look infield to go with him. Hernández and Franco were both nontendered, and the team brought in free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius on a one-year contract. That means Kingery and Segura will play second and third in some combination, and while Kingery has played both positions, Segura has never spent so much as an inning at third base in his 13-year professional career. 

The Phillies will also give extended playing time this spring to Alec Bohm, their top position prospect and the no. 3 pick in the 2018 draft. At 6-foot-5, Bohm is about Kingery’s size if Kingery sat on Segura’s shoulders, and his right-handed power is expected to supplement Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins in the middle of the order as early as this summer. In this scenario, Bohm would take over at third, leaving Segura at second and moving Kingery to center field. But it’s still not a sure thing that Bohm can play a competent third base at the big league level; also unclear is whether he’d have to move to first base (currently occupied by Hoskins) or left field. That will make his defensive reps at the hot corner as much of a story as Segura’s. [The Ringer]

Most important player?

Richard Justice | MLB.com

Also earlier this week, MLB.com gave baseball fans a list of 11 players to watch for this spring. And once again, the Phillies got No. 1 honors — this time for veteran hurler Jake Arrieta. Here's what Richard Justice had to say:

1. Jake Arrieta, Phillies RHP: He might just be the most important player in the National League East. He appears to be past the knee and elbow injuries that hampered him the last two seasons and could give the Phillies' rotation a front three -- Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Arrieta -- comparable to almost any in the NL East. All the questions about Arrieta won’t be answered this spring, but it’s a good start. [MLB.com]

We love NY?

Brian Howard | PhillyMag.com

If you haven't noticed, there is an extremely strong New York connection right now for the Phillies and it's, well, kind of weird. An interesting piece from PhillyMag takes a deeper dive into that awkward subject:

In this off-season, Citizens Bank Park is starting to feel like Sixth Borough Municipal Stadium. Following two deeply frustrating seasons under the on-field leadership of kooky first-time manager Gabe Kapler, the Phillies pulled the plug on their lightning-rod skipper in October. They replaced him with Joe Girardi, a man best known for leading the damned Yankees for 10 years. Joining Girardi on the southbound Acela Express are his trusted Yankees shortstop, Didi Gregorius, and longtime Mets hurler Zack Wheeler, the Phillies’ big off-season free-agent prize. A handful of other former Girardi cronies have joined the organization in the ensuing months. It’s a real New York invasion — so much so that a photo of Girardi with Gregorius and Wheeler as they donned their new red pinstripes at the players’ welcome-to-Philly press conference prompted the New York Daily News to splash PICTURE FROM HELL across its back cover. [PhillyMag]

Bruce Almighty

Scott Lauber | Inquirer.com

Jay Bruce doesn't appear to be in line to start this year, though he remains under contract with the Phillies after last year's in-season trade. Bruce is not a guy used to sitting. According to Scott Lauber, the 32-year-old has had just 75 career pinch hitting opportunities, compared to 6,500 at-bats as a starter. That might change in 2020:

Bruce, who turns 33 on April 3, plays the outfield corners and a smidgen of first base. The Phillies are covered there, with McCutchen penciled into left field and Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins written on manager Joe Girardi’s lineup cards in permanent marker at right field and first base, respectively.

So, what does that mean for Bruce, who averaged 581 plate appearances per year from 2008 to 2017 and has hit at least 20 homers in 10 of his 12 major-league seasons?

Bruce isn’t sure, but experience tells him not to sweat it, either.

“Yeah, if things stand, it might be a little bit [of a different role],” he said. “But in baseball things are usually pretty fluid.”

Take last season, for example. The Phillies acquired Bruce from Seattle for a single-A infielder on June 2 to provide left-handed pop off the bench. A day later, McCutchen blew out his knee and Bruce took over in left field.

The point is, stuff happens. McCutchen is not yet playing in spring-training games. Maybe he’s ready for the season-opener March 26 at Marlins Park. Maybe he needs more time. When he does return, he will need periodic rest, even if he doesn’t think so. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Do as Roman does...

George Stockburger | FanSided

Adam Haseley is currently out with a head injury — a minor one — and will return to the field soon after passing through the concussion protocol. Still, while on the topic of fourth outfielders, Roman Quinn's name has to be mentioned. Over at FanSided's Phillies' blog "That Ball's Outta Here," they took some time to contemplate whether the speedy outfielder can snatch the starting centerfield job away from Haseley.

With Haseley being sidelined, the time for Quinn to fight for the starting center field job is now. With Andrew McCutchen coming off an injury of his own, the Phillies could add Quinn’s speed to the top of the lineup where he can turn a walk into a double or go from first to third on a single.

Quinn’s speed is such an asset that the Phillies haven’t been able to capitalize on due to the injuries. When he’s on the field, everyone gushes over him. When he gets hurt, the same narrative of him being unreliable comes back. He’s never played more than 50 big league games in a season and he missed the entire 2017 big league season with injuries.

Is there a chance Quinn steals the job from Haseley? Yes, especially with the new coaching staff with fresh eyes watching from the bench. Right now it still feels like the front office wants to see Haseley every day. [FanSided]


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