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March 14, 2023

Phillies 2023 preview: Who will DH with Bryce Harper sidelined?

The Phillies will likely have Bryce Harper at designated hitter for their stretch run to the postseason, but who will fill in while he rehabs from surgery?

The Phillies are in the midst of an important spring training. After finishing the season two wins from a championship, the defending NL champions will have to quiet the doubters again — this time with an even higher payroll and tougher expectations to match.

Philly currently carries +1600 odds to win the World Series in 2023, the eighth best via OddsShark. They are third to win the NL East (+325) behind the Braves and Mets.

Before the team hits the field in central Texas to open their 2023 campaign against the Rangers on March 30, we're going to take a deep dive into each positional group.

Let's take a look at the designated hitter spot and a certain two-time MVP...

Scouting report

The Phillies' best option at designated hitter come the late-season playoff push is a guy they wish wasn't DHing: Bryce Harper. The two-time National League MVP dealt with injuries throughout 2022, mainly a UCL tear that relegated him to DH duty for most of last season and the entirety of the postseason. He had offseason Tommy John surgery to repair it, but it will be a while before he's back to full health. 

Harper can't field or throw the ball with that injury, but he sure can swing the bat: Harper hit .349 with a 1.160 OPS and six home runs in 17 playoff games last fall, winning NLCS MVP honors along the way. It feels unreasonable to expect that type of play after an injury like this, but that's the standard Harper has set. The Phillies are eyeing a return around the All-Star Break for Harper as he rehabs his way back. As of right now, he'll be a DH upon his return with the possibility of him taking his usual spot in right field still up in the air.

The Phils' lineup is stacked enough that they should hang around playoff positioning until then, but when Harper returns to the batter's box at Citizen Bank Park for the first time, fans will be envisioning more postseason heroics from the team's best player.

So... if Harper's out for a while, what do the Phillies do at DH for the first few months of the season? I don't expect there to be one singular answer. A few different players could occupy roles as Rob Thomson plays around with the lineup and works his bench. 

From a pure "this guy looks like a 1999 designated hitter who can smack 37 dingers" perspective, I'd like to see left-handed hitter Darick Hall get a chance to take on the role. He's not a guarantee to make the Phillies out of Spring Training, but in our own Evan Macy's latest Phils roster projection, he had Hall on it. 

Hall was older for a player making his MLB debut in 2022 at 26, but in a small sample size, he had an OPS of .804 with nine homers in 142 plate appearances across 42 games. He's been crushing down in Clearwater, too. Hall is hitting .346 this spring with a wild OPS of 1.260 in just nine games, homering four times. That bodes well for his potential roster spot. 

Otherwise, there could be a lot of moving parts at DH with creativity required on Thomson's part. J.T. Realmuto could take games off from catching with Garrett Stubbs filling in while Realmuto just bats. Rhys Hoskins could get some DH time where Alec Bohm moves to first while a player like Edmundo Sosa or Josh Harrison plays at third. Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos are liabilities in the field, so maybe someone like Jake Cave or Dalton Guthrie could find themselves on the team and earn some time out there. 

To sum things up... they just need to tread water at DH until the most feared hitter in the National League is ready to go. 

NL East ranking

Yeah... it's not even close to a debate about which guy from this division is the best designated hitter. Depth charts taken from Projections via baseball-reference

TeamDH (age) 2022 stats2023 proj  Career rWAR
Phillies Bryce Harper (30).286, 18 HR, 65 RBI.283, 21 HR, 64 RBI42.5
Daniel Vogelbach (30)
.238, 18 HR, 59 RBI
.231, 16 HR, 52 RBI
BravesMarcell Ozuna (32).226, 23 HR, 56 RBI.242, 20 HR, 59 RBI20.1
MarlinsJorge Soler (31).207, 13 HR, 34 RBI.222, 16 HR, 47 RBI4.0
NationalsJoey Meneses (31)
.324, 13 HR, 34 RBI.286, 13 HR, 39 RBI

Phillies' future

The future of the Phillies' DH spot isn't in the minor leagues. It's around their current clubhouse and that's even putting the Harper situation aside for a moment.

The Phils aren't a skilled fielding bunch to put it mildly. Schwarber and Castellanos are already better equipped for a designated hitter role than what they currently do and that's only going to worsen over time. If Hoskins get a new deal in Philadelphia after this season, that may be true of him as well. Realmuto's bat is so valuable, but the Phils have to give him time off from working behind the plate and his games spent as a DH should steadily increase through the remaining three years on his contract.

Phillies season preview
C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | DH | OF | SP | RP

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