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March 08, 2021

Which Phillies players have the most to prove in 2021?

Everyone who plays baseball has something to prove. If you don't, you probably are not succeeding as a professional athlete.

As the Phillies prepare for the 2021 season in Clearwater, there are a handful of players who have more to prove than others. Sure, the bullpen and the multitude of pitchers trying to earn a spot in the unit that was the worst in baseball history are all looking to prove something. And the team's fringe roster players are hoping to prove they can be on the 26-man roster. 

Some players are trying to prove things to coaches and teammates while others are trying to prove, to themselves, that they can get better every single season.

So which player right now wearing red pinstripes has the most to prove? As the Phillies attempt to somehow simultaneously live up to high fan expectations, while also trying to beat the predictions baseball experts and sports books have (Unibet says the Phillies are more likely to miss the playoffs, -385, than make them, +285), let's take a look at the some who should be feeling the pressure. 

Can Rhys Hoskins prove he can be consistent?

Hoskins, on paper, is your typical power hitter who does little else. He has a career .239 batting average and has a 162 game average of 36 homers and 102 RBI. He does walk, a ton, but his overall numbers don't inspire the confidence that he is a player who can anchor first base for a contending team. 

But then you dig deeper:

 1st half2nd half
2017*.304/.402/.757, 11 HR.220/.293/.505, 7 HR
2018.252/.363/.456, 14 HR.237/.341/.546, 20 HR
2019.263/.401/.530, 20 HR.180/.318/.361, 9 HR
2020*.203/.414/.313, 1 HR.276/.357/.644, 9 HR

*Hoskins played a partial rookie year in 2017, and 2020 was just 60 games long, so we split each of his seasons in half and the results are above. 

There are flashes of superstar talent that both the stat sheet and eyeball test prove. Obviously there are more precise ways to break down the inconsistency of Hoskins, but as you can see, he just can't seem to put a full season together. 

One interesting note though, is that he does get on base relatively often, drawing walks better than nearly anyone else in baseball. Is that enough to keep him around with a potential replacement at first in Alec Bohm staring at him from across the infield?

Can Mickey Moniak prove he's at least an MLB player?

Moniak was the first overall pick in 2016 and in five seasons of being a pro baseball player, he's still failed to prove he's not a total and complete bust. Moniak is still just 22, but he's running out of time. A pair of big homers last week show he has a little fight left in him. 

The outfielder has a career average of .252 spread across six levels of organized ball (including eight MLB games he played in last season, hitting .214). He has just 11 career homers and a thoroughly unimpressive .300 on-base percentage, but it's really now or never for the California native. Whether he breaks camp on the 26-man roster or is in Triple-A to get consistent at-bats, Moniak is running out of time to make good on his selection at the top of a particularly weak draft class.

Can Spencer Howard prove he's an MLB starter?

He had a great showing in spring training last week, mowing down three batters in order, but he has an uphill battle to get a spot in the rotation this season. After the Phillies made a relatively large financial commitment (potentially) to Matt Moore and Chase Anderson — with Vince Velasquez also pitching for his baseball life — Howard may be relegated to the bullpen or to Triple-A to start the season.

According to FanGraphs, one of the many outlets that rank Howard as the team's top prospect, Howard has "an elite frame and equally impressive stuff, the Phillies are yearning for Howard to turn into what they previously hoped Nick Pivetta would be." 

He had a pretty bad year in limited action in 2020, posting a 5.72 ERA in nine starts. Expect him to find a way to grab a spot in the rotation by the summer and hopefully be firmly entrenched there longterm.

Can Alec Bohm prove he can be elite?

Bohm hit .338 last year in 44 games, and has already shown in his young pro career that he can hit for average and for power. The question regarding his future success seems to be centered more about his average (at best) defense at third base, implying a potential change to first base (especially if Hoskins struggles) could be in the cards. But Bohm, who has heard the criticism, doesn't think so.

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“The game has really just slowed down for me on that side of the ball,” Bohm told reporters back when spring training began. “I’m starting to feel how the play is going to go before the ball really even gets to me. It comes with the repetition of doing things over and over again. I definitely feel light-years ahead of where I was [coming out of college]. The staff is out there every minute I’m out there and they’ve done so much to help me ... but there’s still more to be done.”

Bohm has plenty of hype. Can he live up to it in Year 2?

Can Scott Kingery prove he's beaten COVID?

The Phillies' do-it-all super utility man started last season with a pretty bad case of COVID, and when he returned to play 38 games, he never really looked like himself. Previously a .242 career hitter with 27 homers over his first two MLB seasons, the 26-year-old hit just three long-balls and hit .159. He wasn't himself. Will he be "Scotty Jetpacks" again in 2021?

“As soon as I got cleared from COVID, it was the middle of summer camp," Kingery told reporters, so I just jumped right back into things. I was like, ‘I’m behind. I have to get in there.’ I think by doing that, I put too much stress on my body and tweaked a couple of things.”

Can Bryce Harper prove he can be an All-Star, make the playoffs with Phillies?

We were on the fence about including Harper as a player who needs to "prove himself" in 2021. After all, he's a former league MVP still in his prime, a six-time All-Star who has produced pretty well in two seasons with the Phillies — his numbers extrapolated into full seasons would give Harper 37 homers, 111 RBI, 18 stolen bases and 112 walks per season, which is pretty darn good.

But if anyone would want to be held to an elite, higher standard, surely it's Harper. After inking one of the biggest contracts in the history of pro sports two springs ago, Harper has yet to make an All-Star team as a Phillie, and has not appeared in a single playoff game with his new team. Each of those are clearly benchmarks he expects himself to clear, and fans are clamoring for them as well. Harper is a fan favorite and his adorning "Clearwooder" T-shirts in spring training seemingly do as much to endear him to Phils' fans as leading the league in homers would — but Harper at some point needs to be one of the best players in baseball to prove his contract was worth every penny. 

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