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Phillies spring training: 3 storylines to watch

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s still winter, although it’s hard to tell in Philadelphia with a nearly snowless season, and a sign spring and summer are around the corner arrives this week: pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Florida, on Thursday for spring training.

The Phillies enter this season with expectations and excitement levels unmatched for more than a decade in the city. The Phils fell two wins shy of a World Series in 2022.

Philadelphia exceeded the luxury tax again in the offseason, has more depth, and is better positioned to run it back in 2023. Citizens Bank Park should be the place to be this summer.

Here are three storylines to pay attention to during the spring.

1. Will Painter crack the rotation?

Perhaps this is a sign of how much things have changed since last spring. The biggest storyline to follow in Florida will be who breaks camp as the Phillies’ fifth starter.

All eyes will be on 19-year-old Andrew Painter, the Phillies’ first-round pick in 2021.

Painter was recently rated as the best pitching prospect in baseball by a group of major league executives, and the hype surrounding the flamethrowing righty is real.

Painter climbed three levels in his second professional season in 2022, starting in low A and ending the season in Double A.

In 22 games, Painter threw 103 2/3 innings, struck out 155 batters, held opponents to a .181 average, sported a 1.88 ERA and had a 0.89 WHIP across the three levels. Once he graduated to Double A, Painter had a 2.54 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 28 1/3 innings.

Braves Phillies Baseball
Andrew Painter, the Phillies’ 2021 first-round pick, looks on with agent Scott Boras during a game against the Atlanta Braves on July 24, 2021, in Philadelphia.

Chris Szagola / AP


While the hype is big, the Phillies won’t simply hand Painter the job. They have options, some with major league experience.

Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sanchez will be competing for the job, as well as fellow prospects Mick Abel and Griff McGarry.

Falter more than proved he’s capable of starting every fifth day last season, especially when Zack Wheeler landed on the injured list. In six starts from Aug. 20 to Sept. 18 — Wheeler returned on Sept. 21 — Falter had a 2.36 ERA.

But Painter appears to be the favorite. If he does win the job, he would be the Phillies’ youngest starting pitcher since Mark Davis (20) in 1981.

2. Who’s the DH?

The Phillies will be without Bryce Harper for at least two months again in 2023 after he underwent offseason Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The Phillies were vague (perhaps on purpose) when announcing Harper should be back by the All-Star Break.

The Trea Turner signing helps replace Harper’s bat, but leaves a considerable hole at designated hitter and in the lineup.

Phillies manager Rob Thomson has plenty of avenues he can take.

In the first two months of 2023, the Phillies can utilize the role as they initially intended in 2022 — by rotating Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber from field to DH. They also will have the option to DH J.T. Realmuto to keep his bat in the lineup when he’s not catching.

Alec Bohm and Rhys Hoskins will also likely see time at DH in Harper’s absence. The Phils can platoon the DH — one player vs. righty pitchers, another vs. lefties.

Keep an eye on Darick Hall, who served as a lefty power bat against right-handers when Harper went down with a broken left thumb last season. Hall, a first baseman, did his job.

Hall slugged nine homers and had a .804 OPS in 136 at-bats over 41 games and 34 starts. He started 31 games as the designated hitter and just five in the field.

In 113 at-bats games as a DH, Hall had a .766 OPS with five home runs, in 18 at-bats as a first baseman, a .985 OPS and a .833 OPS as a pinch hitter.

One of his nine home runs came off a position player and four against Washington Nationals. But Hall slugged — 53% of his 34 hits were for extra bases (9 HR, 8 2B, 1 3B).

The lefty slug potential seems like an ideal match for the DH vs. righties.

3. New rules

MLB is implementing three significant rule changes in 2023: bigger bases, a pitch clock and the limiting of defensive shifts. The changes are intended to help inject action into the sport weighed down by the three true outcomes: home run, strikeout and walks.

Bigger bases, in theory, will make stealing bases easier and the limiting of defensive shifts should generate more hits and offense. (Four players must be on the infield with at least two infielders on either side of second base.)

But the one rule change that will have the biggest immediate impact is the pitch clock.

Here’s a quick rundown of how it works.

  • There will be a 30-second timer between batters
  • A 15-second clock between pitches with the bases empty and 20 seconds between pitchers with a runner on base
  • If a pitcher exceeds the time period, it’s an automatic ball; for a batter, it’s an automatic strike

There will be hiccups in 2023 with the pitch clock, both for pitchers and batters.

Looking at the Statcast data from 2022, the Phillies have a few pitchers on the projected Opening Day roster who will take time to adjust — specifically the highlighted names in the chart below.

The pitch clock is nothing new to players who played in the minor leagues last season (Falter, Painter, Sanchez), but for the veterans, it’ll be a challenge.

The rule changes are nothing new, though, and the Phillies have said it will be a focus for spring training.

How quickly will Alvarado, Bellatti, Nola, et al adapt to the timer? It’s certainly something to keep your eye on during spring training.

Leftovers

The bench appears set after the Josh Harrison signing, but one spot appears up for grabs: the fourth outfielder. It could come down to Jake Cave and Dalton Guthrie. … With an extended workload due to the World Series run, will Aaron Nola and Wheeler need extra time? … Speaking of Nola, will the Phillies and the righty ace come to terms on a contract extension? … Which Nick Castellanos shows up, the 2022 version or the All-Star the Phillies signed?


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