Last year the Philadelphia Phillies made a trade with the Seattle Mariners to acquire veteran outfielder Jay Bruce in exchange for a player to be named later, which turned out to be minor league outfielder Jake Scheiner. The Mariners would wind up eating the almost $19 million dollars remaining on Bruce’s two-year deal.

It would prove to be a steal for the Phillies. They were getting a player who was clubbing home runs on a regular basis for almost nothing. Bruce had slammed 14 home runs in the first two months of the season with Seattle and that power show would continue in Philadelphia.

The Phillies originally had traded for Bruce with the thought of him being a strong left-handed bench bat while filling in as a backup for the corner outfield and first base positions. He would have been the first bat off the bench in a pinch-hitting situation because the bench had been so weak to that point in the 2019 season.

The three-time All-Star was acquired on June 2 while the Phillies were in the midst of a west coast road trip. Bruce found himself on the bench to start the first game of a three-game set against the San Diego Padres as expected.

But then an injury to Andrew McCutchen suddenly thrust Bruce into the role of an everyday player almost right away. The Phillies would learn that McCutchen would be lost for the year with a torn anterior crucial ligament. That pivotal injury would ultimately prove a key factor in derailing the club’s hopes for the playoffs because the team was really never the same after he went down.

But Bruce initially gave hope that the team could overcome that big loss. His presence would be felt early on as he smashed two home runs, produced six RBIs, and single-handedly won the second game of the series against the Padres.

Bruce would also play some solid defense, not normally his calling card, and would wind up finishing with 26 home runs on the season. It what would be a pretty good year for the 32-year-old. Unfortunately, Bruce suffered an elbow injury and would not play the outfield anymore after August 8, limiting his role from that point onward.

Coming into the 2020 season Bruce is now another year older and his role as spring training opened would be back on the bench. But news that McCutchen will still not be ready to start the season again leaves a void to fill in left field.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi seemed to tip his hand as to who would fill in for McCutchen until he is ready to return. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports quoted the new skipper as saying “it is possible that Bruce could be in the opening day lineup” since the Miami Marlins would likely go with right-hander Sandy Alcantara as their opening day starter on the mound.

There are other possibilities for the opening day left fielder spot. Depending on how Roman Quinn plays during the spring, he could be your center fielder to start the year and Adam Haseley could shift over to left field. Quinn’s injury history could raise its head again and put a hole in that idea at any time. Josh Harrison can play a little bit of the outfield but that would only be in an emergency situation. Harrison’s best spot on the team is a utility player off the bench. The Phillies best bet would be to start Bruce for the first few weeks of the season until ‘Cutch’ is ready to return.

So far this spring down in Clearwater, Bruce has played in seven games. He has received 18 at-bats with six hits (.333) and has one homer and a couple of doubles. Bruce has yet to play the outfield this spring and Salisbury reported Girardi as saying “he could play there as soon as Thursday.”

In trying to project his stats for the 2020 season, Bruce will probably bat in the mid .220’s and bang close to 20 home runs while playing average defense in the field. Over the last three years, Bruce has produced a batting average of around .218 while slamming 20 or more home runs in three of the last five seasons. He is poised to have a solid year. Hopefully it comes as a reserve backup, which would lengthen the Phillies bench options and make the team both stronger and deeper overall. 

 

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