The equipment truck left Citizens Bank Park last Monday for the two-day trip from South Philadelphia down I-95 to Clearwater, Florida. On arrival at Spectrum Field the temperature was almost 40 degrees warmer, and the feeling of Philadelphia Phillies spring training was definitely in the air.
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to camp tomorrow. The rest of the squad is due a few days later. Major League Baseball has been working on changes to the spring schedules, but the Phillies are still likely to open 2021 Grapefruit League play on Saturday, February 27 at home against the Toronto Blue Jays.
As currently constructed, the team taking the field under manager Joe Girardi should look very familiar to Phillies fans. Bringing back both catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Didi Gregorius on multi-year deals keeps one of baseball’s top offensive attacks from last year’s abbreviated season intact. The most important newcomers are in the bullpen, where righty Archie Bradley and lefty Jose Alvarado lead a revamped group hoping to shore up the club’s lone obvious weakness, the one area of the team that caused the Phillies to miss out on the 2020 expanded postseason.
With Realmuto, Gregorius, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Rhys Hoskins, and 2020 rookie sensation Alec Bohm in Girardi’s everyday lineup it should not be hard for this team to produce runs. The Phillies were tied for fourth in runs scored among all MLB teams a year ago when their cumulative .781 OPS ranked seventh in baseball. And there is room for improvement.
The two most obvious positions from which the Phillies offense could receive significantly improved production are in center field and at second base. This is where 2017 first round draft pick at seventh overall, Adam Haseley, and 2015 second round pick at 48th overall, Scott Kingery, come into play.
Haseley will turn 25 just after the regular season is due to open. He now has 107 games of big-league experience under his belt in which he has posted a .269/.330/.382 slash line over 334 plate appearances. Kingery turns 27 a couple of weeks later and has appeared in 309 games, producing a .233/.284/.393 slash over 1,108 plate appearances.
After being promoted earlier than expected in 2019 due to a rash of outfield injuries, Haseley then appeared in 40 of the Phillies 60 games a year ago. He received 19 starts in center field, with the frequently injured Roman Quinn getting 37 starts at that spot. Haseley also appeared in 11 games in left field (three starts) and nine games in right field (one start) when he was basically used as the club’s fourth outfielder by Girardi.
Kingery was signed to what appeared to be a club-friendly six-year, $24 million contract prior to the 2018 season. This came after he had been a Gold Glove second baseman in the minor leagues in 2017 while slashing .304/.359/.530 and stealing 29 bases in a year split almost evenly between Double-A and Triple-A.
Unfortunately, Kingery’s big-league development has been stunted by misuse and abuse by the ball club in 2018 and 2019, and then by a bout with the COVID-19 virus last year. In 2018, Kingery was installed as the Phillies’ starting shortstop despite not having played the position at all since high school. Then in 2019 he was bounced all over the field, used in a super-sub role at six positions including 65 games in center field and 41 at third base, two more positions at which he had almost no experience.
Quinn is still around. He turns 28 in May and cannot become a free agent until after the 2024 season. When fully healthy, he is a dynamic presence on both sides of the ball. The problem as stated earlier, however, is that he is more fragile than Samuel L. Jackson’s character Elijah “Mr. Glass” Price.
Also returning is veteran infielder Jean Segura, who turns 31 on St. Patrick’s Day. Segura was the Phillies starting shortstop in 2019 then switched to third base a year ago. After Bohm was promoted, Segura was switched to second and took over there from Kingery, who never fully recovered from his preseason bout with the coronavirus. Segura is signed through 2022 as a part of a five-year, $70 million deal signed with Seattle prior to the Phillies acquiring him via trade.
The more proven commodities, Quinn and Segura will open camp as the incumbents at the center field and second base positions. However, it says here that the Phillies know what those two players bring to the table and may be better served finally finding out what Haseley and Kingery can bring in those roles. Used every day, Quinn will get hurt again. And Segura will produce modest numbers.
The Phillies should make Haseley the everyday center fielder. They used the seventh overall pick in the draft on him. That is not the draft slot of a fourth or fifth outfielder. Let Quinn give both he and Bryce Harper a break once a week against a tough lefty pitcher, and ‘Cutch’ a break once a week as well.
And they should make Kingery the everyday second baseman. Return him to the position at which he started last season, and at which he excelled in the minor leagues. Segura can be used as an infield super-sub, giving breaks to Kingery, Gregorius, and Bohm at times.
I understand the arguments for wanting to go with the more experienced players. But at some point, you have to give youngsters in whom you believe the opportunity to play regularly so that they can fully display their talents. Both Haseley and Kingery can help elevate the Phillies already potent offense. But the need to play most days at a regular position at which they can feel most comfortable in order for the Phillies to maximize that ability. The time is now.