The Philadelphia Phillies are the defending National League champions. Fresh off a 2022 postseason run that rejuvenated the fan base, the club enters spring training down in Clearwater with very few roster questions left to be answered.
Some have speculated that the most important Phillies players to watch involve those battling for the final places in the starting pitching rotation and in the bullpen. While those are certainly interesting, they are nowhere near the most important situations that I will be watching.
For me, I’m more interested in five players who you already know. Three are homegrown, one a trade acquisition, another a big-ticket free agent signing. Their ability to step up individually will go a long way towards determining just how far the 2023 version of the ball club will advance. Let’s take a look at each of these pivotal players.
The 27-year-old enters camp firmly ensconced as the club’s number three starter in a talented rotation that also features Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Taijuan Walker. In what was his first full year as a starter in 2022, the southpaw went 10-7 with a 3.65 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, and a 129/58 K:BB, allowing 149 hits across 155.1 innings over 29 starts.
Suarez then looked strong over five postseason appearances, including three starts. Particularly against San Diego in the National League Championship Series, where he earned the win in a pivotal Game 3 and a save in Game 5 as the Phillies advanced to the World Series for the first time in 13 years.
What am I looking for from Suarez this spring? To show that he can he step up and take his pitching to another level. This would require him to ease up on the free passes. In eight of his outings last year, Suarez walked three or more batters.
Without an overpowering fastball, Ranger Suarez relies on his excellent sinker and changeup to keep opposing hitters exit velocities and hard-hit percentages low. Already capable of limiting damage done by those opposition hitters, finding the strike zone a bit more often, lessening the frequency of a free pass to opposing batters, would keep him from getting hurt a bit less when he does get barreled up.
In what was his first full season as the club’s starting third baseman, the 2020 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up played in 152 games. He slashed .280/.315/.398 with 13 homers, 72 RBI, and a .713 OPS over 631 plate appearances. Bohm’s 10 sacrifice flies led all of Major League Baseball.
That batting average was a huge improvement over the .247 mark he put up in 2021. Perhaps more important for me was the 56-point bump in Bohm’s slugging percentage, up from .347 in 2021 to a .398 mark a year ago, resulting in a .713 OPS. But it’s still not good enough.
What I’m looking for from Bohm is increased power production. He doesn’t need to be Mike Schmidt in that department, or even Scott Rolen. However, with his natural hitting ability only minor changes to his approach could elevate him to at least close to a 25-homer player while not sacrificing the solid batting average.
Defensively, after a horrendous start to the 2022 season, Bohm settled down and became fairly reliable at the hot corner. He’s never going to win any Gold Gloves, but doesn’t have to play defense at that level. So, I’m also watching to see that Bohm can become at least an average big-league defender, allowing him to remain at the position longer term.
Alec Bohm won’t turn 27 until early August and is under club control for at least the next four years. The former first-round draft pick will be a key piece to the Phillies lineup puzzle over those seasons. He has all the tools to become more impactful as soon as this coming campaign.
Marsh arrived in an August 2nd trade with the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for talented catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe. It was a high price to pay, but the Phillies are hoping that the deal finally gives them an answer to their long-running center field issues.
A second-round pick of the Halos back in 2016, last year was Marsh’s first full season as a starter. Hitting just .226 with a .637 OPS over 93 games in LA, he upped those figures to .288 and .773 over 41 games after arriving in Philly.
While he received the majority of starts in center after the trade, Marsh did often give way to Matt Vierling against some left-handed pitchers. Now, with Vierling having been traded away to Detroit in the Gregory Soto deal, Marsh figures to see more action against those southpaw arms.
While some regression is to be expected for most lefty hitters when facing southpaw pitching, Marsh’s .188 batting average and .486 OPS against them a year ago must improve. He hit .262 facing righties with a .735 OPS mark. I’ll be watching this spring to see if Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long can help improve Brandon Marsh‘s results against those lefties.
As a rookie in 2022, Stott slashed just .234/.295/.358 with a .653 OPS. Those marks wouldn’t excite anyone, or portend much success against big-league pitching moving forward. However, they do not tell the whole story. From August 2nd through the end of the regular season, Stott slashed .290/.344/.426 with a .770 OPS over his final 50 games.
Stott’s bat largely disappeared under the glare of the postseason lights. He did have a huge hit against Atlanta in Game 3 of the National League Division Series and then a two-doubles night in Game 3 of the NLDS against San Diego. But overall, Stott slashed just .136/.255/.227 over 44 plate appearances in the playoffs. The poor showing was lowlighted by an 0-14 shutout in the World Series vs Houston.
One interesting statistic that came out of his rookie campaign was that the lefty-swinging Stott hit a healthy .263 over 110 plate appearances vs southpaw pitching while producing just a .226 figure against righties.
Defensively, Stott proved extremely versatile, handling 83 games at shortstop, 47 at second base, and even playing twice at the hot corner. From early-August on through the postseason he was used exclusively at short.
What I will be looking for this spring and into the season from Bryson Stott is improvement at the plate, particularly when facing right-handers. Logic says he should hit much better against those arms. Just as importantly, I will be watching to see how the 25-year-old handles his new role as the club’s full-time second baseman.
The 2019 first-round spark plug has all the tools to be a solid contributor as an everyday regular, and the Phillies will be counting on his continued positive development.
The 10-year big-league veteran turns 31 years of age early in spring training. An exciting free agent addition in late March a year ago, Castellanos had a mostly disappointing first year in Philly.
After averaging 27 home runs and 91 RBI over his previous four full seasons spent with Detroit and Cincinnati, the righty hitter slashed just .263/.305/.389 with a .694 OPS in his first season here. That followed a 2021 campaign in which he had been an NL All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner with the Reds, hitting .309 with 34 homers and 100 RBI.
In the postseason he was even worse, slashing just .185/.232/.246 with no homers across 85 plate appearances while starting every game in right field for the Phillies. That offensive production from a proven veteran bat is not what the club paid for, and is simply not acceptable.
To his credit, Castellanos played a nice defensive right field after taking over the everyday role out there following Bryce Harper‘s early season injury. That performance was highlighted by a couple of nice sliding catches during the thrilling postseason run.
With Harper slated to miss the entire first half of the coming season, Nick Castellanos returning to his previous and anticipated levels of offensive production might just be the single biggest development that I will be watching for in spring training. Cincy was a hitter’s environment for him in that magnificent 2021 campaign. Philly is similar. He needs to return to that consistent, middle-of-the-order offensive producer.
Oh, and one more thing. In his defense, and with all due respect to now retired longtime Phillies beat writer Jim Salisbury – it was indeed a stupid question. Castellanos returning his bat to previous career levels will turn any boos into loud cheers from the fans.
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