Phillies

How Carlos Santana fits and where he hits

How Carlos Santana fits and where he hits

Carlos Santana's ability to take walks and get on base, coupled with his ability to hit for power, makes him a fit at several places in the batting order.

To wit, last year with the Cleveland Indians, Santana batted leadoff 37 times and cleanup 26 times.

Santana did not hit second in Terry Francona's lineup at all last season.

But that might be where he ends up hitting — at least to start off the 2018 season — for Gabe Kapler.

"I think the two-hole is a really important spot in the lineup — (a guy that) gets on base, comes up with men on base quite frequently," the new Phillies manager said when the new Phillie was unveiled in a news conference on Wednesday. "Carlos can handle the two-hole."

Kapler went on to say that he could envision Santana — who has averaged 24 homers and a .363 on-base percentage the last seven seasons — hitting first or third, as well.

But it's clear that Kapler is considering using the switch-hitting Santana in the two-hole.

Things, obviously, will play out in spring training, and there's a big variable lurking as Cesar Hernandez, and possibly others, remain potential trade chips. But right now, a few days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies' 2018 opening day batting order could look like this:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Carlos Santana, 1B
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Maikel Franco, 3B
6. Nick Williams, RF
7. Jorge Alfaro, C
8. J.P. Crawford, SS

Of course, it's possible that an outfielder other than Hoskins, maybe Williams, could be used in a trade for pitching. That could put Aaron Altherr in the lineup if he's not traded. Crawford could bring some on-base skills to the bottom of the order and he could move up to leadoff if Hernandez is dealt and Scott Kingery is not up yet.

The Phillies' overall on-base percentage is a dreadful .307 since they last made the playoffs in 2011. (Only San Diego, at .303, is worse.) But with the additions of Santana (for three years and $60 million) and Crawford (after the trade of Freddy Galvis) to the lineup in the last week, the Phillies will get on base more in 2018. And Kapler will have a lot of attractive options for constructing his lineup.

• The other day, we wrote about the Santana signing and how it ramped up the Phillies' rebuild. General managers typically will not make dramatic predictions, particularly when talking about expectations for their clubs. (Who needs that pressure?) Nonetheless, Klentak was asked what the Santana signing meant for his expectations for the coming season.

"I expect us to be the best club we can possibly be, given our personnel," he said. "We have a lot of young players, and with that, there's some uncertainty. We know that. Young players don't come with the same track record that a veteran comes with. But we believe that a lot of those players have a chance to take a step forward this year. If some of those players begin to take that step forward, we complement that with Carlos Santana in the middle of the lineup and a new-look bullpen, I don't really want to place limitations on what we may do next year. But I would expect us to be a more exciting team next year, for sure."

• Klentak has addressed the offense with Santana and the bullpen with Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. There's no use saying he needs to upgrade the starting rotation. He knows that. He has said it a number of times.

Prices for top young starting pitchers like Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer are exorbitant and would put a gaping hole in the Phillies' young core. It's possible that the Phillies will make only a modest addition to the rotation before spring training while gearing up for a July strike on the trade market. If the Texas Rangers fall out of the race, keep an eye on Cole Hamels. Both sides would have interest in a reunion someday.

"We're going to try to add the best pitcher we can," Klentak said. "But the trade market is very expensive for young, controllable starters. The free-agent market for the better starters is expensive in its own way. There's a balancing act here. If you look at our rosters, not only at the big-league level but also at Triple A and Double A, we have a lot of starting pitching prospects and players who are close to big-league ready, and we need to make sure they continue to get those reps and innings that they need to develop to succeed at this level. But at the same time, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to win Week 1 of the regular season next year."

A mechanical adjustment 'kick-started' Rhys Hoskins' career

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A mechanical adjustment 'kick-started' Rhys Hoskins' career

The spectacular beginning of Rhys Hoskins’ major-league career can be traced to a conversation he had with two members of the Phillies’ player-development department back in September 2014.

Hoskins had arrived in the Phillies organization earlier that year as a fifth-round draft pick out of Sacramento State University. That summer, he made his professional debut at Williamsport of the New York-Penn League. He hit .237 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 70 games.

Phillies instructors liked what they saw of Hoskins that summer. They loved the potential. But something was missing.

“He didn’t consistently get his weight back,” director of player development Joe Jordan recalled. “His legs weren’t in his swing every night. The timing, the bat speed and swing path were all good, but they weren’t consistent every night.”

After the Williamsport season ended, Hoskins reported to the Florida Instructional League in Clearwater. He was hitting off a tee, by himself, in a batting cage early one morning when Jordan and Andy Tracy, the team’s minor-league hitting coordinator, approached him with an idea.

“What do you think about making a change to your stance?” Jordan asked Hoskins.

Hoskins, thoughtful, respectful, mature, coachable, eager to learn and just as eager to succeed, was all ears.

“I was open to anything,” he said.

On that September day in 2014, during a conversation in a batting cage in Clearwater, Hoskins’ left leg kick was born.

He has used it to trigger his swing ever since.

And …

“It’s made all the difference in my career,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

The Phillies, off to a 14-7 start, enjoyed an off day Monday. That provides us with a neat little checkpoint on Hoskins’ big-league career, which is just 71 games old, less than a half-season. He arrived in the majors on Aug. 10. Since then, he ranks first in the majors in RBIs (67) and pitches seen (1,376), third in walks (56), fourth in OPS (1.038) and times on base (126), and sixth in extra-base hits (36). His 22 home runs rank fifth in the majors in that span behind J.D. Martinez (27), Giancarlo Stanton (25), Aaron Judge (23) and Matt Olson (23).

Hoskins was no slouch at Sacramento State. He was the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year as a junior in 2014, the year the Phillies drafted him. But even his college coach admitted last summer that the leg kick had taken Hoskins to a new level (see story).

There are a number of benefits to the leg kick, Hoskins said. Among them: It slows him down a little. If he gets his leg up early, it allows his eyes to work and that helps his pitch recognition. It helps his rhythm and timing. It gets him on his backside and gives him a loading mechanism that translates into power when he fires through the ball.

“I had no prior experience with it before Joe and Andy mentioned it,” Hoskins said. “I had no clue what I was doing with it. I was super spread out in my stance. I would get to a point where I would start my swing, stop and have to start it again. Those precious milliseconds are huge. I was late a lot. A lot. The room for error that I had was slim to none.”

When Jordan and Tracy first proposed the leg kick, they asked Hoskins to exaggerate it.

“The first thing Joe said was, ‘Try to hit your chin with your left knee,’” Hoskins recalled.

Hoskins experimented with the size of the kick for a couple of weeks in batting practice and in games. Then one day he hit a home run in a game against the Yankees’ instructional league team.

“The pitcher was throwing pretty hard and I was able to get to a ball that was in and I hit it for a home run,” Hoskins said. “I said to myself, ‘Hmmm, this is probably something to stick with.’”

Jordan and Tracy encouraged Hoskins to use the leg kick during his wintertime workouts after the 2014 season. He did. He made it part of him and his bat carried him on a quick trip through the Phillies’ minor-league system and into the middle of the big club’s batting order.

Amazing what one little bit of coaching can do when it finds a talented and willing student.

“Our entire staff watched Rhys that first summer and came up with a great plan for him,” Jordan said. “Those guys did it and Rhys nailed it. He took it home that winter, worked at it and it’s become his normal ever since.”

What Nick Pivetta’s emergence means for Phillies

What Nick Pivetta’s emergence means for Phillies

The Phillies knew what they had with Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola, Tommy Hunter and (injured) Pat Neshek, and to a lesser extent Hector Neris and Luis Garcia.

What they did not know entering the season was how Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez would pitch, or how the end of the bullpen would shake out.

With 21 games in the books, they've received key contributions from several emerging pitchers and that is a major reason why they're 14-7 despite a .231 team batting average

Pivetta had another strong start Sunday, making one mistake and limiting the Pirates to two runs over 6⅓ innings. In five starts, he has a 2.57 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and he's struck out 28 batters in 28 innings while walking four.

Over his last eight starts dating back to last September, Pivetta has an ERA of 2.00 on the dot.

Even the most optimistic Phillies observers couldn't have envisioned such a fast and consistent start for Pivetta in Year 2.

"He's still carrying over what he did in spring training, which is pitch to the top of the zone and the bottom of the zone," manager Gabe Kapler said after Sunday's win. "The north-south effect with his fastball-curveball combination. He's mixing in a slider. Right-handed hitters can't tell if it's a curveball or a slider. They're showing you that with their swings."

Pivetta misses a lot of bats with high fastballs that hitters just can't catch up to. He also has a sharp breaking ball, which was apparent from his first start last season. The main issue was his control. He had seven starts last season with four or more walks. So far in 2018, he's a different guy.

"I think we saw glimpses of it last year with a little bit less consistency," said Andrew Knapp, who has caught all five of Pivetta's starts. "Right now, he's really confident in what he's doing. It's kind of becoming an every-time-out thing where he's really pounding the strike zone and he's got four pitches he can throw in any count.

"The fastball is electric. When the other hitters feel the fastball, it opens up the off-speed."

Pivetta will probably not finish the season with an ERA under 3.00, but the Phillies aren't asking him to be an ace. They're asking him to be a consistent mid-rotation piece, and his upside could allow him to become much more than that.

It could also change the ceiling of the 2018 Phillies.

"I think it does. I think it does," Kapler said. "I think it's the emergence of Nick. I think it's the emergence of Velasquez. I think it's relievers we can go to that have sort of behaved like the guys you depend on every day in the seventh, eighth and ninth. 

"We have Garcia, (Adam) Morgan and Neris as the guys coming out of camp who we knew were going to perform in those situations. Now you have (Tommy) Hunter coming back. You've got [Pat Neshek] not that far away. And you have (Yacksel) Rios, (Victor) Arano and (Edubray) Ramos performing like this. It's very encouraging."

That's a pretty deep bullpen in addition to a solid rotation. Hunter made his Phillies debut Sunday and needed just eight pitches in a 1-2-3 eighth inning. His cutter, which he threw 20 percent more often last season than he did the prior three, will make him a weapon against left-handed batters.

As for Velasquez, he'll have a chance Tuesday to kick it up another notch against a very good Diamondbacks lineup that may get power-hitting lefty Jake Lamb back in time for the series.

It's still April, but the Phils have the chance to make a little statement with a series win over the 15-6 D-backs.

"It would be awesome," Kapler said, "for us to go out there and tackle Arizona the way we did Pittsburgh."