Sean Kane

Joe Girardi's Phillies lineup is nearly set, except for one outfield question mark

Joe Girardi's Phillies lineup is nearly set, except for one outfield question mark

The start of the Phillies' abbreviated 2020 season is two weeks away, and manager Joe Girardi has a pretty good idea of what his team's Opening Day defensive alignment will look like.  

J.T. Realmuto will be behind the plate, presumably catching Aaron Nola. Jean Segura will likely be the starting third baseman, next to new shortstop Didi Gregorius. Now healthy after a wicked bout with COVID-19, Scott Kingery projects as the starting second baseman. Rhys Hoskins will play first base. Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper are locked in at the corner outfield spots. 

That leaves center field as the only position up for grabs. 

Second-year player Adam Haseley and fourth-year veteran Roman Quinn are the primary candidates. 

The 24-year old Haseley was the 8th overall pick of the 2017 MLB draft and quickly climbed through the Phillies minor league system. He played 67 games last season as a rookie and showed flashes of being a productive big league outfielder, hitting .266 with 14 doubles, five home runs, and 26 RBI. He also made a handful of spectacular defensive plays.

Quinn, 27, has long tantalized the front office and fans alike with his immense talent. His blazing speed makes him a weapon on the basepaths and allows him to cover a ton of ground in the outfield. He also has a fair amount of pop, collecting 20 extra-base hits in 139 at-bats the last two seasons. But injuries have been a common theme throughout Quinn's professional career. He's never been able to stay healthy long enough to show what he's capable of over the course of a full season. 

Quinn and Haseley competed for the center field job during spring training in Clearwater and will continue to do so over the next two weeks of training camp at Citizens Bank Park. The manager isn't in a rush to name a starter.

"My mind is really open with that spot," Girardi told NBC Sports Philadelphia's Michael Barkann earlier this week. "If one guy emerges, it's one guy. If it's a platoon, it's a platoon. If one guy plays more than the other, we have that.

"The big thing is we get production out of center field, that's what I'm looking for. And that doesn't necessarily mean home runs, it could mean getting on base and scoring runs and a lot of different things including really good defense. I'm just going to let it play out and see who rises to the top here." 

Whoever plays center field will likely be hitting towards the bottom of the batting order. There won't be a ton of pressure to put up big offensive numbers. 

There is one other possibility to consider when it comes to the center field situation: Odubel Herrera.

The 28-year old Herrera isn't currently on the Phillies' 60-man summer camp roster, but he could be added at any point. GM Matt Klentak didn't rule out that scenario last week. 

On Thursday's 'Phillies Return to Play' show, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury indicated Herrera could still be an option if neither Haseley or Quinn play well enough to claim the job. 

There are a lot of question marks at the moment when it comes to the Phillies' center field job. Girardi is hopeful one of the candidates will step up over the next couple of weeks and provide some answers.

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An optimistic outlook on Rhys Hoskins in shortened season

An optimistic outlook on Rhys Hoskins in shortened season

There's a long list of Phillies with something to prove during this abbreviated 2020 season. 

Rhys Hoskins is at the top of that list. 

12 months ago, Hoskins was viewed as a cornerstone piece for the Phillies to build upon for the next decade. He was finishing up a very good first half of the 2019 season, hitting .263 with 20 HR, 59 RBI and a .931 OPS in 89 games before the All-Star break. 

Add his 2019 first half performance to a solid 2018 campaign and historic 2017 rookie season, and it was plain to see that Hoskins was establishing himself as one of the premiere power hitters in baseball. He seemed destined for a big pay day in the near future. 

Then the second half of 2019 happened. Hoskins slipped into the worst slump of his career, hitting .180 with a .679 OPS in his final 71 games. Hoskins was arguably the least productive hitter in the National League over the last two and a half months of the season.

Suddenly there were questions about his future. Could he still be that foundational piece that everyone envisioned him being?

Hoskins went to work in the offseason, altering his batting stance by lowering his hands significantly during his set-up. He said he felt comfortable with his new stance during spring training and was anxious to put it to the test once the regular season began.

Then baseball shut down for three and a half months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now Hoskins finds himself back at work with the rest of his teammates, jamming in a three-week training camp before a shortened season starts on July 24. 

"We're kind of having to restart with the comfort level thing," the 27-year old Hoskins said Wednesday in a video conference with reporters. "Just seeing live pitching again, just like every spring training though, what we need is reps. The more reps we get we'll be fine."

"The quarantine and the shutdown, in terms of the adjustments that were made, I was really able to hone in on some of the details within the setup. I have a bat on every floor of my house and I'd just pick up the bat, get the feel of it one time, then 20 minutes later you do the same thing. In that sense it was nice to have because that's time I wasn't necessarily going to have during the season. But we'll utilize these next two weeks to get as many live reps as we can and we'll compete from there."

As Hoskins sets out to redeem himself after his second half struggles in 2019, there are several reasons for optimism. 

Namely, he's flying under the radar right now, which is a good thing. Before the shutdown, Hoskins' new batting stance and quest to bounce back were major talking points. Now, everyone is talking about much bigger concerns that accompany playing a baseball season during a pandemic. And as far as baseball storylines go, J.T. Realmuto's contract negotiations have garnered far more headlines than Hoskins' offseason adjustments. 

Then there's the fact that a 60-game season might just be tailor-made for Hoskins. He's come out of the gates strong in all three seasons of his major league career.

The numbers tell the story. 

First 34 games of 2017 - .314 BA, 18 HR, 39 RBI, 1.247 OPS

First 32 games of 2018 - .286 BA, 5 HR, 22 RBI, .951 OPS

First 34 games of 2019 - .302 BA, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 1.076 OPS

If Hoskins can put up those type of numbers for the first 35 games of the 2020 season, that would account for more than half the schedule. He'd have his confidence back as September arrives, hoping to help carry the Phillies to the playoffs. 

Hoskins' performance is critical as the Phillies set out to end a 9-year postseason drought. The road to redemption begins in two weeks.  

 

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2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

Bryce Harper spent the bulk of his video press conference last Friday discussing the unprecedented circumstances surrounding this 2020 MLB season. There were a lot of questions about health protocols, social distancing and doubt from some players that attempting to play this season is actually the right decision.

Harper talked a little baseball too. And one answer towards the end of the press conference stood out. 

He was asked whether he felt he'd have enough time in a three-week training camp featuring just three exhibition games to adequately prepare for the season. 

Harper acknowledged it would be a challenge, particularly given the Phillies’ regular season schedule.    

"East vs. East, are you kidding me?" Harper said of his team's 60-game slate consisting of solely NL East and AL East opponents. "We're going to face a lot of good teams, a lot of good organizations, a lot of good pitching. I went down each roster and was thinking to myself there could be 14 Cy Youngs in this East vs. East. I mean, that's crazy."

Harper's math is spot on. 

I identified 12 starting pitchers that the Phillies could face this season who have either won a Cy Young or are capable of pitching at a Cy Young level.

And if you add a pair of Harper's teammates — Aaron Nola, who finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018, and Jake Arrieta, who won the NL Cy Young in 2015 — that brings the grand total of Cy Young caliber pitchers in this East vs. East format to ... 14. 

Just like Harper said. 

Let's run through all the big arms the Phillies could face in 2020. 

After a season-opening three-game series against the Marlins, the Phillies play four straight games against the Yankees. They'll almost certainly face Gerrit Cole and James Paxton during that four-game stretch. Cole, who signed a $324 million contract with New York in the offseason, is generally regarded as the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball. Paxton is fully recovered from a back injury in the spring and has been among the top starters in the American League over the last six years.

The Phillies get their first look at the Braves a week later. Atlanta's rotation features 22-year-old ace Mike Soroka and 36-year old veteran Cole Hamels. Soroka posted a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts last season, finishing sixth in the NL Cy Young voting and second in the NL Rookie of the Year race behind the Mets' Pete Alonso. Hamels has finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young voting four times in his career and remains an elite starter when healthy. 

The Mets come to town in mid-August, led by two-time reigning NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. New York's rotation also includes Marcus Stroman, who finished in the Top 10 of the AL Cy Young voting three years ago and finished with a 3.22 ERA in 32 starts last season. 

The Phillies don't play the Nationals until late August. But their 10 games against Washington will feature a heavy dose of three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, who finished fifth in the NL Cy Young race two years ago and 11th in the voting last season. 

If there's a team that has a “Big 3” comparable to the Nationals, it may be the Rays, who the Phillies visit in a three-game series to end the season. Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow highlight Tampa Bay's rotation. Snell won the 2018 AL Cy Young, Morton finished third in the 2019 AL Cy Young race, and Glasnow is an emerging star who posted a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts last season.

Yikes. 

But there is a silver lining — the Phillies don't have to worry about Chris Sale, Luis Severino or Noah Syndergaard. They're all out for the season with injuries. 

Nonetheless, the Phillies' bats better be ready from the outset. They'll be put to the test early and often. 

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