Phillies

Phillies working hard with Andrew Knapp at first base

Phillies working hard with Andrew Knapp at first base

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Every day is a new learning experience for Andrew Knapp as a first baseman.

Knapp, who is trying to make the Phillies as a backup catcher and first baseman, has had his moments, both good and bad, in the field this spring.

He made a start at first base last Thursday with mixed results. He failed to come down with a pop-up foul ball in a swirling wind and later in the game didn't close his glove on a throw from Freddy Galvis after the shortstop made a dynamic play to get a ball deep in the hole.

However, he was back at catcher last Saturday and threw out Kevin Pillar by a couple of steps when the Blue Jays outfielder tried to steal second base.

It's all part of the learning process.

"I think first base is definitely a work in progress," Knapp said recently. "I think I needed more experience over there and just continue to work and take ground balls before the game.

"I feel really good behind the plate. My catching feels good."

Knapp is spending extra time with bench coach Larry Bowa at first base. And with each day, he said he's finding more familiarity with what he needs to do there.

"I think I'm pretty confident in the positioning," Knapp said. "It's just the in-game stuff, like where there's a runner on base and how far I am getting off the bag. Proper double-play depth, stuff like that. And getting reads off the bat. I mean, taking ground balls is fine, but nothing can simulate a live at-bat."

Manager Pete Mackanin believes that in time Knapp could be a reliable option at first.

"He's athletic, he needs work and we're going to continue to work on his play over there," Mackanin said. "He's going to continue to get the work and get better. Larry Bowa won't allow [mistakes]."

Another reason the Phillies want the Knapp experiment to work is because of his history as a solid hitter. Knapp hit .360 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs in 2015 with Double-A Reading and posted a slash line of .266/.330/.390 in Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season.

With Knapp focusing so much time on his defensive development, the numbers at the plate this spring haven't been what he's used to. He struck out in his only at-bat Monday against the Orioles and is batting .056 (1 for 18). 

However, he's been happy with the contact he's made at the plate and believes his offense will come around.

"I'm hitting the ball real hard, but just hitting it right at people," Knapp said. "But they know what I can do offensively, it's just getting the reps over at first."

Although first base isn't a new position to Knapp (he played there some at the University of California), it's still raw to the longtime catcher. However, he's beginning to figure out how to mend the positions and use his knowledge as a catcher to speed up his development as a first baseman.

"When you are catching, you can get a feel for the game and what guys are trying to do, so I think I can take that experience to first," Knapp said. "When holding a runner on at first base, a lot of guys are trying hitting in that four hole, so I am ready for that. Each and every day I'm starting to figure it out more and feel more comfortable."

Aaron Nola overpowers Mookie Betts, Mike Trout in All-Star Game debut

Aaron Nola overpowers Mookie Betts, Mike Trout in All-Star Game debut

Aaron Nola vs. Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve and Mike Trout. Welcome to the All-Star Game.

Nola made his ASG debut Tuesday night in D.C., pitching the top of the fifth inning with the National League trailing 2-1.

He opened the frame by striking out Royals catcher Salvador Perez on a low-and-away curveball well off the plate.

Next up was Betts, the AL MVP favorite. On a 3-2 count, Nola struck Betts out swinging on a high-and-tight 96 mph fastball.

The next batter, 2017 AL MVP Altuve, singled to right-center on the first pitch. 

And that brought up Trout, who had homered in his previous at-bat against Jacob deGrom. 

Trout had no such luck against Nola, popping up to first base in foul territory on the third pitch he saw.

Nola threw 15 pitches, 10 strikes. 

This was a pretty cool moment for Nola, facing arguably the three best hitters in baseball and retiring two of them. Looked like he belonged.

He made some new friends, too. Here's Nola planning an offseason sleepover with Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin.

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Phillies' other trade options if they can't land Manny Machado

Phillies' other trade options if they can't land Manny Machado

There's no player on the trade market who could replicate for the Phillies the impact Manny Machado would make in August and September. 

There's definitely no player who would invigorate the fan base as much.

But if the Dodgers do end up beating the Phillies' offer for the best available player, the Phils will still look to make other upgrades.

That could involve acquiring a solid, non-star player for the left side of the infield, in addition to pitching help.

If the Phils can't add huge run production to their lineup, their focus could shift to players who'd assist in run prevention.

Here are some names to keep in mind:

Royals super-utilityman Whit Merrifield

There has been reported interest from the Phillies in Merrifield, and the two organizations have already scouted each other because of the earlier interest in Mike Moustakas.

Merrifield can play all over the diamond — first, second, third and all three outfield spots. If Maikel Franco is going well, you could play him in the outfield. If Franco is slumping, he could play third base. But acquiring Merrifield would be just as much about the future as this year.

Merrifield doesn't have nearly the raw power of a Machado or a Moustakas, but he's a proven .290-.300 hitter with gap power, speed and defensive versatility. He led the AL in steals (34) last season and has the third-most doubles (30) in the majors this season.

He would not be cheap to acquire. Merrifield is making $570,000 this season and will be inexpensive again in 2019 before his arbitration years begin. All told, Merrifield is under club control through the end of 2022. These are his prime years and he'll be underpaid for them relative to his performance.

Merrifield is not the same caliber player as Machado, but the cost in trade could end up being similar because Machado is a two-month rental and Merrifield comes with 4½ years of team control. That is a major, major difference that might offset the gap in talent between the two players.

Twins 3B/SS/2B Eduardo Escobar

Another name connected to the Phillies. Escobar, 29, is having a career year, hitting .271/.327/.507 for the Twins with a majors-leading 35 doubles, 14 homers and 57 RBI. 

He's been one of the most clutch players in baseball this season, hitting .367 with a 1.112 OPS with runners in scoring position. That's not exactly a sustainable long-term skill, but it's worth mentioning.

The switch-hitting Escobar would be a rental. He's a free agent at season's end. Thus, it would be cheaper to acquire him than Merrifield.

Top-tier relievers

If the Phils don't get Machado, they could instead land a combination of a bat and a bullpen piece to try to match his overall value.

Zach Britton. Jeurys Familia. Brad Hand. Raisel Iglesias. Felipe Vazquez.

Britton would be the cheapest option because he's a free agent after the season. We've known the Phillies have interest in him, and they could still pursue him even if Machado heads out West.

Britton's velocity has returned. He's back to throwing that power sinker in the mid-to-high 90s. His left-handedness would give the Phillies the matchup reliever they need, along with an experienced ninth-inning option that could allow Seranthony Dominguez to be used in a high-leverage role earlier in the game.

If you can't make a move that allows you to comfortably outscore your opponents moving forward, shortening the game is another way to remain in contention.

Baseball has changed. Having upper-echelon relievers in October is more meaningful now than ever before.

Blue Jays pieces

Jim Salisbury reported Monday that as the Phillies await an answer from the Orioles, they're also interested in Blue Jays lefty and former Phillie J.A. Happ.

Acquiring Happ would give the Phils a left-handed starting pitcher, which they haven't had since September 2016. That move could then allow them to move a Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta to the bullpen. Both are high-velocity, strikeout pitchers and both could thrive in a bullpen role. Their velocity and K-rates may even increase.

Imagine the Phillies being up 3-2 with two outs in the sixth inning and their starter at 105 pitches. A combination of Pat Neshek and Velasquez or Pivetta could get you all the way to the ninth. It would also give the Phillies a look at one of those young starting pitchers in that different role to gauge whether it makes the most sense for them long term.

Happ isn't the only Blue Jay to monitor, though. Yangervis Solarte has power and can play every infield position. He also has fair-market club options beyond this year — $5.5 million next season, $8 million the following season.

Curtis Granderson could help, too, as the missing power bat off the bench. Granderson was 0 for 13 heading into the All-Star break, but from June 7 to July 7, he hit .319/.373/.623 with six doubles and five homers.

No, he's not some big-time difference-maker in 2018, but Granderson is a markedly better and more dangerous hitter than the Phillies currently have on the bench.

It's not nearly as sexy of a trade, but acquiring a package of Happ, Granderson and Solarte could improve the Phillies in four different areas: rotation, bullpen, infield and bench.

Josh Donaldson, a much bigger name and more impactful power bat when healthy, is also worth keeping in the back of your mind. Donaldson has been out with a calf injury since Memorial Day but has resumed running and doing baseball activities and could be back by the end of the month. 

He's a free agent after the season as well. The contract status combined with all the time missed over the last two seasons will decrease the price tag. 

But if he's healthy and ready to go, this is a former MVP who hit .282/.377/.524 over the last five seasons with an average of 33 homers and 98 RBI.

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