Phillies

Bryce Harper opens up about his defensive shortcomings last season

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Bryce Harper opens up about his defensive shortcomings last season

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bryce Harper knows his defense last season wasn't good enough. The advanced defensive metrics are flawed and sometimes inaccurate, but practically all of them showed that Harper in 2018 was a worse outfielder than he had been in his previous six major-league seasons.

According to Sports Info Solutions, Harper was worth minus-26 defensive runs last season. The previous three seasons, he was worth plus-26 defensive runs saved. Clearly, something was amiss in 2018.

There were several factors. Harper suffered a knee injury toward the end of the 2017 season that could have played a role. The biggest factor, to him, was the number of innings he played in center field for the Nationals. It's just not his ideal spot.

"I know I was terrible last year in center field. I feel like if I can stay out of center field, that'd be great," Harper said after his second spring training game as a Phillie. "Wherever they need me to play, I'll play, whether it's center or left. But for me, leg-wise, keeping my legs and body fresh, right field is hopefully gonna be the spot. 

"Just trying to know every single ballpark I play in, know right field the best I can and make the right throws I need to. There are times when I'll overthrow a guy or throw the ball to home plate instead of third base, so I can definitely get better at that. Just trying to improve each day, get my work in, really understand the report cards that we have and move my centerfielder. I've played with some great centerfielders in the past so they've helped me out a little bit here and there getting balls I wasn't able to get to. Just trying to progress myself out there, work harder each year and get better at that."

Harper played 477 innings in center field last season, by far the most since his rookie year. It wasn't just that playing center skewed his defensive data, he thinks it also caused more fatigue, which is understandable given the six-month grind of baseball.

"I think it was more of playing about 65 (games) in center field. That takes a toll on myself I guess, but it's no excuse," he said. "For me, it's just getting better out there. My knees felt great. Not making those overthrows, really making the right decisions."

On Monday, he got a chance in right field almost immediately and did make the correct decision on a sacrifice fly. The fourth batter of the game for the Rays, Avisail Garcia, flew out to Harper with runners on second and third. Both runners tagged up and Harper made a strong and accurate throw to third, missing Kevin Kiermaier by a step or two.

At the plate, Harper struck out looking on a 96 mph fastball in the first inning against one of the best lefties in the game, Blake Snell. 

"Yeah, he's good," Harper said. "I was just happy to be able to get out there and face a guy like him, see some velo and some offspeed as well. Just see one of the best in baseball, even if it's the second game of the spring or the middle of the season."

After a fourth-inning walk — his third in four plate appearances this spring — Harper's day was done. He is expected to play Wednesday night in Tampa against the Yankees and again on Friday in Clearwater against the Blue Jays.

The Phillies are easing him back into games but will want to increase the number of innings he plays to get him back to the feel of playing a full nine.

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Philadelphia native Mike Koplove emerges as strong candidate for Phillies' scouting director job

Philadelphia native Mike Koplove emerges as strong candidate for Phillies' scouting director job

The Phillies have two huge job openings to fill in their baseball operations department.

Obviously, they are looking for a new manager, and that process ramped up on Monday.

The team also needs to fill the important scouting director’s role. That job opened when Johnny Almarez stepped down in September.

The search for a new scouting boss is being led by assistant general manager Bryan Minniti and it is apparently well underway.

According to multiple major league sources, the Phillies have conducted a number of recent interviews for the position. Among those to interview are in-house candidates Greg Schilz, Mike Koplove and Darrell Conner.

Outside candidates, according to sources, include David Crowson of the Miami Marlins, Sam Hughes of the Chicago Cubs, Brian Barber of the New York Yankees, Dan Ontiveros of the Kansas City Royals and Scott Meaney of the Cleveland Indians. All have high-ranking scouting positions with their organizations.

It’s possible that there are other candidates or more will emerge. But these are the names being talked about in baseball circles at the moment.

Schilz ranked No. 2 in the Phillies’ amateur scouting staff behind Almaraz. He joined the club in the fall of 2016 after 12 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was elevated to assistant scouting director in the fall of 2017.

Koplove is an interesting candidate. He is a Philadelphia native who pitched at Chestnut Hill Academy and the University of Delaware before spending parts of seven seasons in the majors with Arizona and Cleveland. He earned a World Series ring with the Diamondbacks in 2001.

Koplove spent six seasons on the scouting staff of the Anaheim Angels before joining his hometown team as a special assignment scout prior to the 2018 season.

Conner is a longtime Phillies scout who has risen to the role of national scouting coordinator. He was influential in identifying Cole Hamels as having first-round potential and staying on the pitcher after he broke his left arm the summer after his sophomore year.

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At The Yard podcast: Phillies' manager search could be quick

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At The Yard podcast: Phillies' manager search could be quick

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman discuss the Phillies' managerial search, which began in earnest Monday, on the latest At The Yard podcast.

• Phillies' busy day Monday in New York with Showalter & Girardi.

• Are inexperienced managers definitely out of the conversation?

• Why the fan preference is definitely Girardi.

• Is Phillies job better than Mets job? Better than Cubs job?

• What to make of Gabe Kapler immediately getting 2 interviews.

• Odubel Herrera's future.

• Phillies' future at 2B

• Why we might see a stop-gap third baseman in 2020.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies