The Phillies open spring training in Clearwater, Florida next week. In preview, we take a look at five storylines:
Tuesday – Five new faces to watch
Wednesday – Five questions on the position side
Thursday – Five questions on the pitching side
Friday – Five prospects to watch
Saturday – Five people with something to prove
Every person who takes the field at Phillies camp next week has something to prove. Some have more than others. Here are five:
He finished the 2018 season with career highs in homers (22) and RBIs (71). But his batting average (.255) and OPS (.730) were both career lows. Over the final two months of the season, when the Phillies were in a pennant race and needed Herrera the most, he hit just .189 with a .530 OPS. He’s better than that. Way better.
Herrera’s performance last season was also marred by lapses in concentration in the field and on the bases. And he was also noticeably out of shape. Management gave him a good talking-to and warned him to get into better shape. Herrera spent the winter in a conditioning program and reported to camp early. He has promised a bounce-back season. There will be a lot of eyeballs on him in camp.
His club suffered a historic collapse in 2018 as no team had ever been 15 games over .500 as late as 113 games into a season and not finished with a winning record. The fan base hasn’t completely bought into his unorthodox ways and uber positivity. Even the club president has publicly urged him to be more frank when critiquing performances. On top of it all, 10 days before spring training, he had to author a 1,300-word response to a Washington Post report that questioned his handling of the reporting of an alleged 2015 assault of a woman in Arizona during his time as director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The trade for J.T. Realmuto this week has taken some of the glare off the Phillies polarizing manager and adding a Manny Machado or a Bryce Harper in the coming weeks will do the same. But these moves also improve the club and raise expectations for not only the first winning season since 2011 but for a playoff berth, as well. The accompanying pressure will fall squarely on Kapler.
Winning cures everything and Kapler, who did have his club in first place with two months to go last season, needs to do that to fully gain the acceptance of the community, his clubhouse and the baseball establishment.
The veteran right-hander provided some highlights in 2018, his first season with the Phils. Allowing just three earned runs in 30 innings in May comes to mind. But Arrieta faded down the stretch, going 1-5 with a 6.35 ERA over his final nine starts.
“I would like to have been better,” he admitted after his last start of the season. “The last month and a half, things kind of got out of hand, the numbers got inflated.”
He slipped on both sides of the ball last season. His batting average tumbled by 40 points and his OPS slipped by 75. Much of the dip came after he cracked a bone in his foot in early July and played through it. Hernandez’ strikeouts soared to 155, way over his previous career high of 116. In addition, he scored a minus-12 in defensive runs saved, according to Fangraphs. That was the worst mark in the majors among qualifying second basemen. Hernandez will turn 29 in May and he’ll make $7.75 million in 2019. The Phils are committed to him at second base, but he’ll need to sharpen up some things. A return to good health will certainly help.
For our money, the big, green, furry guy is still the best mascot in pro sports. But, suddenly, there is an attention-grabbing upstart on the scene in this Gritty fellow. There’s nothing like a little competition to keep someone sharp so it will be interesting to see if the Phanatic shows up to Clearwater with any extra horsepower in his ATV.
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