Phillies

Countdown to Clearwater: New faces in camp, but who’s next for Phillies?

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Countdown to Clearwater: New faces in camp, but who’s next for Phillies?

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

Over the last couple of months, more focus has been placed on who is not (yet) a Phillie than on who already is. The club has added several veteran players who have experienced success with other teams and have enough tread left on their tires to incrementally push this roster forward. New faces, new roles ... let's take a look:

Jean Segura

Acquired in a trade with Seattle, Segura is an above-average defensive shortstop with something the Phillies really need — a good bat. The Phillies finished last in the NL in hits (1,270) and batting average (.234) in 2018. Their shortstops hit .235 with a .651 OPS. Those marks ranked 27th and 28th, respectively, in the majors. Segura will be a good addition to the offense. He is a contact machine who led the majors with 203 hits in 2016. Over the last three seasons, he has hit .308 with an .803 OPS.

"We think Jean Segura at shortstop moves the needle in terms of win expectancy, probably several wins and I think that's important as we try to turn an 80-win team into a playoff contender," GM Matt Klentak said. "Jean Segura is a really good major league player."

Segura turns 29 in March.

Andrew McCutchen

At 32, he's not the elite player he was during his peak when he finished third, first, third and fifth, respectively, in the National League MVP voting from 2012 to 2015, and a three-year contract seems like an overpay. But McCutchen can still be a strong contributor, a defensive upgrade at a corner outfield spot, and a 30-double, 20-homer, high on-base guy in the lineup.

McCutchen is durable — he's been on the disabled list only once in his career — and he's the type of high-character, exuberant person that fans can connect with.

David Robertson

The former Yankee and White Sox reliever, signed as a free agent, brings experience, durability and a history of excellence to the back end of the bullpen. Over the last six seasons, he has pitched in 385 games and recorded an ERA of 2.83 and a WHIP of 1.04 while averaging 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Robertson, who turns 34 in April, succeeded Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera as the Yankees' closer and has reached at least 30 saves three times. The right-hander has posted outstanding results against lefty hitters. Robertson does not care if he sets up or closes, he just likes to pitch in the late innings with the game on the line and that's what he'll get.

"He's going to pitch high leverage innings for us," Klentak said.

Chris Young

Despite poor defense and inconsistent offense, the Phillies improved by 14 wins last season. Their starting pitching was a big reason why. Through the first four months of the season, the team ranked fourth in the majors with 53 quality starts and the starters had a 3.81 ERA, which was eighth-best in the majors at that point. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz was very popular with the starting pitchers (and relievers, for that matter) and many of them credited him for his work. However, Kranitz was abruptly let go in mid-November and replaced by Young, who had spent 2018 as the team's assistant pitching coach. The division rival Atlanta Braves subsequently scooped up Kranitz to be their pitching coach and that should add a little drama to the 19 meetings between the teams this season.

Phillies management said it made the change because it feared losing Young after other clubs expressed interest in him. Young is technically not a new face. We saw a lot of him last season as he stood conspicuously in the dugout, huddling with manager Gabe Kapler and positioning outfielders. But he now finds himself in a new, high profile role with a chance to have a significant impact on the club.

Young, 37, joined the Phillies organization before the 2018 season. He had previously spent three years with the Houston Astros as pro scouting supervisor. The Astros are one of baseball's most progressive organizations and Young is well schooled in the modern approach (video, big data, deep matchup study, etc.) that many teams, the Phillies included, are now taking toward coaching, game preparation and execution. 

Macharper

Isn't that the portmanteau that fans are using to describe Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two big stars that continue the clog the free-agent market?

The Phillies still hope one of them ends up in Clearwater.

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Bryce Harper's first home run as a Phillie sounded just as sweet as you dreamed

Bryce Harper's first home run as a Phillie sounded just as sweet as you dreamed

We've seen him do it in batting practice, but that's just not the same. Not the same as the crack of a bat against another MLB team, and not the same as rounding the bases for the first time as a Phillie. 

Bryce Harper stepped to the plate for his first at-bat on Thursday afternoon, and he absolutely rocked the first-pitch from Blue Jays pitcher Sam Gaviglio over the right field fence at Spectrum Field. The sound, folks ... it's as sweet as you dreamed. Watch it above. 

And it appears he even took a page out of Rhys Hoskins' playbook, throwing up the horns after crossing home plate. 

The first of many, many Harper home runs we'll be seeing over the next 13 years. Get used to that sound, Philly. 

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Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta could cause some (good) problems this year

Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta could cause some (good) problems this year

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Ask anyone in the Phillies organization which player is most poised for a big leap forward this season and the name Nick Pivetta leaps off the tongue like a 98-mph fastball.

“I would be inclined to believe that also,” a veteran scout from another club said after watching Pivetta strike out eight Detroit Tigers in five innings on Wednesday.

“Both of his breaking balls are good and the fastball had lots of hop today. He used his curveball to finish guys. It was fun to watch. I hadn’t seen him in a while. He’s gotten better. He’s going to cause some problems for teams.”

Pivetta, who turned 26 last month, was acquired from Washington for Jonathan Papelbon in a rebuild trade in July 2015. He has made 58 starts and pitched 297 innings for the Phils the last two years. Though he went 7-14 with a 4.77 ERA last year, he finished fifth in the NL with 10.32 strikeouts per nine innings. The Phillies’ analytics department has collected other statistical evidence that suggests the right-hander is ready for a breakout season. For instance, he had a FIP (fielding-independent pitching) of 3.75 last season. That ranked 24th among big-league starters.

So, what does Pivetta think of the widely held belief that his talent and experience are ready to come together and produce something special?

“I think with me, it’s about ignoring the white noise,” he said. “I still have a job to do and a long ways to go.”

He did acknowledge that, “I feel like I’ve grown as a pitcher. I’m just working on doing it over and over again.”

Pivetta did not have his crispest fastball of the spring Wednesday and he still touched 98 mph. He averaged 94-95 mph. He allowed a solo homer on a hanging slider to Josh Harrison, but threw a number of other excellent breaking balls.

“There were a couple of notable at-bats where he was pretty much untouchable,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “His ceiling is really, really high and, obviously, the stuff is on par with anybody in the league. As we sat and watched the game today, one of the things we kept saying was, ‘That’s A-plus, elite stuff.’ We’ve known that for some time and he is starting to harness it a little bit.”

Kapler mentioned the importance of focus and concentration in Pivetta’s bid to take his game to another level.

“And if he gets to that level of focus for six or seven innings, we have as good a starter as any in the league,” Kapler said.

The manager then confirmed his confidence in Pivetta by announcing that he will slot the pitcher second in the rotation behind Aaron Nola.

So it will be Nola, Pivetta and Jake Arrieta in the season-opening series against the Braves.

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