Phillies

Jerad Eickhoff hopes to find what Roy Halladay did 8 years ago

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Jerad Eickhoff hopes to find what Roy Halladay did 8 years ago

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was just eight years ago that Roy Halladay arrived in Phillies camp without a consistent changeup. Halladay had more than survived without the pitch. He won a Cy Young Award in Toronto and finished in the top five of the voting four other times without really having a go-to changeup.

During his first spring with the Phillies in 2010, pitching coach Rich Dubee suggested Halladay try a new grip on his changeup. Halladay picked up the pitch quickly and the deeper repertoire helped him win 40 games over the next two seasons and take home another Cy Young Award.

Now, on the same mounds that Halladay experimented and eventually mastered the changeup, Jerad Eickhoff does the same thing. He arrived at camp with a new grip. The pitch is a work in progress, but he likes the way it’s going.

“I’ve been getting pretty good feedback on it and that’s exciting,” Eickhoff said after facing the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 5-4 loss Friday afternoon.

Eickhoff’s overall results were not stellar. He gave up five hits, including a homer, and four runs in 3 1/3 innings, walked none and struck out three. While not totally pleased with the numbers, Eickhoff was able to keep the big picture in mind: this is spring training, a time to work on things.

“The first hit of the game was a changeup,” he said. “But I’m happy with the speed and the counts I’m throwing it in.”

Eickhoff threw mostly fastballs and curveballs with an occasional slider last season. He threw his changeup less than one percent of the time. Eickhoff’s fastball sits in the low 90s. An effective changeup will make the fastball look quicker to a hitter. It all starts with the grip and Eickhoff believes he found one over the winter. It’s pretty simple: All four fingers on top of the ball. Stay behind the ball, let it come off the fingertips and don’t manipulate it too much.

“It’s always been a task, the past four or five years,” the thoughtful 27-year-old right-hander said. “You try to get to a grip because you get to the season and you don’t want to go with three or four grips where you’re not giving each one a chance. So I’m trying to stick with this one as long as I can. It seems to be something I can control in the zone and locate.

“I have a usable slider. To be able to throw the fourth pitch in there is huge. It can put you at another level.”

Eickhoff still has an excellent curveball, though he wasn’t pleased with the location of a couple of them early in his outing. But he ended with a couple of good ones.

“Right before I went out to get him, he landed two good curveballs in the zone,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I know he was happy about that. 

"Overall, it was a strong performance. He relied a lot on his curveball last year. It’s nice he can experiment with his other secondary pitches.”

Phillies' top pick Mickey Moniak could be poised for big leap in 2019

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Phillies' top pick Mickey Moniak could be poised for big leap in 2019

It’s not always easy being the No. 1 overall pick in the major league baseball draft. Oh, the attention is great and the money ain’t bad, but the spotlight is relentlessly glaring and it can burn a hole right through you if you don’t immediately produce.

Mickey Moniak has walked in these spikes for 2½ seasons now. He’s felt the euphoria of hearing his name called above all others. He’s also felt the glare and the burn.

And the main thing he’s learned?

“You can’t panic,” he said.

The Phillies selected the wide-eyed Southern California native with the first overall pick in the 2016 draft and lured him away from a UCLA commitment with a $6.1 million signing bonus. For 2½ seasons, the young outfielder’s every move has been closely scrutinized. That’s just the way it is when you’re a No. 1 pick. Moniak has had his ups and downs and maybe a few too many downs for some. But there are a couple of big reasons to believe that Moniak is headed in the right direction on the often fickle development curve:

• He’s 20 years old for gosh sake, and won’t turn 21 until May. If he had gone the college route, his junior season would not even have begun yet.

• And he played eye-opening ball over the final two months of the 2018 season at Clearwater of the Florida State League. Over his final 52 games, he hit .302 and with 24 extra-base hits and an .829 OPS. His strikeout rate came down and his walk rate went up. That his improvement came late in the season, after months in draining Florida heat that has eaten up more than a few players, was a promising sign.

Moniak’s late-season success was fueled by something intangible. He took a deep breath, put faith in his talent, stopped putting pressure on himself and had some fun playing ball again. It all started last summer when a group of his pals from high school in the San Diego area traveled across the country and visited him in Clearwater.

“There were 10 of us in a two-bedroom apartment just hanging out,” Moniak said with a laugh.

Moniak’s buddies came to all the games that week. They heckled him (good-naturedly) from the stands and he went on a tear at the plate. It felt like he was back in high school, playing pressure-free ball.

“Their support helped me realize that it’s still baseball, have fun with it,” Moniak said.

Moniak was in Philadelphia this week to participate in the team’s prospect education seminar. He had been to Citizens Bank Park after the team drafted him in June 2016. Back then, he was 170 pounds. He has added muscle to his frame and is now 6-3, 205 pounds. His left-handed swing has produced just 10 homers in his first two full minor-league seasons, but the added strength could one day lead to more power as he continues to climb the development ladder.

It’s unclear where Moniak will open the 2019 season. It’s possible that he gets some more time in the Florida State League with the idea of playing himself to Double A Reading before the season is over. More immediately, he will be in big-league spring training camp next month, a little reward for his strong finish last summer, and a reminder that he still has huge potential for a bright future.

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2019 a crucial season for Phillies outfielders Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera

2019 a crucial season for Phillies outfielders Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera

Earlier in the week, we looked at three Phillies pitchers entering make-or-break seasons, players who will need to push their careers forward in 2019 to maintain the role they want and/or currently have.

On to a couple hitters:

Roman Quinn

Quinn came up at the end of July and had a nice six-week run with the Phillies, hitting .345/.375/.560 with six doubles, three triples, two homers and seven steals. He also added a new dynamic in center field, with better speed, instincts, range and a stronger throwing arm than Odubel Herrera.

He went ice cold to end the season, going 5 for 47 with 21 strikeouts in his final 16 games, but the real make-or-break aspect of Quinn's upcoming season won't be the avoidance of a slump but the avoidance of a long-term injury.

Quinn will be 26 on May 14. The most plate appearances he has had in any season is 382 in 2014. In three of the four seasons since, he hasn't reached 300.

Quinn has dealt with so many injuries throughout his career. He's been through a torn Achilles, a torn left quad, a concussion, a strained ligament in his elbow and torn ligament in his right middle finger. 

It's not as though Quinn would face being released if he can't stay healthy this season. Even at 26, he's still inexpensive and cost-controlled for at least another five seasons. But this is the first real opportunity he's had to start on opening day. The Phillies are relying on him, maybe not to play every day but to play a lot in an outfield that also includes Andrew McCutchen, Herrera, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. (If the Phils sign Bryce Harper, a trade of an outfielder would be the next logical move.)

If Quinn can play 120-plus games this season, reach 350-400 plate appearances and exhibit his trademark speed and defense with pop sprinkled in like it was last August, he can change the course of his career and what the Phils can realistically expect from him. He can turn himself into an everyday player for the Phils and a top-of-the-order table-setter.

Odubel Herrera

Herrera is already down in Clearwater working out. Smart move. He understands how important Year 5 is for him. 

Herrera is coming off by far his worst season as a major-leaguer. After hitting .288/.344/.430 from 2015-17, he hit .255/.310/.420 in 2018. He did set a career-high with 22 homers, but nearly every other offensive number plummeted. Herrera hit only 19 doubles after hitting 42 the prior year, and he stole only five bases, two years after swiping 25.

Aside from that, Herrera had a series of gaffes on the basepaths and in the field, the kind that can swing games and frustrate teammates. His level of concentration needs to improve, and already being in Clearwater in mid-January as opposed to living it up somewhere else is a good sign. It shows he's focused more on the 2019 season than soaking up every last bit of his offseason.

Herrera's value is lower than it has been the previous three years, but all it would take to reset that conversation for a while is a strong first half. In 2016, he had an excellent first half that led to an All-Star appearance. In 2015 and 2017, he had strong second halves, hitting .329 and .323. When he's going well, Herrera is able to take pitches but also be a bad-ball hitter who uses all fields. When he's not going well, Herrera gives many at-bats away and can be as easy to retire as Ryan Howard used to be during a cold spell.

"Consistency" is an oft-used word in sports that applies to very few athletes. Rare is the player who goes through an entire season without straying too far one way or the other from his baseline. Almost everyone is inconsistent, to a degree. Herrera's inconsistency is more dramatic, and if it remains that way this season in a healthy Phillies outfield, he could very easily lose out on playing time to Quinn, McCutchen and Williams. It's just a different situation in the Phils' outfield than it was the last four seasons with more ready-to-go talent.

We've seen enough of the good Herrera to believe he has the offensive skill set to hit .300 with 30 doubles and 20 homers in a season. For the Phillies to truly contend in a tough NL East, they will need a season like that, regardless of whether they land one of the free-agent superstars.

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