Phillies

Most underrated players in the NL East

Most underrated players in the NL East

The Phillies, Nationals, Mets and Braves have had active offseasons.

The Phillies have added J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson.

The Nationals have spent upwards of $183 million in free agency, by far the most of any major-league team.

The Mets added Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, Jeurys Familia, Rajai Davis, Keon Broxton and lefty Justin Wilson.

The Braves signed Josh Donaldson, re-signed Nick Markakis and brought back catcher Brian McCann.

There's a lot of top-end talent in the NL East and you know all about the Freddie Freemans and Jacob deGroms of the world. There are also plenty of under-the-radar players in the division.

In Atlanta, Johan Camargo had a better season than practically anyone gave him credit for in 2018, hitting .272 with 19 homers, 76 RBI and an .806 OPS while starting 114 games at third base for the Braves. He becomes a super-sub with Donaldson in ATL.

In Washington, Anthony Rendon is a beast when healthy, hitting .305/.389/.534 the last two seasons with averages of 42 doubles, 24 homers and 96 RBI. He's not just underrated within the division, he might be the most underrated player in the NL. 

Then there are the Phillies and Mets, who each have a starting pitcher entering the season as a No. 3 but with the potential to be a whole lot more.

Mets — Zack Wheeler

Wheeler could be more instrumental to the Mets' success this season than any of their newcomers. His second-half success in 2018 was overshadowed by rotation-mate deGrom, but after the All-Star break, Wheeler was even better than Aaron Nola (by a lot).

In the second half, Wheeler went 9-1 with a 1.68 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 73 and walking 15 with three homers allowed in 75 innings. His opponents hit .179.

Wheeler's 1.68 ERA was third best in the majors after the All-Star break, behind only Blake Snell and Trevor Williams. His opponents' batting average was also third best, behind only Snell and Walker Buehler.

Once a top prospect, Wheeler has dealt with plenty of injuries throughout his time with the Mets. He did not pitch in the majors at all in 2015 or 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March of '15.

This past season was Wheeler's coming out party, and much of the improvement had to do with increased velocity (96.5 mph average) and excellent fastball command. 

Between deGrom, Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have a formidable 1-2-3 on par with the Nationals' trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.

Good thing the Phillies have added some offense.

Phillies — Nick Pivetta

With Pivetta, it's more about the potential and the highs we've seen than the overall production in his two big-league seasons.

Pivetta showed what he's capable of in April and May of 2018. In his first 11 starts, he had a 3.26 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 58 innings. He limited the walks (14) and homers (five) and missed a ton of bats. 

The rest of the season, you never knew which Pivetta would show up when his turn came in the rotation. There was a lot of boom and a lot of bust. He had 10 starts allowing one run or none. He had eight starts allowing five or six runs.

Pivetta has a big fastball and a slider/curveball combination that show flashes of being plus pitches. Turning 26 on Valentine's Day and entering his third MLB season, this is the time for Pivetta to take a step forward. He is compared often to Vince Velasquez, but Pivetta's control is undoubtedly better.

This past season, Pivetta struck out 10.3 batters per nine innings and walked 2.8. There were only 11 pitchers in baseball who hit both marks, and Pivetta's ERA (4.77) was a full run higher than anyone on the list. German Marquez was next at 3.77. 

The peripherals foretell improvement for Pivetta and the Phillies badly need it with all of their rotation questions.

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This indefinite delay may be frustrating for these five Phillies

This indefinite delay may be frustrating for these five Phillies

Everyone is disappointed that the 2020 MLB season didn't start on time — owners, executives, managers and coaches, players and of course the fans who have been longing for baseball's return. There are so many intriguing storylines surrounding the Phillies. We were all so excited to watch this season play out.

The players themselves are all undoubtedly bummed. But this indefinite delay has to be especially frustrating for these five Phillies.

Rhys Hoskins

I can't imagine anyone was more anxious to get back to work in 2020 than Hoskins. The second half of his 2019 season was brutal. He hit .180 with just nine HR and 26 RBI in 71 games following the All-Star break. You could see that prolonged slump taking its toll on Hoskins. He wore the frustration outwardly on a nightly basis. For a guy who has experienced success at every stop of his baseball career, his struggles last season had to be confusing. What am I doing wrong? How can I get this fixed? Will I ever break out of this slump?

Hoskins spent a lot of time in the offseason adjusting his mental and physical approach at the plate. He admitted he was thinking too much last year. He worked with new hitting coach Joe Dillon, lowering his hands and opening his stance. He was eager to get back to being a force in the middle of the Phillies batting order, eager to prove that the second half of 2019 was a fluke. He wanted to get back to being one of the premiere sluggers in the National League.

But now Hoskins waits just like the rest of us to find out when (or if) he'll get that opportunity.

Jake Arrieta

This is the final year of the three-year, $75 million contract that Arrieta signed with the Phillies prior to the 2018 season. He'd be the first one to tell you that the Phillies haven't gotten their money's worth on that deal. Arrieta battled injuries and inconsistency in his first two seasons in Philadelphia. He pitched through a knee injury that required surgery in 2018, finishing that season with a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts. His 2019 season was cut short due to surgery in August to clean out a bone spur in his right elbow. He posted a 4.64 ERA in 24 starts before he was shut down.

The 34-year old Arrieta has hardly resembled the guy who won a World Series and Cy Young Award with the Cubs. But this spring he said he's 100 percent healthy and ready to make the type of impact the Phillies bargained for when they signed him to that big contract. Arrieta looked sharp in spring training. He was going to slot into the third spot in the rotation behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. A big year from Arrieta would do wonders for the Phillies' playoff chances. It would also put him in a great position as he ventures back into free agency following the 2020 season.

Bryce Harper

A lot of signs pointed to Harper having a monster 2020 season. He had a full offseason and spring training to focus solely on baseball as opposed to a year ago when he didn't know which team he'd be playing for or where his family would be living until the end of February. He was settled in playing with his new team and living in his new city. And perhaps maybe most telling, he was tearing the cover off the ball in spring training. Harper hit .500 with three doubles, three HR and 11 RBI in eight exhibition games. He was locked and loaded for the regular season.

But now Harper's potential MVP caliber season has been put on hold. If there is a 2020 season, it almost certainly won't be 162 games. Which means we won't find out what numbers he was capable of putting up in his second season with the Phillies. At 27 years old, Harper still has plenty of his prime years ahead of him. But this one could have been special. Hopefully it still can be.

Zach Eflin

Of all the Phillies starting pitchers, Eflin may be best positioned to make 'the leap' in 2020. The righthander is coming off an uneven 2019 season, posting a 10-13 record with a 4.13 ERA. It was a year full of ups (a pair of complete games) and downs (a July demotion to the bullpen). Eflin's skill set didn't mesh with how former pitching coach Chris Young wanted pitchers to attack hitters. Young stressed the importance of throwing fastballs up in the zone. Eflin is most effective when he relies on his sinker.

New pitching coach Bryan Price wants Eflin and the rest of the Phillies starters to pitch to their strengths. Price preaches efficiency, he wants Eflin to use his sinker early in the count to get ground ball outs. This appears to be a perfect union of coach and player. Eflin turns 26 on Wednesday, he enters his fifth big league season with 74 career starts under his belt. A lot of evidence suggests he may be poised for a career year.

Scott Kingery

After bouncing all over the diamond during his first two seasons with the Phillies, it looks like Kingery will finally get the chance to settle in at his natural position of second base this year. He played mostly shortstop, center field and third base in his first two major league seasons with cameos at second base, left field and right field. He's been valuable in that super utility role but he's mentioned his desire to play second base regularly. With Didi Gregorius at shortstop and Jean Segura playing third base during spring training, Kingery appears to be penciled in as the starter at second base.

Kingery's offensive numbers improved significantly from 2018 to 2019. He hit .258 last season with 34 doubles and 19 home runs, up from .226 with 23 doubles and eight HR in 2018. Being more comfortable at his natural position in the field should only enhance his production at the plate. Kingery bulked up in the offseason in hopes of taking his game to the next level. Time will tell if he gets the chance to do so.

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How Jean Segura's heroics vs. Mets in 2019 further debate on his future

How Jean Segura's heroics vs. Mets in 2019 further debate on his future

There’s few things Phillies fans enjoy more than a comeback, walk-off win against the Mets. So make sure to give yourself a smile by watching just that on NBC Sports Philadelphia today. 

Specifically, we’re bringing you a 5-4 win from June of last season that ended with a Jay Bruce RBI double in the bottom of the 10th. But it was the play of Jean Segura that night that got the Phillies into a position to win it. The then-Phillies shortstop hit a solo home run off future and past teammate Jason Vargas (what a Phillies career he had) in the bottom of the 6th to cut the deficit to 4-1. In the 7th, Segura connected off Seth Lugo for a game-tying 2-run single.

That game proved to be a positive moment in a below-average season for the veteran infielder. In his 1st campaign with the Phillies, the walk and strikeout averse Segura hit .280. That’s 24 points lower than he batted with the Mariners the year before. His home runs only improved from 10 to 12, despite moving from cavernous T-Mobile Park to the much more long-ball conducive Citizens Bank Park.
    
All signs point to Segura moving from shortstop to 2nd base when regular season baseball takes place with Didi Gregorius signed in the offseason to play shortstop. While the returns on the infield realignment remain to be seen, Segura’s impact needs to be most felt at the plate and in the Phillies lineup.
    
So was last season the beginning of a decline for the recently-turned 30-year old Segura? Or just a slight dip for a player that hit .300 or better in each of the previous three seasons? 
    
A reason for optimism is Segura’s assertion that he entered spring training in February in much better shape than the previous season. That said, we don’t definitively know how this current hiatus will impact that physical conditioning. Pessimists will point out that history (not including the late 80s to the early 2000s) suggests players don’t get better as they enter their 30s.
    
Ultimately, it will add to the degree of difficulty for the Phillies to get where they want to go this season if Segura is not a .300 hitter that sets the table for the heart of the lineup.

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