Phillies could use Bryce Harper's personality just as much as his bat

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Phillies could use Bryce Harper's personality just as much as his bat

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in MLB. Monday is dedicated to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.

This is the winter the Phillies have been waiting for.

This is the type of guy they have been waiting for.

Bryce Harper.

Much of the baseball world believes the Phillies are the favorites to sign Harper. He’s already turned down $300 million from the incumbent Washington Nationals, according to a report in the Washington Post. Some of the other big-market clubs — the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs — that have long been mentioned as potential suitors might not make strong plays for the slugging outfielder because of payroll concerns. The San Francisco Giants are going through some front-office turnover and have not decided whether they will be in it for Harper. The Chicago White Sox are a big-market club, but will a bright-lights guy like Harper be in a hurry to join a 100-loss team that is often an afterthought in its own city? Everything lines up for the Phillies and Harper is excellent fit.

To wit:

The Phillies, who improved by 14 wins in 2018, are a team on the rise.

They have the money to give Harper the deal he is looking for, a contract that will eclipse Giancarlo Stanton’s record $325 million package.

They have the need for a superstar talent.

And Harper, who turned 26 last month, is going to be a superstar for a long time. Whoever signs him is going to get many, many of his prime years as his career arcs toward Cooperstown.

There is so much to like about Harper as a potential Phillie.

Age-wise, he fits in nicely with the existing core of Rhys Hoskins, who turns 26 in March, and Aaron Nola, who will turn 26 in June.

He has star power, personality and panache, something this team could use as it searches for a face, an identity that will help sell tickets.

But nothing sells tickets and fires up TV ratings more than winning and Harper will help this team win.

He has the plate discipline (a majors high 130 walks in 2018) and power (34 homers) that the Phillies are trying to construct a lineup around.

He’s produced an OPS of over 1.000 two of the last four seasons.

He loves hitting in Citizens Bank Park. In 50 career games there, he has a .930 OPS and 14 homers and 32 RBIs.

There is something else to like about Harper. He has a healthy competitive sneer that will rub off on teammates. Watching Harper from afar, you get the sense that he will be angry if he hasn’t won a couple of World Series rings by the time his career is over. That’s a good intangible. That’s good fuel. It’s difficult to see money corrupting this guy’s drive.

There are other players in this free-agent market that, like Harper, would make the Phillies better. In the coming days, we will look at those players.

But if the Phillies can come away from this winter with Bryce Harper, they will have taken a huge step forward in their quest to get John Middleton’s (bleeping) trophy back.

It could take a deal of 10 years or more to get Harper. Contracts of that length seldom end well. But Harper is the kind of player, still young and full of talent, that can help the Phillies win a couple of World Series and if that happens no one will complain about a couple of uncomfortable years at the end.

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Phillies prospect Cole Irvin is an old-school lefty focused on getting outs

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Phillies prospect Cole Irvin is an old-school lefty focused on getting outs

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Wondering how many Phillies fans are aware of this ...

Last year, the organization could boast having the International League Pitcher of the Year.

That's pretty good stuff.

Cole Irvin is his name. He led the IL in ERA (2.57) and WHIP (1.05) while pitching 161⅓ innings for Triple A Lehigh Valley.

The left-hander will get the ball Friday when the Phillies open their Grapefruit League schedule against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte.

Irvin, who turned 25 three weeks ago, is pumped.

“First game of the spring, that’s what is really cool about it,” he said. “I love baseball season. I think we all do. And to be the guy starting the Phillies baseball season, whether that’s spring training, it doesn’t matter to me. This is the first game of the year for us and it’s going to be fun.”

The Phillies selected Irvin in the fifth round of the 2016 draft out of the University of Oregon. He does not have to be protected on the 40-man roster until after this season but is in camp as a non-roster invite.

Despite his accomplishments last season, Irvin is not the most ballyhooed Phillies pitching prospect. You won’t find his name on Baseball America’s list of the team’s top 10 pitching prospects.

Irvin, bright and articulate, has an explanation for that.

“I’m not known as a prototypical prospect,” he said. “I’m a guy that gets outs. I don’t care how hard I throw. I don’t care about my spin rate. I care about the guy’s swing coming through the zone. I care about the guy leaning out over the plate to get the away pitch. I care about the stuff that actually matters in games. And I felt that there’s been a little bias toward some guys that can’t find the strike zone and I’m a guy that pitches in the strike zone and gets outs just the same.

“I’m not a hard thrower. I pitch at 88 to 94, 95 (mph). What’s wrong with a guy that goes out there and gets outs? That’s kind of where I stand.”

Irvin throws a deep repertoire of pitches. He relies on command. He doesn’t stress over velocity, though he can sneak a 95-mph heater up in the zone when he has to. Phillies minor-league pitching instructors love the way Irvin prepares for starts. He keeps a book on his outings — what worked, what didn’t — in his locker.

“I stick to the old-school thing about baseball,” he said. “I’m a big fan of breaking down hitters and swings. I’ve always been taught to pitch first, not throw. Everyone wants to prove they can throw hard.

“You have to understand who you are. I’m a pitcher. Get outs.”

Irvin will likely be applying his methods of pitching back at Triple A at the start of this season. On paper, the Phillies' rotation seems set with Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez. Jerad Eickhoff, Ranger Suarez and Enyel De Los Santos are all on the 40-man roster if the Phils need immediate depth and it’s not out of the question the team would try to sign Dallas Keuchel.

As the saying goes, you can never have enough pitching. So it would not be surprising to see Irvin get a shot in Philadelphia sometime this season.

“We have a really good rotation,” he said. “I want to see my teammates do well. I’m excited to see what this team can do. My role right now is minuscule compared to the guys on the 40-man roster. All I can do is put myself in position to be the next man called up and be able to win that game if need be.

“In the business of baseball, the player doesn’t make the decision (when he’s called up). All you can do is focus on what you can do to get better.”

And that is what Irvin is focused on this spring.

It all starts for him Friday in the Grapefruit League lid lifter.

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Despite rumors, Bryce Harper has no issues playing in Philly

Despite rumors, Bryce Harper has no issues playing in Philly

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It's time to address longstanding rumors that Bryce Harper does not want to play in Philadelphia.

Surely, you've heard them. They have hovered all winter like a pesky fruit fly around a rotting banana, and they continue to linger even as the Phillies ramp up their pursuit of the free-agent slugger.

Are the rumors true?

"No," a person close to the free-agent slugger told us this week.

Harper, the person said, has no aversion to playing in Philadelphia. He is familiar with the city after visiting it three times a year with the Washington Nationals over the last seven seasons and he likes hitting in Citizens Bank Park, where he has a .930 OPS, 14 homers and 32 RBIs in 50 career games.

Now, if Harper were able to write his own storybook script, he may lean toward signing with a California-based club like the Dodgers. He is from Las Vegas and would value playing close to home. In glitzy Los Angeles, he could also be the LeBron James of baseball.

The Dodgers have had interest in Harper in the past, but it is not clear if they are still a player. The San Francisco Giants have interest, but it is not clear if they would meet Harper's price tag — which is likely more than the $325 million that Giancarlo Stanton is guaranteed in his deal. The Nationals remain an X-factor — are they in or out? Some reports say they are out, but Harper's agent Scott Boras has had success selling deals to Washington ownership in the past. There may be a mystery team or two.

The Phillies, spurned by Manny Machado earlier this week, are in rock-solid, full-speed-ahead pursuit of Harper and there is enormous public pressure to bring him to Philadelphia.

According to the aforementioned person who is close to him, Harper would have no qualms coming to Philadelphia if the Phillies win these sweepstakes. The person said that Harper has gotten good reports on the city and the fans from current and former Phillies with whom he maintains friendships.

Money will still be the driving force in this deal. Concerns over destination appear to be overblown.

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