Phillies

What is 2019 Andrew McCutchen's ceiling for Phillies?

What is 2019 Andrew McCutchen's ceiling for Phillies?

Andrew McCutchen had a hilarious series of Instagram stories earlier this week in which he looked straight into the camera and explained how unsettling the first few plate appearances of spring training are for a hitter. 

The pitchers are always ahead of the hitters this time of year because the hitters haven't yet found their timing. There's no perfect substitute for live game reps.

McCutchen, aside from the surprisingly entertaining production quality of his social media accounts, will be a fascinating Phillie to watch this season. Which Cutch will the Phillies get? Barring something unforeseen, it probably won't be the MVP version, but it might not be the 2018 version either.

Last season, McCutchen hit .255/.368/.424 with 30 doubles, 20 homers and 65 RBI.

In 2017, he hit .279/.363/.486 with 30 doubles, 28 homers and 88 RBI.

The OBPs were similar and the Phillies should feel comfortable that even if McCutchen again hovers in the .250s, he'll be able to battle for the team lead in on-base percentage. The big difference between the two seasons was the power output.

Interestingly, though, there wasn't much of a difference in McCutchen's batted ball profile between 2017 and 2018. This past season, despite the worse numbers, he had the highest hard-hit rate of his career. He had his highest line-drive rate since 2015. 

And it's not as if he was super unlucky — McCutchen's .304 batting average on balls in play in 2018 was just a point lower than the previous year.

The big difference was that McCutchen, like most players, didn't do much hitting in San Francisco, where he played 64 games. In 276 plate appearances at AT&T Park (now Oracle Park), McCutchen hit .249 and slugged just .400 with five home runs.

Included in that was an early-season home game when McCutchen went 6-for-7 with a walk-off three-run homer in the 14th inning. Remove that one game and McCutchen hit .229 with a .367 slugging percentage in San Fran, a similar output to Scott Kingery's 2018.

It's a beautiful ballpark out there, but McCutchen had to have been happy to bid it farewell. It's also worth noting that left-center field is very deep at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, McCutchen's previous home venue.

McCutchen last season hit 10 flyballs/line drives in San Francisco that were caught despite traveling at least 350 feet. Five of those traveled at least 370 feet.

And five of those 10 deep flyouts/lineouts would have landed in the seats if hit to the same spot at Citizens Bank Park.

If McCutchen plays a full season, as he's done eight of the last nine years, his home run total should be closer to the mid-to-upper-20s. If he has some additional batted ball luck, you could be looking at a .280/.370/.480 type of season, which is pretty much exactly what he did in 2017, his final year with the Pirates.

Bryce Harper or not, it will be interesting to see where Gabe Kapler bats McCutchen. You can really put him in any spot 1 through 5 and it would make sense. He gets on base enough and still has strong enough baserunning instincts to bat 1 or 2. He can still be enough of a run producer to bat third, fourth or fifth. 

McCutchen is the de facto replacement for Carlos Santana since his arrival pushed Rhys Hoskins back to first base. His ceiling is a lot higher than Santana's and he's just tougher to defend. Santana pulled the ball more frequently last season than every left-handed hitter in the majors except Justin Smoak and Matt Carpenter. As a result, Santana was shifted against more than practically anyone in baseball and suffered so many deep 4-3 groundouts.

McCutchen also pulls the ball a lot — you'll see plenty of hard grounders directly at the third baseman or shortstop — but he's not as easy to defend.

That is a theme of this new-look Phillies lineup — with McCutchen, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto there will be fewer strikeouts, fewer extremes in hit location and more pressure placed on the opposing defense.

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Will Phillies be without four key players on opening day?

Will Phillies be without four key players on opening day?

The specter of COVID-19 will hang over the entire 60-game Major League Baseball season that is set to begin in three weeks.

Heck, it’s already hanging over Phillies training camp.

The Phils will officially begin their three-week training period on Friday. They will utilize Citizens Bank Park and the fields across the street at FDR Park.

The Phils have set a 54-man roster for camp — it can grow to 60 — but at least four players will not be there. Second baseman Scott Kingery and pitchers Hector Neris, Ranger Suarez and Tommy Hunter have all been placed on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Tuesday, and won’t be eligible to return until late next week at the earliest.

No reason or particular injury was given for placing any of the four players on the IL — baseball-related injuries are usually disclosed — and that is essentially confirmation that the four are dealing with something related to COVID-19 — either a positive test, symptoms of the virus or possibly human contact with someone who has already been infected.

“What I can tell you is they're on the injured list, and that's about all I can tell you,” manager Joe Girardi said on Thursday afternoon. “MLB has given protocols on how to handle it.”

For reasons of medical privacy, teams are forbidden to talk specifically about COVID-19 cases.

But Girardi was able to answer baseball-related questions about the players in question. Of particular pertinence: Will these four players be ready for the July 23 or 24 season opener?

“I don't have a timetable on those players,” Girardi said. “I can't really answer that question. As soon as I get an answer, I will give it to you.”

So, it’s at least a possibility that one or more of these players won’t be ready for the opener?

“I think you have to look at all possibilities,” Girardi said.

Further indication that Kingery, Suarez, Neris and Hunter are dealing with something related to COVID-19: Girardi said no player has reported to camp with any new injuries. Relievers Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson are both on the 60-day injured list with stated elbow injuries. Robertson had Tommy John surgery in August and is iffy for a return this season; Dominguez will have Tommy John surgery in the coming days. His elbow injury, suffered in June 2019, will end up impacting three seasons.

It’s very possible that Kingery, Neris, Suarez and Hunter are, at this moment, completely healthy. However, a player on the COVID-19 IL must test negative twice and pass a medical review before he can return to the group. That could take some time and possibly prevent the players from getting enough practice reps in camp to be deemed ready for opening day.

The possibility of not having Kingery, Neris, Suarez and Hunter at the start of the season is not insignificant.

Kingery is the team’s starting second baseman.

Neris is the team’s closer.

Hunter is an experienced setup man who takes the ball.

Suarez was a late-season find in the bullpen last year and a candidate for the fifth starter’s job back in March.

With an expanded roster, the Phillies could plug second base a number of ways if Kingery is not ready for the opener. Jean Segura could play there and rookie Alec Bohm could get a look at third — if the Phillies wanted to start his service time clock on Day 1. Holding him back a week would garner the Phillies an extra year of control before Bohm would become a free agent. 

The Phils also have a bunch of other players in camp (Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin, Logan Forsythe) who can play second.

The bullpen would take a hit without three projected contributors, particularly Neris, but the Phils do have 29 other pitchers in camp so there will be choices. In a 60-game season, every game is vital, every win and loss magnified and multiplied. It’s not necessarily the time to start experimenting, but if Girardi were open to doing so … might it be worth seeing what Vince Velasquez looks like as a closer if Neris misses time?

Time will tell how long Kingery, Neris, Suarez and Hunter will be out.

And don’t think there won’t be more players showing up with mysterious, unexplained trips to the injured list.

COVID-19 will hang over this entire season.

It's already affecting Phillies training camp.

"Do I think there will be players who get COVID-19? Absolutely," Girardi said. "I think with the protocols MLB has with the testing of players, the protocols before you come to the ballpark, and the protocols you do while you're at the ballpark, the contact tracing that we do, I think we will have cases. Hopefully, they will be really containable and we can pull this off.

"For me, it comes down to really how socially responsible we are as an industry, as a state, and as a country. I think we can do it."

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Phillies place four players on injured list for unspecified reasons

Phillies place four players on injured list for unspecified reasons

According to the transactions list on the Phillies' official website, the team has placed four players on the 10-day injured list. 

The players are Scott Kingery, Ranger Suarez, Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris.

The moves come as the team is about to officially open a three-week training period Friday in preparation of a shortened 60-game season.

No official reason was offered for the placements on the injured list and there have been no reports of any of the four players suffering an injury during pre-camp workouts. It is possible that one or all of the players is on the new COVID-19 injury list. Major League Baseball is not required to identify a reason for players going on the injured list if it is indeed for COVID-19.

Being placed on the COVID-19 IL does not necessarily mean that a player has tested positive for the virus. A player can be placed on that list for showing symptoms of having the virus or for coming in contact with someone who has the virus.

A player must test negative twice before he can be reinstated to the roster.

All four of the assignments to the IL have been backdated to June 30, meaning the players will be eligible to return a week from Friday. That would give all four two weeks to get ready for the season opener.

Kingery projects as the Phillies' starting second baseman. Neris is the team’s closer. Hunter and Suarez are relievers, though Suarez had been a candidate for the fifth starter’s job when camp shut down in March.

Hunter, Suarez and Neris had all been working out in recent weeks at the Phillies’ spring training facility in Clearwater, where there was a recent outbreak of COVID-19.

More information could become available when manager Joe Girardi speaks with reporters on Thursday afternoon.

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