2023 Phillies Spring Training 2023 MLB Photo Day
Harper, one of the best players in baseball, is recovering from Tommy John surgery and is expected to return by the All-Star break in July, or perhaps as early as late June. (We’re betting on the latter.)
How will the Phillies survive without their top player?
Well, they did surprisingly well last season while he was sidelined for two months with a broken thumb, compiling a 32-20 record.
And that was without star shortstop Trea Turner.
With Turner now in the fold, Taijuan Walker added to the rotation, and the bullpen fortified, there is reason to believe the Phillies can duplicate their success until Harper returns.
2. Newcomers Craig Kimbrel and lefty Gregory Soto bolster the bullpen.
Those two additions, along with Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado, give the Phillies four quality arms for the late innings.
Kimbrell, 34, signed a one-year, $10 million free-agent deal. He had an inconsistent season with the Dodgers last year, compiling a 3.75 ERA and 22 saves. The righthander lost his closer’s role late in the season. He has had inconsistent seasons in the past and seems to rebound the next year.
That’s the Phillies’ hope, anyway.
A potential future Hall of Famer, Kimbrel has superb career numbers: 394 saves, a 2.31 ERA, and a 0.99 WHIP. He also has 1,098 strikeouts in 688 1/3 innings.
The Phillies’ other big bullpen move was acquiring Soto in a five-player trade with Detroit. Outfielder Matt Vierling, utility player Nick Maton, and prospect Donny Sands, a catcher, were sent to the Tigers.
Dave Dombrowski, president of the Phillies’ baseball operations, liked the players the Phillies moved to Detroit.
“But we just felt the opportunity to add another back-end arm that we really, really like,” he said, adding that having Soto under contract for three years was also part of the equation.
Last season, Soto had 30 saves and a 3.28 ERA. He and Alvarado are two of the hardest throwing lefthanded relievers in the majors.
The Phillies are expected to go into the season without a preferred closer, which is how manager Rob Thomson wants it.
A year ago, the Phils’ bullpen had a 3.97 ERA (18th in the majors), an improvement from 2021 (4.39, 19th). It should make strides again this season.
3. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola remain healthy and give the Phillies two aces.
Wheeler was brilliant in Game 6 of the World Series before Thomson’s ill-fated decision to remove him turned around the game. And the series. Wheeler left with a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning after having thrown just 70 pitches. The Phils lost, 4-1.
If the Phillies are going to return to the Series, Wheeler (12-7, 2.82, 1.04 WHIP) and Nola (11-13, 3.25, 235 Ks, 0.96 WHIP) will be the pitching leaders. Both are coming off strong seasons.
They are ranked among the top 10 pitchers in the majors, according to Audacity Sports. Wheeler is No. 7, Nola at No. 10.
Nola, 29, is the most durable pitcher in the majors. Since 2018, he has made more starts (143) and thrown more innings (871 2/3) than any pitcher in baseball.
Wheeler, 32, dealt with arm fatigue late last season, but he was hitting the high 90s with his fastball when this year’s spring training rolled around. In 2021, Wheeler led the majors with 213 1/3 innings. He missed six starts late last season, but then made six in the postseason.
Nola and Wheeler will anchor a staff that includes reliable Ranger Suarez (10-7, 3.65) and free-agent signee Walker (12-5, 3.49 with the Mets last year). A spring-training injury to promising rookie Andrew Painter made Bailey Falter (6-4, 3.86) the favorite for the No. 5 starter spot. Lefty Cristopher Sanchez (2-2, 5.63) was among the candidates in a deep rotation.
4. Nick Castellanos rebounds from a disappointing first season with the Phillies.
The right fielder had a sharp decline from his previous season with the Reds.
Some say it was an unsettling year because he didn’t sign until just before the season and had been apparently prepared to join the Miami Marlins. He started out slowly and never got into a rhythm.
This spring, he made an adjustment – he’s standing closer to the plate – and seemed more comfortable in the batter’s box.
Castellanos is coming off a season in which he hit .263 with 13 homers and 62 RBIs. It was his lowest homer output since 2014, and his lowest, full-season RBI total since 2016.
The Phils need him to rebound and have a typical season: .276 with 24 homers and 87 RBIs. That’s what he has averaged in his 10-year career.
5. Speedy shortstop Trea Turner is as good as advertised.
Bryce Harper campaigned for the Phillies to sign his former Washington teammate. They listened.
The 29-year-old Turner signed an 11-year, $300 million contract in December, giving them one of the game’s marquee players. The signing shifted Bryson Stott from shortstop to second base, and the new double-play duo bonded by going out to dinner and playing golf in the offseason.
Two years ago, Turner won the NL batting title. Last year, he hit .298 with 21 homers and a career-high 100 RBIs with the Dodgers. He has led the league in steals twice and stole 27 bases last season.
Oh, and he leads the majors in stolen bases and is second in hits over the last five seasons.
Said Dombrowski: “I really philosophically believe that you win with star players.”
The Phillies landed another one.
6. The Phils are motivated by their World Series loss to Houston, using it as fuel to stay focused throughout the season and playoffs.
Think back to last year and how the Phils’ hitters collapsed in the latter part of the World Series. In the last three games, the Phillies scored a total of three runs and had a total of nine hits.
Do you think that will motivate them to show how much better they can be?
It’s strongly possible.
The Phillies, after all, had a strong offensive team last year, finishing fifth in the National League in runs scored. The World Series failures were because of the added pressure, and because the Astros have world-class pitching.
This year, Harper (when he returns), Turner, J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, Castellanos. First baseman Rhys Hoskins was expected to be a huge part of the offense, but he tore the ACL in his left knee late in spring training. Darick Hall is expected to handle most of the first-base duties, but there are other options.
But don’t sleep on Alec Bohm.
The lasting memory of Bohm last year is of him getting booed by the home fans after he made another error, and the third baseman responding in a way that, well, was somewhat expected.
It was easy to read his mouthed words: “I hate this f—ing place,” he said.
Surprisingly, it turned into a cathartic moment for Bohm. After that, his fielding, which had been atrocious, improved greatly. And by the end of the year, he was one of the few Phillies you trusted to get a big hit.
He finished with a .280 batting average with 13 homers and 72 RBIs. The Phillies need him to keep getting better, especially with Harper out at the start of the season, if their offense is truly going to be elite.
7. Having manager Rob Thomson for a full season translates into more victories.
Forget about his costly decision in Game 6 of the World Series. If you judge him by his full body of work, Thomson was a success story.
The Phillies had a 22-29 record when overrated Joe Girardi was fired in early June and replaced by Thomson. They were 5 1/2 games out of the second-wildcard spot. Under the unassuming Thomson, they went 65-46 the rest of the way, played more small ball, and upset St. Louis, Atlanta, and San Diego to reach the World Series.
The players love playing for him, and he seems to squeeze the most out of them.
“What’s most important is our expectations, and not somebody else’s,” Thomson said in spring training. “You can’t control what other people’s expectations are of you.”
His expectations, he said, are simple: You prepare, you compete, you’re selfless, and you have fun.
Thomson said there’s a “different level of intensity” when the regular season starts, “so I’m making sure they stay calm.”
Like their manager.
8. Andrew Painter recovers and shows his minor-league dominance wasn’t a fluke.
Painter is the Phillies’ young pitching phenom, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound righthander who down the road figures to be their ace.
Early in spring training, he made his first start. The next day, he had a “tender elbow” and a litany of tests showed he has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament.
The Phils will be careful with him, which means Falter has become the probable fifth starter. But Painter, provided he doesn’t have any setbacks, could be here at some point this season.
He could be the team’s “ace in the hole.”
Painter was dominant on three minor-league levels last year, his first full season. He reached double-A Reading and earned MLB Pipeline’s Pitching Prospect of the Year. He struck out 13.5 batters per nine innings in 2022.
Thanks to his size, stuff, command, and four-pitch mix, he is regarded as a future major-league star.
That process may even start this season.
9. Kyle Schwarber benefits greatly from the no-shift rule and having Turner get on base in front of him.
Schwarber batted just .218 in 2022 and had numerous would-be hits taken away by the shift. With the shift gone, his average should increase.
That will also help raise his RBI total. So will this: Schwarber will probably bat No. 2 most of the time, not leadoff like last season.
Hence, more of his would-be solo homers will be two-run shots with Turner batting ahead of him.
Schwarber slammed a league-leading 46 homers last year, including 31 solo shots, and had 94 RBIs. Turner has a .355 career on-base percentage, and that should enable Schwarber to knock in more runs.
In spring training, Thomson was leaning toward batting Turner leadoff and Schwarber No. 2.
10. The up-the-middle defense – catcher Realmuto, middle-infielders Turner and Stott, and centerfielder Brandon Marsh- is improved.
Having Marsh for a full season will help the defense. Ditto having Turner and Stott as the middle infielders. Both are very athletic, and that is extra important this season because of the no-shift rule.
As for Realmuto, he remains the league’s best defensive catcher.
When the Phils were in their heyday from 2007-11, they were solid up the middle on defense. (See Shane Victorino/Aaron Rowand, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz.) The same is true with today’s team.
On the flip side, the Phils have questions about their corner infield defense, which consists of third baseman Bohm and probable first baseman Hall. Bohm, however, made great defensive strides in the second half of last year. The corner outfield defense is also a question, though right fielder Castellanos made some remarkable plays in the postseason.
The 2023 Phillies aren’t perfect, but off-season additions should help them overcome their deficiencies.