That time of year that baseball fans love has finally arrived. Phillies pitchers and catchers, including the recently acquired J.T. Realmuto, reported to spring training Tuesday at Spectrum Field, and they will go through their first workout this morning on the fields at the Paul Owens Training Facility at the Carpenter Complex. I like the full name because I loved “The Pope” and still have wonderful memories of spring-training conversations with the man. “I passed that test today,” he’d say proudly. He was referring to the spring-training physical.
I know weather sympathy is unlikely from the Philadelphia region after the last few days, but the forecast. a high of 64 degrees and morning rain showers. is not all that great. If you’re down in Clearwater, however, the workouts are open and free.
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Since it is pitchers and catchers in camp, it is pitchers and catchers we will discuss on the first day of spring training. Let’s start with catcher J.T. Realmuto. He’s good. Really good. Maybe the best in baseball. At least in the top three. That’s great news for the Phillies. I also like the fact that Andrew Knapp is his backup. He did not play well last season, but he’s a switch-hitter with some power and I like backup catchers who have some pop.
As for the bullpen, it is unquestionably improved with the addition of David Robertson, one of the best free-agent relievers on the market this offseason. Add in the quartet of Seranthony Dominguez, Hector Neris, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, and the Phillies should have one of the better bullpens in the division. Also don’t forget Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos, both of whom had outstanding 2018 seasons. As always, it will be fascinating to see how manager Gabe Kapler uses the talented tools at his disposal.
The biggest issue for the Phillies, and probably the biggest question mark surrounding the team, is whether they have enough starting pitching. Aaron Nola, described as a likely No. 3 starter during his climb through the minor leagues, has proven he is an ace after finishing third in Cy Young Award voting last season. I still like Jake Arrieta as the No. 2 guy a lot. Yes, he collapsed in concert with the team’s collapse last season, but this year, he will have a full spring training and I won’t be surprised if he bounces back to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
The question marks are Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin, and of course, it should be noted that lefty Dallas Keuchel, one of the best starting pitchers on the free-agent market, remains available.
The Phillies’ projected five starters this season went a combined 53-51 with a 3.93 ERA last season. They actually had more wins and innings pitched (823 2/3) than any other projected starting five in the National League East, but the 3.93 ERA ranked fourth among the division’s five teams. The Washington Nationals’ projected rotation was a combined 51-30 with a 3.01 ERA, the New York Mets staff was 47-40 with a 3.23 ERA, and the Braves staff was 41-32 with a 3.50 ERA. Miami’s five checked in at 26-43 with a 4.29 ERA.
Late last July, Bryce Harper, then with the Washington Nationals, expressed his desire for his team to pursue then-Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto before the trade deadline. It did not happen. Now, Realmuto is with the Phillies and Harper is a free agent. Realmuto was given a chance to reciprocate at his introductory news conference Tuesday, and our Scott Lauber has the catcher’s answer.
Realmuto played his entire career to date in the unfriendly confines of Marlins Park, and the statistics indicate that he could truly benefit from playing half his games in the far-more-hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park. Our Matt Breen has that story.
Cool story here from Scott Lauber about how former Miami Marlins catching coordinator Tim Cossins helped Realmuto make the transition from high school shortstop to all-star big-league catcher.
What number will Realmuto wear with the Phillies? It’s a regal one. Here’s my column on that.
Today: First workout for Phillies pitchers and catchers, 10 a.m.
Sunday: Position players report to spring training.
Monday: First full-squad workout, 10 a.m.
Feb. 22: Grapefruit League opener at Tampa Bay Rays, 1:05 p.m.
Feb. 23: Grapefruit League home opener vs. Pittsburgh Pirates at Spectrum Field, 1:05 p.m.
It was on this date in 2009 that former Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard became financially set for life. After winning a then-record $10 million arbitration case against the team in 2008, the two sides came to an agreement in 2009 on a three-year, $54 million deal. Howard had led the majors in home runs with 48 and RBIs with 146 in 2008 and, of course, he also helped the team win its second World Series title.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: I’ve been wondering just why the Phillies still seem to be so willing to part with Maikel Franco. Just a couple of years ago he was projected to be a major offensive force, and last year he stepped up in the second half of the season while so many others tanked. Do you think that there’s a hidden issue here — something that the team doesn’t want to talk about?
— Dave A., via email
Answer: Interesting question, Dave. I think Franco is going to be one of the most interesting players in camp because he has had to spend the entire offseason wondering if he’d be elsewhere, and with Manny Machado still available, he still has to be wondering.
On the other hand, if the Phillies sign Bryce Harper or do not sign either big free agent, then Franco will be back as the starting third baseman. Even if he is the third baseman, however, he has to be concerned that Scott Kingery will cut into his playing time because the team is probably going to be more inclined to keep Cesar Hernandez and Jean Segura on the field as often as possible.