Well, how’s that for an eventful start? Pitchers and catchers began working out at the Carpenter Complex only two days ago, and already the Phillies have introduced their new all-star catcher, locked up their top pitcher to a contract extension, revealed that their No. 2 starter had undergone knee surgery last month, and declared an open competition at third base.
And still, neither Bryce Harper nor Manny Machado has walked through the clubhouse door.
Position players must report to camp by Sunday, although most have already arrived. And the first spring-training game is one week from today against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla. Weather report for those planning a trip to Clearwater: mid-70s through the weekend and back up to 80 next week.
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For all the moves the Phillies made this winter — trading for shortstop Jean Segura and catcher J.T. Realmuto, signing outfielder Andrew McCutchen and reliever David Robertson, hosting Machado and visiting Harper — one of the most significant decisions has been largely ignored.
Rhys Hoskins is back at first base.
A year ago, Hoskins was learning to play left field. It turned out to be an ill-fated experiment, to put it kindly. He ranked as the third-worst defensive player in baseball regardless of position, 24 runs below league average in left field, according to Baseball Info Solutions. His shortcomings were obvious to everyone, notably Hoskins.
“One thousand percent,” he said Thursday. “As baseball players, we’re perfectionists. We want to be the best that we can be every time that we step on the field, and to me, I wasn’t as good as I thought I could be. I felt like I was hurting the team at some point, and that’s never a good feeling as a player.”
Free from the burden of playing in a spot where he never quite felt comfortable, Hoskins is back at the position he played in high school, college, and the minor leagues. It feels familiar, he said, almost as though he never moved away.
And it stands to reason that going back to first base will enable Hoskins to focus more completely on other elements of his game, including being more consistent at the plate. He led the Phillies with 34 homers and a .496 slugging percentage last season, but also endured prolonged slumps in May and August.
“It’s a comfort thing,” Hoskins said. “I made a comment, actually to J.T. and then to [manager Gabe Kapler] how much I missed taking ground balls every day. It’s kind of just diving into those details again and really making myself extra familiar and extra comfortable with some of the intricacies of being back on the infield. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”
No Manny? No Bryce? No problem? Maybe it was merely posturing, but general manager Matt Klentak said he believes the Phillies’ offseason was a smashing success regardless of whether they sign one of the free-agent megastars, as Matt Breen writes.
Gabe Kapler begins spring training at the helm of an improved roster and at the center of a controversy from his time as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ player development director. That makes his seat extremely hot, Bob Brookover writes.
Scott Kingery has put on about 15 pounds of muscle since the end of last season and will have a chance to compete for the third-base job with Maikel Franco, presuming the Phillies don’t sign Machado.
Sunday: Position players report to spring training.
Monday: First full-squad workout, 10 a.m.
Feb. 22: Phillies play spring-training opener at Rays in Port Charlotte, 1:05 p.m.
Feb. 23: Spring-training home opener vs. Pirates at Spectrum Field, 1:05 p.m.
March 28: Opening day! Phillies vs. Braves at Citizens Bank Park, 3:05 p.m.
Ever since they traded for J.T. Realmuto last week, Phillies officials have been referring to him as the best catcher in baseball. With apologies to Buster Posey, it’s difficult to argue with them.
Realmuto, who will turn 28 next month, led all catchers last season with 4.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com. At 1.90 seconds, he also had the fastest pop time, a measurement taken from the instant a pitch hits a catcher’s mitt to the moment it strikes the glove of an infielder at second base on a stolen-base attempt. And his average throw to second base was clocked at 87.8 mph, second fastest behind Jorge Alfaro, the former Phillies catcher for whom Realmuto was traded.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Spring training is finally here! Something to talk about other than who is NOT signed. With Realmuto as our catcher, what impact do you see on our young pitchers? He calls games well. I’m excited to see how much guys improve. Also, I’m interested to see how Realmuto helps Andrew Knapp raise his game. Love Extra Innings! Keep up the good work.
--Alicia T., via e-mail
Answer: Oh, don’t you worry, Alicia. There’s still plenty of talk about the players who aren’t here. But to your question about Realmuto ...
I believe he will make a profound impact on the young pitchers, especially the starters, simply because of his skills (see above) and take-charge attitude behind the plate. But there’s another factor, too. As a scout reminded me the other day, Realmuto has spent his entire career in the NL East, which means he’s familiar not only with the hitters on the teams that the Phillies will be facing most often but also with the Phillies pitchers.