It’s time for everyone’s favorite March ritual: Let’s Get Way Too Excited About Spring Training Stats!
Today’s edition features Brock Stassi, the hottest hitter in Clearwater, with two home runs and seven RBI in 12 spring at-bats. Just as importantly, he has walked twice and hasn’t struck out as of Monday morning.
OK everyone, LET’S GET WAY TOO EXCITED!!!
Feel better? Me too! Wait, one more.
BROCK STASSI FOR MVP!!!
OK, I’m good. Now let’s take it down a notch and start thinking about this rationally. Before we even talk about the stats, the chances Stassi makes the major league roster out of camp are somewhat slim. The only position he can play right now is first base, and the Phillies presumably already have their starting first baseman in Tommy Joseph, whose surprising performance in 2016 more than earned him a full season in the bigs to prove he’s part of the franchise rebuild. Stassi has never projected as anything more than a backup at first base and will turn 28 this season. His breakout came in 2015 in Reading, when he slashed .300/.394/.470 and won the Eastern League Most Valuable Player award. But that was in a hitter’s park when he was repeating double-A as a 25- and 26-year-old. He’s also competing for a roster spot with Hector Gomez, the only player who may be as hot as Stassi. And everything you’re about to read comes with the assumption and acceptance that Stassi will continue to rake at the current OPS rate of 1.810. Spoiler: He won’t.
There, we’ve got that out of the way.
The clear-eyed case
Stassi couldn’t have dreamed of a better opening week of spring training. He’s locked in and crushing the ball, having good at bats every time he steps to the plate. The organization is saying all the right things about him, and just fitting him on the team might not be as hard as you might think. Even though he has only played first base so far, he plays it extremely well (late-inning replacement as Joseph improves his first base acumen?). He’s also been working in the outfield this spring to give the Phillies extra versatility should they decide his bat needs to be in Philadelphia.
Offensively, left-handed hitting Stassi seemingly could be the perfect second half of a first-base platoon with Joseph, who had a nearly 140-point OPS difference in his splits last season (.913 against lefties, .773 vs. righties). I’m not suggesting Stassi play against all righties, since Joseph deserves his shot to prove he’s more than a lefty-killer. But there should be enough at bats to go around.
The Phillies can’t even use the “We’re sending him down so he can get more at bats and play every day” excuse. He won’t! Rhys Hoskins is going to be manning first at triple-A Lehigh Valley with what I’d imagine will be an organizational directive to play every day. That leaves Stassi as the designated hitter, but he’d most likely be sharing those duties with Tyler Goeddel, himself blocked out of a position on both the major league and Lehigh Valley rosters. Stassi probably would get just as many at-bats in Philadelphia as he does in Allentown. And if he is going to grade out as a backup, shouldn’t the Phillies be moving him to this pinch-hitting role as soon as they can to get him used to it?
There is also an organizational aspect to this, as the fans aren’t the only ones who know that Stassi isn’t supposed to break camp with the Phils – every player in the system knows it. But if Stassi keeps this up and doesn’t make the team, it sends a terrible message to players throughout the system. They’re likely being told what a great time this is to be a Phillie because the franchise is working from a mostly blank slate, and that players who prove themselves will be rewarded. So if Stassi goes through camp at this level of performance and doesn’t go to Philadelphia, doesn’t that hurt organizational morale before the season even starts? Doesn’t it give entitlement to the pedigreed players in the organization that they’ll be on the team no matter what their spring training performance is, so they’re welcome to half-ass it? And to the other Stassis of the organization, won’t they be discouraged for their future prospects with the team?
The Phillies are going to spend the next few seasons going through these kinds of roster decisions where the words “numbers game” will more than likely be uttered by more than one team official. In the end it probably doesn’t matter that much because keeping or dropping Brock Stassi will have little to do with whether the Phillies contend for the playoffs in 2020. But the Phillies can send a strong message to the rest of the organization – and the fans – by using a hot-hitting workhorse like Stassi as the example for how spring training performance equates to favor from the team.