The St. Patrick’s Day Game in Clearwater is usually a benchmark for the spring training Phillies.
After that game, it’s time for both players, coaches and fans to start getting serious. A hiccup on March 3? Eh, we’ve got a month to correct it. A bullpen blow-up on March 25? OK, maybe we should take a look at how we’re doing things ….
But as we’re at that magical spring training milestone, here are some things we’ve seen so far to make you hopeful … and things that might make you worried:
HOPEFUL: The kids are alright
In what was shaping up to be more and more of a mundane spring training for the Phils as we reached Valentine’s Day, the one thing we had to look forward to was getting to see this vaunted system of prospects the Phillies are shaping their future around. It was the one chance we would get to see them up close and personal before the team shuffled them off to Allentown or Reading, largely not heard of again until they either reached the majors or until next spring.
And for the most part, they haven’t disappointed. Prospects Brock Stassi, Roman Quinn, Cameron Perkins and Nick Williams all are among the top five (including ties) on the team in hits. Stassi leads the team in home runs (5) and RBI (15) and Quinn leads in steals (4). Scott Kingery is getting noticed for his play, Rhys Hoskins leads the team in walks and while J.P. Crawford hasn’t exactly torn it up, he’s walked more times (three) than struck out (two), as per his usual.
WORRIED: Well, at least most of them
Not all of the Phillies plethora of prospects will hit with the team long-term, and not all of them are hitting this spring.
Andrew Knapp, in what is likely a make-or-break year, at least for his future within the Phillies organization, has just been disastrous. He’s now 1-for-20 in nine games and has looked overmatched even against the spring training version of major league pitching. He also has eight strikeouts against one walk. If he’s hitting like this, can Pete Mackanin really bring him to Philly to back up Cameron Rupp?
Outfielder Dylan Cozens is trying to repeat his monster 2016, and will be given every chance in Allentown this year, but none of his four hits have gone for extra bases, and he and Tyler Goeddel lead the team in strikeouts with 11.
HOPEFUL: World Baseball Classic booms
And who cares about spring training, really? I’m way more super impressed with what Jorge Alfaro did at the World Baseball Classic in what probably was the most pressure-packed series of games he’s ever played in for his native Colombia. He played both catcher and first base, and while he only had three hits in three games, one of them was an eighth-inning, game-tying home run off Fernando Rodney when his country was about to be eliminated.
Then he mocked Rodney’s whole sling-and-arrow thing, which made me think about how he could mock Jeurys Familia after ruining one of his saves five years from now. Then I smiled.
Nick Pivetta threw four innings for Team Canada and gave up just one earned run.
WORRIED: World Baseball Classic busts
Odubel Hererra is just 1-for-10 with a strikeout, though he’s scored twice for Venezuela, which needed a miracle home run from Miguel Cabrera to avoid being sent home early. He was then benched against Team USA on Wednesday against lefty Drew Smyly.
Freddy Galvis skipped the WBC to stay in major league camp because of an injury but hasn’t stood out.
HOPEFUL: Mark Appel
He’s walking too many people, we know that (four in nine innings). But he’s also missing bats (10 strikeouts, the only one in camp who has struck out double-digit batters in less than double-digit innings), not giving up hits (.212 opponent average) and earning raves from the coaching staff. It would have been great if he came into Clearwater and made the floor the ceiling, but there is nothing wrong with sending him down to Allentown to get innings as he rehabs from surgery that limited him to just a handful of starts in 2016.
WORRIED: The rotation
We know guys take a lot of batting practice in Florida, but it’s not supposed to be happening from 1 to 4 p.m. when games are supposedly being played. Tell that to some of the Phillies’ staff, who are being given the pinball treatment. The opponent batting averages for Aaron Nola (.344), Jeremy Hellickson (.309), Alec Asher (.333) and Ben Lively (.303) are … worrisome. But it’s a very small sample size, and pitching is always the last thing to come around in the spring. Move along. Nothing to see here.
HOPEFUL: Maybe it’s coming around …
Jerad Eickhoff righted his ship Tuesday with five shutout innings. Aaron Nola struck out six in 3.1 innings Sunday, even though he was hit around for the second straight start. That’s probably closer to what you’ll see during the season.
HOPEFUL: No one’s been arrested
It’s an underrated aspect of spring training – keeping your team out of the pokey. Cole Hamels couldn’t do it before. And it seems like every year there is some kind of story about some player spotted somewhere at some time they shouldn’t be awake a some place they shouldn’t be. We haven’t heard a peep about that this year.
Getting in the papers for the wrong reasons is an unnecessary distraction from the task at hand, and it can be pretty easy to get in trouble on Clearwater Beach (bars, spring break, laid back atmosphere, etc.). Maybe the Phillies are great at keeping things quiet, or maybe they have a group of men who have come to spring training to work. In a clubhouse with more kids than a morning daycare, that tells you something about their character.