Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

The Phillies future in center field is murky

Adam Haseley is in his rookie season. (Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Adam Haseley was able to glide under a line drive into right-center field off the bat of Boston Red Sox star Rafael Devers Tuesday evening, helping to preserve a 3-2 Philadelphia Phillies lead.

Haseley’s catch ultimately helped the Phillies to hold on for a crucial victory. Haseley, the Phillies 2017 first-round pick, wasn’t expected to play this type of role for the team in the midst of their quest to make the postseason for the first time since 2011. That the 23-year-old has been thrust into a starting role into a pennant race makes you wonder about what the future holds in center field for the Phillies.

In a perfect world, Haseley would seize the Phillies starting center field job and not look back. After all, he was a top 10 pick out of Virginia, it’s not as though he’s unreasonably young to be in this position. But in his first 108 career major league at-bats, Haseley is slashing .241/.299/.380 with a .679 OPS. It’s underwhelming offensive production, albeit in a small sample size.

Whether the Phillies are able to sneak into the playoffs or not, they’ll likely be left to evaluate whether Haseley can be their everyday center fielder based on a 250 at-bat (give or take) sample. An on-base percentage below .300 doesn’t suggest that evaluation would end with them moving forward with him as their starting center field in 2020.

What’s also worth noting is that Haseley has two defensive runs saved in left field, where he’s played 110.0 innings. He has zero defensive runs saved in 124.0 innings in center field. That, of course, is just one defensive metric and defensive metrics certainly aren’t without flaws. But Haseley has always appeared to profile better defensively as a corner outfielder, though it’s fair to wonder if he has enough power to play a corner outfield spot, and it almost certainly doesn’t matter with Andrew McCutchen under contract through 2021 and Bryce Harper under contract through, well, 2031.

Speaking of McCutchen, he appears to be progressing well after tearing his ACL in early June. One would think he’ll be good to go at 2020 Spring Training. Don’t, however, expect to see McCutchen in center field much, if at all, moving forward. Though McCutchen was once upon a time a Gold Glove center fielder, he only played 93.1 innings in center field for the Phillies this season by necessity. McCutchen will enter next season at age 33, coming off a torn ACL. If nearly three months without McCutchen have shown anything, it’s how crucial his bat is at the top of the Phillies order. Don’t expect the Phillies to put more stress on McCutchen’s body by having him regularly play center field moving forward.

Of course, the only reason that McCutchen was forced into playing center field before his injury was because Odubel Herrera was arrested and ultimately suspended for the remainder of the season for a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend. The Phillies actions in the days and weeks following Herrera’s arrest – general manager Matt Klentak made it a point to say the team had requested his removal from the All-Star Game ballot, all signage with him in it was removed from Citizens Bank Park – suggest that they don’t plan on him donning red pinstripes again.

With that said, Meghan Montemurro of The Athletic penned an excellent piece after Herrera was suspended for the remainder of the season without pay in early July. Never mind that releasing Herrera would involve the Phillies eating the $20.5 million still owed on his deal after this season – something they probably would reluctantly do, given the circumstances – but the MLBPA could file a grievance on Herrera’s behalf and suggest that the Phillies were re-punishing him for actions the league already disciplined him for. Trading Herrera could be a way out of that situation, but it takes two to tango.

As of now, though, Herrera is still under contract for the 2020 season, so he has to at least be mentioned in this discussion. However, as unclear as Herrera’s future in Philadelphia is what exactly he is as a player at this stage. In 126 at-bats in 2019, Herrera slashed just .222/.288/.341 with a -0.3 fWAR. After the All-Star Break in 2018, Herrera slashed just .214/.279/.342 with a .622 OPS in 187 at-bats. Oh, and Herrera’s defensive metrics fell off a cliff in 2018. The guess here is that the 27-year-old has played his final game as a Phillie, but if he’s in the mix next Spring Training, it’s hard to know exactly what player the Phillies would be getting.

Scott Kingery is a natural second baseman, but he’s played 353.0 innings in center field in 2019. With Cesar Hernandez’s walk percentage having dropped by nearly eight percent this season, this offseason may be when the Phillies decide to trade him and open up second base for Kingery on a full-time basis. But Hernandez has one more year of arbitration in 2020, and if he’s at second base, Kingery will remain an option in center field, where he has -2 defensive runs saved and a -0.9 ultimate zone rating in 2019. Perhaps, in this scenario, the Phillies would platoon Kingery and Haseley, though that assumes Kingery’s services won’t be needed anywhere else on the diamond.

Mickey Moniak, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick, has slashed .259/.311/.450 with 10 home runs, 65 RBIs and a .762 OPS in 111 games for Double-A Reading in 2019. Moniak is still only 21, but that offensive output while playing at FirstEnergy Stadium doesn’t lead you to think Moniak will be ready to take over in center field to open the 2020 season, if ever.

The feeling that you’re left with is that while pitching – both starting and relieving – is likely to be the focus of this upcoming offseason for the Phillies, an external addition in center field may be something Klentak has to consider. Cameron Maybin and Jarrod Dyson are two free-agents-to-be that could be lost-cost options to help solidify what’s quietly one of the most interesting positions on the roster to monitor moving forward.


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