Tuesday, Philadelphia Phillies pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater for Spring Training. On Feb. 16, they’ll be joined by the rest of their teammates for Joe Girardi’s first Spring Training as the club’s manager.
There are plenty of familiar faces, but there are a few minor league players and veteran invitees who could make an impact on the major league squad in 2020.
Here are five players to watch in Spring Training:
Cristopher Sanchez- LHP
Cristopher Sanchez is a left-handed starting pitching prospect who can consistently miss bats, limit fly balls, and reach 100 mph on his fastball. No, he’s not some guy the Phillies whiffed on in the draft years ago — he’s on the 40-man roster.
You may not have heard of the now 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic. That’s because the Phillies acquired him in a relatively quiet trade with the Tampa Bay Rays in November. The Rays, who suffer from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to pitching prospects, were going to lose him to the Rule 5 draft if they did not put him on their 40-man roster. The team opted to cut their losses and trade Sanchez in exchange for 19-year-old Australian infield prospect Curtis Mead — who signed with the Phillies as an international free agent in May 2018.
Sanchez caught the eye of the Phillies scouting and R&D departments in early 2018. He split time between Low-A and High-A in 2019, dominating both levels. In 34 innings with High-A’s Charlotte Stone Crabs, Sanchez did not allow a home run and posted a 1.85 ERA.
Sanchez will most likely begin the 2020 season in Double-A as a starter, but Phillies fans will get a chance to get a glimpse of the promising young pitcher for at least the first couple weeks of Spring Training.
Damon Jones – LHP
Like Sanchez, Damon Jones is also a tall, left-handed pitcher who is high on the Phillies radar. The former 18th-round pick out of Washington State climbed to the ninth spot in Baseball Prospectus‘ 2020 Phillies prospect rankings thanks to a breakout 2019 campaign.
Jones began 2019 with the Clearwater Threshers, then moved to Double-A Reading in June. He dominated in four starts, allowing only two earned runs in 22 innings. Jones received his second call up about a month later but struggled at the Triple-A level. There was speculation last season about potentially calling up Jones a third time, as former Gabe Kapler was fond of the young pitcher’s mechanics.
He has a high-grade mid-90s fastball, a curveball that pairs well with the heater and a changeup that will improve as he progresses through the system. One of the key reasons why his stock rose dramatically last year was because his strikeout rate skyrocketed and his groundball rate remained consistently high.
If Jones continues on an upward trend in 2020, he could easily be in the running for a late-season call up. He’s projected to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but Phillies fans could see Jones in the bullpen as early as this season.Embed from Getty Images
If you hear that name and find yourself cringing a bit, it’s understandable.
Neil Walker was a part of the 2019 Miami Marlins team that had their way against the Phillies. Walker was one of many Fish hitters who excelled in the batter’s box against Phillies pitching, slashing .347/.360/.612 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 50 plate appearances.
On The Phillies Nation Podcast, Ty Daubert and Jonny Heller both agreed that Walker, out of the group of veteran bats signed to minor league deals, has the best chance of making the Opening Day roster. I agree with them, as well.
There were also plenty of jokes made about how the Phillies front office strategy was to try to sign as many players from the Moneyball 2.0 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates team. In reality, it’s one of the reasons why Walker is in camp with the team. He recently talked about the importance of seeing familiar faces in Spring Training.
“It’ll be really cool,” Walker said in an interview with The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey. “Obviously, we were all pretty close from 2013-15. We had a really good camaraderie, so I’m really looking forward to getting back in touch with them on a more personal level. I know some front-office people and scouts, too. The familiarity is pretty good as far as that’s concerned.”
Walker is a switch hitter who spent most of last season at first base but can play all around the infield. His defensive metrics have declined as he’s gotten older, but he was most effective coming off the bench last season. Walker will get plenty of reps throughout March, and if all goes well, he could find himself opposing his former team on Opening Day.
Connor Brogdon- RHP
Yes, Connor Brogdon is also a hard-throwing tall pitcher. No, it is not a requirement to be at least 6-foot-5-inches tall and throw 95 mph to be labeled as a fascinating prospect worth watching in Spring Training.
Brogdon also rose quickly through the system in 2019. In 15 Double-A appearances, Brogdon had a 2.66 ERA. He earned the move to Lehigh Valley at the end of June. Many pitchers who make the in-season move from Double-A to Triple-A struggle adjusting to the feel of the ball unique to that level. That did not pose a threat to Brogdon’s progression. He was solid in the bullpen for the IronPigs, posting a 3.06 ERA and 12.35 strikeouts per nine innings in 26 appearances.
The 25-year-old has a highly-regarded two-seam circle change and can reach 97 mph on the gun. Brogdon slider could use an uptick in velocity, but he, along with Spencer Howard, are the minor league pitchers most likely to contribute to the big club in 2020. He’ll make some appearances out of the pen in the Grapefruit League, but don’t count on seeing him on the Opening Day roster.
Alec Bohm – 3B
After raking in Double-A and tearing it up in the Arizona Fall League, it’s safe to say Phillies fans are excited to see Alec Bohm get in the batter’s box for the first time at Citizens Bank Park. The question is whether or not that will happen during the opening home series against the Brewers. Most likely, Bohm will begin the season in Triple-A, but if he consistently destroys the baseball during Grapefruit League play, the Phillies may not have any other choice but to give him a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Like Howard, Bohm will benefit from getting reps in Lehigh Valley. It’s a guarantee at this point that either one of them will be on the 26-man roster at some point in 2020, but Bohm is most likely to make a greater impact since his playing time is not as highly restricted as Howard’s. Howard may not even make an appearance in the Grapefruit League.
The Phillies are hopeful Bohm is the team’s third baseman of the future. His defense is still a work in progress. If he proves he can hit but struggles at third base, he could be moved to the opposite side of the diamond at first. Bohm has spent the last few weeks in Clearwater working on all aspects of his game, so it will be interesting to see whether he has drastically improved or not since the end of 2019.
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