Nearly two full years ago, the Philadelphia Phillies signed 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen to be their leadoff hitter. But now entering the third and final season of the $50 million deal he was given before the 2019 season, McCutchen’s time hitting first full-time for the Phillies could be over.
McCutchen thrived in the No. 1 spot in the order in his first year in Philadelphia before tearing his ACL in June of 2019. Coming off that injury in the shortened 2020 season, the now 34-year-old outfielder posted the worst on-base percentage of his career at .324.
Of course, McCutchen could improve that mark over the course of a full season next year. But that does not mean he is guaranteed to be the leadoff hitter once again.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some possibilities for the Phillies’ primary leadoff batter for the 2021 season:
Andrew McCutchen, .376 career OBP
Despite his down 2020 season, McCutchen is still probably the most likely leadoff hitter for the Phillies this upcoming year, at least to begin the season. As shown by his career OBP, the former MVP has a long track record of being able to get on base, the most important trait a leadoff hitter can have.
McCutchen may not have the speed he once had after the knee surgery, but he should still retain at least a similar ability to reach base once he settled in after the injury. If he is not able to reach the level he was at before getting hurt, the Phillies may have to look to another player to bat first in the order.
Rhys Hoskins, .366 career OBP
Hoskins obviously does not fit the mold that many would picture when they think of a leadoff hitter. He’s a slow-footed first baseman who burst onto the major-league scene with his power-hitting ability. But Hoskins is elite at the most important trait of a leadoff hitter: getting on base.
Despite his disastrous second half of the 2019 season, the first baseman still led the majors in walks that year. He then posted an OBP of .384 before tearing his left UCL this past season.
Hoskins might just be the best leadoff hitter currently on the Phillies, but the team will likely opt to use his on-base and power abilities somewhere in the two, three or four-hole range
Bryce Harper, .387 career OBP
Harper is in a similar situation as Hoskins, but is probably even more useful a bit lower in the order than his teammate. Harper has always gotten on base, but managers will usually prefer to have a power threat like the 2015 NL MVP have a chance to drive runners in rather than get on base ahead of them.
Jean Segura, .327 career OBP
Probably a leadoff hitter in a different era, Segura could be another player considered for the leadoff spot. He’s more of a throwback contact hitter with a career strikeout rate of just 13.8%.
Segura has generally had relatively high batting average, but his career OBP of just .327 would probably keep him from leading off full-time over the course of a season.
Andrew Knapp, .337 career OBP
Okay, Knapp will not be the primary leadoff hitter for the Phillies in 2021. But he has always been able to draw walks, and recorded an OBP of .404 in 33 games this past season.
If the team is resting some of the regular leadoff options some game next year, maybe Knapp gets a start in the first spot in the order. It’s not like he hasn’t done it before.
Acquiring a leadoff hitter
If McCutchen or Hoskins don’t lead off for the Phillies in 2021, that hitter could very well be someone from outside the organization. The team will have some options in the trade market and in free agency.
Someone like former Phillies leadoff hitter César Hernández could make sense as a free-agent signing. The second baseman had a .355 OBP with Cleveland last season.
Even if the Phillies do not bring back a familiar name in Hernández, there is a very realistic chance that the team’s primary No. 1 hitter is not yet with the organization.
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