Whenever the ongoing Major League Baseball lockout is resolved, the Philadelphia Phillies will have several holes on their roster to take care of before beginning the 2022 season.
An in-house player could leave the team with multiple options in how to fill them.
The presence of Matt Vierling, a 25-year-old prospect who found himself starting games in the majors down the stretch of last season, allows the Phillies to pursue a variety of options thanks to the versatility that pushed the right-handed hitter to the big leagues.
Vierling began the 2021 season in Double-A Reading as the only listed outfielder on the club’s roster. With others filling in at the corners, the 2018 fifth-round pick saw a majority of his time as the starting center fielder. Despite dealing with a hand injury, Vierling batted .345/.422/.644 with six home runs in 24 games for Reading while playing solid outfield defense.
His performance earned him a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in June, but Vierling was quickly called up to the majors after three games. In need of a bench bat, the Phillies kept Vierling up for five games — only one start — before sending him back down to Lehigh Valley.
Upon rejoining a crowded IronPigs team, Vierling got the chance to work on something he had been pushing for since the previous fall: playing the infield.
“During instructs, I kind of pushed it on the infield coordinator and a couple coordinators there that I can play there,” he said in August. “It kind of took some convincing to get them to do it, but I initiated it.”
Working at first base and some third base in the fall and in the preseason alternate site, Vierling played there in real games for Lehigh Valley along with the three outfield spots. He believed the ability to move around the diamond would improve his chances to help the team and give him more opportunities to play.
Vierling was proved to be right when the Phillies recalled him on Aug. 31. He hadn’t been hitting well in Triple-A, but his ability to play the outfield as well as first base made him the choice for promotion.
For the rest of the season, Vierling saw close-to-regular playing time in the outfield, at first and as one of the primary options off the bench. In 34 total major-league games, he hit .324/.364/.479 with six extra-base hits.
Looking on to this upcoming season, Vierling’s ability to handle multiple positions and multiple roles is a benefit to the Phillies. With starting outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Odúbel Herrera hitting free agency, Bryce Harper is the only lock for the team’s outfield. Shortstop could potentially use an upgrade after Didi Gregorius’ poor 2021 season. And with a universal DH coming in 2022 as well, the team could use reinforcement there. The Phillies’ strategy to adding at those positions can be flexible with Vierling on the roster.
If the team goes after a center fielder along with a power-hitting type to rotate between left and DH, Vierling could serve as a platoon option to play left field when the other player only bats. In a world where the Phillies only upgrade one outfield position, perhaps due to signing a standout shortstop, Vierling could likely play the open spot at an above-replacement level.
The ideal situation is one where the Phillies upgrade all these positions, leaving Vierling as a utility player, able to hit off the bench and make spot starts at multiple positions. Another option in that case is Vierling returning to Triple-A to get regular at-bats until an injury or poor performance from a starter opens up playing time.
Whatever the case will be, the Phillies will have a number of different players to explore adding at multiple positions. Because of Vierling’s willingness to move around and adapt, the team can pivot if its No. 1 plan does not come to fruition when the lockout is over. His flexibility can put the Phillies and himself in a greater position to succeed.
“Speaking up and saying I can play first base and infield, kind of convincing them to put me there and they finally did, I’m just proud that I did that,” Vierling said in September. “Now I’m in a good spot, and I want to stay in a good spot.”
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