- Former starter Adam Morgan is now vying for a spot as a lefty in the Phillies’ bullpen and seemingly has a good chance to secure such a role, writes Ryan Lawrence of PhillyVoice.com. Manager Pete Mackanin would prefer to have two left-handers in his bullpen, Lawrence writes, and there are only five southpaws in camp with the Phils: Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Elniery Garcia (a minor league starter) and non-roster veterans Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos. Morgan tells Lawrence that he’d happily accept whatever role the Phillies ask of him, joking that he’d serve as the backup catcher if necessary. All but two of Morgan’s 38 Major League appearances have been starts, but the Phils have an emerging young core of rotation arms plus veterans in the form of Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz.
- Chris Coghlan discussed his unique journey through professional baseball and his hopes for making the Phillies roster out of Spring Training with CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury. Coghlan, who had interest from other clubs but chose to sign with the rebuilding Phillies — drew a parallel between the present-day Phillies and the 2014 Cubs team on which he played. (The Cubs lost 89 games before surging to the postseason in 2015 and a World Series title in 2016.) “We went from not being good to being really good,” said Coghlan. “We grew together and built relationships. This team is in a transition period of trying to groom guys, but they also need older guys to bridge the gap and I thought it would be a great opportunity. … I just want to come in here, establish myself, be a great teammate, lead by example and maybe I can stick around long term and see this thing through.”
Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson’s November decision to accept the Phillies’ qualifying offer in lieu of testing free agency came as a surprise, but he believes it was the correct choice. “I feel like I made the right decision,” Hellickson told Ryan Lawrence of PhillyVoice.com earlier this month. “And seeing how it all went down, I definitely feel like I made the right decision.” Only three free agent starters – Rich Hill ($48MM), Ivan Nova ($26MM) and Edinson Volquez ($22MM) – ended up scoring deals worth more than Hellickson’s $17.2MM qualifying offer during the winter, and each did so via two- or three-year deals. Hellickson was actually eager to join them in a weak market before receiving advice from his agent, Scott Boras “The first few days I was set on declining it,” Hellickson said of the QO. “There really wasn’t too much stress involved. But then after hearing from Scott after the (GM Meetings), I didn’t know what I was going to do.” Ultimately, the market developed as Boras expected it to, per Hellickson, who added that he’s content in Philly and “glad” the Marlins’ attempt to acquire him last summer failed.
The latest on a few other pitchers:
- While the possibility of the Dodgers stashing Julio Urias in extended spring training to begin the year has come up, they’re now “leaning toward” having the left-hander open the season in their rotation, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. In that scenario, the 20-year-old wunderkind would make shorter starts to tamp down his workload, per Gurnick. Including postseason play, Urias tossed a career-high 127 2/3 innings between the majors and minors last year.
- Marlins righty Dan Straily enjoyed perhaps the best season of his career last year, when the then-Red totaled 191 1/3 frames of 3.76 ERA ball with 7.62 K/9 and 3.43 BB/9, and he attributes much of his 2016 success to analytics, writes Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. One of Straily’s friends, a banking analytics specialist who “loves baseball,” helped the 28-year-old determine “which are the best pitches to throw against certain hitters.” Straily also studied one pitcher per division with similar velocity, spin rate and spin angles. “Now going into the game, there’s not a lot of guesswork,” Straily told Jackson. “I have a plan. I had a big change in terms of pitch selection more than anything else. I threw way more changeups last year. Just mixing speeds a lot more; not being predictable.”
- After working mostly as a reliever from 2015-16, including all of last season, Twins righty Trevor May is ready to leave the bullpen behind and win a starting job this spring. “I think I have a little bit of a chip, being unclear about knowing what I was going to be doing the last two years,” May, 27, told Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com. “It wasn’t ideal for me or the vision I had for myself of my career. I’m going at it at 100 percent. There’s no, ’Oh, I could fall back to the bullpen.'” May, who has logged a 5.61 ERA (3.85 FIP), 8.17 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 126 2/3 career innings as a starter, is competing against several other candidates for a rotation spot, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams detailed Friday.
- Minor-league signee Daniel Nava has a reasonable chance to make the Phillies’ roster out of camp, according to GM Matt Klentak. “He can play the corner outfield spots, first base, and he’s a switch-hitter, so he’s got a shot,” Klentak says. The one-time Red Sox outfielder batted a modest .223/.297/.292 with the Angels and Royals last season. With Tommy Joseph at first and Howie Kendrick, Odubel Herrera and Michael Saunders around the outfield, Nava could compete with Aaron Altherr, Chris Coghlan and perhaps Tyler Goeddel for spots on the Phillies’ bench.
- The Phillies will be without hard-throwing right-handed relief prospect Victor Arano for at least one month, per CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury. The 22-year-old, who averaged about 94 mph on his fastball in 2016, has been diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. While surgery hasn’t been recommended, Arano did receive a platelet-rich plasma injection that will sideline him for the bulk of Spring Training. Though he was never likely to break camp with the Phils, it’s still discouraging for the team to see the promising young see his development set back. Last season, Arano posted brilliant numbers between Class-A Advanced and Double-A, working to a combined 2.26 ERA with 10.7 K/9 against 2.1 BB/9 across 79 2/3 innings of work. Arano rated 23rd among Phillies prospects entering the season, per MLB.com, while ESPN’s Keith Law rated him 16th. “If there’s a Ken Giles in the system right now, it’s him,” Law wrote of Arano.
- Andy MacPhail’s career in baseball spans several decades, but the Phillies’ president is leading the charge to help modernize his organization, writes MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. MacPhail, who took charge of the Phillies following the 2015 season, explained to Zolecki the myriad changes that are being made all throughout the organization. Improvements not only to the team’s analytics department but also to nutrition programs in the minor league ranks and a new facility opening in the Dominican Republic are just some of the changes that have been ushered in. MacPhail also sounded intrigued by the Rays’ recent decision to push back the start times of their spring workouts for players and cited an interest in sleep science studies. Beyond that, he noted that the Phils will be looking to hire a replacement for EVP/COO Mike Stiles, who will be retiring in June, though there’s been no determination on whether they’ll go with an internal or external hire.
Giants lefty Will Smith has been shut down for a week after experiencing inflammation in his pitching elbow, Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News was among those to report (Twitter links). Fortunately, an MRI has already returned clean, so it seems there’s no worry of a major injury. But while it’s still early, San Francisco’s plan to get Smith ready for Opening Day is already on a tight timeline, Baggarly notes. So long as he can progress after his rest, Smith will be given six spring appearances in preparation for the season.
Here’s more from the National League:
- The Brewers, like the Rays, kept tabs on Matt Wieters up to his agreement with the Nationals, according to MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. Though Milwaukee GM David Stearns wouldn’t acknowledge whether an offer was made, he acknowledged that there was contact. “I would say we have regular contact with many agents, including Scott,” Stearns explained. “So Matt’s name came up, and we made sure we understood where the market was for him and what the potential fits were. But nothing really beyond that.”
- Infielder Stephen Drew likely won’t see as much time with the Nationals as he could have elsewhere, but as Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com writes, he nevertheless chose to reprise his role as a key reserve in D.C. His comfort with the team came into play, along with family considerations. Drew also discussed his bout of vertigo last year, which occurred due to an ear infection. He dealt with symptoms through the postseason and into the offseason, but seems to be back to normal as camp opens.
- While Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco is entering only his second full season in the majors, there’s still plenty at stake, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com writes. Refining his approach at the plate and work in the field certainly seem to be on the agenda, and whether he can successfully turn his talent into consistent productivity could have a major impact on the organization’s plans. Salisbury suggests that a player such as Manny Machado could become a serious consideration for the team — he’ll be a free agent after 2018 — depending upon how Franco progresses. While it’s obviously too soon to factor in players such as Machado in any meaningful way, as Salisbury acknowledges, Philadelphia is no doubt already thinking about where Franco will end up in the long run. It does seem worth noting that, even if he isn’t able to lock down the job at third for the foreseeable future, he could ultimately be a candidate to shift across the diamond to first base.
- In the weeks between the opening of free agency in November and Andres Blanco’s December re-signing with the Phillies, the utility infielder refused to entertain other teams’ advances, he told Matt Gelb of Philly.com. “Just wait. They will call,” Blanco advised his agent, referring to the Phillies. They finally did – with a $3MM offer – in part because Blanco’s a respected figure in the team’s clubhouse and a favorite of manager Pete Mackanin, per Gelb. It helps that the 32-year-old has also been quite productive in Philadelphia, having slashed .274/.337/.457 in 523 plate appearances since 2014.
- The Phillies seem inclined to hand the ball to righty Jeremy Hellickson when they start play this season, as Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. “He’s probably got the best chance to be our Opening Day starter,” said manager Pete Mackanin. Hellickson, who took the organization’s $17.2MM qualifying offer rather than testing the open market, will be aiming to replicate a solid 2016 season and then test free agency without being saddled with draft compensation. (Under the new CBA, he won’t be eligible to receive a second qualifying offer.)
- Werth’s decision to leave the Phillies for a seven-year, $126MM free agent deal from the Nationals after the 2010 season generated a lot of controversy at the time, directed at both the Nats for seemingly overpaying and at Werth for leaving a contender to join a perennial also-ran. In hindsight, however, Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer observes that Werth made the right choice in leaving the Phils just before their decline began, and just before the Nationals grew into an NL East power. “My focus was on winning, but at the time that’s not really what it looked like. Everybody was like, ’The Nats were crazy, Werth is money hungry’ and whatever else was said,” Werth said. “Honestly, I was in a position to pick and choose what I wanted to do. What I thought was cool about the Nats was that it was a total underdog situation, but they had good owners…and a core group of players with a high ceiling. It was a situation where I thought we could build something.”
- Sticking with the NL East closer theme, Phillies skipper Pete Mackanin feels that right-hander Jeanmar Gomez “deserves” to be the team’s closer, writes Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Mackanin acknowledged that Gomez had a dreadful drop-off in production late in the 2016 season but likened his faith in Gomez to the faith former manager Charlie Manuel showed in Brad Lidge back in 2009. “Charlie showed [Lidge] confidence and stayed with him,” Mackanin said, referencing a dismal season for Lidge (7.21 ERA in 58 1/3 innings). “I think it was the right thing to do.” Mackanin did acknowledge that both Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos have “shown closer’s stuff,” but he stressed that Gomez is the current closer. The 29-year-old Gomez carried a 2.97 ERA into the 2016 season’s final month before being shelled for 17 earned runs in his final eight innings.
Phillies president Andy MacPhail shared his thoughts on the status of the organization’s rebuild with MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. Expressing his agreement with the offseason maneuverings of GM Matt Klentak, MacPhail emphasized that he’s expecting tangible progress, but won’t necessarily reduce his assessment to the team’s win-loss record. Notably, MacPhail suggested that the organization could be readying to further open its substantial pocketbook next winter. The organization’s fairly significant investment in short-term veterans this winter was driven by ownership’s determination to improve the on-field product, he indicated, and it seems that yet further spending is contemplated for the future. MacPhail acknowledged that the Phillies could “absolutely” boost their payroll into the top half or third of the league by the 2018 season.