Here’s what to keep an eye on in the season’s early going as things get underway on the diamond this week:
That saying, “one setback for a major comeback,” applies perfectly to what Aaron Nola will be dealing with during the 2017 season. Nola was tabbed to be the future ace of the rotation and showed signs of being just that in 2015 with a 6-2 record and 3.59 ERA in 13 starts. Then came a frustrating sophomore season that was cut short due to injury. How Nola (and his elbow) respond this year will go a long way in determining if the former first round pick can one day be this staff’s ace.
Brock Stassi won over the hearts of the fan base and clearly that of management’s as he went from long shot to owning a spot on the Opening Day roster thanks to a breakout spring training. Now the hard part kicks in as Stassi must prove he’s worthy of a spot, and that he can play left field at a major league level with Tommy Joseph being the everyday first baseman.
Herrera’s quest for a batting title
One of the early spring storylines was Odubel Herrera saying he can win a batting title. A first-time All-Star in 2016, Herrera has certainly shown the signs of being an efficient hitter as evidenced by his .291 career average over two years. It’ll be fun to watch him this year to see if he makes any adjustments, such as going the other way like manager Pete Mackanin has preached.
The Phillies decided to extend the once-interim manager post-Ryne Sandberg through this season with a club option for 2018. Entering 2017, Mackanin’s record in Philadelphia stands at 108-142. It’s tough to truly analyze a coach or manager during a rebuilding process, but it does seem the higher ups trust Mackanin moving forward. He has a better lineup to work with this season, though, so it’ll certainly help his status if he can get this team in more competitive games.
Veterans must perform
Yes, the Phillies want guys like Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders and Clay Bucholz to perform for obvious reasons, but they also would like them to play at a high level for another reason: trade value.
“With the additions of Kendrick and Saunders, you can see they are going to give us professional at-bats,” Mackanin said prior to Monday’s 4:10 season opener against the Reds.
Anyone of those three players, along with Jeremy Hellickson, could be targeted by contenders come the trade deadline and in turn be a way for the organization to flip a veteran for a prospect.
The team’s best lineup probably isn’t in Philadelphia
Once the summer heats up, there’s a chance the Phillies will be treading water in a top-heavy NL East. No worries, though, as the organization’s best 1-through-9 players are sprinkled throughout the farm system. From Mickey Moniak to J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams to Scott Kingery, there’s much to watch and get excited about with the Phillies … it just may not exactly be front and center at Citizens Bank Park.