Clearwater Chronicles: Notes, quotes, observations as Phillies spring training ends

Clearwater Chronicles: Notes, quotes, observations as Phillies spring training ends

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies departed their spring home on Friday and will make a brief stopover in Philadelphia before heading to Cincinnati to open their 135th season on Monday.

The goal of any team in spring training is to stay healthy and the Phillies did that. Now the rebuilding club will attempt to take another step forward, improve on the 71 wins it put up last season and find out which young players on the roster will be around for the long haul while giving a good-looking group of prospects another year to grow in the minors.

Here are a few notes, quotes and observations as the Phillies exit Clearwater and head for the regular season:

1. Starting pitching should be this team's strength. The five arms that the Phillies have assembled have the potential to keep games close for six innings most nights. But, with the exception of Vince Velasquez, who looks primed for something big, the starters' ERAs were high this spring. In particular, Aaron Nola had an ERA of 8.38. Jerad Eickhoff finished at 6.86 and Clay Buchholz at 6.65

"I choose to believe that it's just spring training," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Nola showed that his elbow was sound. His velocity was actually up a tick or two. But it's hugely important that he re-find the pinpoint command and ability to locate that made him special in college and special for his first 25 big-league starts.

A better read of this rotation will start Monday when Jeremy Hellickson gets the ball.

2. The Phillies' tight 40-man roster drew a lot of attention this spring and affected some decisions for the opening day roster. The Phils could continue to have tough calls with the 40-man roster during the season, especially if they need catching help and determine that prospect Jorge Alfaro, who is on the 40, is not ready. At that point, the Phils might have to consider bringing up Logan Moore and making a tough call on whom to lop off the 40-man roster. Ditto in the outfield. If the Phils needed a backup outfielder and didn't want to have a 40-man prospect like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams or Dylan Cozens play part time, they might have to look at adding Cameron Perkins, who had a nice spring, to the roster. Again, who goes? Tyler Goeddel would have been the first outfielder to come up, but he was designated for assignment, a move that took him off the 40-man roster and possibly out of the organization, to make room for Brock Stassi.

3. Freddy Galvis had a brilliant spring with the glove. His big test this season will be improving his on-base skills as he tries to hold off top prospect J.P. Crawford. Early in camp, Galvis bristled when he was asked about Crawford. From this perspective, that was a good thing. Maybe he's ready to dig in and make improvements. Internal competition is a wonderful motivator and it's good to see that Galvis isn't conceding anything.

4. Jeanmar Gomez had a terrific spring, allowing just four hits and one run over 9 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one. He will open the season as the closer, but Mackanin continues to use qualifiers like "for now." Clearly, Mackanin remembers the struggles that cost Gomez that role last year. And so it seems Gomez will be on a short leash.

5. Newcomer Howie Kendrick showed unselfishness at the plate, moving runners by clearly trying to hit the ball the other way. File that under a veteran who knows how to play the game and set a good example.

6. Maikel Franco's swing looked a lot more under control. We can't recall his helmet popping off once. This is a big year for him as he tries to prove that he is a player worth building around to a front office that already has its eye on coming free-agent markets.

7. The buzz coming from next door at minor-league camp was significant, as much as these ears have ever heard. There was lots of talk about the Triple-A team mashing the ball, about 18-year-old pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez's dominating performances (word is team officials had to slow him down a little), about the strides another big-armed prospect, Franklyn Kilome, has made, and about the way the ball jumps off the bat of Cole Stobbe, last year's third-round pick. The minor-league season opens Thursday, and it will be a fascinating five-month ride as the organization has real prospects worth monitoring.

8. Aaron Altherr scorched the baseball over the final week or so of camp. Everything seemed to come off his bat hard. He is really liking the adjustment he has made in his stance. At the suggestion of new hitting coach Matt Stairs, Altherr lowered his hands. Altherr says it has helped him see the ball better and be quicker to the ball. Back in 2010, when he was still playing, Stairs made the same suggestion to Jayson Werth, whose body-type is similar to Altherr's, and it helped him earn a huge contract with the Washington Nationals.

9. Second base prospect Scott Kingery was the talk of the first half of the Grapefruit League schedule, with Mackanin saying it looked as if the 22-year-old was on a fast track to the majors. But it was another 22-year-old second base prospect that stood out late in camp. By virtue of his being on the 40-man roster, Jesmuel Valentin, who is a month younger than Kingery, got to hang around until the final cut. He hit .366 with a .934 OPS. He will start at Triple A and Kingery at Double A. As stated above, internal competition is good and the Phils have some at second base. And lest we forget, Cesar Hernandez does not turn 27 until May.

10. Eickhoff made good strides with his changeup. It'll be interesting to see where that takes him as he looks to build on last season's breakout, 197-inning season.

11. One of the most memorable quotes from camp was provided by director of player development Joe Jordan, who, in talking about pitcher Drew Anderson said, "We have scouts who will tell you he might be our top pitching prospect." Anderson will open the season at Double A in a rotation that will include former first-round pick Shane Watson, who is back from injury and throwing in the mid-90s.

12. It was pretty sweet to see the reactions of Andrew Knapp and Brock Stassi when they were told they'd made the club. Both of their dads played pro ball and topped out in Triple A, so there's a lot of joy in those households.

13. Entering camp, Knapp knew he had a chance to make the team because he was already on the tight 40-man roster. But early in camp, he did not look good at the plate. He started off 1 for 22 and was clearly pressing because he knew what was at stake. Once he got the vibe that he was going to make the club, his play improved dramatically, at the plate and behind it. He threw out four runners on the bases in the final week of camp, one with a hat tip to Valentin for a nice pick, and showed extra-base pop. He had a three-run double in the spring finale Friday.

14. Zach Eflin looks to be in terrific shape and could be poised for big things now that his knees don't hurt anymore. He had surgery on both of them in the fall to fix tendinitis issues. The Phillies will give him a few more weeks to build leg strength, so he will open the season on the disabled list before moving into the Triple A rotation.

15. Reliever Colton Murray had a tremendous spring. He gave up just two runs in 11 innings, held hitters to a .161 batting average and had a WHIP of 0.91. He was taken off the 40-man roster in October but will give the team something to think about if he continues to pitch well at Triple A.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Let's play two; Nola tries to slow down Stanton

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Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Let's play two; Nola tries to slow down Stanton

Phillies (45-77) vs. Marlins (60-62)
Game 1 - 4:05 p.m., Game 2 - TBD on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Let's play two!

The Phillies come back from the West Coast to play a doubleheader with the Marlins tonight. The Phils send their ace to the mound in Game 1 and he'll try to keep the best slugger in baseball in the yard.

Here are five things to know for the games.

1. Slugging it out
Giancarlo Stanton hits baseballs very hard and very far. 

The major league leader in home runs (45) has been especially hot since July 5. The numbers are just insane. In a 39-game span, he has 24 homers and 47 RBIs with a slash line of .333/.453/.908. His OPS in that span is a ridiculous 1.361. At his current pace, the 27-year-old outfielder — who just cleared waivers ... wink, wink —  is projected to hit 60 homers.

For the Phillies, their own promising young slugger has emerged. After struggling during his first few MLB games at Citizens Bank Park, left fielder (?) Rhys Hoskins had a torrid road trip in his native California. After hitting his first big league homer in San Diego, Hoskins went off. In 25 at-bats, Hoskins went 8 for 25 (.320) with five homers and eight RBIs. 

He also showed off his impressive plate discipline, walking five times with just three strikeouts. It's a small sample size, but Hoskins' minor league skills are manifesting with the big club. 

2. Ace in the deck
Aaron Nola came back down to earth in his last appearance against the Giants, but he'd been stellar his previous 10 starts. His ERA dipped below three in San Francisco before the Giants tagged him for five runs over five innings. It ended a string of 10 straight starts going six innings and allowing two runs or less for Nola. 

Nola struggled with his command last Thursday, walking three batters. It was just the third time this season Nola has walked three or more hitters in 20 starts. Overall he's 9-8 with a 3.26 ERA, but the most promising thing about Nola is the feel he's getting for his changeup and recent ability he's shown to strike people out. He has 128 strikeouts in 124 1/3 innings.

The Marlins send righty Dan Straily to the mound. The 28-year-old has been Miami's most consistent starter this season. In 25 starts, he's 7-8 with a solid 3.80 ERA in 139 2/3 innings. 

Straily isn't going to wow you with his stuff. He throws a four-seam fastball in the low 90s which he'll throw more than half the time. He'll mostly throw a slider (27.1 percent) off his fastball but will mix in his changeup (15.4) and the occasional curveball (3.4)

3. Welcome back, Nick
Coming off an impressive 11-strikeout performance against the Padres, rookie Nick Pivetta was sent down to the minors. It wasn't a performance issue. The team just needed to create roster flexibility before deciding to put Odubel Herrera on the DL.

Pivetta clearly has big-league stuff, but he's struggled with consistency and hasn't been able to give the Phils length in his starts. Even in his last outing against the Padres, he lasted just five innings, throwing 96 pitches. Pivetta has flashed plenty but he's struggled with the long ball. He's given up 19 home runs in 18 starts. Stanton and Marcell Ozuna will be licking their chops after having to face Nola in Game 1.

Conversely, the Marlins' Game 2 starter has been excellent over his last four starts. Jose Urena is 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. Opponents are hitting just .211 off the 25-year-old righty in that span. Urena started the season as the Marlins' long man out of the bullpen, but his last 20 appearances have been starts.

Urena will mostly throw a mid-90s four-seam fastball but isn't a strikeout pitcher (76 punch outs in 109 1/3 innings). He'll throw his slider and changeup at about the same rate. He has a curve in his arsenal but rarely throws it.

4. Player to watch
Phillies: Since it's a doubleheader, let's pick two players. Hoskins and Nola are the obvious choices, so let's go with Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro

Both rookies have shined at times. Williams has tapered off a tad since a hot start, collecting just one extra-base hit in his last 42 at-bats. Alfaro had a solid road trip, going 5 for 16 with his first big league homer. The free-swinging catcher has yet to walk since his call up.

Marlins: It's Stanton. How could it be anyone else? He has a legitimate chance to be the first non-PED enhanced player to hit 60 home runs since Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961. As mentioned, he's also cleared waivers and could be part of a blockbuster trade by the end of this season or this winter. Could the Phillies be one of the teams bidding for his services? Stay tuned.

5. This and that
• Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford has played the last two games at third base. A shortstop by trade, Crawford has been scorching hot since returning from an injury and could get a look at the hot corner in September.

• The reason for Crawford's possible move to third base? Maikel Franco has been in a horrendous slump. Franco is hitting just .203 in August with just one homer and four RBIs. For the season he's hitting just .224 with a paltry .277 OBP.

• Lost in Stanton's laser show is the phenomenal play of outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna has a slash line of .306/.368/.539 with 27 homers and 93 RBIs.

• The Phillies and Marlins have split eight games this season. After four games at CBP this week, they'll meet for a four-game set in Miami and a three-game series back in Philly in September.

Rob's Rants: Rhys Hoskins, Vinny Curry, solar eclipse and more

Rob's Rants: Rhys Hoskins, Vinny Curry, solar eclipse and more

Here's the latest edition of Rob's Rants in which CSNPhilly's Rob Ellis does just that about the hottest topics in Philly sports.

Why wait?
“It’s about damn time.” — LeBron James

Watching Rhys Hoskins hit five home runs in seven games on the Phillies’ recent West Coast trip left me torn. 

On one hand, it’s clear he has a very bright future. His power stroke’s looked every bit as good as it did the last two years in the minors, where he hit a combined 67 long balls. Not to mention, he’s also carried over his excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio in his short sampling of major-league pitching.

However, I’m also left asking the question of what took so long? Not only why it took until Aug. 10 for him to reach the big leagues, but also why wasn’t he used in left until his last week with the IronPigs? He’s a 24-year-old college player who had accomplished all he could in the minors. He should have been a Phillie sooner.

Tommy Joseph is in the midst of a freefall. Even before his slump, his numbers were just decent. Far from special. 

Hoskins’ promotion was abetted by Aaron Altherr’s injury. Still, prior to Altherr missing time, you could have gotten Hoskins enough starts between first and the outfield to make it worth having him up in the big leagues. 

Also, now that J.P. Crawford is playing some third at Lehigh Valley, it makes you wonder why he, Hoskins and Scott Kingery for that matter, didn’t get work at other positions much sooner.

Curry up, Vinny
Vinny Curry’s 2017 preseason thus far has mirrored his 2016 regular season. In other words, he’s been a ghost.  

Zero tackles, zero sacks, zero impact. 

The 29-year-old signed a five-year, $47 million deal, $23 million of which was guaranteed prior to the 2016 season. 

Curry had just 2½ sacks and 26 tackles last year. The previous season, he had 3½ sacks and 12 tackles. He played in all 32 games those seasons. 

Curry’s deal could go down as one of the worst — if not the worst — in team history. 

The excuse last year was he played hurt. In 2015, he was playing in a 3-4 scheme that did not fit his skill set as a rushing end. Interestingly, Curry played in the same Billy Davis-led defense in 2014 and totaled nine sacks.

Connor Barwin is now gone. Derek Barnett is a 21-year-old rookie. The job is Curry’s to lose and he’s doing his best to do so. 

Money should not be a factor in terms of playing time. Rookie or not, Barnett has far outplayed Curry and it should reflect in snaps if the veteran does not get his act together in the final two preseason games.         

In totality
If I never hear the word “totality” again, I will depart this Earth a happy man. 

If you watched or listened to any of the coverage leading up to Monday’s solar eclipse, you heard the word, ad nauseam. 

I’m guilty of existing too much in my own sports bubble and not appreciating things outside of those boundaries. So while it didn’t do much for me, I understand and appreciate the solar eclipse was an every 38-year thing.

However, an anchor on The Weather Channel took things to a different orbit when she was brought to tears discussing the eclipse. I wish I could have concealed my eyes and ears the way the moon obscured the sun at 2:44 p.m. when she began to get misty.     

G-O-A-T
Jack Regenye’s catch in the championship game of the Junior League World Series (ages 13-15) may be the greatest catch ever. Regenye, the centerfielder for the Kennett-Unionville squad, pulled off the rare combo of fearlessness, athleticism and timing in spectacular fashion. 

The fact that Kennett lost, 12-1, to Chinese Taipei will go down as simply a footnote. Regenye should never pay for a soda or chicken fingers again in the Kennett-Unionville area.