Sandberg wants Rollins on base more often

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Sandberg wants Rollins on base more often

Ryne Sandberg has talked a lot about Jimmy Rollins the last couple of days. It’s pretty clear that getting more production from Rollins is one of Sandberg’s chief missions.

“It feels good to know you’re a priority,” Rollins said of his new manager’s attention.

Sandberg, who took over as the Phillies’ interim manager after Charlie Manuel was let go Friday, met with Rollins on Saturday.

“The main thing he said is I have my career and we have teammates, and he wants me to continue both in the right direction,” Rollins said. “More than anything is getting back to being the leader and leading the way because we have a lot of young guys and they look up to veteran players -- myself, Chase (Utley) -- especially the infielders, and just getting back to doing that and that’s fun.”

In terms of production, Sandberg told Rollins he wants him on base more. Rollins entered Monday night hitting .248 with a woeful .305 on-base percentage for the season. His .644 OPS ranked 141st out of 151 qualifying major-league hitters.

Rollins led off for the Phillies on Monday night. He entered the game hitting .214 with a .260 on-base percentage since the All-Star break.

The Phillies were 6-21 in that span.

“If you’re batting in the first or second spot, your job is to get on base,” Sandberg said before the game. “To do that, it’s about having quality at-bats, and if the guy has speed like Jimmy, for me, it’s about staying on top of the baseball and concentrating on hard ground balls and line drives.

“I think that’s something he can work at and get better at, and I think that will help him for the rest of his career, so that’s something that will be stressed.

“I’ve had conversations with him about it. Also, I think it’s my role to let him know what I expect of him and what I think he can do and what I think the team needs him to do, and for me that’s staying on top of the ball and utilizing his speed.”

Sandberg said Rollins’ goal should not be 15 to 20 home runs.

It should be scoring 100 runs.

“That’s the proper goal for him,” Sandberg said.

Rollins has reached 100 runs six times in his career, but he entered Monday night with just 44 in 122 games. That’s not all his doing. The Phillies are a poor offensive team and anyone’s runs total will suffer for that. But Rollins does need to get on base more. He admitted that.

“I can only control so much of that, but I can put myself in position more often to be a 100-run guy by getting on base,” he said. “But those are things that have been in demand of me since 2001. Nothing that he’s asked me to do is anything new. The voice is new, but not the message.”

Sandberg admitted that it takes special player to embrace change, but added, “I think it also takes maybe just a change or a relationship or communication of what’s expected.”

In addition to striving to hit the ball on a line or on the ground more, Sandberg would like to see Rollins go to the opposite field more.

That might be tough, Rollins said.

“I understand where he’s coming from, but that’s not going to happen,” Rollins said. “My best years, I’ve never hit the ball the other way. If the ball gets deep it will go the other way, but I’m not going to sit there -- a lot of times that’s where I do get in trouble, letting the ball get deep on me.”

Rollins said he wasn’t trying to be stubborn saying that. He said he simply knows his swing.

But the 34-year-old shortstop realizes he needs to reach base more, and Sandberg said he has found Rollins to be a willing student.

“Make the pitchers come to you, work your walks, battle your at-bats, try to get on base,” Sandberg said. “Jimmy has enough pop to hit the ball in the gaps and get his doubles. So for me it’s about keeping a line drive stroke and improving his on-base percentage. That’s what the team needs.

“It will be a challenge,” Sandberg added. “Is it going to happen overnight? I don’t think so. But we have 39 games left. I told these guys, ‘These games are for you. Show what you can do.’ If there are any adjustments that need to be made, now is a good time to try something. So we’ll see. But I think it will be for the betterment of himself and the team as we go forward if Jimmy can do these things.”

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."