Sandberg's goal: Create Phillies 'team concept'

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Sandberg's goal: Create Phillies 'team concept'

Oftentimes when a new manager takes over a ballclub in the middle of a season, it’s difficult to make too many changes. Generally, the interim manager tries to keep the ship afloat before stepping back to make an assessment.

Rarely does a manager come in and make a lot of big changes. That’s especially the case for a manager getting his first chance in the big leagues.

But Ryne Sandberg isn’t the typical mid-season replacement. A Hall-of-Fame player, Sandberg has a little more cachet than most first-time managers and has used his influence appropriately.

For instance, Sandberg has changed the report time for the players at the ballpark to 3 p.m. In the past the report time used to be a bit later, but Sandberg puts such a premium on pre-game workouts that he wants the players at the park to prepare.

Sandberg also wants all of the players standing in front of the dugout during the National Anthem. It’s a small thing, but it makes a difference in the aesthetics. The Phillies look like a team when all of the players are standing in the same area for the anthem. Previously, the rule wasn’t so hard and fast. With Charlie Manuel, some players were standing in front of the dugout for the anthem and others were in the outfield stretching or running strides to stretch out before the game.

Again, it’s a little change and it’s not significant in the ultimate scheme of things. But it is a show of team unity.

“For me as a manager, I stressed getting back to the basics,” Sandberg said before Wednesday’s game against the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. “I’ve preached that and talked at it. It’s a work ethic pregame and working on things. It is chatter on the bench. It’s asking the guys to hustle at all times and have a little hop in their steps and talking about the game that is there to be played and won every single day.”

Pre-game workouts, hustle and chatter on the bench are three of the hallmarks behind Sandberg’s early tenure as manager. Yet another of Sandberg’s tenets is for the veteran players to mentor the youngsters coming up with the team. The veterans should be the leaders, according to Sandberg, and he hasn’t minced words when explaining to players like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, that he expects them to take strong leadership roles.

That’s the way it was when Sandberg was coming up with the Phillies and Cubs and Larry Bowa was mentoring him. Later, Sandberg helped show the way to players like Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston, among others.

In that regard, Sandberg hopes a pitcher like Lee, who may prefer to do things his own way and perhaps even apart from the team, takes a role as a leader.

“Cliff is a good pitcher and he’s a big part of the pitching rotation and he has good stuff,” Sandberg said. “But when you manage players you have individuals and one of my goals and concepts is to create a team atmosphere and a team concept. And to let Cliff go and do anything he wants to -- no chance.”

Sandberg says he told Lee of his expectations.

“I’ve had conversations with Cliff,” Sandberg said. “It goes back to trying to get the most out of Cliff and thinking about the team and thinking about his teammates and with the team concept.”

In the meantime, Sandberg says there really hasn’t been much of a change at all. There is just a different man in the manager’s seat. The message hasn’t changed all that much.

“We’ve been doing that all year -- the enthusiasm and the talking on the bench,” Sandberg said. “We did that as a coaching staff and we’ll continue to do that.”

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The difference was striking.
 
When Mickey Moniak arrived in Philadelphia to sign his first professional contract six months ago, he was rail-thin and 170 pounds.
 
On Tuesday night, Moniak made a quick visit to the winter meetings to be honored as Baseball America’s high school player of the year for 2016. 
 
He’d added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame.
 
“It’s all muscle,” Moniak said proudly.
 
The Phillies selected Moniak with the first pick in the June draft and signed him for $6.1 million. Just a few months of professional baseball convinced the 18-year-old centerfielder that he needed to get stronger. He recently capped off his first year of pro ball with a three-week stint at the Phillies’ strength and conditioning camp in Clearwater.
 
“It’s something the Phillies wanted me to do and I knew I definitely needed it, too,” Moniak said. “I really enjoyed my first year. I got a taste of what it was like to play baseball for a job and it was a good time.
 
“There were a lot of positives that came out of the first year. I felt like I jumped in there and really competed. I hit well in July. In August, I started to fatigue and I wasn’t prepared for that, being my first season. But it was a good learning experience. I needed to get stronger.”
 
Moniak hit .284 with a .340 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, four triples, a homer and 28 RBIs in 46 games for the Phillies’ prospect-stacked Gulf Coast League team. That club, loaded with young Latin players and first-year talent from the 2016 draft, went 41-17 and advanced to the finals of the league playoffs before losing to the Cardinals.
 
After the playoffs, many of the players from that club participated in the Florida instructional league. Moniak played sparingly, however, after dealing with some soreness in his right hip. He was checked out by doctors in Philadelphia and there are no more concerns.
 
“It was just tightness,” Moniak said. “Everything is good. I’m 100 percent. They said it was either a growing pain or just tightness. I just have to stretch more.”
 
Moniak is an athletic centerfielder with speed and a good left-side bat. He has been compared favorably to former All-Star Steve Finley.
 
"Collectively, we believe Mickey was the best player available in the draft," Johnny Almaraz, the Phillies head of amateur scouting, said on draft night in June. "He's a true centerfielder with incredible offensive ability and the potential to be a perennial All-Star."

Moniak hit .476 with seven homers, 12 triples and four doubles at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California, during his senior season. He impressed a rival scout who saw him play five times during the season.

“The bat is good,” the scout said. “He’s going to hit and hit for average. He’s a good centerfielder. He can run. The question is how many home runs will he hit? If he ends up getting stronger, he could be a corner bat that’s unbelievable. There’s no negative here. It’s a good pick.”
 
Now, Moniak is stronger. He looked sturdy in a dress shirt and tie at the winter meetings Tuesday night. He is eager to see how it all translates on the field in 2017.
 
“I’m excited for the season,” he said. “I’m just going to go to spring training and compete and hopefully end up in (Single A) Lakewood, stay healthy and hopefully have a winning season and win a championship. That’s the ultimate goal and if personal stats come with that, too, that’s great.”