Potential Hang-ups in Spags to Birds

Potential Hang-ups in Spags to Birds

Now that speculation over last week's report suggesting Steve Spagnuolo was set to join the Philadelphia Eagles as their new defensive coordinator (which is not really what the report said) has quieted down some, let's look at why you might want to consider tapping the breaks on that theory. Yes, there is evidence these two are not exactly a match made in heaven.

Bare in mind, we're not saying Spags won't ultimately land with the Birds. After all, the former Jim Johnson disciple will listen to what Andy Reid has to say, and vice versa, if for no other reason than due diligence. However, the recently-terminated head coach will have plenty of options on the table, and there are reasons to believe Juan Castillo's demotion or dismissal is not a given.

Performance
We know what kind of coach Spagnuolo can be. His Giants defense led the charge for New York's 07-08 Super Bowl run, ranking seventh in the NFL, then holding one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history to 14 points in the championship game. NY also ranked fifth the following season.

That hasn't translated into recent success though. As a head coach, his Rams ranked 22nd overall this season, and second-to-last against the run. They were never better than 19th overall during his three-year tenure.

Meanwhile, in his first season coaching defense in decades, Juan Castillo's unit ranked eighth. It seems odd you would replace a coach who has a top 10 defense with somebody who hasn't coached a good defense since he was employed by another team -- which is exactly the kind of thinking that could justify returning Juan next season.

Fit with Washburn
Only a year ago, the Eagles made the unusual decision to hire a defensive line coach before settling on a defensive coordinator. That seems to be the biggest reason behind why the club couldn't find somebody more experienced than Castillo to take the job, but it made one thing perfectly clear: Andy Reid was a fan of Jim Washburn's wide-nine front.

But as Sheil Kapadia demonstrated the other day on Moving the Chains, Washburn's philosphies probably don't mesh with Spagnuolo's. This season, the Eagles rarely dropped their linemen into coverage, which was in stark contrast to the Rams, who did so with great frequency. By extension, Castillo blitzed very rarely, yet the Birds tied for the league-lead in sacks.

It's no secret that Spags, as his mentor did, loves to blitz. But by choosing Washburn, Reid indicated a desire to get away from that approach. If the two philosophies can't co-exist -- and it appears they couldn't -- the Eagles would have to scrap a scheme they previously were desperate to employ in favor of one they wanted to shift away from.

Stability
One of the underlying themes in 2011 is how all the changes made in the offseason may have impacted the Eagles' performance, particularly in the early goings. Much has been made about the way this defense gelled as the year progressed, and how that momentum could carry over into next season.

Replacing Juan Castillo would erase all of that. The players would be working in their third defensive system in as many years, which makes it challenging to build any cohesion from one season to the next. Plus, some of them might not fit in the new schemes -- notably Jason Babin, who seems to be tailor-made for the wide-nine, or likely starting cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who have three career sacks between them.

Granted, some of that talk about change having a role in their struggles was in part based around having a shortened offseason due to the lockout. That being said, there is something to be said for not making major overhauls in back-to-back offseasons.

Loyalty
A noted observation about how he conducts his business, Reid will rarely throw one of his guys under the bus. Even if he keeps Castillo on staff as a position coach, Reid would be doing the man a tremendous disservice by replacing him at defensive coordinator.

If he's fired or even demoted, Castillo could gain a negative reputation around the league. Who is going to give him another try at coordinator in the future if he was "so terrible" at his job, he couldn't even be entrusted with a second chance? Even if they find him a coordinator job on another team, he would almost definitely be on a shorter leash than most coaches.

The truth is, Castillo hasn't been given the rightful opportunity to prove himself yet, and Andy knows that. Worse things could happen than being shuffled to linebackers coach or some other, lesser role. Reid has great admiration for Castillo though, and if he's truly interested in helping him succeed, he's not going to chop the man's legs out from under him.

A Better Job Out There?
There sure are a lot of hoops for Spagnuolo to jump through here, no? To become defensive coordinator, it seems likely he'll have to keep Castillo on his staff, not to mention the issue with Washburn running a conflicting scheme. Spags might be willing to keep an open mind, but most guys want to bring in their own staff.

Previously, we examined the possibility he could return as the defensive backs coach instead. As unlikely as it sounds, he may do it for one year to help Castillo, or if he feels he could be part of something special here.

But it seems as if, either way, there will be a better job available for a coach of Spagnuolo's caliber. Here, it doesn't appear he would have complete control, and that's if the top job is even available. Elsewhere, larger shake-ups are in order, and he would be able to build his own program.

We'll see. We know a lot of folks are convinced it's happening, but Steve Spagnuolo's path back to the Birds is not as clear cut as people are making it out to be.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

TAMPA -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

TAMPA -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.