Phillies look to take a step forward in 2018: Kapler ready to propel Philadelphia back to postseason

Griffin Rissinger, Staff Writer

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    Pitchers and catchers have reported to Clearwater, Florida, which can only mean that Phillies baseball is right around the corner. While the regular season for Philadelphia does not get underway until March 29 at Atlanta, the Phillies play their first spring training game on Friday against the Blue Jays at 1:00 pm. For the Phillies, spring training will be a time to see how well new manager Gabe Kapler does in game situations. It’s also a time to look at young minor league talent and for newly acquired free agents to settle in with the new team.

     As far as Kapler goes, he seems more than ready for his first opportunity to manage in the Major Leagues. At a press conference following one of the first workouts of the spring, he talked about taking notes from the most recent Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. He looked to Eagles head coach Doug Pederson for inspiration. “We would be foolish to not take cues from what the Eagles accomplished,” Kapler said. “Not just over the last couple of weeks, but since the summer when Coach Pederson addressed the team.” Despite finishing 2017 in last place in the National League Eastern division, Kapler has high hopes for this Philadelphia baseball team, and lots of energy. He looks to be a very bright light for the Phillies after such a bleak 2017 season.

     On the field, the 2018 Phillies squad looks to be very young and competitive. During the offseason, they added former Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana. Santana hit 23 home runs last year (coming off a career-high 34 in 2016), drew 88 walks, had an on-base percentage of .363 with a .259 batting average. He’s definitely a stellar power bat to beef up the lineup, but his defense is excellent too. Last year, he only committed five errors in 1,155 chances.

     Along with Santana, the Phillies also signed relief pitchers Pat Neshak and Tommy Hunter. Neshak was the only All-Star player on Philadelphia’s roster last year before getting traded to the Rockies, who made a Wild Card appearance in last year’s National League playoffs, falling to the Arizona Diamondbacks 11-8. With the Phillies last season, he had 1.12 ERA in 43 appearances, and finished the season with a 1.59 ERA. Hunter had a 2.61 ERA in 61 appearances with the Tampa Bay Rays last season. He’s a valuable veteran presence with postseason experience, something that could pay dividends for this young Philadelphia squad.

    One thing to keep an eye on is the Philles’ links to 2015 Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Jake Arrieta, who’s still out on the free agent market. On Tuesday, MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman reported that the Phillies have “had dialogue” with Arrieta. While Arrieta would be the perfect veteran arm that the Phillies could use in their rotation, the 31-year-old is seeking a long-term contract, and the Phillies would prefer a short-term deal. Phillies’ President of Baseball Operations, Andy McPhail, has a relationship with Arrieta from the pitcher’s early major league days in Baltimore with the Orioles. The talks seem to be moving slowly, but action will be needed soon with spring training competition kicking off this weekend.

     Whether the Phillies are able to sign Arrieta or not, starting pitching will certainly be an area that the team will need to focus on, looking at other free-agent options this season, or possibly making a trade before the deadline. Right-hander Lance Lynn of the Cardinals and Alex Cobb of the Rays are still out there for Philadelphia to potentially sign if they do miss out on Arrieta. However, those two are not the same caliber pitchers as Arrieta and would not have the same effect on the rotation.Even though the Phillies finished in last place in 2017, the future is bright for this organization. With a new manager and some veteran free agent additions, the 2018 season will be an interesting one for the Phillies.