What to watch for as Phillies begin 2021 spring training

Zach Eflin Phillies
New Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cothan believes Zach Eflin (pictured) is the Phillies’ legitimate No. 3 option in the rotation moving forward.
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The winter’s thaw is slowly starting to begin as the first true sign of spring—baseball—begins its preparations for yet another season.

Spring training 2021 gets underway on Wednesday with pitchers and catchers officially reporting for duty down in either Florida or Arizona. For the Phillies’ case, they’ll assemble in Clearwater, Florida, to begin their quest in upsetting the baseball world.

The Phillies head to spring training as sizable underdogs in a National League East division that only got better this winter.

The Braves made smaller signings to improve their standing as defending division champs — bringing in the likes of Charlie Morton while re-signing Marcell Ozuna to complement their core that already features Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies.

In New York, the Mets had one of the loudest offseasons in the majors on the heels of the arrival of a new majority owner in Steve Cohen who is by far the richest club owner in baseball.

The Mets brought in nine free agents this offseason, most notably catcher James McCann and reliever Trevor May, while pulling off one of the blockbusters of the winter when they acquired Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from the Cleveland Indians. It’s already adding to a promising core anchored by two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, the home-run king from 2019, Pete Alonso, and All-Stars in Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil.

Early projections and odds tab the Mets as sizable division favorites despite the continuing presence of the Braves and their young core.

Then there are the Nationals, less than two years removed from winning a World Series with the same daunting top-three pitching stable that includes Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. They bolstered that pitching staff by bringing on veteran Jon Lester while adding to their bullpen with the acquisition of Brad Hand — considered one of the top relief-pitching prospects on the market this offseason.

The Phillies haven’t made any sort of splashy move to add to their club this winter, but they defied initial expectations to keep its identity together.

Dave Dombrowski was able to retain JT Realmuto and Didi Gregorius while picking up Archie Bradley in an attempt to fix one of the worst bullpens Major League Baseball has ever seen.

But due to the financial losses suffered last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Phillies are still a team filled with holes in one of the toughest divisions in baseball; making spring training that much more important to identify the proper talent needed to keep them competitive this season.

Here are a few things to look for as the Phillies start to warm up.

How will the rotation look?

The one-two punch of Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler is undisputed, but it looks as though new Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cothan believes Zach Eflin is the Phillies’ legitimate No. 3 option in the rotation moving forward.

He even went on to say earlier this offseason that Eflin — along with Nola and Wheeler — could win a Cy Young Award at some point during his career.

There has yet to be an abundance of concrete proof that Eflin could live up to such a billing. Entering his sixth MLB season, the righty has a career 4.63 ERA and posted a career-best 3.97 mark over 10 starts last year.

Behind him, though, only comes more uncertainty.

Jake Arrieta is not returning as he remains a free agent while Vince Velasquez looks poised to be a full-time member of the Phillies’ bullpen.

There are high hopes for Spencer Howard, but he struggled mightily during his rookie season in 2020, posting a 5.92 ERA in 24 innings of work.

Philadelphia did bring in veteran right-handers Chase Anderson and Ivan Nova along with southpaw Matt Moore to add to the rotation competition. But all are sizable wild cards.

Over his last two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays, Anderson has posted a 4.80 ERA, including a mark of 7.72 last season. It was a far cry from a solid two-year stretch in Milwaukee from 2017-2018 where he went 21-12 with a 3.37 ERA and 1.143 WHIP.

Nova has an opportunity to reunited with manager Joe Girardi as the two worked together with the New York Yankees. The 12-year veteran has always been a lower-tier starter with a 4.38 career ERA, but he had just four starts with the Detroit Tigers last year and had an ERA of 8.53.

Moore, a former All-Star, was last playing in Japan before the Phillies called. While he had a 3.53 ERA in his first four MLB seasons, Moore’s mark was at 5.13 over his last four MLB seasons before making the jump overseas.

Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius (18) is expected to be a solid leader on the diamond this season. Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

What about center field?

There seems to be an open competition out in center field, which received a new name to add to the mix earlier this week.

The Phillies brought on Travis Jankowski on a minor-league deal that includes an invite to the major-league camp. Jankowski doesn’t have much of a bat with a .238 career average and .628 OPS, but he fields his position well and provides speed on the basepaths.

It’s another name that will be included on a list of potential center fielders that also includes Roman Quinn, Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley and Odubel Herrera — who was extended an invite to MLB camp after serving an 85-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy.

Herrera is just one of 32 non-roster invitees to spring training, as listed below:

Catchers (5)

  • Christian Bethancourt
  • Rodolfo Duran
  • Jeff Mathis
  • Edgar Cabral
  • Logan O’Hoppe

Infielders (4)

  • Ronald Torreyes
  • Darick Hall
  • Bryson Stott
  • Luke Williams

Outfielders (6)

  • Matt Joyce
  • Travis Jankowski
  • Odubel Herrera
  • Jhailyn Ortiz
  • Johan Rohas
  • Matt Vierling

Pitchers (17)

  • Neftali Feliz
  • Brandon Kintzler
  • Bryan Mitchell
  • Ivan Nova
  • Hector Rondon
  • Michael Ynoa
  • Tyler Carr
  • Enyel De Los Santos
  • Julian Garcia
  • JD Hammer
  • Jonathan Hennigan (LH)
  • Jakob Hernandez (LH)
  • Erik Miller (LH)
  • David Parkinson (LH)
  • David Paulino
  • Zach Warren (LH)

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