It was a winter extended by the cold realities of a lockout, but the 2022 baseball season is rapidly approaching. Given the vagaries of the scheduling and how rapidly everything has to happen, it would be easy to let some traditions go by the wayside. Not in this space! Playing Pepper returns for its 14th season with the assistant of some great bloggers and podcasters who rose to the challenge of the time crunch. There’s a lot of things to sort out so let’s stretch, get ready and play some Pepper! If you want to keep up with the Phillies during the season, I’ve created a Twitter list using the recommendations of our contributors and some other options as well. You can follow that here!
Philadelphia finally shook that streak of losing seasons, though after reaching 81 wins the Phils immediately lost four before finally clinching a winning season. With that burden down, can they set down the October-less streak that they are carrying and become a factor in the postseason? It would seem likely enough but let’s talk to the people that know best to see if that’s truly the expectation.
|Ethan Witte||The Good Phight||ethan_witte|
|David Esser||Bullpen Blues Podcast||DavidEsser_|
|Tim Kelly||Phillies Nation||TimKellySports|
C70: Not including lockout issues, tell me about Philadelphia’s offseason. What did you like about it, what didn’t you like about it, was there something you were hoping for that didn’t happen?
Ethan: Well now that it’s mostly complete, were I grading it, I’d have to give it a B-. They had some pretty clear needs on the team – offense, specifically left and center field, relief pitching, and starting pitching depth. The first one they answered a bit by signing Kyle Schwarber and Odubel Herrera, but they didn’t actually answer the questions that are still there. Schwarber is going to hit 30-35 HR, but there are still large question marks in center. The relievers they signed are all on one-year deals, meaning they missed out on some of the bigger names. They’re going on hope with relievers to save some long-term money. The starters that they have are good in Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez and Zach Eflin, but they are paper thin with depth. Wheeler is already a bit behind this spring with a shoulder issue and if they lose any one of their five starters, they could have a problem.
Matt: The Phillies entered the off-season with a lengthy list of needs for a team that finished with a winning record a year ago. Center field, left field, and the bullpen were the most obvious. And even once those were filled, they would need to fashion a bench that could be versatile while also being productive. They began the off-season by addressing two of those, signing veterans Corey Knebel and Johan Camargo. Knebel will be the new closer. Camargo can play all over the field and drove 19 HR with 76 RBI while hitting .272 as a 2018 starter with Atlanta. Immediately out of the lockout, club president Dave Dombrowski and GM Sam Fuld further bolstered the pen with two more veterans, righty Jeurys Familia and southpaw Brad Hand. With the center field market proven largely barren, they brought back Odubel Herrera. He will compete with former top prospects Adam Haseley and Mickey Moniak as well as returnee Matt Vierling for playing time. Finally, this past week the club landed a pair of big bats in Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. In the end, I’m very pleased with what the Phillies did here. They are clearly one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball. The one thing that has disappointed me is the continuing inability to answer the long-term questions in center field.
David: Without being overly biased, the Phillies had a pretty awesome offseason. Most Phillies fans were overjoyed when they added Kyle Schwarber to the team after the lockout. Throw Nick Castellanos, another elite bat and fiery personality, into the mix as well? It’s hard not to be excited. At the very least, Dave Dombrowski has built an exciting club that should hit a ton of homers in 2022.
Tim: The Phillies went over the luxury tax threshold for the first time in franchise history, most notably adding Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber to their lineup. This may not be a good fielding team — it may actually be the worst in the league — but they are going to hit a lot of home runs.
C70: The club holds an option for 2023 on Aaron Nola. Do you think they’ll push for an extension this year?
Ethan: Nola was polarizing last year in that his baseball card numbers weren’t very good, but everything under the hood was pretty much the same. Aesthetically, he just didn’t look right all year, but he was essentially the same pitcher as he had been in years prior. There is almost no doubt they’ll exercise the option for 2023, but I’m willing to bet they want to see how this and next season goes before engaging in extension talks. Financially, it would behoove them to begin those talks, but i don’t think they’ll start having those kinds of long term talks until next season.
Matt: I have to believe that, considering the difficulty in finding quality pitching these days, the Phillies would love to tie up Nola longer term. Barring a major debilitating injury his $16 million option for next year will certainly be picked up. They might be smarter to simply wait it out, see how the roster looks a year from now, and then try to negotiate an extension. So, I don’t think they will “push for an extension this year” at all. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they held preliminary discussions.
David: This is a really good question, and I think it’s 100% on Nola to prove he’s worthy of an extension. His peripherals are always solid. However, his on-field results have varied over the past few years. Keeping him in the 2023 rotation on the option could very well be the safe play.
Tim: It depends what type of deal Nola is looking for. He’s coming off of a down season, so it he wants ace-type money, he needs a bounce-back season first. It would be shocking, though, if his club option for 2023 isn’t exercised.
C70: What part of this team concerns you the most?
Ethan: The defense is going to be bad. Like, BAD bad. Alec Bohm is going to have to work hard at third base to just get to average and that’s not even a given. Didi Gregorius is below average at shortstop and he might not even be the starter. They have one of the best catchers defensively in J.T. Realmuto, but that is probably the only spot on the team that you can feel good about.
Matt: It’s very obvious to anyone who knows baseball that defense will be a problem for the 2022 Phillies over the course of a long season. However, I believe that they can bash enough to overcome those deficiencies. At least in the regular season. If they stay healthy, the Phillies should be in the playoff chase all the way to the end. I remain concerned about center field. And while I believe in Alec Bohm still, I need to see him bounce back from an awful year last season at third base.
David: A lot of people will say defense, which is definitely an area of concern, but the bullpen is still my biggest worry. I like Corey Knebel, who is currently in line to be the team’s closer. However, past him, it’s a bit of a toss-up. Recent offseason additions Brad Hand and Juerys Familia don’t really leave me oozing with confidence.
Tim: The defense is concerning, but that is what it is. The bullpen is probably still the most concerning part, because it’s what has doomed the Phillies over the last two years. Can I envision a scenario where Corey Knebel proves to be a great signing, Seranthony Dominguez stays healthy and Sam Coonrod has a breakout season? Yes. But I can also envision a scenario where none of those things happen and the Phillies bullpen becomes a problem again.
C70: Which prospect are you most excited for and when should they make their major league debut?
Ethan: Bryson Stott is the one that is closest to the majors right now, competing with Gregorius for the starting shortstop spot this spring. He’s going to have a real shot at winning the job according to the team, but he’s not in the same kind of mold as Acuna, Albies, etc. where he’s going to break in and set the league on fire. He’s going to be a solid shortstop that gives the team 3-4 WAR production each year, something they actually desperately want. Mick Abel is their top prospect on the mound, with near ace-level stuff, but he’s probably at least two years away if he moves quickly. So if we’re talking about an exciting guy who could open a lot of eyes, I’d look at Griff McGarry. He’s a starter who should begin in Double-A Reading this year who possesses all the stuff modern teams love – high spring breaking stuff, high octane fastball – but the command is questionable at best. He could move quickly depending on if they keep him as a starter or make him a reliever, but if he does become a reliever, there’s a shot he could impact the bullpen this year.
Matt: I’ll give you three guys. The obvious answer would be infielder Bryson Stott. He is nearly ready and is actually already competing for the starting shortstop job with Didi Gregorius this spring. I think that it’s more likely he begins the year at Triple-A and gets an in-season promotion at some point, assuming he is still productive. Still a year or two away is center fielder Johan Rojas, who is as exciting an all-around Phillies position player prospect as has come along in some time. My wildcard guy is pitcher Hans Crouse. He came over from Texas at last year’s trade deadline in the deal that sent former top pitching prospect Spencer Howard to the Rangers. I truly believe Crouse has a chance to be the most productive player in that entire five-player swap, which also included current starting pitcher Kyle Gibson and veteran reliever Ian Kennedy.
David: Bryson Stott. He’s the only notable Phillies prospect set to debut this season and there’s a good chance he wins the Opening Day shortstop job. He’s been the Phillies’ top-hitting prospect the past two seasons and is one of the few up-and-coming prospects who actually projects to be a major league starter for the Phils. If he has a good rookie season, the Phillies’ lineup gets that much deeper.
Tim: While their last two first-round picks. — high school starters Mick Abel and Andrew Painter — are years away, shortstop Bryson Stott is likely to debut at some point in 2022. I don’t think he’ll be the Opening Day shortstop, but if Didi Gregorius doesn’t rebound in 2022, it’s not hard to imagine him being the regular shortstop at some point this season.
C70: How do you see 2022 shaking out for this team? What’s your expectation of where they finish?
Ethan: As I said before, this team is built with some hope. There are a lot of “ifs” with this team, too many one might argue, for a team that has the NL MVP and runner up for Cy Young. That makes the spectrum of finishes pretty wide. If it all breaks right, they can threaten for the division crown. If it all goes wrong, they might be in a dogfight to stay out of the bottom of the division. That being said, this offense should be good enough and the rotation strong enough that they’re in the thick of a playoff race all year long. I’d expect that they are able to grab the sixth playoff spot.
Matt: While I like what the Phillies have done, I also like what the division rival and defending world champion Atlanta Braves did this off-season. I also think the Mets have a good chance at finally playing to results that match their talent potential. Conservatively, I will call the Phillies a third place team in the NL East and a legitimate contender for the 5th or 6th NL playoff berth. However, given health and a best-case scenario, this team can win the division. At least end up as the runners-up.
David: I’d love to be optimistic and say this is a team that can win 90-plus games and win the NL East. The offense certainly looks good enough to do so. However, the Phillies are known to disappoint, so I’m going to temper expectations accordingly. 84-86 wins and securing one of the three Wild Card spots would be encouraging.
Tim: I believe the Phillies will return to the postseason for the first time since 2011, but I still believe they are a ways away from being able to compete with the Braves and Dodgers in October.
C70: Besides yourself and the team account, give me up to three good Phillies Twitter accounts to follow.
Ethan: Number one should be Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) as he’s the Phillies prospect guru. He knows more about their farm system than anyone I know. If you’re into unbridled Phillies enthusiasm, I’d recommend Alex Carr (@AlexCarrMLB). He knows his stuff about the team and is almost always optimistic about the team. If you know anything about Phillies Twitter, optimistic is not an adjective that would spring to mind. The last one would be Justin Klugh (@Justin_Klugh). He’s one of my favorite baseball writers out there and his takes on the Phillies are right up my alley.
Matt: Two guys who provide quality while operating a bit under the radar would be Matt Rappa (@mattrappasports) and Patrick Gordon (@PGordonPBR). Matt is one of the top producers for That Ball’s Outta Here (@fs_tboh) which is a Phillies social media site under the Fansided umbrella. TBOH is a site that I actually ran for a couple of seasons about five years ago. And Patrick provides coverage of not only the Phillies, but also local Philadelphia-area college and high school baseball at both the feed and his website the Philadelphia Baseball Review.
Tim: Three good Phillies accounts to follow: