Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Phillies under most pressure to perform in 2020

Joe Giglio
July 03, 2020 - 8:51 am
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It’s finally time to talk about baseball.

With spring training 2.0 (or is it summer camp?) starting up at Citizens Bank Park and FDR Park, the Phillies are just three weeks away from Opening Day. 

New year, shorter season and big expectations now await. After eight consecutive years out of the playoffs, pressure is rising. It’s time for the Phillies to take the next step and become a winning team again. 

If that’s going to happen during an unprecedented 60-game season, everyone will need to step up. But there is a select group that should be feeling extra pressure heading into camp and this season.

Here are the Phillies under the most pressure to perform this season.

Bryce Harper: Year one of Harper’s 13-year deal was a success. The $330M man had 72 extra-base hits, played a better-than-advertised right field and hit every right note with his new fan base. We have the new face of the franchise, and the marriage between fan and player couldn’t be in a better place.

For now.

Harper’s 2019 was good, not great. By his career standards (137 OPS+), it wasn’t close to his best. Now we need to see it. We need to see MVP-caliber Harper re-emerge, and a short season could be the perfect time for it. Harper is about to play his age-27 season, historically the prime year for offensive players.

If Harper rakes out of the gate (like he usually does), the Phillies will be in good shape. If he hits like an MVP through 60 games (like he did in 2015 and 2017), the Phillies will be on the path to October. If he hits like he did through his first 60 games in a Phillies uniform (.243/.355/.477, 11 HR, 79 strikeouts), the fan favorite will be under the microscope for the first time in Philadelphia. 

Rhys Hoskins: Make or break time. Hoskins showed up to camp with a new look, and should have a new swing we saw some of during February and March. But that will only be the talking point until results start pouring in during games. Hoskins can no longer be judged in the prism of what he showed flashes of in 2017. We have to judge him on what he’s been since: A pretty good, not great offensive player that’s been dreadful in the field.

Hoskins has to avoid lengthy slumps, especially if the team will continue to rely on him in a clean up role in the order. Not only is the pressure on Hoskins for 2020, but his place within this franchise now longer feels secure. Sure, the DH could keep him in play for years during salary arbitration. But if Jean Segura (signed through 2022) takes to third base and Alec Bohm can play first, Hoskins playing time and future with the franchise suddenly feels at stake. 

Nick Pivetta: If Hoskins is ‘make or break’ this year, let’s go with now or never for Pivetta. The popular (including from yours truly) breakout selection in 2019 is coming off a disastrous (5.38 ERA, 1.51 WHIP) season. As with (too) many young Phillies regression (or lack of progression) was often blamed on the previous manager and coaching staff. That excuse is out now.

Pivetta carries a career 5.34 ERA and 4.56 FIP into his age-27 season. At some point, having good stuff doesn’t matter if good stuff doesn’t get outs. The Phillies are going to need big outs from this pitcher in some sort of significant role. Starter? Reliever? Wherever Pivetta is, the pressure will be on. 

Zach Eflin: The ultimate tease will serve as a litmus test for since-fired pitching coach Chris Young vs. newly hired pitching coach Bryan Price. Eflin has been vocal about his displeasure last season. The Phillies tried to change a sinkerballer into a high fastball guy last year. Results weren’t pretty at times.

If Eflin is right about who he is and what he can be if he’s left to his own devices, perhaps a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter will emerge. But if Eflin (4.36 ERA doing it “his way” in 2018 vs. 4.13 ERA in 2019) is just an up-and-down starter with durability issues, Price won’t be able to alter that much. 

Scott Kingery: First, let’s hope Kingery gets well and back to the field after being placed on the injury list as camp opened. When he does, the expected move to second base should unlock a new level of play, especially in the batter’s box, right? That’s the idea, at least. It’s been thrown out there for two years, and even backed (to an extent) by the player himself. 

The Phillies will look to find a defensive home for Kingery, hopefully leading to more offense and focus at the dish. Color me skeptical that anything Kingery did at the plate was impacted by where he stood in the field. It sounds like an excuse for why an (older) second-year player was only average offensively in his second full big league season.

Now Kingery is back where he wants to be and getting set for an important third year in the majors. I’m a fan of the player, but fell into the small camp that thought he was more valuable as a super-utility guy. Pressure now falls on Kingery to take a big leap and show everyone he can be an All-Star caliber second baseman.

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