5 key Phillies storylines with spring training 2 weeks away


It's February 1 and that means just 15 more days until Phillies pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater for spring training.

The Phils had an abbreviated offseason after playing a month longer than non-playoff teams but it's a trade-off they gladly accepted to make a deep run and gain valuable postseason experience.

They've only enhanced their roster since losing Game 6 of the World Series in Houston and there will be many eyes on the Phillies throughout 2023. 

Let's take at some of the immediate storylines fans and observers will be watching closely.

The 5th starter

This will certainly be the most prominent battle of Phillies spring training as top prospect Andrew Painter -- a top-six prospect league-wide, according to Baseball America and MLB.com -- vies for the spot.

Painter is still just 19 years old and doesn't turn 20 until April 10, more than a week into the season. Despite his age and despite the fact that he's yet to appear at Triple A, he has a good chance to win a big-league job out of camp. The Phillies won't delay his arrival just to get him Triple A seasoning if he looks ready in Florida.

Painter is coming off of an astonishingly impressive 2022 season. He began at Class A Clearwater and posted a 1.40 ERA in nine starts, striking out 69 in 38⅔ innings. He was promoted to High A Jersey Shore and was even better with a 0.98 ERA in eight starts and seven times as many strikeouts as walks. The next promotion sent him to Double A Reading, where he went 2-1 with a 2.54 ERA in five starts with 37 strikeouts and just two walks.

The Phillies intentionally left the final spot in their rotation open for a young pitcher. Painter, Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sanchez are the primary competitors with Griff McGarry and Michael Plassmeyer also in the picture. Mick Abel, the Phillies' first-round pick the year prior to Painter, will also be in camp as a non-roster invitee but isn't quite as close to the bigs.

World Baseball Classic

The World Baseball Classic begins March 8 and more than a handful of Phillies will leave spring training to participate.

J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner are part of Team USA's roster, while relievers Gregory Soto and Seranthony Dominguez will pitch for the Dominican Republic and Garrett Stubbs will catch for Israel. Taijuan Walker may also pitch for Mexico.

From March 8-15, teams play round-robin style in pools of five. Team USA's pool takes place in Phoenix from March 11-15. The pool for Israel and the Dominican Republic takes place in Miami during the same five-day window.

The tournament ends on March 21.

Rule changes

Losing one-quarter of your projected opening day roster for two weeks during spring training is not ideal, especially in a year with so many rule changes. 

Beginning in 2023, MLB will use a 15-second pitch clock with the bases empty and a 20-second pitch clock with the bases occupied. Hitters must quicken their routines, as well, stepping into the batter's box with at least eight seconds remaining on the pitch clock.

There will also be a limit of two "disengagements" from the rubber per plate appearance for pitchers, meaning they can attempt a maximum of two pick-offs per hitter before being subject to a penalty. If the third pick-off attempt is successful, the runner is out. If it is unsuccessful, the runner will automatically advance a base.

And, of course, there are new rules pertaining to defensive shifts to force two infielders to be positioned on either side of second base.

"We've got a lot of experienced guys that have never even heard of this before, so we've got to get them acclimated," manager Rob Thomson said earlier this month.

"Just listing the rules and the key points so they can start thinking about it, start preparing for it, and then we're going to hit the ground running with pitch clocks and things like that in bullpens and [batting practices]."

New faces

There will be a ton of attention on Turner, the shiny new piece the Phillies feel can get them over the top. 

The most commonly asked question about Turner since he signed his $300 million contract has been where he will hit in the Phillies' lineup. Will he lead off? Bat second? Could he spend some time in the middle of the order as the Phils await Bryce Harper's return from Tommy John surgery?

There's been no concrete answer and we may not find out until opening day March 30 in Texas. It sounds like Schwarber would be fine relinquishing the leadoff spot for Turner if the Phillies decide that's their best option out of camp.

Keep in mind, though, that the lineup we see on March 30 could look much different than the lineup the Phillies utilize late in the season when Harper is back. Harper's eventual return will provide the Phils more options in splitting lefties and righties. He and Schwarber will almost certainly be split up by a right-handed bat and that could result in Schwarber batting ahead of Turner.

There's a new face in the rotation in Walker and could be another if Painter wins the final job. The bullpen has been revamped with the additions of Craig Kimbrel, Matt Strahm and Soto, while Josh Harrison was added to the bench and Kody Clemens will compete for a utility job.

Who closes?

Also TBD. It sounds like the Phillies will rotate, play matchups and use the hot hand. It might mean none of their relievers ends up with 25 saves but several reach double-digits.

The Phillies have four legitimate options in Dominguez, Kimbrel, Soto and Jose Alvarado. All have experience closing and all but Kimbrel have spent meaningful time as setup men.

There's no clear-cut answer as of February 1 and there are reasons to lean one way or another. Dominguez might be the most reliable option of the bunch because he's less prone to wildness, but that could also mean he's most useful in the highest-leverage role, even if it's before the ninth inning.

Asked about the closer situation two weeks ago, Thomson said this:

"Unless somebody steps up and is completely dominant ...  I think it worked pretty well last year with the way we did it. I kind of like the floating closer, if you will. It just gives us a few more options. 

"If you anoint a closer, sometimes that guy ends up pitching the ninth inning and it's really a spot someone else can take advantage of, and that guy might take a spot where it's not the best area to pitch."

Two more weeks!

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