Phillies Spring Training 2024

Merrifield goes yard, hopes to apply lessons from Toronto to role with Phillies


FORT MYERS, Fla. — Whit Merrifield connected on a two-out pitch from Red Sox lefty Lucas Luetge in the third inning Monday afternoon, lofting a ball over the replica Green Monster at jetBlue Park for his first home run of the spring.

After exiting the game a few innings later, he asked the rhetorical question on most veterans' minds this time of year.

"Will it count during the season?"

The Phillies are only three games into spring training. They have 29 left before leaving Florida. Results in these games matter for players fighting to make the team but not so much for guys like Merrifield, who is guaranteed $8 million even if he's not guaranteed an everyday job.

"Some days are good, some days are not so good, but that's why it's spring," he said. "What I've found is before you get to spring training it's different, when you get to spring training it's different and then Opening Day is different. I don't put any weight on spring training. It's all about how my body feels, is my work good, do I feel good? And then the season comes and we go."

Merrifield's a .332 career hitter in spring training, which means nothing other than he must arrive to work in mid-February with some degree of timing. While he doesn't care about the numbers his swings produce in exhibition games, any player wants to make a positive impression on his new team and fanbase. The real first impression, of course, will come at the end of March when the Phillies open the regular season against the Braves.

Merrifield's role will be determined by numerous factors — his production, Johan Rojas' offense, injuries, the ability of Brandon Marsh and Bryson Stott to hold their own against left-handed pitching. He's confident that if he hits, he'll find his way into manager Rob Thomson's lineup regularly.

The 35-year-old was an everyday player with the Royals from his call-up in May 2016 until 2022, when he was traded at the deadline to the Blue Jays. Toronto did not play him regularly that summer. Merrifield started only 34 of the Blue Jays' final 58 games.

He hit his way into a more regular role late in the season and it's an experience he thinks he can carry forward to this one.

"It was difficult early because when I got traded over, I wanted to kinda prove myself and I was getting two at-bats a series," he said. "It was back like being 25 again trying to make the big-league team and getting two at-bats in spring training. It was like, 'These at-bats carry a lot of weight,' so that was difficult.

"But then I got going, I got hot and was in there a lot. I've found that with my versatility, I find ways in the lineup, and if I'm playing well, I stay in the lineup. It was a transition of trying to prove I'm a good player to a new team, but once I kinda hit that heater and got to show people what I can do, after that it was easy.

“At this point in my career being on a good team, I just want to contribute and if I'm playing well, I'll probably be in there. If I'm going through a stretch where I'm not playing well, we've got a lot of good guys on this team who can step in and carry some at-bats.”

The Phillies know what Merrifield can do and it's why they paid $8 million to a player who might not reach 450 plate appearances. His primary spots will be left field and second base, and Thomson has also mentioned the possibility of third base, where Merrifield spent time at the University of South Carolina.

Merrifield played three games in the corner outfield at Citizens Bank Park the last two seasons but said that there weren't any plays that stuck out as being particularly difficult or unusual. CBP has an angled wall in left-center field that can be tricky to read for outfielders inexperienced with its caroms.

"I'm sure it'll be a little unique, (but) I played a lot in Fenway and some quirky places," he said.

As for his preference between the three outfield spots?

"Whatever's shorter to the dugout," he said. "That's always been my joke, as I get old enough, I'm gonna put in my contract that I need the shorter spot from the dugout."

Unfortunately for Merrifield that would be right field, which Nick Castellanos has locked down. He'll have to get some more steps in but it's a worthy trade-off to play on a team with true World Series aspirations.

"The energy in there, the guys that are in there, they're in there for the right reasons, they're in there to get better everyday and work toward the end goal and that's winning the last game of the season," he said. "It's good energy. It's what I feel like more organizations need to be and that's coming into the year with the expectation to win the World Series. This organization is that. It's refreshing, it's nice to be a part of.

"It's not about what did I do here, what did I do there, it's about what did we do? How did we fail? How did we succeed, and how can we get better? I had it in Toronto, and here it's just different because these guys are so close and they want to get over the hump. I'm happy to be along for the ride.

"Talking to Larry Bowa the other day, he said there's nothing like Philly when the team's good. I'm looking forward to seeing it."

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