Nine-year big-league veteran Harrison could become a super-utility bench option for the 2020 Phillies
Not every signing by your favorite Major League Baseball team during the off-season is going to be of the mega-contract superstar variety.
While the Philadelphia Phillies have inked a long-term agreement with starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and a one-year deal with shortstop Didi Gregorius, the club has also shopped in the bargain bin in hopes of bolstering their bench, bullpen, and minor league depth.
The first such move came on October 30 when the Phillies claimed hard-throwing righty reliever Robert Stock off waivers from the San Diego Padres.
Stock turned 30 years of age on November 21. He was the second round choice of the Saint Louis Cardinals in the 2009 MLB Draft out of the University of Southern Cal.
Having pitched in parts of two big-league seasons with the San Diego Padres, Stock still cannot become a free agent until after the 2024 season and is not even arbitration-eligible until after 2021.
Stock signed with San Diego two years ago as a free agent. He then delivered for the Padres in his MLB debut in the 2018 season when he saved nine games and allowed 37 hits over 39.2 innings across 32 appearances with 38 strikeouts and a 2.50 ERA.
In 2019, Stock’s season ended in early July due to biceps tendinitis. His fastball has been timed at 100 mph and over, and averages 98. If healthy, he has the talent to make the team out of spring training and impact the Phillies bullpen.
On November 20 (my birthday present?) general manager Matt Klentak made his first trade of the off-season. It wasn’t a blockbuster. He obtained 24-year-old lefty pitcher Cristopher Sanchez from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for second base prospect Curtis Mead.
Sanchez is a Dominican southpaw who struggled during his first five minor league seasons. But last year across three levels he finally seemed to be putting it all together. He allowed 58 hits over 75.2 innings across 24 appearances, 10 of those starts, with a 73/26 K:BB ratio.
Having turned just 23-years-old exactly one week ago, if Sanchez continues the progression he showed while rising from Low-A to Triple-A last season the Phillies could have a helpful bullpen arm from the left side. That always has value.
Klentak brought in a familiar name to most baseball fans on November 26 when he signed infielder Josh Harrison to a minor league contract with a spring training invitation.
Harrison has appeared in parts of nine seasons in Major League Baseball, the first eight of those with the Pittsburgh Pirates with whom he was a two-time National League All-Star.
After signing a one-year deal to play with the Detroit Tigers last season, Harrison went down in May with a strained hamstring. The Tigers released him as he was still rehabbing in early August.
He has tremendous versatility. Harrison has appeared in 431 games at second base, 266 at third base, 66 in right field, 46 in left field, and 37 games at shortstop. A friend of Andrew McCutchen‘s from their days together in Pittsburgh, Harrison has a great chance to break camp with the Phillies as a super-utility bench player.
On December 2, Klentak continued adding to his potential bullpen mix when he claimed right-hander Trevor Kelley off waivers from the Boston Red Sox.
Kelley is a 26-year-old who was Boston’s 36th round selection in the 2015 MLB Draft out of the University of North Carolina. Over parts of five solid minor league seasons he allowed 213 hits over 247 innings across 171 appearances with 228 strikeouts.
Finally getting a big-league shot this past summer, Kelley was largely unimpressive. He was beaten up by the Toronto Blue Jays in a one-game stint on July 2, then was scored upon in four of nine September appearances with the Red Sox. He is likely headed for Triple-A to serve as Phillies organizational depth.
As the Winter Meetings were coming to a close on December 12, the Phillies brought back utility man Phil Gosselin, inking him to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training in Clearwater.
Gosselin slashed .262/.294/.308 with three doubles, seven RBIs, and five runs scored over 68 plate appearances. He appeared in 44 games with the 2019 Phillies, playing in six games in left field, five at shortstop, and one game at third base.
With parts of seven big-league seasons under his belt and experience at every position in the field other than center field and catcher, Gosselin should fill the same role as a year ago. Barring major injuries, he will head to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and serve as an experienced veteran should help be needed with the Phillies – hopefully on a short-term basis.
Then on Wednesday the club announced the signing of five-year big-league veteran outfielder Mikie Mahtook to a minor league deal with a spring training invite.
Mahtook was the first-round choice of the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2011 MLB Draft out of Louisiana State University. He made his big-league debut in 2015 with Tampa and then was traded to the Detroit Tigers in January 2017.
Mahtook has appeared all across the outfield during his time in the majors. He has 116 games in left field, 112 in center, and 61 games out in right field. He has a career .235/.292/.405 slash line.
During his best season, Mahtook got 379 plate appearances and appeared in 109 games during 2017 with the Tigers. He produced a dozen home runs, scored 50 runs, and hit .276 that year, showing that he can be a legitimate contributor to a big-league ball club.
Assuming that all of their other options are healthy, Mahtook would appear to be the outfield version of what Gosselin is to the infield. He would go to Lehigh Valley and become insurance in case of multiple injuries to the Phillies active roster.
The same can be said for 30-year-old Matt Szczur. The Cape May, New Jersey native and Villanova University alum also signed a minor league deal. He has experience in parts of five big-league seasons, four of those with the Chicago Cubs.
Szczur appeared in 107 games and received 200 plate appearances with the Cubs during the 2016 season in which Chicago finally broke the ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’ and won the World Series. He received a ring, but was not part of the postseason roster.
Over his career, Szczur has appeared in 147 games in left field, making 43 starts. He has 62 games in right field with 27 starts, and 56 games in center with 30 starting assignments. He has a career .231/.312/.355 slash line.
None of these deals resulted in excitement from the fan base or increased season ticket sales. In fact, there were many negative comments on social media from those fans, who understandably want every signing and trade to be for an obvious impact player or pitcher.
However, these are the exact moves that every organization across Major League Baseball makes during each off-season. They are designed to add players with some talent and/or experience to the organizational mix. Some won’t survive spring training and will be released. Some will end up as organizational depth in the minor leagues.
And maybe, just maybe, one or two will prove to be inexpensive additions to the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies big-league roster for Opening Day.
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