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Getting more and better performances out of Arrieta will be pivotal to the Phillies hopes for 2020 contention

 

The Philadelphia Phillies have a better starting lineup and pitching rotation right now than they had at any point during the 2019 season. Which means that the Phillies are, at the moment with everyone healthy, better than they have been since the early years of this soon-to-end decade.

None of this means that they are good enough to reach the 2020 postseason. The regular season schedule for the upcoming season is slated to end on Sunday, September 27 in Washington. For the Phillies to be playing October baseball, any number of things have to go right.

That consideration of health will be vital. The club will need to receive anticipated All-Star caliber production from top stars Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Aaron Nola, and Zack Wheeler.

It would also help if the front office, specifically general manager Matt Klentak, can bolster the back-end of the Opening Day roster with a couple of more impactful bench and bullpen pieces.

Even if all of that goes right – the team stays relatively healthy, the stars produce as expected, the bench and bullpen prove effective – for the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans to enjoy playoff baseball for the first time since 2011 the following five players simply must step up their games.

Rhys Hoskins

The Phillies starting first baseman finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2017 despite not making his debut until mid-August. Extrapolating his freshman numbers over a full season would have resulted in 54 homers, 144 RBI, and 111 runs scored.

Miscast as a left fielder the following year, Hoskins still produced power at the plate with a 34 home run, 72 extra-base hit, 96 RBI, and 89 runs scored campaign. He also held his own under the glare of the national spotlight with a solid performance in the Home Run Derby as part of the mid-season All-Star Game festivities.

But in 2019, Hoskins regressed. Despite receiving 45 more plate appearances during his age 26 season, his production dipped to 29 homers, 85 RBIs, and 86 runs scored. His strikeouts rose from 150 to 173 and his batting average slid from the .246 to the .226 level.

While Hoskins walks total rose from 87 to 116, his on-base percentage rose just 10 points to the .364 mark. The fact was that he simply did not make nearly enough contact, especially contact resulting in power, this past season.

What Hoskins needs to do in 2020 is make more and harder contact, sacrificing some of the patience he showed last year for more aggressiveness at the plate. His slugging percentage, which has slipped from 1.014 to .850 to last year’s unacceptable .819 mark should be at .900 or above. That will be the surest sign as to whether Hoskins is producing at a playoff-caliber level.

Jean Segura

When Klentak traded away Carlos Santana for Segura last December it was expected that the seven-year veteran and two-time All-Star would become a significant upgrade at shortstop over former top prospect J.P. Crawford.

During his age 29 campaign in 2019, Segura didn’t have a bad year, he just didn’t enjoy a particularly good season either. Defensively, Fangraphs ranked Segura at 15th, the exact mid-point, among all qualifying MLB shortstops for this past season. That was two places higher than the former shortstop, Freddy Galvis, who many Phillies fans considered a top glove man.

At the plate over his six full seasons in Major League Baseball prior to arriving in Philadelphia, Segura averaged roughly 10 homers, 50 RBIs, 25 doubles, 78 runs scored, and 27 stolen bases with a .288 average and .328 on-base percentage.

His numbers this past season? 12 homers, 60 RBIs, 37 doubles, 79 runs, 10 steals with a .280 average and .323 OBP. That is pretty much in line with his career production. It is the kind of season that the Phillies should have expected from him.

What the Phillies could really use in 2020 is for the All-Star caliber Segura to show up. In 2013 with Milwaukee he hit .294 and stole 44 bases. Then in 2018 with Seattle he hit .304 with 20 steals and 91 runs scored.

It is expected that with the acquisition of Didi Gregorius to play shortstop, that Segura will be sliding over to second base. Playing that position for the entirety of 2016 with Arizona, Segura produced his best season in the big-leagues. He slashed .319/.368/.499 that year with 20 home runs, 68 extra-base hits, 64 RBIs, 102 runs. Those were all career highs, and he added 33 stolen bases.

Adam Haseley

At age 23, Haseley began the 2019 season playing at Double-A Reading. The Phillies first round MLB Draft pick in 2017 at eighth overall quickly rose to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Over the first two months of the season at two levels, Haseley was enjoying a solid campaign and advancing through a natural progression. He was on pace to make his big-league debut in September when rosters expanded while receiving a full summer against advanced Triple-A pitching in the minors.

A variety of circumstances in Philadelphia caused him to be rushed to the majors for a pair of early June cameos, and those ongoing circumstances led to his promotion for good in mid-July.

His rookie season resulted in a .266/.324/.396 slash line. Haseley contributed five homers, 19 extra-base hits, 26 RBIs, 30 runs scored, and four stolen bases. He saw action all across the outfield: 40 games in center field with 36 starts, 22 in left field with 15 starts, 10 in right field with eight starts.

It is expected that Haseley will at least open the 2020 season as the Phillies starting center fielder. Among all MLB players who appeared in at least 300 innings there this past season, Haseley was ranked just 26th by Fangraphs defensively. That will have to improve if the club is to receive playoff-caliber defense at what is a vital position on the field.

Offensively his 2019 numbers extrapolate out to about a dozen homers, 65 RBIs, 50 extra-base hits, 75 runs, and 10 steals. Those numbers need to be improved upon if the Phillies are to become legitimate contenders. The good news is that Haseley will turn just 24 in April. Odds are that he will indeed continue progressing. If he is going to be the everyday center fielder for the entire season, that improvement will be a must.

Scott Kingery

I’ve often described Kingery as the Swiss army knife of the Phillies. During his rookie 2018 season, Kingery started 101 games and appeared in 119 as the regular shortstop. But he was also used at six other positions by manager Gabe Kapler, everywhere but catcher and first base.

In this past season, Kapler utilized his versatility at a half-dozen spots, including 65 games in center field and 41 at third base. A Gold Glover at second base in the minor leagues, Kingery has only seen 14 games of action and made just eight starts over his first two years in the big-leagues at what is clearly his best defensive position.

Things are shaping up for more of the same in 2020. Right now, Kingery is slated to open as the third baseman. However, rumors continue to persist of the Phillies interest in free agent Josh Donaldson or a possible trade for Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs.

Even if the Phillies stand pat at the hot corner, top prospect Alec Bohm should be ready to take over the third base position at some point in the 2020 campaign. It is almost a foregone conclusion that, barring injuries, Kingery will eventually be pushed off the position and back into his super-utility role.

No matter where he is used, it is almost a certaintly that Kingery will be in the regular starting lineup at one position or another. It will be with improvement at the plate where he can become a difference maker.

Kingery received just 16 more plate appearances this past season than in his rookie year. But his home runs jumped from eight to 19, extra-base hits from 33 to 57, RBIs from 35 to 55, runs from 55 to 64, and steals from 10 to 15. His rookie slash line of .226/.267/.338 was improved to .258/.315/.474 this past summer.

Turning 26-years-old in late April, there is no reason that the Phillies should not be able to count on Kingery to continue increasing his offensive output. He is a potential 25-25 player in homers and steals. A little more consistency at the plate resulting his becoming a  hitter who bats at or near the top of the order and scores 100 runs. That needs to be the next step in Kingery’s development.

Jake Arrieta

The lone hurler on this list, Arrieta needs to stay healthy and deliver more consistent outings in 2020 for the Phillies starting pitching rotation as its most veteran arm.

No one expects the right-hander, who turns 34 in early March, to repeat or even approximate his 2014-16 peak with the Chicago Cubs when he was one of the top starters in baseball and the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner.

But the Phillies need to get at least a little more than they have received over his first two seasons with the club: 18-19, 4.26 ERA, 1.369 WHIP, 314 hits over 308.1 innings with a 248/108 K:BB ratio across 55 starts.

In April and May of 2018, Arrieta made his first 10 starts with the Phillies. Seven of those were Quality Start outings of at least six innings and three or fewer earned runs allowed. This past season, six of his first seven outings resulted in Quality Starts once again.

From May 10 through the early end to his season in 2019, Arrieta had a 5.26 ERA and opposing batters hit .300 against him. From June 3 through the end of the 2018 season, Arrieta had a 4.88 ERA.

The fast starts to his first two Phillies seasons were encouraging. Arrieta showed during April and May that he can still be a winning pitcher when healthy and motivated. Discouraging were the fall-offs in his performance and health as those seasons moved along.

In 2018 it was a cartilage issue in his left knee that likely caused Arrieta’s decreased effectiveness. That issue required surgery last off-season. He then lost his effectiveness and most of the final two months of this past season due to bone spurs in his pitching elbow, which also required surgery. He was quoted back in August by Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Without this bone spur, I’m going to be able to use everything effectively. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know what I need to do to execute certain pitches. I’m physically limited at this point. I don’t have the ability to do those things. With some more space in the elbow, without that distraction in there, I’m going to be pretty good.

The Phillies have $22.5 million options on Arrieta for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Those will certainly not be exercised. However, the pitcher could get himself a nice deal from some team come this time next year if he can deliver a full, healthy, productive season. That would also go a long way towards pushing the Phillies to the postseason.

 

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