It may not be on Opening Day. It may not even be for a few weeks after that. At some point in 2020, though, Alec Bohm is set to make the Phillies’ 26-man roster. And while he doesn’t play center field — for now, as you likely know by now, he plays third base and first base only — the day Bohm breaks into the exclusive ranks of a Major League roster is the day the team’s current center fielder may face a reckoning.
On the back of a competent offensive and surprisingly excellent defensive debut in 2019, Adam Haseley finds himself atop the current depth chart in center field. The former first-round pick batted .266/.324/.396 in his first 242 plate appearances, while playing playing plus defense in the outfield, and has helped pave the way for the Phillies to move on from Odubel Herrera.
Kingery, for his part, made 57 starts in center last year, logging nearly 500 innings out there after registering exactly zero appearances as a CF in his first three pro seasons and only one with the big club in 2018. Being the speedy athlete he is, Kingery made it work as a center fielder, but his time out there hasn’t quite done enough to replace second base as his best defensive position.
As things currently stand, Haseley and Kingery can coexist on the Phillies just fine. The club signed Didi Gregorius this week to play shortstop, which will push Jean Segura out of the position and either to second or third base. Kingery will play whichever one Segura is not playing; the best combination of player and position for those two has yet to be set in stone. Haseley, barring a horrid Spring Training, will probably see the bulk of time in CF. Roman Quinn will wait in the wings, providing a switch-hitting option and speed off the bench.
But let’s say Bohm is forcing the club’s hand into a promotion by May. What happens then?
A large part of thought exercises like this assume heath. That is, certainly, not a sure thing, but let’s say the Major League club is at full strength by the time justification for holding Bohm back expires.
The first thing is that this probably spells the end of Josh Harrison, who’s projected to be the team’s 26th man out of Spring Training. The veteran signed a minor league deal with the Phils after posting a .698 OPS over the last five years. He’s played more than 200 innings at five different positions (2B, 3B, SS, LF, RF), and could fill a need as a spell guy for a few weeks, but doesn’t seem likely to hold down a spot for the full year barring injury. As Harrison has no minor league options left, he’d need to be designated for assignment, which would not only clear a spot on the 26 for Bohm, it would open up a 40-man spot as well. The roster is solved on paper.
But positionally, as mentioned above, Bohm is tidally locked to third base and first base right now. Even if he could play a corner outfield spot — and the Phillies love their positional flexibility, so let’s be generous and say he can — those spots are both held down by guys who aren’t splitting significant time with a rookie. So, corner infield it is, and that Rhys Hoskins guy has first base in his pocket for a while. With Bohm, Kingery, and Segura all vying for infield time and only one of them looking capable of playing center field (the last contestable spot), well, you see where this is going.
A lot, perhaps more than usual, will depend on performance in a short time. If someone gets hurt by this time and needs to hit the IL, well, the conversation is different and, perhaps, the roster crunch is a bit easier to navigate upon Bohm’s promotion. But the scenarios change depending on who does what. There’s also the chance one (or both?) could be traded prior to the season, at which time the tone of this conversation changes completely.
If Haseley struggles, he can be optioned. This would preserve Harrison and Quinn, who are both out of options and would be exposed to waivers, leaving the Phillies with only Arquimedes Gamboa as an in-house utility option. If Kingery struggles, he could also be optioned, but the team likely views that only as an extreme last resort. If Segura struggles, he cannot be optioned but he could be forced to the bench, which would further cloud his future on this team even with an additional two years and almost $30 million still due after 2020. There’s also Gregorius, who’s on just a one-year deal and could theoretically be supplanted at short by either Kingery or Segura, but leaving him behind five or six weeks into a $14 million dollar deal feels outrageously unlikely. Just one more scenario to acknowledge, I guess.
Whatever the play and whatever the circumstances, Bohm’s looming presence creates a bit of uncertainty for the Phillies. And in a way, it’s a problem you’d like to have: A prospect performing so well he’s forcing the issue with the MLB squad. But the way this team is currently constructed, someone will lose MLB playing time when Bohm is ready. Right now, that guy might just be Haseley. So whether it’s totally fair or not, there’s an increased amount of pressure on Haseley to do well to start the 2020 season, or else he could be left without a seat in this roster’s game of musical chairs.