Ah yes, breakout season — the time of year where we all pick and choose our favorite players that are going to take that ever-present “next step” into stardom.
Maybe this is the year that your favorite player finally figures it out. Perhaps, in the long four months of the offseason, they managed to change something drastic to make all of their prior problems melt away (Rhys Hoskins’ batting stance, for one.) Or, on the other hand, perhaps they’ve changed nothing at all, and this just happens to be the year that it all comes together and clicks for them.
Regardless of which side of the isle your player sits, in honor of the 2020 season rearing it’s head in just a few weeks — here are my favorite breakout candidates for this brand new and exciting season of Phillies baseball!
(Small precursor; this list does not include either of Spencer Howard or Alec Bohm. Yes, they’re excellent prospects. Yes, I think they’re going to succeed at the Major League level. Yes, I’m in love with them both. You just don’t need to hear that for the zillionth time — cool? Cool.)
1B Rhys Hoskins
He’s got a new stance with something to prove — and 2020 might just be Rhys Hoskins’ most important season to date.
Let’s face the facts, Hoskins’ 2019 was nothing short of a disaster. Outside of leading the National League in walks, he saw regression in nearly every single one of his offensive metrics, which is not the result you want from your cleanup hitter — especially not when he’s batting behind Bryce Harper.
However, based upon what we’ve seen from Rhys thus far this Spring, we can assume that this whole “new swing” thing is working for him, to some degree. He’s attacking the first pitch often, he’s more aggressive in friendly counts, and he’s driving the ball well. In fact, FIVE of Hoskins’ SIX Spring Training hits have gone for extra bases (4 doubles, 1 home run.)
It’s a common theme in baseball that a player who struggles mightily one year is on the verge of something big the next — the most recent Phillie-related example being Carlos Santana, who, after a poor 2018 campaign in Philly, returned to the Cleveland Indians and put up a career season.
Let’s hope, for all our sakes, that Rhys will follow a similar pattern heading into 2020. Personally, I think he’s due.
SS Didi Gregorius
Gregorius has gotten off to a ghastly start this Spring, as he’s still looking to snap an 0-for-22 hitless streak for his first knock of the year.
Is this something you should be worried about? Absolutely not. Gregorius is still hitting things hard, and, in true Didi fashion, has only gone down swinging four times thus far into camp. This means he’s making contact, he’s seeing the ball — now he just needs to get his rhythm back.
The 30 year-old shortstop logged about half of a season in 2019, due to a long rehab process post Tommy John surgery. Since then, he’s struggled to catch up to fastballs in his sweet spot (up-and-in) and is still working to find his footing on breaking balls — but once he does, look out.
Gregorius is as severe a pull hitter as one can be when it comes to power. He can still poke things the opposite way, but, when it comes to home runs, you’d be hard pressed to find a Didi bomb that landed anywhere other than deep right field. This particular part of his game is a key factor as to why the Phillies were so eager to take a shot on the ex-Yankee.
Citizens Bank Park boasts the shortest right-field porch in all of the National League, just as Yankee Stadium has the shortest right-field porch in all of the American League. Baring this in mind, it stands to reason that the Phillies were so active in pursuing Didi Gregorius because they believe he’ll take advantage of his new ballpark’s dimensions.
If Gregorius can re-find his timing and bat speed, the National League East is in for a big shock. We’re talking about a potential 25-30 home run hitter here — that’s some major impact.
LHP Ranger Suarez
I’ve been a Ranger Suarez fan for a long, long time. I’ve seen him thru some ups, and I’ve seen him thru some downs, but even I have been extremely impressed with what I’ve seen from him this Spring.
Overall, Ranger always struck me as the LOOGY type — and his makeup screams that exact projection. A lefty with middling velocity, a dirty changeup, and a sinker that induces soft contact. If that doesn’t have ‘specialist’ written all over it, I don’t know what would.
However, in recent days, Suarez has been making more and more use of his slider, which is EXACTLY what we needed to see in order for him to take that next step as a starter — the ever-elusive ‘third pitch.’
In his most recent Spring start, Ranger was tossing slider after slider after slider — and, while some of them were hit hard, he was locating the pitch well, and generated some zesty swings-and-misses.
I’m not sure if Ranger is due to start in the Major League or Triple-A rotation, but, wherever he goes, if he can manage to maintain the momentum he’s carried with him from the second half of last year all the way thru 2020 Spring Training, we might just have a new rotation addition in our midst.
He’s certainly no ace, but Suarez could absolutely find his place in the back of this Phillies rotation — which was in dire need of lefties to begin with.
RHP Reggie McClain
Put plainly, Reggie McClain is filthy.
LOOK at what Reggie McClain did.— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) March 9, 2020
LOOK AT IT.
Poor Gio Urshela — didn’t stand a chance.
The Phillies claimed McClain off waivers from the Seattle Mariners, and it’s very easy to see why they were so eager to snatch him up.
The 27 year-old righty was converted from a starter last year, and shot through three tiers of Seattle’s Minor League system in 2019 — even seeing a chunk of time in the Major Leagues.
A soft contact machine, McClain features a very Arrieta-esque sinker, (that he fires at 2015 Arrieta velocity,) as well as some brutal secondaries — all of which can and do move.
In his brief Major League stint, Reggie ran into the majority of his trouble against the Houston Astros, (shocker) but made quick work of any other batters he faced at the highest level of competition.
So, he’s got nasty stuff, can go multiple innings, and induces a double play here and there — what can’t this guy do?
Well, the only thing I’d say needs specific improving is his command. McClain’s walk rate shot up at higher levels of play, and he’s had a tough time this Spring limiting damage, as the ball appears to be jumping down in Clearwater.
That said, McClain should prove a significant add to this Phillies bullpen, if not by Opening Day, then at some point during the 2020 season.
OF Roman Quinn
The unfathomable potential of a healthy Roman Quinn — I know thee well.
We all know the kind of dynamic player Roman can be when he’s healthy; the speed, the defense, the newfound pop — he’s got everything.
However, we’ve almost never seen the guy go longer than a few months at a time without seeing a significant setback, and hitting the IL for an extended stint.
But... dare I say it... I think this might be his year. We’ve seen Quinn make some seriously good plays in camp this year, and he’s been plunked, stolen bags, taken dives — all without getting hurt.
I know I’m tempting fate here, but IMAGINE the impact a full year of Roman Quinn could make!
Of course, he’ll never be a full-time starter, simply given the omnipresent threat that he could combust at any given moment — but, even as a platoon mate with Adam Haseley, or a simple bench bat/pinch runner — his presence, in any capacity, would be invaluable for the 2020 Phillies.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Scott Kingery, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez
These are just some of the MANY potential breakout candidates the Phillies have waiting to take the stage in 2020 — but, we’d love to know, who do YOU think takes the biggest step forward this coming season?
Baseball is right around the corner, folks... the most wonderful time of the year!