Folks, we’re just THREE WEEKS AWAY from the start of the 2020 regular season.
In three weeks, the Phillies will be in Miami to begin their season-opening series against the Marlins. There are still a number of unanswered questions with regard to this team. Rotation spots are up for grabs, the bullpen is virtually impossible to predict, the identity of the leadoff hitter is a mystery with Andrew McCutchen starting the season on the IL, and no one is really sure what they’re going to get from Didi Gregorius or Rhys Hoskins.
So now feels like a good time to unleash an annual tradition — my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season. I did a list prior to 2018, and one last year as well. Few of them came true, which is why it’s important to note they are bold predictions.
I don’t play it safe with predictions, gang. Go bold or go home.
Bryce Harper Wins NL MVP
Last year, Harper got off to a slow start, with a .222 batting average, a .793 OPS and just seven home runs in his first 44 games. That shouldn’t be surprising, given his late entry to spring training and an abbreviated off-season filled with distractions, a cross-country move, new teammates and a pregnant wife.
Entering this spring, Harper has to be more relaxed.
Bryce Harper just casually hit a baseball onto the highway. pic.twitter.com/hQ0AbJv19h— MLB (@MLB) March 4, 2020
After getting his feet under him last year, Harper had a .916 OPS and hit 28 bombs from May 18 through the end of the season. Given a more normal spring training and a strong comfort level in a new city, I predict Harper hits at least 40 homers, knocks in 120 and wins the National League MVP Award this season.
Alec Bohm Is the Starting 3B After All Star Break
Bohm has had an outstanding spring so far, with seven hits in 15 ABs, tied for the team lead. He was very good in the Arizona Fall League, with a .361/.397/.528 slash line there, but he also has just 63 games under his belt in AA and has yet to play a game at Lehigh Valley.
So yes, service time rules would make it seem obvious that he would not start the season with the Phillies, but the fact is, a couple months in AAA would do him so good. Everyone expects he will hit once he gets to LHV and, if he does, I believe he will be this team’s starting shortstop either at the All Star Break, or shortly thereafter. And he will hit at the big league level once he’s here.
Jean Segura Is Traded Mid-Season
Of course, once Bohm is called up, that likely means an existing starting player will have to go. As you’ll see in a minute, I expect big things from Scott Kingery this year, and as you’ll also see, I think the Phils’ center field situation could be in good shape, too. That leaves Jean Segura, who hit .280 last year but ran into trouble last year with a couple incidents of a perceived lack of hustle (for which he has apologized) as well as an overall drop in his production. He’s also someone who might benefit in going back to second base full-time and, even if it’s just to make room for Bohm, the Phils will probably be able to find a taker for Segura this summer.
Adam Haseley/Roman Quinn Combine For 3.0 WAR in CF
Before you laugh too hard at this, consider that in 67 games as a rookie last year, a season in which he had an OPS of just .720 and hit five home runs in 242 PAs, Haseley put up a bWAR of 1.7 and an fWAR of 0.9. Is it unrealistic to think that, if he plays 120-130 games, his defense and a similar slash line won’t get him close to 2.5 WAR this season? And I don’t know how much Roman Quinn is going to play, and I know he hasn’t been terribly productive in his first two seasons of limited action, but given his baserunning and fielding abilities, can he add an additional 0.5 WAR? I think they can, which gives the Phillies a tidy 3.0 WAR in center field this year.
Last season the Phillies put up 2.9 WAR among their center fielders, which ranked 12th, but that was with Kingery playing much of the season there.
Bullpen Finishes With Top-5 NL ERA
Hey, did you hear the Phillies finished with the fourth-lowest bullpen ERA in the second half of last season? Did ya? Did ya?
Yeah, that may have come up this off-season, but the Phillies didn’t use it as a reason not to add a couple expensive relief pitchers. Instead, the luxury tax combined with the lessons learned over the last two off-seasons, when contracts to David Robertson, Tommy Hunter, and Pat Neshek largely blew up in their faces, the team decided to bring in virtually everyone who has ever thrown an inning of relief big league baseball into camp in an attempt to cobble together a bullpen in 2020.
Folks, sometimes that’s just how it works. Seranthony Dominguez staying healthy will be a big key, Hector Neris’ arm holding out for one more season will be necessary, Adam Morgan’s return from injury would be most welcome, and a healthy Robertson in the second half could act as a big-time trade acquisition. The Phillies will also find enough younger arms — Kyle Dohy, JD Hammer, Damon Jones, Ramon Rosso, Zach Warren, Edgar Garcia, Enyel de los Santos, Francisco Morales and others — to bring up to the big leagues in order to put together a ‘pen that gets the job done this season.
Scott Kingery Makes NL All-Star Team
Scott Kingery had an OPS of .889 in the first half last season before the long, 162-game marathon eventually wore him down. He spoke this spring about how moving all over the diamond took a physical and mental toll on him, so now that he’s going to play second base, his natural position, on a regular basis, this should be Kingery’s breakout season.
If he hits like he did in the first half last season and plays the plus-defense that he played in the minors at second, he’ll easily be one of the three best second basemen in the National League this year.
Spencer Howard Makes 10 Starts For Phillies
We know the Phillies want Howard in the rotation at some point this season, and we also know they’re going to start him off slowly, given how few innings he pitched last year. There are a lot of question marks in the rotation, so it’s reasonable to assume someone is going to get hurt or under-perform. Given all that, my prediction is the Phils call Howard up sometime in August and ask him to finish out the season in the rotation, giving him at least 10 starts in his rookie year.
And, I predict he’ll finish with an ERA under 3.50.
Phillies Go Over Luxury Tax
Sure, the Phils did everything they could to stay under the tax this off-season, but if they plan to make any additions to the big league roster during the regular season, they’re almost certainly going to go over it. The question is, how much are they willing to go over?
If they’re in contention and there’s a starting pitcher out there who could really help, they probably won’t have a problem going big. They also could nab some help for the bullpen, and you still can’t rule out a Kris Bryant trade. GM Matt Klentak knows his job is on the line this year and will do whatever he has to do to get this team to the playoffs in 2020.
Anything except go over the tax in January or February, that is.
Nick Pivetta Makes 30 Starts/Vince Velasquez Gets 10 Saves
What is my confidence level in these predictions? Not exactly sky-high.
I predict Nick Pivetta wins the No. 5 starter job this spring and that he will benefit from the departure of former pitching coach Chris Young and the arrival of Bryan Price. I also believe he was humbled a bit last season and, given this second chance, he’ll do better. I love his stuff, and hopefully his newly honed changeup will be enough to keep him in the rotation all season long.
I also believe Vince Velasquez is best suited for the bullpen. He didn’t get much of a chance there last season, making just 10 appearances as a reliever before being sent back to the rotation due to Jake Arrieta’s season-ending elbow spurs. If he sticks in the ‘pen, Velasquez could work himself into some save situations, given Joe Girardi’s insistence that relievers don’t pitch more than two days in a row, and I think he’ll take to the job well.
Phillies Win 92 Games, Win Wild Card
A lot has to go right for the Phils to win 92 games, but after two seasons in which virtually nothing went right and almost no one played above expectations, things are due to balance out. The addition of manager Joe Girardi is really going to make a difference in the clubhouse and in the win-loss column, and Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon should provide more answers than Young and John Mallee before them.
Couple all that with a better bullpen, a more prolific offense, some hoped-for improvements in the bullpen and one of the two teams in front of the Phillies from last year taking a step backwards, the Phils will nab one of the NL’s two wild card spots and make the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
On Episode 364 of Hittin’ Season, I talked more about these predictions and spoke with Sports Info Solutions’ Mark Simon about The New Fielding Bible, diving into defensive analytics with one of the best in the biz. Download and give a listen!