As 2023 spring training is about to be underway, here is a little guess on the on-field team awards and some of the big seasons these players could have.
Best reliever: Seranthony Domínguez
Many of you may go with José Alvarado, without hesitation. It’s not that Alvarado is going to have a bad year, he will probably have a great year but Domínguez feels like a safer pick.
Before September, it’s easy to forget Domínguez was the best reliever on the roster, putting up a 1.64 ERA and 2.27 FIP in 44 innings.
He would end up being sidelined for triceps tightness in late August and just didn’t look the same coming back in September. However, now with a full season under his belt post-Tommy John, we should expect him to be ready again to have a dominant season.
Best Defensive Player: Bryson Stott
Just like Domínguez’s pre-September dominance, it is easy to forget just how good Bryson Stott looked at second-best. Jean Segura was a really solid second baseman defensively but he may not compare.
Stott put up the same OAA as Segura but in 451.1 fewer innings and will bring the shortstop-level range Segura never had, even if he won’t have as strong of an arm.
It’s slim pickings finding good defensive players on the Phillies, his infield teammate Trea Turner is a solid shortstop, but lacks arm strength. JT Realmuto impacts the game defensively beyond metrics but will probably play less catcher this season. Brandon Marsh should bring great defense in center field but still needs to prove it.
Not enough people are mentioning just how good Stott will be at second base and with the new shift rules, that will be much more valuable than in years past.
Most Improved Player: Nick Castellanos
It has to be Nick Castellanos right? Even if he won’t ever be the player he was in 2021, he can still offer plenty after the worst season of his career.
It’s hard to tell if the issue was him pressing too much or if he’s quickly declining physically. He was very honest about how comfortable he was last season. He quickly signed with the Phillies after the lockout, his second child was born in May, and it can take time to adjust to a city like Philadelphia.
What makes these excuses seem valid is how they may’ve affected his swing. He added a few unneeded movements that could’ve slowed his bat speed.
KLong talked about how much-unneeded movement was in Castellanos's swing— Robbie Erlin fan account (@AnthonyEsbensen) February 22, 2023
In the first clip you see no added movement as the pitcher sets
In the second his hands and legs are still moving as the pitch is being thrown#Phillies pic.twitter.com/YSh1cO2D28
There is also an argument that he’s just declining physically. His average exit velocity dropped more than two miles an hour last season and his hard-hit rate went down by more than 11%. However, he is only 30 years old so it would be very strange to see major physical decline.
What is the answer? We won’t know until he steps onto the field. Kevin Long said in an article written by Alex Coffey that they want to simplify his swing from the added movements he was doing at the end of last season. So, that could be a clear fix to some of these issues.
Even with all of those scary numbers and details being thrown at you, it is very easy to come back to the idea that he’s just hit his entire life. The prior six years before signing with the Phillies, he was in the top ten percent for projected slugging and put up a 122 OPS+.
Will he ever be the guy he was in 2021? Probably not but he should still be a really good hitter for them in 2023.
Pitcher of the Year: Aaron Nola
After a disappointing 2021 season, Aaron Nola came back with vengeance, throwing over 200 innings, and had a strikeout-to-walk rate of 8.10.
Nola limited his already stellar walks per nine from 1.9 to 1.3 and cut the home run rate down from 1.3 to 0.8 but his biggest improvement may come this season.
The one weakness about Nola is that he’s always been a three-pitch pitcher, his fastball, his nasty curveball, and solid changeup but he’s now throwing a cutter with promising results.
He only threw it seven percent of the time this year, but a promising whiff rate of 28.1%. While he may not need this pitch as much compared to last season with the balanced schedules but it’s now officially a new weapon in his back pocket.
His cutter now being a workable pitch will now fill out the rest of his arsenal as he always lacked a horizontal pitch to work with his front hip two-seamer.
Nola should also have every reason to feel motivated, not only because he and the team lost the world series but because he’s in a contract year as well. The one final thing he could do that could drastically change his market is a Cy Young award.
He should also benefit from a full season of defensive upgrades, Stott moving to second base, adding Trea Turner to play shortstop, and a full season of Brandon Marsh in center field. This should be another fantastic season out of Aaron Nola.
Most Valuable Player: JT Realmuto
You can make the argument for a few other names. Trea Turner may lead the team in fWAR and will finally provide them with a reliable leadoff option. You could argue Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola since they are the backbone of a strong rotation. However, JT Realmuto feels like the best pick.
From July 15th to the end of the season, Realmuto turned a career-worst season into a career-best. He put up a .984 OPS and put the franchise on his back for them to clinch a playoff berth.
It’s not just his bat that will help them, his defense behind the plate has made Dave Dombrowski’s job much easier. They’ve built their bullpen with a reckless amount of control issues, knowing Realmuto is back there most nights to block whatever pitches spike in the dirt.
He will also benefit from the new rules as well after going 21 of 22 on stolen base attempts, now it will be much easier for him to swipe bags. 25 or potentially 30 seem realistic for him next season.
In turn, it will be harder for any catcher to throw out runners but that may also make him more valuable. He has the best pop-time in baseball with a cannon always ready to fire so he should be able to get a couple of more runners than your average catcher.
Unlike the other guys named, Realmuto will impact the game every night in unique offensive and defensive ways.