Some more signs that the countdown to spring training is on emerged this week, as the Phillies made news by removing center fielder Odubel Herrera from the 40-man roster and hosting their annual prospect education program at Citizens Bank Park.

A total of 13 Phillies minor leaguers attended the program, including top position-player prospect Alec Bohm, who figures to be in the big leagues before the 2020 season is over. Eight of the 13 prospects were pitchers, including relievers Connor Brogdon, Zach Warren, Garrett Cleavinger, Addison Russ and Cristopher Sanchez.

The strikeout numbers of the relievers caught the eye of new pitching coach Bryan Price, who believes some of the Phillies’ relief prospects could be in the big leagues this season.

“The numbers would suggest they are nearing readiness because they are striking everybody out,” Price said. “Their numbers are off the charts. They are doing things you see in high school. We all did that in high school, but it doesn’t transition into college and pro ball and we’re seeing that now.

"The kids who are coming to big-league camp will get an opportunity to showcase what they do and then also put themselves on the radar to either make the club or get strong consideration [for a promotion] early in the year if they get off to a good start and we have a need.”

Cleavinger averaged 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings last season, Russ averaged 12.9, Brogdon averaged 12.6, and Warren, a Vineland native, averaged 12.0. All four pitchers will be in big-league camp at spring training for the first time.

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— Bob Brookover (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

St. Augustine High School grad Zach Warren, a Vineland native, could be one of the Phillies' young relievers who gets to the big leagues in 2020.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
St. Augustine High School grad Zach Warren, a Vineland native, could be one of the Phillies' young relievers who gets to the big leagues in 2020.

Bryan Price talks about Phillies pitchers for first time

Phillies fans are skeptical by nature, and with the start of spring training less than a month away, they are wondering if their team has enough pitching to compete with the World Series-champion Washington Nationals, the two-time N.L. East-champion Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets.

“I’m an optimist, but I’m also a realist,” Price said. "When I took the job, I knew some of the peripherals. I certainly knew Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin. I’m aware of [Vince] Velasquez. I had seen [Nick] Pivetta pitch, and I’m aware of [Hector] Neris and [Adam] Morgan and some of the guys in the bullpen. But I didn’t know what the peripherals were as far as who was in the system and who really pitched and had an impact last year and what were the probabilities that they were going to get better.

“As I kind of investigated that through meeting these guys or talking to them on the phone and then talking to our staff members here and looking at a lot of video, I was extremely encouraged. I think there is a lot of pitching here that has room to get much better, and I’m looking forward to being part of that by helping where I can.”

The biggest challenge for Price will be extracting the talent that the Phillies obviously still believe resides inside the arms of Velasquez and Pivetta, who will likely enter camp competing for the job of fifth starter.

“I’ve reached out and made contact, watched video and spoken with them multiple times already, and we started to talk about their introspection of themselves — how do they see themselves and what do they think they can do to get better?” Price said.

“I offered up a few thoughts, but in this position, I don’t want to offer up too much because I don’t know these guys well enough yet. I don’t know what they’ve already tried, and I don’t want to be redundant. Getting to know them and watching them throw live as opposed to different angles on video will make a big difference. They obviously have great talent, but we do have to refine the talent and the productivity.”

Price indicated that Pivetta and Velasquez might not be the only pitchers fighting for the fifth spot. It will be interesting to see if top pitching prospect Spencer Howard can work his way into the mix after dominating in the Arizona Fall League.

“At this moment, [Pivetta and Velasquez] are competing against guys we have in our system who have been performers who I think have to be considered in the competition,” Price said. “I just think it’s too early to say too much. First of all, I’m not the one who is going to be making that decision on who is a front-runner. I think we have to universally make a decision on who our best guys are … and if it’s a shootout for that fifth spot, let that evolve a little bit, let [manager Joe Girardi] and I get to know these guys a little better and make a smart decision.”

Price also said that reliever Seranthony Dominguez, who was limited to 27 games last season by an elbow injury, has been throwing and should be ready for the start of spring training.

“As a matter of fact, he was champing at the bit to get going,” Price said. “But he is on a throwing protocol set up by our training staff with some oversight by [assistant pitching coach Dave Lundquist], myself and [bullpen coach Jim Gott] and we had to cut him back a little because he was really champing at the bit to get going longer distances.

"I’m confident that he’s going to be ready, but he’s not going to be fast-tracked. We’re going to take our time in his evolution. He doesn’t need four weeks of pitching in games in order to get ready for the season.”

The rundown

With Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson both moving to the American League via free agency, the Phillies could have the National League East’s next great third baseman in Alec Bohm. He’ll have to prove he can stay at the position defensively.

The Phillies removed 2016 All-Star outfielder Odubel Herrera from their 40-man roster after they claimed outfielder Nick Martini off waivers. Matt Breen’s story covers what could be next for Herrera, who will likely land in the Phillies’ minor-league camp in Clearwater, Fla. next month.

Even though he will not be in camp this year, Herrera still had a major impact this offseason in a negative way. With the Phillies still in need of pitching help, Scott Lauber points out that they have stopped spending because they are roughly $5 million short of baseball’s $208 million luxury tax. They’d still have more than $11 million to spend if it were not for Herrera’s contract.

A long list of non-roster invitees was announced earlier this week, and top prospect Bohm was the leader of the pack. Howard also will be in attendance for the first time.

With the hot stove season cooling down, it sure looks as if the Phillies have too many holes to compete for the NL East title. Breen provided his thoughts on what needs to happen for the Phillies to surprise us all.

The Phillies appear headed to salary arbitration cases with catcher J.T. Realmuto and closer Hector Neris. Lauber has the details.

The biggest news in baseball this week, of course, came out of Houston, where the Astros fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch after commissioner Rob Manfred suspended each man for the 2020 season. The penalties for their cheating scheme were harsh, but they should have been harsher.

Important dates

Feb. 11: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Feb. 17: First full-squad workout in Clearwater.

Feb. 22: Grapefruit League lid-lifter against Detroit, 1:05 p.m.

March 26: Season opener in Miami, 4:10 p.m.

April 2: Home opener vs. Milwaukee, 3:05 p.m.

Phillies legend Steve Carlton became the highest-paid pitcher in baseball on this date in 1973.
David Maialetti / Staff Photographer
Phillies legend Steve Carlton became the highest-paid pitcher in baseball on this date in 1973.

Stat of the day

On this date in 1973, the Phillies made Steve Carlton the highest-paid pitcher in baseball with a one-year deal worth — wait for it — $165,000. According to BaseballReference.com, it represented a $100,000 raise from what he had made in 1972, when Lefty went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for a team that won 59 games.

Carlton lost a league-leading 20 games in 1973, and posted what was then a career-worst 3.90 ERA. But the truly unbelievable number is that Carlton earned only $6.94 million during a Hall of Fame career that included six 20-win seasons, four Cy Young Awards and 4,136 strikeouts.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: Thanks for the newsletter — great stuff. If the Phillies trade a player and agree to cover part of his salary even as he plays for the team to which he is traded, does his full annual average value for that year come off the books for luxury tax purposes, or does only the portion they aren’t covering come off?

For instance, it looks to me as though Odubel Herrera signed a five-year, $30.5M contract, which I assume means that it has a $6.1M AAV. If the Phillies trade him to the Marlins and agree to cover all but $1M of his salary for each year he remains on the Marlins, do they get $6.1M in luxury tax relief or only $1M in relief?

— Michael K., via email

Answer: The answer is yes. If the Phillies, for instance, were able to trade Herrera and agreed to pick up half of his remaining $20.2 million salary, they would be on the hook for the average annual value of $5.05 million over the next two seasons.

A good example of this is Jay Bruce. He is making $13 million this season as part of the three-year deal he signed with the New York Mets two years ago, but Seattle agreed to pay all but $2.75 million of his remaining contract when they traded him to the Phillies last season. That means he counts just $1.375 million against the Phillies’ luxury tax this season.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that answers your question, Michael.