NEW YORK – Every Monday was a day off in the minor leagues this season, and if the Phillies were home, top prospect Bryson Stott had a standing invitation to hang out with the front-runner for the National League MVP award.
“We’ve had some really good off days,” Bryce Harper said Saturday before the Phillies played here against the New York Mets. “He’ll come over on Sunday, we’ll have dinner, and then he’ll come to the game on Monday night or we’ll have dinner and he bounces back to Reading on Tuesday. Whenever he can come over and feel like he’s at home a little bit, he gets away from where he’s at, eating Taco Bell and stuff, and comes to my house. It’s good.”
It didn’t take Stott’s receiving the Paul Owens Award, bestowed annually upon the best player and pitcher in the Phillies’ farm system, to catch Harper’s attention. Harper and Stott are Las Vegas natives whose families have been friendly for several years. They watch college football together in the offseason and lived together in spring training, often carpooling to games. Harper posts videos on social media of Stott pitching to his 2-year-old son.
And if Stott keeps putting up big numbers in the minors, he and Harper may be Phillies teammates before too long.
Stott, a 23-year-old infielder and the 14th overall pick in the 2019 draft, entered the final weekend of the double-A season batting .295 with 22 doubles, 10 home runs, and an .838 on-base-plus-slugging in 79 games for Reading. Including his early-season numbers at high-A Jersey Shore, he was hitting .294 with 26 doubles, 15 homers, and an .872 OPS in 101 games.
The Phillies need help on the left side of the infield, where shortstop Didi Gregorius has had a career-worst season and third baseman Alec Bohm was demoted to triple-A last month. Considering Stott hasn’t played above the double-A level, it’s unlikely that he’s an opening-day option at shortstop. Some rival talent evaluators have wondered if he will remain at the position. Through Friday, he made 86 starts at shortstop, 10 at second base, and five at third.
Regardless, Stott’s left-handed bat will propel him to the big leagues.
“His swing plays everywhere,” Harper said. “He’s going to hit his doubles to left, he’s going to hit his homers to right. He’s going to bang when we need him to, but he’s going to get his hits as well. I think people are seeing that right now.”
Along the way, Harper is happy to be a sounding board. To wit: Stott struggled this year in his first major-league spring training, striking out 16 times in 29 plate appearances. But Harper provided perspective.
“It was funny, him coming home and going, ‘Golly, another day with three punch-outs,’ and I’m like, ‘Dude, you just came in to face three guys that were so nasty out of the bullpen that you’re not going to face every day,’ ” Harper said. “Just him being able to play a full season, understanding who he is, that’s why they drafted him. I’m just excited to see his career path and be able to be next to him while he’s doing it.
“He’s going to be a great ballplayer for us. And we need him to be.”
The Tampa Bay Rays have mastered piecing together a game with relievers rather than a conventional starting pitcher. Often, though, they use an opener followed by a “bulk reliever” to handle a chunk of innings early in the game. Ryan Yarbrough has fared well at times in that role.
With the Phillies committed to another bullpen game Tuesday night at home against the Baltimore Orioles, would manager Joe Girardi consider using the opener/bulk reliever model instead of going mostly inning-to-inning with a different pitcher?
“I mean, you can,” Girardi said. “But when they do it in Tampa, [Yarbrough] is an innings guy, that’s what he’s done, and he’s kept that. We don’t necessarily have that. We have guys that are built up enough, but we don’t feel like we can maximize the matchups the way we can if you do it where there’s shorter spurts.”
At least 10 Phillies and Mets minor leaguers wore wristbands with the hashtag #FairBall during a high-A game in Brooklyn to protest pay that they say is insufficient. Advocates for Minor Leaguers, a nonprofit group, organized the effort and handed out wristbands and pamphlets to fans to detail the financial hardships faced by minor leaguers.
Players at the high-A level make a minimum of $500 per week and are only paid during the season.
“The players who donned wristbands in Brooklyn today will make less than $12,000 this year,” Advocates for Minor Leaguers said in a statement to the Associated Press. “The MLB teams they play for are worth well more than $2 billion. There is absolutely no excuse for this. We are proud of these players for standing up for themselves and each other. Their message should be heard loud and clear across the industry: It is time to pay minor leaguers a living wage.”
Left fielder Andrew McCutchen returned after sitting out Friday night despite his .176/.285/.324 slash line in 344 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. “I know his batting average isn’t great against right-handers, but he does have 42 RBIs against right-handers,” Girardi said. “And he also has that experience as we’re going down the stretch.” ... Entering Saturday night, the Phillies had won five games in a row over the Mets and 27 of 46 since the beginning of 2019. ... Kyle Gibson (10-7, 3.49 ERA) will start the series finale on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball against Mets lefty Rich Hill (6-7, 3.88).