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Phillies will give prospect Bryson Stott chance to begin season as their starting shortstop

The team’s confidence in Stott could impact the way they approach the free-agent shortstop market, which includes several stars.

Bryson Stott bats for the Phillies against the Atlanta Braves during spring training.
Bryson Stott bats for the Phillies against the Atlanta Braves during spring training.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

CARLSBAD, Calif. — Dave Dombrowski stopped last week in Arizona to see some of the team’s top prospects before continuing his travels to baseball’s annual general managers meetings here.

It was a chance for the Phillies president of baseball operations to see some of the players who are nearing the top of the minor-league ladder and could soon reach Philadelphia. And before he boarded his flight for San Diego, Dombrowski left specific instructions for Bryson Stott, the team’s top-ranked prospect.

“I said, ‘You should come with the mindset of trying to win a spot with the big-league club when you come to spring training,’” Dombrowski said Tuesday at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa. “Because sometimes guys come to camp when they’re young players and they’re like, ‘Well, I’m happy to be here, right? It’s great. It’s fine. It’s fantastic.’ And then there’s another mindset that, ‘Hey, I’m going to try to win a job.’ So, you come and try to win a job. Now, I’m not saying it’s going to happen. There’s no promises attached to him. But I want to make sure he comes in with the right mindset to go about it.”

Stott hit .299 with a .876 OPS last season across three minor-league levels, but the 24-year-old has played just 10 games at triple A. Yet the Phillies, who have not yet determined their starting shortstop despite having Didi Gregorius under contract for $14.5 million, are comfortable with making Stott a candidate to start 2022 in the majors.

“I’ve never been averse to jumping a guy from double A to the big leagues. Never,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve done it many, many times and had very good success in doing it. So, I’m not at all averse. He had a little bit of time there, and he’s helped himself by how he’s played in the Arizona Fall League. He’s a good player. So, no, I’m not averse.”

The Phillies have a list of areas needed to be addressed this winter including the left side of the infield, left and center field, the late-innings relievers, and the back of the starting rotation. But their confidence in Stott, who was the team’s first-round pick in 2019, could affect the way they approach the free-agent shortstop market, which includes several star players.

“Sure it does,” Dombrowski said. “Sure it does.”

If Stott is the team’s starting shortstop, Dombrowski said they could slide Gregorius into a reserve role. The 31-year-old had a career-worse .639 OPS and was one of baseball’s least-productive offensive players. He had a procedure shortly after the season to remove inflammation from his right elbow, which Gregorius said attributed to his struggles at the plate.

“There’s a lot of at-bats to be had. He could play third base, he could go to second, he could DH,” Dombrowski said as the NL is expected to adopt the designated hitter in 2022. “The best case scenario, right, is that Didi comes to camp and he’s the guy. Last year was a tough year for him. I know he’s a better player than that. You’ve seen it. The best case scenario is that he’s the Didi we’ve known for years and he’s our shortstop. But I wouldn’t discount that he needs to do that.”

There have been questions about Stott’s ability to play shortstop in the majors, but new farm director Preston Mattingly said last week that the Phillies believe he can be a big-league shortstop. Infield coach Bobby Dickerson worked with Stott in Arizona, and Larry Bowa is working with him there this week as the Phillies are tapping into their resources to solidify Stott’s defense.

“People ask, and yeah, I do think he can play shortstop,” Dombrowski said. “Not Ozzie Smith-type shortstop, but he can play shortstop and play it well.”

There’s still more than three months left before the Phillies report to spring training, meaning plans can change as they build their roster. But the team’s top prospect received clear instructions last week by the man in control of those plans.

“I’m not saying it’s his job, but it’s one of those where he has to come to camp,” Dombrowski said. “He’s a good looking kid. He’s a good player. I’ve had people in the Arizona Fall League tell me that he’s one of the best players in the Arizona Fall League. He’s a really good player. He loves the game. He’s a baseball rat. He knows how to play the game.”

“I talked to Shawn Williams, his manager at double A, and he said, ‘Dave, he asked me more questions than any player I ever had.’ But he said, ‘Good questions, inquisitive questions about the game, why did you do this? Why is that?’ He’s one of those guys who loves the game and I think has a chance to be a winning big-league player.”