There isn’t much doubt among talent evaluators across baseball that Phillies top prospect Bryson Stott will hit his way to the majors, perhaps even next season. But opinions vary over whether the 2019 first-round pick -- and Bryce Harper’s protégé -- will stay at shortstop or shift to another infield position.
What say you, Preston Mattingly?
“I think he has a chance to play shortstop in the major leagues,” said Mattingly, the Phillies’ recently hired director of player development. “This is a guy, he’s still young and he has a lot to learn. But yeah, I think he has a chance to play shortstop in the major leagues.”
Five weeks on the job, Mattingly spent the last few days watching Stott and other Phillies prospects in the Arizona Fall League. Stott is off to a solid start there. The 24-year-old was 19-for-56 (.339) with five doubles, one triple, 20 RBIs, 17 walks, 12 strikeouts, and a .945 on-base plus slugging percentage through Thursday.
It’s the culmination of an impressive season. Stott, a left-handed hitter, led Phillies’ minor leaguers in batting average (.299), hits (125), runs (71), and OPS (.876) between three levels. He also hit 16 home runs, including one after getting promoted to triple-A for the last 10 games of the season, won the Paul Owens Award as the organization’s top minor-league hitter, and continued to make a name for himself beyond his friendship with Harper, around whom he grew up in Las Vegas.
“He’s a kid that’s going to come up, he’s going to have the energy, he’s going to have the emotion that we need,” Harper said in September. “His swing plays everywhere. 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.”
Stott’s rise coincides with the Phillies’ need for a shortstop. Didi Gregorius is under contract for one more season, but after the worst year of his career, he’s “not guaranteed that he’s been told that he’s for sure the shortstop” in 2022, according to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
Gregorius’ salary ($14 million, as calculated for the competitive-balance tax) will make him difficult to trade. But it seems possible he could be supplanted by Stott at some point next season. Assuming, that is, Stott can handle shortstop at a time when the Phillies are trying to plug their porous left side of the infield.
“We think he’s going to be a good shortstop,” Dombrowski said. “He may not have the range of Ozzie Smith, but how many people do? But we think he can play there. We think he’s steady. He has the arm to play there.”
Here’s the thing: The Phillies are also looking to add a middle-of-the-order hitter, and the free-agent market features a quintet of power-hitting shortstops (Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, and Javier Báez). It may explain why Stott played some second base in the minors this season and has played two games at third within the last week in Arizona.
But if the Phillies are wedded to Stott as a shortstop, they won’t be boxed out of big bats. Left fielder Nick Castellanos could be a fit with a right-handed swing that may be suited to Citizens Bank Park. Or they could target Semien and move him back to second base when Stott is ready.
One thing seems increasingly clear: Stott is in the Phillies’ plans.
“If we got a shortstop, could he go over some place else and play? Yes,” Dombrowski said. “But we like him as a shortstop. The closer we can start getting to blending in some of those [homegrown players] into our big-league club, the better off we’ll be.”
That’s where Mattingly comes in. Hired away from the San Diego Padres, the son of New York Yankees icon and Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly, is charged with pulling together a farm system that has struggled to blend classical and contemporary teaching methods and therefore lacks cohesion and direction in its mission of developing players.
Mattingly attended the final two weeks of instructional league in Florida last month and came away impressed with several players, including young pitchers Mick Abel and Andrew Painter. Catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe is playing well in Arizona. The Phillies have high hopes for outfielders Símon Muzziotti and Johan Rojas, among others.
But Stott is the Phillies farmhand with the best chance at making an impact in the majors next season. One National League scout characterized Stott as “not a traditional shortstop” because of limited range but wondered if the frequency of defensive shifts may mitigate that shortcoming.
Stott said in September that he worked with infield coordinator Marty Malloy this season to stay lower to the ground and use his legs more to get behind throws to first base.
The lessons have continued in Arizona. Mattingly noted that newly rehired major-league infield coach Bobby Dickerson is working with Stott to help smooth out some of the rougher edges of his defense. Stott has made a quick impression on the Phillies’ new minor-league director.
“This guy’s a complete player,” Mattingly said, “from the defensive and offensive standpoint.”
It may not be long before the Phillies give Stott a chance to show it in the majors.