For a sport that is rooted in daily rhythms and century-old routines, spring training in the middle of summer wouldn’t have seemed normal no matter the conditions. Add in that the players are being tested every other day for a killer virus, 40,000-seat stadiums sit empty and pin-drop quiet, and reflexive behaviors such as spitting and high-fiving are verboten, and the whole endeavor feels like something out of a science-fiction novel.
There's something quaint, even reassuring, then, about the old-fashioned fight in Phillies camp over the center-field position.
In one corner, weighing in with the promise of a former first-round draft pick, Adam Haseley. And in the other corner, after taking up residence on the injured list for most of the last three seasons, Roman Quinn.
May the best man win — and maybe even change the subject, at least temporarily, from the coronavirus.
"My mind is really open with that spot," manager Joe Girardi said. "If one guy emerges, it's one guy. If it's a platoon, it's a platoon. If one guy plays more than the other, we have that. There's a lot of different things that we could do, so we'll just let this competition play out during the rest of spring training here."
There’s room on the roster for Haseley and Quinn, now more than ever with teams being allowed to carry 30 players at the outset of the season. There’s probably enough at-bats for both players, too. Haseley, a left-handed hitter, could start against right-handers; Quinn, a switch-hitter with more power from his natural right side, could get the bulk of the starts against lefties.
But where's the fun in that?
Everyone enjoys a good positional battle between two young, homegrown players. As training-camp story lines go, it certainly beats glitches in the COVID-19 testing system.
So, let’s handicap this thing: Haseley vs. Quinn, mano-a-mano.
Haseley, 24, appeared to be the favorite going into spring training. Rushed to the majors last season after Odubel Herrera’s arrest on assault charges and Andrew McCutchen’s season-ending knee injury, he played well defensively(five runs saved above average for center fielders) and batted .266 with 14 doubles, five homers, and a .720 on-base plus slugging percentage that was a smidge below the National League average for the position (.741).
As a rookie, Haseley was solid, if unspectacular. There was room for growth, but he didn’t look out of place, either. And then there was the endorsement from general manager Matt Klentak, who said in December that the Phillies “expect that Adam Haseley’s going to be our regular center fielder.”
In the next breath, though, Klentak said that "when Roman Quinn is healthy and playing to his potential, it's hard to take him out of the lineup."
Problem is, Quinn hasn’t played more than 88 games in a season since he got drafted in 2011 because of a list of maladies that reads like an anatomy book: torn quadriceps, torn Achilles tendon, strained elbow ligament, torn finger ligament, concussion, broken toe, strained oblique muscle, strained right groin.
But Quinn, 27, has had flickers of success at the major-league level — a 62-at-bat stretch in 2018, for instance, in which he batted .371 with three doubles, three triples and two home runs — that cause team officials’ minds to wonder about whether he could be an everyday center fielder. He had a solid spring training and is getting noticed in this camp, too, for reasons that go beyond his track-star speed.
"I've been shocked by the power that he has," Girardi said. "When you look at his stature [5-foot-10, 170 pounds], you wouldn't necessarily see that. He's an exciting player. When he's on base, he's going to create havoc. He's going to score runs. The biggest thing is we have to keep him healthy."
If the Phillies keep all their everyday players healthy — no small feat in a brief ramp-up to a season-within-a-pandemic — they shouldn’t need Haseley or Quinn to do much more than catch everything in center field and provide competitive at-bats from the No. 9 spot in the order. A lineup with McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Didi Gregorius, Jay Bruce, Jean Segura, and Scott Kingery should score plenty of runs.
“Roman and I have always pushed each other,” Haseley said. “It’s not at all on a personal level. It’s just how well could we each do our jobs, and by doing that, we’re going to make the team better.”
Said Girardi: “The big thing is that we get production out of center field. That’s what I’m looking for. That doesn’t necessarily mean home runs. It could mean getting on base and scoring runs and really good defense. I’m just going to let it play out and see who rises to the top here.”