CLEARWATER, Fla. — With 23 days remaining before opening day, most of the Phillies’ major lingering roster questions have been answered.
Kyle Schwarber, who was signed to a four-year deal, will start at left field and could potentially bat in the leadoff spot. Brad Hand and Jeurys Familia will provide bullpen depth.
But one question that remains is what exactly they will do at center field. While Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager Joe Girardi have mentioned the idea of a platoon, in a media availability with reporters on Wednesday, Girardi said it’s still possible the team goes with an everyday center fielder.
“It’s a competition,” he said. “There’s a lot of different things that we could do with the people that we have in camp. People are going to have an opportunity to show what they can do. Odúbel [Herrera] played pretty well for us. [Matt] Vierling played pretty well for us last year. Those are the guys that are the lead candidates. But [Adam] Haseley has the chance to re-establish himself as well.”
Herrera, who was signed to a one-year, $1.75 million deal on Wednesday, has six seasons of big-league experience in which he hit .274/.329/.422, but he has struggled with injuries of late. He told reporters on Wednesday that he battled Achilles soreness last season, but he feels he’s in better shape now.
“In the offseason, I was very focused on trying to improve [my health],” Herrera said through a translator. “My goal is to finish the season strong and 100% healthy.”
Herrera, 30, also brings a troubling past. In May of 2019, he was charged with assault after his girlfriend at the time said she was attacked by Herrera in their Atlantic City hotel room. The charges were dropped when she declined to proceed with the case, but Herrera was suspended by MLB for the 85 games left in the 2019 season. He did not play in 2020.
When asked what changes he’s making off the field, Herrera said through a translator that he’s trying to “be mature and be a better person.”
Vierling, 25, doesn’t have Herrera’s MLB experience — he played in only 34 games last season — but has been quick to capitalize on his opportunities. In those 34 games, Vierling hit .324/.364/.479, and after some helpful tips from new hitting coach Kevin Long, has been obliterating the ball in spring training.
“The impact off the bat is pretty special,” Girardi said on Wednesday. “Obviously, all young players have to make adjustments as time goes on, but there’s a lot of impact there. You don’t realize how fast he is, too — how athletic he is. He was really impressive last year.”
Vierling was used as a utility player in 2021, and in an effort to get more big-league playing time, has been taking ground balls at multiple positions. Both his defense — which Girardi thinks could be “above average” — and his efforts have caught the manager’s eye.
“It’s just his willingness to take ground balls at first, take ground balls at third, fly balls at left field, his ability to move around … that’s not easy,” Girardi said. “It’s one thing to have to work at one position. But when you have to start working at three or four positions, that’s time, and that’s energy. But he has no problem doing it.
“He’s going to do everything he can to win that job. I can tell you that.”