CLEARWATER, Fla. — The MLB lockout gave Matt Vierling plenty of time to think about his goals. Over those 99 days, he thought about his immediate one — to make the team — and his long-term objective — to become the Phillies’ everyday center fielder, and the work he would need to do to make those aims a reality.

The week the collective bargaining agreement expired in late November, he flew to Clearwater to train with recently hired-hitting coach Kevin Long. It was a productive session. Long, aware that he would be unable to communicate with his new pupil after Dec. 1, gave Vierling, 25, some homework. And according to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, the early results are promising.

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“The way the ball is jumping off of his bat, even in batting practice… it just jumps off in a different fashion,” he said to reporters on Sunday.

The tentative plan is for the right-handed Vierling to man a platoon in center field with lefty Odúbel Herrera, who was recently signed to a major-league contract. Manager Joe Girardi added that Vierling could be moved around the diamond, but Dombrowski believes he is capable of playing center field on a regular basis.

“My philosophy with young players — even though he’s not young young — ideally, you don’t want to throw them to the wolves, where they’re overexposed,” Girardi said. “Ideally, you’d like to complement them with somebody, if you can. But we do think he can play (center field).”

The path from utility player to full-time player can be a difficult one. Hitting while getting irregular at-bats is a bit of an art form, but Vierling has capitalized on his early opportunities.

The Phillies selected him in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB draft, and roughly two and a half minor-league seasons later, he was roaming the outfield in Citizens Bank Park. In 34 games last season, he hit .324/.364/.479 with an 121 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus). The ball left his bat at an average exit velocity of 91.5 mph; for reference, Harper’s average exit velocity last year was 92.5 mph.

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Vierling hopes the adjustments he’s made with Long can earn him the everyday spot he craves. Long has been encouraging him to stay in his legs more, and gave him a few drills to work on during the lockout that have helped Vierling shape his stance.

Over the past few months, Vierling has been in the cages four to five times a week, trying to create the muscle and mental memory that will enable him to derive power from his legs without giving it a second thought.

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“Every time I’m taking a swing, I’m thinking about the right position for my legs to be in,” Vierling said. “Mentally, I try to be in my legs, and that helps everything — my bat path, better backspin, more carry. When you’re in the game, you can’t really think about things like that.”

The challenge ahead will be for Vierling to prove to the Phillies that last year wasn’t a fluke. If he can do that, maybe one day, he will be living his dream, instead of thinking about it.