It’s been more than 15 weeks since the Phillies gathered in Clearwater to listen to general manager Matt Klentak tell them to go home. Spring training was canceled. The season was delayed for at least two weeks, but no one truly knew when it would start. They left Spectrum Field with baseball gloves and fishing rods. Some stayed in Florida, some drove to Philadelphia, and others went home. And now they’re back.
The players and staff have begun arriving in Philadelphia as “summer camp” begins Wednesday. The players and staff will first be tested for the coronavirus and then reconvene on Friday for the first workout of a three-week preseason camp.
Here’s everything you need to know about how the Phillies will prepare during a pandemic and the story lines that will be forming at summer camp in South Philly.
Will we know whether a Phillies player has the coronavirus?
Yes. The player will be placed on the COVID-19 Related Injury List. A handful of players will be placed on the list later this week, as a result of the outbreak in June at the team’s spring-training facility in Clearwater, Fla. Those players will be unable to join the team until they show no symptoms and test negative twice. A player does not need to test positive to be placed on the COVID-19 list. He can be placed on the list when he was exposed to someone who has COVID-19 or when he is showing symptoms. The player will not count against the 40-man roster or the 60-player pool while he is on the COVID-19 list.
How are the Phillies going to socially distance during camp?
The Phillies will split their roster between Citizens Bank Park and FDR Park, conducting staggered workouts throughout the day to try and keep people separated. For example, Klentak said there could be two groups of 12 training in the morning and two groups of 12 training in the afternoon. The players will also be instructed to 6 feet apart in the clubhouse and weight room. Klentak said the players might lift weights and work out in the stadium’s concourse as the team tries to spread throughout the ballpark.
Where will they practice at FDR Park?
In 2015, the Phillies opened a $5 million Urban Youth Academy at FDR Park that consists of two baseball fields. Normally, the fields are used by players in the team’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities) program. The fields can be seen from I-95 near the Girard Point Bridge.
Will the Phillies play exhibition games?
Probably. Teams are allowed to play three exhibition games against other teams before the season begins, and there is no limit on intrasquad games.
Is summer camp open to the public?
Not at Citizens Bank Park, but there might be limited viewing at FDR Park. The Phillies will have security at the two fields at FDR, but the park is owned by the city, so it could be a challenge to lock it down. There will be no fans in Citizens Bank Park during the season.
Will the Phillies add players to their pool?
Yes. The Phillies have seven openings in their 60-player pool. They left room in their pool to allow for flexibility, since it’s difficult to remove a player from the pool without the risk of losing him to another team. Anthony Swarzak, who was in camp on a minor-league deal, was released and subsequently resigned after the team reworked his contract. That move should be announced soon. The 34-year-old right-hander split last season between Atlanta and Seattle, posting a 4.56 ERA in 59 appearances. He’ll compete for a spot in the bullpen. The Phillies will likely add catching depth, since they have only three catchers – J.T. Realmuto, Andrew Knapp, and Deivy Grullon – in their player pool.
Have any Phillies opted out of playing this season?
Not yet, and Klentak said he does not expect any players to do so. Four players – Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross, Colorado’s Ian Desmond, and Arizona’s Mike Leake – announced Monday that they would not play this season due to concerns about the coronavirus. Desmond, in an Instagram post that detailed racial inequities in baseball , said the pandemic made the season “a risk I am not comfortable taking.”
Is Andrew McCutchen ready for the season?
Yes. McCutchen said during spring training that he would be ready for opening day despite tearing his ACL last June. Turns out, he was right. McCutchen stayed in Clearwater after spring training was canceled, finished his rehab process, and returned to his Pittsburgh home a few weeks ago. Klentak said McCutchen is 100-percent. Pencil him in as the leadoff hitter and starting left fielder for the opener.
How will the bench shake out?
The Phillies were planning to leave Clearwater with a five-man bench, but that number could grow by one or two with the expanded 30-man roster for the season’s first two weeks. McCutchen’s return means one less roster spot for a bench player. A backup catcher (likely Knapp) is a lock. Another spot will go to Roman Quinn or Adam Haseley, with the other starting in center field. That leaves three to five jobs to be claimed by infielders Alec Bohm, Logan Forsythe, Phil Gosselin, Josh Harrison, Ronald Torreyes, and Neil Walker, and outfielders Kyle Garlick, Mikie Mahtook, Nick Martini, and Nick Williams. Of those 10 players, only Garlick and Williams are on the 40-man roster. The bench competition was far from settled when spring training was canceled and it will be one of the better story lines of summer camp.
And the bullpen?
The majority – maybe all – of the four extra roster spots will likely go to the bullpen. Starting pitchers are likely to be limited early in the season, placing a premium on having as many relievers as possible. Hector Neris, Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Tommy Hunter, and Victor Arano are favorites. Deolis Guerra is on the 40-man roster and was solid in spring training. Ranger Suarez, unless he’s in the rotation, will be in the bullpen, as will Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta if they’re no longer starting. That leaves three or four spots up for grabs from a group that includes Cole Irvin, Reggie McClain, and Robert Stock competing with non-roster arms such as Swarzak, Bud Norris, and Francisco Liriano, and promising minor-leaguers Connor Brogdon, Connor Seabold, Damon Jones, Ramon Rosso, and Addison Russ. Like the bench, the bullpen is wide open.
What’s the latest with J.T. Realmuto’s contract?
Not much. The Phillies have yet to talk to Jeff Berry, Realmuto’s agent, since the roster freeze ended on Friday, Klentak said. Realmuto would like to become baseball’s highest-paid catcher, moving the bar for the position the way he tried to do in the arbitration case that he lost to the Phillies. But the Phillies might be tentative to sign Realmuto to a contract that would beat Joe Mauer’s record-setting $23 million-per-year deal, knowing that there might be fewer suitors this winter, as the loss of revenue from the coronavirus will likely lead to teams spending less in free agency. The Phillies might decide to wait until the winter and see what they’re bidding against.
How will the infield be aligned?
When the Phillies left Clearwater, Scott Kingery looked to be the everyday second baseman. That will still likely be the case. Jean Segura seemed comfortable at third base, a position he had never played. And Didi Gregorius will start at shortstop. Alec Bohm, once he’s on the roster, could find playing time at both third base and first base, when the Phillies want to give Rhys Hoskins a day off.
Where’s Odubel Herrera?
He was left off the initial player pool but could be added later. It still remains unlikely that Herrera ever plays again for the Phillies. He was removed this offseason from the 40-man roster and not invited to major-league spring training after he was suspended last July, following an arrest after a domestic- violence incident in Atlantic City. If the Phillies traded Herrera this season, he would first have to be added to the player pool. He’s under contract through next season.
Who’s going to be the designated hitter?
It sounds as though everyone will get a turn, but Jay Bruce should receive the lion’s share of the at-bats. Klentak said the Phillies will not have a regular DH, using the position to give regulars a rest and to get bench players into the lineup. McCutchen and Bryce Harper will play almost every day in the corner outfield spots, and the Phillies will want to get Bruce into the lineup. The DH provides an easy solution.
Who will be in the starting rotation?
It depends on the size of the rotation. The Phillies might decide to use a six-man rotation early in the season, if starting pitchers are not yet stretched out. For discussion’s sake, let’s say they select five starters. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Jake Arrieta are obvious. Zach Eflin should be in there, too. That leaves one spot, which could belong to Spencer Howard if the Phillies place him on the opening-day roster. If not, it will come down to Pivetta, Velasquez, or Suarez. If any of those three pitchers are not in the rotation, they’ll transition to the bullpen.
What’s the deal with Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard?
They’re both in the player pool, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be on the opening-day roster. If the Phillies keep Bohm and Howard off the major-league roster at the start of the season, they could manipulate their service time to gain an extra year of club control. Instead of becoming free agents after 2025, they would become free agents after 2026. In a 60-game season, there’s an argument to be made that every game carries more weight than a 162-game season and the team should be fielding its best roster. Bohm, an impact bat, and Howard, an impact arm, are definitely among the team’s 30-best players. The Phillies haven’t made the playoffs since 2011, and the focus should be making sure they get there in 2020, instead of being concerned about their roster in 2026.
How about Zack Wheeler?
Wheeler’s wife, Dominique, is due to have the couple’s first child this month, but Wheeler is still planning to play this season. The pitcher recently moved into a penthouse apartment in Center City, and Klentak said Wheeler will be placed on paternity leave when the baby is born. His absence is not expected to be much longer than the normal three days.
When will the regular-season schedule be released?
It appears that Major League Baseball is in no hurry to release the schedule, which was completed last week and has been distributed to teams for review. There’s no tickets to sell, so the league is waiting to monitor the coronavirus during the next few weeks before releasing the schedule closer to the opener on July 23 or 24. Here’s what we know: the Phillies will play 60 games, with 40 coming against the National League East and 20 against teams from the American League East. The season will begin on July 23 or July 24, and they’ll have six scheduled off-days before finishing the season on Sept. 27.
Where will the players go who aren’t on the major-league roster?