Matt DiSanto, Staff Writer
With less than two months until Opening Day, the Philadelphia Phillies officially began their organized spring training programs in Clearwater, Florida on February 14th, 2018.
Pitchers, catchers, and some other players and prospects arrived to camp surprised to see many new changes, all of which brought in by new manager Gabe Kapler. Kapler opted to rework spring training scheduling to better aid the transition back into baseball season.
Rather than arriving to the stadium at the crack of dawn in the dark, team practices and workouts are now beginning around 11am, a sharp contrast to their previous 8 or 9am routines from years ago. Kapler has also been stressing a better nutritional plan for players.
While spring training grants players the ability to train for a very long baseball season, it also gives many players an opportunity for a fresh start. Notable players like third baseman Maikel Franco and starting pitcher Vince Velasquez have come to spring training with that exact goal in mind following their last two seasons.
While Maikel Franco led the team with twenty four home runs last year, he greatly struggled to hit and score on a consistent basis, as his OPS (on base percentage + slugging) was a measly .690, one of the lowest out of all third basemen.
Some of Franco’s main goals for improving his game include elevating the ball more and being less selective with his pitches, which resulted in frustrating amount of strikeouts last season. Franco, and the organization for that matter, believe that these minor changes to his game will allow him to become the power hitter that he was advertised as, and the player that this team desperately needs.
Velasquez, on the other hand, is also ready to make a comeback. The 25-year-old was placed on the DL last year following a blood clot in his pitching arm, which gave him time to reflect upon his young career and motivate himself to improve.
Although he had a fantastic 16-strikeout game against the Padres in 2016, Velasquez has failed to impress in a few ways since. Both his walk and strikeout rates declined last year, prompting the pitcher to train harder for the upcoming season to improve his game. He’s even set a goal of pitching 200 innings this year, noting that he’s “looking forward to having a bounce back year.”
While the Phillies may be far away from a World Series appearance this year, they certainly have the right building blocks to be successful. Both the players and staff are committed to being successful in the upcoming season, and will likely improve in many key areas in both hitting and pitching. If the Phillies can grab one of the many free agent starting pitchers floating around the market right now (I’m looking at you, Jake Arrieta!) they could definitely be on the road to playing baseball in October.
The Phillies will open their season in Atlanta against the Braves in a 4:10pm day game on March 29th.