It’s pretty apparent that the Phillies struggled to find anyone to fill in at the lead off spot after Andrew McCutchen’s injury back on June 3rd of last season. Those woes look to continue into the start of the 2020 season. Phillies manager Joe Girardi announced recently that the Phillies LF will most likely begin the season on the IL as he continues to rehab his surgically repaired knee from last summer. Yet to make an appearance in a game in Clearwater this year, Cutch has been taking batting practice and has done some lighter fielding drills but has yet to run at full speed at any point during the spring. The Phillies will continue to be cautious with his rehab as the weeks go along, and rightfully so. Up until the day of his injury, the Phillies lead off hitter lead the league in walks (47) and had the third highest OBP in baseball from that lineup spot. Not to mention the Phillies held a 1/2 game lead over the Braves for first in the NL East. From the 4th of June to seasons end, the top of the lineup for the Phils ranked 29th in baseball from a WAR perspective. A clear and definitive downturn losing an impact player at the top of a lineup just a third of the way into a season. Though this was just one of many problems that plagued the Phillies in 2019, its obvious someone needs to step up to the plate (pun intended) and fill in until the former MVP can return. Let’s take a look at a few of the in house candidates and see what options the club might have when the season starts on March 26th in Miami.
Jean Segura: With a renewed sense of self and a little less alcohol in his system, Segura looks to rebound from a mildly disappointing 2019 at the plate. He admitted at the start of this spring training that he felt the impact of the backlash spewed his way after the McCutchen injury and his lack of hustle being the cause. It weighed on him throughout the rest of the year, and it showed. Though his slash line didn’t indicate it from a average or OBP standpoint, his power and run production dipped dramatically. Segura has always proven to be a solid contact hitter and good base runner throughout his 8 year career, but a career walk rate of under 5% is just not going to cut it at the top of a lineup. Segura’s strengths and approach at the plate is built to hit second for the Phillies and he probably should stay there going forward.
Scott Kingery: For all the negatives that have come along with Scotty Jetpack since his debut in 2018, one thing is for certain, the kid plays as hard as anyone in the game. Arguably the best overall athlete on the team, he has shown in flashes the ability to hit the ball hard all over the field. His speed is extremely underrated and was underutilized by Kapler the last two seasons. Also having played 6 different positions in that span no question took a toll on his comfortability at the plate. A solid first half of 2019 was diminished by a poor 2nd half. With a defined role going into 2020, a clear improvement is expected going into his third year in the bigs. But does that mean he can handle the lead off spot? Probably not. With a career K rate over 25% and a walk rate of just 6, he would need to dramatically improve those numbers to be considered a reasonable fill in for the first month of the year. Though his speed and hustle seem like great fit, he isn’t the man for the job to start the year.
Harper or Hoskins: Alright, lets put this in play for the analytic fellas out there. Yes, the players on this squad with the highest OBP are Harper and Hoskins. Yes, Harper hustles as much as anyone in the game, and it’s a fact that Hoskins works a pitcher as well as anyone in baseball. But let’s squash this before people start running with the idea. These two cannot, should not, and better not be leading off in the month of April. They are our two most capable hitters when it comes to driving runs in. Even though Hoskins stunk up the joint the 2nd half of last year, he is as capable of driving in runs as almost any first baseman in the game when he’s hitting well. Don’t forget, Harper’s “disappointing first year” in red pinstripes came with a career high in RBI’s with 114. So these two won’t work either.
JT Realmuto: JT, as much as we love him in this town and rightfully so, the BCIB simply can’t be the guy to hold down the lead off fort. A career walk rate under 6% and a strikeout rate close to 20% isn’t ideal. Not to mention as our primary catcher, he will require more routine rest days so he would be less available and in turn a less reliable option at the top of the order. So JT can stick at the five spot or maybe even second in the order when needed. But not leading off.
Roman Quinn: This guy, what can you say about him, he’s banged up more often then a Astros trash can. He’s a tough pill for any fan to swallow at any spot in this lineup at any point in time. But a surprising stat jumps out when you dive into his game, he had a walk rate of just under 10%. Not to mention he’s had an OBP north of .350 three different times during his minor league career. Outside of Harper and Hoskins he actually had one of the best walk rates on the team had he made enough plate appearances to qualify. Now I doubt the reason he’s still a Phillie is because he walks a bit more than the other role players on the team. Most anyone with his injury history would surely be bouncing around the league after this amount of time on the IL. Yet the Phillies keep him on the 40 man roster. If you’ve ever had a chance to watch him live you can see why, his speed on the bases and ability to track balls down defensively in center are exciting to watch. He’s a nightmare for an opposing pitcher when he’s on base and can easily change an entire at bat for the guys batting behind him in the lineup. Opposing catchers as well as an entire defense have to account for how quickly he not only can steal a base, but where they have to go with their throw if a ball is in play with him on. Recently it was said that Girardi told him he doesn’t care if Quinn hits another home run the rest of his career. The Phillies skipper can see what Quinn is capable of when healthy and putting the ball in play.
Clearly there is no perfect option for this team with McCutchen sidelined to start the year. As fans we have to be hopeful the rest of this lineup can produce on a consistent basis, more so than they did after Cutch’s departure. The unfortunate truth though is Roman Quinn might actually be the best option this team has in the interim. Barring an injury, he most likely will be making the bench to start the year. Yea it seems out dated and old school to some to have a guy like Quinn at the top of the lineup, but speed has always been a notable quality in lead off hitters for as long as the game has existed. It’s going to be entirely up to him to prove he can handle it. If he can find ways to get himself on base on a consistent basis and of course stay healthy, he could become a surprisingly valuable weapon to a lineup already filled with them.