Pete Mackanin on the Phillies’ Spring Standouts

My most recent Sunday Notes column contained a snippet from Pete Mackanin, those quotes coming from a longer conversation I had with the Philadelphia skipper on Saturday. Much of it is being shared here.

We sat down primarily to talk about this spring’s notable performers. Among them are a pair of veteran non-roster invitees trying to win a roster spot on a youthful club. Offseason signee Daniel Nava is slashing .361/.465/.444, while Brock Stassi, 27 years old and in the system since 2011, is slashing .320/.370/.680 with five home runs.

Outside of asking specifically about Nava and young third baseman Maikel Franco, I mostly let Mackanin lead the conversation. He brought up several of his players, with time constraints limiting his opportunity to cover even more.


Mackanin on the pitchers: “Our starters have been pitching well. Jerad Eickhoff is right where he should be. Aaron Nola has increased his velocity, and I’m thrilled about that. He’s touched 93, and even 94 once, which we’d never seen. If he can retain that throughout the season, that’s going to be a plus for him. Plus, he’s learned a changeup and he’s thrown that very effectively, as has Eickhoff. They’ve added that to their repertoire, which can only enhance their performance. We haven’t seen Clay Buchholz enough yet, and I think he’s a little sick again today.

Vince Velasquez has the stuff, it’s a matter of economizing pitches. Jeremy Hellickson was fantastic his last time out. He kept them guessing, kept them off balance. He used that changeup, which is a really good weapon for him.

“I think [Hellickson] has been a good influence on Eickhoff and Nola. They talk about pitching all the time, and when you see a pitch that is that effective… it’s a swing-and-miss pitch. Those guys communicating like they do is a bonus for us.

“In the bullpen, Jeanmar Gomez has been throwing well. Hector Neris was in the WBC; he has his max velocity and is throwing strikes. Joaquin Benoit is a little behind everybody, because he had something on the back of his neck, but the velocity is there. Edubray Ramos has the stuff. He’s got two nasty breaking balls and a plus fastball. He’s also been throwing strikes.”

On Aaron Altherr and Brock Stassi: “A guy who jumps out to me is Aaron Altherr. He’s adjusted his setup and his swing path. He’s gone from a long swing to a shorter swing, and he’s getting good results because of it. [Hitting coach] Matt Stairs changed him. You have to give Aaron credit, too. A lot of guys aren’t really receptive to making a change from how they’ve swung the bat their whole life. He was willing to do it, so I tip my hat to Aaron.

“The key is to go directly to the ball from your launch position. Instead of A to B to C, what you’re looking for is A to C. [Altherr] has his bat on his shoulder now. He had been starting with his hands up high, and it looked uncomfortable. I always felt his swing looked a little too long. He made the correction.

“Brock Stassi has done very well for himself. He’s made a great showing and is forcing us to make a tough decision. His first two or three years, he didn’t do a whole lot offensively. Then he when he went to Double-A two years ago and developed a leg kick and a different approach to hitting. I think he was MVP of the Eastern League. He’s been good ever since.

“Brock told me he’s been trying to lift the ball. He hit a home run about 10 days ago that stands out. It was on a changeup out over the plate, sinking away, and he just dropped the head on it. The ball went 350 feet.”

On non-roster invitees Brock Stassi, Chris Coghlan, and Daniel Nava, and veteran leadership: “Nava has given us quality at-bats the whole spring. He’s played super first base and a very good outfield. He’s done nothing that I don’t like. Coghlan hasn’t had the greatest spring, but he’s had his share of hits. His versatility is what’s appealing to me. I played him at third one day and he made a nice play. I’ve played him at second. Versatility is very important in the National League.

“Coghlan, Nava, Howie Kendrick, and Michael Saunders have all been around for 8-10 years, and they’ve have had a good amount of success. Kendrick has played on winning teams. Saunders was on a winning team last year. Nava has been in the postseason. Coghlan was just in the World Series. Those guys have added an element we didn’t have. As outsiders coming in, we’re reading them, but they’re reading us, as well. Talking to those guys, they’ve noticed that we need to build a culture of expecting to win rather than just going out and playing the game and hoping to win. When you get the point where you’re expecting to win every day, then you’re pointed in the right direction.

“What’s difficult right now is, if [Coghlan, Nava, or Stassi] make the team, somebody has to come off the [40-man] roster. But they’ve certainly made great impressions.”

On Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez: “We want Freddy to improve his on-base percentage. He hit 20 home runs and drove in almost 70 last year, but he had a low OBP. We want him to remedy that. So far, he’s done a pretty good job. He’s at least trying a different approach to correct that. And I love watching him play shortstop. In my opinion, he should have won the Gold Glove last year. I think he led all shortstops in fielding percentage.

Cesar Hernandez has developed into a confident second baseman, and a prototypical leadoff hitter. He had a .370 on-base percentage last year. He played solid defense — he turns a good double play — and he’s an above-average runner. I’ve seen him develop from a timid little kid who wasn’t very strong, and wasn’t very confident, to a guy who plays like he knows he’s a big leaguer.”

On Maikel Franco: “I’m hoping he’s going to have a huge year. He’s working on staying up the middle more and not pulling off the ball as much as he did last season. Here’s a guy who hit 25 home runs and drove in 88, which is really good for anybody, and I think he’s going to do a lot more than that. Once he learns to control the strike zone a little better, there’s no telling how good he can be.

“He has to understand that he doesn’t have to swing that hard. Bob McClure always tells our pitchers to find a velocity they can command the ball at. If you throw 95-96 but have no command, how about 93-94 where you do have command? That’s what you want. Then, every once in awhile, on 0-2, let it fly and try to hit 97. Likewise, a hitter needs to know how hard to swing in order to hit the ball as hard as you need to hit it.

“I remember Mike Schmidt telling me that his first year, he struck out a lot and hit 190-something. He played [winter ball] and decided he wasn’t going to swing as hard. The first time he did that, he hit a double off the center-field wall. Immediately he said to himself, ‘You know what? I don’t have to swing as hard.’ The less your head moves, and the more still you can stay, the easier it is for you hit. Young guys, like Franco, need to understand that.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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7 years ago

“Talking to those guys, they’ve noticed that we need to build a culture of expecting to win rather than just going out”

Sandberg quit because he couldn’t take the losses. That’s completely understandable, but the Phillies are rebuilding. Maybe the manager should take a few week long vacations and let a AA or AAA manager take over while he’s playing golf?

The Phillies should have picked first in 2014, 2015, this year and next year. They only picked first last year.


7 years ago
Reply to  JimmieFoXX

As Strong Sad says to Senor Cardgage, “I rarely know what you’re talking about…”