Punxsutawney Phil might have seen his shadow earlier this month, indicating six more weeks of winter, but spring training is almost here. That’s right, pitchers and catchers will be reporting this Wednesday, and as the 2021 Philadelphia Phillies season begins, here are the three biggest questions, not about the bullpen, the team still needs to answer.
1. Who rounds out the Phillies’ rotation?
I wrote about this more in-depth recently, but I think it’s far more likely than not that the Phillies will use an expanded starting pitching staff as opposed to the traditional five-man rotation. Because of that, spring training will look a lot different with upwards of six pitchers competing for more than just one or two available spots.
Why might the Phillies do this? Well at the end of the day, teams are going to need to re-adjust to the reality of a 162 game marathon as opposed to a 60 game sprint like they had in 2020. Last season German Márquez of the Colorado Rockies led baseball in innings pitched with just 81.2. In order to avoid injuries, teams are going to need to get creative to make sure their starting staff is healthy and ready to chase the pennant deep into the season.
Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin are firmly locked into the top three spots of the rotation. After them though, it really is up to anyone and everyone to try and seize an opportunity. Recent free-agent additions like Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, and Ivan Nova will all be given an equal chance to compete alongside in-house candidates like Spencer Howard, Vince Velasquez, and Adonis Medina.
Moore pitched all of 2020 in Japan, while Anderson and Nova will look to rebound from very poor seasons last year. Velasquez will likely be relegated back to the role of spot starter/long reliever this season, but will still see plenty of action. In some ways, Medina feels like the odd man out, but he had his first taste of major league action last September and should see more again in 2021.
Howard is still a top prospect for Philadelphia and should also be given every opportunity to win over the fourth spot in the rotation assuming he’s healthy. That’s a big if as he has battled injuries each of the past couple of seasons. Regardless of where he lands on the staff, expect the Phillies to bring him along slowly with a strict pitch and inning count.
At the end of the day, nearly everyone on this list is likely going to be seeing multiple starts for the Phillies in 2021. Whether that’s the results of an expanded rotation, poor play, or injuries remains to be seen. How effective this rotation will be will also go a long way towards telling if this team can seriously compete this year or not.
Free agency remains an option as pitchers like Taijuan Walker are still available. He’s easily the best available starter and it wouldn’t be a total shock if Philadelphia reached out with an offer. With Trevor Bauer now officially a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Seattle Mariners in agreement to reunite with James Paxton, expect the market for Walker to heat up considerably in the coming days. That said, the Phillies aren’t likely to get into a massive bidding war, so it’s likely that they might stick with the arms already on their roster, at least for now.