Matt Vierling will receive playing time with Phillies star Bryce Harper sidelined.
When the Philadelphia Phillies are at full strength, they have one of baseball’s most powerful lineups.
But a notable absence for the first half of the 2023 season will be Bryce Harper, who is rehabbing from his successful Tommy John surgery in November. His absence means the designated hitter spot will be vacant. Potential takers could be Kyle Schwarber or Nick Castellanos — subpar fielders at their respective corner outfield positions but much better hitters.
Meanwhile, Matt Vierling and the recently acquired Jake Cave could see expanded roles in the Phillies outfield. Cave spent his first five seasons with the Minnesota Twins and hit .235/.297/.708 in 922 career at-bats. These numbers do not jump off the charts, but he owns a considerably better slash line against right-handers rather than left-handers. His 42.4 percent strikeout rate and .240 on-base percentage make him practically unplayable against them.
On the other hand, Vierling would much rather face a southpaw on the mound. The two-year Phillies utility player has hit .307/.343/.766 in his short tenure in the majors against lefties.
Vierling’s power numbers are weak, but he makes it up for it in other areas. His 29.6 miles per hour sprint speed makes him the 20th fastest player in the entire sport. He provides elite baserunning for a team that steals bases at one of the highest clips in the league — they were eighth in MLB during the 2022 season.
His defensive flexibility was a plus to the Phillies in 2022. He played most of his innings in all three outfield positions but even got some time at second and third base. He was below average defensively in center field, but right around league average in left.
With Schwarber bound to DH many games, Vierling might get the strong side of a platoon with Cave. He already has experience in Philadelphia and the trust of manager Rob Thomson. Even though Vierling does not hit as well against right-handers as Cave, his speed and significantly better on-base percentage should give him an edge.
Vierling will not be the headline of the 2023 Phillies lineup, but he should come up with some big at-bats for a team that will look for its identity early on.