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3 Players To Watch Series

LOD’s 3 Players to Watch: Philadelphia Phillies

For this series, LOD writers will pick three players from each MLB team that we feel are players to watch in the 2023 season.

The Philadelphia Phillies, as readers of Legends On Deck will recall, are the reigning National League champions. Will they build upon the surprising success they found in 2022? Consider these three key players, who each will be vital to the outcome.

Trea Turner, SS

Trea Turner was arguably the crown jewel of MLB free agency this offseason, not just among the four big-name shortstops, but among all position players.

Turner’s playing style and talent revive memories of the beloved Chase Utley. Turner hits very well for both average and power. Nobody will ever credibly accuse Turner of lacking hustle. With zero disrespect to J.T. Realmuto, Phillies fans will be glad to see the undisputed best catcher in baseball is no longer also the fastest player on the team. Turner will also significantly strengthen the Phillies’ historically awful defense of 2021 and 2022. Legendary Philadelphia sports journalist Ray Didinger dubbed third baseman Alec Bohm and first baseman Rhys Hoskins as “the corner butchers.” Maybe someday an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” will feature a love letter from Rob McElhinney to Turner? 

Turner and Bryce Harper are extremely close friends, stretching back to their days as young teammates on the Washington Nationals. Borrowing the playbook of Philadelphia Eagles Jalen Hurts and AJ Brown, Harper was a major part of recruiting Turner to the Phillies.

Turner will need to immediately contribute a significant share of the offense while Harper recovers from Tommy John surgery. Thankfully for the Phillies, Turner is already in impressive form. He launched the grand slam that won the game for the United States over Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic semifinal.

Nick Castellanos, OF

Nick Castellanos entered Philadelphia to much fanfare in 2022 and failed to deliver, as he himself openly admits. Castellanos says his poor performance was rooted in adjusting to the city. It seems plausible that becoming a father for the first time may have also contributed substantially.

Like Turner, Castellanos has a key role to play in offensive production, especially during the absence of Harper. Unfortunately however, Castellanos’ batting results in spring training this year have been abysmal.

Castellanos is also substituting for Harper in right field. But while Harper is basically an average defender, Castellanos is the worst defensive outfielder among the Phillies’ starters.

Nonetheless the law of averages suggests reasonable hope for Phillies fans. Castellanos’ entire body of work of his career in the major leagues clearly shows 2022 as his outlier season offensively.

Andrew Painter, P

Andrew Painter is not at all your ordinary pitching prospect. If there was any question how the Phillies feel about Andrew Painter, it was answered on the first day of spring training. The Phillies strategically positioned Painter’s locker right next to ace Zack Wheeler. Clearly they hope and plan that some mentoring takes place. The Phillies’ confidence in Painter could explain their comfort regarding not urgently pursuing the first or second tiers of free agent starting pitchers.

At the tender age of 19 years old, Painter won’t even be legally eligible to join any of the potential clubhouse champagne celebration showers during the 2023 playoffs. Of course nobody seriously expects that technicality to stop him from joining the fun.

Everything about the raw talent, draft capital, opinions around MLB, and tangible accomplishments of Painter demonstrates how it’s abundantly obvious he is an elite prospect. Painter has a floor around teammate Aaron Nola and a ceiling in the rarefied air of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

All of this makes Painter’s UCL sprain that much more unfortunate and the Phillies’ handling of the injury situation that much more important to watch. The franchise definitely does not want to waste a prospect of his caliber by foolishly destroying his future for the sake of the present. Likewise the guy who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 years old, the aforementioned Harper, is in the prime of his career, as are many of his and Painter’s teammates. Right now they are treating Painter with rest instead of surgery, and he is supposedly on track to play catch near the end of March. If all goes well, Painter should contribute positively during this season.

Jeremy Cerone is a lifelong baseball fan. As a native Philadelphian, he was born and raised as a Phillies fan. He played second base as a kid, even before Chase Utley made it cool. Later, in college, he adopted the Yankees as his American League team. The Phillies remain securely as his first love in baseball. Sports journalism and commentary have fascinated him since childhood. If Mars fielded a baseball team and played the Atlanta Braves, Jeremy would openly cheer for the Martians.

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