The Eagles’ Super Bowl victory has been infectious for the other major sports teams in Philadelphia.
Both the Sixers and Flyers have gone a perfect 4-0 since the organization lifted its first Lombardi Trophy in team history last week.
The green fever that has been surrounding the city for the past month may very well turn to a sea of red, as pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Wednesday for the start of the 2018 campaign for the Phillies.
Not too long ago, the Phillies were the talk of the city. With a pitching rotation that featured the likes of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt, the Phillies were one of the most dominant organizations in baseball. Missed opportunities and aging stars led to the team’s demise for several years, but a young and talented roster is destined to take a step forward in 2018 and start filling Citizen’s Bank Park once again.
Here are the top five pitchers and catchers to look out for as spring training gets underway.
Aaron Nola – SP
Aaron Nola is going into the 2018 season healthy and that’s huge news for the Phillies. The oft-injured ace dealt with some nagging elbow and back injuries which sidelined the right-hander for much of his early career. But, if his finish last season is any indication, fans are in for a treat when he takes the mound this year. In his final four starts, Nola went 2-1 with an ERA of 2.51 and he averaged 9.0 strikeouts per content over that span. This type of production will win the Phillies a lot of games and the Phillies will go as far as Nola can take them. He’s even listed by MLB.com’s Richard Justice as a “dark horse” candidate to win Cy Young for the National League.
Jorge Alfaro – C
Just 29 games is a small sample size for any player. That’s as much of a look as Phillies fans got from catcher Jorge Alfaro in 2017. Spring training this year will be crucial for the development of Alfaro, who has shown flashes of the power he can bring to the plate as a hitter. Alfaro registered five home runs and 14 RBI, while batting .318 for the Phillies last season. His slugging average of .514 ranked third on the team behind only Rhys Hoskins (.618) and Aaron Altherr (.516). But, with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, he struggled at the plate hitting just .241 in 84 games. He’ll look to find consistency at the plate this season to breathe new life into the Phillies offense.
Jerad Eickhoff – SP
Going by wins and losses, starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff had quite a rough year in 2017. The right-hander finished the year 4-8 with an ERA of just 4.71. He also missed the final month of the season due to nerve irritation in his right hand. Despite all of this, he’ll go into the 2018 as the projected No. 2 starter in the pitching rotation. In 2016, Eickhoff showed more than just potential, finishing the season 11-14 with a team best 3.65 ERA and 167 strikeouts. The Phillies are hoping the 2018 version of Eickhoff is a healthier and smarter version, and one who can grab hold of his past success and run with it. His curveball and slider have shown to be very effective, but in order to regain that type of success he’ll need an improved fastball in 2018.
Cameron Rupp – C
The Phillies didn’t sign catcher Cameron Rupp to a $2.05 million deal in the offseason to sit on the bench. He’s expected to share duties with Alfaro when spring training gets underway. He batted just .217 last season, but showed some power with 14 home runs. If Alfaro struggles in the early going, Rupp might be more than just a part-time option for the Phillies behind the plate.
Hector Neris – Closer
Hector Neris may have just been the most promising player on the Phillies’ pitching staff in the 2017 season. The right-handed closer was dominant to close out the season, registering 16 saves, two wins and just one loss in 28 appearances from July 29 to September 30. The problem is, the Phillies need to get to him first. They ranked 23rd in the league with a -92 run differential in 2017.