Bryce 'pumped' for Phillies' 2020 potential

Slugger arrives at Spring Training focused on improving slash line

February 16th, 2020

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- A year ago at this time, Phillies managing partner John Middleton had not even boarded his private jet to fly to Las Vegas, Nev., to try to convince to sign a record-setting contract with the Phils.

Everything is different this spring.

“I think we should be excited,” Harper said upon arriving at Phillies camp at Spectrum Field on Sunday morning. “I think we should be pumped with what we have right now. … We do have a chance of getting deep in the playoffs.”

Harper will enter the second season of his 13-year, $330 million contract hoping for better, both for himself and his team. He batted .260 with 35 home runs, 114 RBIs and an .882 OPS in his first year in Philadelphia. The Phillies finished 81-81, collapsing in the second half for the second consecutive year. The team dismissed manager Gabe Kapler and pitching coach Chris Young in October, replacing them with Joe Girardi and Bryan Price. It also hired hitting coach Joe Dillon from Washington and acquired right-hander Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius. Otherwise, the Phils have been quiet, choosing not to exceed the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold.

In the mind of Harper, who is the face of the franchise, has the organization done enough to win in 2020?

“My wife actually asked me that question the other night,” Harper said. “You know, I believe we did. You’re able to get Wheeler and Jake Arrieta back. You know, Jake at full strength, he’s a Cy Young contender and everybody knows that. Having the 1-2-3 that we do … and then whoever it’s going to be in that fourth and fifth [spot in the rotation]. Everybody talks about our bullpen, we need to add, we need to add. Héctor [Neris] was really good for us and then we’re getting back guys that were not healthy. … I think there’s guys out there that we were able to go get and able to spend the right money and do the things that we were able to do. … We’re going to score runs, we were able to do that last year, and if our bullpen can hold and our starters can as well, I think we’ll be OK.”

Phillies fans continue to hope that the front office acquires Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. Sources have said that a Bryant deal is unlikely for a variety of reasons, including the luxury tax, the Phils’ desire to sign J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension and their desire to make top prospects Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard part of their future.

“Kris, of course, you want an All-Star-caliber player, but we have Bohm,” Harper said. “We have a big-time third baseman and we were able to get him in the Draft. Of course, any time you're able to add an All-Star player, you're going to want to add an All-Star player. But you have to be able to know that you developed a player in the Minor Leagues that can also help you at third base, and Bohm could be that guy for us. He could come up and be one of the best third basemen in the second half or whatever it is."

Not to mention, if a team acquires Bryant, signing him to an extension would be a priority, given he's eligible to be a free agent following the 2021 season.

"And I know there's a [Phillies player] that we need to sign to an extension. I think having a guy like J.T. for the next six years would help us.”

Harper believes Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball. He is not alone. Realmuto and the Phillies are headed to a salary-arbitration hearing on Wednesday in Arizona. Once it is settled, they are expected to work on an extension.

Harper said he is excited to work with Girardi. He said he had a “great relationship” with Kapler, but that Girardi “understands what it takes to win.” Harper also worked with new hitting coach Joe Dillon in Washington. He believes he will help, too. Harper had a good year last year, but he can be better. The Phillies need him to be better to beat the Nationals, Braves and Mets.

“Did I hit .260 last year?” Harper said. “I think get my average back up and get my on-base back up, get to 100 walks. It really bugged me last year when I was at 99 and I didn’t get it. I really pride myself on my on-base and slugging percentage and things like that, so individually at the plate, I just want to get better and do everything I can to help this team win.”