Notes: Harrison, Baker, De La Cruz impress in opener

February 26th, 2023

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It’s finally baseball season, folks.

Phillies veteran said Saturday at BayCare Ballpark that the offseason in his home is known as “Brittney season.” Brittney Harrison is his wife of 10 years, and it refers to a time when Josh does the things he cannot do during baseball season, giving his wife more time to run her beauty and lifestyle business.

This year, however, Harrison said he hopes “Brittney season” does not come until November, after the World Series.

“That’s the plan,” he said during the Phillies’ split-squad 7-4 victory over the Yankees.

A few observations from Philadelphia’s Grapefruit League opener:

Harrison comes full circle
The last time fans saw Harrison in a Phillies uniform in 2020, his career seemed to be on life support following left hamstring surgery in '19. Harrison entered camp that spring as a non-roster invitee. When baseball resumed in the summer following the pandemic shutdown, Harrison was competing with Neil Walker, Phil Gosselin and Ronald Torreyes for the team’s final bench jobs on a 30-man roster.

The Phillies released Harrison.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “It was a blessing in disguise.”

Harrison has slashed .270/.332/.390 in three seasons since. He signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Phillies in December and is a lock to make the team.

“Coming here [in 2020], I don’t want to say I was broken down, but I was trying to make my way back and prove I was healthy,” Harrison said. “Three years later, here I am.”

Harrison went 1-for-3 with a double and made a nice leaping catch to rob Estevan Florial of a hit in the second inning. Harrison, and have three bench jobs locked up. , , , and are competing for the final two. Cave went 2-for-3 with a double and an outfield assist in his spring debut.

Baker throws heat 
The Phillies like their bullpen, following offseason acquisitions like Gregory Soto, Craig Kimbrel and Matt Strahm. They also like the talented arms coming through the system, like right-hander .

Baker, 22, was ranked 28th among Phillies prospects last year by MLB Pipeline (updated Top 30 rankings  are expected soon). Baker’s four-seam fastball touched 98.7 mph, and he struck out two in a clean seventh inning. Phillies manager Rob Thomson called him the most impressive pitcher of the day.

Baker’s fastball touched 102 mph last year. What’s it like to throw 102?

“As long as it’s a strike,” Baker said.

His coaches love to hear that. The Phillies selected Baker in the 11th round of the 2021 Draft. He struggled to throw strikes when he started his career, but many believe he has turned a corner. Baker struck out 20 and walked 15 in his first 18 innings last season with Single-A Jersey Shore. He struck out 52 and walked 14 in his final 36 1/3 innings with Jersey Shore and Double-A Reading.

Baker said the simplification of his delivery -- he only pitched out of the stretch last year -- allowed him to keep everything else simple.

“When it clicked, it felt good,” Baker said.

“If he can harness the strike zone, we’ve got something,” Thomson said.

Big kid hits the ball far 
crushed a home run to center field in the eighth, then made a great catch along the first-base line in the ninth. De La Cruz is expected to be a top 10 Phillies prospect in MLB Pipeline’s preseason rankings.

Many in the organization marvel at how far he has come the past few years.

De La Cruz, who is 6-foot-8, attended George Washington High School in New York and went undrafted in 2017. The Phillies signed him as a free agent, and he worked his way to Double-A last season, hitting 17 homers along the way. An outfielder/first baseman, De La Cruz played last fall in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League.

“He’s big,” Thomson said. “He’s very athletic. From what they tell me, he’s turned into a decent outfielder.”

New rules 
Both teams played for the first time with baseball’s new rules, perhaps mostly notably, the pitch timer.

There were no violations in Clearwater. The game lasted 2 hours, 34 minutes.

The Phillies’ split-squad 4-2 loss to the Tigers in Lakeland lasted 2 hours, 15 minutes.

“It went great,” Thomson said. “It seems like both teams have done some work on this. I thought it was great. It was a quick game, and the first three innings took an hour. That’s kind of normal, so it really sped up after that.”