While the Phillies have made huge strides this offseason shoring up their offense and bullpen, one problem area remains in center field. With sparse options on the free agent market, President of Baseball Operations David Dombrowski seemed content to begin the year with a platoon of veteran Odúbel Herrera and rookie Matt Vierling. However, Herrera has been diagnosed with a right oblique strain and will miss four-to-six weeks. This essentially hands the opening day job to Vierling.
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Vierling impressed over 77 plate appearances in the bigs last year, slashing .324/.364/.479 with a pair of long balls and a pair of steals. While it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be able to hit over .300 for an entire campaign, he does seem capable enough of providing solid, if unspectacular, production in a platoon role. The real question with Vierling is if he’ll be able to handle the defensive rigors of center field on a nightly basis.
Phillies fans will certainly hope that Vierling turns in a breakout rookie season, since there is little center field depth in the organization. Foundering 2016 number one overall pick Mickey Moniak hardly seems up to the job, while 2017 top pick Adam Haseley has battled off the field issues as well as ineffectiveness at the major league level. Another option could be Scott Kingery, but after back-to-back awful seasons Manager Joe Girardi will likely be loath to hand him the keys to the castle. In short, Matt Vierling is facing a baptism by fire.
For those preferring to look on the brightside, the recent additions of Kyle Schwarber and Nicholas Castellanos have significantly lengthened the Phillies lineup, allowing Vierling to hit at the bottom of the order. This should, in theory, help take the pressure off of the rookie as he looks to gain his sea legs in an everyday role. With luck, we’ll see Matt Vierling at the top of his game come April 8 when the Phillies open their season at home against the Oakland A’s.