Desperate times lead to desperate measures, and with the amount of injuries the Phillies have sustained so far in 2023, things are most definitely getting desperate. First base is a particular area of concern, as Rhys Hoskins is down for the year with a torn ACL, and last year’s breakout Darick Hall is sidelined for two months with a torn thumb ligament. In the wake of these devastating losses, the Phillies are now looking at a more unconventional potential first base solution down the stretch: Bryce Harper.
Harper hasn’t played the field since April of last year when he was diagnosed with a partially torn UCL in his right throwing elbow. He slotted in the lineup as the everyday designated hitter until a broken thumb put him on the shelf, but was able to make it back in September and play a crucial role in the team’s run to the World Series. Harper underwent Tommy John surgery last November, and has been slated for a roughly June, or perhaps very optimistically May, return to the DH role. That still figures to be the case as his rehab has been going swimmingly, but the Phils are exploring the idea of killing two birds with one stone by shifting him to first base later on in the season.
The 30-year-old superstar has been almost exclusively a right fielder during his 11-year big league career, with all of two appearances at first base over that time. Harper should be able to get back to his normal offensive prowess in relatively short order, but taking the field will be a different story. His surgery makes it an arduous process to get back to peak throwing condition, and playing right field comes with a decent amount of high-effort throws. A move to first base would be a way to curb the amount of high-intensity throws he’ll have to make, as the position focuses more on fielding grounders and catching throws.
Harper has reportedly started taking ground balls at first base in practice, and it seems the Phillies are keen to at least explore the possibility. Slotting the two-time MVP in at first would afford Manager Rob Thomson some extra wiggle room by being able to pencil the defensively-challenged Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber into the DH role on certain days. It also would help clear up a position that has been pretty murky since Hoskins and Hall went down, with unproven Kody Clemens getting regular at bats against right-handers and Alec Bohm sliding over from third base against southpaws.
It remains to be seen how well Harper will acclimate to first base, or if his recovery will even lend itself to playing the position. However, it’s nice to see the Phillies thinking outside the box to address this significant area of concern, and to add another potential solution to the mix.