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CLEARWATER, Fla. — Edmundo Sosa belted two home runs in the Phillies win over Baltimore on Thursday. It’s part of an effective and busy spring for the team’s current shortstop.
Sosa has four home runs this spring, is batting .500 and slugging a stratospheric 1.913. It’s a good reminder not to put too much emphasis on his glove.
“It’s all the work I’ve been putting in, in the offseason,” Sosa said via a translator. “I’ve been this kind of player before, I know it’s in me and I feel great at the plate right now.”
The more salient news around Sosa entering spring was where he would play. Ostensibly a shortstop who can provide cover all over the infield, the Phillies hoped he might be able to play center, too. He’ll get another chance at game action there next week, and in part because he’s hitting so well, manager Rob Thomson will give him a look in left, too.
“He’s really having a good spring,” Thomson said. “He’s been making contact, he’s not chasing, and that’s big for him. That was a big objective over the winter, and he’s done a good job.”
Acquired from St. Louis in a trade for JoJo Romero, Sosa hit .315 in 25 games with the Phillies last year. He was 2-for-8 in the postseason. Sosa has hit eight home runs in 474 career big-league at-bats, including two with the Phillies.
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Jake Cave has crept up near .500 this spring. He’s hitting 9-for-19 with two homers, six runs scored and six RBIs. His OPS is a robust 1.576. A pair of diving catches in the outfield and his ability to play center field don’t hurt his case, either.
“He’s a baseball player,” said Thomson, who worked with Cave after the Yankees drafted him in 2011. “He can play anywhere in the outfield and he plays the game the right way, plays hard. He can swing the bat and he’s good to have around.”
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On the top of utilitymen, Scott Kingery won’t allow himself to be written out of the conversation. He’s batting 8-for-17 in spring, hitting his first home run Friday against Pittsburgh.
The saga of Kingery is well known. He’s been through more downs than ups with the Phillies since his days as a top prospect who signed a six-year, $24 million deal before his big-league debut. It’s a contract that expires at the end of 2023, with the Phillies holding three years of club options, at the unimaginable price of $13 million for 2024.
It hasn’t gone to plan for Kingery, getting just 19 plate appearances in the big leagues the last two years and batting .229 over 325 games while being jockeyed around to every position short of donning the catcher’s gear. He only hit .230 at Triple A last year.
But Kingery has been raking this spring, in part because of work with hitting coach Kevin Long. He’s flattened out a swing that had been victimized by the launch-angle revolution, into the delusion that a 5-10, 180-pounder could become a 30-homer guy in the bigs. For all those struggles, he remains an upbeat clubhouse presence.
“He’s flattened his stroke,” Thomson said. “He’s done a lot of work with K-Long in the offseason. We’re seeing who the guy was a couple of years ago, and that guy is kind of special, because he can play anywhere, he’s athletic, he can steal bases. He’s dynamic.”
If you’re seeking a common denominator on those three news items, it’s versatility. And Thomson is fine with a surfeit of options for his 26-man roster, especially one that will be without Bryce Harper for at least three months.
“There’s a bunch of guys who can play all over the place,” he said, “and they’re hitting the ball well.”
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While there’s been attention on the battle for bench spots, the bullpen has flown under the radar. That’s unusual given the dumpster fire that has raged through that section of Citizens Bank Park for most of the last decade, but the orientation has changed thanks to the assembly of one of the best units in baseball last year.
The two primary closers (Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Alvarado) return, plus a pair of All-Star relievers elsewhere (Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto). Add in the long men, depth arms from the organization and free-agent signee Matt Strahm, and that about does it.
Even so, Yunior Marte has impressed this spring. The 6-2 righty from the Dominican Republic struggled in 2022 with the Giants, allowing 47 hits, 22 walks and 44 strikeouts in 48 innings over 39 games. But when you see his stuff, it’s hard to fathom how.
“It’s filth,” Thomson said Friday. “It’s really electric – 98, 99, with sink and a slider. This was the first time really that we got him into a game early to get some major league hitters and he faced a couple of lefties and handled them well.”
Marte has allowed one solo homer and one walk in four innings this spring. That’s all, to go with four strikeouts. So even if he’s not with the team out of spring, he’s likely to be a factor once attrition strikes during the season.
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