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5 Philadelphia Phillies to watch in early portion of spring training

Philadelphia Phillies hold first squad work out of spring training
Philadelphia Phillies hold first squad work out of spring training 01:33

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The Philadelphia Phillies are just days away from starting the exhibition portion of their spring training schedule, as the team will play 31 games to prepare for their 2024 season. In the early weeks of spring training, plenty of the non-roster invitees and prospects will get an opportunity for significant at-bats.

This is an opportunity for the prospects/non-roster invitees/fringe Opening Day roster candidates to show the Phillies what they can do, as some of these players may get called up to the big club over the year. Johan Rojas, Kody Clemens and Weston Wilson had plenty of at-bats in spring training and all ended up significantly contributing to the major league roster last season.   

Who are those players worth giving a closer look to as the games commence?  These are five players to watch in the early portion of spring training.                       

1. Orion Kerkering

Still considered a prospect after his three games in the major leagues over the final week of the regular season and his seven postseason appearances, Kerkering is battling for a role in the Phillies bullpen.

Kerkering used his slider far too frequently in the majors, needing to mix in his sinker more. According to Statcast, Kerkering threw his sweeper/slider 85% and his sinker 15% in the majors. So, watching how he mixes it up in spring training will be worth monitoring.

Kerkering's development will be massive for the Phillies bullpen in 2024.

2. Mick Abel

A non-roster invitee in spring training, Abel will get an opportunity to log some innings for the Phillies. The No. 2 prospect in the organization, Abel struck out 126 and walked 62 in 108 2/3 innings for Double-A Reading last season (4.13 ERA).

Abel needs to harness control of his breaking pitches, as the 22-year-old former first-round pick is right on track. He'll likely be in Triple-A Lehigh Valley to start the year but could find his way up to the big club with a strong season (and numerous injuries to starting pitchers).

3. Carlos De La Cruz

Playing five years in the Phillies minor league system might have made De La Cruz an afterthought, but he did hit .259 with 24 home runs and 67 RBI with Double-A Reading last season. De La Cruz did strike out 160 times and had an OPS of .798.

Regardless, De La Cruz is the No. 6 prospect in the Phillies system and a non-roster invitee. He's been passed over in the Rule 5 draft twice now, needing to fix some aspects in  his swing and improve defensively. If De La Cruz can provide value at first base or the outfield this spring, he could be a bench piece for the Phillies down the road.

4. Ricardo Pinto

Pinto was signed by the Phillies last week after winning Most Valuable Player of the 2024 Caribbean Series after going 1-0 with a 0.84 ERA for Venezuela. A former amateur free agent signed by the Phillies in 2011, Pinto gave up seven home runs in 25 appearances with the Phillies in 2017.

Signed for starting pitching depth, Pinto will get to log innings this spring. He'll likely be part of Lehigh Valley's rotation, but it will be intriguing to see how he improved as a pitcher since he was last with the organization.

5. Yunior Marté

Jeff Hoffman was the surprise last season, evolving into one of the most-trusted relievers in the bullpen come the postseason. That player could be Marté in 2024, who has a good fastball but leaves too many hanging sliders for a consistent bullpen role.

Marté showed at times last season he can pitch in the majors and stick around (had a 2.89 ERA in June and a 3.48 ERA in July in 21 appearances). The Phillies could use valuable depth in the bullpen, and Marte certainly provides that.

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